The Collaboration Matrix or Why 1+1 = 3


By Mary Jaksch

This post is about the joys and challenges of collaboration. If you only have a couple of minutes to spare, listen to the podcast that Leo Babauta and I created. It’s an example of how collaboration – like all true synergy- creates more than the sum of what each person can bring to the table.

If you have a little more time, and want to increase creativity and fun in your life – as well as become more productive – read on to get the full juice.

At school I was bad at math. And as you can see in the title, I haven’t improved. But I’ve discovered something. It’s electrifying, life-changing, challenging. And fun. Do you want it too? Actually, it’s not a question of having or not having. Because what I’m talking about is a paradigm shift that will eventually effect each one of us.

We are all part of a new wave. And we have a choice: we can either be drowned by it – or we can learn to surf. I’m for surfing!

First of all, let’s look at the old paradigm.

The old paradigm: The writer is an island

International copyright laws imply that each writer owns clearly defined intellectual property. For our purpose, let’s imagine that this property is an island. Something like this:

Photo by Aaron Escobar
Photo by Aaron Escoba

Each island is closely guarded. Signs say: “Danger! My words are protected by copyright dogs.”
But who benefits from copyright?

It’s important to realize that the idea of copyright was developed by the  printing industry, and not by writers or readers. The history of copyright shows that it is linked to the technology of print.

With the development of the Internet, things have changed. Fast. In fact, we are plunged into a continuous, rapid development.

The new Paradigm: A writer is part of a Collaboration Matrix

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a matrix is a grid-like array of elements; a lattice. On one level, the Collaboration Matrix means that people on the Internet are interconnected. But more than that, it means that we are a brain. Scientist and entrepreneur Jeff M. Stibel wrote an interesting post about the implications of the Internet replicating the brain.

Image by ocean.flynn
image by ocean.flynn

Ok, so if we are a brain – what does that mean?

A brain is a dynamic environment. When two bits of information intersect, an idea is formed. Then the idea triggers radiant thinking. This means that the brain makes countless associations, radiating in all directions. (That’s why mindmaps work). If we are a brain, then we need to connect and form pathways to each other. We need to build upon each other’s ideas and innovations. In this dynamic environment, the ‘writer is an island’ paradigm has no place any more.

Who drives the development of the Internet?

The great revolution on the Internet is the Open Source movement. The key to Open Source software is that it’s free. As Jolie O’Dell says it’s free-as-in-beer and free-as-in-free-to-move-about-the-Internet. Open-Source companies often give away their basic product and then charge customers for support, services or upgraded products. The Open Source movement is gathering momentum. In fact, Open Source proponents are putting a lot of pressure on the US government to use Open Source software.

The basic premise of Open Source is that co-creation fosters innovation.

A great example is the development of WordPress as a blogging platform. Freelance developers have built upon the basic, free WordPress platform, and have created innovative plugins which can turn WordPress into powerful information – or membership systems.


Uncopyright is an initiative inspired by the Open Source movement.

I recently uncopyrighted, following Leo Babauta’s suggestion in a recent podcast we created together.  A reader commented: “Copyright is one of those things that brakes the world. I wish more people would follow your example.”

Remember I told you that I discovered something that’s electrifying, life-changing, challenging, and fun? It’s collaboration. Inspired by the Open Source movement, I’ve opened up all areas of my professional life to collaboration.

In the next section I’ll show you my toolbox for collaboration. And then comes the clincher: you can listen to a podcast that Leo Babauta and I made together. Then you’ll understand why I say that 1 plus 1 equals 3!

Tools for collaboration

Let me say straight away that there’s no one tool that covers all collaboration tasks. Or if there is, please let me know about it! At present no one system seems to be able to cope with a variety of different kinds of projects. And with  different stages within a project.


Photo by geishaboy500

Here are some different scenarios:

1. Communicating within groups

Let’s say that you want to foster communication within a group, say, a club or other organisation where members live in far-flung places. How can you do that?

The old way is to use email. I think it’s hopeless for group communication! It just doesn’t work: conversations get tangled up into various streams; people click on ‘reply’ instead of  ‘reply to all’ and vital pieces of conversation gets lost. My experience is that group members give up on interactive participation.

Google Groups
This is more structured than email. But the problem is that there is no central repository where information can be retrieved.

