“In the Depression years of the 1930s, the card game contract bridge, first played in the United States in the late 1920s, blossomed,” according to George Akerlof and Robert Shiller in their 2009 book, Animal Spirits. “Contract bridge is a game played by partners, who must cooperate. In contrast, in recent years poker-and especially its 21st century variation, Texas hold’em-has surged forward. These games are played by individuals for themselves alone, emphasize a type of deception variously called bluffing and “keep a poker face,” and are generally played for money.”
Could the 2008 recession have been a catalyst for a new way of thinking towards collaboration? When the going gets tough do the tough get collaborating? Certainly, the younger generations are much more focused on sharing and working together. There has been an explosion of collaborative technologies and approaches in the workplace.
There are other macro trends driving collaboration. As complexity and the speed of change increases, the ability of individuals to understand or affect things on their own diminishes. “Tackling global challenges such as food insecurity, or advancing complex technologies like quantum computers, requires collaboration,” Kara Hall wrote for Nature in 2017.
A globalized world is also driving multicultural, multidisciplinary and diversity thinking. If you’re selling stuff to people all over the world then you have to understand and reflect their unique needs. The best way to do that is with a diverse team.
Collaboration is growing in areas where it was historically not so prevalent. The Panama and Paradise Papers and the Edward Snowden’s NSA files have shown a new collaborative model for journalism. In an industry that traditionally thrives on exclusivity, multi-disciplinary, multi-country groups came together to understand and communicate about these highly complex subjects.
In science, collaboration is blossoming within environments such as ResearchGate and MCubed. There is a massive growth in scientific papers involving hundreds and even thousands of authors.
“Collaboration in health care has been shown to improve patient outcomes such as reducing preventable adverse drug reactions, decreasing morbidity and mortality rates and optimizing medication dosages,” Brennan Bosch and Holly Mansell wrote for the Canadian Pharmacists Journal in 2015. “Teamwork has also been shown to provide benefits to health care providers, including reducing extra work and increasing job satisfaction.”
The news headlines may be screaming doom and disaster but underneath the surface there substantial and profound movements towards a more collaborative, diverse world that solves problems based on collective intelligence. There will always be a role for the individual, of course. Team think can become group think. Diversity should also celebrate and facilitate those who don’t work so well in groups, who are perhaps more introvert or solitary. However we do it we must be able to remain open, to synthesize multiple perspectives, to rapidly iterate based on evidence, and to constantly think beyond ourselves and our own most pressing needs.