I met Adam Kahane many years ago and since then his innovative vision of negotiation has helped and inspired me. In 1996, on behalf of the Good Government Foundation, I invited him to come to our country, which at that time was going through a very difficult situation, plunged into political instability and violence.
Kahane helped us with a very interesting exercise. We managed to gather representatives from all sectors of Colombian society: from the government and the opposition; peasants and large landowners; trade unionists and industrialists; academics, politicians and retired military; even members of the self-defence groups and guerrilla leaders, who participated by telephone.
That meeting, which seemed unlikely, gave way to a process of discussion, reflection, and analysis never before seen in Colombia. Following the methodology proposed by Kahane, this diverse and complex group discussed in depth the reality of the country and the paths it could take in the future.
From there came the document Destino Colombia (Destination Colombia), in which four possible scenarios were contemplated: “Tomorrow will come and we will see,” “Better a bird in the hand,” “Everyone march,” and “Union makes strength.”
After so many years we can say that the exercise had an almost prophetic clarity.
Little by little—and almost literally—the destinies of Destino Colombia were fulfilled: from the loss of the authority of the state, the territorial fragmentation, the resurgence of violence, and the increase of poverty and social inequity contemplated in “Tomorrow will come and we will see,” going through the attempts—unfortunately unsuccessful—to seek peace through a negotiation alluded to in “Better a bird in the hand,” following the clamor of the Colombian people for a strong and determined leadership against the violent ones that privileged the military option spoken of in “Everyone march,” up until “Union makes strength,” the road that we have begun to take, where the joint work of political and social forces enabled us to successfully achieve the negotiation of peace and to open the doors to reconciliation and progress.
Such a successful diagnosis confirms the usefulness and effectiveness of Kahane’s approach to resolving conflicts and to designing political, economic, and social scenarios to find solutions to the major problems that currently concern the world.
Of course, solving these problems requires something fundamental: collaboration. Without this, it is impossible to find the paths that take us forward and allow us to solve the riddles and the difficulties that reality presents to us.
The nature of the collaboration is, however, more complex than we think.
That is the subject of this book. Collaboration is both necessary and difficult, Kahane tells us, and it does not always occur in controlled environments where a group of experts agrees and finds a solution that satisfies all parties. And, above all, it cannot always occur between people who think the same way and have the same objectives.
Often—and increasingly—it is necessary to collaborate with our adversaries. But how can we succeed in working with people we do not agree with or like or trust?
To achieve this, it is necessary to understand that collaboration requires flexibility. Kahane argues that it is fundamental to really listen to the adversary, without prejudging, without antagonizing—that is, without simplifying the positions of the others and building enemies with a black and white logic, without nuances—and with a disposition to find valuable ideas, possibilities for advancement in the middle of the disagreement. In addition, creativity is crucial: just as artists are not clear from the beginning how they will finish their work, so they experiment, erase, go back and correct, in the same way a process of collaboration must go step by step, without fear of stumbling, and knowing that mistakes can be made that will be amended in the end.
To collaborate with the enemy, it is necessary to understand that complexity and divergences are not insurmountable obstacles to reaching goals, to finding solutions.
In Colombia we know this well. To reach peace, it was necessary to embark on a process of negotiation with the FARC, the oldest and largest guerrilla group in Latin America, an armed group that caused Colombians great pain for decades.
Although we do not agree with the ideas of the FARC, much less with their methods, we sat down with them to find a way to silence the rifles and to save the lives of thousands of Colombians. We could not resign ourselves to continue an absurd war, a war of more than half a century, that brought so much suffering to our country.
The conditions were right: the guerrillas were weakened after years of heavy military operations and the loss of several of their main leaders. The correlation of forces had changed and the state was stronger than before, with the capacity to respond firmly to the action of the guerrillas.
It was the right moment to sit down and talk and try to find a negotiated solution. Although it was very difficult and we had to overcome many obstacles—the hatreds, the lies of the past, the distrust—fortunately we arrived at port and reached an agreement.
To reach that agreement, we required the support and understanding of the region, of our neighbors. And here we also had to learn to collaborate with the enemy.
For several years I had had a bitter rivalry with Hugo Chávez, who was president of Venezuela when I assumed power. However, when I became president, I understood that when leaders fight, it is the people who suffer, and I agreed to meet with Chávez to iron out the harshness. We did it at Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, in Santa Marta, and there we agreed—in an atmosphere of cordiality and good humor—to work together for the good of our peoples, even though our ideologies and ways of thinking and understanding the tasks of government were opposite.
Kahane cites a fragment of the Popol Vuh that serves to summarize that commitment: “We do not put our ideas together. We put our purposes together. And we agreed, and then we decided.”
We were able to collaborate, dialogue, debate and converge with our adversaries and, as a result, today we are building a country at peace, a new Colombia that welcomes hope and leaves in the past the ballast of war.
This book helps us understand that traditional collaboration is becoming obsolete. We need a new way of doing things, a “stretch collaboration” (as Kahane calls it), where all points of view can be accommodated, which embraces both power and love—knowing how to press at the right moment and yield when necessary—to not be afraid to tackle complex issues that seem impossible to solve, to know how to advance little by little—even in dissent—understanding that there is not only one correct answer and that you can learn as you go to refine the mechanisms and find the right answers.
Once more Kahane shows us a path we can take to build more positive leadership—serious, reflective, democratic.
This is, probably, the greatest contribution of this work: it invites us not to fear complexity, to take into account the different perspectives and possibilities it presents and, in addition, to be willing to change our strategy if circumstances warrant it. Only then can we collaborate effectively and lay the foundation for a better tomorrow.