When NOT To Collaborate

When NOT To Collaborate
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History has shown that collaboration is a powerful creative tool, but as Christian Finucane (main photo), founder and creative partner at The Core Agency writes, there are times when  collaboration creates camels  – something that pleases everyone but looks weird and makes little sense…

Collaboration is a complete no-brainer. Right?A bunch of brilliant examples spring straight to mind. Lennon and McCartney, Larry Page and Sergey Brin or Jane Turner and Gina Riley. And in our world, Procter and Gamble, Wieden and Kennedy, and Mo and Jo to name but a few.The Beatles: Get Back documentary is a perfect demonstration of the power of collaboration and the heights to which ideas can be elevated beyond that of any of the individuals.It’s why we have creatives working in teams today. Back when the Fab Four were in their heyday, an agency innovator realised that having writers and art directors talking across the same desk, rather than sitting in different departments, led to better work.Of course, creative teams collaborate on their ideas with film directors, photographers, animators and musicians to further amplify the concept. In fact, collaboration, across every aspect of our industry, is so routine now that we basically take it for granted. And that’s a great thing.I’m always collaborating with clients, creatives, planners and account service (mainly because they’re smarter than me) and I love it because it’s (usually) always productive.It’s actually surprising it took so long to be a thing we do in business. It’s relatively new. A quick Google (thanks Larry and Sergey) and you’ll find a litany of posts outlining the benefits working together.Talking with other agency owners, those companies with a highly collaborative culture fared really well with the WFH routine we all faced during the COVID epidemic. The flexibility and openness to other people’s thinking that naturally comes with collaboration is magnified when we’re not working face-to-face. It builds trust amongst teams which can only be beneficial.An engaged workplace (be it physical or virtual) promotes a team who are active participants in a values-based culture. People know their efforts count, they have a direct voice in the business and are not just a cog in the machine. That feeling of belonging has been shown to lower stress levels and improve work/life balance. And after the last couple of years, it’s great to know that our workplace families have brought comfort through challenging times.It’s no surprise then that all this inclusion and sharing translates into a more productive environment where people feel confident to bring their best selves to work.One of our clients, PwC, that is on the frontline of competing for the very best talent, recently found that millennials relish an environment where they can engage with and share ideas directly with senior management.It’s easy to see how this kind of collaborative culture leads to higher retention rates, smarter innovation, better business alignment and ultimately more profit, as you now have a highly engaged team of the smartest people all standing on each other’s shoulders.So, based on all the evidence I’ve just shared, you could say there’s never a time to not collaborate. Or is there?It feels contrary to say it, but I believe there is a line, a thin red line, where collaboration can morph into other ‘c words’ – namely Compromise, Committee and Complicated. And this is particularly true when it comes to creative ideas.More often than not, there comes a point in the collaboration process where you have to stop and say “Thanks, but no…” to that visual tweak or extra line of copy shoehorning in another small but suddenly equally important idea. Keeping an idea single-minded can sometimes be harder than coming up with the concept in the first place.It’s when the uncomfortable conversations start to happen, where some input, feedback and ‘builds’ have to be debated away to keep the thinking sharp and cut-through.It’s when egos should be left behind and rational thinking needs to win the day. I’m not advocating a return to the ‘my way or the highway’ ivory tower mentality projected by some agencies in the past. Simply that those with the power to add ‘more’ remember what when it comes to effective messaging that ‘Less is more’.As professionals in a creative industry, it’s absolutely worth asking ourselves, “Are we collaborating too much today?” Are we in danger of creating a camel – something that pleases everyone but looks weird and makes little sense?Someone, usually a creative director and a CMO, have to take on the role of protector of the idea, to safeguard its creative integrity. This can ensure that all the wonderful collaborative thinking at the beginning of the process isn’t sabotaged in the fragile latter stages.In the Get Back documentary Paul McCartney was consistently seen having the hard conversations, debating (and putting his foot down) with his creative collaborators as to what to add and what to subtract. Yes, it creates friction. But it’s a good friction in pursuit of doing the right thing for the brand.If you navigate the process well, being a protector as well as a creator, you have a great chance of making collaboration succeed in the best way possible. And then, when your work is getting noticed and working its socks off, everyone involved can say “We did that!”

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Christian Finucane the core agency

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