Rice or Wheat? Depending on what your forefathers grew, it affects how you collaborate now!
When we want a break from revolutionizing the ways teams communicate at Twoodo, our whole team likes to dive deep into the history of human collaboration. After all, the behaviors we have today are remnants of our past.
For thousands of years, we farmed for ourselves and our community. Wheat is a mainstay of “the West” and rice is a staple crop of “the East”. What is so interesting about these two crops is that they quite possibly changed the way we collaborate today. A study was conducted to see why Eastern cultures in Asia (generally speaking) are more collaborative than the individualists of Western regions such as the USA and Europe. The researchers say the cause is rice and wheat. Not kidding!
Growing rice and growing wheat are two very different activities. Wheat is relatively simple – plant, water, wait. The activities afterwards, like harvesting and grinding into flour took a group effort that ran up until recent times, but did not involve an entire community. Rice is different. A rice paddy requires many hands throughout the growth process to maintain the irrigation.
This way of life affected the culture to become interdependent rather than independent, and strongly based on custom rather than exploring new ideas. Yes, the Chinese in particular learned to be great at community collaboration – but because of excessive groupthink and abiding by custom, analytical thinking and innovation was lowered. They were 700 years ahead of Britain in forging iron, yet the Industrial Revolution did not happen in China. The practice was all but forgotten.
This is not to say that the wheat-growing West is all the better for being more independent. The European Union was developed since WWII at first as an economic institution, but then as a larger institution built to drive better cooperation amongst Europe’s fragmented nations and cultures. But the base philosophy of this area of the world supports the rights of the individual – and with that comes freedom from community duties and the chance to think differently, to try out new ideas without being a social deviant.
Food is survival. Cultivating it has been the primary activity of humans for a large part of our existence. It is no surprise that the manner in which we cultivated it would strongly impact our relationships to each other and our perceived roles in a community.
Blending both for the optimal mix – the shared to do list
We have moved on from our agrarian past to city life and labour. But we carry vestiges of our long history of how we grow and gather food. Large projects require many hands. Creative tasks require thinking differently. Individuality and teamwork have both pros and cons, but it is a skilled manager that can harness the pros of both for his team. As a project grows larger, roles need to be defined better. Tasks across individuals need to be known by the group at large so that the scope and progress of the project is clear. Even a community project is a series of individual tasks all combined fluidly together. A lack of knowledge as to who is doing what can unravel the operation. This is why shared task lists are such a simple and effective of collaborating but within the scope of individual and communal benefits.
The other barrier to working as a group but in individual roles is the clash of tools. If information cannot be transferred effectively in a group, it damages the success of the project. Imagine if half the people working in the rice paddy spoke two different dialects of Chinese? A vague notion of what needs to be done is understood but precise actions are a mystery. I have encountered this often in my freelancing projects. Different people use different tools just for the simple action of exchanging information. I have to download multiple programs or learn different tools that I abandon as soon as the project is over. Or we both have to learn new workflows, for something as simple as she’s on iOS and he’s on Android. And this is despite our technological prowess.
Why do we collaborate now?
New machinery has changed how we cultivate food and work together. In fact, you could argue that it has encouraged even more individualism as we depend less on other people to help us out. Is there a risk that we are forgetting how to work together? Are our individual, creative ideas worth much if we cannot work well as a group or a community to bring the idea to fruition?
We are developing a collaboration tool to help teams communicate naturally. One of our biggest challenges is getting people to use it with their whole teams. As we talked to our super-users about why they collaborate, we found ourselves in a somewhat philosophical moment as we searched for the real “why”. Why do people used shared task lists and project management tools?
A method developed by the founder of Toyota, and later repurposed by Eric Ries for The Lean Startup, seeks to find the root cause of something. It is commonly used for problem-solving, but it can also be used for behavioural analysis. We knew why we loved using our tool. We wanted to explore why our super-users loved it, and understand more profoundly the added value. This information could be used to refine our brand, streamline our copy, become the base of our design choices. Here is what we found out.
Question: Why do you use a shared to do list or project management tool?
- “To get things done in team projects.”
- “To coordinate our team’s efforts”
- “To know what everyone is up to?”
- “To meet our objectives.”
- “To reach our goals”
- “To make sure all deadlines are respected and projects are successful”
- “To get recognition from the rest of the company.”
- “Because I’m responsible for this important project”
- “To make the company successful without having to work 16 hour days”
- “To feel good about myself and get a raise.”
- “Because 21 people’s job depend on it”
- “To be more relaxed”
- “To have a happier life.”
- “To maintain stability and comfort in my life and that of our employees”
- “To have more time for my family and friends”
After the 5th “why” the answers tended to all be the same. Collaborating on projects and tasks is ultimately in pursuit of happiness!
With the comfort of hindsight, we can look back at wheat and rice growing communities and see how Eastern and Western societies have developed different attitudes to collaboration. We can zoom out to compare and contrast the results. The takeaway? We have the tools to take the best of both worlds and apply them to our workflows. Despite our deep ties to the past, we have an amazing capacity to adapt to new and better ways. To be happy.