The long run

In the long run, we’re all dead. (John Maynard Keynes)

Can collaboration persist? Should collaboration persist?

It could be argued that many of the benefits of collaboration degrade over time. Perspectives could harmonise so that the same ideas circle around like vultures over a ransacked carcass. The creative tensions that fuel collaboration could be exhausted, or explode into animosity. Is it worth the time and trouble to keep a collaborative endeavour going?

Game theory would suggest that it is. In the classic ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’ game two suspects are kept apart and asked to make a decision as to whether they defect (i.e. rat on their partner) or cooperate (stay silent). In a one-off game it is always better to defect; irrespective of what your partner does your material outcome improves by being bad. If the game is iterative, the long-term pay-off rewards cooperation. This is seen as a possible explanation as to how communal species develop in evolution.

But it’s difficult. Long-term relationships are hard to maintain. If half of marriages end in divorce, then how do collaborations endure where are there no certificates or dependents involved? The answer probably involves lots of hard work and negotiation. It might also involve playing the field.

Whenever one is locked into collaboration there is a significant potential for discord. Fault lines can be big things (I don’t know where we’re going) or little things (I hate the way you suck your teeth). The grass over there can look awfully green when you’ve been clumping around your own lawn for too long. So perhaps we should encourage our collaborators to collaborate elsewhere to test this out? After all, it worked for Take That.

Or perhaps we should introduce fixed terms for collaboration, where all parties review how it is working, and whether it should continue at all. It might help to overcome the problem of staying together by habit rather than choice. Either way, any collaboration needs review and renewal if it is to keep working beyond the short term. After that, we’re all dead anyway.

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