The death of the solo artist – 4 steps to mastering a collaboration







I don’t know about you, but I’m often guilty of thinking that I know best. I don’t think I’m especially arrogant – I think it’s human nature – but it’s quite hard for me to accept that there are occasions (many of them) when I could use some help.

When I was at university my research work required me to explore in some detail the concept of “ccooperation” – why it is we help each other. I’m going to explore some of this in more detail in later posts, but what it taught me was that there are lots of examples in science and nature where cooperation gives you an advantage.

Why am I telling you this? Well several months ago Bojan and I stopped being “solo artist” bloggers and started cooperating (or more accurately,collaborating). It’s not a particularly easy thing to do, and it has its pitfalls, but I think it’s been an incredible success already in terms of both creativity, and productivity. I wanted to explore some of the aspects of collaboration and how it can be used successfully. In later posts I’ll come onto the technology that we use to collaborate effectively.

Picking the right partner(s)

I think it’s fascinating how Bojan and I came to know each other. He wrote an article that I disagreed with on almost all fronts. They weren’t fundamental differences, but I felt compelled to write a counterpoint post.

As a result of this exchange of opinion, Bojan and I came to know each other and it was clear that although we disagreed on certain aspects, in many areas our core values and approach were the same.

What started out as a bit of banter (“you’re wrong because…”) turned into support and expansion in the form of blog comments ("I agree! I also think….) and soon we were exchanging ideas and reviewing each other’s blog posts via email and ADN.

So how did this come about, and why does it work?

1. Collaborate around values

What I think works well about the collaboration is that Bojan and I are both deeply passionate about productivity and technology. We believe that you can be more productive and successful by deconstructing the way you think and act and setting about making improvements and leading a more mindful life.

We’re aligned on the outcome and the purpose. Without this I don’t think we’d be motivated to develop the outputs of our collaboration in a coherent way.

2. Be different

I suppose there’s value in a collaboration where you’re both always in violent agreement, but I think you run the risk of lacking spark and creativity if you’re not being challenged by your partner.

Bojan and I share vision and purpose, but we often disagree on the best method. I think this difference in attitude and approach is what makes the collaboration so interesting and so useful. We are both perfectly capable of articulating our own thoughts, but it gets most interesting when one of us drags the other into a thought process that would never have occurred without the challenge of the other person.

3. Have trust

I haven’t known Bojan for that long; less than a year, certainly. We could perhaps have started this collaboration earlier, maybe on a more transactional basis, such as guest posting for each other, but it would have lacked a mutual understanding and trust that now underpins our relationship.

We have to trust each other to collaborate successfully. Sometimes that’s as simple as handing over an article to the other person and saying “make whatever changes you feel necessary.” Sometimes it’s about putting one project on hold and pursuing another because your partner believes it’s the right thing to do. Collaborating requires a certain leap of faith; without it you lack the freedom and flexibility required to be truly innovative and exceptional.

4. Collaborate through friendship

I’ve already talked about the importance of values, and of trust. The best way to establish a common ground and develop trust is to transcend the “business” aspect (the project around which you’re collaborating) and invest some personal time and interest in the other person. Bojan and I talk about many things that aren’t related at all to Alpha Efficiency, and have found that it’s been easy to develop a friendship that’s completely outside of what we’re working on, but is hugely complementary to it.

And if the benefit of working with a friend weren’t enough, sometimes talking about random, unrelated stuff is when the true sparks of creative genius happen.

Sounds hard, why bother?

If I’ve made it sound like establishing a good partnership is hard, that’s because I think it is. Not investing effort in finding the right person to collaborate with and working hard on your relationship with that person will be a waste of your time and isn’t going to allow you to achieve that next step in creativity or productivity.

So what’s the point of collaborating? What does it offer that a superstar solo artist couldn’t do alone? Isn’t it just for those people who aren’t smart enough to work by themselves?

These are all concepts that I’ll be exploring in the next article in this series.

I hope you enjoyed reading about how we started the Alpha Efficiency collaboration – I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.