We are wired to collaborate…..so what gets in the way?

When reading the daily news it is easy to think that it is human nature to fight and compete to win regardless of the wider consequences to others or to the natural world. Yet I believe another narrative, which is that we humans are wired to collaborate. We are wired to care and work together.

The wonderful I AM film affirms this belief. Tom Shadyac, Director of blockbusters like Ace Ventura and Bruce Almighty, goes around the world and poses two questions to notable thought leaders – what’s wrong with our world, and what can we do to make it better? The answers challenge our preconceptions about human behaviour while simultaneously celebrating the indomitable human spirit.

Unfortunately you do not need to look far to find many examples of non-collaborative behaviour. Examples where insufficient or no time is given to understand different perspectives around a dilemma. Examples where information about a dilemma is not shared and in some cases actively hidden. Examples where solutions are proposed before the problems are fully understood. This inevitably leads to polarised positions and conflict.

In-depth coverage of such examples is reported in the regional magazine Bay Buzz. The magazine explores how folks in Hawkes Bay have considered two complex dilemmas in their region, one of water storage and the other of local governance. Solutions were identified early on, polarised positions were taken and community tension grew.

Despite or perhaps because of the intense emotions raised with these dilemmas, the call from many people in the community in the aftermath of a vote on one of the dilemmas is to collaborate. There is a recognition that the only way to address such complexity is to work together.

This blog asks what gets in the way of our predisposition to work together? Put simply, I think it is our mindsets and habits of operating. Mindsets are lenses through which we view the world and are formed by our life experience.

A challenge of working with complexity is accepting that our individual mindsets are not enough. We need to understand the dilemmas from many perspectives. We need to build positive relationships and trust with the multiple views and together form habits of operating that will generate desirable outcomes.

A heartening story that demonstrates expanding mindsets comes with response to the recently released Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s reportPreparing NZ for rising seas: Certainty and Uncertainty. Dunedin’s mayor, Dave Cull, says “the Council cannot say here’s the problem, here’s the solution, the Council will do it. Instead there must soon be a whole-of-city conversation about what to do.”

That is a strong beginning for collaboration.

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