…continued from Part, the first.
Your CEO returns from a conference in Barcelona and starts banging the drum of ‘collaboration’. It will help us build a culture of working together and get to the great ideas faster. Because, after all, everyone is creative.
Meanwhile, in the back of their mind, they’re actually saying,
“I got caned for not meeting our quarterly forecast, so we need to reduce our project timelines, crunch billable hours together, get the work out the door sooner so we can move on to the next revenue source. Oh, and that’ll help us win some awards, right.”
Collaboration may overtly be the act (or culture) of working with others to produce something with a joint effort, but in the sense of business – improved workflow, shorter turnaround and better output – it is the act (or culture) of working with other skill-sets to produce something that is better, faster, bigger.
In an agency, it means producing something more effectively, more profitable, and more creative.
My favourite tale of collaboration in business is the story of M&Ms – the little candy-covered chocolate that melts in your mouth, not in your hand. They were the invention of Forrest Mars Snr, son of the Mars Company tycoon Frank C Mars with whom he had a fractious relationship, both personal and professional. Forrest was a visionary whose ideas for new products and global expansion were not readily accepted by his father, even though Forrest introduced the Milky Way and Mars bar to the old-man’s company.
Forrest’s latest confectionery concept was patented in 1941, and a small batch was produced to prove its viability, but he didn’t have the chocolate to mass-produce his amazing new product. The US Government’s implementation of war-time rationing gave complete control of chocolate to Mars’ rival confectioner – and then market leader – Hershey’s Chocolate. [queue: dramatic music]
Mars needed Hershey. So Forrest found a partner in Bruce Murrie, the son of Hershey’s President. He got a quick gauge of the young Murrie, working for Hershey’s in a mid-level role under the shadow of his eminent father who was bestowed the leadership by his mentor and best friend, the original Willy Wonker, Milton S Hershey himself.
Bruce was intrigued by Forrest’s little sample wrapped in his kerchief. Forrest even suggested to Bruce that they call the little chocolate beads ‘M&Ms’ to stand for ‘Mars and Murrie’. Partners.
The resulting handshake gave Forrest access to and endless supply of Hershey’s chocolate and the machinery that Milton had introduced to the US for making the best. They collaborated to produce what is now one of the world’s leading confectionery products.
Each brought their own specific purpose to the joint venture, and each brought their own specific wants. Mars had a revolutionary idea and ingenious technique that would see him step out of his father’s shadow, but he needed chocolate and machinery. Murrie had chocolate and the means of production, but needed a breakthrough idea that would see him step out from his father’s shadow.
Each collaborator understood what they uniquely had, and what they could gain from combining these individual assets. Joining forces for a common (and selfishly personal) goal.
Back to that agency CEO banging the drum about ‘collaboration’ for producing better work: what they are trying to say is that by better combining our unique skills and individual assets the agency will produce better work.
Unfortunately, it is often poorly explained and misinterpreted agency-wide as: “Let’s all jump in a room together and brainstorm because everyone is creative! Yippee.”
The first step to collaboration, as both Forrest and Bruce knew, is to recognise your unique asset and respect the unique assets of others. Know what you bring to the table, and accept what others will bring to the table. Know what you want to get from your collaborators that you could not do yourself.
The very notion that everyone is bringing “creativity” to the table either means you have nothing unique to bring, or you have all the same type of people in the room.
If you have nothing unique to bring, you shouldn’t be there. Unless you’re subconsciously admitting no-one has anything unique to bring, a bunch of monkeys could probably solve this, and therefore it’s probably not a big enough challenge to require the multiple billable head-hours gathering in a room together in the first place.
Alternatively, if you have all the same type of people in the room, then you don’t have a complementary mix of skills and you’re wasting multiple billable head-hours by arriving at the same solution that one or two people could have conceived at the pub, far quicker and cheaper.
Collaboration is the joining of interdependent and distinctive assets to provide differing viewpoints and thoughts toward a unified solution that, ideally, is better than any solution that could come from a single viewpoint.
It requires people from different but inter-related disciplines. Creatives, Strategists, Business Managers, Technologists, Producers, or whatever. Not everyone can represent ‘creative’.
Each collaborator must leverage their own discipline to provide suppositions that shed light from alternative angles.
Each collaborator must also respect the lights from others.
And in doing so, respect that those lights come from different disciplines.
Sometimes a creative one, that can shine upon your light and make something even brighter.
The collaborative discussion (read: debate) with a colleague that inspired this treatise, inevitably included the defence that there’s a difference between saying “everyone is creative” and “everyone is A Creative.” True dat. But as with telling Usain Bolt “everyone runs” rather than “everyone is a Professional Runner” (see ‘Part, the first’), the notion of claiming any sort of athletic equivalence within the context of his professional environment is extremely dismissive of his athletic ability and prowess.
Within an agency environment, where there are people employed solely for their creative ability and prowess, it is as equally dismissive to say “everyone is creative” as it would be to say “everyone is A Creative.”
The phrase, even though it is supposedly disarmed as a more generalised statement, is still a declaration that “everyone can do what Creatives do.” That to be creative is not a unique skill that others rely on. That the work relies on. That the agency could fire every single professional Creative and instead bring in a teenager, that guy who hangs around the supermarket toilets, your mother, and a walrus. Because, after all, “everyone is creative.”
It is often said when ideas need to be rapidly formulated:
“Just grab a bunch of people to crack this fire brief.
After all, everyone is creative”
or when someone in management thinks the only way to make the whole agency feel part of the process is to homogenise:
“Remember, people: ideas can come from anywhere. Everyone is creative.”
In both instances, the speaker is attempting to boost the morale of the staff by assigning them with a positive quality, hoping to foster a creative culture by merely telling people they are imbued with that desired attribute. Sadly, it seems many believe all it takes to be creative is that someone has told them they are.
Unfortunately, in both instances, the claim (and pursuant self-belief) is actually that one of the specialist skills that has flourished in our industry, our agencies, isn’t a specialist skill anymore. Everyone can do it. It’s not innate, it’s not learned, it’s not practiced and honed. It’s naturally within us all, like breathing, eating, shitting. Or running, writing, flying. Or, closer to home, planning, producing, managing.
And if the specialist skill of creativity isn’t specialist anymore, what’s to stop any specialist skill becoming genericised too? What would a former Planner, Producer, Account Manager, or Developer be valued for if everyone else could do what they do. Or what you do.
Because you are NOT creative.
Continue to the third part, in which we emancipate empowerment to see how it should, and shouldn’t, work. And why it’s linked to the misperception “…but everyone is creative.”