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. If you would like to read the full working drafts and participate in a conversation about them, please sign up here.
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Uta Stolz says
Dear Mr Kahane,
having passed through all approaches in different ways and with ever so often no success following the Collaborate Way with enthusiasm and faith I now understand clearly the reasons for defeat: it was my and only a second best option.
Reality becoming real looking at it in your threefold way. Looking forward to the next chapters, thankfully, Uta Stolz.
Adam Kahane says
Robert Randall, editor, Strategy & Leadership says
Is this or any other part of the book available for an excerpt in Strategy & Leadership?
Grammar and typo fixed:
It might be nice if
collaboration were always the best option—but it isn’t.
Adam Kahane says
Thank you again for your offer and encouragement, Robert. I’d be happy to publish an excerpt in your excellent journal, but would prefer to wait until later in 2016, when (with the benefit of feedback from here and elsewhere) the material will be stronger. My idea is that this “writing out loud” exercise should precede more public and scholarly publication.
alain ruche says
The ball is nicely rolling (:)).
– While I in no way share the way Chavez did politics (‘I disagreed’…), I feel uncomfortable wiht the way you refer to Venezuela, compared to Thailand: less precise and hard semantic qualifications would be welcome; maybe you felt too deeply they refusal to collaborate…;
– Some inspiration from eastern philosophy could lead in analyzing deeper the ‘adapting’ behaviour. The concept of ‘letting go’, ‘detachment’ are interesintg, likewise the famous serenity prayer;
– As I believe that a golden rule is to start from the context, nurtered by an intention, and then prototype/correct/learn/act again, I feel somehow uncomfortable with ‘changing the context’ having such a key role in your archetypal table.
Sorry, cannot elaborate further for the moment
Adam Kahane says
Thank you for this useful feedback Alain.
Adam Kahane says
Thanks for all of this Alain.
I agree with the need to start with the content, but isn’t the purpose of most work to change the situation around us? I don’t see how to sidestep this aspect of the work.
I agree that the tone of my Venezuelan story is off and I will correct it.
Charles M Lines says
Very strong current and vivid examples that stick in the mind re. why people make the choice to collaborate, fight or adapt. Thank you. Two things came to mind as I read. 1. The need for anyone involved in collaboration’s to be politically intelligent, or at least for a collaboration to include a politically intelligent ally. 2. Sometimes, people choose to ‘adapt’ and get on with their own lives not because they wish to ‘leave it to the elites’ but because their culture of family and its ties comes first: trust the family and support it and its interests before all else; do not trust or work with others who are not part of the family (and do not expect anything from them). So taking account of and trying to influence traditional family centred cultures may have to be an ongoing long term task for any collaboration seeking to create far reaching changes and do significant good.
Adam Kahane says
Charles, I think that you are making a crucial point, that the group/sphere that I think I can collaborate with depends on culture as well as other aspects of structure.
Marti Roach says
I am enjoying your book so far and appreciate this framework. I am seeking to apply it to our current situation in regard to the need for a national policy on pricing carbon to address global warming. We clearly have elected Republicans, who decided when Obama was elected, to not cooperate with his leadership or a democratic agenda. The norms of political horse-trading were changed due to this and we have all seen the results. Many in the climate change movement have adapted (my interpretation) to this political reality and forsaken any effort to influence the national agenda on this issue, focusing instead to work on local issues where change could occur through fights or collaboration. This has taken a toll on our democracy (my view) as adapting to this new national governance norm has only created a climate where it can grow stronger. I am interested in how to foster collaboration between all political perspectives to find solutions. Outside of Congress, there is growing consensus among all political influentials (right, independent, left) that pricing carbon is needed. An assessment of how a collaborative conversation, neutrally convened could occur to help break the logjam (the clock ticks in an unforgiving way when it is climate change). would love to talk more on this.
Adam Kahane says
Marti: I share you concern and question. I think that an obvious part of the answer needs to be: fighting (including during election campaigns) to change the balance of political power.
Terry Nchols says
It is great to be part of your work.
