Generally there’s a first step in successful collaborations in all walks of life – finding the person or persons who will be your fellow collaborator(s). Just like romantic relationships the potential for a certain connection might creep up on you over time or suddenly hit you unawares, it may even have a helping hand from a keen cupid. One thing is certain with either approach; it requires you to have put something of yourself, your ideas and what you’re interested in “out there” for others to react to.
Be it in the physical or virtual community, saying what you want to achieve and talking about your ideas can be really hard. There are a heap of highly justifiable reasons why we may have reservations, many hard-wired from a young age about ‘appropriate’ ways to behave and strategies that have served us well in the past. Some of these are about protecting ourselves, e.g. from ridicule, from being ‘wrong’, or fear of how others will react and respond. Who hasn’t had at least one experience of having an idea unceremoniously shot down in flames by a boss, colleague, teacher, friend or family member?
And some of our fears are about protecting the idea in itself. Usually because we feel it is either too fledgling to survive in the wild or because we worry someone else will ‘steal’ it to make it their own. Again, justifiable. Many of us will have watched our idea plummet to the ground in flames only to reappear in a slightly different guise, at a different time, and maybe even promoted by the very person that took it down in the first place! There’s a reason we are attached to the age-old adage, ‘information is power’.
It can be difficult, therefore, to see why putting your work out there, potentially in an unfinished state, could in any sense be a good idea; particularly for those of us who attach our value and our livelihoods to the things that we know, why would we encourage ourselves to give them away for free?
But how can we find our potential collaborators if they don’t know what we are about because we are holding all our cards so close? We need to make a shift to being able to share more generously and put our ideas out to a wider pool of potential relationships. One powerful way to think of this shift is encapsulated by Simon Terry in his blog on the ‘asymmetrical advantage’. Terry recognises the challenge that ‘making your work visible’ presents but spells out succinctly the powerful position it can put you in. In particular by pulling you towards potential collaborations based on what people already know of your work and understand about your approach. In return you are able to spend more time listening and ultimately solving problems:
“The less time I have to spend on pitching and explaining my work the more time we can spend discussing solutions to problems. Being able to reference already shared work saves time too. Having another person in the conversation who is familiar with your thoughts and approaches can mean both of you can collaborate to solve ideas together.”
I know personally how hard it can be to “put yourself out there”. But I also know from my own experiences and the stories I hear from people I coach how immensely rewarding and empowering it can be when a connection is made and a new plan hatched. Not every attempt will be immediately, or ever, rewarded and there will be bumps on the road. But like all skills, with practice and starting small it will come more easily, you will see the results and reap the rewards of being able to give yourself away.