How collaboration usually works:

Other Guy: “Oh hey, you are really good at that thing you do. Want to come sprinkle some of that awesomesauce over here so we can all be awesome together?”

You: “Yes! Definitely. I’ve been working really hard for the last few years trying to be a boss and I’m not quite there yet. I think I might be on to something big though. I would love to work with you guys and see what we can build together!”

Same Guy: “Sweet…      ……..        Derp!”

You Again: “So. . . . . Hey, I was thinking” – Awesome idea… awesome stuff… more awesome stuff – “So how do you think I can plug in? Do you think we can figure out how to build a transformer of awesomeness right here in sleepy ass Sarasota?”

That other guy again:  ……Well we have to (mostly you though) do this and that and the other thing…… and once that is done then you might be able to do this and that for us, but you’ll probably never get anywhere that matters because we take all the credit for the good ideas and by the way, would you stick your nose right here, no not there, here… Right here, smack in the middle of my @$$………

How Collaboration should work:

Legit Guy: “Oh hey, you are really good at that thing you do. We are doing some pretty cool stuff over here too. Want to play together?”

You: “Booyaka! I’ve been working really hard for the last few years trying to be a boss and I’m not quite there yet. I think I might be on to something big though.”

Still Legit: “Sweet. – Here is what I can deliver and what I will expect from you. Why don’t we find a time where we can get together in a collaborative environment and take some time to figure out how we can work together.”

You Again: “Man that would be amazing. Here is what I think I can bring to the table ” – Awesome idea… awesome stuff… more awesome stuff – “Let’s figure out how to build a transformer of awesomeness right here in sleepy ass Sarasota?”

Too Legit To Quit: “Oh snap son, bring that badness. Let’s work together to drop atomic bombs of creative catastrophe on the lesser beings!”

And then… You both do that shit! – The end… Kind of.

Good story but why should I care?

If that story gets under your skin then may be you are the awesome guy, or maybe you are like the rest of us who try, in vain, to collaborate with the cool kids. But if that story does not strike a cord, then it might mean that you are the worst of all possible frauds, the kind that doesn’t even know he is one.

Everyone is talking about collaborating these days but few are actually doing any of it productively. So many people run through life throwing their collaboration credit card around as if they were racking up collaboration credits to cash in on a frequent failure program. For some reason they pretend to be this thing they are not and when it comes time to roll up their sleeves and get to work, there is always a hiccup, there is always a road-block standing in the way of actually getting anything done. So many people pretend to be collaborators when all they are is time and resource wasters.

As an early stage creative entrepreneur, you find it more and more difficult to find the people you can truly trust with you collaborative credit card. Issuing too much debt to the wrong content creator can leave you holding the bag for a much larger obligation. One which you are unwilling or unable to fulfill. Be careful of who you chose to collaborate with in business. New ventures are often lethal to weak friendships, especially in the face of any adversity which is almost impossible to avoid in the early stages of a start up.

So… what you’re saying is?

I have no real agenda. Like most of the rest of my blog, this article started with a question and a desire to explore that curiosity. I am really just thinking aloud about my collaborative experiences up to this point in my career. Using my diverse experiences as well as my interpretation of the behavior of others along the way, in an attempt to show you that there is a system to all of this. That it is all part of one big system and it is all tied together by a few principles that you already know about. You just do not know how to use them to get what you want.

You either do not know or are unwilling to admit that by following a few simple suggestions about creative collaboration (among other things) you can begin finding ways of plugging into the community of creativity that probably already surrounds you. You can learn to leverage the world around you in a mutually beneficial way in order to help everyone involved get what they need. You’d be surprised to discover what other people are capable of if you actually give them a chance to do it. You will be surprised at how much you can gain in life by just helping people get what they want. It is a simplistic approach to collaboration and life in general but it works.

All that being said, here are a few tips to make sure that your next quest for collaboration is a productive one.

