The Invention of Collaborative Computing

At Stanford Research Institute in 1960s, Douglas Engelbart led an R&D team that created the first collaborative computing system. Here is a partial list of his team’s major achievements:

  • the first general purpose collaborative computing system for knowledge workers
  • desktop videoconferencing, application sharing, and computer-aided meetings
  • the computer mouse
  • hypertext editing and publishing system, including version control, hyperlinks, content filtering, and online help
  • outline and idea processing
  • distributed client-server computing
  • intoducing the notion of the “Networked Improvement Communities”

It all started with Doug asking “Imagine what it might be like?….”

” Imagine what it may be like to have information-handling “horsepower” available for your personal use, with means for interaction and control so that you could get useful help in your daily activities , and with procedures and environments developed to facilitate its use and take advantage of its capabilities……Imagine waht it may be like? “

Douglas Engelbart, Untitled Manuscript, March 14, 1961 ( Engelbart papers, box2, folder 15, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries )

Principles of Collaboration

Collaboration can be the key to effective use of our time, resources and effort. For creating successful collaborative environment, we must keep the following principles in mind:

    Do we have a shared goal?
    Do we know who’s who?
    Do we build status based on our actions?
    Do we agree that our behavior can be regulated according to our shared values?
    Are we interacting in a shared space that is appropriate to our goals?
    Can we relate to each other in smaller numbers?
    Do we have easy ways to share ideas and information?
    Do we know who belongs and who doesn’t?
    Can we trade knowledge, support, ideas?
    Can we easily indicate our opinions and preferences?
    Can we track our evolution?

Requisite Skills For Collaboration

The following are the requisite skills for collaboration to be applied in a typical working environment such as: production environment, project management situation, product launch, strategic planning effort, product development, customer service, or classroom teaching.

    Self awareness
    Social skills
    Intrapersonal skills
    Critical thinking
    Self help
    Self directed learning
    Research techniques
    Problem solving
    Precision & accuracy
    Team work

Create A Process For Collaboration

The first component of the collaborative process is to create the process itself. This involves the creation of essential guidelines that serve as the framework for how the collaborating parties will work together:

    Set ground rules that fit each particular project
    Define project scope, goal, and expected results
    Discuss leadership
    Define roles and responsibilities
    Discuss decision making methodology
    Set the priorities and milestones
    Discuss rewards and recognitions
    Teach each other / informal learning pathways
    Stay organized
    Discuss required resources
    Solicit feedback

Source: Greg Giesen

The Four Dimensional Model of Collaboration

This model suggests that collective action can be analyzed in terms of four dimensions operationalized by 10 indicators. Two of the dimensions involve relationships between individuals and two involve the organizational setting which influences collective action. The four dimensions are interrelated and influence each other.

The relational dimensions are:

1) Shared Goals and Vision refers to the existence of common goals and their appropriation by the team, the recognition of divergent motives, the diversity of definitions and expectations regarding collaboration;

2) Internalization refers to an awareness by professionals of their interdependencies and of the importance of managing them.  This translates into a sense of belonging, knowledge of each other’s values and discipline and mutual trust.

The organizational dimensions are:

3) Formalization is the extent to which documented procedures communicate desired outputs and behaviours and are being used. Formalization clarifies expectations and responsibilities.

4) Governance is  the leadership functions that support collaboration. Governance gives direction to and supports professionals as they implement innovations related to interprofessional and interorganizational collaborative practices.

Together, these four dimensions and the interaction between them capture the processes inherent in collaboration. They are subject to the influence of external and structural factors such as resources, financial constraints and policies.

Source:  BMC Health Center Research

The Indicators for Success

The following ten indicators can be considered to evaluate the processe of collaboration. The degree to which these indicators are achieved within an organization will show the gap between optimal collaboration and its current state.

The following four indicators are for evaluating the relational dimensions:

  • Goals
  • Client-centered orientation
  • Mutual acquaintanceship
  • Trust

The following six indicastors are for evaluating the organizational dimensions:

  • Centrality
  • Leadership
  • Support for innovation
  • Connectivity
  • Formalization Tools
  • Information Exchange

Source: BMC Health Services Research

The Typology of Collaboration

There are three catagories of colaboration: active collaboration, developing collaboration and potential collaboration.

