How to ‘Make Purple’ When Leading Across

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Red + Blue = Purple

As a Co-Founder and Co-CEO, I am a strong believer in the power of collaboration. When Jeff, my business partner, and I have differences of opinion, we typically work through the issues at hand to end up with something better in the end. For example, when we are choosing new research topics, resourcing those projects, or finalizing the papers, we often have different opinions on scope, budget and emphasis. Fortunately, we have a lot of trust and mutual respect between us, and we have learned to be pretty good listeners. We see our need to be able to “lead across” and co-create reflected every day in our work with mid- to senior-level leaders. We use the term “leading across” to mean working across the enterprise with others outside of one’s reporting structure, across functional, business unit and geographic boundaries. Leading across is often where leaders moving into mid- to senior-level roles struggle. We’ve recently seen this become a critical capability for senior leaders, because today’s companies lacking in this skillset suffer from slow decision making, lack of innovation and hampered competitiveness.  We have done a lot of research on leading across and wanted to share a few tips:

One of our pillars to co-creation is what we call making purple. “Making purple?” you might be wondering, “What does that mean?” The way we like to explain it is, “I bring red and you bring blue: Working together, we can create something that neither of us had before, that adds color to our palette of possibilities.” Instead of trying to influence others to buy into your solution (only bringing red) or their solution (only bringing blue), it is about combining them to find the best solution for the organization.

Complex issues call for working across the enterprise to make things happen. It leverages different perspectives and expertise to figure out new solutions for clients, to bring a product to market faster, or to implement new efficiencies. It’s hard to get anything really break-through to happen as a senior (or even mid-level) leader without having the lateral agility to build relationships that matter and co-create effectively.

So how do we do it? Here are a few things to try:


Transform seemingly conflicting priorities into one question that incorporates both priorities. For example, a priority of “Being responsive to client product enhancement requests” might seem to conflict with another team’s priority of “Staying on schedule for the new product delivery.” However, by reframing the question, it can change to, “How might we be responsive to client product requests while staying on schedule for new product development?” and incorporate both teams’ priorities. 

In team coaching, these are sometimes called “Wicked Questions.” It’s something our team has introduced to a group of leaders at an entertainment studio where there is always a natural tension between creative innovation and tight production deadlines. In holding two seemingly paradoxical goals together, collaborators can work the same problem together rather than a tug-of-war on whose goals take precedence.


    Another approach to making purple is to open by bringing your initial idea to the table with a clear intention that it’s not meant as a final solution. “It’s easier to edit than to create,” says a leader in online payment systems, and adopting that mentality allows for space to collaborate. 

    “Simply being transparent about your point of view and acknowledging that it is a POV (as opposed to a statement of fact) is a great way to not only build trust, but also speed up the process towards execution,” says the Director of New Product Solutions at a global tech company. Both agree that it’s better not to start with a blank slate, while recognizing that whatever ideas you are bringing will likely morph into something new.


      Making purple is also about acknowledging that the best solution does not necessarily need to come from you. By facilitating a solution rather than solving a problem, it allows for a broader enterprise view rather than a more siloed functional view. As the Producer of an entertainment studio put it, “There are people throughout the organization who have different expertise. It’s important to ask, ‘How do you think we can do this best?’” Check yourself by asking if success to you means the optimal solution for your functional team or for the broader enterprise. Leaders with an enterprise mindset choose the optimal solution for the greater good, with the needs of the organization and its customers top of mind. 

      Making Purple enables you to craft more collaborative solutions and simultaneously build the support needed to execute on those solutions. As we all know, making the decision is only a small part of driving the business forward – the bigger part is executing. And when you co-create the solution, you are already pushing forward together.