Collaboration in Isolation

I’ve been thinking about how we work. About collaboration and what makes it work when it works. I think I’m on to something that I’ve been trying to understand for years. Collaboration, as seems to be defined by my colleagues, is a sequence of do in isolation and review in group.

Makes sense I guess. This is, after all, exactly what we did in school during the juries of our projects. Work for weeks in relative isolation and then present/review with a group of our peers. It wasn’t meant to be collaborative. It was about the individual, the classic definition of an Architect as Renaissance Man (or Woman of course). No wonder we carried that with us into the workplace, we had no other model to follow.

“Collaboration is a recursive process where two or more people… work together toward an intersection of common goals… by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.” – Wikipedia

If that’s true then how can we call what we do, when we isolate ourselves from others (headphones on, intently focused on our screens), collaboration? It takes two, at a minimum, and yet we only occasionally get together. When we do it’s to discuss what’s been done since the last time we met. We review the work instead of working together.

There are times, certainly, when working independently can be extremely powerful. When it allows us to discover design as it happens. When it allows for “happy accidents”. Some of the best work I’ve seen done is a direct result of this happenstance.

Here’s the catch, if you’re not drop dead talented, a true artist, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to coax these accidents out with any amount of regularity. Still, you can try, you can fake it. Something will eventually get built.

to be continued…

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