Active collaboration is collaboration of the highest level. The partners have successfully established stable collaboration that is sustained despite any uncertainties in the system. The partners have adopted common, consensual goals, developed a sense of belonging and mutual trust and reached consensus on mechanisms and rules of governance. As a result, professional practices should be transformed on the basis of a new consensual division of interprofessional and interorganizational responsibilities and the introduction of innovative practices.

Developing collaboration is collaboration that has not taken root in the cultures of the partner organizations and may still be subject to re-evaluation on the basis of internal or environmental factors. Goals, relationships between partners, governance mechanisms, and formalization are the subject of a negotiating process that has not yet produced a consensus. The negotiations may be partial or a source of conflict, but they are nevertheless open, ongoing and accessible. This type of collaboration results in a tentative division of responsibilities between professionals and institutions; in timid transformations of professional practices; and in services that are less efficient than they might be. 

Potential collaboration refers to collaboration that does not yet exist or has been blocked by conflicts that are so serious that the system cannot move forward and satisfactory forms of collaboration cannot be implemented. When potential collaboration is characterized by significant opposing forces, either negotiations do not take place or they are constantly breaking down. It is therefore hard to introduce the new professional practices that the network needs, for innovation is difficult in an environment beset by a whole series of conflicts. Services may suffer from a loss of accessibility and continuity. Only by resolving the conflicts can collaboration be implemented. 

Source: BMC Health Services Research

Common Faults in Human Thought

When communicating with people, it’s important to understand their cognitive biases that our minds commonly do to distort our own view of reality. Some are adaptive, for example, because they lead to more effective actions in given contexts or enable faster decisions when faster decisions are of greater value. Others result from a lack of appropriate mental mechanisms, or from the misapplication of a mechanism that is adaptive under different circumstances.

Here are some examples:

Gambler’s Fallacy
The Gambler’s fallacy is the tendency to think that future probabilities are altered by past events, when in reality, they are not. Certain probabilities, such as getting a heads when you flip a (fair) coin, are always the same. The probability of getting a heads is 50%, it does not matter if you’ve gotten tails the last 10 flips.

Reactivity is the tendency of people to act or appear differently when they know that they are being observed.

Pareidolia is when random images or sounds are perceived as significant. The Rorschach Inkblot test was developed to use pareidolia to tap into people’s mental states. Testees are shown images of ambiguous pictures, and asked to describe what they see. Responses are analyzed to discover the testee’s hidden thoughts.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy
Self-fulfilling prophecy is engaging in behaviors that obtain results that confirm existing attitudes. A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that causes itself to become true. For example, I believe that I am going to do poorly in school, so I decrease the effort I put into my assignments and studying, and I end up doing poorly, just as I thought.

Economic Recessions are self-fulfilling prophecies. Because a recession is 2 quarters of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decline, you cannot know you are in a recession until you are at least 6 months into one. Unfortunately, at the first sign of decreasing GDP, the media reports a possible recession, people panic and start a chain of events that actually cause a recession.

The Halo Effect
The Halo effect is the tendency for an individual’s positive or negative trait to “spill over” to others’ perception of them. For example, the Physical Attractiveness Stereotype is when people assume that attractive individuals possess other socially desirable qualities, such as happiness, success and intelligence. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when attractive people are given privileged treatment such as better job opportunities and higher salaries.

Herd Mentality
Herd mentality is the tendency to adopt the opinions and follow the behaviors of the majority to feel safer and to avoid conflict.

Reactance is the urge to do the opposite of what someone wants you to do out of a need to resist a perceived attempt to constrain your freedom of choice. “Reverse Psychology” is an attempt to influence people using reactance. Tell someone (particularly children) to do the opposite of what you really want, and they will rebel and actually end up doing what you want.

Hyperbolic Discounting
Hyperbolic discounting is the tendency for people to prefer a smaller, immediate payoff over a larger, delayed payoff. Interestingly, delay time is a big factor in choosing an alternative in decision making. Put simply, most people would choose to get 20 dollars today instead of getting 100 dollars one year from today.

Escalation of Commitment
Escalation of commitment is the tendency for people to continue to support previously unsuccessful endeavors.

The Placebo Effect
The Placebo effect is when an ineffectual substance that is believed to have healing properties produces the desired effect. Especially common with medications, the placebo effect has been observed when individuals given a sugar pill for a real ailment report improvement.

