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Our way or the highway: is collaboration really the creative holy grail?

Collaboration is good and autocracy is bad. Or is it?

Vaughn DavisI’ve been lucky here at SxSW to catch up with former Rapp Auckland ECD and current Rapp NYC ECD Wayne Pick.

Some of you may know of my bromance with Wayne, which first became public a couple of years back when I named him in a lesser title as one of the three people in New Zealand advertising who most inspire me.

It was even more of a bonus to discover that Wayne and his planning director Matt Baker were hosting a session called The Creative Collaboration Conundrum.  The boys told me they’d been planning and preparing the one-hour session for months, including interviews with collaborators in business, medicine and the arts (as well as advertising) all over the world.

The planning paid off; even though 90 percent of what they discovered must have stayed in their notebooks, it was for the best of reasons. Ben and Wayne took a collaborative approach to the conference session itself, with three quarters of the content coming from the hundred or so people in the room.

There were plenty of theories on the reasons collaborations succeed or fail; especially when applied to a “lead agency” / “digital agency” partnership; and people looking for ways to make collaboration work better will have left with a few good ideas in their pockets.

What I came away with, though, was the feeling that much of the pain people had clearly suffered could have been avoided if rather than focusing on collaboration, they’d focused on honesty.

That collaboration is good and autocracy is bad is about as accepted a slice of business wisdom as you’ll find in the creative industries. The danger here is that a collaborative approach is by no means always the best, and may cripple a process precisely when results are needed most. When the Indians are coming over the hill, they may well have once said here in Texas, is not the time for a pow wow. 

While finding great ways to collaborate is brilliant, I think the more important first step is to honestly decide whether or not to do it and share that decision with everyone affected. I made this suggestion to the group and it seemed to be well received … do let me know what you think.

Collaborate or do not: there is no try.

Collaboration: if you’re going to collaborate, do it well, be open, share equally and recognise contribution.

Nollaboration (aka autocracy): this is fine too. If, as in the 1980s movie Patton, you need to “Shoot the Mule,” tell everyone what you’re doing and tap that donkey.

Faullaboration: Warning, Will Rogers, Warning! Nothing saps spirits, kills teams or demoralises creative individuals more effectively than talking collaboration and walking anything but. If a collaborative approach just doesn’t feel right for this particular project, man up, say so and get on with it. People will respect you for it and when you really do need collaboration, you’re far more likely to get it.