Bev's Tips for a Better Work Life
Bev Jones' twice-monthly ezine offering you suggestions
for making your career more productive and more fun.

Dear Friends and Clients,

In the last issue, I wrote about the wonderful, creative state of being which psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has labeled as “flow.” When we are in a flow state, we are the opposite of bored. In flow, we feel totally engaged, time moves swiftly and it seems that we make progress with very little effort.

Research suggests that creative people in all fields have their most significant insight while in a flow state. Interestingly, some people, no matter how happy their personal lives, are more likely to be in flow at work than when they are home. That is because at work they generate energy with their colleagues and reach a state of “group flow.” In other words, in their professional lives they are engaged in collaborative activities, and collaboration can feel good.

In this issue I will talk about the benefits of collaboration and the conditions that make it possible and effective. First, however, I want to tell you that I have updated my website, in part to make the ezine archive and the book section much easier for you to use. And, in the spirit of collaboration, I have started a blog. I enjoy your feedback on these ezines, and I am hoping that you might be willing to post some of your future comments on the blog, as it continues to develop.

Warm Wishes, Bev

Collaboration Sparks Innovation
& Unleashes Creativity
November 3, 2009 * Number 114

Collaboration occurs when people from different disciplines or units work together toward a common goal. While teamwork tends to involve a small group of people working together, collaboration can involve many people working across organizational boundaries.

Keith Sawyer, a former student of Csikszentmihalyi, has studied the relationship between collaboration and creativity. In “Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration,” he writes that innovation is what drives today’s economy and collaboration is what generates innovation.

According to Sawyer, “collaboration drives creativity because innovation always emerges from a series of sparks – never a single flash of insights.” In a successful work team, he says, the members play off one another, with each person’s contributions providing the spark for the next. Sawyer’s research suggests that these are among the key characteristics of effective creative teams:
  • Innovation emerges over time. No one participant dominates, but each contributes, bit by bit.
  • Collaborators practice deep listening. Instead of spending too much time planning their own actions, participants listen to and observe others.
  • Collaborators build on each other’s ideas. Each new proposal is an extension of ideas that have come earlier.
  • Surprising questions emerge. The most transformative creativity results when a group either thinks of a new way to frame a problem or finds a new problem that no one had noticed before.
Sawyer also says that innovation tends to emerge when the collaborators achieve a state of “group flow.” These conditions foster group flow:
  • There’s a goal, but it isn’t too restrictive. The collaborators must be working toward a shared goal, but that goal must be open-ended enough to allow for creative solutions.
  • Everybody is listening. Group flow is more likely to emerge when everyone is fully engaged and listening deeply to other members of the group. People who are listening carefully tend to energize each other and stimulate each other’s high performance.
  • Communication is constant. Flow is more likely to occur when the collaborators are engaged in frequent, freewheeling, spontaneous conversations.
  • The group is diverse. When solving complex, non-routine problems, groups are more effective when they’re composed of people who have a variety of skills, knowledge and perspectives.
Morten T. Hansen, in “Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results,” writes that collaboration rarely occurs naturally within an organization because there are too many barriers. One common problem, he says, is that high status individuals may not reach out to collaborate with those they regard as “less worthy.” Another is that the culture may make people feel that they should fix their own problems and not bother others.

A big barrier, Hansen says, is that the current emphasis on performance management causes people to be preoccupied with reaching their own goals. Reward systems, he says, should acknowledge both individual achievement and group success. “It is the combination of teamwork and individual ownership that leads to disciplined collaboration,” he says.

Hansen also emphasizes that “collaborative organizations run on networks, those informal working relationships among people that cut across formal lines of reporting.” He says that people who are strong collaborators tend to methodically build networks that:
  • Look outward, building connections in other parts of the organization and not just close to home.
  • Are diverse, including different types of people, expertise, technologies and viewpoints.
  • Include many weak ties, meaning not just a few best friends, but also a lot of people who travel in different circles and may be aware of different opportunities.
Want More Insights Related to Your Work Life? In addition to providing executive coaching, Bev is available to speak about a broad range of issues related to your work life. Visit her website at or email to Bev directly. Bev is associated with Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates.

Bev’s Tips for a Better Work Life is published on the first and third Tuesday of each month by Beverly E. Jones of ClearWays Consulting, LLC. Bev is a lawyer and former executive who now coaches accomplished executives and other professionals to bring new direction, energy and enjoyment to their work lives.

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