Blogs are a great way to foster inter-group conversations, especially if everyone has access as a contributor. Downsides are that many people don’t know how to work with blogs, as well as privacy issues.

For the group of Zen teachers, I’ve installed a WordPress blog, using the Wishlist Member plugin for privacy. Wishlist turns a normal WP site into a powerful CMS (content management system). A single license costs $97 – which is quite expensive. But for that you get the software together with exemplary  customer service: WishList offer ‘driving instructions’ in the form of twentynine how-to videos, as well as four PDFs that even I can understand – plus a live helpdesk person.

2. Collaborating in small teams

Collaborating with others is what really sets my pants on fire! Because the outcome of collaboration is not a linear addition of each person’s creativity, like one plus one equals two. It’s more like: 1+1=3!


Photo by new1mproved

Here are some project stages and how to manage them:

Brainstorm and Action Plan
The first thing you need to do when starting a project is to brainstorm and plan in real-time. It’s important to keep a record of brainwaves, and to finally bring some sort of order into the ideas so that a plan can evolve.

I use Skype for long-distance meetings. In order to record notes, I either use the Skype chat function, or I record the meeting with Audio HiJack Pro.  It’s a Mac program and you can use the free version for any audio up to 10 minutes. If you want to record longer audios, the single user license is $32. An equivalent for Windows is Jaksta (which captures both audio and video files). The price 29.95

Instead of Skype, you can also use GoogleTalk voice and video chat.

For brainstorming I use mindmaps on MindMeister in conjunction with Skype. MindMeister is free for up to 3 mindmaps. The great thing about Mindmeister is that you can collaborate in real-time. This means that you and your partner can both add new ideas to the mindmap – and it’s updated immediately. The Mindmeister/Skype combo rocks for brainstorming! (For other mindmapping options, read my post How to Use a Genius Tool for Writers: Mind Maps.)

Project Management
Once your project is underway, it needs to be managed.
A simple way to share and change documents is through Google Docs. It works ok for sharing documents, but isn’t a particularly good tool for project management, as there is no option to group tasks in order of priority, or assign particular tasks to team members.

Leo Babauta has recently introduced me to Basecamp, (price: $24 for 15 projects). We are currently using it for creating the A-list Blogging Bootcamps. I like it a lot! It’s simple, clear and useful. (Read a post on how other people are using Basecamp).

Virtual Classroom
For me the ultimate adventure in collaboration is the use of feedback loops. One way to use a feedback loop is through virtual classrooms.

What is a virtual classroom and how could you use it? Well, imagine that you have enrolled in a long-distance course. The old way was to receive pre-packaged material that’s either rolled out in advance or sequentially. This means that the content is set and can’t be adapted or changed during the course.

The new way is to use feedback loops. This is what Leo Babauta and I are experimenting with in our upcoming  A-List Blogging Bootcamps. We are using a triple feedback loop in order to insure that what we teach fits peoples’ learning needs.

  1. The first feedback loop is the series of 10 audio podcasts, What Bloggers Want to Know which answer questions that Write to Done readers asked Leo about blogging. (Check out the first one here).
  2. The second feedback loop is a private bootcamp forum where members can ask questions and respond to each other, as well as to the trainers.
  3. The third loop is a daily live video webinar during the 10 day Bootcamp where members can ask real-time questions and get answers from Leo.

We are going to use Ustream for the video webinars. The sessions will be password protected and also recorded for those who are not available at the time of streaming.

There is a virtual classroom system that I have high hopes for. WizIQ is an Indian development that may revolutionize the way we study at a distance. When a live virtual class is in progress, you can see the presenter in a real-time video, as well as grant voice and even video permissions to participants. That means that you can hand the audio and video control to a participant so that they can be seen or heard by all. You can also show videos, images or written text on a ‘whiteboard’ for all to see. And you can even allow participants to scribble on it – which can lead to chaos!

WizIQ is still in development and there are some bugs that need to be ironed out. But it’s my pick for future collaboration.

Finally, here is Podcast #1 from Leo Babauta’s series “What Bloggers Want to Know”. Leo and I take up the questions that bloggers sent and discuss them. You can listen to it or download it here:

Leo Babauta and I both enjoyed creating the series of podcasts. Because we sparke off ideas in each other. This is what I love about collaboration:

Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of parts.

