When considering the question of collaboration and its role in the context of work, human groups and more widely of society as a whole, it is interesting to take this opportunity to question its true nature and the benefits and disadvantages it offers.
I would personally argue that collaboration is a behaviour that has largely contributed (and continues to do so) to the development of the complexity and refinement of diverse human projects, be they of a personal, professional, scientific, cultural nature or else.
This statement and others that you will find in this text are inspired by my readings of anthropological research. The sub-disciplines of Primatology and Behavioural Ecology are especially interested in the links between sociocultural behaviours and adaptive success.
Obviously, many other specific research fields like the study of kinship systems, psychology or even sociology are interested in the adaptive nature of behaviours in the broad sense. Remember that what is considered to be adaptive is what is favouring the survival and/or breeding of an individual or group. We can therefore establish statistically that certain behaviours or cultural traits have a positive effect on the sustainability of the organisms adopting them.
Human Behavioural Ecology applies the Theory of Evolution’s principles as well as those of mathematical optimization to the study of human behaviour and cultural diversity. It examines the adaptive dimension of human behaviours and their links with the environment. Among other things, it looks to determine how environmental and social factors influence and shape behavioural flexibility within human populations.
For its part, Primatology is interested in all primates so also humans. Its goal is to increase knowledge of them and extract broad ecological, physiological and behavioural tendencies. Therefore, it also sheds an interesting light, among other things, on different behavioural or cultural manifestations and their influence on survival and reproductive ability of primates.
We will not go into the details of specific behaviours, but most research conducted on this tends to demonstrate that collaboration is globally desirable from a natural selection’s point of view. It is adaptive in the sense that the overall pros are greater and more numerous than the cons. Indeed, it allows individuals and human groups to accomplish tasks that would otherwise be inaccessible and thus increases their chances of surviving and reproducing.
Not only does it allow us to conduct complex projects, but collaboration also influences our capacity to feed ourselves or ensure our individual or collective security.
Even though they are obviously different, we can compare collaboration with generosity or empathy; in the sense that it has been shown that they positively contribute to the ability to survive or reproduce of individuals and groups. We could consider that on the contrary, selfishness and the aptitude to ignore other people’s feelings help individuals or groups in their appropriation of resources or their domination efforts, but the advantages of this individualism or clan spirit mostly do not surpass those offered by more harmonious relationships.
Evidently, there are several levels of collaboration when we consider groups rather than individuals. The latter can direct their collaborative efforts exclusively toward members of the group and act selfishly with individuals belonging to other groups. It can also be exclusiveness reserved for family and we can then consider the systems governing the relations of kinship, the family membership and the collaboration that is implied. But these subtleties are out of our focus and are only more complex manifestations of the same phenomenon.
The idea here is simply to highlight the natural and advantageous aspects of collaboration. It can appear obvious to some people but the non-negligible presence of selfish and even antisocial or sociopathic behaviours within human groups influence many into perceiving them as normal.
It will be interesting in a next post to take a look at the concrete benefits of collaboration in the modern world and more specifically in the context of work, but it first seemed necessary to establish the scientifically positive nature of this behaviour.
What do you think? What have been your collaboration experiences? How collaboration has positively or negatively influenced your life journey?