Exploring the decisions for collaboration

Ancient Letter M

Making the decision who you collaborate with or not, is one of the most important decisions a person can make. The outcome of which has an impact not just on your professional life, but also your personal and the lives of others around you. 

Who we collaborate with is one of our most constant decisions as human beings, and one of our hardest.

As the word collaboration becomes more and more popular in print across many a business blog or magazine, it is hard to ignore the reality that the practice of collaboration is something we have always done as social and complex human beings.

From deciding who to hang out with at school, who you team up with in a college group project or sporting team, what organization you work for, what clients you work with or the people you share ideas and become partners; from who is your best friend, your first love, your girlfriend, boyfriend, your husband or wife — the practice of collaboration is in everything we do. We are just now talking more about it.

It is not just a decision of who you work with or how, but most importantly, why?

I’ve made this decision to collaborate many times in my life, and every time, the thing I come back to is not the promise of opportunity in the work we may be doing, or the numerical figure attached to it, or even where they or I are geographically, intellectually or emotionally. If I look back over the collaborations that have for me been the most rewarding and fulfilling compared to those less so, the consistent element is our shared values in practice more so than in words.

A few years ago I asked a good friend and mentor of mine, Prof. Costas Andriopoulos, ”How do you decide who to collaborate with on projects, and who you do not?” His reply, “Would I invite them into my house and for dinner with my family? These words I carry with me.

While we don’t have to be looking in exactly the same direction to collaborate, or have come from a similar set of past experiences; what we do need to collaborate and collaborate well is a shared sense of how we might get there, and why we might want to.

What is it that each of us value in our lives, and not just our working lives.

Working with people whose values are very different to your own can be very difficult. People who work in a world of black and white, while you embrace the world in all its color and texture. People who want to control everything, or values an invisible hierarchy while you find it easy to adapt and live within rich networks. Or people who in the way they work, challenge not just your professional values, but also the personal values with which they align.

The riskiest part of collaboration is often, to find this out, you have to put your toe in the water. You might have to work together in some way to discover if — all words aside — you both do practice by a similar set of shared values.

If not, the courageous thing is … to walk away.

While I’ve worked with and moved away from organizations, finished work on projects, and even moved countries (twice), one of the hardest professional decisions I ever made was to walk away from a collaborative project that I’d helped seed and develop. A project I felt could if done right, could in some small way help change certain practices in how and what we teach in management in the academy.

After six years of collaborating, developing and building the project up, and being part of its early success, the project started to make me sick, professionally and personally. I still worked hard on it, but I was incredibly unhappy.

It wasn’t the work itself, or the schedules fitting around my other commitments that had an impact. It was because the project team no longer, and perhaps in some ways never did, share consistent values in how we collaborated and why. As the project developed, this became more evident in how we worked.

The vision of what we were working on also had at some point changed, and considerably so over the time of the project. It now wasn’t about change in the academy, it was about money, and status. While I understand the business side of many of the decisions being made on this project, I didn’t value or agree with them.

So, I walked away.

While this was difficult and complicated to untangle myself from peer expectations and contracts, it would have been even more difficult for me to remain collaborating. If I stayed on the path the project was on, than I would have had to have given up a very important part of myself — my values — in order to fit with the values of others.

Today, when approached to collaborate, I try and be patient and evaluate not just what we could be working on, and its potential value; but I spend time, weeks, sometimes months or years, studying the people I could be collaborating with.

My intent is to learn as much as I can about how we might work together, how they value others in what they do (not just in their words), and how their values and vision align with mine. It is the insight from these questions that for me, informs my decision as to why we could or could not collaborate, especially in a deep rich social good sense.

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how
— Friedrich Nietzsche


Image source: Henry Peacham (1593). The Garden of Eloquence, British Library

What College Students Should Be Learning About the Arts

What should they/we be learning about the arts? I spend much of my time thinking, reading and learning from others about what current students “should” be learning about the arts and creative industries while they are in college. What “should” we the academic community be guiding young people to learn, tap into, be curious about and connect to? As the world changes and the diversity and multiplicity of our identities and purpose continues to ebb and flow, so too is the challenge we all face to help young people navigate their worlds, develop themselves and the networks and communities they are a part of.

While no one size fits all  and no one person or group has all the answers, there are many people we are each connected to who can provide insight from their own experiences. To aid my thinking as we enter the 2013/2014 academic year, on the 30th of August I reached out to my friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter, the wonderfully creative, intelligent and disruptive souls who work across a multiplicity of areas in the arts and creative work, and across the world.

I asked them one question:

“What is the one thing every college student should learn about the arts and creative industries in their freshman (first year)?
(Tweet: 30.Aug.2013)

The response was awesome. Keep Reading…

Teaching to Transgress

Education as the practice of Freedom by Bell Hooks.


What the best college teachers do


Rapping Science

Science in many ways is art. It is the result of much creativity. Why then do we often stray from the learning of science and its history in classrooms in creative and artistic ways? What could young people learn about science through music and especially through the learning of Rap? 

There is much youth can learn about science from the reading of textbooks, the watching of videos and by participating in experiments. A trip to a museum or science fair can also be inspiring, if you can afford to visit or live near one. But many of these ways are how you or I learnt science. These are not, however THE only ways.

Another is through Rap — the writing of lyrics and the curation of music to tell the story of science in a way cognizant with modern music culture. This is what Christopher Emdin, a professor of education at Columbia calls, Rapping Science.  Keep Reading…