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Key Lessons That the Impeachment Hearings and Thanksgiving Have to Teach about Collaboration

November 25, 2019

Pictured above: Karen Winterich, Professor of Marketing, Frank and Mary Smeal Research Fellow, Smeal College of Business and Alicyn Rhoades, Associate Professor of Engineering, Plastics Engineering Technology, Penn State Behrend at Materials Day 2019


Many speak about the need to look at problems from many perspectives in order to solve them. 


The recent impeachment hearings are an attempt to understand a problem from multiple angles. But this kind of facing off tends to entrench views rather than entwine them. Conferences, workshops and summits are another attempt as they feature "expert panels". But this kind of facing out--differing views expressed outwardly to an audience--populates a room with perspectives but doesn't force them together. If molecular hydrogen and oxygen aren't allowed to react together, you never get water.  It's the combination that matters, the soup of ideas stirred together with the right amount of heat.

“The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table.”
― Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation

The multi-stakeholder and multi-disciplinary view is actually key to solving our world's toughest problems.  This can take three different forms which I call:  facing off, facing out and facing in.


Facing off

We won't hang out here for very long, but "facing off" is when multiple perspectives come with minds closed, swords drawn, and pre-written Twitter posts with thumbs hovering over the "send" button. We approach with self-righteousness and a lack of curiosity. The current impeachment hearings are an easy example.  When perspectives "face off" in this manner, it reinforces tribalism and hardens the walls and defenses, keeping us from our best selves and best solutions.


Facing out

This is what we often see at co