Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On collaboration

This is the first time that I have decided to blog about politics. I have friends and family who fall on all sides of the political spectrum, from tea party goers (my step-grandparents), to independents (my mother), true Democrats (my sister), true Republicans (child friend, Tara), to the farthest left that is possible (my father).

When I listen to my friends and family talk about their positions, I see logic from all sides. And I immediately want to bridge the gaps between the differing viewpoints that I am experiencing.

What I am struggling with right now is that we seem to have reached an impasse in our society where we are no longer able to hear each other - we are no longer willing to embrace the very grey nature of humanness, that there isn't one right or one wrong, but that true Democracy is born out of checks and balances.

Yes, I am naturally a liberal at heart, but that hasn't had a negative effect on my relationship with any of the friends and family who fall on different sides of the political spectrum. We can openly engage with each other, and though sometimes I am angry and find myself feeling as if the ability to bridge our ideas is hopeless, we eventually get there.

There is a reason for this - when I talk to family and friends, we are interested in collaborating with each other - we care and respect each other. We want to find a common ground despite our different viewpoints. And when we do, in our conversations, in our lifestyle choices, it is the best mix of all worlds.

I truly believe that the key to fixing the stalemate that we seem to have reached in our society is for each and every one of us to embrace the principles of collaboration. Before I start listing these, I want to persuade my critics. There are lots of people out there who see the concept of 'collaboration' as wishy-washy, as a fizzled attempt to real action. 

Recently, there has been a debate in the technology sphere about the importance of fostering a 'decider' driven culture (Apple) versus a 'collaborative' culture (Google)-- thanks, Gina, for giving us bloggers a forum for this conversation (http://smarterware.org/8484/design-by-visionary-vs-crowd). Though I am collaborator at heart, I can still see the very real benefit of having people in positions of power capable of making important decisions and seeing them through. 

If we are to take the technology stage as a potential metaphor for society, then it is very easy to see that both Apple and Google make amazing products and are very successful in their industries, and they are achieving this success taking different approaches to innovation and implementation.

Let us imagine for a brief moment that Apple and Google decided to merge together, and create some very important product(s) that would solve some very important problems. What would happen in this endeavor? Would there be a stalemate, much like there is in this government? Or, perhaps, would the two companies be able to create something amazing?

I would like to believe in my heart that the best of Apple (including Steve for as much as he is able) and the best of Google would be able to sit in a room with the biggest white board of all time and start hashing out some very real solutions to those very real problems. And at the end of that mythical meeting, there would be a list of actions that could be targeted, along with the ones that were pie-in-the-sky, and the ones that were going to take too long to be worth the investment, but might be worth considering once the seriousness of the problem was downgraded. 

Last night Padhraic and I watched the Inside Story and we both went to bed feeling this very icky yucky feeling - and I haven't been able to let go of this feeling inside myself that it is time for the country to stop bowing down to the financial industry and start looking toward companies that make real products. While I can respect lots and lots of people who would say that corporations like Apple and Google are big and have their faults, no one can say that providing real product is the same thing as the mythical institutions that have become our banking and political systems.

Returning to the topic of this blog, I did a very quick 'Google' search on the 'principles of collaboration' and found a NASA document on the 'principles and best practices' of collaboration (http://ldp.nasa.gov/collab_handbook.pdf) that is fairly straightforward. In my own circle of family and friends, here is the very basic list of ingredients that have been fundamental to collaboration:
  • Listen to what other people have to say and if you don't understand, ask for a simple analogy. 
  • In turn, when you talk about your own viewpoint, give analogies that match others who are listening.
  • Be strong in your convictions, but warm in your demeanor. The best way to do this is self-deprecation - admit mistakes and what these have taught you along the way.
  • Appreciate the success or common sense of differing viewpoints.
  • Never lose your sense of humor.
  • Walk into collaboration with an acceptance of compromise.
  • Finally, be aware of non-collaborative situations and politely disengage
I want to talk a little bit about the last bullet. I have reached this point a couple of times in my life, and it really and truly sucks. But I can also say that with time, when you choose to politely disengage (rather than fist it out), eventually, the environment becomes collaborative again, because it is what it is - we are social beings. The worst thing we can do when things are at a standstill is force the issue.

Are we truly at this point, where collaboration is not possible? Would it be better to disengage for a bit, and see what happens? Can we regroup? What does this mean on a global scale?  I'm nervous about this, and think it might be a better idea to get the tech execs in a room with a whiteboard to try and solve the political problems with technological solutions rather than completely disengage.


  1. "apple and google collaborating"

    so very far from reality though! the current tit for tat patent law suits really are breathtaking in their scope and ferocity. and it just seems so futile, stifling healthy competition...

    which is where innovation comes from too.

  2. The irony I was hoping would come out in this piece is that something tells me Apple and Google would have more success working together than the current US Government (Republicans and Democrats). Not mad about this piece though - I didn't pull off the metaphor as well as I would have liked.

  3. This article (audio) reminded of this blog.