Collaboration Works Best With Diverse Collaborators
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“Collaboration” is a buzzword that garners a lot of attention, but no one is in agreement about it what it means. Some point to studies showing that companies with collaborative styles are five times more likely to be high-performing. Others claim that the open-plan offices and ad-hoc meetings that are stereotypically associated with “collaboration” result in mediocrity, not high performance.
The problem with most collaboration is that it brings together forces that tend to have similar perspectives or experiences. Colleagues who have worked together for decades and have endured the ups and downs of an industry can identify the problems afflicting that industry -- but they probably have identical ideas about solving them. Two rock artists who draw listeners in the same niche can likely duet and create something their existing fans will love, but they are less likely to attract new fans than if they collaborated with someone in a completely different genre.
Collaboration works best when it’s unexpected. Merriam-Webster defines collaboration as “to work jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor.” That’s where we go wrong: Some of our collaborative efforts fail to stimulate us.
Everyone likes peanut butter and jelly together, but try dipping a French fry into a milkshake: You might feel that combination should be just as celebrated. The saltiness of the fry counteracts the sweetness of the shake, which is exactly why surprising collaborations succeed. They satisfy a desire or taste people didn’t even know they had.
Creative collaborations that come from thinking "outside the box" help a business to stand out. So many times, we put a classical musician with a pop artist, a visual artist, an actor. Traditionally, these artists would not work together because there are no normal means in an agency to set up these collaborations, yet these unusual projects create tremendous value.
I worked with Sting and Trudie Styler, among other artists, on a project telling the love story between Robert Schumann, a 19th-century German composer, and his wife, Clara. “Twin Spirits” was a musical and theatrical performance that highlighted Schumann’s historical work while conveying his story to a modern audience. Sting is an artist but also a cultural historian. We all knew if we could bring people into other forms of the arts, it would benefit not only business, but also society. Everything today is about what is trendy or popular in the moment; this project was about bringing a modern appeal to something timeless.
I’ve seen these collaborations take on other forms as well, from magnifying a nonprofit's mission to creating live experiences via festivals and events. They have included participants like Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich and Anthony Hopkins. Business and art cross-collaborations straddle different causes, industries and skill sets to build something neither segment could create on its own.
Making an artistic collaboration work.
Businesses and organizations that want to push their creative boundaries by working with artists from different worlds need to be thoughtful about making the collaborations fruitful for everyone involved. That doesn’t always mean writing a large check, but it does require thinking through what the ideal outcome should be, the type of work involved and identifying the right audience for the artists who have a vested interest in making the project happen.
Articulate the value, especially when it seems unusual.
I’m currently working with the owners of a game who want to become music publishers and owners of content and media. Many felt that it would be virtually impossible to put together; nonetheless, I am successfully negotiating a deal with two EDM artists. These musicians saw the benefit of tying their music to a game that has millions of fans and players, thereby expanding the game's demographic and audience.
Never be tied to the norm or the accepted way of doing things when developing creative projects. One business may decide to promote its healthy snack mission by collaborating with a celebrity chef to create new flavor combinations. Another organization may opt to work with an animal-loving actress to celebrate its clean air initiative, educating the public on how air pollution in certain regions has been detrimental to animal species. Both collaborations have value, but that value may not be evident until it is specifically articulated.
Artists, by nature, are creative and demanding. It is important to remember that these conversations may require a personal touch. To start the conversation on the right foot, think about which channel makes the most sense for your specific collaboration. Contacting the head of a celebrity’s foundation is very different than contacting his or her agent, who will be motivated by completely different factors.
Artistic collaborations with brands succeed because if executed properly, they can surpass the expectations of both parties. While many collaborations are built upon what feels familiar or comfortable, the best collaborations come from a place of uncertainty and risk. With the unexpected, anything can happen and anything is possible.