If you enjoy the Podcast #1 and want to listen to the next ones in the series, click here to get them. They’re free.

Mary Jaksch is Editor-in-Chief at Write to Done. Grab her FREE report How to Write Like an A-List Blogger. Mary has helped thousands of students successfully create outstanding and profitable blogs at A-List Blogging and is the blogger behind Goodlife ZEN.

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26 thoughts on “The Collaboration Matrix or Why 1+1 = 3”

  • Maggie T says:

    That’s a wonderful article, Mary! It’s inspiring to read about your journey of collaboration. Is this a new direction for you or have you always loved working with others?

    I want to join the Blogging Bootcamp. For years I’ve suffered from debilitating depression. Now I seem to have emerged from it.

    I want to create a blog that helps others fight depression. Many, many people suffer from depression. So I want to build a big blog that really reaches people and helps them to find a happier life. I’ve listened to the inspiring podcast and know that Leo’s course will help me to create a blog that really works.

  • Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi Maggie!
    Yes, this is a new direction for me. I used to enjoy working on my own. But now I love working with others. It’s inspiring. And it’s fun.
    The best thing about collaboration is that you work together – and turn into friends.

  • Suzannah says:

    Hey Mary,
    It’s so interesting to hear from someone who loves to collaborate with other writers. Personally, I think I got smothered with collaborative projects during teacher’s college! Being able to work effectively in groups is a really useful skill—one I think we should all challenge ourselves to improve on, even if we’d prefer to work alone.

  • jonathan says:

    This post _really_ jives with me. I’m one of the co-founders of Nevermet Press – a small press publishing company for the tabletop roleplaying game market (very small). Aside from what we produce, what’s been really fun/cool is how we do it – all through crowd sourcing our content development – so much so that our tagline is “instant community driven gaming content”. It’s all about collaboration. For instance – anyone can contribute by writing concept designs, doing illustrations, editing, etc. My partner and I act as project managers – but other than that everything NMP produces is the result of this sort of meta-mind of the crowd.

    It’s an experiment is extreme collaboration I suppose. You can read a recent review of what we’re doing on WIRED here: “How To Crowdsource A Villain”.

  • Very interesting. As both a writer and a publisher I hear lots and lots about copyright. Many discussions about the need to guard our copyright. I love learning about the potential to break away from old molds….

  • Vanessa says:

    Ooo! Maggie! If you need/want a collaborator I’d love to be involved! I’ve suffered from recurring depression since my teens and only started managing it well in the last couple of years. I’d absolutely love to be involved with something that helps other sufferers (and their families and friends). How do we get in touch?

  • Thanks for linking to Alex’s post on Basecamp – glad you found it worth recommending! We’re MindMeister fans too, and it’s always fascinating to see how someone else uses these tools.

  • George w says:

    Lord, save us from this blogger bullcrap! Blogger inbreeding will destroy the genepool.

  • Hi Mary,

    This is great! I’ve been chewing on a collaborative idea for a bit now and I’m starting to put some meat on the bones of my proposal. It’s good to know that what I’ve been doing has me on the right track 🙂

    I just became aware of Mind Meister and it looks pretty straight forward. The freeware mind mapping software I use is xmind ( It’s easy to use and can be used for collaborative group efforts as well.

    I’ll check out some of the other resources you have here. Thanks Mary! 🙂

  • Kimberly says:

    Great article for a newbie to collaboration and we are 5,000 miles apart. I agree on the Freemind and found Personal Brain awkward for my learning curve. Mind Meister is already open on another tab and ready for download. Thanks!
    One tip I offer for Skype recording is an awesome app by ECamm called “Call Recorder”. It comes with a great set of “Movie tools” to convert the MOV for internet, mp3,AAC, AIFF. Can also split tracks and mark tracks. It has an automatic start preference, saves without any action– at close of call and the audio quality is nice. I tried quite a few before buying this one for ~ $14, I think it had a trial–but I was sold on the first call. Really happy with the seamless operation and lack of focus required –as I frequently need a break after some calls.
    Thanks to Leo for the Tweet that brought me here tonight to another great website.

  • Baker says:

    Interesting post. A new paridigm shift for some people.


  • Kat Eden says:

    The beauty of online collaboration is that it creates such an even playing field. Not that I’ve ever tried to have a book published in the ‘real’ world, but from what I hear it’s all about luck and who you know.

