It all starts out with the most amazing vision and intentions and even better, energy.
Two or more creative and committed souls with a plan to make a music thing. A thing to make money, to make an impact, to make a difference, to make waves or just for the joy of it. Makery of many kinds was afoot.
When it comes to creative collaborations it’s good to remember, all those amusing creative process posters you can google whilst procrastinating – you know the ones, 7 stages of creating where 1 and 7 are This Is Awesome but the middle one is mostly swearing, or the visual version where a smooth straight line becomes a Jackson Pollock painting in the middle – those creative process posters can also apply to creative collaborations.
It’s very normal to have differences of opinion when collaborating but sometimes it stops feeling temporary and par for the course and starts to feel terminal. What to do?
Return to your original agreement
If you started as you meant to go on and made a formal agreement document of some kind before you started – you did didn’t you? Tell me you did – and laid out who was responsible for what and by when, you can return to it now that you’re having a moment and it might shed some light on where boundaries are being breached or expectations are not being met, as this is a regular source of collaborative differences.
Put it in writing
Even if you don’t have it in writing, now is the moment to express what you believe you agreed to. Get confirmation or negotiate if necessary, and write the resulting agreements down. And sign them. Having these conversations can really clear the air and set a creative project back on track.
Start with having a conversation where you all sit down and (re)define boundaries and get super clear about what you are contributing, what your beliefs and expectations are or were about your collaborative partner(s) contributions, and what you are willing to commit to in the future as your shared project comes to fruition or grows.
Increasing the likelihood of productive discussion
In my experience these conversations go best:
- when planned and scheduled in advance (don’t ambush people, it isn’t cricket)
- when held in a neutral space (not one party’s office/co-working space/home kitchen where they have the field advantage)
And if you really want to throw your heart into it for the best results:
- when everybody is using Active Listening principles
Some of the fundamental principles of Active listening are:
- Paying full attention to what is being said, (no phones, open laptops, endless interruptions, doing a separate task at the same time)
- Listening without judgment and without interrupting. Don’t assess the speaker’s words for errors or annoyances. Listen with a view to understanding their perspective. Don’t start forming your arguments or case against their perspective whilst they are speaking.
- Reflect back on what has been said to you, to ensure you have understood correctly. (Note, this doesn’t mean you’re agreeing, simply reflecting back what you have heard) so each speaker feels listened to – which is a valuable trust building tool all by itself.
With just these three tools in place you are far more likely to have a productive conversation.
When it’s not the details, it’s the foundation
Sometimes the devil isn’t in the details of who is supposed to be doing what. Sometimes it stems from a more fundamental issue, and usually I find it’s where the original vision that brought the collaborators together in the first place has gone missing in action. This can happen when commercial pressures have caused the project to morph, or it can happen because holding a vision doesn’t seem as important as meeting project deadlines or a myriad other project pressures. Reconnecting with your original vision is well worth the time away from daily tasks. You can fall back in love with your project again and remember what drew you to it in the first place and from there it’s far easier to remember what you liked so much about your collaborative partner(s) at the outset too.
Sometimes at this point it becomes evident that a clear enough vision was never created in the first place. Either of what the current end point is or what it’s going to look like getting to the desired end point. Do the work. It makes everything easier for you to work on it and to pitch it to other people when you’ve got a solid vision for your project.
In my experience a reconnection with a shared vision can be given rocket fuel by creating a shared set of values at the same time. It can work wonders for communication problems and creative differences and enable an open minded discussion about what everyone wants in the long term, plus give a clear idea of what working experience people want to be enjoying whilst getting there.
An identical project or creative outcome would look and feel radically different to work on if developed within a framework of different values, for example compare the same project run with the shared values of disruption, innovation and fun vs beauty, freedom and open communication. Two legitimate sets of values but the likely experience of those involved in working within either scenario – not remotely similar. Get everyone to figure out their top 5, see where you have overlaps and synonyms and take it from there.
Above all – don’t do this
The one thing not to do when creative differences are getting the better of a creative collaboration is nothing. That is quite literally not a thing.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Tamara Gal-On has been coaching artists, managers and wider music industry folk since 2007. Since then she has worked on numerous projects serving women in the music business and created many opportunities to take them to work near, on or in the water. This is not just because water brings (her) joy but because it’s proven to improve mental flexibility, enhance the ability to get into true flow, connects us to intuition and embodies on a physical level what it feels like to be truly supported. All of which is to say – if you get coached from that place, most excellent things start to happen. If that sounds like something you’d like to explore. Check it out – www.sanctuaried.co.uk