Collaborative Authorship as Negotiation

The pies de resistance of collaborative authorship in the online world today is, of course, Wikipedia. As would be expected, the behemoth is perhaps the best source of examples that decry the pitfalls of collaborative authorship; viscious edit-wars, discussion and talk pages that could make one ashamed to be a [fill in the blank; Cyprenian…democrat…MC Hammer fan], and plenty of just plain bad writing [though, truth be told, I spent 20 minutes looking for an example to link here and, well, failed to find one. Feel free to help me fill in this rather egregious omission].

On the other hand, Wikipedia also provides compelling examples of all the touted benefits of collaborative authorship; the challenged assumptions and resultant mind-broadening preserved forever in the edit logs, the synergistic effect on the writing itself [all articles are arguably better than they were on first up-load,] and as Jon Murray observed during his ground-breaking Murder, Madness and Mayhem project, argumentation, communication and interpersonal skills necessary to negotiate with the public sphere in this manner.

Collaborative authorship is truly a negotiation process; a complex and elegant one at that. As in any business or personal negotiation:

  • Coming in unprepared is the surest way to guarantee unsatisfactory results.
  • Understanding the interests and priorities of the other side is almost as important as understanding your own.
  • Interests are more important than positions; every interest could be satisfied by multiple different positions.
  • The pie is seldom really fixed. Shared or complimentary interests can create a bargaining zone even where there isn’t one.
  • Playing hardball is usually both painful and ineffective. Escalation and emotions usually just back you into a corner.
  • Making proposals and asking for proposals moves negotiations forward. Not arguing over positions.
  • Developing your BATNA gives you power.
  • Concessions are the exchange currency of negotiation; they can and should be used to communicate.
  • A refusal to share information limits your potential for influence.
  • A little humility goes a long way: asking for specific advice can turn an adversary into an idea [and therefore compromise] generating partner.

As in so many other cases [“underground” scientific reasoning in video game strategy, for example] it seems that in order to maximize the benefit of these natural processes, and make them more likely to be generalized/transferred to other potential real-world applications, the connections need to be made explicit. Students with fluency in a language that allowed them to strategize, practical experience applying those strategies and frameworks for analyzing the results of these “negotiations” would be well-prepared indeed for some of the most trying and potentially rewarding “collaborative authorship” experiences of life.

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Creativity Outside the Box

Second negotiation for MBA631 was also pretty simple. After a short discussion [literally 10 minutes of the 25 we had been allotted], we determined that the minimum price she could accept was more than than the maximum price I was authorized to offer, and without too much disappointment [figuring this was the point of the exercise] reported our impasse to the instructor.

Imagine my surprise when only a third of the class had come to the same impasse. Sure, some of the teams’ agreements were “invalid” as they had violated the terms of the case materials. Sure, technically, we had been right; there isn’t room for an agreement in a negative bargaining zone. But somehow, some of the pairs had come to novel solutions of compelling mutual benefit.

I was ashamed. I, the graphic designer, the “independent creative” had been singularly un-creative. I learned two very significant lessons:

  • Creativity is an indispensable tool. It shouldn’t be kept in my back pocket, it should be out in my hand, in use, at all times. How much is lost by simply accepting “impasses” at face value in all areas of our lives; difficult relationships, bureaucratic requirements, schedule conflicts, etc.? How many of those “impasses” might not be impasses at all if we just applied a little creativity–looked a the situation from a different perspective, questioned some assumptions, took a risk?
  • The efficacy of creativity is often contingent on trust. In the debrief, we talked a lot about looking beyond BATNAs and reservation prices to interests and values–the stuff way closer to people’s hearts that is the reason they ask for what they ask for and behave they way they do. But precisely because they are closer to our hearts, we often play those interests and values closer to our chests. We feel vulnerable exposing the deeper reasons for our opinions/desires/edicts, but choosing to do so anyway creates space, loosens things up, allows creativity to wiggle into the loopholes and create compromise and even mutual benefit in situations that otherwise might end up in “impasse.”

Why Doesn’t Win-Win Feel Like Winning?

Our first negotiation exercise for MBA631 was pretty simple. I was selling a biomedical manufacturing plant, she wanted to buy it.

In the end, it turns out that McKensie and almost exactly split the difference between the next best case for each of us. $4M more than I could have gotten otherwise, $4M less than the most she could pay.

Perfect solution, right? Best of both worlds for both of us, right? No hard tactics, no manipulation, nobody was taken advantage of.

So, why am I still trying to convince myself?