I understand where “fighting and adapting” can come into play in dealing with the world to hold on to what “is”. In order for dialogue and generative thought to occur, collaboration must be present. How does one determine what is “right cause” without collaborative thoughts. It is part of the issues we face in our country today. Reminds me of the Righteous Mind by Haidt and that we only find info that supports our thoughts so we give ourselves the permission to fight for our “cause” or adapt to the surroundings and accept our fate. Collaboration requires trust and willingness to consider the other’s ideas.
I’m a bit uncomfortable to place the 2, fight or adapt, on the same level as collaboration. I gather from your writing that you believe when collaboration is not successful it is NOT the collaboration process at fault but it is the unwillingness of the actors to collaborate that is at fault. If a group believes they can find a better way then that better way may just be found. Covey refers to this concept in the 8th Habit as the 3rd alternative. If a group of 2 or more are willing to look at a possible alternative that is better than what either have brought to the table can probably find one. So it is not the collaboration that is an issue but the lack of a collaborative understanding of a better ‘way”. Thanks again for allowing my ramble.
Adam Kahane says
Thanks for your thoughts Terry. The argument I am making, which I expect will cause some discomfort, is that there are many situations where some or all actors will decide that the risks of collaborating outweigh the benefits, and that we have to be able to assess these options clear-headedly–rather than simply asserting that collaboration is always best.
Jean Pierre Chabot says
Your text reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about recently in relation to anti-corruption and local governance work. The UK Department for International Development (DFID) produced a How To Note on Political Economy Analysis. The link is below along with a quote:
“Political economy analysis is a powerful tool for improving the effectiveness of aid. Bridging the traditional concerns of politics and economics, it focuses on how power and resources are distributed and contested in different contexts, and the implications for development outcomes. It gets beneath the formal structures to reveal the underlying interests, incentives and institutions that enable or frustrate change. Such insights are
important if we are to advance challenging agendas around governance, economic growth and service delivery, which experience has shown do not lend themselves to technical solutions alone. Political economy analysis is not a magic bullet for the resolution of intractable development problems. However, it can support more effective and politically feasible development strategies, as well as inform more realistic expectations of what can be achieved, and the risks involved. It can also contribute to better results by identifying where the main opportunities and barriers for policy reform exist and how donors can use their programming and influencing tools to promote positive change. This understanding is particularly relevant in fragile and conflict-affected environments where the challenge of building peaceful states and societies is fundamentally political.”
Your analysis of the feasibility and/or necessity of one of the three approaches you are proposing (adapting, fighting, and collaborating) would seem to correspond with the fundamentals of political economy analysis (PEA). Perhaps there are some linkages you could draw from PEA and elaborate on in your new book. I’ll be very interested to read what ever you come up with to resolve these “scenarios of stuckness”. Enjoyed reading your book on transformative scenario planning. I believe the work you do aligns with the search for “more effective and politically feasible development strategies”.
Adam Kahane says
Thanks for this Jean Pierre. No doubt I am covering ground that has already been covered in many ways, including by PEA. I try to to learn from my experience and not to lean too heavily on other theories, but I will look into this connection. My primary interest, as you are suggesting, is how to deal with stuckness.
Kathy Lewis says
Hello, Adam. We met at a Change Lab you, Mille and Zaid ran in Johannesburg in 2006.
Thank you for a thought-provoking piece. You begin with a reference to your work in South Africa. I’ve just started reading Max du Preez’s book, “A Rumour of Spring: South Africa After Twenty Years of Democracy”. It makes me wonder whether there is a cycling process through the archetypal approaches. We seem to have gone from Collaboration (at the top political levels) into Adapting and with a rising possibility of Fighting. Perhaps, in reality, all three have been present all along, with one being more dominant than the others at different times.
What do you think?
Adam Kahane says
I think that’s an important insight Kathy. All three of these modes are always present in all social systems at all levels, and which mode dominates varies over time. Thanks!
