Review: The Collaborative Habit

Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a book of interest that’s not directly related to personal finance, but can provide deep insights into the elements of personal success.

the collaborative habitOne of my favorite books I’ve ever reviewed for The Simple Dollar is Twyla Tharp’s excellent The Creative Habit. In fact, it’s one of the few books that’s found a permanent place in my home after having read it for a Simple Dollar review.

Naturally, when I found that Twarp had written a follow-up of sorts, entitled The Collaborative Habit, I couldn’t resist. Simultaneously knowing the high esteem I gave to her first book and also recognizing the ever-increasing importance of collaboration and collaborative work in modern personal and financial success, I couldn’t wait to tear it open.

Much like its predecessor, The Collaborative Habit is notable for its exquisite design and layout. It’s crisp, clean, easy to pick up, and incredibly easy to annotate with your own personal notes and thoughts. Also like its predecessor, it’s not terribly long – it gets right down to the point and the only anecdotes it offers up are ones that get right to the heart of the matter.

The $64,000 question, though, is whether or not it really says anything useful to us. Let’s dig in and find out.

What It Is, Why It Matters, Why It’s the Future
In its simplest form, collaboration means working with others towards a goal that would be difficult to complete without multiple contributions. It goes beyond that, though – collaboration also has the potential to improve what we ourselves individually contribute to the goal. Many people resist collaboration because interacting with people can be difficult, but that in itself can be a reward if we step back and ask ourselves whether we might be the ones at fault – at least in part – and work ourselves to overcome those faults.

Collaboration Is Second Nature
The core of any great collaboration is, in her words, “a clearly stated and consciously shared purpose.” In other words, collaborations work best when you all have the same end result in mind. Collaborations are often undermined when others are secretly working towards other goals and purposes. How can you overcome this? The biggest step anyone can take to make collaboration work well is to establish a routine of work in which each member contributes – without that, collaboration falls apart. Set that before you ever continue or else you will either fail or have to run a marathon to achieve some semblance of success. Another important element is a champion – someone who pushes and inspires the members of your team.

Partnerships Challenge and Change Us
Many collaborations are merely partnerships of two people. A marriage is one such collaboration, as are dance partners and, often, tech startups. The key to a successful partnership is to not have a partner that’s just a duplicate of you, your ideas, and your perspectives. They should be different than you. They should challenge you. They should regularly see things in a different way than you. This forces you to grow and gain something personal beyond the mere outcome of the collaboration.

Working with a Remote Collaborator
The vast majority of my own collaborations are with remote collaborators – and they can be difficult. The key, I’ve found, is communication – and it’s a key that Twarp strongly agrees with. However, that communication shouldn’t boil over into dealing with the individual problems of your collaborator. Instead, focus on maximizing what you are bringing to the table and focus entirely on what your collaborator is bringing to the table. If they produce something that’s subpar for their portion of it, do your thing with what they’ve brought to the table. The other option is to slam on the brakes – and that ends in disaster almost every time.

Collaborationg with an Institution
When you collaborate with an institution, it’s often important to lead with exactly what you need from that institution in terms of resources. State it up front and clearly, so that they know exactly what you will need to carry out your parts of the collaboration. Also, continuing the thread of working with people who aren’t producing at first, if you give your best with what they’ve provided, you’ll often push others to step up their game as well. Your peak performance is a motivator for others to bring out theirs.

Collaborating with a Community
A community is a group of impassioned people. When you collaborate with them, the trick isn’t so much finding good output, it’s channeling that output into something usable that pushes both you and the community forward. In general, the more you ask – and the more you produce in response to their requests – the more you’ll get back from the community. This chapter is really spot-on for anyone who is involved with interacting with a large community – like a blog readership, for instance.

Collaborating with Friends
The biggest key to collaborating with friends is precise communication. Why? Without it, it’s easy to miscommunicate something and, because you’re friends, the other person will attempt to pick up the slack and quite possibly move in the wrong direction with things. Not only that, a collaboration gone bad between friends can often strain a friendship, something that isn’t a desirable outcome for anyone.

Flight School: Before Your Next Collaboration
The biggest thing to think about before you collaborate is whether or not you’re really up to the collaboration and what it will take to make it succeed. We’re very good at deceiving ourselves – it’s easy to just blow this off and just believe we’re completely up to it. Spend some time and ask yourself – seriously – whether or not you’re capable of giving what needs to be given to pull off the collaboration.

Is The Collaborative Habit Worth Reading?
Tharp’s writing is incredibly strong in one key category: it makes you completely rethink what you’re doing in your normal course of activities. Rather than just giving me a checklist to follow, The Collaborative Habit really made me re-think some of the collaborative projects I’m working on – and the results have been profound.

I made the choice to back out of at least a few collaborations and focus more intently on some others. In one collaboration, I’ve adopted a much clearer communication policy because I found that at times we were going in different directions. I’ve also started scheduling more phone calls with people I’m working with remotely on various things.

If the measure of success of a book is whether or not it causes you to rethink things you’re doing in your life and to actually take action and make changes, then The Collaborative Habit is definitely a success, at least to me. If you’re involved with many collaborations in your own life, I suggest picking this one up.

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