A few thoughts on collaboration

Collaboration is great, but not always easy. When people come together to talk about their ideas and opinions we get excited. We’re eager to share what we think, we are inevitably met with the drama of dissenting opinions and the crushing realization that this problem is going to be a wee bit harder than we thought. A presentation of hard facts and constraints usually helps us get a grip on our reality, and with this new information, we try to find a common rallying cry around new ideas and new inspirations. This is not without a fair bit of arguing about what’s best and what’s worse, what’s yours and mine, and ultimately, if all goes well… <everyone take a deep cleansing breath together> …. we find a path forward and march towards the light at the end of the tunnel together… <exhale>

Oftentimes somewhere smack in the middle of these really animated and intense product conversations, we look around awkwardly (and if we are honest, probably rather defensively) and say, “Well, WTF are we supposed to do now?!?” In my experience, the most common answer is “We should definitely go get lunch.” So we go clear our heads and fill our stomachs, but when we return there is still a lot of consensus building and decision making to be done. So. I spend time thinking about collaboration. How do we take all of our creative ideas, individual opinions, and possible technical implementations and actually agree on something concrete that we all can work towards together?

The only answer I have right now? One thoughtful step at a time.

There is temptation (especially when you’re a new product and don’t have tons of users) to say “Making actual decisions is hard! Let’s just try things! What harm can be done?! I mean, we can always change it back later!” This is generally a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach that totally works when… say… you’re road tripping by yourself and find that the scenic route somehow became way-more-scenic-than-you-expected. <No harm done!> You end up sleeping in the back of your car by the side of the road and digging some fruit snacks out of your glove box for late-night sustenance. <No big deal!> Why? Because it’s an adventure! You can just head back the way you came once you get a little shut eye! Easy peasy… <just don’t run out of gas.>

Honestly, I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl most of the time. However, I have learned that in life, as in product development, there are some obvious downsides to this approach. It doesn’t stop to anticipate future roadblocks or dead-ends. It rarely considers or even identifies a goal or purpose. It’s focused on what is present and immediate rather than what is scalable or long lasting. It doesn’t know where the finish line is. But. It’s bold and you’ll inevitably learn some amazing things along the way. This is a great as long as you don’t mind eating the product equivalent of fruit snacks on release day. Sometimes it’s totally worth it.

But more realistically there is always a balance between being bold and being intentional.

We should absolutely be bold about how we approach product problems and their possible solutions. We should not be afraid to do something and say “Nope! Never doing that again!” We should try new things. We should do things that are good for people using our product. But we should ALSO be intentional about what we are doing and how we want to learn from our own process or making and discovery. Intention without boldness is dependable and predictable, but won’t teach you any new tricks. Boldness without intention can be exciting, but might also result in a lot of mis-aligned product experiences.

The mistake most people make (I think) is that they are intentional about finding answers but less intentional about asking the right questions. Questions lead us to approaches. Approaches help us learn what questions we need to ask. Being intentional is never about having the right answer, but always about taking a step in a thoughtful direction.