Collaborate or Die – Why Collaboration Is Important To Small Business

“Anyone who uses the phrase
‘easy as taking candy from a baby’
has never tried taking candy from a baby.” –
R. Hood

Let me start with a personal story. I have an acquaintance who’s freelancing as web developer. More on a creative side, less on programming, but essentially the same web development and web design as we do at Zealus. We’ve known each other for quite some time. This person (let’s call him John) oftentimes asks for my help on projects just to drop me off a few hours or days later. The typical conversation goes the same every time – first a phone call for help, brief description of the project and (almost) begging because John has overestimated his capacity or knowledge. I spend about an hour explaining and pointing out at least two acceptable solutions. John thanks me in the warmest terms. In about 10 – 12 hours (usually early next morning) he’s calling me again to discuss more ideas or ask more questions which takes up another hour. During this conversation John would offer me either to take the project completely off his hands, have me equally involved or make other advances – usually to make me divulge as much thinking as I possibly can regarding my approach to solving his problem. Then, out of nowhere, he would come up with completely different scheme of things that simplifies the problem to one single bare bone and makes my role in a project completely redundant. With elevated cheer and almost theatrical (in a bad sense) happiness he says something about how happy he was to be able to find such a simple solution and how he’s going to nail himself, since it will be so simple. With all that said he hangs up for another year or so.

So why do I always fall for his cries for help. Obviously, I’ve seen this go through time and time again. I know the story inside out and can even predict what his simplified solution would be. How come I keep giving up my time for this schmuck?

Well, first of all, any such story pretty much always ends the same – John has never landed a job from the client he needed someone else’s help with. So I am not the biggest looser here. There are, however, certain takeaways from any such situation that I think are worth spending my time on.

First – it’s a good Q & A practice. You would think you’ve had enough practice answering your other clients’ questions, but you would be wrong. Practice makes perfect, practicing on someone your income doesn’t depend on is saving you money. Think about that for a second – you are getting a free target practice session to polish your Q&A skills topped with fuzzy warm feeling that you are trying to help somebody.

Second – it’s a collective brain storming. Even a way less qualified person that you are is capable of coming up with inventive idea you didn’t think of, twice so – in creative environment. Listen before saying something is the rule of thumb. It’s like digging for diamonds in the rough, but some diamonds are well worth it.

Third – it is good to train your brains on someone else’s problem. Your brain actually functions differently (with a lot less stress) if you don’t have to solve the problem. So you end up with really good ideas and solutions for things you still may encounter in a future – but at least you will be prepared well in advance.

Fourth – I get to hear what other crazy requirements people have for services similar to mine. This way I can think of/create something in advance and beat my competitors by over-delivering before they even start talking. Think about this – if everybody out there wants a forum installed (which actually was the case a few years back) you can do your home work and pair up with great forum developer or designer who specializes in forum skins. When the time comes and you get asked to add a forum to your client’s site – you don’t go on a desperate trip to find someone capable of doing things at any cost, you go to a person you pre-screened for this job already.

Fifth – and the last one for today – is the simple fact that I am selling myself to John every time he asks me something. He may do this for a different reason (to extract information) but what he ultimately hears is that I can do this job for him better than he can do it himself. When the time comes and he gets that big fat client that he would not want to drop at any cost – I’ll be there.

As you can see, even these little things are well worth the trouble, let alone other perks (free coffee?). This is why collaboration – even if you cannot understand or realize its benefits right away – is always better. Once you start collaborating with your peers, you turn them into your agents, instead of head-on competitors. More on that – in the next post, stay tuned.

Google Plus: A few more features would be a plus

As I finally got my hands on Google+ invites and started exploring the service it’s inevitable that it was found lacking. No, scratch that, it was found definitely wanting. It is well understood that Google+ is in a very early stages and, in words of some popular blog “they haven’t even put it in the oven yet, so don’t judge the cookie by the dough“.

So consider the following a “please do” list, rather than a list of complaints.
1. Where is my real-time integration with other services, Facebook and Twitter in particular? This is a big one and besides – Google is about “you and them”, while all others are about “them and you”. Had Google come to a bare land, it would be fine if no import/export functionality would exist. Now, I have people following me on Twitter, I have Facebook account and a separate page for my photography business. I also have a bunch of other account more or less social (Blogger, LiveJournal, Flickr – to name a few), so it’s hard to keep them all in sync. Had Google provided the facility to post to them all – I would visit my +Zealus more often than once a week.

2. Picking who to add could be better. I have a list of 500 people none of whom I know and the only reason why they show up is because they have Google+ account. If I want just anybody – I’ll go to Twitter, Circles is a great idea, now let me use it! Especially that Google+ has access to my address book.

3. Sane URL to my profile page. It’s not a big deal, but again – Google+ isn’t coming to a barren land, even Facebook has “vanity” URLs feature.

4. Put in the Wave functionality! Not into chat, but into the main thing! If anything can have the most bang out of Wave technology – it’s Google+, particularly in smaller circles. Example – distributed development team and management brainstorming their next move. Or client in Chicago working with PM in New York and team in Ukraine on a new web site. Possibilities are endless.

5. Let me change that damn color scheme. It’s depressing, boring and totally discouraging me from using Google Plus. I don’t say I want to go Myspace on it, but at least I want different colors.

6. I can haz Pages? I can’t possibly stuff all the things I do into my profile, it would not make any sense. So something similar to Facebook pages (only more sane) would definitely do some good. Now if these pages could have circles… If circles can have circles… Gets kind of scary.

Again, this is just a cursory overlook of all the things that should essentially be a part of GooglePlus, but aren’t. For a brand new social engine – they are must have. Let’s see how long it will take Google to implement the most important ones.