Collaboration – a dirty word rescued by connectivity

Col·lab·o·ra·tion
n.

1. The act of working together; united labor.

2. the act of willingly cooperating with an enemy, especially an enemy nation occupying one’s own country.

During a conversation over breakfast yesterday I was asked to talk about my experience in open source public policy (through Canada25) which led me to talk about the differences between cooperation and collaboration I’ve ruminated upon before here.

After outlining the idea my friend stopped me and said

“You know, it is interesting, for people in my generation (re: boomers) collaboration was a dirty word.”

He went to explain that he’d talked with young people in his organization and had discovered that they had largely abandoned the word’s negative connotations, but he was again struck by how easily I embraced and used the term. For boomers – he explained – “collaboration” brings forward notions of Vichy France or narcs, people who sold out or who betrayed their origins in some way, often for gain or even to work (usually on behalf of) of a new (usually alien and/or evil) outsider.

What a difference a generation makes. Today I see more and more of my friends using the term. Which begs the question…

Why?

One hypothesis I have relates to the changing nature of our economy and how we work.

I don’t know if people have to work in teams more frequently then they use to, but i feel fairly confident that even if the frequency of teamwork has remained consistent, the emergent, or self-organizing, or even self-directed nature of those teams has probably increased. Thanks to the telecommunication revolution, and even just the rise of the knowledge economy, we are increasingly being asked to work together as we exchange, mix, re-mix and mash up ideas.

As a result, I think ours is a generation that is grasping for more nuanced and complex ways to describe working with others. No where is this more important than in the online world where the opportunities for both communicating, and miscommunicating, have never been easier. And within the online world nowhere is this more important than in the open source space where whole new models of how people can work together on large complex problems are emerging. With so much going on, is it any surprise our vocabulary is adjusting?

I say great. We need a more sophisticated and nuanced vocabulary to describe how we work together. The fact is people can work together in lots of different ways, conflating that variation with a single term is likely to make success harder to repeat.

Now… the revival of the word evangilism among non-religious coders is also interesting. I’ve done research as to where that came from and would be curious how it started getting used. The resistance to that word – especially given the culture wars in the US – is likely to be much greater. Outside the technology geek world that word still triggers LOTS of people.

11 thoughts on “Collaboration – a dirty word rescued by connectivity

  1. Steve Thomspon

    I wonder when you’re going to make a blog post about wanting a public inquiry as to why Chretien and Martin knew about Khadr’s torture, yet did nothing.

    This from the party of human rights.

    When are you going to demand a public inquiry as to why Chretien and Martin allowed Omar Khadr to be tortured?

    Reply
  2. Jeremy Vernon

    I can’t tell you the precise origins of the term “evangelist” with regards to technology but I do know that it started with two people – Richard Stallman and Guy Kawasaki.

    In the case of Stallman it’s used to describe him. To the extent that it is a long-running joke to depict Stallman as Jesus or in an iconographic context.

    Guy Kawasaki (I believe) coined the term to describe himself and his method of marketing. Kawasaki was largely responsible for keeping the Apple brand afloat in the inter-Jobs years.

    He’s written a couple books, short and sweet little business volumes. “Art of the Start” and “How to Drive Your Competition Crazy.”

    Apple really cemented, for years, the religiosity of their users – being “MacAddicts”, “Mac Acolytes.”

    The Jobsian Apostasy was enacted to expand the brand – so the connotation was downplayed. (though there are a few marketing and press shots with Jobs wearing a priests collar during is iCEO days)

    Reply
  3. Steve Thomspon

    I wonder when you’re going to make a blog post about wanting a public inquiry as to why Chretien and Martin knew about Khadr’s torture, yet did nothing.This from the party of human rights.When are you going to demand a public inquiry as to why Chretien and Martin allowed Omar Khadr to be tortured?

    Reply
  4. Jeremy Vernon

    I can’t tell you the precise origins of the term “evangelist” with regards to technology but I do know that it started with two people – Richard Stallman and Guy Kawasaki.In the case of Stallman it’s used to describe him. To the extent that it is a long-running joke to depict Stallman as Jesus or in an iconographic context.Guy Kawasaki (I believe) coined the term to describe himself and his method of marketing. Kawasaki was largely responsible for keeping the Apple brand afloat in the inter-Jobs years. He’s written a couple books, short and sweet little business volumes. “Art of the Start” and “How to Drive Your Competition Crazy.” Apple really cemented, for years, the religiosity of their users – being “MacAddicts”, “Mac Acolytes.” The Jobsian Apostasy was enacted to expand the brand – so the connotation was downplayed. (though there are a few marketing and press shots with Jobs wearing a priests collar during is iCEO days)

    Reply
  5. funtom

    Great post. Regarding the evangelism term, used in non-religious context, I’ve noticed some geeks are quite obsessed with another religious term – canonical. Yep, every language in use is dynamic, continuously evolving.

    Reply
  6. funtom

    Great post. Regarding the evangelism term, used in non-religious context, I’ve noticed some geeks are quite obsessed with another religious term – canonical. Yep, every language in use is dynamic, continuously evolving.

    Reply

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