To Cooperate … to Collaborate … to Co-Tangle

February 14, 2023

by John O. Burdett

Today, things are the slowest they will ever be. At the heart of a “change mindset” is the conversation we have with ourselves. If ever new metaphors were needed, it is now!

Today, Things Are the Slowest They Will Ever Be

Quantum physics introduces us to a bizarre world where things can be in multiple states concurrently. For example, incomprehensible as it may be to those versed in Newtonian thinking, a quantum system can, simultaneously, be both up and down. It also introduces us to the reality of one thing being in two places at the same time. And that’s just for starters.

If you do no more than merely observe a quantum particle, an entirely separate particle – even though it be light years away – will change its properties and “dance” in instantaneous and perfect unison with the first. Difficult to comprehend? Don’t worry … take solace in the fact that even Einstein described “entanglement” as “spooky action at a distance.”

A metaphor is a way to convey meaning. It can make the complex easy to understand. It can add power and colour to one’s communication. A vibrant metaphor is like shooting imagery straight into the brain. In doing so it bridges intent with emotion. Information can get people’s attention but orchestrating change means being in the emotional transportation business. To lead without the ability to reach for, shape and create metaphors is like inviting yourself to a gunfight armed only with a rubber knife.

Today, things are the slowest they will ever be … if it can be digitalised it will be digitalised … exponential change is becoming the new norm … globalisation and disruption continues unabated …. the organisation itself has to be rethought anew … and much that is captured under the term “talent management” is tired and ineffectual. If ever new metaphors were needed, it is now!

Reinventing What It Means to Be an Organisation

We have two perfectly good words to explain the interaction between individuals and/or between teams: “cooperation” and “collaboration.” People usually confuse the two, but they are meaningful forms of expression.

Cooperation is two or more people working together with a common goal and where the intent is that all of those involved will share the benefit (usually as equitably as possible).

Collaboration, by comparison, is altruistic; two or more people working together in pursuit of a common goal where your success is more important than mine.

At the heart of a “change mindset” is the conversation we have with ourselves. Central to that conversation is the language we access … same old language, same old behaviour. Cooperation is indispensable, collaboration is essential but in reinventing the very nature of what it means to be an organisation – as we must – there is a case to be made that we need to add a new metaphor to our vocabulary.

A New Metaphor

It’s tough (one might argue that it’s impossible) to achieve something that you don’t have a word for. Entanglement is an intriguing metaphor. It captures, in some ways, the new challenge of smart and unbridled connectibility … of one element in the system impacting other parts of the system without those involved fully understanding how. Except, as a term, it is way too esoteric, way too bizarre to have any real currency. If Einstein didn’t really understand it we shouldn’t go there.

May I suggest an alternative, one that builds on the notion of entanglement but without the unfathomable implications. To Cooperate … to Collaborate … to Co-tangle.

This article is an extract from “Beyond Collaboration: “Co-tangle“, © Orxestra® Inc.

John O. Burdett is founder of Orxestra® Inc. He has extensive international experience as a senior executive. As a consultant he has worked in more than 40 countries for organisations that are household names. John has worked on organisation culture for some of the world's largest organisations. His ongoing partnership with TRANSEARCH International means that his thought leading intellectual property, in any one year, supports talent management in many hundreds of organisations around the world. Get in touch with John O. Burdett »

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