Rick Black says
We met many years ago in Boston and shared thoughts regarding a previous book. A couple of thoughts:
The three archetypes you mention are closely related to power dynamics. Adapt is often the choice of those who feel powerless even in a repressive environment and can only survive by this tactic. Fight takes place often when the power dynamics are more closely balanced (though not always) and there is a glimmer of possibility of changing the circumstances. Collaboration requires a recognition that the power dynamic is more equal but that the cost of fighting far outweighs its benefit. There is, however, a danger in the word collaboration itself. In wartime there are those who “collaborate” (I would say adapt) and are vilified. This leads to my second point.
As a minister of the Gospel, I frequently encounter “true believers” who believe that their opinions and positions are ordained by God and are inviolable. I also see it in political movements. For them, collaboration is selling one’s soul. Your example of the IRA willing to settle for 100% of nothing raises this. For such true believers, collaboration is out of the question. They exist in all societies to some degree. How do you marginalize them in a process so that collaboration can occur?
Adam Kahane says
I’m delighted to hear from you again Rick. Your analysis of the power dynamics of the three modes is excellent–thank you. And yes I am aware of and playing with the double meaning of the word “collaborate.” Elsewhere in the text I have written:
The tension we experience in these situations is contained in the two connotations of the word “collaborate.” On the one hand, this word means simply “to work jointly with.” On the other hand, it means “to cooperate traitorously with the enemy.” The World War II movie Casablanca plays with this tension: the partisan Victor Laszlo is a hero who is courageous but also cold, and the collaborator Louis Renault is a villain who is amoral but also warm. We know that sometimes we need to collaborate with our enemies, but we feel uneasy in this grey zone between white and black, good and evil, friends and enemies.
oscar grossmann says
Your comments and Rick’s remind me of the famous essay “Give war a chance”, I do not remember the author but the insight was very powerful.
Adam Kahane says
Hello Oscar. Are you thinking of Edward Luttwack’s essay?
Lorenzo Lara says
When would you consider collaborating with the enemy is a sort of treason? How have you dealt with betrayal issues? Is betrayal and treason topics you have dealt with during your work helping resolve conflicts? I look forward to your comments on these topics.
Adam Kahane says
Hello Lorenzo. Yes the sense that one is at risk of being betrayed or being a betrayer is central to the challenge I am writing about, and your question prompts me to write about this specifically. In the meantime, see my reply to Rick Black above.
sibout nooteboom says
Adam, I have nothing to add. Exciting to feel like being part of something important. Looking forward to the next chapter. I may have some experiences from Mali and Benin, as well as from my home country The Netherlands (to me they are very interesting), and I recognize your analysis. I look forward to your ideas about helping people who want to collaborate but don’t know how to explain that to their own supporter groups. There is also a lot of adaptation in the guise of collaboration – at least observers may think so. I hope your book give examples that help recognize acts of connective leadership under tension.
Adam Kahane says
Thanks for your continued encouragement Sibout; I am pleased and touched with the interest this subject is sparking. And I would be most interested in hearing something about your experiences of these phenomena in the Netherlands.
Anthony Prangley says
It is great to read your emerging thoughts. I have been chewing on them and have a question. You indicate that collaboration may be the second best option after adapting or fighting. But it is not clearly always second best – sometimes is fighting not the last resort. Does the context not determine the order of the choices.
In my own small actions to change things I care about, I often find that I attempt to collaborate (with powerful stakeholders) and fail, then adapt for a while, then get upset enough to try to collaborate again and then realise that fighting is needed but don’t have the energy or courage for it. Then I go back to adapting! Can collaboration then not precede fighting on occasion as you indicate around climate change above? And a related question … Is there not a need for chapter called Fighting Productively … in which we explore how to fight in productive ways when collaborative efforts fail.
Adam Kahane says
Hi Anthony. Yes, you’re right; by “second best” I meant not best. The order depends on our context, our capacities,… and what else?
Chapter 2, which I will post in March, has the working title “Collaborating Does Not Replace Fighting,” and it argues that productive collaboration must include moderated fighting.
Anthony Prangley says
Thanks Adam. I appreciate the clarification and look forward to Chapter 2.
All the best,
Heidi De Wolf says
Collaboration requires vulnerability and a willingness to trust from any individual regardless of status. If you cannot find it, don’t fight it but abandon it and find another group of people who are keener to collaborate.
