Recently a colleague placed a copy of Susan Cain’s NYT The Rise of the New Groupthink article in my box. I had read the article when it hit the Twitterverse last month. Admittedly I’m an outspoken advocate of collaboration in education. I think this way for several reasons. First, I oversee an authentic learning program and more likely than not students will have to work with other people for part or most of their professional lives. We would be doing them a disservice if we didn’t address this skill as part of their overall learning. Furthermore, for those students who tend toward entrepreneurship I want to give them the mindset to build appropriate teams to help them achieve their goals.
I also believe in the power of bringing several minds together to address a question and support each other in implementing a solution. I marvel at the work of human-centered design firms, such as IDEO, and the collaborative online problem solving of World of Warcraft players. As Jane McGonigal suggests these gamers are reimagining community infrastructures so that they may tackle epic scenarios. In her book Reality is Broken she forces us to think how we might harness that force for social good. I get goosebumps when I hear Dan Barcay at Educon 2.4 tells us all to “chase the adjacent possible” and see that echoed as I read Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From.
Let me just pause here and say collaboration does not come naturally to me. Anybody who knows me well knows that I’m an introvert. To be honest, it would be a world easier for me if I could write off collaboration.
But I guess when it comes down to it there are just so many awesome people and ideas floating around out there, on and off the Internet, and I’m much more anxious to open the door to them than I am to close it.
Collaboration gets a bad rap not because it itself is bad but because we so often do it so poorly. I have been a part of ridiculously bad brainstorming sessions. What I lament more than those experiences is how people internalize them and come to the table next time with a cynical attitude. We need to get better at collaboration and we need to this alongside our students. The problems we face are far too big to isolate ourselves.
In a meeting I mentioned that I think of collaboration three-dimensionally. I don’t confuse collaboration with groupthink which I would argue Cain does in her article. An important skill of collaboration is to know when to collaborate and when to seek solitude, how to collect feedback and transform it into something new, how to recognize our strengths and the strengths of others so that tasks can be assigned in the best possible way. Collaboration is more nuanced than her article suggests.
I appreciated this article; my inner introvert high fived a thousand angels as I read it, but this is not an either/or question. We need to come together as much as we need to shut the door. As with much of what we argue about in our culture the conversation needs to be less us versus them and more about balance.