Making A Business: Collaborating

August 9, 2013

Collaboration is hard: I was slightly relieved when choreographer/designer Tara King reminded me that I'm not the only one who feels this way. It's easy for all of us to imagine the perfect comradeship, brilliant ideas, and certainty that come with working in partnership with people you respect-- having a person or two who always has your back, and creatively gets you.

But, I believe Tara when she says its hard. I know it's hard-- I'm the person who signed an LLC with her spouse almost a year ago. I get a lot of cries of THAT IS SO COOL when people find out that Ben and I work and make art together. What they might not know, though, is that we have spent the better part of the last year actively learning to work together. And, the learning's probably not over. Get two stubborn, opinionated. artistic people together in a room, and both people will have to learn an important lesson:


(That and maybe a dozen or so other lessons.)

But I'm here to insist that it's worth it. I strongly believe in collaboration, whether it means starting a business with your spouse, working with an artist from a different discipline, or planning an event with another business. In every instance I've collaborated, the result has been something I couldn't possibly have imagined on my own. Mostly because I've been faced with this important truth: not everyone thinks the way I do, and thank goodness for that. Which brings me to a few important lessons on collaboration I've learned this year....

1. Embrace the way others think.
I went to an Irrigate workshop a few weeks ago (find out more about this very cool placemaking initiative in the Twin Cities), and we split off according to our leadership type. I'm a big picture, visionary type. I can give you a dozen ideas right now for a performance, project, or potential way of sharing an idea. I won't necessarily think of every step needed to make these ideas feasible-- that will take me some more time. But I've got the ideas, and I see what it could look like. I love planning far into the future, and I love systems. 

Ben, on the other hand, is great at translating ideas into concrete steps. He thinks in the here + now, the realistic and the actual, so if you're talking 5 years in the future, he will look at you with confusion on his face. But he's a great producer, because he will think of every little step needed to make the big idea happen, piggybacking onto the idea in ways I would never think of. 

Now it's obvious that both of these approaches-- visionary, and task-oriented-- are super important to accomplishing anything, but when in the headspace of trying to get something done, it doesn't always feel this way. And this becomes the challenge: to find a way to accept (and be grateful for!) other approaches to getting things done. 

2. Be Flexible.
When Ben and I decided to work together, I had a very set idea of how this was going to happen that totally didn't work out. It took good old honest communication for both of us to have a good moment of "oh...that makes no sense, and this isn't working." It also took a willingness to imagine what effectively working together could look like. And for me (*cough*) it took a certain amount of putting down my ego. In most of my creative projects, I'm the director. But when it comes to a shoot, Ben is much more than just a camera operator-- he really excels at direction. When it comes to business, our roles look a little like this:

      Ben                                                                    Laura
   Pricing bids.                                                       Promotion + writing.
   Shooting + creative direction.                     Pre-shoot planning + story mapping.
   Editing.                                                               Individual artist consultation.
   Media management.                                        Invoicing + accounting.

So, although I don't direct shoots, I work with clients to create a specific story that decides Ben's approach to directing the shoot. And, while I don't know how to operate one bit of editing software, I do give a lot of feedback on edits. So far the work flow works.

3. Trust Your Collaborator + Say YES as much as possible.
I wrote about this over on the Braid blog, but I try to remind myself to treat collaborating like an improv exercise: say 'yes, AND', and add onto your collaborators' ideas. Trust your collaborator's strengths and lean into them. Trust that the idea will be a success. Trust that your collaborator has your best interest in mind. Sometimes my ego really does get the better of me, and I confuse being in control with a greater chance of success. This is hilariously inaccurate. I've loved artistic collaboration in the past because I couldn't possibly predict the awesome results, or the ways that tweaking my process could make it stronger and richer.

4. Talk About It. Do It Again. Get Better At It.
Practice makes perfect, and I hope that I keep taking notes and getting better at it. I hope that I get more willing to take risks, and more willing to give other people the reins.

What have been your most successful collaborations? Why? Teach me about collaboration, oh wise one. 


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