"Ultimately, if you can harness the same cooperative instincts that allowed your distant ancestors to survive, you will enjoy greater happiness."
Mickey and Minnie. Ben and Jerry. Bill and Melinda. Neither is as strong without the other and – very likely – neither would be as successful individually as they were as part of the pair. Intuitively, we know this and have witnessed these successes, but in their book, Power of 2, authors Rodd Wagner and Gale Muller use extensive research to prove that intuition. Over the span of five years, Wagner and Muller set out to “crack the code on collaboration” (page 7); to discover why some partnerships are better than others and what characteristics define successful collaborative relationships.
Made for Collaboration
"The more good partnerships you have in your life, the more likely you are to say that you experienced the feeling of enjoyment much of the day yesterday, that you recently learned something interesting, and that you’ve been doing a lot of smiling and laughing – all key measures of your happiness."
Human beings are made for relationships. From the dawn of time, we’ve used each other as hunting and gathering buddies, as companionship and extra muscle on long voyages and confidants in the face of trouble from wolves or bosses. With few exceptions, we can’t do it alone and need to depend on the strengths of someone else to complement our own skills. According to the research conducted by Wagner and Muller, successful partnerships can be broken down into eight elements:
- Complementary strengths
- A common mission
Successful partnerships don’t just happen – they contain a common set of characteristics that define them. Whether they had a joint mission to cure cancer, scale Everest or send tourists into space, across all disciplines and genres, the insights gained from the research into these successful partnerships allow us to make the most out of our collaborative relationships.
"Behind this phenomenon is a principle: Build on your strengths. To mitigate your weaknesses – and we all have them – partner up! Find your complement."
Where would Sherlock Holmes have been without Dr. Watson? One man was great at sleuthing and solving the mysteries and the other man was great at reason, responsibility and bailing the other out of trouble. Each man had his own strengths and his weaknesses (or “developmental opportunities” as my Dad calls them) and was complemented by the strengths of the other. This is the key to a successful partnership – finding that person who can pick-up where you left off, can take those tasks and activities you’re not as awesome at and complete them in a way you couldn’t. Not to say the Holmes couldn’t get himself out of trouble every once in a while, but he definitely wouldn’t do it as easily or as often if he didn’t have Watson to support him.
Consider a moment when you’ve felt particular satisfaction for a job well done or accomplishing a task you’d been working on for a while. Was there someone else involved in that success? Chances are that in many of our jobs, our personal relationships, our volunteer endeavours and even our church or spiritual families, success comes easiest, and often best, when those efforts are complemented by another.
"The same emotional wiring that makes great partnerships so effective and rewarding creates corresponding and equally powerful negative forces if things go wrong."
When partnerships are going well, all sorts of amazing things happen – each partner makes unselfish choices for the good of the whole, sacrifices are made to advance the success of the other, and things are accomplished that would have been virtually impossible without the complementary strength of the partnership. But what happens when that relationship turns ugly?
Trust is the cornerstone of every successful partnership and when one partner violates that trust, it can turn into a game of negative comeuppance, “irrationally” fuelling the desire for revenge. Scientists have discovered that the part of the brain that recognizes pleasure is the same part that also recognizes revenge. So we can’t help it, right? Wrong. We’re rational creatures with the capacity for reason, understanding and yes, forgiveness. But, as Wagner and Muller tell us, there is no perfect answer. One of the most difficult things a partner may have to decide is whether or not to repair a partnership when trust has been violated. The most constructive strategies suggest finding a middle ground between resentment and forgiveness, voicing the concerns and feelings regarding the situation, and either agreeing on a solution or agreeing to disagree. “How you manage your own thinking is as important as the offense itself.”
Being a good partner requires you to check your ego at the door, make accommodations you likely wouldn’t make otherwise and possess a degree of diplomacy and humility not seen (or required) in other situations. You must be aware of those around you and look for those with strengths complementary to your own, for, when combined with your developmental opportunities, you will be happier, achieve greater heights than you thought possible and most importantly, “you will not stand alone on those summits.”