Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Art of Self Reliance

Most complex fields, like science, are collaborative by nature.  People specialize in a field they are talented in and contribute to projects based on their talents.  When another person can do some work that's required better, faster, and cheaper, some coordination of efforts takes place and the project is passed around like a relay baton.  They call this collaboration and it's supposed to be seamless.

In reality, there's a cost to collaboration.  It's the overhead required to coordinate all these separate parts of work; the meetings, identification of work to be shared, and usually some hunting around for the right person to do the experiments in just the right way, followed by informal negotiation of when the work gets done.

Sometimes, the quantum of work to be delegated is so small that it's not even worth spreading the collaboration out.  You simply have to find the best person on your team (sometimes just you) and have them get the job done.  So someone that's never build a Markov Model will learn how to build one, or learn how to prepare next generation sequencing libraries.  Some would argue that, in the long run, this is still an inefficient way to get things done. 

But the process is educational, moves you to self-reliance, and it builds an appreciation for the difficulties other people live with.  You might even learn that pitching some "collaborations" on prospective partners are much bigger requests of them than you initially imagined.  Displaying sensitivity to their time might even help move them from No to Yes!