What do the Beatles, Monty Python, the teams behind building the Ford Mustang and the British Colossus computer, and the Unabomber manhunt have in common? All are examples of impressive and successful collaborative teams. I seem to return to the topic of collaboration often in my writing, and wrote this post several years ago about my own personal history of collaboration. For those of you that have short memories, I will refresh them with some other links to those thoughts. But first, let’s look at what these groups all have in common:
Driven and imaginative leadership. The Netflix series on the Unabomber creates a somewhat fictional/composite character but nevertheless shows how the FBI developed the linguistic analysis needed to catch this criminal, and how a team of agents and a massive investigation found him. Some of those linguistic techniques were used to figure out the pipe bombing suspect from last week, by the way.
A combination of complementary skills. The Beatles is a good example here, and we all have imprinted in our early memories the lyrics and music by John and Paul. On the British code-breaking effort Colossus, that team worked together without actually knowing what they each did, as I mentioned in my blog post. Another great example is the team that originally created the Ford Mustang car, as I wrote about a few years ago.
Superior writing and ideation. An interview that Eric Idle recently gave on the Maron WTF podcast is instructive. Idle spoke about how the entire Python team wrote their skits before they cast them, so that no one would be personally invested to a particular idea before the entire group could improve and fine-tune it. Many collaborative efforts depend on solid writing backed by even more solid idea-creation. There are a number of real-time online writing and editing tools (including Google Docs) that are used nowadays to facilitate these efforts.
Active learning and group training. A new effort by the Army is noteworthy here, and what prompted my post today. They recognize that soldiers have to find innovative ways to protect their digital networks and repel cyber invasions. They announced the creation of a new cyber workspace at the Fort Gordon (near Augusta Geo.) base called Tatooine, which refers to the Star Wars planet where Luke spent some time in the early movies. The initial missions of this effort will focus on three areas:
- drone detection,
- active hunting of cyber threats on DoD networks, and
- designing better training systems for cyber soldiers.
Great communicators. Many of these teams worked together using primitive communication tools, before the digital age. Now we are blessed with email, CRMs, real-time messaging apps, video chats, etc. But these blessings are also a curse, particularly if these tools are abused. In this post for the Quickbase blog, I talk about signs that you aren’t using these tools to their best advantage, particularly for handling meeting schedules and agendas. In this post from September, I also provide some other tips on how to collaborate better.
Unique partnerships. All of my examples show how bringing together the right kinds of talent can result in the sum being bigger than the individuals involved. At the Army base, both military and civilian resources will be working together, and draw on the successful Hack the Army bug bounty program. On Colossus, they recruited people who were good at solving crossword puzzles, among other things. The Python group included Terry Gilliam, who was a gifted animator and brought the necessary visual organization to their early BBC TV shows.
Certainly, the history of collaboration has been one of fits and starts. As a former publication editor, I can recall the teams that I put together had some great collaborative efforts to write, edit, illustrate and publish the stories in our magazines. And while we continue making some of the same mistakes over again and not really considering the historical context, there are a few signs of hope too as the more modern tools help folks over some of these hurdles. That brought me a solid appreciation for how these best kinds of collaborations happen. Feel free to share your own examples if you’d like.