In my new book, Collaborate or Die: How Being a Jerk Kills Ideas and Careers, I write about many things – like Ego – that impede collaboration. One issue that I axed from the book, but worth posting about, is that ubiquitous communication platform that set many a collaborative effort ablaze:
My apologies to whoever created it, but I’m convinced Email – other setting up a calendar invite – is largely a terrible communication idea in almost every way. I can think of some politicians that would agree with me.
And it’s most definitely a highly dysfunctional way to collaborate in the pursuit of great creative ideas.
First off, unless you’re a great writer – and most people are not – tone is nearly impossible to convey accurately in an email. So people constantly get bent out of shape, often misunderstanding a person’s intention behind a given message. Emails with critical information and ideas are often missed too, lost in overflowing inboxes, never to be opened to begin with. For the one-finger peckers out there, emails are also a serious time-suck, whereas a conversation could convey the same information, in a much clearer way, in 1/1000th of the time. Email also makes the sender think other people are “covered off” on the “plan” when, in reality, they don’t even know what the “plan” is since they misread or missed the email altogether.
Besides all of the problems listed above, when it comes to creating ideas with other people, our little friend, Email, is perhaps at its communication, collaboration-inhibiting worst.
When you’re creating ideas with other people, it’s never a linear process – ideas go forwards, backwards, sideways and then forwards again. You add things to the idea, you subtract things, then you add new things yet again, all in the pursuit of making the idea better.
Ideas, and the conversations that help make them better, are highly nuanced. Emails, unfortunately, have all the nuance of a caveman painting.
I always say I like to “beat up the idea”. For me, that’s what these collaborative sessions discussing ideas with other smart, collaborative people feel like: a chance to truly vet and improve the idea. In these sessions, you get to see where the idea is weak, see where it’s strong and discover how it could be better. This process (and if you’re a collaborative creative person you know what I’m talking about) is essential if you want an idea to be truly great.
Unfortunately, this process is nearly impossible over email.
What two, three or four people could achieve by talking about an idea, will take all day over email. Over email, you will waste tons of time. You will misconstrue things about the idea. Your blood will likely begin to boil, at times, when you believe what someone is suggesting about the idea is all wrong, misguided or just plain stupid. By the way, usually when someone suggests something that seems stupid over email, in a conversation later I discover that what they were trying to say makes a whole lot of sense. The problem was, I didn’t read the email right, skipped over a key sentence or even missed their email altogether. Meanwhile, the other person with a perfectly legitimate point about the idea wonders why I have not responded to their email; an email I misunderstood, or worse, never even saw.
Email has created lots of unnecessary angst for me over my career. It’s wasted my time. Wound me up unnecessarily. Alienated bosses and peers. All because I was too lazy to get off my butt to walk over or pick up the phone and do the unthinkable: actually have a conversation with the person in real time.
Conversely, I have seen what appeared to be wide chasms of perspective over Email, be resolved by a 5-minute conversation. Not only have schisms of perspective been bridged by conversation, but I have seen ideas take massive leaps forwards, which is real goal of collaborating when creating ideas.
Collaboration in the pursuit of great ideas, in the end, is a human endeavor and requires human beings to actually be together for it to work.
Technology has done many wonderful things for the workplace, but when it comes to creating ideas via collaboration, Email is a killer.
Oh, and texting stinks too.