Main Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust
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Praise for Adam Kahane’s Work Business “Kahane addresses an important challenge that we face every day: how can we move forward together in situations where we are in conflict and unable to construct a shared vision of the future? In doing this he overturns conventional practice—including his own—and proposes a new approach to collaboration that is better suited to our difficult current context.” —Jan Kees Vis, Global Director, Sustainable Sourcing Development, Unilever “Adam’s Solving Tough Problems helped me understand that all our pressing problems—be they strategic issues inside a company or societal challenges like conflict, poverty, or climate change—require that those with a stake and the power to act come together in open dialogue to create a joint diagnosis and a deep commitment to moving forward together. In Power and Love, Adam goes further and deeper—into the kind of leadership that it takes to do this. A must-read for every reflective leader.” —Ravi Venkatesan, Director, Infosys, and former Chairman, Microsoft India “Our societies face really hard problems—poverty, injustice, unsustainability, corruption—that are insoluble by conventional means. Conflicts of interest and profound uncertainties about the future are producing paralysis and inaction. Adam Kahane has, more than anyone, developed and successfully employed tools that enable us to create futures of shared progress and profit.” —Peter Schwartz, Senior Vice President, Salesforce.com, and author of The Art of the Long View Civil Society “In Collaborating with the Enemy, Adam Kahane shows that people who don’t see eye-to-eye really can come together to solve big challenges. Whether in our businesses, our governments, our communities, or our personal lives, we can all benefit from this smart and timely book.” —Mark Tercek, President, The Nature Conservancy; former Managing Director, Goldman Sachs; and coauthor of Nature’s Fortune “Adam Kahane proposes a solid and clear methodology, supported by his experience in the many process; es in which he has participated, that invites us to defy our situation and to transform—not only to change—it, beginning by transforming ourselves.” —Luis Raúl González Pérez, President, National Human Rights Commission, Mexico “Kahane takes the core message from his seminal Power and Love into uncharted territory: our messy, challenging, and necessary task of working with others to solve intractable problems. He redefines collaboration, testing our assumptions about the interplay between individual agency and collective action. At once theory, memoir, and practical guide, Collaborating with the Enemy is a vital primer for people working at all scales to make the world a better place.” —Ross McMillan, President, Tides Canada “Nowadays, opposition and conflict are the new normal, yet normal responses to them seem impotent. Amid this chaos and as if delivered to us by ‘special order,’ Collaborating with the Enemy shows us how thinking and seeing differently can help us navigate this challenging landscape. Kahane abandons orthodoxy in taking on the most intransigent problems, showing us the path to effective action in a complex world.” —James Gimian, Publisher, Mindful magazine, and coauthor of The Art of War and The Rules of Victory “Transformative Scenario Planning is a deeply human book that offers tangible means for tackling the intractable problems that confront us at every level of life, from domestic and local to national and beyond. It offers realistic, grounded hope of genuine transformation, and its insights and lessons should be part of the toolbox of everyone in leadership roles.” —Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town “In our field, the hardest nut to crack is how to address conflicts between parties with fundamentally different worldviews. Adam offers a robust theory and a straightforward practice to address this vital challenge.” —Ofer Zalzberg, Senior Middle East Analyst, International Crisis Group Foundations “How many of us have dreamed of developing the art of helping others solve ‘impossible’ problems and bridge ‘uncrossable’ divides? Adam Kahane has taken that journey. Read, listen, absorb, and integrate.” —Peter Goldmark, former President, The Rockefeller Foundation “To transcend the perilous state in which we find ourselves, we need to learn to collaborate with those with whom we’d rather not. Drawing on his experience enabling sworn enemies to create peace in places like South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Colombia, Adam Kahane shares insights and lessons we can all use when collaborating with ‘those others’ is our only or best way forward. Collaborating with the Enemy belongs on the same shelf as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Machiavelli’s The Prince.” —Stephen Huddart, President, The J. W. McConnell Family Foundation “Adam Kahane helps us overcome romantic and linear approaches to conflict transformation. Collaborating with the Enemy provides a hands-on critique of the myth of the uninvolved mediator and explains the art of working with the enemy.” —Gorka Espiau, Associate Director, The Young Foundation, and former Peace Advisor to the President, Basque Government Government “Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ His life was the unfolding of an even deeper truth: the need to change himself if he wanted to change the world. Hence, his autobiography was titled My Experiments with Truth. Adam’s story of his engagements with people in many countries, whom he was called to help in their efforts to change their worlds, is an account of his own realization of Gandhi’s deeper insight. It is an honest and beautifully told story.” —Arun Maira, former member, National Planning Commission, and former Chairman, Boston Consulting Group, India “Power and Love includes the story of the Visión Guatemala team, in which a group of us, who in the ordinary course of events would never have met or worked together, had an unprecedented experience that opened up new horizons for us and for our country. Adam helped us cultivate our dreams and ideals and gave us the energy and hope to act to renew our society.” —Raquel Zelaya, former Secretary of Peace, Guatemala “Advances and changes in humankind have left the world with super-complex problems—from achieving sustainable development to maintaining peace and security—that require changes in the way we face them. Collaborating with the Enemy gives us not only a privileged look into Adam’s extensive experiences in high-level engagements to address these problems but also his honest and brave reflection on his successes and failures, and from these his articulation of an important new approach to collaboration.” —Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, former Head, President of Indonesia’s Delivery Unit, and Distinguished Practitioner, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford “The quality of a decision depends in large part on the quality of the process by which the decision is made. But the political process in my country (as in most) actually causes us to ‘enemyfy’ each other. If we are to solve the great challenges of our time, whether climate change or economic division and social unravelling, we must learn how to collaborate with those we believe to be our enemies. Adam shows us a way to do so.” —James Shaw, Member of Parliament and Coleader, Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand Academia “Collaborating with the Enemy is a lighthouse for our troubled times. If we are to find a way to reconcile the divides that imperil our common life, here we have a profound guide and a source of hope.” —Rufus Black, Master, Ormond College, The University of Melbourne “Power and Love is a rare and valuable book. Kahane has immersed himself in the practical challenges of helping people effect social change, and against this backdrop he unfolds a simple and penetrating insight: that power and love are two axes that delineate our individual and collective journeys. Either we master the balance of power and love or we will fail in our efforts to realize deep and lasting change.” —Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of The Fifth Discipline COLLABORATING WITH THE ENEMY OTHER BOOKS BY ADAM KAHANE Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change Transformative Scenario Planning: Working Together to Change the Future Collaborating with the Enemy * * * HOW TO WORK WITH PEOPLE YOU DON’T AGREE WITH OR LIKE OR TRUST Adam Kahane Drawings by Jeff Barnum A Reos Partners Publication Collaborating with the Enemy Copyright © 2017 by Adam Morris Kahane All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 1333 Broadway, Suite 1000 Oakland, CA 94612-1921 Tel: (510) 817-2277, Fax: (510) 817-2278 www.bkconnection.com Ordering information for print editions Quantity sales. Special discounts are available on quantity purchases by corporations, associations, and others. For details, contact the “Special Sales Department” at the Berrett-Koehler address above. Individual sales. Berrett-Koehler publications are available through most bookstores. They can also be ordered directly from Berrett-Koehler: Tel: (800) 929-2929; Fax: (802) 864-7626; www.bkconnection.com Orders for college textbook/course adoption use. Please contact BerrettKoehler: Tel: (800) 929-2929; Fax: (802) 864-7626. Orders by U.S. trade bookstores and wholesalers. Please contact Ingram Publisher Services, Tel: (800) 509-4887; Fax: (800) 838-1149; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.ingrampublisherservices.com/Ordering for details about electronic ordering. Berrett-Koehler and the BK logo are registered trademarks of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. First Edition Paperback print edition ISBN 978-1-62656-822-8 PDF e-book ISBN 978-1-62656-823-5 IDPF e-book ISBN 978-1-62656-824-2 2017-1 Text design: Gopa & Ted2 Design. Cover design: Dan Tesser, Studio Carnelian. Cover art: Shutterstock by Siberia Video and Photo. Edit: Elissa Rabellino. Proofread: Karen Hill Green. Index: Paula C. Durbin-Westby. Production: Linda Jupiter Productions. To my enemies and teachers Contents Foreword by Peter Block Preface INTRODUCTION: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust 1: COLLABORATION IS BECOMING MORE NECESSARY AND MORE DIFFICULT “I could never work with those people!” The enemyfying syndrome The central challenge of collaboration 2: COLLABORATION IS NOT THE ONLY OPTION The way forward is unclear “The miraculous option is that we work things through together” There are three alternatives to collaboration Collaboration must be a choice 3: CONVENTIONAL, CONSTRICTED COLLABORATION IS BECOMING OBSOLETE Constriction prevents movement Change management assumes control “There is only one right answer” The limitations of conventional collaboration 4: UNCONVENTIONAL, STRETCH COLLABORATION IS BECOMING ESSENTIAL Stretching creates flexibility and discomfort How to end a civil war Stretch collaboration abandons the illusion of control 5: THE FIRST STRETCH IS TO EMBRACE CONFLICT AND CONNECTION Dialogue is not enough There is more than one whole Every holon has two drives Alternate power and love 6: THE SECOND STRETCH IS TO EXPERIMENT A WAY FORWARD We cannot control the future, but we can influence it We are crossing the river by feeling for stones Creativity requires negative capability Listen for possibility rather than for certainty 7: THE THIRD STRETCH IS TO STEP INTO THE GAME “They need to change!” If you’re not part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution Be a pig rather than a chicken CONCLUSION: How to Learn to Stretch Notes Acknowledgements Index About the Author About Reos Partners A Note from the Artist, Jeff Barnum Foreword by Peter Block If you are working to make the world a better place, there are few experiences more rewarding and useful than having your thinking turned upside down. A shift in thinking is the essence of transformation. It is the basis of renewed faith. It is at the core of great leadership. In most cases the shift happens slowly, perhaps from education or trying to make sense of unsettling experiences, usually occurring without our being aware of it. Once in a while, however, we get lucky. Our mind shifts by simply reading a book. Adam Kahane’s Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust is such a book. The book is really an annotation on the