Tag Archives: vocabulary

Collaboration – a dirty word rescued by connectivity


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…


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.