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Tapping into Creative Collaboration

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Collaboration, it turns out, is essential for creative productivity and innovation.

The New York socialite Mabel Dodge knew something about putting talented, engaging people from different backgrounds and creative media in the same room. With the right atmosphere and combination of people, ideas could ignite that might inspire creative action (including even, a few love affairs).

Dodge left the Manhattan glitter in the 1920s for the stark yet stunning frontier of Taos, New Mexico. There she fell not only for the light and mountains but also for a tall, strapping native named Tony Luhan.

Together Mabel and Tony built an adobe farmhouse with rooms to house an astounding array of creative innovators – Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, D.H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, Carl Jung among them.

That house is, essentially, where Taos became known as the Southwest’s epicentre for creative activity.

The Myth of DIY

Creative professionals and practitioners often think they must suffer their projects alone. They’re often mistaken. True, we writers, designers, and creative entrepreneurs thrive on solitude.

But creative collaboration plus a deep connection with the world around you offers a combination that can sustain you through the vagaries of a creative project and a creative life.

In fact, several psychologists now examine social creativity – the dynamics of how the Lennon and McCartneys or the Michelangelos and Medicis of the world flourish.

The emotional mix you “produce” in collaboration make up the brunt of what Seth Godin calls “emotional labor.”

How do we connect? How do we contribute optimally in collaboration?

More than love, more than joy, more than any emotional experience, wonder opens us.
It opens our body’s windows – our senses – to dried leaves floating like brown snow onto the lawn. It opens our hearts to a stranger on a bus or to a baggage-toting relative. It opens our minds to the ideas of a co-worker we previously had pigeonholed. It opens that portal to our own true self’s possibilities and to what matters most in this one wild life.

How to Get Cracked Open in Creative Collaboration

Learn to Listen. Good ideas need space to roam. In our Tracking Wonder programs, we enact collaborative brainstorming and practice deep, receptive listening. You can practice asking, “Is there anything else you’d like to explore?” Practice asking questions more than inserting your knowledge. If you hear your own mind racing with what it wants to say next, quiet it by focusing part of your mind on your breath’s rhythms.

Focus on Ideas not Yourself.
I have the good fortune to spend much of my time talking with interesting people working on cool projects. And sometimes I have to remind myself to stay out of the way of my client conversations.

People who have more substantive conversations about ideas report being happier than those who don’t. Nothing shuts down a good flow conversation that could lead to great ideas than bragging, self-analyzing, or otherwise redirecting the topic back to yourself. When you notice your ego begging for attention, step back in your mind and remember the big idea, the project, the creative problem at hand. Let wonder in.

Open Up Instead of Size Up.
In brainstorming sessions and collaborative sessions, it’s common for Survivor Brain to size up your potential collaborators. Survivor Brain pigeonholes, labels, and writes off. If threatened in a competition of ideas, Survivor Brain attacks or criticizes. Often nearly unconscious prejudices can keep you from recognizing the potential value in someone else’s idea.

If you hear your Survivor Brain whispering insults to you about your potential collaborators, whisper back, “Open up, instead of size up. Open up, instead of size up.” Imagine the space between you and your collaborator as a continuum of ideas. It’s up to you to keep that continuum open and fertile with possibility. See the person before you anew.

Connect Outside Your Field.
What does golden seal have to do with writing fiction? Well, my wife is an expert in Chinese medicine and community medicine. If I want feedback on a character who flourishes in dark rooms, she’s likely to tell me about an herb like golden seal that thrives in shady woods. That analogy in turn might lead me to riff on gold and golden seal and to further research the herb to see what might feed my story’s texture. None of my writer friends could offer that kind of fertile collaboration.

If your looking for a collaborative community of creatives and entrepreneurs, I invite you to join our international  Tracking Wonder Quest Community. You’ll gain weekly inspiration, access to special meetups, and opportunities to find allies online and in your region of the planet. Our free community is comprised of professionals, entrepreneurs, creatives, teachers, coaches, and consultants from 15 countries dedicated to doing business from a place of authenticity and wonder. Join us. It’s free. And invaluable.

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  1. Jeffrey, this sounds like a great program you run. Taos (and Santa Fe) has a creative magic about it, and creating a safe environment for sharing, collaboration and imagination, free from the Survivor Brain (welcome if a tiger is chasing you, not so welcome when at a higher Maslow level), sounds, well, wondrous.

    It’s easy for creatives to isolate themselves. It can be an important part of the creative process, but collaboration is also an amazing component.

    1. Patrick: I love your phrasing about the Survivor Brain. It’s over-active in climates where it’s just not needed. You’re right: Taos itself is a collaborator in what happens at this program. Thanks for dropping in.

      1. Glad you like it. I think a lot about what Dr. Dan Baker wrote in What Happy People Know about our brain stem, the reptilian brain, that gives us fight of flight, helpful when we lived in caves, not real helpful in higher-level self-improvement. (Oh, and love your mention of Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Creativity, big fan of him and the book.)