Collaboration Skills: One of the Most Important 21st Century Job Skills

Collaboration Concept

This morning I (Davis) am speaking to Rich Campbell’s marketing students at Sonoma State (maybe you’re one of them?!) and I wanted to center this annual presentation to my fellow SSU alums around collaboration this year. At the end of this post, I’ll share an exercise with you that you can use to build your collaboration muscles.

First, let’s define “collaboration” for our purposes as working with someone to produce or create something outside of a traditional corporate structure.

Increasingly, I’m finding that the rise of decentralized work networks, contract work scenarios from larger corporations, the freelance economy, the sharing economy, and virtual workforces is creating an increased need for collaboration skills.

This isn’t just what I am personally feeling but Eazl is also hearing this from our corporate learning clients like PayPal, Yelp!, Volkswagon, and other enterprises. In a higher education landscape that increasingly prioritizes computer science education, employers are finding that soft skills are often lacking in their workforces.

Here, you’ll find links where you can explore some of the collaboration topics that I discussed with the Sonoma State students today and dive deeper into elements of collaboration or most appropriate for your use case:

Here’s a simple exercise to build your skills in this area:

  1.  Next time that somebody close to you starts to tell you about something that is important to them, use the “three whys“ technique to learn deeply about their attitude towards the situation. Simply ask “why do you feel that way?” and then follow up with another question like “why do you think that?“ and then finally, a final “why do you think that?“
  2. Call the information that you have learned about this person, their situation, and the assumptions that drive their thinking back to yourself. Simply take information if they’ve shared with you and then replay that in your mind. This will reinforce those ideas and enable you to retain the information that was shared with you.

This exercise is simply about learning to actively search for, listen to, and retain information about another person‘s interests and attitudes. After all, collaboration is all about working towards shared interests or goals outside of traditional work formats because you will often be unable to force people to do something. That means that you need to know more about what actually motivates them, align your actions with their motivations, and collaboratively work towards the goal.

Build your collaboration skills with these Eazl courses:

If you’re interested, you can also see a recording of my talk on campus last year on the History of the Entrepreneurial Spirit.

Community & Team Building Tips from Stranger Things 2

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched it yet and plan on doing so, you might not want to continue reading just in case. I don’t want to be responsible for ruining your experience with that magical show.

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As I, like so many other Netflix users, marathoned Stranger Things 2 over the weekend, I began to take note of the numerous examples of collaboration and community throughout the series. This show is seriously Lord-of-the-Rings-level life goals for friendship and working to achieve a giant goal.

The characters on Stranger Things accomplish amazing, superhuman feats together and I love that the general storyline has followed a pattern of personal responsibility through teamwork vs. individualism.   

I mean, what better way is there to take on a supernatural force from a another dimension than with all hands on deck and collective use of force and problem solving; a perfect combination of brains and brawn where all members contribute what they do best?

There’s a lot to be learned from these fictional characters as they possess qualities that humans admire in real life but may not experience first-hand that often.

You don’t have to be up against a shadow monster from Upside Down to reap the benefits from collaboration and community building.

Try applying some of these lessons from the series to your own work and career goals:

  1. Bravery is required for anything meaningful
    Steve Harrington and Chief Jim Hopper were two of the series’ most physically brave characters in Season 1 and they maintain their fearlessness in Stranger Things 2, with the former utilizing his bat with nails a second time and the latter venturing underground to see first hand what the monster is up to.
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Steve and Dustin prepare to take on the Pollywog.
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Chief Jim Hopper explores the monster’s underground tunnels.

Nancy doesn’t hesitate to expose the government’s role in Barb’s death or snatch up a shotgun to take on the demidogs.

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Nancy and Jonathan wait for Barb’s mom at the park as part of their plan to expose the research facility.

Winona Ryder’s character Joyce Byers, the mother of Will (the boy once abducted by the monster in Upside Down and now returned home), displays great mental and emotional strength and bravery when she “exorcises” the monster from her son’s body.

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Joyce builds the fire to “burn” the monster out of her son, Will.

People tend to think that those who demonstrate bravery are somehow endowed with special characteristics or attributes but we are all actually capable of courageous acts. We just have to make the choice to be brave.

Check out The Heroic Imagination Project by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, famed director of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

What brave and courageous moves can you make in your career, your daily actions, and your personal life? What ideas and movements can you boldly support for the greater good?

  1. Have a clear mission
    In Stranger Things 2, there are multiple groups working parallel in order to achieve the goal of finding out how to get rid of the monster. Eventually, at the end of the season, they come together and fight alongside each other only to divide and conquer once again.

