A politically incorrect rant against collaboration

office orgyAre two heads better than one? How about three? Or five hundred? Almost everything we touch, taste, see, hear, and even smell, is a product of multiple minds meeting in the middle. We live in a globalized culture of collaboration… a world of compromise. At all stages, from concept to marketplace, any new idea must survive countless negotiations and push backs. Logic and personality are our best weapons when battling for an innovation, but both are subjective and eat up substantial time and energy – along with team building, group brainstorming, meetings… meetings… AAAAAAAARG!

We can’t escape collaboration. Heck, conception is the ultimate collaboration and none of us would be here without that! But we’ve got to take a break from the office orgies! We’ve lost touch with the private, primitive urge to create independently – just for the hell of it. Social media and globalization have linked value to multiplicity – whether in ‘Likes’ received, dollars earned, or people converted. But stop. Just stop. Stop letting other people design your world.

With such an overwhelming breadth of new products and creative productions coming at us 24/7, we’re becoming desensitized to individual acts of self-expression, especially our own! But how do we resist the seductive fact that collaboration naturally produces idealized forms – Plato would be so pleased! We now need trainers, masseuses, uniform designers… to score a single hockey goal. A piece of clothing is nothing until it’s dressed up by models, makeup artists, photographers, and airbrushers. This progression to idealization is, of course, perfectly natural and predictable from a neurological standpoint. But why be a slave to your brain when it guts the value of your uniquely imperfect humanity?

We’re a competitive species, for resources, mates, and ego actualization. But how do we compete, head to head, with 7 billion people! Go back 30 000 years… one man… a dozen shells… one necklace. His personal tribal contribution was sacred and precious. Every moment he spent on the task reinforced his own value to himself and to his tribe. Does working a shit job to afford a Louis Vuitton purse really provide the same validation? Why do you think one is never enough? Look how fast our purchases become our insatiables. This is what happens when we lose connection with our individual ability to express our humanity as tangible sensory creations. But there’s hope. Let’s collaborate across time, not in time. Take the gift of the tools (farming, technology, etc.) designed by minds who have come before us, and start small…

Exercise in Engagement: Bring the system boundary back down to the surface of your skin, breathe, then stretch it out to the volume of your kitchen – nothing and no one else exists. You must be your own validation in this moment. Forage for ingredients and dare to build the most personal sandwich possible with what you find. Doesn’t have to be perfect, healthy, or follow any Food Network rules. Screw Plato! Explore the experience of this sandwich with each one of your senses, one at a time, then all together in a moment of total engagement. This sandwich is you because you made it without compromise or negotiation and because (not to be too graphic here) it will literally become you in a matter of hours. Now go forth and conquer!

22 thoughts on “A politically incorrect rant against collaboration

  1. I just finished reading a book by Susan Cain called “Quiet”. She also has an excellent TED talk on the power of introverts. Although not exactly along the same vein as you are describing, it parallels it quite closely. Whether your personality demands the time alone or not, the power of innovation needs to be a balance of independent thought along with measured collaboration. As with everything, balance is key, although I would love to travel to the far side of independent work much more often 😉 Great post, thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you Dave! Loved the line… “Whether your personality demands the time alone or not, the power of innovation needs to be a balance of independent thought along with measured collaboration.” And so apropos of you to mention Susan Cain. I loved her TED talk and obviously related to it very keenly. I’ll have to check out her book. If anyone’s interested, here’s the TED talk link:

      I completely agree with you about balance. I admit I took a rather biased stance above, and our civilization (not to mention families!) would descend quickly into anarchy without a healthy dose of creative collaboration. But since “healthy” means different things for different brains, as a society we need to give far more time, space, and value to independent creative acts and ideation. And I think as individuals, we need to give our own creative acts the value needed in order for us to engage with them fully – not as half-assed crafts and scribblings, but as full, rich, uniquely imperfect expressions of our oh-so-temporal humanity.

    • Looks like an awesome read, Nick. Thanks! Although I do have to say the “centralized bathrooms” idea is kind of creeping me out lol. But who can resist “embracing the rut” and drug addicted poets! I definitely have to pick up a copy. You’re still inspiring me with that water drinking activation energy experiment. Can’t wait for another meeting of our two Desbarats minds! ps: Thank you for everything you’ve done over the past while – meant a ton to all of us 🙂

  2. politically incorrect, perhaps, but correct none-the-less….happily the challenge resulted in my favourite: peanut butter and honey sandwich – although I did cheat – the honey container was on the kitchen counter – but I refused to compromise, created my own rules and put everything together and yum! traditional but totally mine!

