“Collaboration” is a great word for Buzzword Bingo. It’s often listed as a 21st Century Skill (as if somehow the people in past centuries didn’t have to work together). It’s included in project descriptions and even mission statements. What was once called “a meeting” is now called “collaboration” time.
And yet . . .
It almost never works. When I was in school, I often played the role of the “group leader” who would end up doing all the work while others quoted lines from Chris Farley movies. The same thing happened in college and even graduate school. For all the talk of collaboration, it often fails.
So, I’m finishing the final touches on Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard (due out on 11-12-13) and thinking about collaboration. Christy and I co-wrote the book (hence the author name J.C. Spencer). Though I’ve been more vocal about it online, the truth is that it has been a truly collaborative effort.
I’m trying to make sense out of why it’s working out so well and here is the best I can do:
1. Trust: I don’t think I’ve ever truly collaborated with someone who I didn’t trust. I can work in a group and take a small share of a project, but I’ll end up carving out a solo effort in the process.
2. Vulnerability: Creative work is intensely personal. It takes a certain level of vulnerability to work on something and say to someone else, “Be honest about this and change what needs to be changed.”
3. Purpose: We share the same purpose in this project. We want to write something that our kids will enjoy reading while at the same time pushing them to think hard about life.
4. Conflict: We’ve had to hash it out about characters and plot. Some of the conversations were tense. In this sense, it would have been easier to divide the work between us and have our own separate domains. However, the shared experience of exploring and resolving this conflict has led to a work that is better than either of us could have written on our own.
5. Time and Proximity: I’m not sure that I believe in “global collaboration” anymore. We spent hours hanging out together (pretty easy, because we live together). We had casual conversations at random times. We had long conversations deliberately devoted to writing the story.
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