"Where I grew up, learning was a collective activity. But when I got to school and tried to share learning with other students that was called cheating. The curriculum sent the clear message to me that learning was a highly individualistic, almost secretive, endeavor. My working class experience . . . was disparaged."
Henry A Giroux, Border Crossings, NY: Routledge, 1992
When I first heard James Surowiecki, it was on NPR around the time his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, was published. Something about his ideas made sense to me . . . under certain circumstances people often agreed on a fact or decision. In the last week, there's been some buzz generated by David Freedman in his article for the latest issue of Inc., The Idiocy of Crowds. there's a lot I can take issue with in the article, but in one rash statement, he's really pushed a hot button for me:
The effectiveness of groups, teamwork, collaboration, and consensus is largely a myth. In many cases, individuals do much better on their own. Our bias toward groups is counterproductive. And the technology of ubiquitous connectedness is making the problem worse.
Freedman seems to have decided that anything but going through life as the "lone ranger" brings out the worst in all of us. With some classic examples of office politics, power plays and outright stupidity, he bashes the working relationships that provide the intellectual rigor, experience, insight and just plain joy of creating something together. Just as the quote I put at the top of this post explains, kids instinctively seek each other and mess around. Mud pies, bed sheet theaters, and plans to run away were the inventions of the first teams I belonged to. When things toppled or lost direction, the immediate response was to go at it one more time until it worked. That's learning at ground level . . . the real kind that takes hold and sticks.
And that jab about the seamless technology of web2.0 . . . we'll get a lot out of it as we "play" together. The only thing, as Giroux notes, is that it will take getting over the very thing Freedman seems to want "individualistic, almost secretive, endeavor[s]". We've taught employees how to get in a game they can't play fairly. Sleight of hand, engineered repartee, intimidation and veiled agendas . . . How could that make it easy to collaborate? Take those conditions away and people can join together with honesty, trust and transparency -- face-to-face or online.