10 Steps to Successful Creative Collaborations

At the heart of all creative endeavours is a team. It may only be two people – the creator of the work and the distributor of the work, but even in this simple version if there is a breakdown in their collaboration the work will be lost, perhaps forever. However, for most of the creative industries we work in bigger teams and the art of collaboration is critical to our success.

In this blog I want to set out some simple lessons garnered from various people’s experience and my own to create 10 steps to successful creative collaboration.

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.”
― Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Step 1 Check your ego at the door

We all have egos, they may be hidden, but we would not want to create if we did not believe there was something about our work, which was worth bothering with. The problem comes when you are working with others and your own ego stops you seeing the contributions others are bringing to the project, or worse stops you seeing the mistakes you are making.

Therefore, park any inflated view of your self somewhere where it will not stop you being part of a team.

Step 2 Respect is critical

This flows from the same place as parking your ego but is essential if a team is to collaborate effectively. Mutual respect for contributions is critical to developing ideas, and reaching the stated goal of the collaboration. You have to give respect, and earn it within the team. This is most easily achieved by openly assessing others and your own work in the light of the stated goals of the project, not your own ambition to make a mark.

Step 3 Define the parameters

Agreeing what the goal of any project, and the parameters within which you are all going to work is essential. These may include a time frame, a budget, audience, characters, materials, levels of finish or production, financial stepping-stones, and many more. However, if these are not agreed, and if necessary adapted by the group later, then you will have nothing to judge your work by, and how well you are doing in achieving the team’s collective ambition.

Step 4 Process is all

‘Content is King’ is an often stated maxim of the creative industries, and yet many great ides flounder, and potentially magic projects die, because the process of development, and collaboration, fails. Understanding the process of collaboration is critical to setting realistic goals. However, it is equally important to understand the individual artists/creators process. How they achieve their inputs to the project is part of the collaborative jigsaw.

Note: “content is King’ is attributed to Bill Gates in a 1996 essay of the same title. http://www.slideshare.net/mchavesrj/content-is-king-bill-gates

Step 5 Allow time and space for dreams and conceptualisation

It is easy to set out with a solid set of parameters, and a set goal, but if you do not allow time for dreaming, sharing off the wall ideas then the final creative work will be the weaker for it. It is this wild time when things will be brought in which will ultimately will be rejected, that proves to everyone in the team they are on the right track, and they have shared in its conception.
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Step 6 Shared intentions give great results

The commitment of everyone in a team to work on a given project is often taken for granted. People are being paid to make their contribution, and that is it. In reality this does not produce the best work. It is the level of intensity, creativity, which stems from a share intention to create something special, which ultimately produces the greatest work.

Step 7 There is always the dirty work

Life is messy. No matter how well planned a project is there are always crises, boring days, set backs, messy processes, and unforeseen developments, which mean that things that you do not really want to do, have to be done. For people to make the extra effort at this point in the project’s development then all the above elements have to be in place.

Step 8 Allow for margins and error

Everyone wants a project to run smoothly, and be achieved in the quickest possible time – if only to allow everyone to move on and make even more amazing work. However, you need to factor in time for mistakes, set backs, and disagreements. If you do not do this then sooner or later things will go wrong, and someone will be blamed. When in fact things always go wrong, and it is the job of collaborative teams to not look for a scapegoat but to solve the problem.

Step 9 Direct contact rules

No this is not a metaphor of creative teams being a contact sport. It is about trying wherever possible to keep any intermediaries e.g. agents etc. out of the initial approaches. You as a team need to know the person is really committed to your project, not just because the deal was a good one.

Step 10 Bad timing can kill

Working to deadlines, which then change; people having to drop out; the project being overtaken, or overshadowed by some other creative work; the financiers having a change of heart, all are reasons why it is just bad timing. A good collaborative team takes the lessons they have learnt from the experience and move on. After all it is the collaborative team that is capable of creating the great work, not the work that creates the great team.

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