Midnight Lunch: The 4 Phases of Team Collaboration Success from Thomas Edison’s Lab by Sarah Miller Caldicott, John Wiley & Sons, 284 pages, $21.95, Hardcover, December 2012, ISBN 9781118407868
Midnight Lunch is a book about collaboration, and about contemporizing the prolific Thoman Edison’s belief that collaboration is key to innovation. The title itself refers to the late night gatherings of team members at Edison’s famous laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey—collaborative sessions that spawned inventions and innovations that every schoolchild in America grows up learning about.
It is evident throughout the book that Caldicott is passionate about her subject, not only because she is the iconic inventor’s descendent, but because she believes wholly in the great potential inherent in successful collaboration.
Like gravity, collaboration is a pervasive force. It lies at the heart of what uniquely shapes teams and organizations. It connects people to the vast power of their own knowledge and shines a light on the purpose of their work and lives. Collaboration holds the power to link teams with diverse skills and traits, urging them to come together in an aligned way and yielding breakthroughs that can impact hundreds—even millions—of people.
Edison did indeed touch millions of people through his inventions—inventions he acknowledges he would not have gotten credit for had it not been for the hard work of his laboratory teams. Caldicott writes it well: “Like the connective tissue in the human body, Edison’s true collaboration methods gave backbone, sinews, muscles, and tendons to his world-changing innovation process.” But this is not a biography as much as a call for action—or, rather, a call to belief. Edison serves as Caldicott’s spirit guide as she presents a technical methodology for achieving high-performing collaboration. That method has four parts, which make up the four sections of the book:
Phase 1: Capacity | Phase 2: Context | Phase 3: Coherence | Phase 4: Complexity
Organizations often tackle #4 first, forgetting that teams need to lay the foundation before building the proverbial skyscraper. Anyone who is a member of a team can benefit from the exercises scattered throughout the book that will help them understand the value of all four steps and find that sweet spot where true collaboration exists, that “nexus between discovery learning and performance.”
The demand for organizations to pursue true collaboration is important not only because of the growing complexity of innovation, but because prospective employees will demand it: “Gen Y’s attraction to collaborative work environments and discovery learning will continue to hold magnetic power as this crucial cohort comes to dominate the US workforce by 2025.” If organizations don’t embrace exciting, collaborative work environments, they will not be able to attract the best and the brightest. They might even miss out on the next Thomas Edison.