You never really see a group conflict and members naturally assume their roles based on their talents. In this series, any time a character is told they should stay behind and keep themselves safe, they pretty much never listen. Even the kids!

No one is willing to put themselves ahead of the group. Everyone contributes and understands the mission, which is what makes achieving the mission possible.

Note the Rule of Law established by Will’s friends: when someone needs help, they show up and help.

Will’s friends, Dustin and Mike help strategize.

It’s easier for a group of people to work together when there is a clear mission. That’s why it’s important to ensure that the mission gets buy-in from all team members, perhaps by setting some kind of Rule of Law at the start of the engagement or project.

Remember this when you work in team, whether you are the leader or not. You can always lead by example even if you don’t have formal power within a team by showing that you are committed to the mission.

  1. Pyramid structures don’t work
    Pyramid structures are rarely if ever truly effective. This kind of structure implies that there are just a few people giving orders and many acting on those order, regardless of what their own expertise and intuition tells them is the right course of action.

There is no centralized authority deciding how to take on the monster…and that’s what makes taking on the monster possible.

Steve, Dustin, and Lucas join Nancy and Jonathan at the research facility just before they provide a getaway car for Joyce, Mike, and Chief Hopper.

Different characters have different perspectives and there are multiple problems to solve, making those individual perspectives highly valuable.

From Dustin’s creative and playful imagination developed through role playing games and Bob’s coding skills to Steve’s experience with sports teams and Chief Hopper’s familiarity with approaching dangerous situations, everyone has something they can offer and adhering to centralized leadership would squash that.

When you create your teams for work and projects, remember that your co-workers can thrive without a single manager of leader. Organic organization is powerful.

  1. Focusing on community is the biggest middle finger to “the man”
    The government as the enemy isn’t just a cheesy throwback theme that was most often seen in 80s sci-fi movies. There is meaning behind this theme and the reason we are attracted to themes like these is because they hold a lot of truth in them.

Government and military are responsible for opening the gate between reality and Upside Down, along with all of the destructions caused by it. There’s that centralized authority again.

The community coming together was the only thing that could balance out the power and limit the destruction, including getting the gate between worlds closed.

You too can organize something that has impact and counterbalances the “powers that be”. You just have to build the community, no matter the scale.

  1. Be a doer
    Chief Hopper never hesitates to jump to action, whether it’s belaying into a super creepy and perilous underground tunnel or setting up formation to shoot up some demidogs.

Nancy follows her intuition to do the right thing and expose the research facility.

Steve doesn’t need to weigh his options when asked for help.

There are a lot of people in the world who spend a lot of time talking about problems but they never do anything to help solve those problems. Don’t be one of those. How can you contribute? What problem can you help solve? What community can you bring together in collective power?

Feedback is Even More Important for Freelancers

Freelancers and freelancing is often misunderstood.

For example, “freelancers do it so that they can wake up at noon” and “freelancing is just like being in a bigger company, only solo.” …and one of the biggest misconceptions that freelancers themselves make is that, now that we’re our own bosses, we’re done getting performance reviews. Not exactly.

In this Brain Boost, we’re going to look at the changing world of feedback and performance improvement. It’s changing in larger organizations as the good ones abandon aging practices like performance reviews in favor of people analytics and continuous improvement practices. It’s also changing in the broader workforce as many of us become remote workers, freelancers, entrepreneurs, and contract workers.

In a work environment where you have few colleagues you also have relatively few opportunities to receive feedback. This makes people who work in these situations weaker because they have fewer opportunities to improve.

Now that I have been collaborating with people and working in distributed workforce situations for a while, I realize how important feedback is.

At minimum, after each project or freelance engagement you should proactively exchange feedback with your counterparts on three things:

1) What could be better about the workflow?
2) Were the communication channels, were the timing of the communications, and was the nature of the communications done well?
3) What could have been better about the work product?

Remember my freelancer, entrepreneur, and contract worker friends–feedback makes us stronger and, when we’re working in small teams, it’s up to us to manage our own improvement!

If you’re interested in getting better at exchanging feedback, here’s a link to Eazl’s award-winning Feedback course.

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From Jessika Jake: Dealing With Difficult People in the Workplace

This is an excerpt from an original post by Jessika Jake.

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“It’s interesting to track the legal precedents that have been set (though also, in my case, promptly forget them and not bookmark them), but I will tell you this: Any good (and law-abiding) company will have a policy against bullying and aggressive behavior. If you are bringing up a complaint and get patted on the head with “Now, now, it’s just a personality clash,” change the topic to the inarguable, observable behaviors that are being demonstrated. Below is a partial list from ChangingMinds.org’s list of aggressive body language.