title. The title asks me to collaborate with people I don’t agree with. Not so difficult. But then the stakes are raised, and I am asked to collaborate with people I don’t like. This too is manageable, even common in most workplaces. The final ask, though, is tougher: collaborate with people I don’t trust. Even people I consider enemies. To make these acts doable is the promise of the book. This promise is particularly relevant in light of what is occurring in the world. We live in a complicated time. It is a divisive and polarizing era in which we respond by constantly seeking like-mindedness. We have a growing number of ways to meet up with people similar to ourselves: We are drawn to people with the same interests, same tastes, same politics. Every time I buy something online, I am told what other people like me also bought. And it works. As a larger society, cities are resegregating into neighborhoods of people like us. As nations, we are voting for politicians who want to keep out strangers and reclaim our country as if someone had taken it away. We live in a time of growing alienation and isolation. We are losing trust in our institutions and our governments to act in our interests. Most of our elections are variations of a “no” vote. We have growing economic divisions, ideological divisions, contests over values. All this is why Adam’s book is important. It off ers a way of thinking and action that can create what seems like an impossible future by inviting all sides of a question into one room, especially when they don’t agree with, like, or trust each other. It describes this way of being and working and does it in a way to make the process accessible. What is also compelling is that Adam and his colleagues have actually put their thinking into practice. The world has been changed by their efforts. Here are some of the elements of Collaborating with the Enemy that have shifted my thinking: • I have believed that collaborating with others is our first choice. My view has been that human beings are basically collaborative, wanting to work together, and that we just need to remove the obstacles that prevent this from happening. Not so. Collaboration as presented in this book is simply one of several first choices. It is just as likely that our first choice is imposing our point of view on others, forcing compliance when possible, and doing all we can to get our way. Another first choice is to adapt to the world. Make compromises, minimize differences, and go along to get along. What Adam describes are ways to think about collaboration when the situation is increasingly hopeless. When we have reached a moment in which trying to control outcomes and impose our position on others is not working. Or, when adapting to the difficulty becomes untenable. The collaboration described here is aimed at finding a new way to move when the current reality is dire, and there is agreement on only one thing: something needs to change. This approach applies—whether for us as individuals, or an organization, or a community—whenever we are forced or ready to try something really new. • For much of my career I made a living as a consultant to organizations, whether they were businesses, schools, governments, churches, or associations. Much of the work involved helping teams to work better, helping labor and management to build trust with each other, or helping departments within a company to cooperate more effectively. In all these situations it was assumed that people were working toward a common goal. In my perspective, if they did not have a desire and instinct to work together and to trust each other, what was the point of coming together? Adam’s basic point is that this is exactly the time to come together. • As a culture, we believe that the answer to fragmentation and polarization is to develop coalitions and strategies to defeat or weaken the other side. We campaign to prove the superiority of our position. If we are oil companies, tobacco companies, or pharmaceutical companies, we establish so-called independent think tanks to gather research that casts doubt on those who oppose us. When facing a complex challenge, where prior efforts to achieve results have essentially failed, we invest in a cocktail of marketing strategies, build movements, and mobilize political will to produce the change we desire. In the public arena, the most visible strategies have been the war on drugs, the war on poverty, the war on terrorism, and civil war. We convene summits that craft a declaration and leave us with a set of action steps and a news release. The call to the summit is always to do something for the good of the whole. In times of crisis in the management and organizational world, whenever disruption occurs—a product loses its market or an industry or business is losing its legitimacy to operate—our propensity is to work at change management. We design culture-shift ing programs, initiate training programs, set new standards, find new people, call for more agility and more innovation. All these are well-accepted strategies and have a net positive impact. They certainly deliver improvements, but most of these transformation efforts are thinly veiled versions of how we try to get other people to change, to shift either their thinking or their actions in alignment with our intention. Colonial in nature, disappointing much of the time. Where change is stubborn, the conventional strategies suff er from a kind of naïveté. They are constructed on two premises: One premise is that there is an elite circle of people who know what is best for others and the world. We hold the almost sacred opinion that it is the right and duty of the central circle of leaders and experts to create think tanks; declare war on popular negatives like drugs, poverty, and terror; and select the people who speak and negotiate at the summits. Inside organizations, we basically believe that the central circle is top management and—whether in business, education, the church, or government—they are best equipped to launch the change programs. The second premise is the belief that we can problem-solve our way into the future. It is a deeply held belief that change will occur when we agree on a vision, set goals and define a predictable path to reach them, and specify observable measures, with timelines and milestones. The glue for all this is our belief and language about holding people accountable and demanding consequences for failure. Collaborating with the Enemy calls this rational ordering of action into question, especially in the face of complex problems where there are very divergent views and conflicts among important stakeholders. This condition of complex problems, whether in a society or in an organization, calls for a different way. This is where Adam off ers something unique. He talks of stretch collaboration as an alternative to the dominant thinking about how progress is achieved. He outlines a process whereby those who have a long history of distrust, incompatible goals, and embedded stories of not liking each other can create an alternative future without reaching major agreements. This means bringing people with divergent intentions into a room together where the task is not to negotiate or develop action steps. They only need to agree that a condition needs to change, but at no point are they asked to give up their own solutions or story of their position. A final piece of conventional practice, one that I have held dear and that Adam sets limits on, is that we primarily need to focus on the nature of the conversations between opposing parties and interests. The common paths are to seek understanding through better listening, through carefully structured forms of dialogue, through managing difficult conversations and getting to yes. These methods are always useful, but in the “stretch” approach to collaboration, dialogue is not the main concern. Changing the conversation as the primary means of creating an alternative future is not enough. Something more is called for. This stretch collaboration has three major tenets, which I will only name here. You need to read the book to do them justice. First, we have to affirm the legitimacy and value of every stance and each of its advocates. This idea manifests the belief that there is more than one worldview or mind-set to be considered. It reflects the thinking in a statement often attributed to Niels Bohr: “For every great idea, the opposite idea is also true.” Second, the way forward in the form of collaboration Adam describes is through experientially learning together. We set aside any effort at coming up with negotiated certainties and engage in joint experimentation. Everyone has an opinion, and it is only by trying some things together that we can jointly see which ones will work in the situation at hand. Finally, Adam calls us to place attention on the consciousness of ourselves and the people working to achieve collaboration. This is for anyone in the position of trying to bring enemies together. This consciousness is to be present in a new way, one in which we are able to notice what is occurring in the world rather than trying to impact it. And to notice that we are as much a player in the moment as anyone else in the room. In addition to the ideas it presents, the book is important because it is written with humility and an acceptance of our humanity. Adam talks about how his own attempts to force collaboration have in fact worked to prevent it. He supports the theory with very concrete examples of how people have found ways to honor and acknowledge the legitimacy of their enemies and create futures that once seemed impossible. The book is insightful as much for its stories as for its theory. Underlying the book is an unnamed spiritual dimension. It uses the language of Power and Love, the title of another of Adam’s books. This language evokes aspects of collaboration that hold a place for mystery. For things unknowable, impossible to define. Collaboration of this kind arises in certain moments in the life of a group that shift the context of the effort and open the possibility of something new occurring. This is most likely to happen when there is recognition of our equal capacity to exercise power and to love, both at the same time, with the same people. What comes through in the book is a call for wholeness. It asks us to face the harsh reality of the political and human suffering in the world, the existence of seemingly un-negotiable conflicts, long histories of contempt. At the same time, it invites us to include in our thinking the possibility of enemies having a useful place in our longing for a different future. Also, to do this work we have to inquire into ourselves, individually, as conscious, learning, and mistake-making human beings; we have to accept that, in the face of our good will, we can lose trust, agreement, and affection for people, and still move the action forward. The real work here is about creating the space where peace can triumph in the face of our attraction to the clash of cultures and ideologies, intensified by a journalistic megaphone that is primarily interested in what is wrong with the world. It aims for peace in the face of social media outlets where attention is the only goal, celebrity without substance makes the winners, and fabrication without facts is the way to create an audience. There is much unneeded suff ering in the world and in our institutional life, much of it caused by our desire to have our own way or to adapt to what we don’t believe in. Collaboration with the enemy is one form of the politics we have been waiting for: a reachable way for power, love, and neighborliness to reshape our collective lives. Peter Block December 2016 Preface I have spent the past twenty-five years helping teams of remarkable people work together on some of the most important challenges of our time: jobs, education, health, food, energy, climate, justice, security, peace. These people have been committed to making progress, and to do so they have been willing to work not only with their colleagues and friends but also with their opponents and enemies: politicians of all parties, guerrillas and army generals, activists and bureaucrats, trade unionists and business executives. When these collaborations succeeded, they produced inspiring breakthroughs, and when they didn’t, they produced disappointment and disillusionment. These extraordinary experiences, all around the world, have enabled me to observe, up close