The Ideaboard
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The Ideaboard

Oh, so you think you are collaborating? Perhaps it’s time to reconsider!

How many times did you hatch an idea, talked about it with your peers or colleagues, and suddenly got that adrenaline rush: “yes, this is it .. let’s collaborate!”? And surely enough it kicks off with lot of enthusiasm and phone calls and skype. But somehow the execution never happens. If you are too lucky you will soon realize that your “collaboration” is going pretty lopsided. In this issue, I am going to explore the hidden dark corridors of our minds and dissect this universally loved word called collaboration.

Collaboration is largely misunderstood, if not abused. What we usually mean by collaboration is “teaming up” with “hopefully” like-minded people, with no definite common plan of execution. The people involved usually have very little idea at the onset about what exactly are their roles and, more importantly, whether they have proper expertise to execute those roles. At the most, in our quest for collaboration, we share our knowledge and experience while we discuss the idea, and in return enrich our own insights. We may feel good about the fact that we are “working with” a large group or maybe, a couple of celebrities in the area concerned but essentially, what we are engaged in is called peer networking and discussion. So what is missing then? I see three key reasons why a few of your earlier collaborations failed:

  1. Lack of clear understanding of individual roles at the onset.
  2. Either fuzzy or bloated up expectations regarding degree of commitment.
  3. Superficial attention (and bare respect) to the expertise requirement.

There is yet another devil that acts more covertly. Often, we love to flaunt our collaborations and that triggers some sort of self-hallucination within us to believe our networks to be our collaborators. At a psychological level, it’s sort of a virtual brownie-point gathering, and it seems that for many it’s quite hard to fight that away! :-)

Collaboration is built upon one fundamental requirement — the partners have to be equally interested in executing the idea at hand. In other words, even if the so-called partners have the right kind of skillsets they might not necessarily be all for it. Also, showing interest and saying: “wow, this is really great … surely we should do it!” is not good enough. Successful collaborations are marriages made in heaven where the relation demands lot of key ingredients, out of which the most important one being the pre-existing zeal for executing the idea. Now, this zeal may be quite dormant or nascent in one of the partners, but then it has to be there. Being able to network with the right kind of partner and rekindling that nascent zeal in her is all that one needs to do (hmm .. well I know that’s not so easy after all!) — and that’s exactly why discussions are so important. To put it in short: collaboration presupposes focussed discussions but that may not necessarily lead to collaboration.

Most often than not meetups and conferences end up with lot of positive discussions, intellectual stimulations, and when you drive back home you feel like “yeah, I have now gotten so many leads … definitely I should be mailing that guy from Google and kick off the dream collaboration that I have been waiting for so long!”. But then let me tell you another fundamental requirement that collaboration demands — it’s highly problem specific. My interest in robotics alone cannot ensure that I would be able to collaborate from someone in Berkeley who is doing her Ph.D. in robotics, even after that one hour discussion in the last conference where we met. I need to make sure that the Berkeley grad student is equally interested in specifically making an intelligent sous-chef robot for home-makers (for the curious see the first issue: Does the individual intelligence matter?).

Collaboration can never begin without trust. Mutual chemistry and trust development can only occur through series of sustainable discussions and dialogues — something that conferences/meetups cannot adequately address. Since collaboration entails serious engagement from all the members involved, therefore it also demands proper Intellectual Property (IP) protection and Non-disclosure Agreement (NDA), with proper closure clauses when the collaboration ends. Yes, it’s a very serious affair and we need to respect that, if at all we want to expect something meaningful out of it. Credits have to be given in a fair manner and sharing of IP has to be ethical and legal. Interestingly, it leads to a chicken and egg problem — on one hand, ideas get enriched only through sharing, but then sharing may lead to IP breach (some thoughts on idea stealing in the second issue: You might want to revise your idea about an idea)? How do we move from a one-time discussion to sustainable and productive interactions is what we are trying to come up with at Rygbee.

In the next issue I am going to look into some more controversial aspects of collaboration. Till then keep giving us your feedback!



Official blog of Rygbee Idea Guide (discontinued)

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Sourish Dasgupta

Founder, RAx & Faculty, DA-IICT (Ph.D. Computer Science, University of Missouri - Kansas City)