Collaboration, Compromise Not Dirty Words

By Jason Menard

A friend whose voice I respect on Twitter as one rooted in common sense and decorum recently attended a conference on growing her market. One of the takeaways, she Tweeted, was that the most common word heard at the conference was “collaboration.”

As in, collaborative efforts between organizations to foster growth; as in collaboration amongst different groups to maximize strengths and fortify weaknesses; as in collaboration to reach a mutually beneficial goal.

Collaboration: whether you’re talking business or politics, it’s almost always the solution.

Unfortunately, too many of us see collaboration — and its necessary ingredient compromise — as dirty words.

We went from an 80s generation that grew up with the Greed is Good/Win at All Costs mentality that bordered on a pathological social view, to its equally negative, but polar opposite post-90s concept of “Everything you do is praise-worthy.” The resulting marriage has created a number of people who are confident that they know what’s best for all — and feel no need to go beyond their limited circle for challenges or verification.

We set up a number of barriers in the name of engagement. Whether technological, geographic, or social, we’ve established frameworks that actively repel outside input. Sending a survey over Twitter may garner you a response, but only within a certain group — what about seniors, those for whom English is not a first language, those who are not within that loop? When discussions are held exclusively in one geographic region — in London, that’s usually downtown — it limits people’s opportunities to participate.

And let’s not even start with language. The vocabulary of discourse for any ideas outside of a certain spectrum is discouraging at best — downright insulting at worst. Whether it’s using military terminology to rally those to your cause or steeling yourself for every tete-a-tete as if it were a fight, we subconsciously established personal ground rules that predetermine that anything less that a comprehensive knock out shouldn’t be considered a victory.

There’s another challenge with collaboration — it’s hard work. True collaboration means bringing the message to the right people in the way that’s best for them. Maybe it’s parking your butt in the food court at Cherryhill Mall to spend a few hours talking with seniors, because that’s how they’re more comfortable. Maybe it’s doing the same at White Oaks, Argyle, and Masonville. Maybe it’s getting on the phone and calling various constituents, or mailing out questionnaires and surveys.

Whatever it is, you have to get the message out to the people directly. According to its own stats, only three per cent of the population engaged in ReThink [editor’s note. This was changed from an initial publishing of .03. Honestly, I forgot to multiply my percentage calculation by 100] — a worthwhile exercise, but limited in its mandate-establishing potential, yet some are willing to take its recommendations as gospel. Yet nearly 40 per cent of the entire electorate voted in the last municipal election — yet some will have the audacity to say that this council should be effectively neutered until the next election?

It’s that “win at all costs/I’ve always been told my ideas and efforts are great” bastard child that’s restricting our growth. When you hear what you want to hear, why actually listen to someone else?

Because that’s true collaboration.

It’s scary. It challenges your long-held tenets and beliefs. It forces you to think about your stances as part of a larger populace. And, most frighteningly, it may prove that you’re wrong.

Negotiation and compromise are not bad things, but successive generations have been told that their thoughts are the only ones that matter. They will trot out sayings to the effect of, “People saying no just don’t understand. Go your own way!” or “True success comes from forging ahead and chasing your goals.”

But those are exclusionary ideals.

True success comes from ensuring that everyone in your community is happy. They may not all be completely happy, but working together, collaboratively, we can find mutually beneficial goals and projects. We can solve many of the problems for all of the people as opposed to all of the problems for a select few.

It’s not easy. It’s hard work. And it challenges us to rethink our positions in light of how they affect others.

The fictional character d’Artagnan defined it perfectly when looking at his friends Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. “All for one and one for all,” was the mantra he coined, and it embodies true success — a collaboration of all working towards a common goal; a goal that benefits all.

Collaboration and compromise are hard. They require maturity and understanding, and they demand an empathy towards the needs and desires of those outside your immediate circle.

They’re not dirty words, but I swear that they’re the only thing that’s going to work.

4 thoughts on “Collaboration, Compromise Not Dirty Words

  1. rockinonldn

    I’ve been puzzled by your ReThink London math. I tried to comment earlier but ran into problems. I’m going to take another run at this. The last ReThink figures of which I am aware claimed 10,000 Londoners participated. I believe the population of London is about 360,150. I calculate that ReThink is claiming 2.78 percent of all London residents took part and not .03 percent. If we use the population figure for Greater London, 474,800, the participation percentage would be 2.1 percent. With the math behind us, I think you are on to something. The ReThink program did not involve a great number of Londoners. And the number of participants is highly suspect. The number looks greatly inflated. What is needed is a true ReThink London discussion site. It needs a moderator and it needs to be launched soon. There is a lot of work to be done if we are really going to ReThink this city.

    1. Jay Menard Post author

      You are puzzled by my math because I forgot to multiply my percentage calculation by 100 (I’m a writer, not a mathematician… but I really should have caught that. Pretty basic). My apologies.

      However, at three per cent, it’s still hardly a strong foundation upon which to base fundamental changes. And I’m not sure if that 10,000 are unique participants or does that double, triple, and quadruple-count those who attend multiple events? Thanks for calling me on this. I’ve made the changes and added a note.

      1. rockinonldn

        With the math out of the way, let’s move on to the big question. Assuming we and others agree that ReThink London was a good idea, how do we operate a true ReThink program. One that promotes discussion? I attended many of the ReThink meetings and in the end I came away very disappointed. I encountered very little new thinking but had to endure a lot of urban planning mythology. For example, taking farmland out of production and making it part of the expanding urban fabric is sprawl. It may be minimal sprawl but it is still sprawl. Londoners seem to be against sprawl but the concentrated development being proposed by the ReThink process is not concentrated at all. It is only dense when compared to the present. If London planners are going to advance concentrated development then they are going to have to do much better — they are going to have to do some true rethinking.

        p.s. You do a better job at correcting errors than our local paper. A tip o’ the hat to you. Nice work.

      2. Jay Menard Post author

        Thanks. We all make mistakes — the least I can do is correct them and let people know. In fact, that’s my issue with the echo-chamber engagement we often have here: with no one to challenge your ideas, you can’t improve them or discount them.

        For me, a reThink has to be aggressive in approaching all citizens. Take the message to them; don’t host all your meetings in a three-block radius of Dundas/Wellington. Talk, share, learn. For PenEquity, for example, I think the south-end thoughts would be far different than those downtown.

        But you can’t expect people to come to you. Nor can you expect promoting to the limited London audience on Twitter to work. I think you have to physically interact with certain demographics. Go to community meetings, book time at cultural events/organization meetings, Churches… Encourage council members to interact with their constituency in public forums.

        I think reThink is a great idea, but its execution failed to draw in the requisite threshold and diversity needed to make it valid.

        Thanks for your kind words and interaction!

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