Collaboration and the Atom

The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Richard Rhodes) is a book that has been sitting on my shelf for some years. I pulled it off the shelf the other day for a little light reading. I am not finished with it yet, hardly even started it but it is full of relatively useless facts about early physics and the discovery of the atom. Well useless for most SharePoint developers. Interesting none the less.

Early in the book the author writes about a chemist/philosopher Michael Polanyi. Polanyi was asking questions about the scientific community at the time. I wont go into the details – don’t want to give away the book 🙂 In his view (Polanyi’s) to discribe how the scientific community worked the author provides this :

From The Making of the Atomic Bomb..

“Polanyi proposed an analogy. Imagine, he said, a group of workers faced with the problem of assembling a very large, very complex jigsaw puzzle. How could they organize themselves to do the job most efficiently?

Each worker could take some of the pieces from the pile and try to fit them together. That would be efficient if assembling a puzzle was like shelling peas. But it wasn’t. The pieces weren’t isolated. They fitted together into a whole. And the chance of any one worker’s collection of pieces fitting together was small. Even if the group made enough copies of the pieces to give every worker the entire puzzle to attack, no one would accomplish as much alone as the group might if it could contrive a way to work together.

The best way to do the job, Polanyi argued, was to allow each worker to keep track of what every other worker was doing. “Let them work on putting the puzzle together in the site of the others, so that every time a piece of it is fitted in by one [worker], all the others will immediately watch out for the next step that becomes possible in consequence.” That way even though each worker acts on his own initiative, he acts to further the entire group’s achievement. The group works independently together; the puzzle is assembled in the most efficient way.”

I found Polanyi’s analogy very interesting. Isn’t this what we are striving for in the enterprise today with tools such as Office Suite, SharePoint and Communication Server? The author does not detail exactly when Polanyi spoke of this analogy but the context of the statements in the book suggest early 1900’s.

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