and in bright colors, how collaboration works and doesn’t work. Over this same period, I have also, in my daily life, worked together with colleagues, clients, partners, friends, and family. Sometimes I wanted to work with these people and sometimes I didn’t. When our collaborations succeeded, I felt happy, and when they didn’t, I felt frustrated. Moreover, I felt confused and embarrassed: how could I, an international expert on collaboration, have failed in my own practice? These ordinary experiences have enabled me to observe, also up close but in muted shades, how collaboration works and doesn’t work. The juxtaposition of these two different sets of experiences has surprised me. I have been able to see that the central challenge of collaboration is the same in both extraordinary and ordinary situations. This challenge is simple but not easy: How can we work together with diverse others, including people we don’t agree with or like or trust? This book is for everyone who wrestles with how to get things done with unlike others, whether within their own business or government or nonprofit organization, or with people in other organizations or communities or sectors. It is for everyone who needs to make progress on their most important challenges, not only with their colleagues and friends but also with their opponents and enemies. Over these past years, I have had many opportunities in many contexts to try to get things done through collaboration. Through much trial and much error, I have gradually been able to understand what it really takes to work together. This book reports what I have learned. Introduction: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust We face the same basic challenge everywhere: at home and work, in business and politics, on community and national and global issues. We are trying to get something done that we think is crucial. To do this, we need to work with others. These others include people we do not agree with or like or trust. And so we are torn: we think that we must work with these others and also that we must not. Collaboration seems both imperative and impossible. What do we do? The reason such collaborations seem impossible is that we misunderstand collaboration. Our conventional understanding of collaboration is that it requires us all to be on the same team and headed in the same direction, to agree on what has to happen and make sure this happens, and to get people to do what needs to be done. In other words, we assume that collaboration can and must be under control. Conventional collaboration looks like a planning meeting. But this conventional assumption is wrong. When we are working in complex situations with diverse others, collaboration cannot and need not be controlled. Unconventional, stretch collaboration abandons the assumption of control. It gives up unrealistic fantasies of harmony, certainty, and compliance, and embraces messy realities of discord, trial and error, and cocreation. Stretch collaboration looks like martial arts practice. Stretch collaboration enables us to get things done even in complex situations with people we don’t agree with or like or trust. Two Approaches to Collaboration Stretch collaboration requires us to make three fundamental shifts in how we work. First, in how we relate with our fellow collaborators, we must stretch away from focusing narrowly on the collective goals and harmony of our team, and move toward embracing both conflict and connection within and beyond the team. Second, in how we advance our work, we must stretch away from insisting on clear agreements about the problem, the solution, and the plan, and move toward experimenting systematically with different perspectives and possibilities. And third, in how we participate in our situation—in the role we play—we must stretch away from trying to change what other people are doing, and move toward entering fully into the action, willing to change ourselves. Stretch collaboration is challenging because all three of these stretches require us to do the opposite of what seems natural. Rather than shrink away from complexity we must plunge into it. Often this feels uncomfortable and frightening. These stretches require us to pluralize: to move away from paying attention only to one dominant whole, one optimum plan, and one superior leader, toward attending to multiple diverse holons (wholes that are part of larger wholes), multiple emergent possibilities, and multiple cocreators. Getting things done in complex situations with diverse others is never straightforward. Energies must be mobilized; needs must be balanced; actions must be taken. Stretching does not make this work disappear; it just enables us to do it with less fear and distraction and more connection and awareness. The proverb says, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” After enlightened stretching, we still have our work to do, but now we have a better chance of doing it successfully. This book presents a theory and practice of stretch collaboration. Chapter 1 explains why collaboration is necessary and why it is intrinsically difficult. Chapter 2 suggests a way to decide when to collaborate and when instead to force, adapt, or exit. Chapter 3 specifies the limitations of conventional collaboration and the narrow conditions under which it is applicable. Chapter 4 outlines stretch collaboration, and chapters 5, 6, and 7 elaborate the three stretches it entails: embracing conflict and connection, experimenting a way forward, and stepping into the game. The conclusion off ers a program of exercises to put these ideas into practice. 1 Collaboration Is Becoming More Necessary and More Difficult The urge to form partnerships, to link up in collaborative arrangements, is perhaps the oldest, strongest, and most fundamental force in nature. There are no solitary, free living creatures: every form of life is dependent on other forms. —Lewis Thomas1 Collaboration is often imperative and usually challenging. And the more we need it, the more difficult we find it. “I COULD NEVER WORK WITH THOSE PEOPLE!” In November 2015, I was facilitating the first workshop of a group of 33 national leaders. They had come together to search for solutions to their country’s most critical problem: the devastating nexus of insecurity, illegality, and inequality. Everyone at the meeting was worried about this situation and determined to do something about it, and they thought that together they might be able to do more than separately. I thought the project was important and was determined to do a good job. The participants came from every part of the society: politicians, human rights activists, army generals, business owners, religious leaders, trade unionists, intellectuals, journalists. They had deep ideological differences, and many of them were political or professional or personal rivals. Mostly they didn’t agree with or like or trust each other. In the country and in the group, suspicion and defensiveness were sky-high. To solve their most important problem, these people needed to work together, but they weren’t sure they could. I thought the workshop was going well. The participants were talking about their very different experiences and perspectives, all together and in small groups, and at meals and on walks and on trips outside the hotel to visit local people and projects. They were cautiously starting to get to know one another and to hope that together they could make a difference. Then, on the final morning, the project organizing team (eleven locals and my colleagues and me) got into an argument about some things that were not going well: methodological confusions, logistical glitches, communication breakdowns. Some of the organizers thought I was doing a bad job, and the next day they wrote a critical note that they circulated among themselves. One of the team members forwarded the note to me. I felt off ended and upset that the organizers were challenging my expertise and professionalism behind my back. I was frightened that the accomplishment and income I was expecting from the project were at risk. I thought I needed to defend myself, so I sent off first one, then a second, and then a third email explaining why, in my expert view, what I had done in the workshop had been correct. I knew that I had made some mistakes but was worried that if I admitted these now, I would be opening myself up to greater danger. I was certain that overall I was right and they were wrong: that they were the villains and I was the victimized hero. As the week went on and I had phone conversations with different organizers, my attitude hardened. I thought the people who were blaming me for the problems we were having were unconscionably betraying our team effort and me. I fought back and blamed them. I became increasingly suspicious, mistrustful, assertive, and rigid. I also wanted to keep myself safe, so I became increasingly cautious and canny. I decided that I didn’t agree with or like or trust these organizers and didn’t want to engage with them on this matter or to work with them anymore. What I really wanted was for them to disappear. THE ENEMYFYING SYNDROME This short, sharp conflict enabled me to feel in my gut a challenge that I had been thinking about for a long time. In order to make progress on this project, which was important to me, I needed to work with others. These others included people I did not agree with or like or trust. I slipped into thinking of them as my enemies. This polarization within our team put the work we were doing at risk. Moreover, in this small interaction within our team, we reproduced a central dynamic in the larger national system—mistrust, fragmentation, breakdown—that the project had been established to counter. In this ordinary incident, I enacted a common behavior or syndrome that I call enemyfying: thinking and acting as if the people we are dealing with are our enemies—people who are the cause of our problems and are hurting us. In different contexts we use different words with subtly different connotations for the people from whom we differentiate ourselves: others, rivals, competitors, opponents, adversaries, enemies. We use these characterizations often, in both ordinary and extraordinary contexts, sometimes thoughtfully and sometimes casually, even habitually. But the enemies are always the others: those people. It’s like the jokes about the conjugation of irregular verbs, such as “I am firm, you are obstinate, he is a pig-headed fool.” The enemyfying equivalent is “I see things differently, you are wrong, she is the enemy.” We see enemyfying all around us. It dominates the media every day: people identifying others not just as opponents to be defeated but as enemies to be destroyed. These others are variously labeled as nationalists and cosmopolitans, immigrants and racists, corporations and environmentalists, terrorists and infidels. The 2016 US presidential election overflowed with enemyfying. Speaking of Donald Trump’s campaign, comedian Aasif Mandvi explained how enemyfying creates a self-perpetuating vicious circle: Trump is essentially tapping into the most fearful, racist, xenophobic, fear-based mind-set in this country, but he’s also justifying that in other parts of the world. Whether it’s ISIS or it’s Trump—what they’re basically saying is: There’s a reason you should be afraid, there’s a reason you should feel disenfranchised, there’s a reason that you should feel angry, and it’s because of those people, over there.2 Enemyfying, vilifying, and demonizing pervade political discourse around the world. And we enact this enemyfying syndrome not only in politics but also at work and at home. I do a lot of enemyfying. I tell myself stories about how other people are messing things up: colleagues, clients, suppliers, neighbors, family. I know that these aren’t complete or fair stories about what is happening and that telling these stories isn’t a productive way to spend my time. I also know that many people do the same—for example, in couples counseling, which most people enter thinking, “Our problems are my partner’s fault, and I hope this counseling makes them understand that they need to change.” But enemyfying is seductive because it reassures us that we are OK and not responsible for the difficulties we are facing. Enemyfying is a way to understand and deal with real differences. It simplifies into black and white our overwhelmingly complex and multihued reality, and thereby enables us to clarify what is going on and