Review of Smart Collaboration

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Heavy-hitting consultant, Harvard Business School professor and Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession lecturer Heidi K. Gardner presents her impressive credentials on the first page. She wants the reader to understand the multiple perspectives she brings to the issue of collaboration – that of a practicing, peripatetic McKinsey consultant working with clients and colleagues in London, Johannesburg and New York. Plus, she’s a professional who’s gaining a PhD in the study of collaboration, and a business professor accustomed to explaining this complex field to students. Her credentials match her writing style: no-nonsense, straightforward, intelligent and knowledgeable. Gardner writes like an expert lecturer, building her argument sentence by sentence in each paragraph and summing up what she just said. This makes her ideas easy to understand and retain. It’s not quite clear whether she intends this book as an ancillary to her lectures, a text for business students, a guide to consulting or a personal brand builder, but whatever her ambitions are, they don’t lessen her credibility or the usefulness of her text. Gardner breaks collaboration down into its various elements and describes every possible type. She keeps her eye on two main goals: Bring profit to those who are hired to collaborate and consult – and help those who hire them thereby gain profits and improved business function. While clearly proud of her McKinsey experience, Gardner does not hesitate to point out the flaws in consultant-based collaboration. This underscores her fierce objectivity and determination to explain the good and the bad of collaboration, backed up with her own studies and interviews as well as the telling data her research uncovered. getAbstract recommends this seminal text to business students and professors, entrepreneurs, CEOs and consultants. It also will be useful to anyone in any collaborative field or anyone thinking of hiring a consultant or being one. Gardner addresses various business settings, but her insights apply to anyone who works with others.

About the Author

A distinguished fellow at Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession, Heidi K. Gardner is a lecturer on law and the faculty chair of the Accelerated Leadership Program. She is a former Harvard Business School Professor, McKinsey consultant and Fulbright scholar.



Gardner argues convincingly that most firms must collaborate – that is, bring in knowledgeable outsiders – because most businesses today face issues that are too complex and multilayered for any one expert to handle alone, no matter how rich that person’s expertise. She describes “smart collaboration” as a “means to an end,” always. Because collaboration adds expense to reaching any goal, collaborators must develop a mutual understanding of what they’re trying to achieve.

With the constant change in what constitutes knowledge and expertise, professionals in every field are increasingly turning to specialization. Simply put, nobody can know everything across fields, and few can know everything in even one field. Consultants develop “true expertise” in a narrow area to ensure their value. Once, consultants gained an edge over their clients by filling an “expertise gap,” like your plumber knowing how your dishwasher works. Today, Gardner explains as an insider, this gap plays an increasingly reduced function. Clients know a lot or can hire someone else who does. They’re better equipped to gauge the usefulness and expertise of a consultant, and more likely to insist on an equal working relationship – a collaboration.

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