What matters most when I’m collaborating on activity X isn’t activity X, it’s collaborating.
I’ve given this MCE series a lot of thought, which is why the items appear so slowly. My take seems fundamentally different from what others seem to be saying. And it doesn’t feel like a tweak. It’s not one premise of the zeitgeist I would change, but most of them.
Some ideas are baked so deeply into the zeitgeist, it is very difficult to use the language of that zeitgeist to examine them or propose alternatives to them. So, especially, with today’s topic, which can be loosely characterized as a strong sense of obliquity. Here’s a clip from Game Of Thrones, "Arya’s Archery", Less than 90 seconds, no graphic violence.
The belief that the best way to hit target X is to "aim" at target X, to point all your awareness & will & effort & thought at target X, is so common as to be nearly invisible to us, through all our activity on all our varied X’s.
I hold that belief highly suspect.
(In my view, it’s part of a whole system of interlaced reinforcing beliefs. I’ve spent 3 years on my private slack wrangling with friends about it. It’s over-arching to me, comes up all the time, & has no simple fixed name. We call it TSIAAOA, "That Shit I Am Always On About".)
At first blush, the character’s words, "Never aim." seem mystical. One of the merits of the scene, though, is that he doesn’t stop there, leaving you lost in a mysterious fake-oriental fog, but goes on to say in the simplest terms what he means. So after he says never aim, he says: "Your eye knows where it wants the arrows to go. Trust your eye." And the mystical fog suddenly seems a lot less mysterious and playful.
And this analogy might give you a feel for what I mean when I say that the most important part of collaborating on activity X isn’t activity X, it’s the collaborating. Take a second, and consider the hundreds, more likely thousands, of things that you are doing right now, even as you read these words, without the least application whatsoever of thought, will, or awareness.
You can start very close to the flesh, of course, with what we all think of as our fundamental autonomic activity. The beating of the heart, the breathing, etc. But it doesn’t stop there. I’m smoking, typing, reading. I’m adjusting my back to keep me upright. I’m moving my eyes in little discrete motions called saccades. I’m sipping my Diet Coke, pausing to look out over the forest, and so on. And I’m not "aiming" at any of these. I’m just doing them.
My performance at these activities is very high. (I daresay I’m a top-notch cigarette-smoker.) And it’s even more than that: for many of these things, the more I "aim" at them the worse I actually do at them.
Here are some ways I mess up when I collaborate on activity X and aim too hard at the activity and not enough on the collaboration.
- I lose any ideas in the room that I didn’t already have when I started. At times, this keeps me from seeing ways forward that are significantly better than the ones I started with.
- I lose any moral or emotional or psychological support I could be taking from my sense that I’m part of an "us", which seems entirely incidental and irrelevant right up to the point where I desperately need the courage to make a choice about X.
- I lose energy in the normal sinusoid patterns all humans do, and because I’ve foregone collaboration, I’m "solo-with-others", there’s no one there to take up the slack.
- I poison my future collaborations, by lessening their anticipated value to anyone who was present this time. Collaborating with me can come to seem like a chore.
- I lose much of my opportunity not just to learn, we’ve covered that, but also to teach. By over-aiming at X I under-share any special skills I have at X, which keeps me the only person around who ever has to do X.
There’s more ways than this that I can screw up a collaboration on activity X by "aiming" at X. Take my word for it, I’ve done all these and plenty more.
I like that clip I showed you. I like that it makes its point in such simple terms. It overstates the point, of course, and it raises at least as many questions as it does give answers. That’s, actually, what I like about it.
When I am at my best, and I collaborate on activity X, I am aiming at successful collaboration more than I am aiming at activity X.
"Your eye knows where it wants the arrows to go. Trust your eye."