Do’s and don’ts:
1. The act of fighting power head on actually grows higher defences and more intense actions by the person in power who feels attacked.
2. The act of abandoning that which is unable to let go of power is an important key in dis-empowering those who seek to hold onto power.
3. The act of not giving up and starting afresh will create the inspiration needed to entice those who become disgruntled with the ‘power battles’ to join a more collaborative way of achieving better outcomes.
It takes a lot of energy to start again, but eventually people will join you and lighten the load if you share your power with others. Fighting also takes a lot of energy but will end up with no ‘winners’ in the end.
David Shandler says
Thank you so much for sharing your process. You are wonderfully stimulating and provocative as ever – and a real privilege to engage with!
I think that your suggested archetypes are particularly useful for the practitioner. Reflecting on your chapter suggested a few thoughts and questions (rather than answers) for me. They may be useful. These are:
1. A continuum of approaches and tipping points: It is a given that all three of the “archetypes” should be seen as being on a continuum with each having greater or lesser degrees of their respective characteristics. There are degrees, and varying forms, of adaptation, as there are for fighting and collaboration. Also, there is a point at which participants will move from adapt to fight to collaborate on a continuum from one to the next. This suggests an important strategic question for me, “what is the tipping point between the three archetypes?” To my mind having an answer to this – and I don’t as I write! – may be of great import to the practitioner working with this set of concepts. If we know what will allow participants in a process to move from adapt to fight to collaborate, we will have insight into the facilitating the process to a collaborative outcome.
2. Approaches operate in parallel: The idea of the “archetypes” being on a continuum and being subject to their respective tipping points is consistent with the notion that participants in a process or conflict of some type may resort to one or more of the approaches at one and the same time. This was the experience we had in South Africa in the process of the transition to democracy – participants continued to fight, while also negotiating a resolution. And it worked! Of course, this is a common phenomenon in political conflict – and negotiated processes more generally. The archetypes are discrete, but not mutually exclusive.
3. Means and ends: The three approaches are respective means to an end, rather the end itself. They are all valid in working towards an outcome at differing stages of a process of change. A theory of change could accommodate all threat different stages, subject to certain conditions and circumstances.
4. Preconditions make for effective collaboration: Collaboration presupposes a mutuality of purpose between contending participants or parties. This reminds me of the conditions required for negotiation in the context of conflict management. Preconditions for negotiation include the willingness of the parties to enter the process, to be subject to its rules and to be open to the outcome that arises, assuming that it reflects agreement. In turn, adapting and fighting reflect an absence of mutuality and agreement on process.
I greatly look forward to the next chapter.
Eileen Moir says
Thanks again Adam for the opportunity to follow your inquiry into what it means to collaborate. I’m enjoying the multi-layering nature of the process. Reading your drafts and going deeper and sideways with your contributors. Helpful too to be prodded to think differently about something that perplexes me most days.
Suggesting that collaboration is the “second best option” turns things on their head but I see your point. Collaboration is the least familiar option and therefore the most challenging. The other two are more intuitive.
The archetype framework is helpful for making sense of the typical responses when faced with the need to move forward with ‘others’ into uncertainty. However, I found myself reacting against ‘fight’ being the only alternative to ‘adapt’ (apart from collaborate). It felt reductionist.
However, on reading the chapter again I see that your definition of ‘fight’ is wider than first appears – “by enticing or imposing; using ideas, skills, votes, supporters, authority, money, or weapons”. Still, I find myself trying to find alternative words such as ‘strive’, ‘contend’ etc.
Putting aside my struggle with the nomenclature, I acknowledge that perhaps it is this stark polarity that will make people stop and think. The framework then provides a language to illuminate the underlying dynamics of whichever (option) is at play. This feels like an important starting point to then help people to move towards the collaborative space.
I’m hooked and already keen to read the next instalment…
Adam Kahane says
Thanks Eileen. I don’t think I’ve quite got the right vocabulary yet and so hearing about your reaction is useful to me.
This morning I talked over my current draft with Steve Piersanti, my editor and the President of my publisher Berrett-Koehler. He asked me the question he always asks, and will no doubt ask many times more: What really is the essence of what I am trying to say?
