“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
You sit in your office and the younger gentleman or woman comes to you for advice on a project. Will you help them? You cook a wonderful dish and your friend wants to know how to cook the same dish. Will you share your recipe or technique? Your employee has come up with an idea that will make the job more efficient. Will you honor his suggestions? Whatever you do for a living, whatever subject you find people looking to you as a kind of expert, or wherever your self esteem gets its boost, if someone comes to you for advice or help with a problem, will you help them? Maybe your ‘correct’ answer is Of course, but I challenge you to think this through for a moment as you picture yourself in the setting of your choice.
When I saw Mr. Holmes’ quote, I immediately thought of a plant swap–where seeds, bulbs, or cuttings are shared with other gardeners. It’s a way to share with like-minded folks what you’ve worked to grow. There is always the chance that someone else will be more successful with what you had started, though. Some people plant the seeds, and others raise the plants. As Holmes reminds us, ideas can be transplanted, just like those seeds and cuttings, and might even grow better in new soil.
In whatever situation you’re picturing yourself, it should be a place where you enjoy the opinion others have of you–typically a job, but not always. Would you help someone, transplanting your ideas, knowing that the other person could gain more favor, make more money, or be more successful than you have been? Would that feel threatening to you or would you gladly share what you are able to share and be happy for whatever they are able to accomplish?
I listened to a speaker recently who challenged the listeners about this very idea of helping someone else, but she didn’t call it collaboration. She used homeless people as her example, basically to say There are people who will give $5 to a man or woman for a meal and feel good about themselves, and there are people who will give them clothes and feel good about themselves, but when those same givers are asked to get involved in helping the homeless man or woman to get ahead in life, they choose not to. We all have busy lives and might not be able to ‘do more’ at any given time, but her point was that the choice to not help was based on the attitude that it felt safer to the givers to maintain a superior position and attitude, a fear of seeing the person as suddenly competition in the world if they were on the same playing field. I see her point.
When I began writing about collaboration versus competition, I didn’t realize that I would quickly uncover the deeper issue of why some people choose not to collaborate: fear. In fact, I’ve learned that fear drives much of our lives if we allow it, and the first step to changing its power is to acknowledge its presence. (Watch for this in an article in the near future.)
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, collaborate means “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” It is derived from a Latin word that means “to labor together.”
Coyotes and badgers understand collaboration very well. It is reported that you will see coyotes hunting beside badgers more often than beside other coyotes. It seems the two animals have an agreement that the coyote hunts the prey above ground, and the badger takes over if the hunted goes underground. That is laboring together for sure! If animals see the value in collaborating, perhaps it’s worth putting aside our fear of not being the best and embrace being a part of the better answer.
Where could you collaborate? If someone asks for your help and you are capable of helping, help them. If you know someone who is better suited than you to do the job, point the person in that direction or at least draw them into the conversation. Songwriters often discover that they write better songs when they have someone to bounce ideas off of, for instance.
If the first step to overcoming your fear is recognizing you are afraid that what another person has to offer will make them look better than you, the second step is to walk through that fear and risk that the outcome could be much better than you’ve let yourself imagine.
It doesn’t matter if we are talking about working with someone in your job, discussing things with your spouse or child, sharing ideas with students in your classroom, recognizing that a patient might be better served if more caregivers are involved, or listening to input from customers on improving your business. If you let go of your fear of not being top dog, you might find that the pack you run with accomplishes much more and accomplishes it more quickly than you would have keeping your knowledge to yourself.
My father was a gardener. There were several families with gardens around ours, and I can remember how Daddy would talk about what he learned from or shared with one of the other gardeners. I guess none of them was afraid of another out-gardening them and ,instead, celebrated each others’ wisdom and good fortune in the world of tomatoes beans, and squash. Maybe today you will find an idea that you will choose to transplant to the mind of another and just enjoy watching it grow.