A common complaint these days is that our work tools and practices bias much too heavily towards constant collaboration. We’re all drowning in Slack pings and meetings, and what we really desperately need is some time to close the office door and just…think.
While I’m sympathetic, I think this view is too simplistic. Thinking alone and thinking together aren’t two ends of a one-dimensional number line that we can tune with a dial; the interplay is far richer than that!
A couple years ago, I moved from working at a fast-growing YC startup to being a grad student in computer science. Ah, no more Slack pings, and an empty calendar: I could finally just…think. This has actually been quite nice in practice: I can spend a morning reading a research paper on a whim, and the empty space does seem to enable me to think new thoughts. But I also quickly realized that this isn’t sufficient, and collaboration still plays an essential role in nearly all of my work. Whether it’s getting feedback from my advisor, leaning on teammates to make progress, or just having a fun time throwing around ideas, I need to work with others to make progress.