I was recently in a meeting with a financial services company to help them develop strategic messaging. One member of their marketing team kept making absurd suggestions. Either he wasn’t paying attention, or he was stoned, or he was simply obsessed with playing out metaphors — birds, wings, flight, horizons – related to the company name.
But what was even nuttier, was that the marketing director, who seemed otherwise very bright and capable, twisted herself every which way to find legitimacy in this guy’s ridiculous suggestions. Which only led to more of the same, until the conversation got so nonsensical it was like an episode out of The Office.
Real collaboration isn’t a free for all. It takes focus and honesty to bring minds together to work on a single task. This is true whether it’s about an ad campaign, brand positioning, content development. Whatever. Sometimes we all need a redirect. We need to be told: that’s not the point, this is the point. When done right, there’s a collective energy and insight that accelerates the process rather than slowing it down. Ideas rise and fall quickly based on the input of others. The best becomes apparent.
Collaboration isn’t about collecting, as much as it is about sorting and refining. Many alternatives may be heard, but ultimately, a direction must emerge that is sounder, more enhanced and more vetted by others. This is the real purpose of the collaborative process. Not be heard, but to create.
No one is ever right all the time. A strong collaborator knows when others are on the mark, not just themselves. But they also know when others are off track, and that it’s not an insult to redirect them. In fact, a respectful redirect minimizes the sense of “being wrong”, and enables everyone to move on.
This lets everyone speak more freely, because you know the group will efficiently digest your suggestion and not hold it against you. Another way of saying this is: if being off is too terrible to mention, than the one who’s doing it is really an incorrigible fool. And none of us wants to be treated like a fool. So it’s ok to be honest. In fact, it’s an essential accelerator.