mobilize energies to deal with it. But, as journalist H. L. Mencken said, “Th ere is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.”3 Our enemyfying, which feels exciting and satisfying, even righteous and heroic, usually obscures rather than clarifies the reality of the challenges we face. It amplifies conflicts; it narrows the space for problem solving and creativity; and it distracts us, with unrealizable dreams of decisive victory, from the real work we need to do. THE CENTRAL CHALLENGE OF COLLABORATION The enemyfying syndrome that I have observed and enacted is at the heart of the challenge of collaboration. In politics and at work and at home, collaboration is both necessary and difficult. We want to get something done that is important to us, but to do so, we need to work with people who view things differently than us. And the more important the issue and different the views, the more necessary and difficult the collaboration. The central challenge of collaboration is crystallized in the tension between its two dictionary definitions. It means simply “to work jointly with,” but also “to cooperate traitorously with the enemy.”4 The word therefore evokes both a story of generous and inclusive progress, such as an energetic and creative work team (“We must all collaborate!”), and a story of degenerative and amoral villainy, as in France during World War II (“Death to collaborators!”). The challenge of collaboration is that in order to make our way forward, we must work with others, including people we don’t agree with or like or trust, while in order to avoid treachery, we must not work with them. This challenge is becoming more acute. People are more free and individualistic and so more diverse, with more voice and less deference. Their identities and affiliations are more fluid. Enabled by new technologies, established political, organizational, social, and familial hierarchies are breaking down. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are growing. Increasingly often, we are therefore unable to get things done unilaterally or only with our colleagues and friends. More and more, we need to work with others, including our opponents and enemies—and we find it more and more difficult to do so. This collaborative challenge is wonderful in that it grows out of the weakening of authoritarianism and subservience. And it is terrible in that, if we fail to meet it, we will produce ever-increasing fragmentation, polarization, and violence. We must find a way to collaborate more effectively. We are face-to-face with the challenge of collaboration when we say, “I could never work with those people!” What do we mean by this common exclamation? Maybe we mean that we don’t want to work with those people, or that we are not able to, or that we don’t need to. In such situations, when we think it is not desirable or possible or necessary to work with certain others, then obviously we will try to work without them or against them: to avoid them or defeat them. But what do we do when we think it is necessary to work with these others? This might be because we worry that we can’t avoid or defeat them, or they have some skill or resource that we need, or we believe it would be wrong to exclude them. Such situations present us with the central challenge of collaboration. We see these other people’s values and behaviors as different from ours; we believe they are wrong or bad; we feel frustrated or angry. Although we know that we have to work with them, we wish we didn’t. We worry that we will have to compromise or betray what we believe is right and matters most to us. In these situations, although we see that we need to collaborate with those people, we don’t see how we can do so successfully. How can we succeed, then, in working with people we don’t agree with or like or trust? 2 Collaboration Is Not the Only Option The Art of War is not only about making war. It is in fact a manual for how to work effectively and artfully with extreme and chaotic situations and with any kind of conflict. It not only acknowledges that conflict is inevitable in life but also tells us that we can accomplish our objective without adding to the conflict. That’s why people keep coming back to it—not because it tells them how to wage war better but because it tells them that conflict rarely needs to reach the level of “war,” where the highly polarized fight exhausts the resources of the parties involved, be they nations, business partners, colleagues, or friends. —James Gimian and Barry Boyce1 We can’t work out how to collaborate until we understand when to collaborate. Collaboration is only one of four ways that we can approach situations we find problematic. Collaboration is not always our best option. THE WAY FORWARD IS UNCLEAR John and Mary are at their wits’ end. Their son Bob has fallen way behind in his mortgage payments again and this time is at risk of losing his home. They are frightened for Bob and his family and also tired of bailing him out. Should they do what they have done before and give him money to make his payments? Should they use the influence they have over him to make him get his act together? Should they cut him off and let him deal with his own mess? Should they work with him to find a way to deal with this situation? They aren’t sure what to do. This simple vignette illustrates the starting point for any attempt to collaborate to deal with a challenging situation. Things are not going as we want them to, and in particular, other people are not doing what we want them to. We have several options. Should we try to collaborate? “THE MIRACULOUS OPTION IS THAT WE WORK THINGS THROUGH TOGETHER” I first became interested in the potential of collaboration as the result of an inspiring experience I had in 1991 in South Africa. At the time, I was working at the London headquarters of the energy company Royal Dutch Shell, where I was responsible for developing global social-political-economic scenarios: alternative stories about what could happen in the company’s future business environment. One year earlier, the white government of F. W. de Klerk had released Nelson Mandela from prison and began negotiations to end apartheid and to move to democracy. Two professors at the University of the Western Cape, Pieter le Roux and Vincent Maphai, had the idea of using the Shell scenario methodology to think through how South Africans could effect their national transition. They invited me to provide methodological guidance to this effort. This is how I came to facilitate the Mont Fleur Scenario Exercise.2 Le Roux and Maphai decided to do this scenario work not with a team made up only of their colleagues (as we did at Shell) but also with leaders from across the whole segregated society: politicians, businesspeople, trade unionists, community leaders, and academics; black and white; opposition and establishment; from the left and right. I worked with this team over four weekends in 1991 and 1992. I was amazed at how, in spite of their profound differences, they were able to collaborate happily and creatively and to make an important contribution to South Africans achieving a successful transition. My experience at Mont Fleur upended my understanding of what was possible in the world and in my own life. On my first trip to Cape Town, I heard a joke that exemplified what I was witnessing. “Faced with our country’s overwhelming problems,” it went, “we have two options: a practical option and a miraculous option. The practical option is for all of us to get down on our knees and pray for a band of angels to come down from heaven and solve our problems for us. The miraculous option is that we work things through together.” I loved this joke and repeated it many times over the years that followed. I could see that through collaborating with their enemies, South Africans had succeeding in enacting the miraculous option. I was so enthusiastic about what I had experienced at Mont Fleur that I quit my job at Shell and emigrated to Cape Town to devote myself to following the thread that I had picked up there. I was certain that collaborating was the best way to address complex challenges. Over the subsequent decades, I led tens of large collaborations all over the world, cofounded a social enterprise to support this work, and wrote three books on the principles and practices that my colleagues and I were discovering. From time to time over these years, however, I had experiences that raised questions in my mind about the collaborative option. For example, in 2003, agricultural activist Hal Hamilton and I initiated a large-scale collaboration called the Sustainable Food Lab. This effort, which is still going strong, brings together companies such as Unilever, Walmart, and Starbucks, and nongovernmental organizations such as WWF, Oxfam, and the Rainforest Alliance, plus farmers and researchers and government agencies, to accelerate progress toward a more sustainable global food system.3 During our first months of convening the initial members of the Sustainable Food Lab, Hamilton and I talked with many food system leaders about whether they would be interested in participating in such an undertaking. Many of them thought it would enable them to make better progress on their own sustainability objectives, and by mid-2004 we had a large and diverse enough team that we could launch the lab. But one aspect of our convening work struck me: the thoughtful arguments made by three organizations that we invited to join but that declined. One global company said they would prefer to pursue sustainability on their own as a way to obtain a competitive advantage. An international workers’ organization said they would be interested in being part of such a group but not until they had built up their power and could engage with the participating corporations as equals. And a government agency said they saw their role as working apart from other organizations so that they could make and enforce regulations without being accused of bias. All three of these actors had reasons why collaboration was not their best option. Meanwhile, on and off from 2000 to 2012, I tried to help some Venezuelan colleagues organize a broad multistakeholder collaboration to address the severe economic, social, and political challenges facing their country. But time after time, our efforts ran up against the unwillingness of Hugo Chávez’s revolutionary socialist government to participate in our project, so it never got off the ground. In 2011, a congressman from a Venezuelan opposition party told me a story about the extraordinary level of political non-collaboration. “The government and the opposition members of Congress used to be able to work together in certain committees,” he said, “but now the government refuses to talk with us at all. The only conversation I have had recently with a Chavista was in the privacy of a men’s room in the Congress, where one of them standing at the adjacent urinal whispered to me, ‘If you guys get into power, don’t forget that we’re friends, right?’” What I eventually understood was that the refusal of the Chávez government to participate in our project was not because they didn’t understand the principles or opportunities of collaboration. We didn’t need to explain it again, more carefully and convincingly. They refused because their strategy was based in part on an opposite logical premise: that demonizing their political opponents as treasonous capitalist elites helped them retain the support of their popular base. In this case, then, from the perspective of the Chavistas (like other politicians in other countries), collaboration was not their best option. And over this period, while I was trying to help other people with their collaborations, I was having problems in my own. I had lots of difficulties getting along with people, and long, quiet, sad estrangements. Three times I had a drawn-out conflict with a different one of my business partners. In each case, we had disagreements that become more harsh and sour, and which we were not able to resolve. These experiences left me puzzled and embarrassed: I was worried that my inability to work out my ordinary conflicts meant that I was a fraud in guiding others to work out their extraordinary ones. THERE ARE THREE ALTERNATIVES TO COLLABORATION It was only many years later, in Thailand, that I understood clearly what is involved in choosing to collaborate. In August 2010, I went to Bangkok at the invitation of a group of citizens who were