Collaboration as Art

January 27, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve recently seen a few videos that have made me think about whether collaboration is a “natural” thing. (I tend to run from this kind of thinking – usually finding discussions of what is “natural” or what is “human nature” ways of making room for all kinds of human constructs.) My brother recently shared this video of Bottlenose Dolphins working together in what’s called “mud ring” feeding:

Which reminded me (for obvious reasons) of the amazing “bubble net” feeding of Humpback Whales found in Southeast Alaska (but not, apparently, elsewhere):

Each whale clearly has a role to play (and it’s an amazingly beautiful “design”). Off Cape Cod, they coordinate to feed as well, but don’t use bubble nets.

Which started me thinking about humpback whale songs – long, extremely complex, patterned vocalizations which constantly change over time and each population of whales is singing a different song at any point in time – all changing. The songs change enough that someone studying them can recognize approximately the date a song was sung and which population it came from. And yet, after years of study, no one has been able to identify a “leader.” It seems that all the whales are contributing to the change. Roger and Katy Payne used to describe the changes as “cultural evolution” and sometimes as “fashion.”

And while humans seem to have taken the practice of collaboration much deeper, through intentional approaches to designing processes that attempt to ensure things like inclusion, equity of voice, and clarity about decision-making, it’s wonderful to see how other animals collaborate as well. Collaboration really is a thing of beauty!

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  • Charlie says:

    A lot of people could learn much from watching those two clips. Thanks for sharing.

  • Curtis Ogden says:

    Thanks, Linda. It seems complex systems and ecological research shows that collaboration is indeed a natural phenomenon (but not at the exclusion of competition). Research in old growth forests shows evolution of species that sustain one another (spores and trees for example) and can only survive if they keep this collaborative relationship. There’s an important lesson in that for our species, no doubt.

  • Gibran says:

    BEAUTIFUL Linda – thank you so much for bringing our attention to the evolutionary role of collaborative behavior – intriguing when we consider how absolutely competitive evolution also is. So much beauty in these processes. Your comment about the lack of a “leader” makes me wonder how much more of our work could be focused on creating the conditions for collaboration to emerge!

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