Collaboration Works (Sometimes)

One way of getting lots of buckets to the fire. Two guys, lots of heavy lifting.

One way of getting lots of buckets to the fire. Two guys, lots of heavy lifting.

Collaboration has never been a word I’ve liked. For me, it’s a word rooted in the history of World War II–the French traitors collaborating with the Germans. In today’s business world, it means working as a team, and the rules vary from company to company. It’s become a jargon word, and the sloppy definition is that two heads are always better than one, that crowd sourcing always results in the best method or answer, and that (groan) every idea is of equal value, so producing more ideas is the best solution in itself.

Today, I experienced real collaboration, and it was fresh, crisp and bright. I’m falling into the rhythm of the photo shoot–I produce the images for the book, Amy takes notes, Christine photographs.

We came to a thorny spot where three steps needed to be done at once. I’d brought a template, and I explained to Amy what I needed to do, so she could see the big picture. Amy had a solution she thought might work better. Christine understood it and agreed. I didn’t get it and looked doubtful. The Inner Critic, who had been playing with spilled ink in the corner, showed up and sat on my shoulder. “They are trying to take over your book,” he mentioned sweetly. “Tell ‘em it’s your book and you are going to do it your way.” Familiar feelings of not-enough-control, not having the best idea washed over me. I let them. I didn’t fight them.

Another way of getting a lot of buckets to a fire. One person, one bucket, repeat.

Another way of getting a lot of buckets to a fire. One person, one bucket, repeat.

“What else you got?” I asked the Inner Critic. “You’ll lose con-troooolll” the Inner Critic crooned, sensing an old fear of mine.

It was tempting, but I looked at Amy. “I just get the edge of what you are saying,” I said, “explain it again in a different way, I’m almost there.” By asking for another explanation, for more help (instead of less), I could get more information before I decided it was more control I needed. Christine stepped forward, pushed three pieces around on the photo table, and snapped a picture. She showed it to me in the viewfinder.

And then I got it. Through Amy’s words and Christine’s picture, I could see the solution, not as I wanted it, but as the reader would see–and understood–it. The  beauty of their solution was obvious. It could work. It would make it easier for the reader, clearer, simpler.  It did the same for me, too.

Here’s what I learned: Collaboration is not always caving in to what someone else wants. It can also be a way of understanding a new idea and a way of connecting one idea to another for a simpler solution. When that happens, collaboration works.

Quinn McDonald is learning about her book at the photo-shoot this week.

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9 responses to “Collaboration Works (Sometimes)

  1. Loved this post because it speaks to some forays into collaborative efforts that I’ve been involved in lately. Thank you for reminding me to take that moment to pause and reflect.

  2. Collaboration only works if there is enough information shared to engender trust. Wow, that’s so emphatic that I could almost add ‘so there!’

  3. Collaboration is also often a crock; it’s a pretty picture that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Just like that old woodcut of two men running with a ladder full of water buckets. There are ten buckets on each side of the ladder. An average bucket holds about 4 gallons. That’s 80 gallons of water. A gallon of water weighs roughly 8 pounds. So each of those happily *running* men is toting over 300 pounds.

    Business people enjoy talking and positive attitudes, and business can result in good outcomes. But innovation, quality, and collaborative effort are not typically among those outcomes, nor are they generally part of the process. They’re just part of the bloviation.

    And a funny footnote: Wikipedia claims “bloviation” comes very specifically from Ohio and Warren G. Harding!?

  4. I like this piece, Quinn. It’s one that I’m saving. Amy and Christine are lucky to be working with you!

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