(last updated on April 29, 2014)
I love the idea of collaboration. It’s such an open, positive-sounding term, harmonizing sweetly with concepts like sharing and cooperation. It’s an idealistic term too; when I close my eyes, I imagine a spring meadow filled with people young and old, their hands linked gladly together. It all sounds so nice. And yet…somehow it isn’t quite me.
Maybe I’m a product of the old school, born too late in the Digital Revolution to have absorbed the essential optimism of Web 2.0. I certainly can feel it, but it doesn’t run as deep as an older pattern that I identify with, that of the outsider working against the system. In other words: I miss being a schemer, getting together with my co-conspirators to hatch some new head-exploding idea. Maybe this is a natural reaction from having run in “transparency mode” for so long, letting all my intentions and feelings show as plainly as I can.
Elements of a Good Schemer
The word “collaboration” has such an agreeable sound. It’s a very bright, mature-sounding word, just what you’d need to craft that great team slogan. It smacks of open communication and transparency. I have to admit, though, that I feel a greater connection to the schemers. Maybe it’s because the word “collaboration” sounds so darn responsible and adult, and I’m feeling like I need to have some fun. While I’d take “collaboration” over “hostile opposition” any day of the week, having a co-conspirator is even better.
It’s a pity that “scheming” is almost universally associated with immoral behavior. Schemers have secrets and are underhanded. Schemers have agendas and talk in whispers. But you know what? Schemers are the ones who are plotting the big exciting things. Now, I’m not promoting terrorism or illegal activity, but I think that there’s something pretty darn cool about defining your goals in opposition to something you feel strongly about. This is a form of passion. Sometimes, these passions must be nurtured in secret before they are strong enough to stand on their own and face the light.
So what does one expect from a good “co-schemer”?
- A co-schemer buys into your idea completely, because it’s their idea too.
- A co-schemer is passionate about “the cause”.
- A co-schemer is a natural catalyst to other co-schemers, generating energy
- A co-schemer has your back when things go all pear-shaped.
By comparison, a good collaborator focuses on slightly different things:
- A collaborator contributes their piece to a whole
- A collaborator is passionate about collaborating with people
- A collaborator keeps a project going by adding their piece
- A collaborator focuses his attention on the project
I’m seeing a kind of emotional vs rational duaity here: schemers are passionate about doing, and collaborators are reliably productive. It’s pretty clear to me that you need both to find the perfect partner in crime. Up to now, I think I have been mostly focusing on the elements of a good collaborator (rational). I haven’t really thought about scheming as a necessary component.
What should you look for in a good schemer?
- They laugh at your obscure jokes
- They are serious about The Cause, but not so serious that they can’t joke about it
- They are able to “keep up”
- You find yourself talking constantly about The Cause with them
- You prod each other into results-producing action.
- They happily celebrate every result with you
- They can readily envision and communicate what the world would be like when The Cause comes to fruition
- They leave you feelingl energized, not drained
Finding a co-schemer is more difficult, because you’ll have to make yourself vulnerable by broadcasting your crazy ideas, risking ridicule. But you know, it’s totally worth it: I met one of my best friends in the 10th grade while we were moving some boxes around for a school fair. We found that we were both interested in computers, and for some reason I offhandedly mentioned that I could imitate the sounds a disk drive made when booting a favorite game. Which I proceeded to do. Result: life-long friend and former game company startup co-conspirator. To find these people, you’ve got to take some chances. When you find the right co-schemer, the universe will be a more joyful place.
So what is it about scheming that’s so attractive? For me, it’s the challenge of surprising the status quo by introducing my own ruleset. Schemers pit themselves against the world, seeking to change it through extraordinarily clever ways. It’s a counter-cultural attitude to have, and you need to have a LOT of that attitude if you want to effect really big changes. Otherwise, it’s far easier to just go along with what’s going on. Everone else is doing that already. To scheme is to see the whole of life as something that you can change by changing the rules. It takes a special person to recognize that.
That’s all I really have to say on the subject. If you’re stuck on some particular part of your life, maybe you need someone to scheme with. It’s no fun scheming alone…you need someone who both has the ability and skills, AND the right kind of crazy to match your own. If we were all in the same room I’d make everyone pick a Scheming Buddy. I certainly can use a few now. In lieu of making disk drive noises (I can see the young’uns out there scratching their heads, wondering what the heck I’m talking about), I will just point potential applicants to My Gauntlet of Productivity, which is the dorkiest thing I’ve put online. Are you this kind of crazy? Can you top it? If so, I think we had better talk. :-)