The art of collaboration: quality and clarity

Last time I talked about the initial stages of forming a collaboration with other creatives. This time, we’re looking at committing to excellence, understanding the creative journey, and being clear about the purpose of the project.

Commit to quality
No creative worth their salt wants to put out poor work: it’s as simple as that. In order to be on the same page as your creative partner, you both need to be sure that you’re willing to have standards – and that your idea of what constitutes those standards actually matches.

For example, the late, great David Bowie famously declined to collaborate on a song with the hugely successful band Coldplay. The band invited him and, as lead singer Chris Martin reported, Bowie’s diplomatic but direct response was: ‘It’s not one of your best.’

Now, only a rare few of us have the standing of a cultural icon such as Bowie to refuse a band with a global following, but as creatives we can all recognise lackadaisical or substandard output when we see it.

Don’t compromise

Bowie got where he did – and stayed there – precisely because he wasn’t willing to compromise. He didn’t phone in his work. And if he didn’t feel it was worthwhile entering a partnership with what was being presented to him, then that was, indeed, the right call.

This is something you too will need to sound out with your potential creative partner.

If the project isn’t good enough, if they’re not willing to put in the time and effort to make it the best it can be, and if they’re unwilling to commit to sufficient quality – then mooting a collaboration is pointless.

So don’t sweat it: just move on, and don’t waste your time.

Check the destination
Bowie also expressed grace and understanding in the face of rejection. In 1971, celebrated musical maverick and keyboardist Rick Wakeman had the enviable dilemma of fielding two amazing offers at the same time: join Bowie’s band and work out front alongside guitarist Mick Ronson; or accept lead singer Jon Anderson’s invitation to join the prog rock band, Yes.

Wakeman deliberated and chose Yes, as he recognised that it would give him more freedom to do the kind of work he wanted. When Wakeman called Bowie to explain, Bowie replied: ‘That’s fine – you’ve made the right decision.’

Checking the destination and thinking over where a partnership is likely to go is really important. The proposal may be tempting right now, but it’s also crucial to consider your body of work and look at where the collaboration may take you further down the line.

If that road may lead to something truly interesting or even great, brilliant! If not, you may want to consider alternatives. You could moot a short, one-off collaboration, or look at other ways you might be able to work together. Or if this really isn’t where you want to be headed, simply decline the proposal altogether, extricating yourself gracefully.

Clarity is key
Having decided that you would like to work together, being clear about what you both want to achieve is essential from the outset. Without a properly delineated idea of what you want to produce – with a definite endpoint in sight, and a proper timeline to get there – the collaboration could suffer from confusion and mission creep. Worse still, it might never be realised.

Establish the goal

Whether that result is an exhibition, article, book, music, design, art or something else, establishing the goal, its perameters and knowing how you’re going to achieve them, will help you and your creative partner to stay focused.

There are numerous examples of musicians who’ve taken months – years, even – to record their albums, with terrible results because of personality clashes, chaotic behaviour and beleaguered organisation.

Don’t let this be you. Decide what you both want to do, commit to it, and stay on track.

In the final part next time, we’ll be looking at the practical nuts and bolts of collaborating – so stay tuned!

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2 thoughts on “The art of collaboration: quality and clarity

  1. Collaborating on a series was a nightmare for me. Granted, I got involved in that when I was not in a good place. It did teach me that I was fit to lead and work on my own, though. So I guess everything happens for a reason. Still, using some of the points you mention in your post might have resulted in a better experience for me!

    1. Hi Danica! Your comment is very insightful.

      Working with others can strengthen our sense of self and what we’re capable of; but you’re right – our circumstances (whether emotional, practical or other) also need to be right for us to be ready to enter into a collaboration in the first place.

      Have you read my first post on this? I mention how important it is to sound out the other parties, find out what their personalities are like, right at the beginning – it helps to weed out any potential disasters that might be waiting to happen!

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