Is collaboration really a good in its own right?
The winners of the Netflix Prize (an inducement prize established by Netflix to reward the developers of a better algorithm for picking movies for customers) spoke recently to a group of science and technology teachers, telling them that collaboration was the tool that made their prize-winning solution possible. And while they're probably right, there's been painfully little effort put into using what we know about psychology and cognitive science in a way that will help students understand their strengths and weaknesses in ways that will help them make the best use of the good and compensate for the bad. Collaboration, for instance, can be an extremely useful tool in some areas, like science. But it can be a terrible approach to others, like evacuating passengers from an airplane crash. Some people are born collaborators; others are born to give comfort, or to work alone, or to lead. Using the Myers-Briggs personality inventory, for instance, an ENTJ type isn't likely to collaborate well under any circumstances -- he or she is most likely going to say, "We can make this really quick and easy if you'll just do exactly what I tell you." (In fact, that would make a far better characteristic quote than the one often cited elsewhere as the ENTJ trademark: "I'm really sorry you have to die.") And they'll often be right when they promise to get things done faster and more efficiently than others. It's a style that won't work well in a collaborative environment, but it'll often produce superior results when fighting a war or building a business. As much as knowing how productive certain approaches like collaboration can be, is knowing which approaches will suit the individual best, and how to tailor circumstances to make the best of the strengths of the people involved.
The problem with public broadcasting
The government official charged with overseeing the BBC likes the material that Britain's public broadcaster creates, but worries that it could be displacing private-sector investment in better television and radio. And he's right to have that concern, just as the government's ownership of General Motors has raised questions about whether political tricks are being played against other automotive manufacturers. Governments could be very successful in any number of sectors, but the problem is that they have relatively unlimited budgets with which to do so. Give a person an unlimited budget to achieve anything, and he or she can put the competition out of business by creating a great product, then subsidizing it like crazy. And when publicly-owned companies produce inferior material, then they're just wasting the taxpayer's dollar twice as badly.
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