This has to be a strong contender if not the outright winner, for the title of biggest buzzword around. Try a Google search and you’ll see what I mean. [About 288,000,000 results (0.40 seconds) That’s two hundred and eighty eight million. I expect it’s gone up since I hit the search button.]
What kind of resonance does ‘collaboration’ hold for you?
Does it conjure thoughts of wasted hours of your precious time? Lost lifetimes spent in excruciatingly boring homage to the gods of ‘teamwork’ and ‘inclusiveness’. I sympathize.
Is it raising the Resentment Ghosts of high school? Those times you were left doing all the work on a joint project after your partner(s) flaked or bailed? I can relate.
Maybe what comes to mind is the time you shared an exciting breakthrough with a colleague? Only to have them use it in their own work, before yours came to fruition. Grrrrr.
Or perhaps you recall the pejorative connotation, found in www.oxforddictionaries.com, of “traitorous cooperation with an enemy”? Surely no one wants to be accused of that!
Collaboration: Co-operative agreement in which 2 or more parties work jointly towards a common goal.
That’s how BusinessDictionary.com defines it. And the vast majority of those Google results will be talking about it in a business setting. Why it’s needed. What it ‘is’. Where it’s being used (hint: apparently everywhere). Which tools to use, and how to do it better.
Almost always what’s being described could more accurately be called ‘teamwork’. But ‘collaborator’ has the ring of agency when ‘team member’ does not.
Outside of the business world, there are other understandings of what this word means. In academia, it can stand for the practice of co-authorship of a research paper. Which in turn can stand for someone of a lower status doing the work, and someone of a higher status receiving most of the credit. Not always, but often enough for there to be discussion around the topic.
In artistic circles, it can mean almost anything you can imagine.
So what do I mean when I suggest collaboration as the perfect tool to harvest the advantages of being a polymath without having to grow into one yourself?
In essence, I’m recognizing a fundamental truth about human beings.
We are designed to live in supportive and cooperative communities. Ones where the skills and interests of the members benefit the whole community. Where knowledge and understanding can form interlocking connections, like the barbs of a bird’s feathers.
“In collaborative work we learn from each other by teaching what we know; we engage in mutual appropriation.” Vera John-Steiner. Creative Collaboration.
This is the way human beings lived, learned, grew and spread for thousands and thousands of years. Passing information on and down so we don’t have to keep on reinventing the wheel. Innovations being sparked by something known and understood in one field illuminating possibilities in another.
There’s good reason for the recent explosion in the number of interdisciplinary approaches to post-secondary education.
The number of interdisciplinary bachelor’s degrees awarded annually rose from 7,000 in 1973 to 30,000 a year by 2005 according to data from the National Center of Educational Statistics. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interdisciplinarity
The world is increasingly complicated, in part because it’s also increasingly connected. It’s a truism to say that change is happening at an ever increasing speed. Information is generated at that same rate, too.
How can we ever keep up?
The truth is, we probably can’t. So what are the options?
Become a polymath? Yes.
At this point, it might seem as if I’m suggesting you become Schrodinger’s cat. But these don’t have to be mutually exclusive, or wildly impractical.
It could be simple.
Twyla Tharp, in her book “The Collaborative Habit. Life Lessons for Working Together”, reminds us that:
“Collaboration is how most of our ancestors used to work and live, before machines came along and fractured society.”
We can do it, too. What’s more, we can do it on our own terms.
Have a look at Patreon, www.patreon.com, or Tall Poppies, www.tallpoppies.org. These approaches would have been inconceivable only a short time ago. Yet similar supportive groups are springing up in all kinds of fields.
We do not have to accept isolation or competition as the price of living a creative life. There is another way opening to us.
Think ‘Alliance’ instead of ‘Team’.
Teams are driven. Alliances connect.
An Alliance can be as loose or as close as you choose. It can be between two people, or many. We all have individual needs, and responsibilities. Among generous, intelligent, open-minded allies there are countless ways to support each other.
What if we work towards a common goal of creative thriving in these fascinating, and occasionally frightening, times? What if, as Jeffrey Davis suggests, we explore DIT thinking?
The world is our oyster. Let’s crack it together.