“Just Do It” – the importance of action in collaboration

Nike’s advertising slogan has proven durable since it was coined back in 1988. It is relevant not only for those playing sport but for all of us involved in collaboratively tackling complex dilemmas. “Just do it” encourages action and this blog muses on how important action is to effective collaboration.

The very nature of complex challenges makes taking action a daunting proposition. When faced with complexity, common reasons to not act include:

For these reasons and more, our society becomes stuck with the complex dilemmas and the negative impacts are perpetuated. It is in these situations that collaboration is essential.

Over the last 8 weeks I have been involved in a webinar course with a global cohort learning about the Social Labs approach to solving complex challenges. At the heart of Social Labs is a prototyping culture where possible solutions to the challenges at hand are generated as quickly as possible. You aim to get multiple releases of service (or product) and test them, change them, then generate new ones with the overriding focus being to provide benefit to stakeholders.

Applying a prototyping approach (that has principles gleaned from software development) to complex social challenges requires a culture shift where we release some of our desire for perfection the first time around and instead learn a comfort with improvement through iteration. I believe that the required culture shift comes when we actively collaborate. Over time of ‘doing’ with others we begin to trust, we gradually understand the bigger picture and we accept that although outputs may not fix the whole challenge, they are moving towards solutions that will endure.

It is the action or doing that provides the fuel for generating solutions. With action we get momentum. Just like riding a bicycle, it is a lot easier to change direction when the wheels are turning. When moving, a slight adjustment can change your course. When stationary it takes greater effort to change direction.

Action also enables the very important behaviour of PRACTICE. Experience and research have shown that success in all endeavours comes from practice. As we humans practice our collaborative skills more and more, we will become more adept at changing our course.

Action in itself is not sufficient to effectively respond to complex challenges. Indeed if action is rushed into without meeting the crucial preconditions of:

then the action may create a splash and go no further. Action needs discipline and focus. This can be achieved by nesting the action in a container of some sort.

The Twyfords’ Power of Co five step pathway is one such container. This pathway provides a structured process so that stakeholders can support each other with their actions. Having the rigor of a deliberative process enables both action and reflection. Reflection enables feedback from those most affected by the complex dilemma.

So wherever you are in relation to the complex challenge you are facing, remember that action is good. Nest those actions into a deliberative process and over time you will get to enduring solutions.

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