In February, we celebrated a collaboration between the UA Poetry Center and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, Woven Words. The result of this collaboration will be tangible and profound.

And it got us thinking: what does successful collaboration look like? Maybe, it looks like Molly.

Molly is a bright woman who interned with us last spring. In August she found herself where many recent grads find themselves–struggling to find meaningful employment after graduation.Her senior semester at the University of Arizona, Molly interviewed and networked. She even joined a Leading for Good innovation project working with Tu Nidito, a 501(c)3 that provides grief support for children. In the beginning, Molly and her intern team had hoped to “help” Tu Nidito and gain valuable resume experience. By the end, the team and Tu Nidito had entered into a truly collaborative relationship, working together to create change.As humans, our survival depends on adaptability and cooperation. While scientists are still seeking the exact evolutionary moment motivating our prehistoric ancestors cooperation, there is pretty wide agreement that reciprocal altruism is a core principle of human social life. We need each other. But cooperation and collaboration are different.

Cooperation is defined as acting together toward a common good. Even frienemies can cooperate because the benefit is immediate.

Collaboration, on the other hand, is about co-creating. Creating something with others requires more than working together. It requires vulnerability, generosity, curiosity, letting go of fear and notions of personal gain. It is an investment that may not yield immediate or quantifiable outcomes.

In our work around innovation and education, the word collaboration is often used; yet, we rarely see it happen. Why? Because collaboration is more than cooperating and curating connections. Collaboration takes time and a little sacrifice.

And so, last August, despite all the interviews Molly had, her path to meaningful employment went something like this: Molly Facebooked Shelby (a fellow intern), who texted Brooke (her project catalyst), who had heard from Ciara that Tu Nidito was hiring. Brooke emailed Molly. Molly emailed Ciara. Six-weeks later Molly was working for Tu Nidito expanding their reach into Southern Arizona.

Molly’s network worked for her, because networks have always been survival tools. In the 13th century, the American Southwest experienced a mega-drought.  A recent study from a National Science Foundation project, analyzed ceramic artifacts to determine network connectivity among different groups. The groups that survived the drought and remained in the Southwest were (with one exception) those with strong external connections–people with good networks.

Knowing your neighbors and even your far-flung cousins can help you mobilize and diversify your resources in times of need. But knowing people and collecting LinkedIn connections doesn’t mean you have a powerful network.

Powerful networks are those with the thick connections that come from strong relationships. Strong relationships grow from trust. Trust is most often gained through positive and productive collaboration…like the project between Molly’s intern team and Tu Nidito.

Collaboration is hard work. So…

WHAT IF…each of us and the organizations we work for created just a little more space and time for people to learn how to be vulnerable, generous, curious, and fearless together?

How would it change your world?

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