    • WOW Lynn! You totally ‘got’ this exercise – “…but I refused to compromise, created my own rules…” Yes, yes, yes!! Creating one’s own rules for a creation exercise in engagement – perfect! I’m beaming over here! And, of course, now I’m ravenously craving a peanut butter and honey sandwich (which I’d personalize with chunks of cold butter to make it Cymbria style). Thank you for making my day!

  3. This is GOOD. I’m always of the opinion that people have nothing to contribute in collaborative ventures anyway when they do not have anything to bring to the table (their own deep love of something, skills, expression, dream, etc.) When people collaborate and don’t bring their own individuality, they are riding on the coats of others, which ends up being an authoritarian dynamic. There must be a balance, for those who want to live life in an amazing way, between individuality and the commons. Individuals can choose to bring things to the commons, but if the commons dictates individuality, we’re screwed. Feed ourselves or be fed.

    On some levels, we must collaborate (bring something useful or beautiful to our society, like a shell necklace, all life on our planet gives something), but on the flip side, to do that thing REALLY well requires no compromise, and a following of ones own instinct to delve deep into something and pull it out in ones own way.

    Not many are willing to talk about this subject, and bring about a conversation about true love and creativity and real expression. I was happy to read your writing! 🙂 Love this! SCREW Plato!!!!

    • What an amazing comment! “Feed ourselves or be fed” – sums the whole issue up in one delicious (pardon the pun lol) soundbite. Yes, we must collaborate, but you’re so right in saying that what we contribute to that collaboration is its best when it’s been explored and refined on an independent level before being thrust into the ‘whole’. Blogging is so fascinating because it begins as an independent act, then becomes a (uniquely gentle) collaboration through dialogue like this.

      I chose to bring Blank Canvas Living into “the commons” because it is the deepest, most honest, expression of my own human exploration – and who doesn’t love spending the afternoon colouring in an orgy with pencil crayons hehee. Sure, not everyone’s going to appreciate my contribution (cough… cough… Platonists), but because I’ve taken the time and space to vet and evolve my ideas on my own terms before hitting ‘publish’, criticism is less a threat to my social being than if I asked the internet to validate my musings for me. Awkward to express, but basically… take it or leave it, I’ll be fine because I know (and value) who I am. From reading your beautiful blog, I’m pretty sure you know exactly what I mean 🙂

  4. My writing is like that sandwich. Conceptually, laterally, it’s pretty much an exact match! The problem I have is that what I write has to be saleable & I find the concepts I devise stuttering up against the demands of editors. The way I try to give dynamic to concept, to thought, through collisions of ideas (which create a conceptual ’emergent form’), the way I try (desperately) to give expression to the inexpressible through the mere, flawed vehicle of words – all gets squashed out in the end by the collaboration demanded of being marketable. Or it’s misinterpreted by people who don’t ‘get’ the meaning I put into the content and instead obsess over literal meanings they’ve found in specific words, which never occurred to me for a second…sigh…

    • …sigh, indeed! Echoed and amplified! I know exactly what you’re talking about – and I love that line “…stuttering up against the demands of editors.” Best way I’ve ever heard our common ailment put, hands down. Although this post draws on my industrial design background, the writer/editor collaboration is what actually got me going on this topic. I’ve had nightmares, no joke, about marketability! I’m part of ‘group story’ in my writers group and the process is, admittedly, driving me a bit bonkers. Once everyone starts editing and getting mucked up in personal interpretations (which you described so well), the whole thing becomes a battle of personalities and will. Frankly, I’m over it.

      Blogging is freedom in that we get to be our own editors, but how the heck does one turn that into something that can pay the bills? Age old question of our age lol. For now, I roll paper (literally, don’t ask) to feed my belly and blog (plus escape into my novel project) to feed my brain. Ah well, kudos for braving the battle, Matthew. You’re a major inspiration to us all!

  5. I couldn’t agree more and and I would also like to blow a rasberry at all the crap vernacular that comes with committee decision making ‘let’s blue sky this one,’ or ‘lets run this up the flagpole.’

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