With the speed of change these days, you can’t do everything yourself. To succeed, you need to work together with people you can learn from. In my experience, collaboration is the best way to get things done.
All but two of the books I’ve written have been collaborations with others, and I’ve written more than 60 books. That’s not too bad, considering several college professors told me I wasn’t much of a writer. They said if I wanted to work at a university, I should work in administration because of the well-known “publish or perish” requirement for professors.
My first job out of graduate school was as assistant to the dean of the College of Business at Ohio University. He asked me to teach a course because he wanted all administrators to teach. After two weeks, I came home and told my wife, Margie, “Teaching is what I ought to be doing. It’s really fun.” She asked me what I was going to do about the writing required; I said I’d figure that out as I went along.
During that time, Paul Hersey arrived as head of the management department. I heard he taught a great leadership course, and I asked if I could sit in the following semester. He said, “Nobody audits my course. If you want to take it for credit, you’re welcome.” I was taken aback — leadership had been the focus of my doctoral work — but I took the course and did the papers alongside the other students.
After the semester was over, Paul came to me and said, “Ken, the university wants me to write a textbook, but writing isn’t easy for me. I’ve been looking for a good writer like you to collaborate with.” What a surprise — I guess he liked my papers! I said, “We’d make a great team — you lack confidence in your writing, and I’m not supposed to write. I’ll do it!” The book, “Management of Organizational Behavior,” blended what we both knew about leadership. It’s still used today — more than 40 years later — and is now in its 10th edition.
That experience taught me two things. First, don’t let anybody tell you what you can or can’t achieve. If you have a vision about what you want to do, go for it. You’ll work out a way to make it happen. And if you meet someone who really wants to accomplish something, and you want to accomplish something and you can get together, that’s a powerful force.
Another great collaboration began when Margie and I went to a cocktail party for local authors in 1981 after moving to San Diego. There I met Spencer Johnson, who wrote children’s books at the time. Margie introduced us, joking that we should write a children’s book for managers because “they won’t read anything else.” Spencer and I hit it off, and within eight weeks, we had finished the first draft of “The One Minute Manager.” The book went on to sell more than 15 million copies. Our first revision in 33 years, “The New One Minute Manager,” was released earlier this year.
The remarkable learning here is how two people with expertise in completely different areas can come together and produce something amazing — something neither could have created on their own.
My friend Jim Ballard theorizes that collaboration has two parts: essence and form. Essence is about connecting — heart to heart and values to values. Form is about how you work together. Jim says, “When collaborating, be careful when someone wants to go to form right away. Essence has to come first.”
I once had the opportunity to write a book with a well-known author. In our first meeting, all he wanted to talk about was form — dividing the royalties, marketing the book, who was going to do what. I passed. A few weeks later, I was introduced to Norman Vincent Peale to discuss a potential book project. Our three-hour meeting was all essence — sharing about our lives, marriages, values and common desire to make a difference. That meeting resulted in a book titled “The Power of Ethical Management.” I’ll always regard it as one of my most meaningful collaborations.