  • Facial signals – frowns, pursed lips, sneers, snarls, and stares
  • Stiffness – tensing up, clenching fists
  • Invasion – Invading personal space, false friendships
  • Insulting gestures, large gestures – chin tilts, arm thrusts, exaggerated movements, banging on tables, etc

In addition to aggressive body language, there is also verbal aggression. For an overview, read this Wikipedia entry, which notably highlights:

Workplace aggression can have devastating effects on an organization’s employees.[5] For example, it has been found that targets of workplace aggression report lower levels of well-being.[5] Other studies have shown that aggression in the workplace can cause the victims of such behaviors to suffer from health problems.[26]Bjorkqvist, Osterman, and Hjelt-Back even found that targets exhibited symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as anxiety and depression.[6]

aggressive behavior

How to Use the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) Personality Test

Having trouble with someone at work? Working on a team that’s not working well together? Check out one of our most popular modules: how to use the Myers-Briggs (or MBTI) personality test to understand diverse personality types.

The MBTI test is used as a formal exercise to diagnose, understand, and better work with people with different personality preferences and ways of perceiving the world. It’s based on the psychological theories of Carl Jung and is used by 89% of Fortune 100 companies to promote a healthy approach to working with people who are unique and have different ways of interacting in the world.

You also have access to a great free tool as a gift from our team at Eazl–a step-by-step guide to using the MBTI exercise at work. Get that download here.
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Why It’s Dangerous to be Intellectually Lazy

Intellectually lazy

Have you ever been on a team at work or school and there’s that one team member who just won’t contribute or do any of their own thinking, leaving you or other members with the responsibility of doing their work for them?

Or maybe (*gasp*) you ARE one of those non-thinkers?

In this post, I want to talk about why it’s dangerous to be intellectually lazy and what you can do to 1) Get out of the rut and turn your life around if you are one of those people or 2) Set your boundaries and encourage behavior changes if you are a person who intellectually lazy people tend to depend on.

As an entrepreneur and marketer, I’ve come across many people and situations where clients, colleagues, or customers look to me to do the work and the thinking for them. Now, it’s fine to ask people for advice and we should all expect to work with others and be helpful. Do not be afraid to ask for help or to give it!

But, you need to be careful about distinguishing between something that you have no way of learning yourself versus something that simply takes a little bit of your own brain power and effort to figure out.

There are some things that we are all capable of, no matter your intellectual capacity, and those of us who do our own thinking instead of delegating to someone else and making it their problem can spot a lazy thinker from a mile away.

MANAGER’S NOTE: Using your own brain power is SUPER important when you have team members or managers that have a lot of responsibility (this includes pretty much all of us who are not retired yet).

You’ll be seen as a weak link if you can’t take care of the easy stuff on your own because you might be making others’ work more difficult than necessary. Being this kind of thinker will have many implications for your work relationships, career opportunities, potential business partnerships, and even personal relationships.

Intellectual laziness leads to:

  • Low ceiling for your career and promotions
  • Replacement in the workforce by an active, lifelong learner (you need to be a thinker to compete in the modern economy)
  • Feelings of inferiority

Essentially, it makes you replaceable. And that’s not good in a personal finance, got-to-pay-the-bills kind of way.

What does it mean to be intellectually lazy?
There are a lot of behaviors that might qualify as intellectual laziness, but I want to focus on the few areas that might be affecting your career the most. Here are four of the main behaviors we need to work on eliminating right here. Right now. Today.

  • An intellectually lazy person often hands their thinking responsibilities off to someone else who they feel can do it better. They don’t believe they can deliver satisfactory results themselves and might want to save themselves from any harsh judgement that might result in them owning their own decisions.
  • An intellectually lazy person will often ask questions that have already been answered or are clearly covered in some kind of written correspondence or guide. They have little attention to detail and would rather take another person’s time to get the answer they need than spend their own time looking for the answer themselves.
  • An intellectually lazy person only consumes condensed versions of information, such as blog posts or headlines and neglects to fact check or read long form articles from unbiased sources. The result is often the possession of opinions and perspectives that are a filtered version of someone else’s (most likely non-qualified) and is tainted by misinformation due to lack of research.
  • An intellectually lazy person might lack the discipline, focus, or experience required to truly hear others, consume content, and understand what they’ve taken in to apply the information to their work or life.

