Every collaboration starts as an idea. Simples, as the beloved meerkat says (apologies to readers beyond Australia, but this is an Australian reference to a popular ad for an insurance company). Those who have come up with ideas in the past know that excitement for the originator of an idea is not proportionate to its chances of becoming something more tangible. We also know that good ideas are ignored at times at a preference to not so good ones. We also know that ideas can be complicated, dangerous, unacceptable, expensive, and downright crazy (at least initially).
The world of ideas is complicated, not because of the ideas themselves but because of the whole eco system required for them to become something else. A fascinating fact about ideas is expressed by the main character from the movie Inception, where he says that once an idea is planted in a person’s head it can never be destroyed. That brings me to my main point: collaboration projects, once given form in an idea, can be both a golden opportunity and a rock around your neck. So before we entertain the idea of entering into some form of collaboration, we should digest or ideate at length. That should not be confused, though, with the process of fine tuning the idea at later stages.
What happens with ideas that are about collaboration is that they can cause us a lot of trouble if we find that our potential partners are not so ready to embrace them. Ideas tend to reflect a lot of our personality and not just our professional capacity. We tend to personalise ideas because they can be random. One can be a great accountant because of training and work experience accumulated over the years, but that is not an indicator of their capacity to create an idea, especially an innovative one. In fact, an accountant would not be expected to do so on a regular basis. So if an idea pops up, the pleasure of its emergence comes with a certain emotional satisfaction that is not the same as that which normally occurs in the process of work day. Ideas, particularly innovative ones, are not easy to form. In fact they can be a frustrating process which explains in part why the formation of one can produce a very personal sense of satisfaction; thus our feeling of ‘possession’, ‘ownership’ and a special kind of ‘pride’. All this sets up ideal conditions for rigidity in the way we approach collaboration. We tend to negotiate hard and feel that anything other than complete acceptance of our idea is not good enough. And that is how collaboration can come unstuck.
But this potential trap can be avoided and/or, if necessary, navigated through. The first thing to note is that ideas are not solutions but only a small step towards them, and collaboration as a strategy is the larger part of the solution. The second thing to respect is that an idea is only good if it is malleable. It has to have properties that allow collaborators to mould it and shape it in accordance to their own way of work. Collaboration is not healthy nor productive if it does not allow participants to ‘own’ a share. Ideas matter, but the final outcome matters more. Collaboration is necessary and at times almost unavoidable in both producing and executing an idea. However, the key to success is to understand that an idea is the property of a collaborative process; a form of knowledge, an insight, a resource that the mature collaborator can bring to the table without any special conditions attached.