As of now, it is this: The commonly held view of collaboration is that is is straightforward: familiar, simple, fun, and focused on the problem we are trying to solve. But often this view is incorrect, and collaboration is actually complex, conflictual, difficult, and requires us to focus on changing not others but ourselves. If we think that collaboration is straightforward when it isn’t, it will not work and we will be surprised that it does not work.
I’d be interested in any reactions you and other readers might have to this formulation.
Eileen Moir says
Your premise is a good one Adam. When there is a need to work in partnership or collaborate, and the stakes are high, at least one partner has to make the first move. Let go of their current reality and move to the neutral space where a new state can be co-constructed.
As you say something has to change in themselves before anything will change in the relationship. It takes an act of courage to be the first to relinquish control. To face into the uncertainty about how it might unfold. But without this gesture things are likely to remain stuck.
David Thompson says
I think it’s wonderful you’re ‘Working out Loud’, so kudos for that!
My comment is related to those made earlier by Mr. Black and Ms. De Wolf’s earlier. The archetype’s you’ve intuited through your experience are clearly connected to how power is distributed power within the system(s) and amongst the actors. A framing specific to power was explored by Prof. Nancy Roberts (Naval Postgraduate School) who reflected on her work peacekeeping in the middle east. Her framework looks at how power is distributed within a system, and whether the power is contest or not. Prof. Roberts’ framing is grounded in action and outcomes for coping with Wicked Problems (Complex Social Problems).
To summarize her framework: If power is not shared, we find ourselves in an authoritarian regime with power being focused in the hands of a few (this is your ‘adapting’ archetype). If power is shared, but is contested, Prof. Roberts’ has us in a Competitive regime (this is your ‘fighting’ regime), and if power is shared, but not contested, Prof. Roberts’ has us in a Collaborative regime (this is your ‘collaborating’ regime). This work can be found here: Roberts, N.C. “Wicked Problems and Network Approaches to Resolution.” The International Public Management Review. 2000, 1(1).
Perhaps my first question is, am I right about this parallel? Any thoughts on Prof. Roberts’ work once you’ve read it?
Again, thank you for sharing, and I look forward to Chapter Two!
Adam Kahane says
Thanks for this David. I don’t know Roberts’ work but will look into it with interest.
Gifford Pinchot says
Fascinating, deep, useful, very well written.
It is interesting that in the second to last paragraph at the end of Chapter 1 you almost let the reader come to the conclusion/remember/figure out that fighting is often a neccessary part of the path to collaboration. You say offer it as an example, but you don’t rub our noses in it or state it as a core principle of the book. I would have been tempted to end that paragraph with: “What I have learned to my surprise is that fighting is often an essential part of the path to collaboration.”
That you don’t say that may draw the reader into a more active reading of your text, may make the book more interesting, may create the urge to read on. Or, given that many readers are skimming, it might be useful to say it more forcefully. Curious how you think about this issue of style.
Adam Kahane says
Thanks very much Gifford. Your observation is perceptive: in fact, the message of the next chapter, which I will post in as month, is indeed that collaboration requires choosing both talking and fighting.
Jerome Ravetz says
So far I haven’t seen a discussion of the way that non-violent resistance seems to be part of your ‘fighting’, as it belongs to neither of the other two categories.
Martin Echavarria says
Since I’m not that sure for whom and what you are trying to do with this book, my comments may seem a bit disjointed. If I knew more, I could certainly be more precise in my thoughts on how to approach the first chapter.
First and foremost, I don’t think that the Chapter Title goes along with the chapter content. As I was reflecting more about your conclusions and my own writing about collaboration, an idea came to me that you may find interesting “Courageous Collaboration.” That’s really what you are talking about in the chapter.
Overall, I really enjoyed the story telling approach that you take because it is very easy to read and makes it interesting. It lends itself to the vast amount of experiences you have had working with a variety of groups on many issues. I think you can expand here and tell the story from the different people’s perspectives and choices they made. That’s an idea.
