What Do HASTAC, the Beatles, and Steve Jobs Have in Common?
In this month's Fast Company, some of the newly discovered "basement tapes" of Steve Jobs are discussed and quoted from (and, if you have the right app, you can even download and here Jobs literally in his own voice). What he has in common with HASTAC is our method of "collaboraiton by difference." The reason we began as a collaboratory across the sciences, humanities, arts, and social sciences is we were all committed to the idea that, if you really want innovation, you need to design a project from the start with experts in many fields, non-experts, end-users, and even random cantankerous folks who are willing to speak up about what is or isn't working.
Too much collaboration is "close collaboration" or "add-on collaboration." In the former, you all basically agree to start with so you end up cheerleading one another. In the latter, you really just add on other skillsets as you need them but don't really build in truly cross-disciplinary challenges. Unless you are careful in how you plan a team, you can build self-affirmation and replication rather than challenging, contrary, difference. "Difference is our operating system," Fiona Barnett, director of the HASTAC Scholars, has said. And it's our methodology too.
Steve Jobs agreed. He insisted that truly innovative collaboration had to work with partners who might share the same goal but who may not have the same view of the world, skills, expertise, point of view---they might not even like one another. Take the Beatles. That's the example Jobs uses. They not only each supplied a certain genius but their strongly opinionated views of music and art and the world meant that each prevented the other from doing too much in that direction. So Paul prevented John from turning the Beatles into an arty indy band only for intellectuals. And John prevented Paul from turning it into a pop boy group. Harrison insisted on the soul. Jobs isn't sure what Ringo contributed but he was sure it was something that not only contributed but curtailed, not only collaborated but put on the brakes.
Collaboration by difference, we call it at HASTAC. We're glad Steve agrees that it's a key to radically transformative thinking. Cue John, Paul, George, and Ringo: Yah. Yah. Yah. Yah!
Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, a 9000+ network committed to new modes of collaboration, research, learning, and institutional change. Along with a steering committee of scholars across many fields, Davidson has been directing HASTAC's operations since 2006, when www.hastac.org moved to Duke University, where she also co-directs the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge. She is author of The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking Press). She is co-PI on the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions. NOTE: The views expressed in Cat in the Stack blogs and in her book NOW YOU SEE IT are solely those of the author and not of HASTAC, nor of any institution or organization. Davidson also writes on her own author blog, www.nowyouseeit.net .