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Session M2F

The Importance of Pairwork in Interdisciplinary and Educational Initiatives
David E. Goldberg
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, deg@illinois.edu Abstract – An early and prominent employee of Google, Georges Harik, recently made the assertion that pairs working together in startups are 20 times more productive than individuals working alone. The author has alsopersonally experienced the boost of what is here termed pairwork in a university setting during the startup phase of several educational and interdisciplinary initiatives. The paper briefly explores pairwork in the history of technology and constructs both qualitative and little quantitative models of pairwork. The quantitative model under reasonable assumptions easily recovers Harik’s 20x boost. The paperalso briefly examines the author’s recent experiences with pairwork in four interdisciplinary and educational initiatives. Index Terms – pairwork, organizational interdisciplinary initiative, educational reform INTRODUCTION A former student, Georges Harik, a very early employee at Google, gave a talk at the University of Illinois not long ago and asserted that “pairs of individuals are 20 timesmore productive in startups than individuals working alone." This assertion struck me forcefully and personally, because I realized that in four different startup activities for educational transformation and interdisciplinary research that I had been involved in pairwise activities in important ways. Moreover, it seemed to me that the literature of teamwork since the quality revolution placed agood deal of emphasis on teamwork, but didn’t say much about the smallest teams or what we will here call pairwork. Getting smacked in the head with Harik’s intellectual two-by-four, my own successful experiences with pairwork, and the realization that pairwork might be systematically undervalued led to further reflection on the organization of startups and organizational initiatives, and this paperpresents the first fruits of that inquiry. In particular, the paper explores the importance of pairs historically, anecdotally, and theoretically. In particular, the paper starts by recalling a number of famous pairs in technological history, as well as some less-than-famous pairs that provide historical evidence for the importance of pairwork. The paper continues by building both qualitative andlittle quantitative models of pairwork in an effort to understand key mechanisms and also understand whether Harik’s 20x factor of improvement is at all reasonable. The change, paper concludes by briefly reviewing the author’s experience in four different interdisciplinary and educational initiatives, suggesting that pairwork may be a useful principle for encouraging creative change inengineering education and interdisciplinary initiatives. GREAT PAIRS IN TECH HISTORY We need only scratch the surface of the history of technology to find a number of great pairs behind many of the great inventions and technological organizations of the past century or so. For example, the 20th century was welcomed by the activities of arguably the most famous pair in technological history—the Wrightbrothers--whose activities culminated on December 17, 1903 with the first manned, powered, heavier-than-air aircraft flight at Kitty Hawk, NC [1]. John C. Lincoln started the Lincoln Electric Company and was later joined by his brother, James F. Lincoln forming a classic pair with John C. providing technical prowess and James F. providing managerial creativity [2]. David Packard and Bill Hewlett startedthe company we now know as HP in a garage in Palo Alto, CA. Although both were trained engineers, like the Lincoln brothers, Hewlett and Packard formed a classic technologist-manager pairing [3]. There is no lack of more recent successful technological pairwork. For example, Apple Computer was founded by the duo of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and more recently the now-famous pair of Larry...
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