The secret to growing an audience? Collaboration.

So many people I speak to are trying to make their mark. And feel they are falling short.

They are hoping to move to the next level. But feel trapped where they are.

They are crafting something deeply meaningful, dreaming of it reaching the right audience. But instead feel overwhelmed by a long list of responsibilities.

They are driven and smart, but their dreams are buried amidst conflicting advice on what they “need” to do: social media marketing, blogging, podcasts, promotions, webinars, courses, giveaways, and so much more.

So today, I want to talk about one of the key ingredients to success with your creative work: collaboration.

That’s right, old-fashioned collaboration. Not an app, not a new program from Amazon, not a new button from Facebook. Because those things won’t move the needle for your life.

They are simply buttons to push. (Don’t be a button pusher.)

To me, collaboration is the secret ingredient of success that no one talks about. Today I want to explain the reason why, and how you can leverage this yourself.

Collaboration, Not Blueprints

CHow does Pixar keep producing innovative and successful movies? If you read the book Creativity, Inc. by Pixar founder Ed Catmull, you find their success is all about collaboration — how their people work together.

Too often, we think that success is about blueprints. That, if you could just sneak into the Pixar offices, and look at their plans, their blueprints and their tools, that you could mimic their success.

That won’t work.

Pixar is not about identifying the right buttons to push, in the right order. It is not about identifying which is the right app to use. Pixar, instead, is all about honing human-centered interactions with their teams.

For great art to reach the world, teamwork is required. Too often, we go it alone because we think we can be the lone wolf who succeeds.

Yet, every story of success is a story of collaboration. Find your collaborators. Invest in your team rather than blueprints.

Collaboration is a Skill You Develop

Google is well known for approaching every aspect of their business with analytical rigor. Yet, inside Google, teamwork is of enormous importance. What did they find when they studied how to build great teams? This:

“If a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work but also how they work together.”

An interesting note here is how much value they place on “psychological safety,” which is defined as:

“A shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. Psychological safety is ‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,’ Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999. It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”

What does this mean? To be effective, you need to develop the skills of collaboration. To be a great partner.

There is no magic bullet that successful people are using that you aren’t, and no one-size-fits-all approach that you can simply mimic.

Just copying the tools and tactics of others doesn’t work. Collaboration does.

Invest in People, Not Stuff

I was cleaning out my parents’ old house recently. Deep in the basement, at the bottom of a pile of boxes, I found the real estate sales training tapes that my mom bought in the mid-1980s.

I remembered when she bought these, and at the time they were extraordinarily expensive — around $300. It featured some “celebrity” real estate sales guy, and he packaged his seminar into a series of a dozen cassette tapes. For $300 (around $600 today adjusted for today), she received content, and only content.

Sure, this content was sold as a secret blueprint that took this celebrity salesperson years of work to hone. But I’m reminded of where this content ended up. At the bottom of a box, in the back of the basement.

The truth is that your journey nearly always begins alone, but it requires collaborators. That requires social risk. Investment in others. And that can be scary.

But it is also a human-centered ingredient of success that is often buried under the furor of the latest trends.

Very often, I am reminded that the basics matter. And there is nothing more basic than the importance of investing in yourself and your connection to others.

Collaboration Amplifies Your Efforts

Making things is inherently about connecting with other people. An idea. A story. A process.

How many dieting books do you have on your shelf, unused? The content is top-notch, and as Seth Godin says, books are a “screaming bargain.” He’s right.

They can work for you. They are filled with wonderful ideas. But sometimes, to truly get out of a rut or to move to the next level, you need something more.

This is why Weight Watchers works. Because it requires collaboration.

This is why personal trainers work. Because they require collaboration.

This is why group classes at the gym work. Because they require collaboration.

This is why seeing a nutritionist or physical therapist works. Because it requires collaboration.

Much like your physical health, your creative health is no different. Let’s say that I can give you the key to the library of creative success. A room filled with every insight imaginable on how to hone your craft and reach an audience. No doubt this would be a valuable thing.

But, in that moment where you are standing in that doorway in front of thousands of books which promise “the secret” to success, what is the one thing you would wish for?

A librarian.

A collaborator who helps you dig into the knowledge in a meaningful way. Those thousands of books could represent the best knowledge of human history. Yet, having a single other person with you to help you dig into them amplifies your efforts infinitely.

Collaboration is Energizing

Again and again I see how quickly momentum builds in collaborative settings.

It’s like an “on” switch. That sense that you are a part of something meaningful; that others have your back; that your vision is truly possible because others are already taking part in it.

Invest in yourself by engaging with others. Ideating. Collaborating. Helping. Sharing.

Collaboration is not only the heart of how you create, but also the ability for your work to reach an audience. When you have a team of collaborators, the work becomes part of a social process. These are co-creators who feel invested in the work. They become partners in ensuring it reaches other people.

They become a gateway by which your work is shared in the world.

If you are not sure where to begin with collaborators, here are a few ways to get started:

  • Start with one person who is as passionate about their creative work as you are. No, they do not need to already be “successful.” They can be local so that you meet in person, or anywhere in the world, and you can meet via Skype, phone, or another tool.
  • Meet regularly. Every week, at least. Sure, the meetings can have an agenda, but they don’t need to.
  • Focus on small milestones, not huge goals. What you want here is a sense of progress every month.
  • Consider how you can amplify the work of your collaborator. Because that energy will be reflected back to you.