Collaboration. A Love Story



There might have been a time in the days of Mad Men when coming up with a creative solution required a small group of people.

A suit, a creative team, and more latterly, a planner.

Our inescapable reality today is that what we do demands a greater number of specialist skills.

We can find ourselves in a room with a client-side technical expert, a talent agent, a media property owner, a film director, a programme commissioner, event producer, comms planner, digital planner, PR expert, online buzz monitoring expert, web designer, search optimisation expert… and so on.

Gone are the days when planners could get away with having underdeveloped social skills.

When they could escape to a private cubicle/garret to sweat over the brief and return triumphant.

Whatever charm that stereotype might have held has long gone.

The ability to lead, persuade, inspire, and work publicly - in real time - in larger teams is becoming ever more essential.

As problems and their solutions become more diverse, more complex, so will the teams we will work with and in.

It’s no longer just you and a creative team and a suit.

It increasingly feels like making a movie.

Rather than be a designator of a department, ‘Creativity’ is becoming an output of those teams.

Twyla Tharp is world-famous choreographer, having created dances for the likes of the Royal Ballet, the New York City Ballet, as well as having provided choreography for Hollywood movies.

She’s the author of two books on the nature of creativity and her latest - The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons For Working Together - has a particular relevance for the changed times we find ourselves working in.

The closing sentence of her book gives us much to think about:

In the end, all collaborations are love stories”

Tharp’s hard-won insight is that collaboration is ultimately about successful relationships.

And if collaboration across distance and discipline is a defining feature of our times, we are going to have to have a lot more successful relationships.

Collaboration requires give and take.

It understands that in giving up some of our autonomy we gain exponentially more.

It embraces the things that make us different, as much as the things we have in common.

It understands that collaboration is a place to give, not a place to take.

Respect and generosity make it work.

Like any successful love story.

But I believe that it goes beyond this.

Look closely at any successful collaboration.

Fred and Ginger.

Crick and Watson.

Sinatra and Riddell.

We see not only a successful relationship.

But a collaboration over a shared love.

Collaborations are fuelled by a mutual purpose and passion.

By a shared commitment.

Animation days at Pixar for example, begin with the the animators and director gathering in a screening room to analyze the few seconds of animated film that are the product of the previous day’s work. They ruthlessly “shred” each frame, and everyone is encouraged to join in.

It’s a process that requires all involved to want to contribute to the success of the movie.

It’s not about criticism.

It’s about finding ways of making things better.

And that requires a generosity of spirit.

As Ed Catmull president of Pixar put it:

Everyone is fully invested in helping everyone else turn out the best work. They really do feel that it’s all for one and one for all.”

All of which suggests that if there isn’t love in the air, there isn’t going to be collaboration.


Ed Catmull: 'How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity', Harvard Business Review