President's Column

Two men are sitting in the same room in a library. One wants to open a window in the room, while the other wants to keep it closed. They bicker back and forth about how much to leave it open: a crack, halfway, three-quarters of the way. No solution satisfies them both. A librarian enters. She asks one why he wants the window open: “To get some fresh air.” She asks the other why he wants it closed: “To avoid the draft.” After thinking a minute, she opens wide a window in the next room, bringing in fresh air without a draft. (As told by American social worker Mary Parker Follett, 1924.)

That story illustrates the lack of collaboration that has been all too common in solving problems, be they as small as opening windows or as considerable as health-care reform. But today’s students are embracing collaborative leadership as a way to address the world’s challenges. Donna Kalikow, executive director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, for example, describes her students as “entrepreneurial, independent, tech savvy, tolerant and socially conscious.” This new generation of leaders, she says, is steeped in “collaboration, cultural tolerance, conflict resolution, communication and ‘followership’ — the empowerment of colleagues who support a leader’s vision.” These skills and attitudes are becoming more salient as public, private and nonprofit sectors converge and globalization accelerates.

APA and its members are participating in this trend, too. In fact, APA’s first Strategic Plan is a good example of a collaborative process. It will take many members and partners to achieve the top three goals: maximize organizational effectiveness, expand psychology’s role in advancing health and increase recognition of psychology as a science.

Let’s consider how collaboration might get us there. Collaboration is a group problem-solving process that requires the creative integration of needs and joint ownership of decisions. It involves working in teams, coalitions, alliances, partnerships and networks. It involves trust and consensus building. It allows different leadership styles to contribute simultaneously. The goal of collaboration is not to solve problems through compromise but to achieve synergies that lead to innovative solutions.

APA is already creating such synergies through its many coalitions and partnerships. Working with Div. 42 (Psychologists in Independent Practice), for example, APA established a partnership with the National YMCA to promote health and wellness (see May 2009 Monitor article). With more than 2,600 YMCAs in America serving more than 20 million people, APA is connecting psychologists to the public and, in turn, the YMCA is providing its members and staff with expertise to address behavioral and lifestyle issues.

The YMCA partnership is a great example of external collaboration. APA is also in the midst of an internal collaboration: the development of treatment guidelines. APA’s scientists and practitioners are working together to create guidelines that will translate psychology’s best scientific evidence into its best clinical practice.

Some problems seem intractably difficult, and determining how to collaboratively solve them isn’t clear. Alan Whitaker, dean of faculty and academic programs at the National Defense University, recommends multidisciplinary approaches to “VUCA” problems in society: those that are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Fixing health care and reversing climate change will not be easy, for instance. We need more sophisticated collaborative efforts to address them successfully. Fortunately, we can see them being spawned and growing now. Newer technologies are helping to make it possible, but they are not magic bullets. The know-how that we create by bringing different groups together can lead to novel solutions to our problems. Diverse kinds of people, working together, is the key.

A new collaborative era is here. It is vital for psychology to develop its collaborative leaders and create common frameworks for progress. Do you see yourself as a part of the collaborative movement? Are you a collaborative leader? APA needs you to bring in the fresh air, without a draft.