Thursday, January 6, 2011

The role of intent in collaboration

OK, so I didn't get to this post in the pre-holiday week as I had hoped, but it turns out that's a good thing, because in the meantime I received the book I mentioned in my previous post, 42 Rules for Successful Collaboration, by David Coleman.* His book gave me more to think about when it comes to intent. Here's how he defines collaboration: ". . .a human behavior, not a technology or a process but an act or series of acts that you choose to perform with one or more people . . .to accomplish a specific purpose or goal." There are a few markers in that definition that clearly implicate intent as a necessary component of collaboration. The collaborator 'chooses' to participate (intent). The collaborators have a 'specific goal' (intent).Throughout the book several contributors make the point that in order for collaboration to be successful you have to have a clearly defined purpose. Until recently I might have agreed. But I'm starting to identify a more amorphous kind of collaboration in which intent is more squishy, less outcome driven. It's the collaboration that is a natural byproduct of social media and web 2.0/3.0 technologies, and it's collaboration as a state of mind and a modus operandi.

In  NELLCO's work with ODDA over the last few years I've had the pleasure of getting to know Laura Freebairn-Smith. Laura's dissertation is entitled Abundance and Scarcity Mental Models in Leaders. Now I haven't read her entire dissertation but Laura shared some of the concepts with me and it has sparked my thinking about the basic models and how they foster or hinder collaboration. As you might expect, abundance is good, scarcity is bad. If your weltanschauung is one in which resources are limited and you have to scrimp and scrape for your fair share, you're less likely to feel inclined to share what you have once you have it. On the other hand, if you see the glass as half full you're more likely to be the stone soup type, willing to share what you have to make it into something more.

Social media and the concept of 'the cloud' have made me rethink my definition of collaboration. If you have a spirit of collaboration (abundance) perhaps you need not have a specific goal for your collaborative efforts. In fact, you may never even know the impact of your collaborative actions. You just sort of set them free, via a tweet, a blog posting, a wiki, list or even e-mail (still) and hope they land somewhere they can be useful. I'm now less certain about the clear distinction I've maintained between cooperation and collaboration, which hinged on intent.  What do you think? How do intent and collaboration relate?

* My micro review: content is useful; editing is poor.

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