worried about the ongoing political conflict between pro- and antigovernment forces, which had recently produced bloody protests. They were frightened that the unrest, polarization, and violence might spiral out of control—in the worst case into civil war. This group convened a team of leaders from across Thai politics, business, the military, the aristocracy, and civil society organizations, who represented many factions in the conflict and who mostly blamed each other for what was going wrong. They were, however, willing to work together on a question that mattered to all of them: “What kind of Thailand do we want to leave for our children?” I participated in these workshops and also in many smaller meetings with different actors, trying to help them find ways to resolve the conflict. In its particulars, Thailand’s history and culture and values are unique and, for me, were bewildering. But Thais are also wrestling with social dynamics that are present around the world, so working with this team enabled me to learn general lessons about what it takes to deal with these dynamics. The team worked between April and August 2013 to make sense of what was going on in their country. They shared their varied experiences and understandings with one another and also met with academic experts and ordinary people. Out of this immersion they discerned three complex challenges that Thailand faces: social and cultural tensions, economic and environmental pressures, and political and institutional constraints. They agreed that the future that would unfold in Thailand would depend not so much on the specifics of what Thais did to address these challenges as on how they addressed them. The team said there were three basic stances toward their country’s challenges that Thais could take. They named these stances We Adapt, We Force, and We Collaborate. In We Adapt, Thais would simply get on with looking after themselves and their families and organizations, and leave addressing the larger societal challenges to others, especially the government and elites. This was the approach that most individuals and organizations were used to taking. In We Force, many people would become involved in political movements to push for or impose top-down solutions to these challenges. They would fight to win. Thais had taken this stance in the past, most recently during the political unrest of 2008–2010. And in We Collaborate, many people would get involved in new cross-factional and cross-sectoral efforts to develop a multitude of bottom-up solutions. This approach had the least precedent in Thailand. The team’s primary conclusion was that Thais would be unable to address their complex challenges if the dominant stance they took was either of the two most familiar ones, We Adapt or We Force. The challenges were too complex and the society too polarized for a successful way forward to be dictated from the top down by any particular faction of experts and authorities. They would be able to address their challenges only if the stance they took was the less familiar and more inclusive We Collaborate. The team then created a movement in Thailand to build this capacity, which they called Collaborate We Can. I was happy with these conclusions because they accorded with my long-held belief in collaboration. In November 2013, I returned to Thailand to help the team finish writing up our report. Our thinking about what could happen in the country was, however, quickly being overtaken by what we could see on television was actually happening. The government had attempted to pass a law to give amnesty to politicians for off enses committed during previous periods of unrest, and hundreds of thousands of antigovernment protesters who thought this law was corrupt organized mass rallies, pushed their way into government buildings, and demanded that the elected parliament be replaced by an appointed council. Mutual enemy-fying escalated, with each side denouncing its opponents as irrational, bad, or traitorous. The worst fear of the Thai team, that the country would descend into civil war, now seemed possible. I was alarmed and disappointed at this collapse of efforts to enact a We Collaborate scenario. Even more, I was surprised that so many of my Thai colleagues, convinced that at this juncture collaboration meant capitulation, were working to enact different variations of We Force through their enthusiastic support for either pro- or antigovernment actions. Throughout the first months of 2014, the political conflict in Thailand continued in the parliament, the courts, and the streets. The antigovernment protestors occupied parts of central Bangkok, seized government buildings, and forcibly prevented the election of a new government. The government declared a state of emergency and tried to close down occupied sites. The two sides held talks to try to resolve the conflict, but these failed. Finally, in May 2014, the army implemented their own We Force option: they staged a coup, established a junta to govern the country, declared martial law, censored the media, and arrested politicians and activists—including some from our team. Over these months of Thai history, then, the three options the team had described had all been in play. But as the national crisis intensified, many Thais abandoned We Adapt and We Collaborate for We Force. They saw collaboration with their opponents and enemies as unpalatable. They did not see collaboration as their best option. Over the months that followed, I spoke many times with my Thai colleagues about what had happened and what it meant. The more we talked about the thinking of the team, the more valuable I found it. I came to believe that the team had uncovered an archetypal framework for the options that are available, not only to Thais but to all of us, to deal with the challenging situations we face. COLLABORATION MUST BE A CHOICE What I came to understand in Thailand was that whenever we are faced with a situation we find problematic, in politics or at work or at home, we have four ways that we can respond: collaborating, forcing, adapting, or exiting. (The Thai team did not discuss exiting because they were focused on how to effect change from within the country.) Sometimes not all of these options are available to us; for example, we may not have the means to employ forcing. But we always have to choose from among these four options. Four Ways to Deal with Problematic Situations Many people think of collaboration as the best and right default option: that we are all interconnected and interdependent and ought to work together. This was the lesson I took from Mont Fleur, but I now think it is only sometimes true. We can’t always work with everyone or never work with anyone, so collaboration is not always right or always wrong. In practice, we have to decide in each situation whether or not to collaborate. We may make this decision rationally or intuitively or habitually, but in any event we must have a clear understanding of the opportunities and risks of each option. We try collaborating when we want to change the situation we are in and think that we can do so only if we work with others (multilaterally). We think that we cannot alone know what needs to be done or that, even if we can know, we cannot alone succeed in getting it done. We may or may not want to collaborate—but we think that, under the circumstances, we need to. Collaborating presents the opportunity, as we work with others—perhaps opponents and enemies as well as colleagues and friends—to find a more effective way forward and have a larger and more sustained impact on our situation. But collaborating is not a panacea: the risk it presents is that it will produce too little too slowly—that it will lead to our compromising too much, or even being coopted and betraying what matters to us most. In the early 1990s, for example, South Africans chose to collaborate, at Mont Fleur and elsewhere, to effect a negotiated transition to democracy. Most of them believed this was the best option—but this decision and the compromises it entailed were contested then and are even more so now. We try forcing when we think that we ought to and may be able to change our situation without working with others (unilaterally). We think that we, alone or together with our colleagues and friends, know best what needs to be done, and must and can impose this on others. We can do this imposing in many different ways: peacefully or violently; by enticing or defeating; using our ideas, skills, supporters, votes, authority, money, or weapons. The opportunity of forcing is that it accords with a way of thinking that for many people is natural and habitual. They believe that in most situations, forcing is the best—perhaps even the only realistic—way to effect change; that in principle it is right to use force for a just cause, and that not to do so would be wrong and cowardly. The risk of forcing is that as we try to push through what we think needs to be done, others who think differently will push back, and therefore we will not achieve the outcome we intend. In 2014, the two sides in the Thai conflict tried to force the outcome they wanted, and then the military forced theirs. Many people agreed with the military’s action because it prevented the violence from escalating, but it produced only halting progress in addressing the country’s challenges. We try adapting when we think that we cannot change our situation and so we need to find a way to live with it. Adapting may require us to employ lots of intelligence and ingenuity and courage, but we do this within a limited sphere. We believe that we are not able to change what is happening outside our immediate area of influence; we cannot change the rules of the game, so we must play it as well as we can. We therefore focus on doing the best we can and ignore or avoid or fit into what is happening around us. The opportunity of adapting is that we can get on with living our life without expending energy on trying to change things we cannot. Sometimes adapting works just fine for us, and sometimes it does not work fine but it is the best we can do. The risk is that the situation we are in is so inhospitable that we will be unable to adapt and will struggle even to survive. The three parties that declined to participate in the Sustainable Food Lab thought they could achieve their objectives best if they worked within the system as it was, rather than entering into a novel collaboration to try to transform it. We try exiting when we think we cannot change our situation and we are no longer willing to live with it. We can exit through quitting, divorcing, or walking away. Sometimes exiting is simple and easy, and sometimes it requires us to give up a lot that matters to us. In Venezuela, more than one million people despaired of the crisis in their country and emigrated. This elaboration of the four options enabled me to understand better what I had been doing during the times I had conflicts with my business partners. First, I would try adapting: seeking a way to do what I wanted to do while fitting into the status quo of the partnership—going along to get along. When this didn’t work, I would try collaborating to change the status quo, but I wasn’t able to make this work. I was afraid of conflict—worried that I would get hurt or lose face—so I shrank from it, attempting to keep things polite and under control. This prevented me from resolving our disagreements in a way that allowed us to continue to work together, and because I found the conflict so uncomfortable, I didn’t see how we could continue to work together if we couldn’t agree. In the end, I would try forcing: trying to get things to be the way I wanted them to be, even if my partner didn’t. In some of these cases, I won and my opponent was forced out of the partnership, and sometimes I was the one who exited. We can view our choice among these four options through the pragmatic lens of power. From this perspective, we choose to collaborate only when it is the best way to achieve our objectives. More specifically, we choose the multilateral option of collaborating when the unilateral options of adapting and exiting are unpalatable and the unilateral option of forcing is impossible. Put another way, we adapt or exit when others are more powerful than us and so can force things to be the way they want them to be; we force when we are the more powerful; and we collaborate only when our power is evenly matched and neither of us can impose our will. Of course, we cannot choose to collaborate all by ourselves. It is easy to begin to collaborate when we and the others all agree that we need to and want to. But often we want to collaborate and the others don’t (or vice versa). The others are making the assessment that exiting or adapting (not dealing with us) or forcing (defeating us) is a better option than collaborating (working with us). In such circumstances, we can wait for their frustration, doubt, or desperation about the viability of their unilateral options, and hence their interest in collaborating, to increase. Or we can act to increase their frustration, doubt, or desperation about the viability of their unilateral options—for example, by demonstrating that we are willing and able to employ counter-vailing force. Or we can act to increase their excitement, curiosity, or hope about the viability of collaborating—for example, by getting a third party to guarantee the safety of the activity. Finally, we may decide to collaborate not only because of the characteristics of the specific situation we are in, but also because of our general preferences. We may have reasons—political, social, cultural, psychological, spiritual—to prefer to be in collaboration and community and communion. Collaborating is not our only option, so we need to think clearheadedly about whether, in any given situation, to choose it or forcing or adapting or exiting. But let’s say that, through whatever combination of reason and intuition and preference, we choose to collaborate. We then face the next question: How can we do this successfully? 