How to change non-thinking behaviors
One of the first actions you need to take is accept that your cognitive abilities and actions are not a result of circumstance but a result of habits and behaviors, which you can change…like RIGHT NOW kind of change.

Something I want to ask you to adapt is a Growth Mindset. The Growth Mindset has changed the way that successful businesspeople, educators, and social scientists approach challenges and was pioneered by Stanford professor, Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset”. Her research-backed idea is that you can actually grow your brain’s ability to learn and solve problems.

Here’s a growth mindset meditation that we put together. I’d love for you to try it out if you are struggling with self-limiting perspectives on talent and intelligence.

Some other ways to build your confidence and brain power include:

    • Take online courses. Like, actually take them. Don’t just pay for it and not take it (believe it or not, this is what most people do).

eazl courses

    • Read, read, and read more. People who don’t read simply aren’t as intelligent as those who do. Reading can help you get ahead in your field, get re-inspired and motivated, and teach you to be a better writer -all things that are essential for career success. A lot of the most successful entrepreneurs and managers are avid readers. You can easily find recommended reading lists from almost any successful business person online. Like this list of Elon Musk’s favorite books.
    • Find intelligent news sources. Our minds are constantly inundated with non-news “news” sources through excessive use of social media. Find out what the smartest of the smarty pants are paying attention to and refer to those sources directly instead of Facebook or Twitter to stay up-to-date with world events. This is not unrelated to career success! The journalists that get real estate in our brains affect our worldview, which has a direct influence on our attitudes and abilities at work. Filling your brain with conspiracy theories and click bait headlines will make your mind cloudy. Put quality content into that beautiful brain of yours! We love NPR, for example.
    • Practice listening to others and responding thoughtfully. 
    • Resist the urge to pass off your responsibilities to a high achiever. Do whatever you need to do to complete your share of the work and collaborate with your teammates or manager. That might mean working late, doing some additional reading, or getting additional help in some other way.
    • Know what your strengths are. If you find yourself contributing the least at work, try to focus on providing help in the areas in which you are skilled. It’s also good for your manager to know so they can create effective teams where you feel (and are) valuable. If you think you don’t have a strength, work on building those right now (see: online courses).
    • Exercise your brain as much as possible. Find thinking activities that you like to do in your spare time like puzzles, crosswords, or problem solving video games. Your brain is a lot like any other muscle in your body: it’s completely miserable trying to work it out when it’s out of shape, but it becomes fun when it is in shape and high performing.

How to fend off a non-thinker
The upside is that almost no one INTENDS to be a non-thinker. Most of the time, intellectual laziness stems from lack of confidence and fear of being wrong. It’s important for those who are intellectually active to have empathy for those with a different mindset but not allow the mundane thinking tasks of others to be rested on their own, busy shoulders.

There are, however, some ways to handle those moments when a team member is trying to steal your bandwidth for something that shouldn’t be your responsibility:

  • Send them in the direction of a resource that might help them rather than filling in all the blanks for them.
  • Communicate the value of your time, it’s already limited nature, and how much responsibility you already have.
  • Give compliments and positive feedback when it’s deserved. This will encourage your teammate’s performance and make them feel less dependent.
  • Clearly mark a good chunk of your day as quiet work time to limit disturbances and interruption.
  • Never do all the work for them. This sets a bad standard and encourages repeated delegation onto your already full plate.

Are you struggling with feeling capable at work or with the added weight of a teammate who won’t help carry the load? Tweet at me and let’s have a conversation about your frustrations.

Canon’s Decoy, Slack and Stewart Butterfield, AMT Series on Skillshare

In this week’s Brain Boost, Canon’s Decoy, why you should care about Slack, and the new Advanced Management Training series on Skillshare.

Canon’s Decoy
We will start by looking at the number one trending video on YouTube. It is from Canon Australia and is a piece of content marketing that is centered around the act of photographing portraits. You, out there in the community, who are interested in marketing and content marketing will find this video to be an exceptional evolution in the world of content marketing. You’ll notice that Canon’s brand is very lightly featured in the piece. Instead, the piece centers around photography itself.

That is, a photographer would love to see this video –not because of the camera, but because of their passion for photography. If you are interested in checking out this piece of content marketing yourself, you can find the link here in the video or in the tradition of the video below.

Slack and Stewart Butterfield
This year, Wall Street Journal has named Stewart Butterfield, the founder of slack, the Innovator of the Year. Slack claims to “kill email” and you might want to take it kind of seriously. It is now being used by over 1.5 million people worldwide and institutions like Harvard University, Nasa, Deloitte, and other high-profile organizations.

