Midnight Lunch: The 4 Phases of Collaboration Success from Thomas Edison’s Lab

Sarah Miller Caldicott’s new book is about collaboration as invented by Thomas Edison. In her other books about Edison, the author has demonstrated her knack for making associations between innovation and team work. This has helped many business people re-think their corporate work styles. 

Just before sitting down to review Midnight Lunch, I came across my notes from another book I’ve been reading by Martin Seligman, a psychologist and expert on positivity. Seligman advises individuals to “[s]hape your life to fit who you have discovered you are.” Midnight Lunch invites the same transformation for business. It calls on us to shape our enterprises to fit what we discover is possible when “brilliant and creative people” learn to work in new ways. It’s a tall order. But thankfully, Caldicott offers a helpful road map for building a more collaborative culture.  She points to these four steps, which form the interlocking vertebrae of Edison’s approach:

Step 1: Capacity
Build diverse teams of two to eight people. Set them loose to discover new ways to think and problem-solve for the obstacle or opportunity.

Step 2: Context
Keep learning. Learn from mistakes; learn from experiments. Follow innovations occurring elsewhere in other disciplines. Question assumptions. Hold yourself responsible for probing beneath the surface for insights that will enrich your team. 

Step 3: Coherence
Many organizations can get it together to collaborate once or twice. Few can keep it together long term. Fits and starts not only break momentum, worse, they make cultures cynical about teamwork. The solution, Caldicott says, is to create coherent frameworks for decision making. Develop a process to guide progress. And find acceptable language for voicing divergent points of view. 

Step 4: Complexity
Complexity is kryptonite to collaborators. Think about every collaborative project you’ve ever worked on. Ask yourself: what made it difficult? I’m guessing it’s complexity. Managing the myriad personalities, agendas, and massive data inputs can grind progress to a halt. Midnight Lunch offers practical ideas for managing complexity, from reskilling your people to leaving a footprint for others to follow once a successful project launches.  This year, my team is in search of the best way to use the cloud to better manage collaborative work and archive our process simultaneously.

Read all the lessons from Midnight Lunch at MENG Blend: Midnight Lunch: The 4 Phases of Team Collaboration Success from Thomas Edison’s Lab