You may have heard the tale that “Eskimos have 50 words for snow.” This tale has been disapproved. But the general idea is still appealing: that if something is important and regularly encountered by people they will get more specific about it and adapt their language to properly describe what they see.
If humans can adapt language that quickly I hope they do so with regards to collaboration within enterprises. There are many problems encountered by buyers, sellers and users of collaboration tools. They include how to define the market they are in, how to convince users to use them and how to convince executives they are needed.
Would all of this would be easier if we actually had better words for what we mean and what we are trying to do with collaboration? How about some linguistic dexterity to go along with the digital sort?
Sure, collaboration means working with others to achieve a goal, but that isn’t specific enough to define a competitive market space or answer questions about how a product will solve recognized problems. Collaboration can mean many things depending on the nature of the work and the goal. For example, in the 1940s people got shot for collaborating. That definition (“traitorous cooperation with an enemy”) implied that work was passing secret information and the goal was destruction of your country.
How about words that distinguish these forms of collaboration that could be used in product descriptions:
- Real time (like video conferencing) from asynchronous collaboration (like email)?
- Social interaction from the more goal-oriented sort?
- Contributing written paragraphs versus offering helpful thoughtful questions or helpful comments and review?
- Collaboration based on delivery of a product with a customer versus collaboration internally?
- Collaboration as an attitude or attribute?
Can one collaborate with systems as opposed to people? You wouldn’t know it from the kind of language we use.
If collaboration is really that important to us, maybe we should develop new words to express ourselves. I haven’t seen that happening yet but if it does, I will know that collaboration is now as common as snow in the Arctic.