Collaboration for introverts

Mark Boulton wrote a forceful counter-argument to the common mantra that collaboration results in better design. From Quietly working:

I see plenty of banner waving for collaborative working. Co-designing, pair programming, brainstorming, collaborative workshops. The overwhelming message is that these tools are better for reaching consensus, sharing work, and, ultimately, lead to better work. Well, I’m not so sure that’s the truth. Given my introverted nature, sometimes these activities can rush the process too much. They allow no time for me to think. […]

Personally speaking, a lot of the time, I’d rather listen to what you have to say and go and have a good think.

Mark makes some very good points, and as an introvert myself, his message really resonates with me. But I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. It’s not that we either collaborate, or work alone. Collaboration that doesn’t allow time and space for working alone is ineffective collaboration.

There are two illustrations about the collaboration process that summarize this idea well. The first is from Trent Walton’s Being Prepared To Contribute:

Better ideas

An idea, followed by discussion, often results in better ideas. But the “Better idea” step doesn’t happen in a meeting room — it happens at the designer’s desk, when they have time to reflect and focus on the problem without interruption.

The second illustration is from Stefan Klocek’s excellent post Better together; the practice of successful creative collaboration:


It shows how collaboration doesn’t mean that everyone should do everything together. Important decisions are made together, but the production details (the “better ideas”) happen while working alone.

So I’m definitely with Mark on his call for having more time to think and work alone. But that isn’t an alternative to collaborative working. It’s just a necessary — and too often ignored — part of the collaboration process.

(link via @ChrisFerdinandi)