This is the second “writing out loud” excerpt from the working draft of Adam Kahane’s new book, “Collaborating with the Enemy: An Open Way to Work with People You Don’t Agree With or Like or Trust,” to be published by Berrett-Koehler in 2017. Adam is keen to engage with interested readers around this material as he develops it.
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Since my first experience in South Africa in 1991, I have focussed all of my professional energies on supporting tough collaborations in different parts of the world. My premise has been that the best way to deal with complex challenges is to collaborate. I have written three books that make the case for collaboration and outline frameworks and methodologies to support it.
From time to time over these years, though, I have been in situations that shook my confidence in this premise. On and off from 2000 to 2012, I tried to help some Venezuelan colleagues organize a broad multi-stakeholder collaboration to address the severe economic, social, and political challenges of their country. But time after time our efforts ran up against the unwillingness of the radical socialist government of President Hugo Chávez to participate in our project, and so it never got off the ground.
A congressman from a Venezuelan opposition party once told me a story about the extraordinary level of political non-collaboration. “The government and the opposition members of Congress used to be able to work together in certain committees,” he said, “but now the government refuses to talk with us at all. The only conversation I have had recently with a Chavista was in a men’s room in the Congress, where one of them standing at the adjacent urinal whispered to me, ‘If you guys get into power, don’t forget that we’re friends, right?’”