Monday, February 23, 2009

This collaboration thing

A conversation has been developing around the subject of collaboration skills in the AACE community. I was thinking about this today as I heard an interview with Clive James and Pete Atkin. They collaborated on many songs, some of which one writer rather dramatically calls

the soundtrack to a private adolescent intellectual awakening, burned into memory and carried into adult life like a secret tattoo on the inside of the back of my brain
They were discussing the song 'The magic wasn't there,' made famous by the inimitable Julie Covington who was a friend of theirs in their student days, when they began writing together. The interviewer asked them "Why did you sit down together and decide to write songs?" and, talking over one another in that comfortable way that old friends have they talked about skills they both had, the creativity they inspired in one another and then one of them (I think it was James) said "A lot had to do with conversation," explaining how their collaboration was born out of a conversation about popular music and show tunes.

So there it was: conversation. At the heart of successful collaboration. And it got me to thinking; what characteristics does a successful collaborator need to have?

So, in no particular order:
  • Vision. You have to know what you're working towards, even if it is a voyage of discovery. There must be some idea of how you will know when you have reached your destination.
  • Passion. You have to believe that the thing you're collaborating on matters. Unless the project lights a spark in your eyes, you are unlikely to carry your weight.
  • Contribution. This is a brass tacks point. Each person must have something to bring to the table.
  • Confidence. Each person has to believe in the value of the thing that they bring to the table.
  • Humility and a thick skin. You are bound to encounter some criticism of your ideas or some disagreement with your suggestions. You have to be able to put the success of the project ahead of your own sensitivity.
  • Respect. You have to believe that everybody else has something of value to offer, too. You also have to accept that people work in different ways, and to be prepared to allow your collaborators the space to work in their way.
  • Discipline. You have to make the time to work on the project, to read through everyone's submissions, amendments, suggestions, etc.
  • Patient perseverance. There will be times when everything seems to grind to a halt. You will need to be able to hang in there, even when you feel like just throwing in the towel.
Any others?

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