Should you cooperate or collaborate?

Wall of Knowledge at IB Asia, 2014
Wall of Knowledge at IB Asia, 2014

I just spent six days at the IB Asia 2014 Conference, Ways of Knowing. You know how it is, so many great ideas, so much to think about, and all of it can be easily be forgotten if not continually called back into discussion. I wondered how I could keep these ideas spinning and create conversations about them.

I decided to condense some of the Big Ideas that I took away from the sessions and post them here. I would love discussions to develop from them. If anything ‘sparks’ a thought or provokes you, write a comment. Thanks!

1. Heard throughout the conference in different sessions:

Cooperation = being nice

Collaboration = being honest

If you are cooperating you are doing. If you are collaborating you are creating.

2. Heard at Richard Gerver’s session, keynote speaker.

“We need closer links between the world of work and education. Real collaboration would mean interaction between schools and businesses. For example, teachers could go and spend time in the work places of others in their community. Invite people other than teachers to unit planning meetings.” – R.G.

Steve Job introduced this mantra to Apple:

“Never employ anyone who needs managing.”

“We want a culture of staff and students that don’t need managing,” Richard Gerver

Richard Gerver

Dare to Disagree

I read this great blog by Dave Secomb on Inquire Within about Why Creativity is Important in Education. He references Ken Robinson‘s work in Out of Our Minds.  He explains how innovation is a process that requires three parts:

  • Imagination – The power to bring to mind the things that aren’t here in the present.

  • Creativity – Applied imagination. The process of putting your imagination to work and having original ideas that have value.

  • Innovation – Putting original ideas into practice.

This is a very clear description of words we are using in reference to education every day. Innovation is a word we hear a lot of lately, not only in education but in business and one’s daily life.

I  believe one more important aspect of innovation is the ability to think together.

This video (Vimeo, 2:44 min.) on thought leadership explains the process that leaders might go through to spread innovation.

Thought Leadership

It suggests that working with and supporting the critical mass is the best place to put one’s energies. Trying to convince the people who are not interested is a waste of time. Working with the people who already support the innovation, while it may be fun and energizing, is like preaching to the choir. In order to reach the ‘tipping point,’ work with the critical mass.

The critical mass, however, has a very important role in innovation. They are the ones who must dare to disagree. They are the ones who will listen critically and question the innovation. They are open-minded yet feel a responsibility to move cautiously.

In her TED talk Dare to Disagree, Margaret Heffernan  tells an inspiring story of Dr. Alice Stewart. In the 1950’s Dr. Stewart discovered a two-to-one correlation that children who died of cancer had mothers who had been x-rayed while pregnant. The data was statistically clear yet the information “flew in the face of conventional wisdom.. And it flew in the face of doctors’ idea of themselves, which was as people who helped patients, they didn’t harm them…The data was out there, it was open, it was freely available, but nobody wanted to know. A child a week was dying, but nothing changed. Openness alone can’t drive change.”

It took 25 more years before doctors stopped x-raying pregnant mothers. Stewart never stopped fighting. She had a fantastic model for thinking. She worked with a statistician, George Kneale. Kneale saw his job was to prove Dr. Stewart wrong and to create conflict around her theories. Through this, he was able to give Stewart the confidence to prove that she was right.

It’s a fantastic model of collaboration –thinking partners who aren’t echo chambers. I wonder how many of us have, or dare to have, such collaborators. Alice and George were very good at conflict. They saw it as thinking.

Abraham Lincoln had similar leadership skills (from Drive, by Daniel H. Pink, p. 203):

  • He was self-confident enough to surround himself with rivals who excelled in areas where he was weak.
  • He genuinely listened to other people’s points of view, which helped him form more complex opinions of his own.

As someone who will often ‘hop on the first carriage of the train’ when it comes to educational innovation, I appreciate that I work with so many colleagues who are my thinking partners. Sharing and discussing conflicting ideas is  a powerful way of collaborating.

Thank you to all of you who collaborate critically and respectfully. It is definitely helping me form more complex opinions of how  to revolutionize education.

Watch the full TED talk of Dare to Disagree here: