One of the tasks a moderator of an innovation social network needs to concern themselves with is how to put different people together to facilitate the collaborative process. Sometimes those with shared interests find each other serendipitously. Other times the moderator needs to make the introduction. Ultimately the person most responsible for the selection of their collaborator is the person seeking help.
I’ve been reading some of the studies by Vanessa K. Bohns of the University of Waterloo – Department of Management Sciences. She is doing remarkable work helping predict how collaboration works. Her work also informs the notion of what type of partner you need during the collaborative process.
I don’t know about you but when people ask for my advice or assistance I’m usually flattered and try my best to be of service. It’s been my experience that when I ask others for assistance, they’re generous with their contributions.
Now that we’re all engaged on collaborative social networks, we work with a variety of different people we might not otherwise be exposed to in or our normal work day. There is a claimed advantage of innovation social networks: We don’t have to know everyone intimately, but we can find an expert when we need one. They’re identified based on their previous contributions.
Studies tell us we’re only capable of managing about 50 real personal relationships tops. Yet, there are over 7,500 people I’m connected to in my social networks. When I ask for help the choice to collaborate must be based more on human psychology than the good times we’ve spent together.
Asking Someone To Collaborate
You might be surprised to learn it’s easier to get people to help you on a project; to collaborate on your idea, than you suspect. We’re busy worrying about taking up the time of the person we’re considering to ask. Our targeted helper is usually more concerned how they’ll look if they refuse.
In studies by Bohns and her colleagues, most people underestimated by as much as 50% the likelihood that others would agree to a direct request for help. It seems potential helpers appreciate the social costs of refusing a direct request for help, while help seekers consider instead the instrumental costs of helping.
Wanting Someone To Ask Us To Collaborate
If you’re interested in providing your expertise, let people know your door is open instead of selling the benefits of your skill set.
People in a position to provide help tend to underestimate the role that embarrassment plays in decisions about whether or not to ask for help. They don’t realize the angst the help seekers are going through preparing to solicit assistance.
As a result, potential helpers may overestimate the likelihood that people will ask for help. And helpers may misjudge the most effective means of encouraging help-seeking behavior – emphasizing the practical benefits of asking for help, rather than attempting to assuage help-seekers’ feelings of discomfort.
Who to ask for help depends on what stage you’re in the process
When you do decide to ask for a collaborative partner, you might want to give some thought to what that partner brings to the table, depending on where you’re at in your process. If you’re at the formative stages of the project, someone with complementary skills might be the most helpful. While you can address the portions of the project you’re most expert with, the other folks can focus on the parts in their wheelhouse.
This is because there is a distinction between the two types of interpersonal compatibility in determining partner preferences for joint tasks. When the collaborative effort requires folks to work on the early stages, or strategic moments, complementary disciplines are most useful. You two can “divide and conquer”.
When you’re getting to the end of the project and you’re focused on outcomes, a similar collaborative partner is a better choice. Your work effort serves as additive and you march more productively toward a finished project.
We’re all learning how to collaborate better within social networks. We don’t have to be afraid to ask for help as others are likely inclined to jump in rather than be judged poorly. For those of us who are interested in collaborating on interesting projects, with sharing our accumulated expertise, we should let others know it’s no big deal to be asked, rather than tout the skills we have on offer. Lastly if you’re in the thick of a project you should be looking for someone with a complementary skill set. If you’re in the home stretch perhaps someone just like you is the best collaborator.
“Liking the Same Things, But Doing Things Differently: Outcome Versus Strategic Compatibility in Partner Preferences for Joint Tasks”, Bohns, Higgins, Social Cognition, 2011
“If You Need Help, Just Ask: Underestimating Compliance with Direct Requests for Help”, Flynn, Bohns, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 95, No. 1, pp. 128-143, 2008
‘Why Didn’t You Just Ask?’ Underestimating the Discomfort of Help-Seeking, Bohns, Flynn, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 2010
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Ron Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation ecosystem. CogniStreamer serves as a Knowledge Management System, Idea Management System and Social Network for Innovation. CogniStreamer has been rated as a “Leader” in Forrester’s recent Wave report on Innovation Management Tools. You can learn more about CogniStreamer here http://bit.ly/ac3x60 . Ron also manages The Idea Management Group on LinkedIn (JoinHere).