Servicing a car in just a few seconds depends on collaboration. Software can help schedule the practice sessions, but it can't help change the tires.

Servicing a car in just a few seconds depends on collaboration. Software can help schedule the practice sessions, but it can't help change the tires.

Jean-Paul Sartre put it this way in his play “No Exit”: “Hell is other people!”

But you need to work with other people. You know this, even though you also know that you tend to do your best work when you can get into your own head, drill down and focus for a while, all by yourself.

You misanthrope, you.

How to do it? You know that others on your team have good ideas. You also know that properly channeled, there are great reservoirs of power and energy described by the collective. The problem is that people require care and feeding. People get tired, need fuel, have their own ideas, cause trouble.

How to do it, indeed! Many leaders start immediately with tools afforded by our whizzy, shiny digital age. They turn to collaboration software, and they often fall into a deep, dark, dangerous trap.

Is collaboration software useful? Of course. Every creative person uses various versions of it for some purpose, for some measure of management and organization. But as a solve-it-all formula for harnessing teams of people on singular visions, it can be a deadly siren song, a false Shangri-la.

Collaboration software is brilliant for capturing and sharing information. Used as a tool for building up searchable repositories of data and ideas, it’s terrific. It’s useful for scheduling, useful for communicating. But there’s quicksand, too: real-time collaboration software can be a massive distraction. Real-time collaboration looks like everyone is working on the same page, when what’s often going on is ONE person is working on a page while everyone else watches for updates. Humans are inherently social, so real-time collaboration software generally masks our natural, even positive tendencies to share social experiences, to post emojis and send photos and wonder who’s dating who.

To be clear, multi-tasking in the great fallacy of the age. People really only handle clusters of different things in rapidly changing sequence— one thing, then another, then another. People don’t really do more than one thing at a time beyond autonomic respiration. The crazy thing is that this is now largely common knowledge. Nonetheless, people continue to talk themselves into believing that it works, that they can do it. Generally speaking they can’t, but real-time collaboration software amplifies those false belief.

What this means is that modern collaboration that hasn’t been carefully considered can quickly generate a ton of raw material without actually going giving you commensurately useful results. It can be wildly inefficient, promoting weak ideas simply because of its inherent potential to promote distraction or, even worse, groupthink.

Of course you have to collaborate. Done well, it’s one of the most satisfying human experiences, and the products of collaboration are the countless cities and industrial designs and symphonies and football first-downs that mark our collective history. But when you choose your tools, remember that software cannot replace thousands of years of evolution. We’re social; we do well when we look people in the eye, when we listen and look at body language and feel the forces of nature on our skin. We’re also good at internal focus, at concentration and determined attention to detail. Good work needs both.

Collaboration software can amplify our best abilities by helping us store and retrieve and share information. It can help us move ideas quickly, and it can help us see things in what might otherwise be a sea of clutter. Real-time collaboration software doesn’t necessarily the same thing. It might look like it’s doing something constructive for your team, and it might seem like a good idea at the time. But beware. It might feel like you’re all working on a big project, but you might actually be staring into the void, yammering uselessness at the same time.

@michaelstarobin            or 

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