Don’t “check your ego at the door” please

Jean-Luc_Picard_as_Borg (1)

I do a lot of collaborative writing, both at work and for fun. Often, particularly at work, this means that we’ll have a quick chat and then I will throw some rough words onto paper to get a sense of what we might want to say, and throw those open to my collaborators to change. I’m not precious about these words as I don’t really consider them to be mine, or wonderful, or set in stone – so when I find that somebody has changed them it doesn’t bother me.

But there’s a trite phrase that gets bandied about in the context of collaborative working, about “checking egos at the door”* that misdescribes how I feel such collaborations work. Let me try to explain.

sheepSome of us have been using the metaphor of a swarm to describe some of the collaborations that have happened as a result of rhizo14, 15 and other such events.  Keith Hamon has written a lot about it and I’ve written a couple of things. I’m still not convinced that it’s actually a good metaphor, mind you – but some folk find it useful and it doesn’t bother me enough to make me want to find a different one.  But whatever word we use to describe the collections of folk who collaborate on these various projects, the one thing we do NOT do is check our flipping egos at the door. The Borg and the Cybermen do that (well, they’ve had it done to them), we do not. We all have personalities, and (I think that) we all have strong egos – and that is part of what makes these collaborations so successful, enjoyable and addictive – the fact that other folk say things and go about things in ways I would never have thought of.

So I am not precious about my words, and I don’t mind them being changed (in fact, afterwards, we often don’t know who wrote exactly which part, because there have been so many edits, and conversations, and so on), but I do sometimes have strong opinions about what we are writing about, as do the others I collaborate with. And I think that this is vital.  If we try to ignore our egos, I think that we could be reduced to trotting out things that all of us agree with – and that would be incredibly boring for us and for everybody else. Or we would never challenge something that everybody else seemed to be happy with, because we’d assume it was just our own ego getting in the way. For example, I have just strongly disagreed with a particular choice of word in something that a group of us are writing.  I didn’t throw my toys out of the pram (to use another trite saying), but I did express my opinion strongly.

Image from:

Image from:

Checking egos at the door is fine if you want mindless drones, but it’s not an appropriate metaphor for the type of collaborative writing that we are trying to engage in.

We are people, not sheeple (ha, another trite phrase I loathe).

Here’s some Hawkwind about clones to play this post out with:



* Notably, when I googled this phrase, the links were written by business owners, or about business collaborations. Nuff said!  I also found this gem, which is sort of the opposite of what we are trying to achieve:

Checking your ego at the door is a request to not bring your ego into some discussion; to remain objective rather than emotional

(Picard/Locutus image by Science_Fiction_Museum_and_Hall_of_Fame_3.JPG: Gryffindor derivative work: El Carlos (Science_Fiction_Museum_and_Hall_of_Fame_3.JPG) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons)

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8 Responses to Don’t “check your ego at the door” please

  1. I so love your ‘ego’ Sarah! and your challenges to phrases that try to over simplify the thing that happens. In the VoiceThread presentation, we balanced the ‘check your egos at the door’ with the ‘it isn’t groupthink’ – which I think is part of the tension, and perhaps the two things needs to be explored deeper. The idea that we all need to give a little or not get horribly fixed in our ways in order for the collaborations to work, but on the other hand, none of us can give too much, or we end up with group think – and the power of our collaborations gets lost.
    Part of what draws me to the expression of ‘checking ones ego at the door’ is that academics can have such powerful egos that they can get in the way of collaborations – they don’t allow space for listening to others because they are so full of themselves … and that is a characteristic that just doesn’t work with collaborative writing … you need to be willing to put ideas out there and letting the morph into something different … in some ways you need to let go of the works after you type them … allowing others to riff off of what you just said – in some ways, that is a form of trust and vulnerability that is needed …
    So, if we don’t ‘check’ our egos, then what do we do to ensure our strong egos don’t overpower the collaboration? … perhaps ‘share our egos’?

  2. scottx5 says:

    Can it be that the ego neutralizing is about removing emotion from human exchanges. An efficiency someone finds valuable?
    The studio critiquing process in graphic arts (and dance too, I think) relies on an edgy confidence and support for difference and it would be interesting to study. Feels like a very high level of tolerance that doesn’t require us to surrender uniqueness or our purposeful selves. This could be useful in a project I’m working on. Thanks!

