Collaboration Lessons Learned from Tasmania

The Tessellated Pavement from Tasmania

The Tessellated Pavement from Tasmania

Tasmania is an island off the coast of Australia which was attached to Australia until about 10,000 years ago with the end of the last glacial period.  The island is home to many interesting animals and was home to the Tasmanian Aborigines.  These people became isolated from the mainland about 10,000 years ago.  It is this isolation and these people I want to focus on.

So what do Aborigines have to do with Collaboration?  What does an ice age glacier have to do with people getting together and working together?  Why are we looking at these specific people at this specific time?  The reason this is all interesting is that 10,000 years ago a divide was created between two people groups.  This divide was big enough that people were not able to travel between the island and the mainland.  Essentially 10,000 years ago, the people of Tasmania became a lab for asking questions about the value of collaboration.

So what questions can we ask?  The first is what happens to the level of culture, technology development, and standard of living after a group of people are no longer able to collaborate?  It turns out that this first question is easy to address.  Ten thousand years ago, when they split from the mainland, the aboriginal people had a technology level that included fire making, clothing, boomerangs, spears, shields, stone tools, bone tools, compound tools (axe head on a handle), tools to create canoes out of downed trees, clothing,  and fishing.  When the Europeans finally arrived in 1642, the aborigines on the mainland still had all these technologies; however the aborigines on Tasmania no longer had any of these technologies.  They had abandoned them.  In the harsh winters they had walked away from clothing.  While living on the coast, they had forgotten how to fish.

What lessons can be learned from this?  Invention is a function of population you are allowed to collaborate with.  Another lesson is that technology is usually invented elsewhere, in other words, technology is invented by taking two ideas from outside and merging them into a third, new idea. Another idea is that technology has to be maintained, and this maintenance is done via collaboration.  Some groups will ignore something and consider it taboo, while others will only use a given technology in a limited fashion.  It’s only through collaboration and seeing what others are doing that a given piece of technology is fully utilized or even maintained.

So what does this all mean for us today?  Well, I will answer that question with another question.  Is there anything blocking your ability to collaborate with peers in other companies and parts of the world or other parts of the company?  Is that thing that’s blocking you something you are doing to yourself?  Are you ignoring other teams because they do things differently?  Are you creating taboos for tools and saying something can’t be used to solve a certain problem?  Are you in an environment that that doesn’t allow you to talk to others in your industry?

Today the progression of technology is at a rate unheard of 10,000 years ago.  Moore’s Law would argue that the level of technology doubles every 18 months.  The level of technology on the Australian mainland didn’t double over those 10,000 years.  So my question is, are you in IT, and have you collaborated with other people outside your industry, company, workgroup, or comfort zone in the last 18 months?   In the last 18 months have you participated in activities that would discourage others who are not in your industry, company, workgroup, or comfort zone from interacting with you?  In the last 18 months has your environment kept you from doing these things?  If the answer is yes to any of these, I challenge you that now is the time for a change.

Adaptability is the behavior of those who survive.

Photo by JJ Harrison (http://www.noodlesnacks.com/), (Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.5) share alike, attribution required

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