Michael Schrage is an expert on the technologies and techniques of working together. He's an MIT research associate and the author of "No More Teams!: Mastering the Dynamics of Creative Collaboration" (Doubleday Currency, 1995). So what's his favorite collaboration tool? The face-to-face meeting.
Isn't it the dream of technology to make us more connected than ever?
Sometimes the dream becomes a nightmare. True story: a Silicon Valley engineering firm loved email. So people thought, "Screw meetings. If we have a problem, we'll get together in person. Otherwise, let's handle everything over the Net." After 60 days they went back to holding weekly meetings. Why? Who wants to get together only to have arguments? The more technology mediates relationships, the more important face-to-face contact becomes.
Are you against online collaboration?
No. It's just that low-tech meetings can be just as good as high-tech collaboration. A blackboard or a napkin can be a perfect medium for shared work. But if you can't draw, clip art and a Web whiteboard can be great tools too.
What's your biggest reservation about online technologies?
Most collaboration software automates processes we don't really understand. Survey after survey shows that people consider meetings their biggest waste of time. So what's the first thing we recreate in cyberspace? Meetings!
What can people do to collaborate online better?
Impose constraints. You want to save time in an online meeting? Limit the time! You need to think as much about the constraints you're imposing as the opportunities you're creating.
Coordinates: Michael Schrage, email@example.com .
A version of this article appeared in the October/November 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.