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A Guide to Creative Collaborations

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Written by James H

Published Jan 11, 2022

Intro

If you’re looking to level up your skills, your output, your focus or your reach, then a collaboration could be exactly what you need!

In this blog we’ll look at 5 signs that show you’re ready for a collaboration, what you need to consider before finding a collaborator and some key steps you should take to make sure you and your new partner collaborate, not collabor-hate. 



5 signs that you’re ready for a collaboration

1. You’ve got big ideas but not enough time or energy.

You’re at the stage where you have a project mapped out: you know the general steps, you can see the roles and skills needed, but feel like there’s not enough time in the day or energy in your body to bring it to completion. As the saying goes, “two heads are better than one”, but also, four hands are better than two, so why not bring another head and pair of hands?


Not only could a collaboration bring in some extra work power but also having someone else alongside you can make the more mundane tasks less-draining, as well as providing emotional support when things don’t quite go to plan. According to the Greater Good Science Centre at the University of California, venting can help us gain insight into what’s causing difficult feelings, avert future upsets and relieve stress. But it only works if there’s someone there to take the time to listen. 


2. You’ve got a big project in mind but lack the structure.

A collaborator can not only help you deal with the grind, but they can also be there to help bounce ideas off and spark new approaches or insights. It can be immensely helpful to bring another perspective to the table if you’re unclear on how to proceed with a project. 


Having someone else work on a project with you can create another incredibly powerful component to completing goals: accountability. 


The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) found in a study that 95% of people successfully met their goals if they asked someone to hold them accountable, fully committed to their project and set up a meeting to discuss their progress and success. 


With a collaborator, those steps could all be simply part of your working process. What’s more, holding each other accountable would help generate momentum as you both pull each other through the difficult periods.  


3. You lack certain skills needed to finish the project. 


“You need a partner whose skill set complements yours. Someone who not only shares your vision but elevates it and holds you accountable to it; who does what you cannot; who thinks and sees things in a way you don’t; whose strengths compensate for your weaknesses and vice versa.”

Guy Raz, How I Built This (The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs)


As Guy says, the real magic of collaboration comes when you find someone to complement you. Both in terms of your skills, but this could also be in terms of working styles or personalities. 


You may even be thinking about hiring someone to fill the gaps, so why not try collaborating first? Having a partner with a shared vision, someone who puts as much of their soul and belief into something as you do is much more valuable than any employee you could hire.


4. You want to learn new skills.

An often overlooked aspect of collaboration is the learning process. Collaborating in itself is a skill you need to practice, but also, working closely alongside someone else will inevitably give you insight into their skills. Therefore, if what you really want is to learn a new skill then instead of taking a course or watching hours of Youtube, why not learn while on the job? 


You could start with a project with less at stake and make shadowing part of the collaborative process. In return, you could also teach what you know, opening even more doors down the line. Working in this way can give you a hands-on feel for whether this new skill set is really for you, in a way a course could never do. 


5. You want to grow your audience.

If you’re feeling like you’re constantly reaching out to the same audience, without much growth, then a collaboration can provide a fix. Sharing a collaborative project with the world will share it with a new audience. A new audience not only brings the possibility of new fans of you and your work, but also an opportunity to get more diverse feedback on your work, as well as the possibility of even more collaborations!



What to consider before collaborating

Once you’ve landed on one of the reasons above for collaborating, it’s important to make that the central focus as you try to find the right collaborator.


Once you know what you’re looking for in a collaborator: a skills set, work you admire, productivity, etc; then you next thing to consider is whether or not you get on with them as a person. So don’t jump straight into the formalities. 


In his Ted Talk, the internationally renowned business consultant, Ken Blanchard, talks about the importance of “essence before form”. Both are key components, where essence refers to the values, the heart to heart interactions; and form is how you’re going to do it. However, he says for any partnership to be truly successful, essence needs to come before form. You need to have those shared values, the feeling of openness and trust in each other before anything else.


