In favor of creative co-lab-orating

by Starla J. King on February 21, 2013

Creative collaboration is tricky at best.

Whether it’s combining skill sets and talents for a new joint business offering, co-writing an article or book, masterminding a public art project, or any other creative ventures we undertake with someone else, it’s a challenge.

How do we hold onto our own creative integrity while honoring another’s equally valid, valuable, and different creative needs … when  the very thing that we strive for creatively — uniqueness— is the very thing that challenges our collaborations?

How do we hold our necessary boundaries and still open the gate wide for free creative flow between collaborators?

And really, is it even possible?

I say yes.  I have proof (sneak peek here).

Believe me, I love working alone.  I love having full control over what I create, how I create it, and how and what I share with whom at what time for what reason (at what price, on what schedule, etc etc etc).  I need work-alone time to hear the voice of my muse, to get clear on the particulars of my creative backbone, and to hone my creative-work-through time with no audience beyond myself.

Yet certain creative collaborations can exponentially increase our creative capacity and meaningful impact.  They can inspire, invite, and naturally hold us to our best work.

They become co-lab-orations: experiments (lab) that you formally talk about (oration) and do (labor) together (co).

So what are key characteristics of powerful co-lab-orations?   I offer the following list of direct descriptions of a current creative co-lab-oration:

1. We hold ourselves to our own best work, which naturally encourages us each to bring equal effort and attention to the collaboration.

This reminds me of the summer I was a basketball camp counselor (to high school kids) at James Madison University, and during lunchtimes the counselors had “exposition” pickup bball games so the camp attendees could watch. I played better basketball during that week than any other time in my life — because I played up to the level of those around me.

2. We name — out loud, to each other — the fact that we want our collaboration to be top notch, powerful, impactful, and of service to the world (through our clients).

3. We are nimble at giving/receiving, leading/following, AND working side-by-side as needed in any moment. That flow feeds our energy beautifully.

4. We absolutely respect each other and each others’ work … which makes it easy to be dedicated and committed to our collaboration… which in turn creates our best work.

5. We learn from each other, which energizes us, which produces our best work.

6. Our “work” together is enjoyable. Plain and simple, we have fun. (Like the day I secretly replaced a headshot of her on her in-process website with a photo of my cross-eyed cat).  And when we don’t have fun, it’s ok because we both know the fun and enjoyment will appear again soon enough.

7. We communicate to keep each other informed, yet still allow each other space. There’s an ease to it somehow.

8. We both consider curiosity an essential co-lab-oration tool: what is the other person’s vision for this shared work? How is the co-lab-oration working (or not) for them? What is important (or not) to them?

9.  We check in regularly on each others’ “timing” — are we both ready to be working on a specific part of a joint project, or not?

10.  We intentionally design our co-lab-oration, and re-design it (together) as necessary (when roles are starting to shift, or different strengths need to be used, or we see new opportunities).

This co-lab-oration didn’t happen overnight (they often don’t), but we recognized it when it took shape, and gave it a home.

What creative co-lab-oration might be waiting at your doorstep?  What’s your next step in exploring it? 

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