If you want to learn more about Slack, here is a tutorial on YouTube where you can learn more about the technology and how to use it. You might read this very interesting profile of Stuart, the founder of slack. He has a really interesting background in philosophy and a kind of unique approach to business.

AMT Series on Skillshare
Finally, we have a new series on Advancement Management Training that is now available and live on Skillshare. You can visit part one of the series at the link here. If you are a new manager, an existing manager, or an entrepreneur who wants to improve your leadership and management skills, you might want to check out this course series on Skillshare. It’s also available on Udemy.  

We’ll see you next week at 10 a.m. Pacific time for next week’s Brain Boost.

The Force Awakens, 23andMe, and Using MBTI Profiles

In this week’s Brain Boost, our theme is “Fresh Approaches”. First, we are going to look at the new Star Wars trailer for The Force Awakens. Then, 23 and Me’s FDA approval. And, finally, using the MBTI to work smarter with the people around you.

The Force Awakens
Let’s look at the trailer for The Force Awakens –the new Star Wars movie. One thing that is interesting about this trailer and the release of this movie is that, oftentimes, there are longtime Star Wars fans watching the trailer with a very young person –12 or 10 years old. The young person has most likely never been exposed to the Star Wars concept at all.

In the spirit of fresh approaches, think about something that you do on a relatively routine basis –whether it’s designing products, serving clients designing marketing plans, etc.– and then think about how a twelve-year-old or somebody from a new generation or different customer base would react to what you are putting out there. How could you make it fresh and exciting?

23 and Me
Next, let’s look at 23 and Me who, this week, won FDA approval to mass-market their genetic tests. Basically, 23 and Me will send you a tube, you spit in the tube, and mail it back to them. Then, what they do is use their process to issue you a report on how your specific genome reacts to a variety of genetic diseases and personal characteristics.

The FDA’s approval of 23 and Me is a major step forward in the world of personalized health –something that I think is very very exciting and certainly a fresh approach to medicine.

Using MBTI to work well with others
Most of us are taught to think about our weaknesses and to spend time working on those if we want to improve. However, what’s interesting is, if you, in fact, learn what your strengths are and then lean into those, you can maximize them and then leverage the strengths of others in order to balance out where you’re weak.

In order to get started with that, you need to understand what your strengths are. One of the tools that you can use to do so is the MBTI.

 

Do you have any other “Fresh Approach” ideas for your own work or life? Share in the comments below!

New Research on Stress, Anxiety, DNA, and the Likelihood of Getting Sick

In this blog, we want to share with you some research about stress. This research should cause us all to be more empathetic to the people around us.

There is a researcher at Yale called Joan Kauffman. What she did is she compared the DNA of children who had had no major trauma in their childhoods vs. children who had major trauma, whether that be some sort of abusive home or something like that.

What she found is that, at the DNA level, the children who had major stress constantly emitted hormones that were similar to their “fight or flight” hormones. Basically, That they had constant stress and, moreover, they found out that these stress receptors and what happens doesn’t go away. That is, these people who have traumatic childhoods don’t have their DNA modified and improved over time to where they don’t have this constant source of stress.

Upset problem child with head in hands sitting on staircase concept for bullying, depression stress or frustration
Upset problem child with head in hands sitting on staircase concept for bullying, depression stress or frustration

You might be thinking, “That is really sad for these children who had major sources of trauma.” But, there was another doctor in San Diego (Vincent Felitti) and he was looking at the correlation between childhood trauma and illness and he interviewed seventeen thousand patients. These are relatively normal patients. These are people who were the average age of 55 years old and they have college educations about three quarters of the time.

What he found is that about 65 percent of these people interviewed had some major traumatic event as a child, whether that be some sort of abuse or maybe bullying or a really dramatic divorce, and when you combine the two findings that these research teams, there’s a whole new body of knowledge out there about stress and its long-term impacts from childhood.

Our point is this: if 65 percent of people are walking around with increased stress levels, because of some event in their childhood, that’s a reason we should all be more empathetic because that means that over half the people in America are most likely walking around with these increased stress levels. It’s not something that’s their own fault. It’s something that happened to them when they were a kid.

Next time you’re seeing one of those people be stressed out and you’re thinking, “Man, they should just meditate and be zen,” instead think about this research that shows that maybe that wasn’t under their control. Maybe it was something that happened in their childhood that they never even had any control over, but it’s really impacting them through their adult life.

Interested in learning about more research like this? We post new vlogs every Friday. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for updates.