A Six-Word Story

Ernest Hemingway inspired the idea of six-word stories with his famous challenge and the first, six-word story: “Baby shoes for sale, never worn.” When we work with groups taking on big problems, we challenge them to come up with their own six-word stories describing their endeavors because, to paraphrase Einstein, if you can’t explain it simply, you simply don’t understand it.

Here’s our six-word story: Strange bedfellows doing great things together.

That’s our life’s work. To make it possible for people who don’t normally work together to do really amazing things together. We’ve spent the past few decades looking at how to make the act of collaboration easier, more organized, and more likely to produce results. We’ve uncovered nine pivotal moments in the course of collaboration that can make or break, broken down into their own six-word stories: 

  1. Only some problems need collaborative solutions. Deciding if your problem needs collaboration – or doesn’t – is the first step to building an effective collaboration.

  2. Collaboration takes real human connection. Michael Porter coined the term “shared value” but creating that kind of value starts by creating real human connection, building trust, finding shared purpose.

  3. Inviting individuals to live their greatness. Inviting not just a list of organizations but the specific people and inviting them in a way that inspires, engages, and calls them to something greater than themselves.

  4. Nothing happens until people meet. Viktor Frankl observed that, “…man has to make choices…No instinct tells him what he ought to do.” And the basic unit for groups making choices is the meeting. Animals don’t meet. They just act. The meeting is the fundamental unit of human organization and decision-making.

  5. Solve problems; don’t advocate solutions. Too often, we become advocates instead of problem solvers.  Before we fall in love with our solutions we must first fall in love with our problems.

  6. Getting institutional commitment takes commitment. These kinds of collaborations involve institutions and getting institutions to commit takes commitment in and of itself. Would be collaborators need to give institutional representatives the time and information they need to seek commitment.

  7. Specify the who, what, how, when. Now that you’re clear on the problem and you have committed partners, get specific about exactly what you’re going to do together, for whom, and under what terms and conditions. Hope for the best but plan for the worst, so have good documentation and a prenup!

  8. Achieving greatness takes trial and error. People will often tie up their own egos and personalities in a big endeavor. And when the solution fails, they take it as personal failure. The path out is both semantic and fundamental. Semantically, consider an approach as an experiment designed to test a specific hypothesis. If it fails, you didn’t fail. The experiment failed. Fundamentally, design experiments with testable outcomes.

  9. To have impact, tell impactful stories. Before we had a written language, humans told stories. Our brains are pre-programmed to remember data arrayed in narrative. Don’t just gather facts and figures. Use them to tell stories.

Together with our Collaboration Nation we’ll explore the underlying theories, tips, and tricks for each pivot point.


This blog originally published on CSR Wire. Click here to view.

Tackling 3 Myths Around Cost-Plus Contracting from our CEO and More >
Four Tips for Unlocking Creativity without Short-Circuiting Your Brain from our More >
  A Small Change to Avoid Big Mistakes from Groupthink by More >
Top Tips on Engaging Stakeholders from a Corporate Sustainability Pro Jessica More >
Extremely practical and extremely easy to implement once you have an understanding of the steps and the formula and the requirements of the process. - CollaborateUp Academy Participant
"The CollaborateUp Workshop gave our delegates a set of tools they can use immediately to collaborate more effectively across multiple departments and organizations." - Erika Lopez, Global Impact
"Building up the capacity and capability of nonprofits to make a difference in the world is a core part of the Office Depot Foundation's mission. CollaborateUp had a really big impact on the nonprofits we support, giving them tools and insights they can use immediately." - Mary Wong
The course was great! Great value and great insights into collaborating with various partners in multiple situations. It really change my thought process and how I view situations with our clients and stakeholders. - CollaborateUp Academy Participant
I soon discovered that it doesn’t really matter whether your introduction to CollaborateUp is through an issue solving workshop, or at an event as Richard brings all the chaos together with his savvy charm and good humour - the most important thing is that you get to engage and work with these great folks! My biggest take out over the past five years of being a part of their world – collaboration is a process and you’re not going to get very far unless you know what problem you’re all trying to solve together. The CollaborateUp framework helps by asking simple questions to help reveal the big answers. - Cate O’Kane, Founder, &co partnership consultancy
The course actually aids with more than just collaboration - it helps drive thinking into issue clarification, meeting handling and setting up, communicating with stakeholders. I loved it! - CollaborateUp Academy Participant
“Even with a diverse set of stakeholders and a very limited timeframe, the CollaborateUp Formula allowed us cut through a complex set of issues and develop a concrete and pragmatic proposal for tackling a very tough problem. Richard Crespin is exactly what you want in a facilitator, someone able to bring people together to recognize their shared goals and the best ways to achieve them.” - Amit Ronen Director, George Washington University Solar Institute