Collaborative Writing is “…A Different Kettle of Shoes”

May 24, 2009

Thanks to Robbin Zeff Warner for posting the  “…A Different Kettle of Shoes” entry from her husband Gene’s  Innocents Abroad  blog to the Writing Program Administrators discussion list.  

Gene captures something essential about the nature of collaborative writing, there.  What’s true of NATO’s collaborators is true–if on a somewhat smaller scale–of most all instances of writing by committee: in the push to honor every sensitivity, include every perspective, address every fear, and anticipate every possible political objection, we inevitably sacrifice clarity.  

For all its joys, collaboration always involves some risks. AxisPortals sometimes thinks the story of the The Blind Men and the Elephant should be meditated upon prior to any committee meeting that will result in a collaboratively written document.  Most committees can’t quite claim NATO’s brand of international, multilingual diversity, but when various disciplines, departments, or brands of expertise are present, the result is the same.  

That’s one “kettle of shoes” in which lots of us have walked a kilometer or two.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  With a clear sense of purpose, an appreciation of the risks,  and an excellent sense of humor, one can enjoy the delights of collaborative writing without creating elaphantine sentences that few will appreciate, and fewer still will understand.    

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A Study in Online Collaboration: Open Mosaic

April 2, 2009

Open Mosaic makes for an interesting study in the ways of collaboration. Earlier this evening, AxisPortals visited the site to add a tree.  The tree was all branches and leaves.  It wasn’t fruit bearing, and it had no background.

Less than five minutes later, the tree was dotted with apples,  and surrounded by a jaunty teal sky with its very own square yellow sun.  Grass and a hot pink and red flower in full bloom soon followed.  Who knows what’s next?  Before the evening is over, the tree could be part of an entire forest, or it could be entirely gone.

Watching the mosaic evolve reminds AxisPortals that digital collaboration with far flung colleagues often requires a certain je ne sais quoi.  To participate fully in the process, and to enjoy it–and to allow others the freedom to do the same–one must be enthusiastic and willing to chase a vision, but must never be so unyieldingly focused on a single vision that it  disrupts emergence of the always shifting whole.  Yielding gracefully, after all (as gracefully as the digital branches in the mosaic yield to the pixel wielder of the moment) , plays a crucial role in collaboration.  There’s plenty of room for individuality and originality, here, but there’s little room for the fixed or the permanent.

Collaborative Mosaic

AxisPortals Aphorism: Online collaboration isn’t really about thinking outside of the box.  It’s about sharing the sandbox willingly, with good humor, and with grace. (So, wish AxisPortals’ tree good luck, but don’t mourn its passing when it goes–something new is sure to grow there.)