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Collaboration and Vulnerability

A symbiosis...

· Collaboration

I am starting the practice of committing to write and press the publish button once every week. I was inspired by Julie Zhuo in her interview on the Design Better podcast.  She made the same commitment, and in the podcast she explains the benfits that she has derived from the practice.  My situation is different from hers, however.  She was a third grader who journaled on her own, a high school student who weighed up the pros and cons of her prospective college choices in her journal. I was neither of those.  All of my younger journaling was the pitiful 'six weeks after a breakup' kind of journaling.  I won't be sharing any snippets of my old journals.

In that same podcast Julie talks about some of her important learnings as a manager at FaceBook.  One thing that she talks about is trust and vulnerability.  Yesterday Jay Melone posted a Seth Godin blog post, and it too talked about the importance of vulnerability, this time in the sphere of coaching. These two reflections prompted me to add my own.

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by Frodl2010 licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I have recently come from the world of education. As an educator for twenty years my observation was that vulnerability is the commodity that opens the doors for learning, both with students and with adults.  Generally speaking, the younger a child is, the more open to being vulnerable she or he is.  We all, some of us slowly and others of us more quickly, begin to build defences to protect ourselves against the forces of the outside world. We want to be liked, we don't want to appear foolish, we don't want to be wrong, and as a result we begin to throw up filters that in time stifle our willingness to express our ideas.  As a result those ideas then go unexplored, and that is a loss for everyone.

Collaboration is the exchange of ideas.  In it's most successful iteration it is the creation of a place where ideas and half ideas, hunches and notions can collide and result in mind opening innovations. Steven Johnson talks about this beautifully.  A prerequisite for significant collaboration is the willingess to be vulnerable. The willingness for your idea to fall by the wayside (no idea disappears, they all soemhow make up a part of the fabric of the dialogue, no matter how small).  Collaborators must have the ability to be open to being challenged. Being vulnerable is something that we can all learn, and like all learning, it is easier for some people than for others. We all carry our multiple intelligences, our nurture and nature, our life experiences, and these all affect how we deal with vulnerability. 

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                                         by opensourceway  licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Like so many of the conditions that are neccessary for meaningful collaboration ( communication skills, leadership, common vision, self awareness, listening skills etc), the ability to be vulnerable needs to a part of the culture of a team (or a classroom).  A team leader (teacher) must foster a community where ideas, once offered, belong to the team, not to individuals.  The community must be one in which there is a strongly held belief that every idea untlimately can move the team forward, and should be treated as such.  Unlike in business, in a classroom you do not have the luxury of hiring a class of kids with strong collaborative skills.  You have to model those skills and build them block by block, and in my experience, vulnerability is the most difficult piece of the puzzle to find.