    The internet takes all that away – top bloggers and online experts willingly collaborate with newcomers who can prove they’ve got great content, and with the nature of blogging making being that you only have yourself to depend on for proof, it really is a case of hard work and creativity paying off.

    Not saying that blogging has been or ever will be an easy journey, but it sure is one that’s easier to stick to when so many rewards are within foreseeable reach!

  • I think that collaboration is important, particularly in creative practices such as writing.

    Since I have been working in a team content writing I feel as though my writing has improved, not just because I am practicing regularly but because we are all able to bounce ideas off one and other, read each others work and generally offer advice.

  • janice says:

    I loved George W’s comment! Part of me agrees.

    Collaboration works best, I think, if it’s organic. If you’re drawn to folk and start working with them naturally, before deliberately thinking of it as collaboration. I also think it should be based on fun. No fun, no point.

    In my case, I’ve worked with people I’ve admired, people who have helped me, people who’ve inspired me, people I can support or whom I’ve wanted to pay back some way.

    It’s a word that turns a lot of folk off, but I think you have to resonate before you collaborate.

    Juicy post, Mary – but a lot in it. It’s a bookmark and re-read one. Thanks!

  • suryalux says:

    the old is a top down control system. The new, is not new, collaboration and authoritarian have and are woven in the social fabric, what would be new is how the power of collaborative takes over the dominant tone. The matrix of global conversation available through the net is giving the collective the ability to evolve how we get things done, how we work together, how we teach, share and unite interest, cultivate and expand the potential for a interconnected world.

    Collaboration is the keg…

    thank you for your work to support a collaborative system…

  • Joshua says:

    “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – Aristotle
    That is exactly why I started Writers Communtiy. We can learn so much by working together on understanding what it is we do as writers. Life is completely about the connections we make!

  • Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi Kimberley!
    Funny thing is, I actually use Call Recorder. But I use it as a backup record because I’m terrified that I’ll lose all the fantastic stuff that Leo is talking about in the podcasts.

    But I haven’t really looked into what Call Recorder offers. I’m going to look into it more carefully. Is there a tutorial that you know of?

  • Mary Jaksch says:

    Yes, Suryalux – ideas of collaboration are not new.

    In the 3rd century, Buddhist teachers developed an image of the universe which they called, the Net of Indra. It’s an image of a vast net of jewels spreading in all directions. Each jewel reflects all other jewels.

    Alan Watt put this poetically:
    “Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum.”

    That’s a wonderful image of collaboration, don’t you think?

  • Kimberly says:

    Hi Mary, Tried to reply to your email and attach the call recorder PDF manual but got Leo’s “I’m done” auto reply back–no problem.
    If you have another address I can resend to you. This was the message:

    I have attached the call recorder manual that came with the ECAMM software. CR just rocks. Can record a few hours and compress to MP3 or down to internet in less than 2 minutes. Settings with skype make it a nobrainer. I love it on my little ibook. Here’s the PDF manual. Thanks for writing.

  • Joe says:

    I saw your note on Stibel’s theory that the Internet is a brain and saw that he just released a book as well (it is called Wired for Thought) Really interesting concept and from what I have read so far, great book.

  • The beauty of online collaboration is that it creates such an even playing field. Not that I’ve ever tried to have a book published in the ‘real’ world, but from what I hear it’s all about luck and who you know.

    The internet takes all that away – top bloggers and online experts willingly collaborate with newcomers who can prove they’ve got great content, and with the nature of blogging making being that you only have yourself to depend on for proof, it really is a case of hard work and creativity paying off.

    Not saying that blogging has been or ever will be an easy journey, but it sure is one that’s easier to stick to when so many rewards are within foreseeable reach!

  • Pankaj says:

    These days, tools are moving towards an “integrated collaboration” approach, where all collaboration tools are sought to be brought within a single suite. – email, project management, document management, workspaces, web conferencing. Google Apps, Microsoft BPOS and HyperOffice all represent this approach.

  • Pankaj says:

    These days, tools are moving towards an “integrated collaboration” approach, where all collaboration tools are sought to be brought within a single suite. – email, project management, document management, workspaces, web conferencing. Google Apps, Microsoft BPOS and HyperOffice all represent this approach.


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