The New Model of Creative Collaboration

December 1, 2020

The New Model of Creative Collaboration

The new leadership model is radically different from the hierarchical model of the past. It appears to be more of a network than a traditional organization chart.

In this network, some nodes are larger than others, reflecting the reality that some participants on the team have greater responsibilities or deeper skills than others. The links between nodes represent not reporting relationships, but deep communication paths enabling radically open communication in a high-trust environment. Creative collaboration is the central organizing principle for the new model, delivering on the promise of the superior intelligence and creativity of the connected team. What follows is access to the deep imagination at the individual and team level, resulting in acute perception sparking inventive ideas, inspired content and unique visions. As global competitive pressures drive the search for competitive advantage, we now look to the connected team as a solution, immediately available to the inspired leader.

The term “deep imagination” may at first glance seem peculiar. However, deep imagination has already been in play and been demonstrated in many enterprises. For example, at one point in time, George Lucas reached into the imaginative layer and created Star Wars. Likewise, Elon Musk imagined the benefits of commercial space travel and created SpaceX and followed a similar process with Tesla.

Dr. Joseph Cambray, CEO of Pacifica Graduate Institute, sheds more light on this network model based on his research. He suggests that an “Emerging Global Structure” comes into existence as a result of the network topology. This structure has certain properties that depend not on the properties of the individual nodes but wholly on the nature of their interactions. But the individual properties do not determine collective behavior; it is the nature of the interactions between the compounds that make that determination.

The network model defines the future path to high-performance, creative organizations. 

Realizing the New Model

An immediate question is “How do we make this new model a reality in my organization?” First, understand that migration to this open system may require a deep transformation of the existing culture and mindset. One cannot simply say, “We are now an open organization starting tomorrow.” You can’t just jump to the answer. The leadership has to be unconditionally committed to this approach and be willing to go the distance to make it happen. And each organization will have its unique and often peculiar challenges to overcome. Potential issues in implementation include resistance and confusion, but ultimately recognition and celebration. In the meantime, there is no cheap grace here, but rather a purposeful effort sustained over time.

The Creative Frontier: Enlarging Our Mental Capacity

This blueprint places a consistent emphasis on creativity as the new frontier for discovering competitive advantage. Where does that creativity come from? Admonishing teams to “be creative” isn’t going to do it. Instead, the approach is to create an environment that allows creativity to emerge spontaneously. One might then argue that there is little more there than what conventional thinking suggests, and the search might be futile. But consider another perspective.

The moniker “Milky Way brain” comes from the observation that the number of neurons in the human brain is the same as the number of stars in the Milky Way: 100 billion. Betsy Burroughs points out that the Milky Way brain has an enormous potential for innovation and insight. She argues that our thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex, can only handle about four items at a time and tires in a short period of time. On the other hand, neural pathways can process thoughts in the background all the time. The problem is that those background or subliminal tasks can easily be drowned out when we are “freaked out or worried or upset. Because when we are, that’s ‘high signal noise’ in our brain and it drowns out any awareness we might have of a new insight or solution.”

This provides a striking confirmation of this approach: Reduce distracting drama—including the inner noise of our own egos seeking attention—to better access, on both an individual and team level, more creative brain processes. The approach is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s statement about how he sculpted the famous statue of David: “It [was] easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.” By removing the ambient noise, you can more easily detect the signal.

Another way to think about enlarging our mental capacity is to consider that we have two minds: the rational mind and the imaginative mind. The rational mind is dominated by the ego, with its superior intelligence, but also encumbered by idealized fantasies, the will to dominate, and self-centeredness. The rational mind likes to figure things out and thinks it is in control. 

The imaginative mind operates from a deeper layer and has an autonomous nature. (Of course, many creative people also have huge egos that operate in parallel with the imaginative mind.) That is, it can generate ideas that surprise us, and sometimes we wake up in the morning wondering “Where did that come from?” 

The autonomous imagination can provide, as it were, feedstock in the form of images, connections, thoughts, and intuitions to the conscious mind for further development and elaboration. One of the areas for research is how technology—virtual and augmented reality, online collaboration, social interaction, etc.—can further the activity of the autonomous imagination. Meanwhile, the culture defined by this model liberates individuals to more deeply access their creative selves and also provides the team environment that collaboratively processes the combined set of individual contributions into an integrated whole.

Toward Leadership Consciousness: Creative Capacity

Our intention is to encourage a deeper consciousness in leadership. A major problem of discussing consciousness—and there are many such problems—is unconsciousness of consciousness. People view our thought patterns and modes of perception as the entirety of our existence. Not so. A common dream pattern may illustrate the point. In this dream, you are in your house or a location familiar to you. Suddenly you become aware of a door that wasn’t there before, leading to a whole new area of the house. Your reaction is one of amazement. “Where did this come from?” “Why didn’t I know about this before?” If you take the house in the dream as a symbol of the self, the dream suggests you are not so much a familiar house of seven rooms but rather a mansion of possibility, and your task is to move in and take possession of the residence.

Your mind is telling you that you have a greater capacity than you think you do.

Metaphorically speaking, discovering new rooms may be likened to discovering new solutions. That is, the mind has a certain plasticity that can be utilized in creativity (as C.G. Jung wrote in The Secret of the Golden Flower):

I always worked with the temperamental conviction that in the last analysis there are no insoluble problems, and experience has so far justified me in that I have often seen individuals who simply outgrew a problem which had destroyed others. This “outgrowing,” as I called it previously, revealed itself on further experience to be the raising of the level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest arose on the person’s horizon, and through this widening of his view, the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms, but faded out in contrast to a new and stronger life-tendency.

This doesn’t mean we all need years of therapy (although probably everybody could benefit from some). We do need to connect openly to other team members while keeping our personal egos as unattached as possible during that process. Multiple parties engaged with an issue will tend to converge on an accurate perspective, compensating and correcting individual error. Hence, the “wisdom of teams (or crowds),” and hence the use of consensus facilitates the superior insight of the connected team without abandoning decision-making. Multiple perspectives need not result in organizational anarchy and chaos.

© Thomas L. Steding. Published by Humanix Books, 2021. All Rights Reserved.

The Authors: 

Tom Steding, Ph.D., is co-founder of the Mayfield Alliance and Quadrix Partners and has been CEO of more than 12 high-tech companies. He is the author of Real Teams Win: What Smart Leaders Need To Know About Achieving Performance.