Collaboration and creative work

Whenever I work with a client, invariably I am trying to get them to come out of their shell. For instance:

  • To be more honest in their messaging, instead of viewing it only as marketing.
  • To forge individual relationships with the right people, not just “grow my audience.”
  • To move past their comfort zone in thinking of the experience that their work creates for others, instead of just viewing it as how well their SKU number performs in Amazon.

Something I am always reminded of in this process is how relationships are such an important part of success. Consider these scenarios…

  • An artist gets a gallery show because they met the right person three years earlier, and stayed in touch.
  • An author gets great media attention because they knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who could make it happen.
  • An entrepreneur whose idea is remarkably similar to yours gets way more traction because of who they partnered with.
  • A designer gets a great freelance job for a large media organization because they met the editor at a party 2 years earlier.

So today I want to talk about the value of relationships, collaboration and social skills as they relate to success with your creative work.

Social Anxiety

Remember walking into the lunch room on the first day of school? You stood there with your plastic tray of tater tots, scanning the room for a lifeline, a familiar face who would save you from horrible stigma of eating alone.

I find that these fears rarely leave us, even as we grow older and wiser. That fear of being rejected, friendless, and adrift. These emotions have a way of creeping up when we launch books, schedule a performance, or otherwise share our work with the world.

We think: “Wouldn’t it be good to have a friend out there who can validate me and this work, and help ensure it doesn’t languish in obscurity?”

Some of you may already be resisting this topic. Why? Because it goes against things we feel we can control:

  • Craft. That you can spend 20 years crafting a novel, and have no greater chance of success as a person who wrote a novel in a month, but has some popular friends who can push it out.
  • Mastering the tactical steps in growing your career. That, if you just buy the right how-to book, take the right course, or mimic someone else’s strategy, you will find success.

In other words, 1,000 people can start a blog, but only 1 will have it turn into a five-figure business. 1,000 thousand people can self-publish books, but only one will have it sell more than 500 copies. Or, 1,000 people can open a restaurant in town, and only 1 will survive more than five years.

Were the other 999 total crap, built by people who half-assed it? Nope. Very often, it is a matter of bad luck, and not having the relationships you need in order to succeed.

To succeed, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. I imagine 99% of you would say “Oh, I’m well acquainted with sacrifice and discomfort in my work.” But in this instance, I mean SOCIALLY uncomfortable.

This is the worst kind of discomfort. The kind we avoid at all costs.

The kind where we refuse to ask for help because we don’t want to seem weak.

We don’t want to ask a question in a meeting because we are afraid we will look stupid.

We won’t walk up to someone we want to meet because we are afraid of rejection.

We don’t submit our work for publication because we convince ourselves it isn’t good enough.


Yes, I Know You Are An Introvert

I would bet that 99% of you reading this are thinking, “But Dan, I’m an introvert. I have rights too.”

And you are correct. Here’s the funny thing: I’m an introvert. So are several very close friends I am thinking of who also run their own successful careers as creative professionals.

If you are an introvert, I totally respect that. I would just encourage you to not use it as an excuse for limiting your own potential for success. There are many ways to honor your introversion while still collaborating with others. I would recommend Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, as a starting point to explore this topic as an ecosystem of choice, not a single word excuse.

Aspects of the Creative Process Benefit from Social Interaction

Too often, we think of a perfect creative process as one of isolation.

Jackson Pollock alone in his barn splattering paint.

J. K. Rowling alone in that cafe, writing Harry Potter.

James Brown writing lyrics and coming up with dance moves from a place of pure singular genius.

This is the romantic vision of creative work that simplifies it to something we can understand and control. If I just sit in the cafe (where I am writing this) long enough, eventually, success will find me.

Except, that is usually only part of the story.

Jackson existed within a community of artists. Jo had to submit her work for publication. James collaborated with many others.

Yet, so many creative professionals slave away at crafting their work, yet DEEPLY RESIST sharing and interacting.

They scoff it off with as an aversion to social media, or how they don’t want to market their work because they fear being a spammer. Or they simply say, “I’m an introvert.”

So, they don’t even talk to the folks that they hope their work reaches.

Perhaps you are a novelist who simply wants to sell 5,000 copies of your next book. Let’s consider how collaboration is a part of your own creative process:

  1. Finding an agent.
  2. Negotiating a contract with a great publisher.
  3. Reaching out to other authors to blurb your book.
  4. Having a great relationship with your editor.
  5. Being a great partner to your marketing and sales teams.
  6. Marketing – from embracing bookstores, to encouraging reviews, and engaging with readers.

These are social interactions, and there are 1,000 choices along the way on how to be a great partner versus a distant partner.

Embracing Collaboration With Your Work

In January, I’m launching a couple things to focus a lot on these topics, to help you develop the skills and relationships you need to find success.

Questions I am trying to solve for are:

  • How can you find more time and energy to devote to your craft?
  • How can you forge powerful relationships with great partners, that help your work reach the right people?
  • How can you fill your days with things that inspire you, not check-boxes on an endless to-do list?

What other challenges should I add to this list?