The Space Between Us: An Approach to Collaborative Innovation

The Space Between Us: An Approach to Collaborative Innovation

There is a shift from being focused on my point-of-view as it interacts with your point-of-view to being attentive instead to the space between us. While I still may have a point-of-view I’m no longer so fixated on it and am more open to new and unpredictable input from the surrounding environment. This will, of course, include another’s point-of-view but also may go beyond it. Suddenly I can access not only my collaborator’s thinking but can also see connections between things I may have learned or thought about in the past and what people sometimes refer to as the “Zeitgeist” or simply “ideas in the air.” Freed from a tight connection to my identity, the space between us rather than my own mind becomes the workbench where collaboration actually occurs.

The Age of Enlightenment

Let me take this a step further by first taking a step back. At the present time in our human history, particularly in the West, we have come to know ourselves primarily as individuals. In fact, we pride ourselves on this as a sign of our progress as a species. It was not always so. In earlier periods of history people knew themselves primarily by virtue of their place in a social hierarchy and as members of a tribe or extended family or a social class or a craft guild or as belonging to an estate ruled by a nobleman. Individuality existed, of course, but as a secondary or ancillary attribute.

Most historians locate the start (or at least the flowering) of this development in the Enlightenment period of the 18th Century, although there are certainly traces of a burgeoning individuality as early as the late Middle Ages. In his well known letter describing his ascent of Mount Ventoux, which was written about 1350, the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374) described his ecstatic experience of reaching the summit, gazing at the landscape spread out before him and discovering three-dimensional space.

This may sound bizarre to anyone living in the 21st Century for whom it might seem that three-dimensionality has always been a feature of reality. But consider that medieval paintings don’t portray three-dimensionality; they depict a flat, two-dimensional world. Petrarch’s account presents the discovery of perspective, and inherent in perspective is the existence of two points in space: a “vanishing point” on the horizon and a point-of-view located in the observer. Later René Descartes’ (1596-1650) declared the observer’s point of view to be separate from his body and gave it a name – the “res cogitans” (the thinking thing). Still later, John Locke (1632-1704) made self-awareness (or thinking about oneself) the defining feature of human identity and thus reified even further the self as an object of thought located at a point somewhere in mental space.


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About the Author

David NorrisDr. David Norris has worked for more than forty years as a college teacher, manager, international consultant and coach, leading programs for individuals, teams and organizations. His clients operate in North America, Europe, Australia, India and the Middle East. He currently lives in Germany and works in both English and German. Underlying all of his work is a commitment to human maturation. Jean Piaget, among others, researched the stages of human development from the “Uroboros” of infancy to the conceptual thinking of young adulthood. Most of these researchers stop there with a command of logic and the achievement of emotional impulse control. But human development does not necessarily end there. David believes there is a post-rational kind of consciousness, which is now emerging within our species and he believes it’s possible to facilitate that emergence. And just as individuals can grow and mature, so too can organizations.

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