Today, let us trust one another -- and work
together. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
I've just read an odd book
by Michael Schrage -- Shared Minds. It's
about collaboration. The book's too breezy and
journalistic for my taste. But no matter! The guy's
on to something. He draws the subtle line that
divides communication and collaboration. That
struck a nerve.
I try to communicate what I know and love about
technology and invention in this series. I claim to
write the series alone. And to the extent I do,
that's communication, not collaboration.
Yet this series is pure and ongoing collaboration.
For one thing, I treasure a few critical friends
whom I trust absolutely. These people tell me, with
unwashed candor, what they don't like about what I
write. They don't waste time with politeness. They
don't try to tell me how to fix things. They're
effective because they share their subjective
reactions with me.
I also have running encounters of another kind with
several people. Each time we meet we continue a
theme. These aren't so much conversations as they
are probings. They spin out over months and years
with an intimacy peculiar to shared ideas. I love
these inquiries. So does Schrage. He says,
Two individuals create a set of shared
experiences and understandings that a re unique to
them. They build contexts.
That takes work, and it pays huge
dividends. All the great creative people have done it
-- Edison, Niels Bohr, Ben Franklin. They all had
close, independent-minded colleagues. By words,
drawings, equations, and carefully-shaped shared
experience, they added the strength of other minds to
Braque and Picasso -- Crick and Watson! Did you
know that Monet and Renoir painted side by side to
create the shared experience that formed their
artistic style? Afterward, they were able to grow
off in their own directions.
How do we make that happen in our workplaces? First
we recognize that collaboration is much more than
just talk. Too much talk is didactic, competitive,
one person informing another.
So we redesign workplaces to draw people into each
other's orbits. We create common contexts. We're
inventing blackboard-like software so we can share
the design experience. Maybe we're learning to
bring the scribbled napkin back to the workplace.
Yet real collaboration needs one thing more. True
collaborators have a rare ability to seek out their
own ignorance in front of another person. The key
is trust. Schrage says,
The thing that matters most is that the
collaborators possess mutual trust, the belief that
they are adding value, and a genuine desire to
create something new.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of
Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive