The simplest things are the most important --- especially when people need to work together. Witness a recent newspaper report re lawsuits filed by college professors who were denied tenure because they weren't "collegial" enough. These were smart, highly creative individuals, expert at getting grants and doing research and publishing papers. They just weren't any good at relating to other human beings. And nobody told them (or so their lawyers argued) that they should be!

Hmmm ... maybe they weren't so "smart" after all? As a comrade (JS) pointed out to me long ago, the big reason for people to band together is not to maximize short-term productivity --- it's to make up for each other's deficiencies, to help one another over the rough spots, and to take turns in hacking away at intractable problems, so that eventually the problems can be solved ... or at least reduced to tolerable annoyances.

Efficiency is often overrated. Yes, an individual genius can make a brilliant breakthrough --- sometimes. But such quantum leaps only take a chip off the mountain. There's a lot more of life that doesn't yield to laser-like mega-clever insight.

Poul Anderson in one of his science fiction stories named a spaceship Muddling Through. The name was an allusion to the real way to make progress: not by centralized planning but by patient effort, recovery from mistakes, and the steady accumulation of many small contributions. (And luck helps too!)

(see also Peter Kropotkin's comments in CommonUnderstanding (8 Oct 1999), plus musings in TalentForCollaboration (8 Dec 2001), UltraMan (8 May 2002), ...)

TopicSociety - TopicLife - 2002-08-21

(correlates: FactorAndFactotum, EaseOfUse, FastWalker, ...)

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