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Collaboration & Play

Collaborative approaches to ecohydrological systems apply what might be considered an Aikido approach – “the way of unifying (with) life energy”, or “way of combining forces” (Wikipedia).

Seek to understand and combine forces with the natural system.

Collaborate with Nature.

Natural systems and watersheds are vast and no single person can possibly address even a single subwatershed on their own.

Watershed/ catchment restoration is necessarily a collaborative process – due to the scale and complexity of the landscapes, but also because the disciplines of ecological and watershed restoration remain in their infancy. 

Much remains to be learned.

Both can become emergent properties of stimulating collaborations – a primary aim of Rainfall to Groundwater.

How to best stimulate collaboration toward innovation?


Some pertinent excerpts from Play:  How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul (2009) by Stuart Brown, MD with Christopher Vaughan:

. . . The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.  . . .

Brown quotes the response Bob Fagan, expert in animal play behavior, offered to Brown’s query, while viewing frolicking grizzlies on Alaska’s Admiralty Island.

Bob, why do these bears play? . . .

After a long, tolerant silence, during which I felt as if he were a sensitive artist having to explain a sublime painting to a tasteless dolt, Bob relented.  He answered reluctantly: “in a world continuously presenting unique challenges and ambiguity, play prepares these bears for an evolving planet.”     

(Brown and Vaughan 2009)

Brown cautions about besmirching the exuberance of play with a utilitarian perspective. But, given that it has coevolved with most so-called “higher” animals, including humans, we can assume that evolution has tested its utility and found it advantageous to our survival.

Joe Meeker once said “Evolution is genes at play”.  Now we know,

Evolution is genes and epigenetics at play.

Click image to enlarge

By Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Comedy of Survival ((Meeker 1972, 1997) relies upon repair / restoration of broken linkages – among humans and our ecosystems.  

We don’t yet know the whole story about how to repair those linkages.  

Novelty lies ahead.

Faced with novelty – Play!

Creative, innovative responses to the problems, as they arise, of restoring watersheds/ catchments to sustain groundwater can become elevated through playful collaboration.  

By Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Rainfall to Groundwater embraces playful collaboration to expedite the evolution of watershed restoration. Creative collaboration entails (a little) more than just fun and games.  Both finite and infinite games/ play (Carse 1986) may be useful, with the latter more likely to lead to inspired resolutions.  
But this is not to say it’s all a big love-fest.  Adroitly handled tension can catalyze group creativity.  The (more) adult version of roughhousing play?  
Framing his New York Times piece, “Kids, would you please start fighting?” (Grant 2017) in the context of parenting, Professor Adam Grant points to the forging of several famous collaborations through creative disagreement.

The Wright brothers, the Beatles, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

None of these people succeeded in spite of the drama — they flourished because of it. Brainstorming groups generate 16 percent more ideas when the members are encouraged to criticize one another.  (Grant 2017)

That statistic comes from, “The liberating role of conflict in group creativity . . .” (Nemeth and colleagues 2004).  Their conclusion, reiterated by Grant (2017) is that respectful debate is the most effective framework to guide group tension toward group creativity.

Instead of trying to prevent arguments, we should be modeling courteous conflict and teaching kids [ourselves also] how to have healthy disagreements. We can start with four rules:

• Frame it as a debate, rather than a conflict.

• Argue as if you’re right but listen as if you’re wrong.

• Make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective.

• Acknowledge where you agree with your critics and what you’ve learned from them.

Good arguments are wobbly: a team or family might rock back and forth but it never tips over. If kids don’t learn to wobble, they never learn to walk; they end up standing still.  

       (Grant 2017)

Rainfall to Groundwater aspires to such a framework for the creative collaboration envisioned in its group learn/ apply programs.

By Fritz Conner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tess from United Kingdom, Lamb playfightCC BY 2.0

Further Reading:

Brown, S. and Vaughan, C. . 2009.  Play:  How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul.  Avery, Penguin Group, New York.

Carse, J. P. 1986. Finite and Infinite Games. The Free Press, A Division of Macmillan, Inc., New York.

Grant, A.  2017.  Kids, would you please start fighting?  New York Times. Nov. 4, 2017.

Meeker, J. W. 1972. The comedy of survival: in search of an environmental ethic. Guild of Tutors Press, International College, Los Angeles.

Meeker, J. W. 1997. The comedy of survival: literary ecology and a play ethic. Third edition. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Nemeth, C.J., Personnaz, B. ,Personnaz, M., Goncalo, J. A.   2004.  The liberating role of conflict in group creativity: a study in two countries.  European Journal of Social Psychology  34: 365–374  DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.210

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Daniel Johnson from College grove, TN, USA, Tanna play 2CC BY 2.0
Daniel Johnson from College grove, TN, USA, Tanna play 3CC BY 2.0
Daniel Johnson from College grove, TN, USA, Tanna play 4CC BY 2.0
Daniel Johnson from College grove, TN, USA, Tanna play 5CC BY 2.0