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Michael Schrage on Collaboration



Cruising the web for new breakthroughs in collaborative technology and
research, I ran across some inspiring words of wisdom extracted from a
presentation by Michael Schrage (see my review of his Serious Play
<>) to the United States
Defense Technical Information Center <>
way back in 1995. -- "Bernie DeKoven" <>



"Key among the conditions necessary for true collaboration is the shared
space where collaborators can have equal access and interaction. These
shared spaces usually permit real-time access by all collaborators ...
serving as both a model and a road map, and they are essential as a
technique for managing conversational ambiguity, serving as a touchstone for
the act of collaboration. A blackboard with equations; a rehearsal room
where actors, director, and crew gather; a rough prototype of an invention:
all these serve as shared spaces. In effect, the shared spaces are the
collaborative tools that people wield to make sure that the whole of the
relationship is greater than the sum of the individuals' expertise.

"Within the shared space, collaborators must feel free to play at their
activities, to explore and to experiment, without the constraints of a more
formal commitment to their positions and ideas. This atmosphere is as much a
product of the necessary mutual respect, tolerance, and trust between
collaborators as it is a product of the shared space itself.

"The willingness to experiment and play with their ideas, coupled with the
difficulty of their task, leads collaborators to seek multiple forms of
expression and representation within their shared spaces. Each level of
representation - mathematical, linguistic, structural, conversational,
visual - is like a different lens through which one can view the
collaborative task. "The task before the collaborators must be a shared and
understood goal. And it must be significant enough that it demands of
individuals more than they can accomplish by themselves - they must be drawn
into collaboration and willingly subsume their egos to the goal. A
collaboration is not described in terms of the relationship, but in terms of
the objective to be achieved. Concomitantly, the demands of the task ensure
that the collaboration is no substitute for a basal level of competence in
each of the collaborators. This competence is the basis for the mutual
respect, tolerance, and trust that lie at the foundation of every
collaboration. A collaboration, thus, can compensate for an individual
technical or conceptual gap, but it cannot paper over a fundamental

"Collaborations do their work both simultaneously and asynchronously in
settings that range from the formal, such as laboratories and meeting rooms,
to the informal, such as pubs and restaurants. Consequently, neither
physical presence nor continual communication is required by collaborations;
although there must be a continuity to their interactions. The shared goal
serves as an arbiter in determining the shape, the settings, and the
communications of a collaboratorium. Collaborators do not maintain constant
communication. Instead they focus on trying to create a rhythm, a tempo, and
a flow of communication that prevents them from interfering with one another
while assuring that events are proceeding apace.

"Tools that support and enhance collaboration have been making their way
into the business world. The telephone and ordinary postal service, the
earliest tools of collaboration, recently gave way to the facsimile machine,
the personal computer, and the computer network. Now these tools have
mutated into audio and video graphic capabilities, the Internet, and
collaborative software. The future of collaboration is being spun out daily
and the fabric of these collaborations, woven from the threads of individual
relationships, is being strengthened, expanded, and enhanced with new tools
that create shared spaces from diverse individual perspectives....

"Collaboration can occur by mail, over phone lines, and in person. But the
true medium of collaboration is other people. Real innovation comes from
this social matrix. And if the nature of our interactions is more important
than accelerations in the delivery and increases in the quantity of
information, then management of relationships should supplant the management
of information as the source of real innovation, increased productivity, and
new value in enterprises."