3 Conventional, Constricted Collaboration Is Becoming Obsolete The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds. —John Maynard Keynes1 Our most common default mode for collaborating is controlled. But in most complex and contentious contexts, this mode does not and cannot work. CONSTRICTION PREVENTS MOVEMENT John and Mary are talking about what to do about their son Bob’s financial problems. They want to help, and they also know from experience that they can’t force him to do anything. They don’t want to fight either with each other or with Bob. So they need to find a way to work this out together. John takes a directive approach. He thinks that Bob has been messing up his life for a long time and that they need to get him to sort things out once and for all. Mary thinks that Bob is having a tough time with his business and that they ought to give him some money so that his children don’t suff er, but she is willing to go along with John. They agree on a narrow compromise: they will give Bob the money he needs to catch up on his mortgage but also make it clear to him that this will be the last time. John arranges to meet Bob for lunch, listens to Bob’s explanation of his situation, and then in a sympathetic voice tells Bob what he and Mary have decided they are willing to do to help out. Bob feels defensive but thanks John, accepts the off er, and promises to be more careful with his money. Bob returns home to his wife, Jane. He tells her that he is relieved to have gotten some help but that he resents the way his parents treat him like a child. He doesn’t know how to change what he is doing, so his financial problems recur. John and Mary feel taken advantage of and disappointed. All four of them retreat; they spend less time together and their relationships become cooler. They have not made any progress on their issues—in fact, they now feel even more frustrated and angry. CHANGE MANAGEMENT ASSUMES CONTROL In all of my first jobs and many of my first consulting projects, I worked for large organizations: corporations, government agencies, research institutes. So I understand how such organizations typically do things. Here is a composite story of an organizational change process. Susan Jones is the CEO of a large hospital that is facing dis-orienting changes in its social and economic and technological environment, and is producing consistently poor clinical and financial results. She gets her board to approve a comprehensive project to transform the hospital’s operations. She knows that this transformation will require many professionals—doctors, nurses, researchers, technicians, administrators—to make many changes in what they are doing, and that she will therefore not be able to direct or impose this effort unilaterally. So she decides to undertake this project collaboratively. Jones sets up a transformation team that includes the hospital’s top twenty-five managers from across all departments. She organizes an off-site workshop so that they can jell as a team and agree on a plan for the transformation. She hires expert consultants to diagnose the hospital’s problem, prescribe a solution, and present their report to the workshop. She focuses the workshop discussions on what will be best for the patients and for the hospital as a whole, insisting that her managers put aside their parochial departmental agendas. At the end of this workshop, the team has reached consensus on a plan to implement the solution recommended by the consultants. It specifies what each department must do in order to effect the transformation and also the incentives and sanctions that will ensure its implementation on time and on budget. Jones and her team are pleased with having accomplished this important and complicated task. Jones sends out an email to all hospital staff announcing the rollout of the transformation. But most of them greet this communication with cynicism and defensiveness. They doubt that it will work, they worry that they will have to compromise their professional standards, and they fear that their jobs will become less satisfying and secure. They blame Jones, their managers, the consultants, and people in other departments. Public health officials and patients also raise concerns in the newspapers and on social media. As the managers begin to implement their plan, they run into unexpected complications, delays, resistance, and overruns. The managers push the implementation harder, but the effort becomes more stuck. Clinical and financial results deteriorate further. Finally, the board declares that the transformation project has failed and they cancel it. Recriminations abound. In implementing this collaborative transformation, Jones made three typical mistakes. First, she focused all of the conversations about this project on the good and interests of the hospital as a whole. In doing this, she papered over the crucial fact that different departments and individuals had radically different perspectives on what was happening and ought to happen, and that the transformation would produce winners and losers. Jones also overlooked the inconvenient fact that, in conversations about “the good of the whole,” it was true only for her that the interests of the whole and her own interests (her compensation and career) were identical—everyone else’s interests depended largely on what happened to their department and their job. It was not true that there was only one whole to be optimized: there were many wholes to be managed, and to suggest otherwise was simplistic and manipulative. Jones’s second mistake was that, in trying to advance the transformation, she and her consultants pushed to articulate a single statement of the problem, the solution, and the plan. But the hospital’s situation was too complex, with too many people having their own perspectives and proposals, for them to be able to obtain an agreement that was substantive and sincere. And not only could they not get agreement on what would work, they could not know what would work before they tried it out: lots of people had opinions but no one actually knew. The real work of the transformation was not to choose among existing fixed options but to cocreate new options as the work unfolded. The third mistake was in how Jones and her managers and consultants saw what they needed to do to effect this transformation. They thought that change management meant getting other people—subordinates, suppliers, patients—to change their values and thinking and actions. This fundamentally hierarchical assumption, that higher people change lower people, makes everyone defensive: people don’t dislike change, but they dislike being changed. This transformation would require everyone to be open to learning and changing. “THERE IS ONLY ONE RIGHT ANSWER” All of my training was to be an expert problem solver. In 1979, I started an undergraduate degree in physics at McGill University in my hometown of Montreal, proud to be in such a brainy field. I enjoyed spending my evenings calculating solutions to mathematical problems. I got perfect marks on exams because beforehand I had worked through the correct answer to every question in the textbooks. In the summer of 1981 I attended a global conference of scientists concerned with big problems such as nuclear war. I wrote a conference paper that made a logical but naïve argument for using planes rather than satellites to monitor compliance with arms treaties. One of my mentors used a phrase to criticize my paper that I had never heard before: “Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.” I was surprised by this notion that there was not simply one correct answer. At this conference, I heard a presentation on the environmental problems of energy production and was attracted to working on such an important public issue. So in 1982, I started a graduate degree in energy and environmental economics at the University of California, Berkeley, that trained students in the rational assessment of complex policy issues. My master’s thesis proved that the Brazilian government program to substitute sugar-based alcohol for gasoline was uneconomical. Then I got a series of research postings in the United States, France, Austria, and Japan. In each of these places, I was given the same kind of assignment: figure out, for some complex issue, the optimum policy response. After I graduated from Berkeley in 1986, I was hired as a corporate planning coordinator at Pacific Gas & Electric Company in San Francisco. The essence of my job was to come up with quick and succinct answers to business questions posed by the company’s executives. Once I attended a strategic planning retreat of the company’s executive committee and was shocked to see them make decisions based not only on the analyses that my colleagues and I had prepared, but also on habit, politics, and game playing. Then in 1988, at twenty-seven years old, I got a job in the global planning department of Royal Dutch Shell. During these years, the most common feedback I got was that I was intelligent but arrogant, which I thought was an acceptable trade-off. Shell people had a similar reputation, so when I got there, I thought I fit right in. Shell’s planning department was staff ed with bright people recruited from across the company and from external think tanks. Our job was to challenge Shell executives to pay attention to changes in the world that could present new business risks and opportunities. We did this by constructing scenarios of possible futures through reading and talking with people from around the world and then arguing among ourselves, for months and months, about what we were observing and what it meant. The window of my office looked down on the British Houses of Parliament, and I fancied that we, like the parliamentarians, were employing robust and reasoned debate to find the best answers. By the time I was at Shell, then, I was confident that I knew how to solve complex problems. The model I had internalized from all of my training had three basic steps. First, smart people think through the problem and the solution and make a plan to execute this solution. Second, they get the people in authority to approve this plan. Third, the authorities instruct their subordinates to execute the plan. This all seemed obvious and reasonable to me. Later, my boss at Shell, Kees van der Heijden, explained that this model provides the foundation for all conventional strategic planning; it falls into the rationalist school, which codifies thought and action separately. The tacit underlying assumption is that there is one best solution, and the job of the strategist is to get as close to this as possible within the limited resources available. Having decided the optimal way forward, the question of strategy implementation is addressed separately.2 THE LIMITATIONS OF CONVENTIONAL COLLABORATION After my experience at Mont Fleur, I left Shell to work on collaborative efforts to address complex public challenges. Almost everyone I worked with—in governments, companies, and nonprofits, around the world—was implicitly using some variation of the three-step conventional, rationalistic, linear, hierarchical model that I had learned. I tried to make this model work in my collaborations, but it didn’t. What I observed was that people who come together to work on a complex challenge almost never follow these three steps, even if they think they are supposed to. They often produce useful outputs—new relationships, insights, commitments, initiatives, and capacities—but they rarely do this through executing an agreed-upon plan. Sometimes they produce some outputs and sometimes others; sometimes they end up doing something close to what they originally intended and sometimes they make radical changes; sometimes they are able to work together only briefly and sometimes they end up continuing for years; sometimes they move forward in alignment and sometimes in fierce contestation. In practice, they figure out what to do as they go along. For a long time, I thought the unpredictability of these collaborations could be remedied by participants’ being more explicit or disciplined about following the three steps: by doubling down on planning and control. But eventually I realized that the model I had always thought was normal simply does not and cannot work in complex and conflictual situations. Later I learned that, in transposing the way I had worked on physics problems to my work on policy and strategy, I was making a common mistake. In 1973, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber wrote: The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, because of the nature of these problems. They are “wicked” problems, whereas science has developed to deal with “tame” problems. Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the undisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about “optimal solutions” to social problems. Even worse, there are no “solutions” in the sense of definitive and objective answers.3 Once I started to question the conventional problem-solving model I had been using, I realized how unsuitable it was for the collaborations I was trying to support. The difficulty starts with the assumption that there is one right answer. Being certain that we know the right answer doesn’t leave much room for other people’s answers and therefore makes it more difficult to work together. I saw a vivid example of this in 2010 when I made my first visit to Thailand. My hosts had organized back-to-back meetings over three days with thirty top leaders from across Thai society. A few months earlier, pro- and antigovernment forces had clashed violently in Bangkok, and in these meetings we heard radically different accounts of what had happened and why and who was to blame. I found this series of disjointed conversations to be confusing. But on reflection, I realized that one thread ran through each of the accounts we had heard. In one way or another, every single person had said, “The truth of this situation is . . .” This is the typical starting point for attempts to collaborate in complex and contentious situations. Usually most of the people involved are convinced that they know the truth about their situation. They are right and others are wrong; they are innocent and others are guilty; and if only the others would listen to and agree with them, then the situation would be rectified. In hierarchical systems such as Pacific Gas & Electric and Thailand, this level of certainty can be dangerous. A belief that “I am right and you are wrong” can easily slip into “I deserve to be superior and you to be inferior.” This is a recipe not for generative collaboration but for degenerative imposition. We hold on to being right to protect our sense of who we are. In 2009, while I was attending the international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, I had a brief conversation with Berlin researcher Anja Koehne. She was criticizing the German stance toward other countries in the negotiations and used a phrase that penetrated me like an arrow: “feeling superior as a condition of being.” This phrase showed me that I was attached to winning arguments and being right, in part because I saw being superior as integral to my identity. I feared that if I was wrong, I would lose a vital part of who I was: that I would not just fail but be a failure. I could not relax my grip on having the right answer until I could relax my identification with success. The typical starting point for collaborating in complex and contentious situations, then, is that the participants do not agree on what the solution is or even on what the problem is. They each have their own truth about what is going on and why, and who needs to do what about it. One way to approach this situation is to understand the participants as the blind men with the elephant. In this fable, the blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar, the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope, the one who feels the side says the elephant is like a wall, and so on. This metaphor suggests that each of the participants in a collaboration has a different perspective on the situation that they are all part of and care about, and that if each reveals his or her perspective, then together they can construct a more complete picture. But the construction of a single agreed-upon model of the whole situation is often not possible. Futurist Don Michael points out that in today’s world the most advanced among us know about little more than one small piece of the elephant, and there are now so many different pieces, they change so rapidly and they are all so intimately related one to another, that even if we had the technology to put them all together, we would still not be able to make sense of the whole.4 So we need to do something more than simply fit together different truths to form a single larger truth. Political philosopher Isaiah Berlin takes this argument further. He says that trying to agree on and implement a single set of understandings and values is not only unachievable but dangerous: If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. The root conviction which underlies this is that the central questions of human life, individual or social, have one true answer which can be discovered. This idea is false. Not only because the solutions given by different schools of social thought diff er, and none can be demonstrated by rational methods—but for an even deeper reason. The central values by which most men have lived, in a great many lands at a great many times—these values, almost if not entirely universal, are not always harmonious with each other. So we must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals. I know only too well that this is not a flag under which idealistic and enthusiastic young men and women may wish to march—it seems too tame, too reasonable, too bourgeois and it does not engage the generous emotions. The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction, blood.5 Collaborating with diverse others therefore cannot and must not require agreeing on a single truth or answer or solution. Instead, it involves finding a way to move forward together in the absence of or beyond such agreements. This is true not only at work but also at home. The research done by marriage therapist John Gottman, and discussed by Michael Fulwiler, suggests, 69% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems. All couples have them—these problems are grounded in the fundamental differences that any two people face. They are either 1) fundamental differences in your personalities that repeatedly create conflict, or 2) fundamental differences in your lifestyle needs. In our research, we concluded that instead of solving their perpetual problems, what seems to be important is whether or not a couple can establish a dialogue about them. If they cannot establish such a dialogue, the conflict becomes gridlocked, and gridlocked conflict eventually leads to emotional disengagement.6 So the conventional approach to collaboration that I learned in the first part of my career is of limited use. It works only in simple, controlled situations where everyone agrees or goes along and where their actions produce the results they intend. In most social systems—families, organizations, communities, nations—complexity is increasing and control is decreasing, so such situations occur less frequently. Conventional collaboration is therefore becoming obsolete. We get into trouble when we incorrectly assume that the situation we are dealing with is simple and controllable, and therefore that conventional collaboration is applicable. In these circumstances, we employ conventional collaboration because it is familiar and comfortable, and we know it works. But it does not work: it increases enemyfying and makes our situation even less workable. This causes us to instinctively tense up and double down on conventional collaboration. “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble,” the quip goes, “it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Conventional collaboration works only in simple, controlled situations. In other situations we need to stretch. 4 Unconventional, Stretch Collaboration Is Becoming Essential One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. —André Gide1 For most people, stretch collaboration is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. STRETCHING CREATES FLEXIBILITY AND DISCOMFORT John and Mary are dealing with their son Bob, who has again fallen behind on his mortgage payments. But this time they are trying to employ stretch instead of conventional collaboration. The three of them feel a loving family connection, but they also admit that they are coming at this situation with different experiences and perspectives and needs. They talk openly and vehemently about these differences: John says that he feels angry and helpless in the face of his son’s problems; Mary says that she is worried for her grandchildren and also that her and John’s own plans for a comfortable retirement will be put in jeopardy; and Bob says that he is putting all of his energy into his struggling small business and wishes that his family would be supportive rather than only critical. This fight is upsetting and also relieving: they still don’t see eye to eye, but they all feel better understood. They realize that they do not agree on what their real problem is or on what the solution is—maybe they never will agree and maybe they actually don’t know. But they are willing to try out some modest new actions that they think could help. John guarantees a bank loan to Bob’s company; Mary helps Bob’s wife, Jane, look for a job; the two couples talk together about their situation; Bob and John spend Saturdays together with the grandchildren. It’s not that their challenges suddenly get easier, but their greater openness enables them to see and try out some new possibilities. Bob and Jane’s finances start to improve. The four of them also back off from trying to change what the others are doing—which, in any case, has not been successful. Instead, they each consider what they themselves might do differently. John makes an effort to connect with Bob on matters other than finances; Mary stands up to John more strongly; Bob talks with a small-business advisor; and Jane takes control of their household budget. These shifts all help lessen the anger and frustration they feel toward one another and toward their situation. The financial and emotional pressures on them have not gone away and could still overwhelm them. But now they are more able to deal with these pressures thoughtfully and as a family. All of them find this shift from conventional to stretch collaboration to be difficult. They feel uncomfortable to be stretching: opening up both to greater conflict and to more genuine connection, trying out unfamiliar new actions that may not work, and accepting their own roles in and responsibilities for what is happening. But they are hopeful that this different approach will work better. HOW TO END A CIVIL WAR If we cannot address our challenges through forcing, adapting, or exiting, then we will need to employ collaboration. And if our challenge is complex and contentious, then the conventional approach to collaboration will not work and we will need to employ an unconventional one. My experience in South Africa