When I think about the Fight, Adapt or Collaborate choices, I am reminded of the “fight or flight response” that human beings tend to demonstrate when confronted with difficult situation and before they enter into true relationship with another. Often times when groups meet to collaborate, they experience two types of fears, the fear of being attacked by the group and the fear of change. This ignites the fight or flight response when groups come together to work and even more so when there are stereotypical judgements and perceptions of another person.
As a result of this framing, I see the ‘Fight’ response fitting directly with Fight as you describe it. The Adapt response, I characterize as the ‘flight response’. Both in my opinion are just as easy and potentially as automatic. The only distinction between the two choices is the emotional disposition of the choice made by the group or individual, not necessarily the cognitive decision making process.
It is here, where I have a divergent view from what you are proposing. The chapter assumes in some way that collaboration is a cognitive decision and that it is taken from a perspective of reason and weighing out alternatives. I have experienced this occurring in so very few people that I’m doubtful. Human beings can self-deceive in so many ways, that I can’t image it not happening here and even more so when people are in situations where “You don’t Agree with or Like or Trust” others.
I think that in the context of major problems, we collaborate because things are just so ‘screwed’ up that we must do something, and the other two options are just no longer working or have not worked or worse, have degraded the problem to such an extent that there is no option left but to ‘collaborate’. I guess the real question is Collaborating Courageously but not at the last possible moment!
I like your comment regarding specific contextual challenges and as the reader I would like to learn more about this topic. My gut tells me this will turn into a conversation about power and not ‘what’s truly best for everyone’. But I remain curious here.
Perhaps in Figure 2: you can consider adding something that relates to contextual pressure and/or historical pressure, social/structures and something that refers to the emotionality of each “choice”.
For example, for adapting the assumption is both cognitive, “you cannot influence your context” and emotional “you feel powerless to influence your context,” Perhaps something similar to Fighting, the assumption may be “you know” and not “you can know”. If you choose fighting, you must know. Emotionality, “you feel compelled to fight, or you can’t take it anymore and fighting is the only option left.” Perhaps you feel overcome with your anger and desire to exert your power.
OK, I like the last portion and how you frame it in terms of an individual or groups perspective when the other group is unwilling to collaboration. Who would be the one to consider who is doing the collaborating and who is doing the fighting or the adapting? Does collaboration simply mean coming to the table to resolve something? In a meeting when people are actually working on their journey to collaborating, which only emerges as a group activity, and then it is the group who is fighting and not the other person(s). I believe that coming together is only the first step toward collaboration.
With regards to the three options you mention. I think there could be another option – consistent pressure, neither fighting nor adapting but doing something unilaterally that consistently and appropriately keeps pressure on the need to collaborate. Would you agree? Isn’t there always something you can do?
Well, I hope this helps. Best — Martin
Adam Kahane says
This is very helpful Martin! I look forward to reading your book on this subject. Adam
Jeff Barnum says
To me the conclusion that collaboration isn’t the best option is shortsighted. From a shortsighted point of view, collaboration seems like a second best option. This is a point of view that does not realize that collaboration will lead to better systemic and holistic outcomes that ultimately benefit everyone, but believes instead that adapting or fighting or muddling through or any of the non co-creative options will suffice. In a hyper-connected world, co-creation is unavoidable if there is to be social health. A longer view doesn’t think of collaboration as second best, but realizes that co-creation is required and desirable according to the realities of our times. When you observe earlier in the book that those you admire collaborate expertly, transform themselves, and follow what you call the “open way,” you have your hand on the hidden truth: such people have a feeling for the necessity of social co-creation. They follow and forge it with joy because they see its necessity and truth. “The truth shall set you free.” I don’t doubt that there is indomitable determination in those who see this.
I wonder if what failed in Thailand was precisely the point we’ve discussed before. There was no North Star to follow at the critical juncture. A cultural problem, an economic problem, a political problem — and no guiding ideas to resolve them. Without those guiding ideas, without shared understanding and clarity about what COULD be — culturally, economically, politically — there was only a vague notion of collaboration, nothing substantial. In that vacuum, uncertainty will collapse into default, of course — just as it does at every scale, right down into team and personal dynamics. Uncertainty and fear trigger habits. No way for many leaders to step together forward on such a vague path. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. The will to collaborate has to be bolstered with clarity of what is to be gained. Without that clarity, you’re asking people to endure extreme turbulence without a clear goal or end point in mind. They’ll default to their habits.
