Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking with People Who Think Differently
August 13, 2015
Angie McArthur & Dawna Markova have collaborated on a wonderful new book to teaches us all about collaborative intelligence.
Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking With People Who Think Differently by Angie McArthur & Dawna Markova Ph.D., Spiegel & Grau, 384 pages, $28.00, Hardcover, August 2015, ISBN 9780812994902
We live in polarizing times. We’ve been broken down into camps of red and blue, black and white, city and suburban and rural. There’s the age-old divide between north and south that has aspects of all of those, and only increases in scope and rhetorical vitriol if we broaden the discussion to south of the border. And, as Angie McArthur and Dawna Markova remind us, “The harder we pull away from one another, the more tightly stuck we become.”
With so many important challenges, we must find a way to establish some common goals and pull together toward them, even as we disagree. In Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking With People Who Think Differently, McArthur and Markova help us begin this important work, and it begins in our daily lives, most notably at work. It is there we spend a bulk of our time and energy. It is there we can and must begin to find a way to work together, to understand each other, and collaborate. To start, we must align two forces people mistakenly think they have to choose between: independence and interdependence.
We take for granted that intelligence occurs within our own minds. We don’t realize that it also occurs between us. What keeps us from communicating effectively is that most of us don’t know how to think with people who think differently than we do.
In last week’s review, we laid out Geoff Colvin’s case for why this kind of intelligence, these fundamental human skills, are the key to our future success—both as individuals simply looking for a job, and as a collective group looking for more fulfilled, truly connected, and fundamentally human lives. Angie McArthur and Dawna Markova continue that conversation by providing a primer on how to build one of the primary tools in that toolkit, collaborative intelligence.
When they asked leaders they were working what their biggest challenge was, they found it was overwhelmingly “people”—specifically, how to tap their employees’ potential, and then get them aligned and working together. So, in their consulting work:
The most significant work we have done with clients, therefore, has been to develop strategies and practices that make it possible to unleash each person’s potential and to think across habitual divides. We teach them how to maximize the value of their intellectual diversity. We call this collaborative intelligence.
One’s collaborative-intelligence quotient (or “CQ”) is a “measure of your ability to think with others on behalf of what matters to us all.” McArthur and Markova tell us “Intelligence is a verb, not a noun.” Collaborative intelligence is an exercise, a practice. And it is only through this intellectual exercise and practice that it can be maintained and honed. They provide those practices in this book.
Last month we reviewed Team Genius, in whichRich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone insist that diversity is crucial in the make-up of a team, and that the most important diversity is not in a group’s race or gender, but in ways of thinking, so that all angles and perspectives are brought to the table. (It should be noted, of course, that one’s race and gender plays a large role in their experience and therefore shape how one thinks, so it should certainly not be ignored.) McArthur and Markova have spent their lives fostering this kind of diversity. Markova will tell you that:
For the past fifty years I have devoted my work and career to helping people discover their unique intelligence, teaching corporate leaders, parents, educators, and children about “intellectual diversity.”
And McArthur was an expat raised in the Middle East who “spent her childhood exploring remote corners of the world” and “learned to build bridges between people, to see the whole of any issue, to inquire and cross-pollinate ideas from one person to the next.” So, they teamed up to teach the world about it together.
When looking out at the world, the authors see that “We are living in a hinge time.” It is a time when the importance of “market share” is decreasing in importance and “mind share” is increasingly ascendant. It is a world in which relationships create more wealth than transactions—when things carry less value than ideas. In a “market share” world, scarcity determines value: “I have it and you don’t.” In a “mind share” world, abundance is created through the exchange of ideas and collaborative action: “The more we share, the more we have.”
Market share determines who is right and who is wrong. Mind share asks what is possible. This kind of inquiry encourages the brain to wonder. It is wonder that creates the fertile conditions that generate ideas and build bridges between seemingly opposing thoughts.
I love this focus on wonder. It is wonder that drives the inclination to dream of and invent a better world—from the wonder of electrified light to the digital cloud. The book will help foster that wonder by teaching you to broaden your perspective, to understand and work with others.
They provide a personal assessment tool in both the introduction and at the end of the book so that you can rate your own CQ. And they have developed four strategies for activating it: Identifying and maximizing your own Mind Pattern, the “way you process and respond to information”; Identifying your Thinking Talents and blind spots in the way you approach challenges, as well as those of your colleagues; Identifying the way you frame questions, or Inquiry, and; generating Mind Share, the “mindset shift required to generate alignment within your team.”
Other than the Introduction and Conclusion, they devote the entirety of the book, which at just under 400 pages, to these four strategies and the practices they’ve come up with to hone them. And it is all actionable instruction, though rather than “coaches” they refer to themselves as “thinking partners.” And as your partner, they will help you recognize and utilize how your own mind works, and to do the same in collaboration with the minds of others. They will show you how to use influence instead of power. They will teach you that most breakdowns and breakups are the result of habitual thinking while breakthroughs come from non-habitual thinking, and present you with the breakthrough practices that help overcome the former and encourage the latter. They will help you stop avoiding feeling awkward, and to embrace it as a way to increase awareness of others and feel more open and alive in the process. They will teach you that “Many of the barriers that keep us apart are actually optional, present only in our minds.” And they will give you ways to collaborate with coworkers more every day because:
Too often we find ourselves working alone, through our screens, cut off from the regular sources of renewal and inspiration that only collaboration can bring.
And have I mentioned that McArthur is Markova's is daughter-in-law? If they can overcome that traditional barrier in their relationship and come together to be thinking partners to so many other people, surely you can overcome a potentially fraught relationship with someone who thinks a little differently than you at work and help move a project forward. You can even use that difference to move the project forward. It’s a crucial skill for the 21st century, and a small step we can all take each take as individuals that will lead to increasingly big steps for us all.