Collaborate or Perish!

Event Recap

January 31, 2012
By Alexander Blenkinsopp, PCJ Fellow MPA-MPP 2014

The Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (PCJ) at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) co-sponsored an event at the end of January featuring a discussion by luminaries on the new book, Collaborate or Perish!: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World.

The book’s authors—Bill Bratton, former police commissioner in New York City and Boston and former Los Angeles police chief, and the Belfer Center’s Zachary Tumin—were joined by Julie Wilson, Harry Kahn Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at HKS. 

Professor Venky Narayanamurti, director of the Belfer Center, welcomed the speakers and audience of over 65 people. PCJ Director Christine Cole, who moderated the discussion, made introductory remarks to kick off the conversation. The discussants touched on policing, business and government collaboration, and leadership, among other subjects.

The overarching theme of the book is how to collaborate effectively—“a playbook for a networked world,” as Tumin put it. If that sounds vague, it’s because the book defies easy categorization. “It is hard to pigeonhole what it is,” Bratton said of the book he co-authored. But, he added with certainty, “It’s a good read.”

The authors outlined their eight key ingredients to effective collaboration:

  • Have a vision of what you want to accomplish
  • “Right-size” the way forward. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
  • Create a platform that collaborators can use to share knowledge and assets, and that gives anyone the opportunity to be a leader. 
  • Make participation worthwhile for everyone. 
  • Have the right people with you—those who are very effective. 
  • Deliver on promised performance. 
  • Mind your political support
  • Have passion for your undertaking

Tumin and Bratton shared stories illustrating how these elements have been important to their work. For example, about minding one’s political support, Bratton pointed to his time as police commissioner in New York City. “Within a year, Mayor Giuliani and I were at each other’s throats,” Bratton said, which severely impaired his ability to collaborate effectively in that job.

Pictured left to right: Rikki Keieman, Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone, and Bill BrattonBratton said that effective policing depends heavily upon collaboration. Creating the platform is especially important. “Get people to the website,” Bratton said, so that the police can share information with the public. But years ago, Bratton said, as a 27-year-old “whiz-kid” sergeant covering the Fenway district for the Boston Police Department, the internet wasn’t available as a tool. Nonetheless, the principles laid out in Collaborate or Perish! applied then too. Bratton put up posters requesting meetings with local residents and held town hall meetings to listen to their problems. Though there were plenty of murders and other serious crimes in the area, Bratton was surprised by what he heard. “Meeting after meeting with these people,” he recalled, “they said, ‘We want you to do something about this cancer that’s killing our neighborhoods, these quality-of-life crimes.’”

By reaching out to residents and listening to their problems, rather than forming his own assumptions about what they wanted, Bratton helped make a name for himself that propelled his career to the top of three of the world’s largest police departments.

The lessons he learned remain useful for him today. He’s currently chairman of Kroll, a private security and investigations firm. Kroll is undergoing a reorganization. “I wish the book had been finished before the process was started [so that I could draw upon its lessons],” Bratton said. 

Tumin emphasized the wide applicability of Collaborate or Perish!. “Bill and I have written a book that is intended to be helpful,” he said, later adding during the post-discussion question-and-answer session that the same questions apply to people at all levels in their organizations: Are you ready to collaborate, and are the people with whom you want to collaborate ready?

Attendees enjoyed the panel and lingered in the Malkin Penthouse long after it was over, discussing the book and what they had just heard.

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Panel from Program in Criminal Justice of Policy and Management event, Collaborate or Perish!

Pictured left to right: Panelists Julie Wilson, Bill Bratton, and Zach Tumin

From the PCJ Event 1-31-12 Collaborate or Perish!: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World

Pictured left to right: Professor Venky Narayanamurti, Zach Tumin, Bill Bratton, and Christine Cole