Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Collaboration On the Brain

I went to a couple of fun “collaboration” events last week.  The first was “How Hackers Collaborate” put on by the SDForum Collaboration SIG (co-chaired by yours truly).  The un-panel format put some legendary Silicon Valley DIY “hackers” like Lee Felsenstein (Homebrew Computer Club) and Jim Warren (West Coast Computer Faire) with soon-to-be legendary nu-skool leaders like David Weekly and Jeff Lindsay (SuperHappyDevHouse) to talk about how tech folks get together to get stuff done. 

I really enjoyed hearing the juxtaposition of HomeBrew’s “benevolent dictator” model, where Lee would lead an auditorium of people in discussion and then call on and cut off people based on his discretion, with the bottom-up SuperHappyDevHouse/Barcamp model that uses a wiki and paper taped to the wall to organize an event.  Cris Messina summed the evening up when he said he feels like history is repeating itself, but in a good way, with new tools and spirit.

The second was the “Tools for Catalyzing Collaboration” workshop last Friday put on by Eugene Kim and Jeff Shults.  It was a great group of tool providers and tool users. We spent the day in small groups brainstorming the keys to successful collaboration, 

My main takeaway regardless of tool or environment, all successful collaborations require:

  • A clear goal

  • Aligned self-interests around the shared goal

  • Trust that parties are working towards that shared goal ongoing

Seems obvious, almost trite.  But I bet if you took an inventory of your life’s current collaborations (w/co-workers, neighbors, business partners, community partners), at least one of these areas would be need shoring up. 

Tools need too help ensure this environment is created, or they risk the dust bin.  Food for thought for us here at wiki and collaborative app provider JotSpot…

The second key takeaway was the impact of the goal granularity to successful collaborations.  Said another way: collaborating around a shared mission can be much less effective than collaborating around a shared project goal.

This was illustrated by the relative success of Democrats vs. the Republicans in the last decade. Democrat constituents try too hard to share mission/philosophy, resulting in stalled action on the ground because of hang-ups around big-picture themes. Republican constituents may differ greatly in overall mission (e.g. Christian right vs. business conservatives), but tend to ignore their differences in high-level mission and instead set granular goals like getting specific bills passed or voters registered.  Doh!

I also enjoyed the afternoon brainstorm with Chris and  Jeffrey Osborne about creating a permanent co-working space in SF, and how that might spread globally.  I want this to happen badly — folks need a creative place to meet, mingle, and work on gettin’ stuff done that’s outside the office and outside the home. 

Update: forgot there's a wiki set up for this:

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