A major theme of my weekly articles is that discovering the best collaboration opportunities is harder in a networked age than in the past. This is relevant because successful collaborations are the key to achieving most things we want in life. From information, to customers, to jobs, to romantic partners, everything we want is “behind” someone. Someone has to provide the information we need, or pay for our product/service, or look to hire someone like us, or choose us as their partner. In exchange, we give them our time and attention, or deliver our product/service, or work for them, or give them our love. Society runs on person-to-person interactions, even when mediated by technology.
The hard part of a successful collaboration is never about what we can do, but with whom and how. Sure, we have access to unlimited information, and we can connect with anyone in the world, and we can publish our thoughts immediately for free. However, that means that we must work hard in deciphering what we should and shouldn’t pay attention to, who we should and shouldn’t work with, and what we should say and where.
The trade-off for ease of access and abundant information is a higher risk of making suboptimal decisions. When there are unlimited options, it’s easier to miss the right target. If we lived forever, this wouldn’t be a problem. We would be able to try everything, or wait forever before making any decision. But time is limited. If we want to have an increasingly accurate sense of the world’s good and bad collaboration opportunities, there’s a limit to how much bad information we can absorb. Both action and inaction are risky, so we must be smart with our bets and learn from them.
A good initial way to get smarter is learning to identify bad risks: what not to read, who not to work with, who not to date. This process requires lifelong experimentation, but as Nassim Taleb said: “the learning of life is about what to avoid.”
The world doesn’t want you to succeed
Collaboration has become harder in a networked age because it’s harder to know what or who we should ignore. Since everyone has their own agenda, this means more agendas competing for our attention and with easier access to us than ever. Dan Ariely, the famous behavioral psychologist from Duke university says:
“The world is not acting in our long-term benefit. Imagine you walk down the street and every store is trying to get your money right now; in your pocket you have a phone and every app wants to control your attention right now. Most of the entities in our lives really want us to make mistakes in their favor. So the world is making things very, very difficult.”
Couple that with the fact that now we have almost full control of our online presence, and it’s very easy to fall prey to someone else’s agenda that goes against our best interest. It’s hard to know who’s lying or exaggerating on their own company website, social media profile, or blog.
There are exceptions and some people do pay for their lies (e.g.: the Jonah Lehrercase), but most people and organizations are free to say whatever they want with little fear of getting caught and suffering any consequences. For example, writer Dan Lyons recently published an op-ed for the New York Times about the working culture of the tech/startup world, and mischaracterized the best-selling book The Alliance as a way to reinforce his point on tech workers having no job security. Here’s an excerpt from the authors’ response to Lyons trying to correct the record:
“At the heart of our framework is the importance of building high-trust relationships. In The Alliance, we write, “Our goal is to provide a framework for moving from a transactional to a relational approach…By building a mutually beneficial alliance rather than simply exchanging money for time, employer and employee can invest in the relationship and take the risks necessary to pursue bigger payoffs.” Here’s how Dan describes our framework: “In [the author’s] view, a job is a transaction, one in which an employee provides a service, gets paid, and moves on.” It makes you wonder whether he actually read our book!”
I have read The Alliance and personally applied its framework with wonderful results, and I see two possibilities that can explain Lyons’ interpretation of The Alliance: either he didn’t read the book, or he read it but decided to ignore the facts in order to stick to his desired narrative.
Will there be any consequences to his unethical journalism? Will anyone care? Or is the damage already done, and the inaccurate information already cemented in his readers’ minds?
The online world is dominated by urgency and abundance. There’s a lot coming and we hurry to stay up to speed. This makes it difficult and annoying to fact check. We don’t have enough mental bandwidth to worry about accuracy or retractions. This is why I believe that a skill we all need to develop now is knowing how to detect the lies and exaggerations through all the deceiving bios, testimonials, brand associations, numbers of followers, and other narratives. The smart use of our limited time, money and attention is at stake.