Confirmation Bias
The confirmation bias is the tendency to look for or interpret information in a way that confirms beliefs. Individuals reinforce their ideas and attitudes by selectively collecting evidence or retrieving biased memories.

Availability Heuristic
The Availability heuristic is gauging what is more likely based on vivid memories. The problem is individuals tend to remember unusual events more than everyday, commonplace events. For example, airplane crashes receive lots of national media coverage. Fatal car crashes do not. However, more people are afraid of flying than driving a car, even though statistically airplane travel is safer.

Illusion of Control
Illusion of Control is the tendency for individuals to believe they can control or at least influence outcomes that they clearly have no influence on. For example when playing craps in a casino, people will throw the dice hard when they need a high number and soft when they need a low number. In reality, the strength of the throw will not guarantee a certain outcome, but the gambler believes they can control the number they roll.

Planning Fallacy
The Planning fallacy is the tendency to underestimate the time needed to complete tasks. The planning fallacy actually stems from another error, the “Optimism Bias”, which is the tendency for individuals to be overly positive about the outcome of planned actions. People are more susceptible to the planning fallacy when the task is something they have never done before. The reason for this is because we estimate based on past experiences. “Realistic Pessimism” is a phenomenon where depressed or overly pessimistic people more accurately predict task completion estimations.

Restraint Bias
Restraint Bias is the tendency to overestimate one’s ability to show restraint in the face of temptation, or the “perceived ability to have control over an impulse,” generally relating to hunger, drug and sexual impulses. The truth is people do not have control over visceral impulses; you can ignore hunger, but you cannot wish it away. Unfortunately, this bias has serious consequences. When an individual has an inflated (perceived) sense of control over their impulses, they tend to overexpose themselves to temptation, which in turn promotes the impulsive behavior.

Just-World Phenomenon
The Just-World Phenomenon is when witnesses of an injustice, in order to rationalize it, will search for things that the victim did to deserve it. This eases their anxiety and allows them to feel safe; if they avoid that behavior, injustice will not happen to them. This peace of mind comes at the expense of blaming the innocent victim. The Mean World Theory is a phenomenon where, due to violent television and media, viewers perceive the world as more dangerous than it really is, prompting excessive fear and protective measures.

Endowment Effect
The Endowment Effect is the idea that people will require more to give up an object than they would pay to acquire it. It is based on the hypothesis that people place a high value on their property. This happens frequently when people sell their cars and ask more than the book value of the vehicle, and nobody wants to pay the price. This bias is linked to two theories; “loss aversion” says that people prefer to avoid losses rather than obtain gains, and “status quo” bias says that people hate change and will avoid it unless the incentive to change is significant.

Self-Serving Bias
A Self-Serving Bias occurs when an individual attributes positive outcomes to internal factors and negative outcomes to external factors. This is very common as people regularly take credit for successes but refuse to accept responsibility for failures. When considering the outcomes of others, we attribute causes exactly the opposite as we do to ourselves. When we learn that the person who sits next to us failed the exam, we attribute it to an internal cause: that person is stupid or lazy. Likewise, if they aced the exam, they got lucky, or the professor likes them more. This is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error.

Cryptomnesia is a form of misattribution where a memory is mistaken for imagination. Also known as inadvertent plagiarism, this is actually a memory bias where a person (inaccurately) recalls producing an idea or thought. There are many proposed causes of Cryptomnesia, including cognitive impairment, and lack of memory reinforcement. False Memory Syndrome is a controversial condition where an individual’s identity and relationships are affected by false memories that are strongly believed to be true by the afflicted. Recovered Memory Therapies including hypnosis, probing questions and sedatives are often blamed for these false memories.

Bias Blind
The Bias blind spot is the tendency not to acknowledge one’s own thought biases. There is actually a bias to explain this bias (imagine that!). The Better-Than-Average Bias is the tendency for people to inaccurately rate themselves as better than the average person on socially desirable skills or positive traits. Coincidentally, they also rate themselves as lower than average on undesirable traits.

Attribute Substitution
This explain cognitive biases. Attribute substitution is a process individuals go through when they have to make a computationally complex judgment. Instead of making the difficult judgment, we unconsciously substitute an easily calculated heuristic (Heuristics are strategies using easily accessible, though loosely related, information to aid problem solving). These heuristics are simple rules that everyone uses everyday when processing information, they generally work well for us; however, they occasionally cause systematic errors, aka, cognitive biases.

Source: Listverse, June 2010