Time to Collaborate

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A guest blog by Andy Plaice of Civil Society Forum.

You can meet Andy at a Meetup on Wednesday 13th at the Royal Festival Hall

” Over the past couple of years I’ve been in contact with a number of fellow freel­an­cing con­sult­ants, coaches and creatives and each time I generally feel impressed by the breadth and depth of their knowledge and how competent these people are, and I think to myself how well these people must be doing pro­fes­sion­ally. However, I’ve also been fortunate to build rela­tion­ships of trust over time with such people and I am struck by how often it turns out these very same people are in fact strug­gling fin­an­cially in the current economic climate. This has happened so many times that it seems to be an undeni­able pattern. In spite of incred­ibly innov­ative ideas and projects that such people are bringing into the world middle class, freel­an­cing knowledge workers are truly facing chal­len­ging times.

The added dif­fi­culty of this situation seems to be com­pounded by other factors. There is a complex aura of shame sur­rounding the facts of these hardships.

As inde­pendent freel­an­cers, whether we like it or not, we are forced to work within the con­straints of a system based on max­im­ising com­pet­i­tion in an indi­vidu­al­istic framework. We may work from home, isolated, yet having to deal with the multiple pressures of running the home, cooking, doing school runs as well as tending to all of the never-ending facets of running a business.

On the business side of things itself we also have to maintain an image of com­pet­ency and pro­fes­sion­alism and in-built into this scenario is the necessity of appearing to be highly suc­cessful. It feels like an important element in garnering potential clients trust and interest.

However the shadow side of this is the fact that it is extremely hard to admit to oneself and others when things are not going well. In the cap­it­alist system where com­pet­i­tion is king there is a whole feeling of stigma and shame sur­rounding financial hardship. This makes it hard to ask for help, we’re afraid of losing our repu­ta­tions, social status and social acceptance.

The situation is exacer­bated by the fact that the wide­spread phenomena of under­em­ploy­ment is hardly mentioned whilst national stat­istics tra­di­tion­ally focus on unem­ploy­ment. Without the safety net of state benefits or the reg­u­larity of employed work being a freel­ancer means battling it out on one’s own and this can often be a very lonely place. We may be feeling the pinch but we’re unsure if it’s not just we alone who are under­per­forming since such things are rarely openly discussed. For freel­an­cers today this may well be one of the elephants in the room that
is not being suf­fi­ciently addressed.

This is why whether things are going well or going pear-shaped it is important to swallow the pride which has been induced into us as a survival instinct of the cap­it­alist economy. We need first to overcome our sense of denial in trying to conquer adversity alone and then the next natural step is to create networks of mutual support. Sara Horowitz of the US based Freelancers Union has called this the ‘New Mutualism’1

Shifting from ‘I’ to ‘We’ – Egosystem to Ecosystem economies

The paradox of our age is that as increasing numbers of us go it alone and become inde­pend­ents, on so many levels the need for inter­de­pend­ence and col­lab­or­a­tion makes itself acutely more and more of a vital necessity.

Since our society is now reaching the cul­min­a­tion of its indi­vidu­al­istic momentum, the majority of existing social struc­tures do not support col­lab­or­ative endeav­ours as we have few models to replicate. So we find ourselves in a situation in which we have to create new models and this of course requires effort, com­mit­ment and the ability to hold a certain amount of tension that working with others requires.

What could such cells of mutual support offer us?

  • Through creating networked struc­tures of support, emotional hubs and physical places we can turn to, we will build our sense of self-trust, community and dignity.
  • They could provide an oppor­tunity to set up part­ner­ships whereby we exchange mutual coaching and con­sulting, allowing us to tap deeper into our cre­ativity and resource­ful­ness rather than mulling over our problems in an isolated manner.
  • Opportunities to create col­lab­or­ative inten­tional com­munities of like-minded people 2
  • The real prospect of shifting from scarcity con­scious­ness to abundance con­scious­ness. This happens as we realise that through creating networks of trust we start to look out for each other and find oppor­tun­ities that fit the require­ments of our asso­ci­ates talents and needs. Whereas before we attempted this on our own, the networked capacity of meeting our needs grows expo­nen­tially. This is the reality of webs of mutu­al­itythat ‘pay it forward.’
  • Possibilities to pool our talents to create strong new market oppor­tun­ities that couldn’t exist in an indi­vidu­al­istic approach. Possibilities to pool resources, machinery, hardware etc. thus reducing economic and envir­on­mental burdens.
  • Potentially finding phil­an­throp­ists and organ­isa­tions that can support our efforts.

How do we build such collaboration?

Given that we may feel unac­cus­tomed to col­lab­or­a­tion given our indi­vidu­al­istic upbringing and the chal­lenges of building entirely new social models, we should not expect things to be overly easy.

However it would seem that our current global economic, envir­on­mental and social situation coupled with the ease of com­mu­nic­a­tion via internet now makes col­lab­or­a­tion something highly desirable and likely. There are also elements that we are starting to observe as necessary in suc­cess­fully nav­ig­ating towards ‘we’ collaboration.

Acknowledging the dif­fi­culties of the indi­vidu­al­istic approach Being honest about one’s financial realities and future prospects
Making a personal inventory of skills and talents
Building trust with a network through regular com­mu­nic­a­tion online (skype) or in person
Moving from thinking from the head to acting from the heart (the heart under­stands how to build
rela­tion­ships better than logical thinking which tends towards indi­vidual pre­ser­va­tion.)
Having an attitude of par­ti­cip­a­tion and learning by doing
Establishing indi­vidual trusted part­ner­ships.
Having meetings in which we speak and act authen­tic­ally and listen deeply to others. (This can be facil­it­ated i.e Dynamic Facilitation.)

What thoughts do you have on creating networks of mutual support? In terms of col­lab­or­ative ini­ti­at­ives what has worked for you?”


1 “Underpinning the philo­sophy of new mutualism is the belief that political and economic life flour­ishes in social networks, and that social change requires indi­viduals to shift their thinking from ‘I’ to ‘we.’ At the core of this new movement is a culture of inter­de­pend­ence, mutual support, and affinity, with building sus­tain­ab­ility, rather than max­im­izing short-term profit, as a goal. The goal is to build a new social support system that makes sense now and two gen­er­a­tions from now.”

2For example the col­lab­or­ative community project currently being discussed.

One comment

  1. Guest

    Hi Andy,
    Many thanks for sharing your blog with us. Sorry I missed the session at the Royal Festival Hall but Pam went and filled me in. I will try to pop along to another event and I hope to catch up with Esther then too. Nikki

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