in 1991 gave me a glimpse of such an unconventional approach. But it was only later, in Colombia, that I was able to make out clearly how this new approach worked and how it diff ered from the conventional one I had been trained in. Colombia was, since the 1960s, one of the most violent countries in the world, with armed clashes among the military, the police, two left-wing guerrilla armies, right-wing paramilitary vigilantes, drug traffickers, and criminal gangs. This conflict killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and forced millions to flee their homes. In 1996, a young politician named Juan Manuel Santos visited South Africa and met with Nelson Mandela, who told him about the Mont Fleur project. Santos thought that such a collaboration might help Colombians find a way out of their conflict. He organized a meeting in Bogotá to discuss this possibility and invited me to participate. The meeting involved generals, politicians, professors, and company presidents. Several leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) participated by radio from a hiding place in the mountains. The participants were both excited and nervous to find themselves in such a heterogeneous group. One Communist Party city councilor, spotting a paramilitary warlord across the room, asked Santos, “Do you really expect me to sit down with this man, who has tried to have me killed five times?” Santos replied, “It is precisely so that he does not do so a sixth time that I am inviting you to sit down.”2 Out of this meeting the collaborative project named Destino Colombia was initiated.3 An organizing committee convened a team of forty-two people that represented the conflict in miniature: military officers, guerrillas, and paramilitaries; activists and politicians; businesspeople and trade unionists; landowners and peasants; academics, journalists, and young people. This team met three times over four months, for a total of ten days, at a rustic inn outside of Medellín. Both of the illegal, armed, left-wing guerrilla groups, the FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), participated. Although the government off ered them safe passage to the workshops, the guerrillas thought this would be too risky, so we arranged for them to participate in the team’s meetings by telephone. Three men called in from the political prisoners’ wing of a maximum-security prison and one from exile in Costa Rica. Most members of the team were talking with the guerrillas for the first time and were frightened of retribution for what they might say. We communicated using two speakerphones in the meeting room. When people walked by the speakerphones, they gave the phones a wide berth, afraid to get too close. When I mentioned this fear, one of the guerrillas observed that our microcosm was reflecting the macrocosm: “Mr. Kahane, why are you surprised that people in the room are frightened? The whole country is frightened.” Then he promised that the guerrillas would not kill anyone for anything said in the meetings. Jaime Caicedo was the secretary general of the far-left Colombian Communist Party, and Iván Duque was a commander of the far-right paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). One evening, Caicedo and Duque stayed up late talking and drinking and playing the guitar with Juan Salcedo, a retired army general. The next morning, Caicedo wasn’t in the meeting room when we were due to start, and I asked the group where he was. They made jokes about what might have happened to him. One person said, “The general made him sing.” Then Duque said, menacingly, “I saw him last.” I was concerned that Caicedo had been murdered and was relieved when a few minutes later he walked into the room. (Years later I heard a revealing coda to this story. Duque had gone into the jungle to meet his boss, Carlos Castaño, the notorious head of AUC. Castaño excitedly told Duque that AUC fighters had discovered the location of their archenemy Caicedo and were on their way to assassinate him. Duque pleaded for Caicedo’s life, telling Castaño the story of that evening together at the scenario workshop and saying, “You can’t kill him; we were on the Destino Colombia team together.” After much arguing, Castaño called off the assassination. I interpreted this story as exemplifying the transformative potential of such collaborations: to be willing to defy Castaño on this matter of life and death, Duque must have transformed his sense of his relationship with Caicedo and of what he himself needed to stand for and do.) As the work progressed, the team members became less afraid and more willing to speak frankly. Businessman César De Hart said that he had firsthand experience of the conflict with the guerrillas, did not trust them at all, and believed that the country’s best hope for peace would be to intensify the military campaign against them. It took courage for him to say this because he was directly challenging not only the guerrillas but also the rest of the team and their hopeful belief that a peaceful solution was possible. He was willing to be open and confrontational, and the team’s relationships were now strong enough to hear such a statement without rupturing. Furthermore, when De Hart said exactly what he was thinking and feeling, the fog of conceptual and emotional confusion that had filled the room lifted, and we could all see clearly this mistrust and the possibility of intensified conflict that it implied. By the end of their third workshop, the team had agreed on four scenarios. The first, “When the Sun Rises We’ll See,” was a warning of the chaos that would result if Colombians just let things be and failed to address their tough challenges (this scenario, in terms of the Thai framework, exemplified adapting). The second, “A Bird in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush,” was a story of a negotiated compromise between the government and the guerrillas (conventional collaborating). The third, “Forward March!” was the story foreshadowed in De Hart’s suggestion that the government crush the guerrillas militarily and pacify the country (forcing). The fourth, “In Unity Lies Strength,” was a story of a bottom-up transformation of the country’s mentality toward greater mutual respect and cooperation (stretch collaborating). The team did not agree on which solution to the conflict was most likely or best, so they presented these narratives to their fellow citizens, in newspaper articles and television broadcasts and small and large meetings all around the country, simply as alternative possibilities. After Destino Colombia, my Colombian colleagues organized several follow-up multistakeholder processes that I facilitated. In one meeting, a group was wrestling with a difficult issue when a politician demanded that they agree on a certain point of principle. I thought that such an agreement would not be possible at that time and urged the group to carry on without agreement, and they did. I was surprised that by the end of the meeting they had agreed to work together on several initiatives, notwithstanding their earlier nonagreement. The next day, I related this puzzling incident to Antanas Mockus, a former mayor of Bogotá. “Often we do not need to have a consensus on or even to discuss principles,” he said. “The most robust agreements are those that different actors support for different reasons.” I now understood that people who have deep disagreements can still get important things done together. The bar for making progress on complex challenges is therefore not as high as most people think: we do not need to agree on what the solution is or even on what the problem is. Over the decades that followed, I was gratified to see that the scenarios and the extraordinary process that produced them remained a touchstone in conversations among Colombians about what they could and should do. At different times over these years, each of the four scenarios seemed to explain what was happening in the country, so these narratives continued to help Colombians make sense of their situation. In 2010, Santos was elected president of the country, and he characterized his government’s program as an enactment of “In Unity Lies Strength.” In 2016, Santos finally succeeded in negotiating a peace treaty with the FARC and initiating one with the ELN, and for this he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On the day of this award, his official website posted a note that characterized the first meeting he had organized with me twenty years before as “one of the most significant events in the country’s search for peace.”4 I knew that over the intervening years there had been many different large-scale efforts to resolve the conflict, so I was surprised at the significance that Santos assigned to Destino Colombia. I asked Alberto Fergusson, a psychiatrist and friend of Santos, about this. Fergusson’s explanation was that for Santos, the crucial lesson of Destino Colombia, which had animated his political work ever since, was that—contrary to received wisdom—it is possible for people who hold contradictory positions to find ways to work together. The Destino Colombia project helped Colombians work together in a way that contributed to ending a fifty-two-year civil war. This project exemplifies in three ways the stretch approach to collaboration. First, the Destino Colombia team members were not simply trying to solve one single problem or to optimize one superordinate good, even though their rhetoric was that they were collaborating for the good of Colombia. They were in the middle of a conflict and did not agree on what the solution was or even on what the problem was. They agreed only that the situation they were facing was problematic, and they viewed it as problematic in different respects and for different reasons. Although the team enjoyed working together and felt some commitment to one another, they were not simply or only one team. They all had stronger connections and commitments to their own organizations and communities (Duque’s effort to save Caicedo was the exception that proved this rule). This non-unity was what made their work together so contentious and also so rich and valuable. They collaborated, then, without having a single focus or goal. Second, the team did not agree on a plan for what should be done in the country. They agreed only that there were four scenarios as to what could happen and that they didn’t want the first, status quo, one. Everything else they (and others who made use of the scenarios) did, they worked out as they went along, over the years that followed. So they collaborated without having a single vision or road map. And third, although the team members held strong views about what ought to happen, they weren’t able to compel the others to go along. Here again, the microcosm reflected the macrocosm: the war had gone on so long because no party was able to impose its will on the others. So the team collaborated without being able to change what others were doing. STRETCH COLLABORATION ABANDONS THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL Destino Colombia highlights the ways in which our conventional understanding of collaboration is constricted. Stretch collaboration requires us to stretch in three dimensions; in all of these, stretch collaboration includes and goes beyond conventional collaboration (see page 2). In summary, conventional collaboration assumes that we can control the focus, the goal, the plan to reach this goal, and what each person must do to implement this plan (like a team following a road map). Stretch collaboration, by contrast, off ers a way to move forward without being in control (like multiple teams raft ing a river). The first dimension is how we relate to the people with whom we are collaborating—our team. In conventional collaboration, we maintain a controlled and constricted focus on achieving harmony in the team and the good and the objectives of the team as a whole. But in complex and uncontrolled situations, we cannot maintain such a focus because the members of the team have significantly different perspectives, affiliations, and interests, and are free to act on these. So we have to stretch to open up to, embrace, and work with the conflict and connections that exist within and beyond the team. Five Ways to Deal with Problematic Situations The second dimension is how we advance the work of the team. In conventional collaboration, we focus on reaching clear agreements on the problem we are tryin