There is something in me that makes me pretty relaxed about “sharing” per se. Maybe it was caused by growing up in a large “undivided” family: when I lived in India, the class of family I was part of was referred to as a Hindu Undivided Family or HUF. This was seen as distinct and different from other families where formal division had been applied for, ostensibly to take advantage of tax advantages that accrued as a result.
Or maybe it was because I grew up in Calcutta. Access to material goods seemed a lot more important than ownership of the same goods; possession was a transient concept. It wasn’t your bed, your book, your park bench, your air. You just had passing and temporary rights to it, and the rights would fade as easily as they came to exist.
Maybe it’s something in me, maybe I don’t like the sheer palaver. One way or the other, I have always found it easy to share.
Which is probably why I assumed that failures in collaboration were usually caused by people not having this facility: by people finding it hard to share. Sometimes this was caused by insecurity, sometimes it was cultural. At least that’s what I assumed.
More recently, as I’ve been continuing with my investigations into intellectual property law, patents, copyrights, trademarks and their burgeoning digital equivalents, I’ve begun to wonder about something else.
And it is this. When you look at the Agricultural Revolution you notice something. Scale happened when the participants understood division of labour. When you look at the Industrial Revolution, something similar happened. Ford and Taylor could not construct an assembly line unless there was something to make a line with. Division of labour again.
Collaboration takes place when you do what you are good at, and when you let other people do what they are good at.
Sometimes I wonder whether we as knowledge workers have learnt this. Somehow I don’t think so. Over the last thirty years, working primarily in service industries, working solely as a knowledge worker, I see something different.
I see people unable to respect the skills of others. Of wanting to be all things to all men.
I see no division of labour within knowledge workers.
Which is a shame.
Collaboration has many payoffs. These payoffs tend to increase when there is a shortage of the “resource” being shared. We live in an age where the war for talent is likely to continue. Knowledge workers have the most to gain from collaboration.
But we’re not going to get there. Not while we limit ourselves, not while we try and pretend there is no division of labour.
Each of us has to learn to do what we are good at, and to let others do what they are good at. Even if we think we’re good at those things as well, we have to choose to do the things we are disproportionately better at. That’s not just a prerequisite for collaboration. That’s not just a prerequisite for teamwork. It’s a prerequisite for being a human being.
Collective stewardship requires respect for others. Respect for others requires respect for their skills and abilities. For some reason, we could handle it during the Agricultural Revolution, we could handle it during the Industrial Revolution, but when it comes to the Information Revolution, we’re falling short.
Views? Comments? That is, if you’re prepared to share them….