As they like to say, a picture is worth a thousand words and the picture you see below (Figure 1) is proof positive. This editorial you're reading is a direct result of the ideas I “chicken-scratched” on a stack of post-it notes. This set of notes came from a conversation Melanie Spiller and I were having about collaboration, in particular the concept of remote collaboration. We discussed at length how our work, and how we perform it, was greatly transformed during the COVID crisis. COVID affected every one of us in profound ways and we were forced to create new ways of working together, albeit remotely. We had to change how we collaborated.

Figure 1: The origin of the species
Figure 1: The origin of the species

A lot of the conversations I have with Melanie about creativity and collaboration center around many non-tech fields. Every creative endeavor shares some a common DNA and by examining other fields not related to your own, you might find newer ways of thinking. At a minimum, you'll likely learn something you don't know. That's a win/win, right?

Well, this particular conversation was focused on one creative field: music. We talked about how COVID changed the way musicians were forced to change their collaborative process during the pandemic.

Before COVID, I was taking guitar lessons. My teacher came to my house twice a month for an in-person session where he taught me the foundations of guitar playing, including scales, chords, and, what was probably the most difficult aspect for me, timing. Scales and chords were probably the easiest part. With practice, I got better and better as our lessons progressed. It was that cursed timing that caused me the most agita. The metronome was not my friend and, to be honest, I never really got the hang of it. Over and over, he beat it into me that if I ever wanted to play with other folks, I needed to get timing down. It was this timing thing that was part of my discussion with Melanie.

Along with being a darn fine editor, Melanie is an accomplished musician and she collaborates with numerous musicians in many different organizations. In normal times, these collaborations take place in person. Rehearsals, practice, organization - all done in person. COVID changed all of that. It didn't take too long for these musicians to realize that creating the fidelity of in-person musicianship was difficult to pull off remotely and, in the beginning, impossible. The reason? Timing. Melanie and her collaborators soon discovered the bane of remote collaborations using ordinary tools such as Zoom: lag. Technology people are intimately familiar with the concept of lag and there are a bunch of different terms used to describe lag, such as response times, ping times, TTL, etc. We strive to lower lag to make our work perform better or to at least to have the appearance of better performance. Progress bars anyone?

Melanie and her musician friends couldn't paper over these lag issues. It would be difficult to create great performances, let alone satisfying and productive rehearsals, if they couldn't control the issue of lag. So they searched for a solution to controlling or eliminating lag. This is where they found a product called Jamulus.

The Jamulus website describes their product as follows:

Jamulus lets you play, rehearse, or jam with your friends, your band, or anyone you find online. Play together remotely in time with high quality, low-latency sound on a normal broadband connection.

The key phrase in this statement is low-latency. The folks who created Jamulus created a solution that enabled remote collaborations that was as close to an in-person experience as possible. This group of intrepid musicians found a tool that helped them to move forward. They soon adapted their process to Jamulus's rather rigid requirements with great and satisfying success.

The musicians weren't the only folks that adapted their processes. My wife and I are currently binge-watching a show on Netflix called “The Blacklist.” The episode last night completely blew my mind. It was the season finale of season 7. This episode was in the process of being filmed during the worst part of the COVID crisis when everything was being shut down. The episode began with a prologue of clips from the cast and crew where they mentioned that they were halfway done shooting the episode when they were forced to shut down.

But they didn't shut down. They retreated temporarily and came up with a solution. The parts of the film that weren't shot live-action were animated. It was a bit odd, but it worked! As a film geek, it was an additional treat for me to see how a show is shot out of continuity using a real-world example. Changing how they worked allowed these collaborators to accomplish what they probably thought was an impossible task. As Gunny Seargent Thomas Highway would say: They overcame, they adapted.

This is what we do as human beings. We overcome obstacles. We adapt and we move forward. How have you adapted?