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Stop Arguing: Today’s Knotty Problems Demand Collaboration

The strident controversy over President Obama’s threat to strike Syria and Congress’s most recent stalemate is typical of the interminable arguments that run rampant through American society, the big issues of the world, and our own organizations.  Rather than address the problem, the focus seems to be on proving we are right, and predictably escalating into bitter conflict. As always, the solutions lie in getting beyond the arguments to really listen, to find compassion for others, and to resolve differences.

The Syrian crisis, for instance, is now being approached in a collaborative way that satisfies all parties a lot better. Russia’s plan to have Assad dispose of his chemical weapons offered a creative solution. Why didn’t this idea come of the US?  Because we were too busy arguing!  There are probably many other solutions, but the point is that we will never get to them until we stop arguing.

In my own organizations, I often am concerned to see a colleague object fiercely to some proposal, challenges to authority, misunderstandings explode, and other everyday conflicts. Debates over tough issues are always welcomed. But heated rhetoric is disruptive, so we discourage it by simply announcing “Let’s stop arguing” and take a break.

It’s not easy to give up one’s righteousness, of course. That’s why there is a great need to institutionalize a collaborative ethic. We should make collaborative problem-solving a key principle, train people to work together, and have leaders demonstrate by example. I find that many of us generate conflict with our own behavior, often without realizing it. As sages remind us, our biggest enemy is often not being able to control ourselves.

The power of sheer collaborative problem-solving is one of the most underutilized practices of today.  The enormous challenges ahead – climate change, energy, financial crises, globalization, overregulation, etc. – are fundamentally a higher level of complexity. Systems theory shows how a more complex system requires an equivalent level of dispersed intelligent networks interacting with one another – a “Global Brain.” (See

In fact, cooperation and active collaboration are among the most fundamental forces of nature – opposing the forces of competition and conflict to produce some balance between these two evolutionary tendencies.  Darwin wrote of the collaborative relations among species, although that has gone largely unnoticed, and Adam Smith also saw cooperation as a central part of economy.

One of the most interesting new forecasts we are posting on our website is “Democratic Enterprise.”   Progressive companies have always integrated the interests of their employees, customers, local governments, business partners with the needs of their investors to create a more harmonious and productive socio-economic system – a “corporate community.” If this more powerful business ethic were to enter mainstream use, the impact on business and society as a whole could be vast. Look for the results at

I find it frustrating to see the potential everywhere for good solutions to the big challenges of our time — yet our talent and energy is wasted arguing. If we could get beyond the stereotypes, hatred, and the other ills of modern life, I think we could find endless possibilities for satisfying everybody.

Adapted from an article in Professional Pilot   




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