Archive for June, 2008

Learning, the future and YouTube

June 20, 2008

An interesting video about kids, stats, global learning, collaboration and the future has been making it’s way around the internet. It is worth looking at here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMcfrLYDm2U&featur

The question once again comes up- what are we doing about it?

Back to collaborate and cooperate

June 18, 2008

Driving in to work this morning, I was again ruminating on the meanings of collaborate and cooperate. It seems to me that cooperate infers people meeting together so share resources to further their own specific projects or shared goals that are similar, whereas with collaboration, people join together to create something that is completely new and often out of the direct realm of influence or expertise. The sum of the project is really more than the individual parts. This is probably a pretty esoteric distinction, because in the end, it is really about individuals abilities to join forces and expertises.
I also thought a bit about the process of collaboration again and forgot one of the most important components of successful collaborations- a sense of humor.

Apollo 13 and creative solutions

June 6, 2008

In the movie “Apollo 13” there is a great scene that really illustrates creative collaboration and even a project-based learning scenario.  The scientists on the ground have just learned about the problems aboard the space capsule and are given the emergency assignment of finding a solution.  So the scientists are ossed in a room with a whole bunch of objects that are found in the Apollo spacecraft: tape, ducts, pipes and tubes, whatever. There they are- engineers, stuff, a problem and a time frame. Their creativity and ability to cooperate on finding a solution let to their success in bringing back the astronauts alive. Very cool. 

Definitions

June 5, 2008

I just looked up the definition of “collaborate” on dictionary.com and was surprised on how many negative connotations are associated with the word, such as “to cooperate, usually willingly, with an enemy nation, esp. with an enemy occupying one’s country”, “collude”, “To cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupation force in one’s country”. Although there are several more positive meanings such as “to work, one with another; cooperate, as on a literary work” and the etymology states that “collaborator (1802), from Fr. collaborateur, from L. collaboratus, pp. of collaborare “work with,” from com- “with” + labore “to work.”, WWII has left an imprint of  the word as “traitorous cooperation with the enemy,” dates from 1940, originally in reference to the Vichy Government of France.”

What an unfortunate chain of events for such a fine concept. It is time to rehab the meaning so that it leaves it’s destructive past and joins the ranks of it’s more positive and successful cousin “cooperate” , whose primary meanings are :

  1. to work or act together or jointly for a common purpose or benefit.
  2. to work or act with another or other persons willingly and agreeably.
  3. to practice economic cooperation.

How to rise up horizontally

June 5, 2008

I heard an interesting story on NPR this morning about an woman architect in Karachi by the name of Parveen Rehman. She works for the Orangi Pilot Project which helps poor people to build their own homes and even utilities systems. She also works to enhance the status of women in a male-dominated society by teaching architecture in a local school to women.

She said some pretty remarkable things. About “the project’s male founder, who spoke of the power of women. He compared himself to a grandmother — “not your grandfather, because your grandmother gives love … and through love she’s able to encourage and make people grow.”

And of particular interesting to me and my research about the nature of collaboration:
“I feel sometimes — not with men and women — with any group, if you come just upfront and try to be … the person taking credit for everything, that’s where things start going wrong,” she says. Once you rise up horizontally, you take everybody with you. But if you want to rise vertically, you will rise, but then nobody will be there for you.”

Building Collaborations

June 5, 2008

I have been reading a lot about successful collaborations in many different environments, such as businesses, academic, technology, building and more. Most of the articles and books provide examples that are very good arguments for why cooperative projects work. Wikinomics by Don Tapscott begins the book with a great example about a Canadian gold mining company turned around its loosing operation after the president attended a workshop on open source technology. He applied the lessons learned and opened up much of the companied proprietary data about some of its under-performing properties. He realized that the company itself did not posses the human resources to really expand, so he offered a prize for best ideas. His solution worked and he was able to able to increase the value of the company from $100 million to $9 billion. The winning ideas came from a wide range of disciplines.

In his 2005 TED talk (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/216), Howard Rheingold speaks about how humankind has followed a couple different paths. One has been about destruction, the other is about cooperation. He provides many examples how human society is really more of a cooperative endeavor (although I think that sometimes it is hard to see). Nothing that exists today really came out of a vacuum of an individual, but rather out a web of individuals working together. One story that I often think of is about a party that I attended several years ago. It was held at a really cool remodeled Victorian house in N. California. The friend who I went with told me that the owner had done the work. At the time I was working as a carpenter and after looking at the details of the work, I went to congratulate the owner on his fine work. I was not really surprised when he told me that he did not do any of the work, but rather paid a crew to work. I completely understood his (and my friend’s view), yet I could not help but to think that it would have been more interesting to me if he had described it as a collaborative project. This would have celebrated the talents and skills involved in producing such fine work.
Perhaps I made something bigger then it was, but I am always impressed about how individuals with individual strengths and talents can come together to make something that is larger than the sum of their individual work.

Reflecting on these and other examples of successful collaboration (open source software, farming, movie making, just about everything), I wonder about the basic building blocks necessary to make cooperation work. I think that one of the most important components is for individuals to check their egos at the door when working on a cooperative endeavor. This does not mean that I feel that there is no room for individual creativity. I think that each person has a place to really shine in what they do. But more often then not, one person cannot do everything at the same level.

When I began working in new media in 1990, it was called interactive multi-media. There was no web (Internet-yes, web- no) and one talented person could do just about everything. But as the technology developed (as well as user expectations), specialties also developed for video, audio, data base, graphics, content development, subject matter experts, and more. Each task and discipline has its own tools, process and language. It really is like a huge jigsaw puzzle- it really does take a lot of pieces to make it complete.

As individuals understand this, they can begin to see how their strengths are all necessary and vital to a project. They can possibly begin to learn to trust the other experts and professionals to do their parts and that the complete project and process only benefit from this cooperation.