To Collaborate or Not to Collaborate?


That is the question.

Alternate title: Should We Collaborate or Should We Not Now? (to the tune of The Clash)

There’s been some interesting online conversation lately about the subject of collaboration — both pro and con, interestingly enough.

Joe Boyd points to this video as an example of what one can accomplish together, rather than alone:

While it’s a clever idea for performing a song, I’m not sure this is indicative of the kind of collaboration most of us will be doing in our lifetimes.

From his creative enclave in Singapore, Fernando Gros points to a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times by Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, entitled “The Rise of the New Groupthink.” In it, Cain makes this statement:

“Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.”

To this, Fernando adds his own thoughts:

“The hard slog of creating, innovating and thinking is something we largely do alone. … It worries me that in many parts of society, including schools, we are not encouraging people to develop the skills required to work alone, for extended periods of time, on complex problems.

“In fact, I do believe there is something like a cult of collaboration, especially in tech and startup circles; the notion that no good idea can come from one person alone.

“It’s important not to get sucked into this. We do need other people in order to amplify our ideas at some point. But, if you are a creative person, an artist, musician, photographer or writer, you do not have to wait for a collaborator to show up before you start work on a project, or strive to perfect your craft.

“You can just go for it. Moreover, you can go a long, long way alone. In fact, if you can go it alone, you’ll have far more to offer your collaborators when you finally start working with them.”

I think Fernando’s advice is right on, and even though he (and Joe Boyd) self-identify as introverts and I’m an extreme (off the charts) extrovert, I too have found that working alone — from my home office here in Charlotte, when I’m not on the road — has given me space to do some deeper and more creative thinking. I can’t say that I’ve solved any of the huge, complex problems facing the Church (yet), but I am deeply grateful to have the kind of space I have in order to do the kind of work I’m doing — and for the great colleagues around the country that I then get to collaborate with.


What about you? Do you agree that having quiet space to create is essential? Or do you prefer to work closely with others? What are you working on that you just need to “go for it” and collaborate with others later?



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Posted on 01-24-2012

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