Avoid These 9 Common Collaboration Mistakes:

  1. Terrible communication: Both people need to be on the same page in order for effective collaboration to take place. You can use a note sharing app like Evernote or google docs to share ideas and work through the planning stages together.
  2. Failing to plan: Collaboration is fun when it is spontaneous and you just happen to stumble across it but planning a meeting at least a week ahead allows people to better fit it into their schedule. Considering participation is key to collaboration, giving people a real opportunity to participate is vital to doing it right.
  3. Selfish Collaborators: You must be willing to let people show you how they can contribute. It is impossible to discover anyone’s hidden (or not so hidden) talents if you don’t provide an environment for them to freely express and explore their creative faculties. Collaboration should not be sidestepped due to ideological interjections. People need to be free to explore the collaboration in whatever method makes them most creative. Judging books by their cover is a good way to miss out on a great collaboration experience. Do not let any insecurities prevent you from opening doors in life wherever you go. You never know who might be standing behind it.
  4. Loud Mouths: You know who you are. I am not talking about the guy in the corner who knows what he is talking about and interjects with useful contributions. I am talking about the ignorant tweedleberry who just likes hearing the sound of his own voice in a room with more than just himself sitting in it. Please know what you are talking about or don’t talk about it. Nothing will strip you of your credibility faster than bloviating on a subject on which you have only a marginal understanding. Shut your mouth, take a few notes and go Google that shit. Then maybe next time you can contribute something meaningful to the conversation instead of wasting everyone’s time.
  5. Participation Trophies: If you say you are going to do something or be somewhere or get something done, then do it. It is that simple. Do not expect the other collaborators to cover your quota. You must be engaged and willing to deliver on your word. You do not get credit just for showing up!
  6. Keeping Quiet: If something is bothering you then speak up. How is anyone supposed to fix anything if they all think its working fine. Leadership means speaking up. You might be surprised at who stands with you. This doesn’t mean you throw a creative coup, just that in order for this to be a meaningful collaboration you have to feel satisfied as well. In order to make sure this happens please refer back to miscue number one!
  7. Too Much Structure: It is important to guide the collaboration but not necessarily to control it. Too much of an effort to control the collaboration can result in an unhappy group. Also, be flexible with how people are compensated/rewarded for their efforts. Some people might need to make money from their collaborations and others might just be looking to pad a resume, gain a little experience or build some new relationships.
  8. Political Posturing: I am not talking about Washington DC politics. I am talking about back office, highschool clique style politics. You are not the only person with good ideas and there are often many solutions to every problem. Just because the collaboration is not taking place around your personal idea does not mean you get to run away from the table. You can’t run off to mommy every time someone gives you some harsh criticism. Learn to delegate and step back once in a while. One of the hardest lessons for a leader to learn is that in order to lead you must first know how to follow.
  9. Sabotage: This is the worst of all of them and is the only one that involves malicious behavior. Do not take advantage of someone under the pretext of collaboration. Do not steal an idea from your fellow collaborator only to pass it off as your own. Do not waste the labors of others with tedious repetition or futile propositions. You are hated amongst all of us in the creative world who would share our trust and knowledge with only the expectation of reciprocation, only to be slapped in the face by a sneaky saboteur. This is not cool and might even call for public humiliation. Maybe a titty twister in times square or an indian burn by Chuck Norris. Either way, it should hurt because you make it infinitely more difficult for the rest of us to do our thing.

That’s all for today class!

Take a deep look at how you really collaborate. This article touched on the creative side of collaboration but you could easily apply these principles to any collaborative setting in your everyday life. When you are looking for collaborative projects be sure to look for projects that you can get passionate about, find something you are really good at and then find someone who is really good at something else and come up with a way to work together. Like any creative process the first way may not always be the best.

Collaborations do not have to happen over night and the most productive collaborative relationships are built over time. To be truly productive in collaboration you need to build trust and deliver on your word. Sometimes that takes more than a few months but that doesn’t mean you cant get started today. I challenge you to find someone who you can lean on collaboratively. Someone who can give you just as much as you expect to get from them and always look to bite off a little more than you can chew. This is how you learn. Test yourself, try new things and always deliver your best possible work regardless of the compensation. If the project has your name on it then it should be the best you can make it. Otherwise, take your name off the project.

What do you think? Any collaboration nightmares you would like to share with the class? Leave your thoughts in the comments. 

Your Life is a lie master