Collaboration is king! Um, not so fast.

There is a huge push for collaboration within academia. It’s supposedly this holy grail of knowledge production. If you don’t collaborate — if you’re the “lone ranger” — then you are seen as a detriment to the department. So in this world, collaboration is king. And if you can find a way to do interdisciplinary collaboration, then you’re practically sainted, promoted, and granted tenure, no questions asked.

I know this is not the politically correct viewpoint (nobody every accused me of being PC), but I disagree with that statement “collaboration is king.” Collaboration stifles creativity. Consensus, which must be obtained in collaboration, means nobody gets what they want. Sure, there are some consensuses that everyone agrees on and feels like they got enough of what they want to be satisfied, but normally, consensus is simply a solution that doesn’t offend anyone and nobody is truly happy with. How is that useful?

I have been sitting in the New Faculty Teaching Institute at my institution the last couple of days. On the first day, we went to a classroom in a building that had recently been renovated and had these new “collaborative classrooms” where all the chairs/desks are on wheels, white boards are on all four sides of the room, there are two Smartboards, and two projectors on the ceiling. I walked into this room and immediately didn’t like it. Why? It’s designed to promote collaboration. There is no front of the room and the movable desks are designed to be able to be situated into any type of configuration you want. We were brainstorming all the ways we could use this classroom in our teaching, and everything that everyone came up with had to do with collaboration, group work, sharing, etc. I am not naturally one to speak up, but I had to. I knew, if I didn’t, we introverts would have gotten completely forgotten about. I said the first thing I noticed when I walked into this room was that it was great for collaboration and sharing, which is great if you’re an extrovert, but horrible if you’re an introvert. There’s no place to hide. If you want some peace and quiet, you have to leave the room and go sit in the bathroom stall.

Why do they push collaboration down people’s throats these days? Honestly, I don’t know why it’s such a hot thing now. I don’t disagree that there is some benefit to collaboration, but not in the way it’s being forced upon us now. Great ideas don’t come about by collaboration, but through one person thinking deeply about an issue, topic, or problem, then going to others to vet the idea. This is the kind of collaboration that is actually useful, not trying to come to a solution by group. Come up with your solution on your own and then run it by others to make sure you aren’t completely crazy.

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