Some time ago I worked on a project at Apple Computer called the Apple Open Collaboration Environment. I remember being struck at the time by the dual meaning of the word ‘collaboration’. On the one hand, it means ‘to cooperate’ or ‘work together’, but it also has a darker connotation, a special sort of traitor, as in ‘Nazi collaborator’. Collaborators are people who betray the interests of their class or group, sometimes in order to benefit personally, or else out of a misguided sense of identity, as in the Marxist concept of ‘false consciousness’. The collaborator may believe that he or she is ‘doing the right thing’ overall, when in fact their actions are a matter of misplaced role playing.

You can see this in all walks of life and in various circumstances. There is the worker on the shop floor who acts against the union, in collaboration with management, to obstruct or hinder developments which would be in the best interest of all workers. Political operatives can be seen as collaborators when their “reaching across the aisle” acts to fracture the solidarity of their party, Individuals in any minority can be labeled as collaborators when they are seen to identify with the majority or ‘other’ dominant group.

Often times the division of powers in an organization serves a real purpose, and it is in the best interests of the organization as a whole that each group perform its won function, consider its own interests, rather than try to divine what is in the best interest of the whole. There are hierarchies for just this reason. We have balance of powers in our republic because the originators believed that ‘checks and balances’ were the best way to restrain unbridled power by any one faction.

Even in your own small business, you can find this principle operating. In my own case, I work for a quality assurance group in a software company. Our job is to find defects in the product, report them, and then later verify they were fixed. Another group, the software development group is responsible for creating the product and repairing the defects. The QA organization often needs to expand its set of tools in order to perform its duties, so it asks for features which will help them. Development may say yes or no, and that is their function, When one person in the QA organization feels that they have the best interests of the whole company at heart, and either refuses to ask for features out of deference, or actively blocks another person’s attempt to get those features, they are acting as collaborators. You can easily imagine these same people in some small village somewhere, reporting to the local feudal lord about the activities of the other peasants!

It’s an allegory, of course, but sometimes it helps to put local behaviors in a more global context. Perspective can be gained.


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