Who Is the Competent Collaborator?

Ever since the late 1980’s, when people started turning to the Internet as a source of information, the sheer amount of information available has come into sharper focus. When I was in grade school, some time before the 1980’s, people still used physical libraries to find information – yes that is how old I am – sigh. My teachers and the librarian drilled into our heads the importance of taking into account the source of the information in deciding how to use the information. They would reiterate that just because you found it in a book doesn’t mean it is a fact or even reliable – it depends on who wrote it and on their qualifications. To practice what has been preached to me, the purpose of this post is to talk about who is behind the Competent Collaborator. Hi! My name is Valerie Patrick and I am the author of the Competent Collaborator blog.

To find knowledge you can use, be smart about the sources you choose.

Valerie Patrick

I love people who are both intelligent and funny – unfortunately I am not one of them. Thankfully, my husband Todd Przybycien is – though his students don’t always appreciate the quips because they often require some knowledge of the good ole’ seventies. My son Jake Przybycien is also very smart and quite funny – I’m not just saying that because I am his mom, or at least I hope I’m not. Jake is helping his parents learn humor that is more “with the times.” This is my disclaimer that although I would like to bring great wit to this blog, it is what it is. I plan to focus on at least what I find to be useful insights. Hopefully you will find the insights useful too. If so, then let me know. If not, then please let me know why not.


Val, Jake, and Todd in Puerto Vallarta Mexico in 2011

You should also know that we are a family of nerds. My husband and I met in Pasadena California while getting our doctorates in chemical engineering at California Institute of Technology. My son just finished his sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon University where he is pursuing a double major in chemical engineering and computer science. My technical training makes me ask ‘why’ which is great for a blogger but not-so-great for a career in a hierarchical organization.

Speaking of ‘why,’ why blogging? I suppose the answer traces back to my love of reading. My parents were avid readers which made me an avid reader. My son often caught me and Todd reading so he is also an avid reader and I hope this trend of spawning avid readers will continue for many generations to come. My love of reading has made me want to write – and I am not talking about my thesis of which I had to write three: honors thesis in college at Bucknell University and both a Masters Thesis and a Doctoral Thesis at CalTech. I want to write about things that are helpful to others and that promote a high quality of life.

I started this blog for two reasons. The first reason was to support my company, Fulcrum Connection LLC, which I started in 2014. Fulcrum provides facilitation, consulting, tools, coaching, and training to help people collaborate to be great. Fulcrum was the result of my decision to end a 25-year corporate career because some organizational changes greatly decreased the positive impact I was able to have in the corporate environment. I started Fulcrum because I wasn’t done having positive impact in the world and because I didn’t want my husband to have to work an extra 5 years to secure the retirement we have been planning. My 25 years holding a wide range of positions in a multinational organization taught me that the best collaboration happens when both the intellectual and emotional aspects of the interaction are well managed. Fulcrum supports this whole brain approach to collaboration. There is now growing neuroscientific evidence to support this whole brain approach to collaboration.

You stand the most to gain when you use your whole brain!

Valerie Patrick

The second reason to start this blog was to explore the topic of collaboration from every possible angle. This is because while effective collaboration is hard, it needs to help guide how we will navigate towards a more sustainable way of life amidst the monumental challenges we currently face. These challenges include undesirable impacts from climate change, inadequate fresh water supply, inadequate food supply, a damaged ecosystem that may not sustain life on earth, a polluted atmosphere that may not promote well-being on earth, the accumulation of waste beyond means to safely contain it, and so on. While this may sound depressing, I believe in the power of authentic human connection to innovate and face any challenge.

You may be wondering why I decided to write a post about me after blogging for over a year. Well it’s because I really didn’t know much about what I was doing when I started the blog – not that I know much more now. I just wanted to support my business and write about a topic I love – collaboration. However, since starting the blog, I have subscribed to other blogs I like. I have recently discovered that these other bloggers wrote a blog about themselves. So I guess you can say that I am copying them – but remember that imitation is the highest form of flattery! Also, I am in the process of starting a podcast. I thought it might be helpful in starting the podcast to be able to point would-be podcast subscribers to a blog about me.

Okay, enough context, now about me. Let’s start with my passions for learning, connecting, and science.

