Is Collaboration Slowing You Down

I ran across this post that references a study on the “rate of innovation.” Long story short – it is taking longer to come up with new ideas.  Rapid advances in science and technology raise the base line for understanding what we already know so it takes much longer just to get started.  I would have thought that this is offset to a great degree by specialization and collaboration benefiting from modern technology.

Thinking about this I wonder – does insight ever come to a group – or is it always an individual experience that can only be assisted by others. At times collaboration is not a good thing. Sometimes its a distraction.

The greatest leaps in our understanding are always tied to a single person.  Sure, there are examples of groups working together but far more often than not – the great AH HA moments begin (or perhaps better stated end) with one mind making the connection.

I am certainly not advocating the end of collaboration – I just think that in the business world we are loosing the value of “me time” in the process. Perhaps the problem is we have too many things that masquerade as collaboration.  Social networking is not collaboration. Neither is the shared workspace by itself. Worse yet, when you try to mandate, regulate and monitor collaboration – it becomes a process and ultimately a constraint.

Inherit in the idea of true collaboration is actual ownership of a part of the out come by the individuals and accountability, sometimes community enforced, for failure to deliver.  We all may fail together – but sometimes it really is Bob’s fault.

Does then collaboration slow you down when your collaborators are not  up to par? The key I think lies not in technology but team composition.  Everyone having a role, knowing what it is and taking ownership for their part of it.No software in the world can make up for a bad team and yes it really is faster just to do it yourself on occasion.

Nevertheless, we  have to do something to compensate for the monumental drifts of knowledge that we must plow through to get to the light on the other side.  Specialization facilitated by collaborative technologies makes a diffference but even this one day will not be enough. Perhaps next we turn to technology to accelerate learning – but that is for another post.

2 thoughts on “Is Collaboration Slowing You Down

  1. Lee,

    You ask some great questions about efficacy of collaboration technology. As in most cases, I think it is less about the tool and more about how it is used.

    The other aspect that came to my mind was measurement of efficacy. We should be comparing the same team operating with and without the collaboration tool, if we are judging the effectiveness of the tool. Then we could say “for this group of people, when used in this manner, this collaboration tool fares like this”. Then, many such samples taken together could provide statistically significant information.

    Even without such measurements, experience with multiple solution implementations (tool+process) could provide valuable pointers.

    You started the post with “innovation” and that line of thought seemed to quietly disappear as the post progressed. I believe that one of the critical success factors for innovation is idea generation. Lateral thinking is key for idea generation. Even though insight usually strikes one individual first, the team might contribute by bringing diverse backgrounds/experiences into diverse perspectives and ideas. The goal is not agreement, rather idea generation for its own sake. Maybe there are aspects of collaboration tools which could facilitate this process, but this is probably not the mainstream use of collaboration tools. So I wonder if collaboration tools could really have a direct impact on innovation.

    My 2c.

  2. You’re right – I wandered from the innovation point.. My concern in this regard is that our use of technology to compensate for the “lenghtened runway” is essential but can hinder instead of accelerate a given individual’s innovations if not managed correctly.

    This can occur in a number of ways, chief among them is distraction and what I see as forced interaction in certain business climes. In the end – it’s not the tools fault – its how we use them and disciplne ourselves.

    Pet peeve – someone walks in my office and asks the question “did you read the email I just sent?” Well – no – because I was in the middle of inventing cold fusion but the insight I was about to stumble on is gone so I’ll put off solving the world’s engery problems and watch the rollerskating cat on youtube instead.

    Nobody likes watching cats on wheels more than me but this illustrates that our expectations of immediate response made possible by technology is the hinderence – not the technology itself.

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