Building Collaborations

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.

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