With respect to learning, I will try just about anything, within reason, once. I remember going to Kennywood, our local amusement park here in Pittsburgh, with my youngest brother, his family, and my parents when they were all in town visiting. My brother wanted to go on the Skycoaster but no one in his family wanted to go on with him. So, as the good sister that I am, I volunteered to try it with him. Just to give you an idea of what we were in for, here is how the attraction is described on Kennywood’s website:

The Skycoaster is not really a ride, it is a flight. One, two or three flyers are suited in a nylon harness and then attached to a cable that pulls them, Superman-style, to the top of the launch tower. From 180 feet above ground, riders release themselves with a parachute like ripcord…then free-fall at approximately 75 mph!

My brother might have thought twice about going on this ride had he read this description first! So we get strapped into the nylon harness and we are all smiles as we start to get pulled up to the launch tower by the cable. We reach the launch tower and – nothing. I look over at my brother and he looked white as a ghost. I’m yelling “pull the cord” and he is just frozen in fear. Thankfully, if you don’t pull the rip cord within 30 seconds they pull it for you! My brother said later that it was much higher than it looked from the ground.

With respect to connecting, I’m the one on the airplane who will try to strike up a conversation with you even if you pull out a book to read! For me, connecting with people is a great way to learn something new. Also, there is nothing like the great feeling of exchanging a smile or a laugh with someone you just met!

And science – how many mothers give their pre-schooler an encyclopedia of science for their birthday? Then again, how many pre-schoolers read the encyclopedia of science from cover to cover and then ask their parents questions they can’t answer? Not only am I a trained scientist, but I have always been fascinated by the brain. The fascination with the brain is probably because of my passion for learning. These days I am following cognitive neuroscience, particularly as it applies to adult learning and collaboration – see my other two passions.

Let’s close with some highlights of my professional experience. My 25-year corporate career and 2 years as an entrepreneur can be summed up under the five categories of team performance, innovation, sustainability, strategy, and change management.

For team performance, I led about 180 teams and participated as a member in another 120 teams over my 25-year corporate career with Monsanto and Bayer. I spent 10 of those 25 years as a practicing scientist and another 15 of those 25 years as a leader of several different strategic initiatives. Two years ago, I became a Certified Professional Facilitator through the International Association of Facilitators. I have developed a team collaboration assessment tool based on my team experience that provides action-oriented input to raise the performance of an existing team or jump-start the performance of a newly formed team.

With regard to innovation, I was a member of the leadership team that built the first innovation organization at Bayer. I also co-authored “Unlocking Creativity with Active Idea Management” which was published in Research Technology Management. I led the Transportation Industry Innovation and Creative Center groups in Bayer’s Material Science Innovation organization over a period of 5 years and guest lectured on innovation at Carnegie Mellon University on several occasions during that time. I am also a Qualified Practitioner of the science-based Situational Outlook Questionnaire (SOQ) to measure the degree to which a group or organization is conducive to creativity and innovation. Finally, I am an experienced Creative Problem Solving Facilitator using the techniques and approaches developed by the Creative Problem Solving Group. Basically, I am a one-stop shop for all things related to product and service innovation.

For the category of sustainability, I served as the first Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO). I was also instrumental in developing ACCO’s first version of core competencies for Climate Change Officers and other climate change professionals. I was selected to serve as the inaugural Head of Sustainability for Bayer’s North America operations. In addition, I’m a co-author of “The New Market Transformation Needed for Building Energy Efficiency” (under review). I have developed a sustainability diagnostic to help organizations evaluate their approach to embed sustainability principles into their operations, products, and services.

On strategy, I have been accountable for the development and implementation of strategy in several positions including eBusiness in the supply chain, Creative Center, Transportation Industry Innovation, Sustainable Development, and Fulcrum Connection. I am also trained in the “facilitating strategy” approach of Michael Wilkinson. The amazing thing about this approach is how simple it is to apply. For instance, a group of 6 to 12 people can develop a powerful vision and mission in under an hour following this approach.

I count 20 memorable change initiatives that I have led over my 25 years of corporate experience. After 22 years, I received training in the ADKAR method for change management which provided a system and language for what I had been doing over the course of my career. ADKAR certainly would have made my work life a lot easier than it had been! I was fortunate to co-teach an ACCO Boot Camp on organizational change with Chad Holliday, former CEO of DuPont, a couple of years ago. I also authored an ACCO white paper on organizational change called “Change Management and Climate Change in Organizations.”

Well that’s it and certainly more than I intended to write! If you would like to learn more about how I can help put collaboration to work for you to improve teamwork, innovation, the pursuit of sustainability, strategy development, or change management, then please contact me at Fulcrum Connection LLC (412-742-9675 or valerie.patrick@fulcrumconnection.com). Also ask about our first-time client offer.