    • NomadWarMachine says:

      Hi both – I think Scott’s right – it’s about pretending to be rational and objective rather than emotional and empathetic (and thinking that the former is superior to the latter).

      I guess I want to tie this into the difference between blind peer review (which also pretends to be objective coz the reviewer does not know who the authors are, but often they are just mean coz they are hidden behind a cloak of anonymity) and open peer review, which can be such a positive experience for both reviewers and reviewees. Objectivity is over-rated – it’s not something to aspire to and often when someone says they are just trying to be objective they are really being mean.

      So I do get what you are trying to explain, Rebecca – and I think we need to come up with our own metaphor/tagline to explain it. One of the things I loved most about going to Uni was finding folk who were waaaaaayyyy better at things than I was – I loved being a little fish on a big pool. That’s what I feel with you guys as well – you all have big personalities and lots of different talents. We need a phrase that captures that sense – that we’re a vibrant, shouty community of folk, but we listen as well as shouting. Hugging and shouting, as Maha and I said during #HPJ101

      • scottx5 says:

        I remember people being described as having “personality” and think it referred to having a sense of self from within. A strength derived from a willingness to show more than might be wise that emerges from a sense of genuine empathy. In some ways I’ve come to not trust people. But not for protection, just a way of not becoming cripplingly dissipated by the world’s unresponsiveness. And this might be why we keep poking at things? We aren’t looking for fame or “recognition” or the rebellious individual status so popular in the movies. We just want to BE ACTIVE and not rehearsed or “acceptable” and this is a strange tension that gets misunderstood.

        But having my openness to obvious both attracts the sharks and repels them. Some people don’t know what to do with me and that’s great AND often painful. I want to acknowledge others but can’t accept they need me to be a zero to match their emptiness.

        Having grown up with the expectation of NOT fitting doesn’t make life easier, it complicates things. Yet why play at being neutral anyway? Are things more satisfactory to those who don’t question? What kind of people are we? I bet Keith knows:-)

        • NomadWarMachine says:

          Yes, sod neutrality! John Stuart Mill said that it’s better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied, by the way. I’m not so sure – sometimes I think I’d rather be happy pig.

  3. Ronald L says:

    IMHO this depends on what associations one has with the word “ego”.

    For me a “strong ego” is about a desire to be in center of attention, of claiming the fame, a desire to be in the spot light. Look at me, I’m brilliant!

    IMHO this kind of “ego” is disastrous for collaboration. It even is hurtful for cooperation.

    If you write that you don’t mind who gets the spotlight for a certain (brilliant) phrase, if you write here that you don’t mind if somebody changes your sentences because in the end it’s not clear anymore who wrote what … Then in my vocabulary you’ve already checked your ego at the door, which I think is a very positive thing.

  4. Maha Bali says:

    Hi Sarah, thanks for writing this. I remember when someone started using this expression i commented on the gdoc “I do too have a big ego” or some such thing. A convo ensued and i can’t remember who said what exactly (i can’t remember which of the 100 gdocs it was!)

    But in light of what ur saying here i am trying to think of what it is exactly that happens in what we are calling swarm writing… That is different from other writing. At work, when we collaborate, one person writes the bulk, or diff ppl write diff sections, then someone edits (usually my boss or me, depending who wrote it in the first place, etc). With rhizo14 i think what it is, is that maybe :
    A. There is trust and we feel comfortable editing over each other. Not always comfortable doing so in other collaborations
    B. There are all our egos but there is a situation where the final piece of writing is different from the collection of our egos.
    C. There is a risk of checking egos completely of dominant ppl taking over (they already do in some ways) but the cool thing about rhizo collaboration is we shift leadership each time and that is a cool thing.

    I am of course concerned with pretense of neutrality or objectivity which i clarified wheb i wrote “Embracing Subjectivity” for my Hybrid Ped column.

    Whar i find particularly funny is that i originally didn’t participate in the ONE conf paper that will hopefully be presented with me physically being in it. Thw fact that u let me in so welcomingly says how generous and open u are…most ppl would be like WTF? Why didn’t u participate earlier? Hoq dare u jump into the middle of our work?

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