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Can the Best Creative Solutions Ever Come from Collaboration?

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Not if collaboration means consensus

If you are invited to a brainstorming meeting today, consider this.

David Straus, in his excellent How to Make Collaboration Work lists five steps to effective collaboration:

  1. Involve the relevant stakeholders
  2. Build consensus phase by phase
  3. Design a process map
  4. Designate a process facilitator
  5. Harness the power of group memory

I think these steps are brilliant and especially useful as a framework for collaborations large and small. At first they seem sort of obvious—but as with so many “obvious” things, further explanation quickly gets tricky. With Straus, every step is critical and has its place. Best to plan for it.

But one thing Straus does not  address is how collaboration works in developing a risky communication event that requires a singular voice. I’m thinking of something as simple as a letter, brochure, print ad or broadcast spot and beyond. Anything meant to cut through clutter and gain attention.

Though I’m a big believer in collaboration, there are times in a collaborative process when working alone gives the best results. I’ve always felt my best ideas come after having a chance to noodle a problem on my own and then come back with a few possible solutions to retrench with the art director or other team members.

Brainstorming meetings don’t afford this opportunity. And sometimes (if handled very badly) they lead to consensus talk. Any communication tool that is the product of consensus is likely to be so bland as to be invisible. That’s because what we usually take for consensus is finding agreement around some solution that does not offend any of the stakeholders. If someone says my headline is “Fine,” then I’ve lost the battle. As a copywriter, I crave a visceral reaction or a polarized response. Consensus often results in pabulum.

My point:

  • A brainstorming meeting can be useful for getting a lot of different ideas. A brainstorming meeting is not useful for honing those ideas.
  • Creative people can and do collaborate to achieve wildly wonderful stuff. But at points in the collaborative process, a singular voice must take command to champion the risky solution. And a singular vision needs to guide the piece toward a singular voice.

At some point a singular vision must step in to create a singular point of view and to champion a risky idea.


Image Credit: Bob Staake via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

September 17, 2012 at 5:00 am

How do your tools shape you and your customer?

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We work with tools. Tools work back.

Current Tools Train Us to Expect Collaboration

It is not precisely true that our tools train us. More to the point: our tools sometimes wake dormant skills. Our tools help us exercise muscles we’ve not used so much: for instance, my running shoes help me exercise a different set of muscle than my bicycle typically requires. I know this because I have different pains after using each. An axe requires differing coordination skills than a hammer, which is also different from a ratchet.

Current social media tools exercise our collaboration muscles. From Facebook and Twitter we began to see that collaborating is fun. And we start to look forward to working together. It now feels good use those muscles and skills. It feels productive.

So when we require each other to sit silently in a long meeting, well, that doesn’t feel so good anymore. Or when we tell our employees or our congregation to go do this thing without asking for their input and experience—that just won’t fly anymore. And if we expect our customers to buy whatever we sell with no questions, well, that model has been dead for some time (the cult of Apple comes to mind as one exception).

David Straus in his practical and interesting How to Make Collaboration Work (San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler Publishers, 2002) rightly labels this a matter of human dignity:

People who are directly affected by an issue deserve to be able to express their opinions about it and have a hand in formulating a solution. (46)

How are the current tools changing the expectations of your client, customer or congregation?


Image Credit: Inkdrips via thisisnthappiness

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