So start your collaboration by not actually focusing on the collaboration. Focus on each other: what you enjoy outside of work, your family and friends, what you did at the weekend. This is integral in building a foundation for a close working relationship and then, of course, you can move onto working processes, communication styles, work values and motivations. 


If you’re still not sure then you could always try working on a mini-collaboration first to test the waters. So time is not wasted, you could take an element of the larger project and present that as the only collaborative part to begin with.



How to create a successful collaboration


Take it seriously…but not too seriously.

A collaboration is work, but it’s not a job. So you don’t want to be writing up a job specification for your collaborator. But once you’ve tackled the ‘essence’ part of your collaboration, you do want to think about the ‘form’: the structure and direction. 


Before any work gets done, you want to define the project scope, goals, timeline, roles, responsibilities and resources. Having a clear plan with goals gives you something to constantly refer back to and check if you’re heading in the right direction. Assigning roles and responsibilities builds in that aspect of accountability. While a timeline (with deadlines), creates the momentum, the urgency and helps to organise workloads. 



A collaboration is a partnership.

Remember, a collaborator is not your employee. Even if you initiated the collaboration. And when you enter a collaboration, your idea is no longer just your idea. So you need to loosen your grip on every aspect of the collaboration to begin with.


“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.”

Frank Zappa.


You may have brought in a collaborator for a specific reason but they could provide help in unexpected ways, so be open to feedback on everything. You can always (respectfully) disagree. However, when it comes to listening to them on matters that they’re the expert on, you also need to be able to trust them if they choose to disagree with you.  


Create a work plan

A work plan really digs into the form of your partnership. Here we’re talking about: how many hours per week each of you can give to the project, what hours you’ll be active and contactable in the day, how you’re going to communicate (what tools you’ll use: Whatsapp, Slack, email?) and when you’ll have meetings to check-in with each other. It’s important to remember that when checking-in, don’t just focus on the work, also check-in on how you’re doing emotionally: how are you both feeling about the project? How are you coping with the workload? Is anything going on outside of the project that might affect your role?


Tackle problems strategically.

Your meetings are where you’ll flag up problems, but before they even arise you’ll want to have some idea on how to approach them.


If you’re aware of an issue then begin by thinking with your own reasons for what might be causing it. When bringing these reasons to the meeting, it’s important to remember not to be accusatory. So remove any blame or “you…” phrasing.  


Another useful approach is to generate solutions together, instead of bringing any answers to the table first time round. This helps as, not only are two heads better than one, it also removes the chance that either of you become defensive over your suggestions. 


The final step is to create a plan to address the problem. However, keep in mind that you might not have found the solution! So, you’ll want to treat it as a test: not commit all your resources to it initially, review it more regularly and be open to adapting it.



Tools for collaborating

These are some key tools that we use here at Tutti HQ, but also in our personal creative pursuits. 


Creative Networking Tools

The Dots: LinkedIn for creatives.

Shooting People: Amazing resource for independent filmmakers. 

Mixer: A newer site that vets membership to control quality. 


Task Management 

Asana: Great collaborative tools , free for small teams. 

Notion: A swiss army knife of collaborative tools.

Trello: Visually focused, easy to use. 


Collaborate on Ideas

Miro: The best-known collaborative whiteboard tool.

Lucidspark: Similar to Miro but geared towards bigger teams. 

Are.na: A visual networking community and creative research platform that works as a Chrome extension, allowing you to easily source images and text from your browser. 


Conclusion

As creatives it can always feel uncomfortable sharing your work, and even more uncomfortable to share your working process, but moving into those uncomfortable areas is exactly where you find the most growth. What’s more, going on that journey of growth is an entirely different experience when done alongside a collaborative partner and one that brings unique lessons, opportunities and possible futures. To slightly tweak a Guy Raz quote:


“A collaborator doesn’t just help your idea survive the scrutiny of self-doubt, nor do they just help you survive the unthoughtful feedback of social media followers, or the unjust uncertainty of world events. They help you survive as well. And if your idea is ever to become real, it needs you alive and kicking.”

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