We are learning that collaboration is being asked of most leaders in organizations, of students of all ages in their schools and classrooms, and now even in families at home.  We are also learning that people struggle with true collaboration, it isn’t a skill that we are taught or modelled when we grew up.  In fact, for those of us who are Gen X’rs and older, isolated and individual learning and leadership were the approaches taken.    Now a new approach is expected, one that we believe is imperative to the success of any culture or organization, for without collaboration, innovation is very challenging.   The questions everyone is asking… “What’s the reason for the shift to collaboration?”  And “how to do we create a collaborative approach to how we do what we do?”

In ‘Discovery learning is the new higher learning’, (Globe and Mail, A13, Monday October 15, 2012) Don Tapscott who is an adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto describes a model of collaborative learning as the new approach universities need to adopt.  He describes the old model typically employed by universities as one which was ‘one way, one-size-fits-all’ which was ‘teacher centered’ where the student was ‘isolated in the learning process’.

Tapscott indicates the needs of the learner have shifted over the past 30 years and the old approach no longer fits the needs of young learners.  While baby boomers 30 years ago were able to passively listen to the instructors as they told them the required content, (we call this content dump) the youth of today, thanks to the evolution of technology,  are more interactive in their approach to life and require a more interactive approach in the classroom to support their learning.

In our experience, this shift is not just isolated to schools; it’s a shift we are seeing in organizations as well.  Adults are self-directed learners and benefit from being a part of the process and solution rather than just being told what to do.   Honestly, how many of you ever liked being told what to do and how to do it?  In our experience, very little learning comes from this approach, innovation even less.

Looking at this new framework, what are the skills required of both learners and leaders to ensure the development of vibrant collaboration where new ideas are embraced, respected and discussed?   We believe curiosity lies at the foundation, a skill we all have, yet don’t always use or practice.



  1. BE CURIOUS:  Curiosity can create almost anything as long as you are willing to keep trying different combinations of any situation/ project.  All innovation stems from curiosity – people just trying, failing, learning, trying again until it works.  What are you curious about? How can you look at something differently?  How can you make the impossible possible?  Even if it doesn’t turn out how you wanted it to, what can you learn from the experience and apply it again?
  2. ASK OPEN QUESTIONS: No one likes to be told what to do, nor do they learn from it.  Asking open questions creates learning opportunities for all parties.  It also allows you to dig deeper and push the boundaries of what you thought was possible.  Open questions begin with who, what, where, when, and how.
  3. BE OPEN TO NEW PERSPECTIVES: When we get an idea in our heads or become passionate about something we can often put blinders on and just run with it without considering others’ perspectives.  Take the time to hear the perspectives of others and respect their ideas.  Often ideas that people think are crazy or impossible are ideas that inspire greatness.  New perspectives push boundaries to what is possible.  Asking open questions is a great way to invite new perspectives.  Tell me more is also a great way to gain a deeper understand of where someone is coming from.
  4.  TEST ASSUMPTIONS:  We all have beliefs and assumptions and often they can stand in our way and not serve us well.  Always, ALWAYS test your assumptions.  When collaborating with others, if something becomes impossible or not doable test the assumption.. Where is this assumption coming from?  How is it serving the project?  How can you look at it differently?
  5. LISTEN TO OTHERS: We have learned that people have very little awareness around when they listen and when they don’t.  It is impossible to collaborate if you aren’t listening to others.  Take the time to hear the speaker, hear their perspective and ideas.  How can you dig deeper to test assumptions and innovate by building upon ideas if you aren’t truly listening to others?  Everyone has value, take the time to listen to it.  You may be surprised at what you learn.


The 5 Steps To Collaboration above will shift a relationship from the ‘teacher/ leader centred’ model Tapscott describes as the old model to one that is learning centred, one in which the needs of the learners are acknowledged, respected and embraced.

Learning and knowledge have long been considered a source of power.  We believe curiosity supports this power.  For the facilitator or leader, curiosity supports them in being more interactive in the learning process, and for the learners, curiosity helps them understand their learning wants and needs so they can build the skills they need to lead the lives they want to embrace.

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