Collaboration in the new age

It’s amazing how easy it is to collaborate on any project or creative process with the myriad of tools available.   In a past life I was a recording engineer, and I remember hearing a talk by Phil Ramone at a convention after he finished up the brilliant ‘Duets’ recording by Frank Sinatra.

What was so fascinating about this record was that many of the artists that had “collaborated” with Frank were never in the same studio at the same time, but sang ‘Duets’ that sounded like they had shared a microphone.  This was done using the very new (at the time) EDNET system of recording via ISDN modem remotely and in real time.  At the time I literally couldn’t believe what I was hearing and immediately tried to get my head around the concept of real-time-collaboration but it was almost too much!

Fast forward 15 years or so and now we have every conceivable collaboration tool you could imagine.  Real time screen sharing, whiteboarding, live HD video over the internet, etc, etc.  While the technological innovations are astounding to no end..something else seems to have creeped into the way we do business in the new age of computing: Too many cooks in the kitchen.

What I mean is this: Sometimes it’s BETTER to struggle. Hell, the Beatles recorded the White Album on an 8 track deck.  George Martin has said that it was the limitations that they faced that made them try harder to acheive what they wanted, thereby making the performances the amazing music we’ve all loved for 40 years.

Don’t believe me?  Take email for example.  It’s my pet peeve (in terms of collaboration) due to it’s ease with which data proliferation can choke out any useful life in whatever is contained.  How many times have you been cc’ed on a message to a large group with a big attachment and the sender’s one line message says “Please reply with comments”?  And…of the people on the cc list…how many were actual decision makers?

To me, collaboration is when key decision makers are involved in creating or acheiving something as a group.  Obviously, my reference to the Beatles doesn’t quite translate over to collaboration in a business environment, but the decision-by-committee rarely seems to achieve much more than the bare minimum required. 

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