How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Collaboration – and When to Skip It

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Olympic relay races are the apex of collaboration. If one person falters, it impacts the whole team.

When it comes to order, there’s no hard-and-fast rule. Some teams put their fastest runner first, but others opt to put them last. According to USC’s director of track and field, Caryl Smith Gilbert, sometimes you need someone “hard-nosed” like Usain Bolt (formerly the fastest man on Earth) to close the race. Just watch Bolt’s final Olympic relay race and you’ll understand exactly what Smith Gilbert means. “It’s anyone’s race,” says the announcer before the final handoff. But as soon as the baton is in Bolt’s hand, the race is over. Jamaica wins by a long shot.

Imagine if runners were less likely to participate in relays if they had to run last because they figured they’d get less credit. That’s the case when it comes to publications in the field of economics. Researchers found that people were less likely to collaborate on articles if their surname was lower down in the alphabet — meaning they would be listed later in the byline. The reason is that when people think they’re receiving less credit, they’re less inclined to collaborate.

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