My two cents.
Adam Kahane says
Thanks for this Jeff. I think you are emphasizing a key principle when you write, “the will to collaborate has to be bolstered with clarity of what is to be gained.”
Daniel Olding says
The last three paragraphs of the chapter were brilliant. The question of how to bring about an environment for collaboration when one or more parties believe that collaboration is the wrong approach could use to be explored further. To me this was the real ‘aha’ moment of the chapter. The rest was amazing but this question felt to me like a door opening into potential.
marco valente says
Thanks for the sneak peek, Adam. In terms of world views, I am both familiar with the “us vs them” approach of advocacy and environmental activism, and also aware of the necessity of large-scale collaboration, having the whole system in the room (including people we don’t like) to get to see itself. So I welcome your approach to this complex challenge. As you explore the three options, and especially the fighting vs collaborating, I’ll add a perspective. You mentioned specific political contexts that made collaboration impossible in Venezuela and in Thailand. I wonder if people who take passionate positions would like to take the collaborative stance more, but may run a risk from the environment around them. They might feel threatened in two fundamental ways, one internal, one external:
1) what if I open up to the ‘other’ and that changes something of my own identity that I am more comfortable not changing? and
2) what if my stance runs the risk of being co-opted if in this invitation to collaborate I perceive a power differential between the other’s opinions and my own? What if I lose support from my camp, my voters, as I get accused of sleeping with the enemy?
As far as I remember, you did touch upon both of these aspects in articles and the second point intentionally in Power and Love. It may be worth exploring/unpacking as a topic. Best regards.
Adam Kahane says
Great points, Marco, thank you.
Carol Moore says
I see you are now sharing Chapter 2, and that motivated me to share my thoughts on Chapter 1 before it is too late!
Since you are writing this book based on your own experience, I would like to see a few more first-hand quotes that illustrate your thinking. The quote from the Congressional men’s room in Venezuela allowed me, as your reader, to better understand the dynamics you describe.
In Figure 2, you point out that Fighting includes and transcends Adapting, and Collaborating includes and transcends Fighting and Adapting. Is this notion worth a few sentences in the narrative? I only saw it in the chart on my second read.
In the paragraph about Fighting, you list ideas, skills, votes, supporters, authority, money or weapons as things to use. Does it make sense to include information in this list? Would you include coercion and threats under authority?
Some of the ideas I am considering as I follow your writing out loud experiment include:
How dignity and self respect vs. shame and humiliation affect each archetypal approach;
How choices are made according to time horizons–short term vs. long term;
How choices are made according to role, as individual, family member, friend, colleague, community member, national citizen, global citizen;
How choices for methods of fighting are made (violence vs. non-violence); and
How “the past” is addressed, adjudicated, reconciled in each of the three archetypes. (I’m thinking here about justice, punishment, truth & reconciliation, restitution, forgiveness).
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to think and contribute my thoughts into a collective effort.
Kim Stryker says
I think that you are very courageous for inviting critique during your process and I am looking forward to seeing your book unfold. My remarks are significantly less cerebral than your other commenters, and I offer them from the perspective of a reader who doesn’t need to be convinced that collaboration is the best choice for most situations, but who wants to take away some concrete ways to be collaborative when doing so may be difficult or seems impossible.
One of the things I really appreciated in this chapter was that you introduced case studies where there was so much at stake for the parties involved and who didn’t just simply dislike or distrust one another – they were true adversaries. There appeared to be no explicit or implicit coercion involved that “forced” the parties to collaborate, but realizing a shared vision necessitated it. It makes forced collaboration in an office setting seem like small potatoes, but I think the concepts you will share will be universal.
