A number of years ago, I asked Morten Hansen why he chose the topic of collaboration as a research focus. “Because if people knew how to collaborate well, the world would simply work better,” he replied. This book represents the culmination of fifteen years of some of the best research on the topic of effective collaboration. And it comes with a vitally important, counterintuitive message: good collaboration amplifies strength, but poor collaboration is worse than no collaboration at all. In reading these pages you will come to understand the power of effective collaboration and the great dangers of incompetent collaboration. You will also learn sound principles for how to collaborate.
I first met Morten in 1991 when he set aside his lucrative consulting job at the Boston Consulting Group to accept a Fulbright fellowship and join our research team at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. I quickly came to see that Morten has an unusual intensity about his work when he volunteered for the task of selecting a comparison company to Motorola in our study of what makes visionary companies. We needed to determine the closest “twin” to Motorola during its founding era (the company most similar to Motorola when it was a small enterprise.) Motorola made car radios in the 1930s, and we faced a problem: how on Earth to construct a list of small companies that made car radios all the way back to the 1930s?
Morten came up with an ingenious solution. He drove fifty miles to a remote library warehouse located in Richmond, California, a crime-infested city ranked in the top twenty-five “most dangerous cities” in America. He ambled up to the antiquated reference desk—no fancy electronic search, no internet—and filled out a card asking for phone books from the late 1920s and early 1930s. The librarian disappeared for nearly an hour, and finally returned with a stack of dusty phone books. Using the Yellow Pages from the 1920s, Morten constructed a list of car radio companies, from which we discovered Zenith as a near-perfect comparison control case to Motorola for the middle part of the 20th century.
I knew then that Morten would have the tenacity and creativity to do great research. After his stint as an invaluable team member with Jerry Porras and me, on what later became the book Built to Last, he completed a PhD at Stanford, and began his research on collaboration. He went on to join the Harvard Business School faculty, where he continued his research and taught in the MBA and executive education classroom. He now holds a prestigious professorship at the University of California Berkeley.
Morten has continually impressed me with three characteristics of his approach:
Morten Hansen has done a great service in assembling his fifteen years of research into this insightful and practical book. It does not matter whether you lead a business, conduct an orchestra, guide a school, operate a hospital, command a brigade, run for public office, direct a government agency, coach a sports team—every complex enterprise requires collaboration. If poor collaboration is dangerous, then you have no choice but to collaborate well.
November 21, 2008