By Steven Mauss
As I have the opportunity to visit many companies and government agencies, I’m struck by how much pride we all take in the unique ways we attempt to solve problems. Particularly, in the U.S., our focus has traditionally been on individual rights, efforts, and success. Sometimes, we focus less on collaboration and organizational effectiveness. But I believe this works to everyone’s detriment – even for the individual.
As a teenager, I remember trying to dress in wild and crazy clothes – bell-bottomed pants, psychedelic shirts, platform shoes – I was a true product of the ‘70’s. I wanted to be “cool,” of course, and I wanted to fit in. But I also wanted to show my independence – my uniqueness – just like all of my peers did. In doing so, I remember that feeling of “freedom” that came from my long hair blowing in the wind. No one could tell ME what to do; I was my own man. I accepted input from no one. I did not collaborate well with anyone. As a result, I did not achieve very much as a teen.
As I grew older and experienced some life-changing moments as a young adult, it occurred to me that the most important things in life are best accomplished through collaboration. An individual may have an initial idea but the constant refinement that comes from the input of others yields breakthroughs that, in fact, are truly unique. Working together toward a common goal breeds camaraderie and trust, sometimes creating lasting relationships in the process. And the end product is superior.
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Virtually every valuable project within a workplace requires the input of many to become truly successful. When a single individual is allowed the power to dictate the course of a project, the results are not only less than stellar, a single point of failure has been introduced. Processes become “unique” and less efficient, too. And while it may be a point of pride for an individual to point to success on a short-term basis, it often creates unrepeatable results. No one wants that.
I like to laugh at pictures of myself from the ‘70’s now. I remember how hard we all worked to be and look unique. The irony, of course, is that if everyone is unique, then no one is unique. But when we are united and committed to a common goal or purpose, the results are often truly unique.