I’m going to humbly suggest you reconsider the order of the material within this chapter so that you can lay your foundation for your book (as I understand it to be) – that there often seems to be only two options to deal with those you wish you didn’t need to deal with 1) adaptation; or 2) fighting, but that there is always a third option – collaboration. For most of us, collaborating with some of your least favorite individuals may rank slightly below gouging out your own eyes with a butterknife and adaptation/fighting may feel as comfortable as your favorite threadbare t-shirt (that should never be seen on your person in front of another human being), BUT that while collaboration (which looks nothing like the rainbows and butterflies that often come to mind) is messy and complex and difficult, collaboration beats out adaptation and fighting in most circumstances when there is a shared desire for an outcome.
I think that the leading paragraph should be the one where you summarized the insight you gained through your extensive work with the diverse Thai group whose sole reason for tolerating one another was to realize the one vision they shared.
From there, I recommend that you weave the Thai case study in with the more information-sharing aspects of the chapter describing the characteristics of the archetypes. Without having read future chapters, my presumption is that you may weave this story into future chapters throughout the book, including lessons learned or insights made during the group’s retrospective analysis of their “failed” collaboration journey.
I like that you’ve included the table to compare and contrast the different options. You may wish to consider dropping the definition of each archetype from the table, instead including with each introduced archetype. As well, you might simplify the wording in the table by eliminating the words, “this approach…”, including key words from your narrative under the columns, and even add a column that describes situations or personalities in which the archetype might be an individual’s first choice.
I wonder if you might have more to share with readers regarding the section that discusses recognizing opportunities to choose collaboration – maybe enough for its own chapter? Some case study information woven in might be helpful for the reader to solidify the concepts. My impression of your description of the Venezuela study was that you had intended it to be an example of a situation where one party wants to collaborate when another does not and perhaps it would fit nicely here.
I hope I’m not off base with my feedback and that it adds value to your process. I look forward to reading more!
Dawn Ellison, MD says
Thank you for this thought provoking piece. In your Thailand example, I expect that “We Collaborate” was not truly embraced by the people and the government and so therefore was not successful. I expect it would be extremely difficult for a country to be completely collaborative. The people view the government as one, but of course they seldom act as one. Whoever decided to give amnesty for past events was not on board with the collaboration effort as they did not give voice to the people. Collaboration failed because the right people were not at the table when that decision was made. Certainly this demonstrates the difficulty with collaboration, and the failure to collaborate, but perhaps not the failure of collaboration.
I work in primarily in healthcare where the lack of voice usually is why people fail to collaborate.
Dr S Kulshrestha says
Excellent Chapter! A small query- would the choice to Adapt, Collaborate or Fight have any correlation with the % power wielded by the differing groups? For examples if the physical number itself of the differing groups are in minority it may choose Adaptaion, if it is say 40%or more it may choose to Fight? The same can be translated in terms of terrain, political influence or money power. Regards.
Adam Kahane says
Above Rick Black makes the following excellent point that I think addresses your question: The three archetypes you mention are closely related to power dynamics. Adapt is often the choice of those who feel powerless even in a repressive environment and can only survive by this tactic. Fight takes place often when the power dynamics are more closely balanced (though not always) and there is a glimmer of possibility of changing the circumstances. Collaboration requires a recognition that the power dynamic is more equal but that the cost of fighting far outweighs its benefit.”
Jeanne McPherson says
I have admired your previous books, Adam, and this one will again further the conversation on collaboration. I’ve read through Chapter 3 with great interest and am going back to offer a few thoughts:
I agree with your position–in my experience in workforce development, people don’t want to consider collaborative strategies and skills if they think they can “win” without them. Adapt, fight, and collaborate: apt terms for workplace tensions and conflicts as well.
And yet, the word “fighting” keeps tripping me up, particularly because we daily (in the US) are bombarded with “fighting” that is tied to arms: ISIS and similar groups, neighbors who fight with guns, domestic fighting, and other physical forms of fighting. I believe you are emphasizing the arguing form of fighting, loud and angry at times, but not the physical. You are making important points here. Is there another word that will capture them?
(I’ll be “chewing” on this….)
Adam Kahane says
Hello and thanks Jeanne. Yes I think the vocabulary I am using needs some tweaking.