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Guest Post: Alright Stop, Collaborate and Listen

This blog post is by Nilesh Makan and one of my favourites, thanks for sharing.

Alright Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Vanilla ice was ahead of the curve when coming up with the lyrics of Ice Ice Baby. The lyrics in the following line of the song are: “Ice is back with my brand new invention”. While there are differences between them, invention, innovation and creativity are part of the same WhatsApp group, and all of them are becoming increasingly necessary in a disruptive world.

As I continue to learn more about innovation, why innovation matters, what it means to innovate and how to innovate, the more I think that Vanilla Ice got it right.  Innovation is about stopping, collaborating and listening. Let’s delve a little deeper into each of these aspects.

Alright Stop.

What does that mean? Stopping is essentially creating space in your innovation process to pause, think and reflect. It is about slowing down to understand the problem, including the skills, competencies and direction, and then speeding up to an idea. Sometimes, you have to go slow to go fast, pause and think about the vision, consider the future, and understand the risks — knowing where you want to go and why is essential before stepping on the accelerator, otherwise, you may go fast in the wrong direction.

Another aspect of stopping is to still the mind. Mindfulness allows us to connect with the present, to improve creativity and problem-solving. The world moves so quickly, and there is an expectation that we must do everything fast. Doing things fast is not only demanding and taxing, but it leaves little time to think and to reflect. It may also lead to increased stress, anxiety and even burnout. It can be difficult to be creative in a headspace where there is pressure to create with little time to think.

We can cultivate this sense of presence through simple mindfulness exercises. These breathing exercises are not complicated, and everyone can do them. The first exercise is so simple. All you have to do is be aware of your in-breath and your out-breath, identify the in-breath as in-breath, and the out-breath as out-breath. While so simple, the effects can be remarkable.

If you’re up to it, let’s run an experiment around pausing. When you see *** Alright stop *** below, stop reading the article for about a minute or two. It may be more, or it may be less, but take some time to stop and focus on your breath. As you breathe in, pay attention to your in-breath only. Make the in-breath the only focus of your mind. When you are focused on your in-breath, you release everything else. You release your fears and worries about an uncertain future; you release the regrets and sorrows about the past; you release your hopes and anger because the mind is only focused on one thing, the breath.

If you struggle, that is okay. If your mind wanders and thinks about other things, your mind is doing what it was designed to do: think. All you need to do is focus back on the breath.

 You may continue reading the article when you feel you are done.

*** Alright Stop ***

Take a few seconds to reflect on how you feel now.

Being mindful helps us improve our divergent thinking. It opens our minds to new ideas. It allows us explore the problem space with more clarity and openness.

Slowing down and taking a step back is a good starting point, particularly if you take time to step back, look at the overall system, and assess where to prioritise effort.


Collaboration is defined as the act of working together towards a shared vision. Without this shared vision, collaboration becomes disparate, and focus may be lost. With a shared vision, it is possible to give teams more autonomy to work together, maximising learning and competence at a team level as well as improving personal mastery.  

Getting collaboration right takes concerted effort. Collaboration requires improvements in information flow, transparency between business units or value streams, and making work visible.

Another facet of collaboration is diversity.  Collaborating within small, diverse teams can unlock innovation and improve agility. Collaboration allows sharing of new ideas, breaking assumptions and co-creating for an emerging future. Effective collaboration involves the inclusion of customers, business people and users.

A Design Thinking approach to innovation necessitates that we speak to our customers to understand their needs and then prototype ideas to determine whether the products are desirable. This in itself is a form of collaboration.

There are many ways of cultivating a more collaborative culture. At the heart of it, it’s about creating connections that work towards a shared vision.  Visualising work is also necessary to improve collaboration. This transparency allows everyone to understand what needs to be done and how work is progressing. If you are unable to be together in person, invest in technology that helps bring teams together.

Be inclusive, allow all voices to be heard with a level of trust and openness.  Silent brainstorming is a great arrow to have in your quiver of tools to facilitate more open, transparent communication.

Give feedback, lots of it and often. Feedback helps us understand what we are doing right and where we need to improve or adapt.  

While these are some of my perspectives, in the spirit of collaboration and getting different perspectives, besides “Stop, collaborate and listen”, what words do you think are essential for innovation and why. Please share your ideas in the comments.


Listening is hard and is probably the most underrated leadership skill. To quote the Dalai Lama, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you know; but when you listen, you may learn something new”. Good listening takes practice, review, feedback and more practice.

Otto Scharmer, a co-founder of the presencing Institute, and author of Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges, considers four levels of listening.

The first level of listening is called “Downloading” and is limited to reconfirming what we already know. Nothing new comes of this level of listening and only transfers information that is generally familiar.

The second level of listening is “factual listening”. At this level of listening, we listen when the information is different to what we know. We use this listening to broaden our knowledge and pay more attention to the conversation. We move from listening to our inner voice to the person in front of us.

The third level of listening is “empathetic listening”. At this level of listening, we start connecting with the other person, not just the facts they bring. We want to see things empathetically through the other person’s eyes and explore emotions and feelings related to them. This is done in part through our mindset, in part through observation, and by asking awesome questions— listening in this state shifts from you to the other person.

The fourth and final level of listening is “Generative Listening”. At this level, listening becomes a holding space for bringing something new into reality. You listen with openness to what is unknown and emerging. At this level of listening, the listener moves beyond connecting with the speaker and starts connecting with the conversation’s core ideas, listening to different perspectives and generating new ideas that help evolve a potential future.  

Reflect on a moment today where you listened. Consider how you listened and your mental state and emotions that were present while listening.

These skills are difficult to practice and even more difficult to master. A good first step is to be aware of the levels of listening and what they entail. Then practice a little every day, observing and improving your listening skills, adjusting the quality of listening to each situation.

In closing, Vanilla ice suggests, if there was a problem, yo I’ll solve it. With a little bit of stopping, collaborating and listening, the hope is to solve more problems and build innovative solutions that leverage the best of our collective knowledge as human beings for a better world.

Inspiration and ideas referenced from:

Ice Ice Baby Songwriters: Robert Van Winkle ; David Bowie; Brian May ; Freddie Mercury ; John Deacon ; Roger Taylor ; Mario Johnson ; Floyd Brown

Ticht Nacht Han

Theory U: Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges: Otto Scharmer

Collaboration is the Key to Unlocking Innovation in the Workplace