Monthly Archives: January 2012

On Collaboration

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We live in an amazingly connected world; a world where our ability to share ideas which will someday create great things far exceeds the wildest dreams of even the most creative minds of the previous generation. A world that has been flattened by the internet has been connected by international travel and has been politically stable enough to build international relationships. However, given the crisis mentality that seems to have gripped us and the profound and continuous change that this connectivity breeds you might be wondering if it is a good thing. You fear the internet might send your job to some far-away place. You worry about the cost of filling your gas tank more than buying an international airline ticket. You hear about the threats of terror somewhat regularly. This constant connectivity can cause us to lose perspective and take a negative outlook about the state of the world in which we live. Every now and then we have an experience that sharpens our perspective and reminds us of the great opportunities that exist in modern society. I recently read a fascinating book by Mandit Kumar: Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality. This is a book about the dawn of theoretical physics and the beginning of the atomic age. It includes a twelve page timeline that starts in 1858 with the birth of Max Planck and ends in 2007 with the current puzzle of how pairs of non-local photons can behave predictably over long distances. You might wonder what it could possibly have to do with politics, international collaboration and the building of relationships. The main plot of the story was not the part of the book that sharpened my perspective. The fascinating sub-plot of the book that should be of interest to anybody trying to solve a problem that requires teamwork, was the story of the relationships between the dozen characters that led the focus of scientific discovery. Nine pages of this twelve page saga occurred between 1900 and 1945. If you take the time to plough through the subject matter you will realize that the incredible advances chronicled in this relatively short period of time would have not been possible to unlock by one person. Even a person with the legendary intellect of Albert Einstein cannot succeed without the constant challenge and prodding of ideas from his peers. As you begin to understand how long-standing relationships, respect and social engagement between this diverse group of scientists, you see the engine that propelled discovery and understand the necessity and the value of teamwork. Compare the collaboration tools, access to travel and the social and political state of the world between 1900 and 1945 to what we have today. If you think we live in difficult times consider the following:

  • Forget the internet they wrote letters and had them delivered days or weeks later by steam ship.
  • Commercial air travel was not available so if they met for a conference it took a real commitment of time.
  • These events took place during two world wars and the protagonists of the story were on different political and social sides of the conflicts.

With all the advantages we have today I suggest the next time you feel inclined to find an excuse about why you can’t collaborate with a colleague to solve a problem you might want to get a little perspective, role up your sleeves and get busy. In a world focused on action and results here are three questions that you might want to consider every day:

  1. If I hit a dead end when trying to solve a problem, what do I do? Have you built a support network of trusted collaborators that can help you break-through?
  2. What keeps me from opening up to the insights of others?
  3. What risk did I take yesterday? What risk will I take tomorrow?