4 satanic temptations of collaboration

In the last issue I attempted to make a clear distinction between collaboration and peer discussion. In this issue, I will be continuing with some more introspection regarding the matter.

#1: DON’T commit early — maybe you do not need collaboration

I hope you know when you want a collaboration. Perhaps you really do not need a collaboration at this point. To understand whether the need is there, you should be aware that there are three types of collaboration that you might be looking for:

  1. Similar skill sets to execute a domain-specific idea
  2. Complimentary skill sets to execute a domain-specific idea
  3. Complimentary skill sets to execute an inter-disciplinary idea

The first type of collaboration need comes up when you are working on an idea whose execution requires rigorous validation at several stages of its life-cycle. It is also required when your idea can be broken up into sub-tasks that require similar expertise. Some examples would be solving a mathematical conjecture, or developing a more efficient planning algorithm, or creating a new kind of burger. The second type of collaboration need occurs when the sub-tasks require different types of skill-sets. An example would be building a robot who can play songs as per your mood! You might be requiring expertise in AI, robotics, computational neurology, neuropsychology, and ambient music… whew! Quite a task I have to confess! The third type of collaboration need is felt when the idea itself is multi-disciplinary. An example would be understanding the relationship of the Syrian refugee crisis and technological advancements in middle-east espionage. Anyone up for this? :-)

If you think you do not have any of these three needs, then you are most likely looking for peer discussions, and NOT collaboration.

#2: Have you done your homework?

Germinating an idea and executing the idea are wholly different mental processes. Both require a completely different set of mood and strategies. The germination part is mostly a moment of truth but then there are certain prescriptions to do it in a better way. Execution of an idea (cf: not an assignment or exercise) goes through three important phases, where the first two are recurrent:

  1. Background building
  2. Validation of feasibility, novelty, and market-fit
  3. Brainstorming and collaboration (we have covered this point)

Let me be bluntly honest here. You simply can’t start a meaningful and successful collaboration without going through the first two phases. It’s hard to believe that a group of blind men can actually get together and rob a bank (yes, this was dramatized in Blind Rage and a later day Bollywood version called Aankhein!). For all other extreme stuffs that can happen, surely serious collaboration does not happen this way.

#3: DON’T be in a hurry — homework takes time and mentoring

Background building involves learning about the domain and the technicalities. It’s like armoring yourself before plunging into the battle field. However, armoring is not an individualistic process. If you are a beginner, you really wouldn’t be knowing the nuances of the battle much and hence, are in quite a vulnerable position in terms of selecting the right weapons and armor. The stark reality is that we do not know, at least early on, what should be the right questions to ask! Who will tell me that to make the sous-chef robot I need to be very clear about the fundamentals of reinforcement learning? Who will tell me that to do that I need to have a grasp of Markov Decision Processes and for that I need to brush up my understanding of fundamental probability theory and stochastic processes? I was lucky earlier on and got the recipe from Google to make a dish cleaner robot. But then Google did not tell me that I need to build these fundamentals and neither connected me with the right set of experts. Perhaps, I need to go to Quora or Stack Overflow and put up a “how to” question. But again, I am putting creation above creativity and hoping that someone on those platforms will tell me the recipe. Hardly would you imagine someone there following through your idea execution life-cycle and advising you what to read and clarifying your doubts through personal discussion sessions.

#4: Beware of power cliques!

Let’s talk about the final threat — power cliques. You might feel yourself as a loner initially and get the temptation that you really have to join a celebrity creed (which itself is an “achievement”, btw!) to push your dream idea towards realization. But here comes the trick of destiny — chances are that you would soon find yourself so busy in the middle of a Game of Thrones, fighting halfheartedly someone else’s war, and thinking: “well, just another month and surely I will get His grace”. Several months would pass by and, with a lot of luck, you would find yourself climbing up the ladder of power-struggle … and believe me, it usually starts tasting really yummy! And then, finally in some misty morning, sitting on your throne “accomplished”, you suddenly start remembering that amazing idea that you had abandoned, as a newbie to the creed. Sipping your cup of coffee you feel: “yeah … let’s start it one more time!”, and you get that juvenile adrenaline rush all over again. You start gathering up your foot soldiers, your dedicated janissaries —but, within the fold of the creed. And guess what? You have just repeated history and kept the creed thriving! :-).

This is a beautiful planet, with all its ugliness. Be brave. Engage with the right set of people … and give a damn to all those hyper-hyped and vacuous cliques! Unleash the creative beast within — in the way you want it!