The Science of Leadership Collaboration

Working in the Lab

From the late 80’s until the mid 90’s, I would go into my polymer resin compounding laboratory with my father to figure out how to solve complex industrial problems. We were asked to create solutions to difficult problem that sometimes seemed impossible to solve.

We prevailed with formulas to solve these problems:

  • “How can we glue electronic tracking devices to dolphins in the sea?”
  • “How do we fix hairline structural cracks in the New Orleans Superdome concrete structure to keep it from falling?”
  • “Can you make an adhesive that will work to repair an underwater pier in near-freezing temperatures in Alaska?”

How did we solve complex, multi-dimensional problems such as these?

With knowledge, experience, intrigue, creativity, experimentation, methodology, collaboration, ingenuity, grace, and hard work.

What I was able to find out is that through proper experimentation, one could eventually solve the problem at hand. We would have a huge library of working formulas to modify, so the work was a continual adaptation of previous knowledge and experience. We were also ever watchful for new raw materials and methods to aid in our problem solving. What usually was the key to breakthroughs in new solutions was the willingness to experiment with creative thinking. My father and I are both gifted with right and left brain acuity, so we were able to follow logical paths for creative solutions.


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Fun Fact

If you are familiar with epoxy adhesives, you will know that there is usually a two-component resin and hardener system that gets mixed right before you use the polymer system. There is a chemical reaction that takes place and the solution at hand has to be ready for the conditions where it is going to be used. For instance, if the adhesive was going to be used outside in very hot or cold weather, the reaction time would have to be engineered to be fast for winter use and much slower for summer use.

In addition to having physical properties, such as fluidity, thickness, color, etc, during the application phase, the final adhesive products needed to have certain structural properties as well. When gluing concrete pillars that hold our cracking highway bridges together is the requirement, it is really important to design solutions that work effectively. This means we had to be nimble and dexterous enough to think in a multi-level-3D-matrixed mindset to engineer the proper solution and get the desired results.

Human Solution Solving

These lessons in designing durable structural solutions applied in difficult environments taught me much about how human interactions works as well. It taught me a great deal on how to solve complex human interaction problems that had a myriad of dynamics going at any given time. It taught me how to think about creating solutions to organizational problems with a new set of “raw materials”: people.

How do you most effectively design a successful leadership strategy?

With knowledge, experience, intrigue, creativity, experimentation, methodology, collaboration, ingenuity, grace, and hard work.

I have found that using this same formula of experimentation allows a freedom of creative problem solving usually works well to solve a myriad of problems with human leadership issues.

Using what I have learned in the lab in the world of industrial polymer solutions, I want to create that same form of scientific reliability in what we call a leadership collaboratory.

Here is where we look at problems with a can-do attitude. We go with what we know and search for better solutions to modify our past recipes for success. We test what we create and experiment to see if it is a worthwhile solution. When we are ready, we scale it up for full production. When our testing of that is complete, we have solved yet another problem through a scientific approach.

I know that leadership is probably as much art as it is science, but that topic is for yet another posting.

Happy Lab Results!

L2L Contributing Author


  1. Patricia Lukas on October 3, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Have you read The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking by Roger Martin (Harvard Business School Press, 2007)? According to Martin, successful leaders have the ability to synthesize unique solutions because of the ability to hold two opposing viewpoints and then creatively analyze their way to a solution. While not pure science, he explains the process as a cognitive style. It’s an interesting perspective on creative problem solving

  2. Gordon Hall on December 4, 2008 at 1:45 am

    Management is the application of science. McGregor in his classic book “The Human Side of Enterprise” was very scathing of those who considered management as an art. The claim that it is an art allows the manager to hide behind “gut feel” and not have his/her underlying theoretical assumptions questioned and challenged. The massive opportunity for management in the future is to adopt a scientific approach to its profession.