The idea of collaboration seems obvious: you work together to achieve a common goal, whether that’s a creative project, or cleaning up the yard. But in this post-hierarchical environment, there are lots of possible interpretations of the idea of working together. Here are a couple of obvious ones:
Scenario One (It’s my idea)
“I have an idea. This is it. Anyone want to help me implement it. Great. Now, here’s what we’re going to do.”
Interaction: I’m willing to listen to your ideas, but I’m making all the final decisions.
How it gets done: I define tasks, recruit and direct helpers and decide when it’s done.
To me, this one seems to be collaborative because the team that I get to work with me can give their ideas, but I have no obligation to consider them. It’s my idea and I get to call the shots. This reminds me of the traditional atelier in which the master defines the project, distributes tasks, reserves the right to modify or eliminate team contributions. Anyone who participates does so knowing that they are not empowered. The end product is the art and the originator controls the vision.
Scenario Two (It’s an evolving group creation)
“I have an idea. This is it. What do you think?”
Interaction: The idea is discussed. Other ideas are presented. Modifications may be made to the original idea. The idea may be scrapped or even re-invented.
How it gets done: Someone takes on the role of project leader. This is largely organizational role similar to the producer in the event world. The project leader may recruit people for different roles. Other people may volunteer. The idea’s originator may have special status as visionary, but the project is an ongoing creative negotiation between members of the crew. It’s a give and take. No one owns the idea. Together we add our expertise, try new things and trust the process.
This one seems closest to what I think of as “collaborative.” Since we have all had more experience with hierarchy than true collaboration, it may take a “leap of faith” to trust that the result will be as good as the model in Scenario One. It may or may not be. The benefit is that there are far more creative visions available to tap. A “genius” single creator may produce an end result far superior to what is available from the collective, but maybe not. And in the context of Fishbon, which has limited resources in both money and creative energy, relying on individuals would seem to place a limit on what can be achieved. How much work can one person do, however motivated? In Scenario Two, it’s not the end result (the creative product) that’s most important, it’s the collaborative effort itself, the process. The process is the art, and the individual engages in creative play. What they get out of it is the pleasure they experience in that play (being intensely engaged with other creators, seeing their input help to shape the end result–what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow). This model is more consistent with the “crowd sourcing” idea that is emerging from the convergence culture we’re all immersed in, and I think more consistent with the Fishbon idea. It’s not that there is no place for individual genius, it’s just that it may be a less successful model for creative collaboration.
What About Vertical, Horizontal and Diagonal Participation?
vertical=top down hierarchy
This is the “my way or the highway” approach that traditional industrial model uses. The boss hires you, pays you, and tells you what to do. As long as he or she pays you and you need the money, you do what they say. It’s a plus if you like the work.
In this one, either there is some kind of consensus arrived at by selling an idea, listening to debate and operating in an ongoing project conversation. Everyone can participate and is encouraged by the group to do so. There is a sense of empowerment. This model has been derisively called "art by committee" as though it always leads to an inferior result. I'm sure many of us have had experiences where this was true (think PTA fundraiser), but just as many where art by solitary creator was just as flawed.
diagonal=time or money)
This one goes like this: the person who has the most invested in time and/or money “owns” the project. That is, gets final veto over all decisions. Seems only fair, but its really the ultimate justification for the hierarchical model. I’m the boss. Why? Because I’m putting in the most time or contributing the most money. If you don’t have lots of one or both, you’re not a full participant. It’s a kind of hierarchy of means that seems to be collaborative but somehow isn’t. Of course someone who comes in at the last minute shouldn’t be able to change the result, or should they? What if their idea is better and the group agrees that the concept should be modified to include it? If it’s a collaborative project, time and money might give you a seat at the table, but not veto power. If it’s hierarchical, time and money trumps all because I always have the option to take my ball and go home.
Which direction feels optimal? Or is there room for multiple approaches? What do you think?