Skip to content
Home » The Art of Collaboration » What Keeps People From Collaborating?

What Keeps People From Collaborating?

It’s true that collaboration isn’t for everyone — but if you’re reading these words, you’re probably at least curious about whether you’d enjoy collaborating.

If you had a partner, you could be more prolific. Ship more often. Attract an audience faster.

Except … what if collaborating with someone else turns out to be more trouble than it’s worth?

The Art of Collaboration series offers the offering tools and insights to discover, evaluate, and thrive with your creative counterpart. (Whenever I refer to “creatives” in this series, I mean anyone who does creative work, from writers, directors, and producers to entrepreneurs of all types.)

First, let’s address some of the seven fears and three misconceptions that might be holding you back:

Fear #1: “I’ll end up doing all the work.” 

Creatives are smart people — and smart people tend to have a lot of baggage stemming from being forced into group projects at school or being put on a team they didn’t want to be on at work. But in school or at your day job, you didn’t get to choose the people you were collaborating with.

When you’re free to partner with someone whose skills complement yours, who’s just as dedicated to your success as they are to their own, and who encourages you to grow as a creative and as a human being, collaboration becomes a joy.

Fear #2: “I’ll have to change my creative process.”

You will probably adapt some aspects of your process to include your collaborator in your workflow. But if you choose someone whose working style is compatible with your own and you’re mindful about setting expectations that protect each person’s creative mind space, you’re each free to do the things you do best. The increased productivity and freedom that collaboration can give you is worth the small changes you’ll make.

If working with your collaborator requires big changes that don’t result in more productivity and freedom — you’ve chosen the wrong partner. This series will help you find ways to identify whether you’re compatible with a potential collaborator, how to manage the collaboration, and the best means of collaborating gracefully based on your unique combination of skills and needs.

Fear #3: “My voice will change.”

When you find the right collaborator, each of you helps bring out what’s best in the other’s voice, creating a unique shared voice that reflects both of your strengths. A collaborator who appreciates your work and pushes you to do your best also helps you sharpen your voice, so it becomes more powerful in your solo work.

So, yes. Your voice will change as a result of writing with a partner. But if it’s the right partner, that change will evolve your voice for the better.

Fear #4: “I don’t want to compromise on quality, and collaboration means compromising.”

In an unhealthy collaboration, both partners end up compromising when they can’t agree on a creative decision. But in a healthy collaboration, the best idea wins — and by best idea, we mean whatever is best for the project.

When you and your collaborator are willing to set your egos aside to focus on what you’re creating, you become capable of drawing on your collective strengths without suffering from your respective weaknesses.

Fear #5: “I might lose control of my intellectual property.” 

It’s true that things get a little bit more complicated when you’re creating intellectual property with another person — while you can create more together (potentially bringing in more revenue), you might also be sharing ownership of the things you create. And if things go wrong with the partnership, what happens to those joint properties?

Like any risk, this one can be managed by being smart about how you choose your potential collaborator and how you set up the partnership, including negotiating up front how potential problems will be handled and possibly creating a formal collaboration agreement.

Fear #6: “If something goes wrong, I might lose my friend.” 

It does happen. That’s why this series will dig deep into the communication skills required to be a great collaborator, how to build a strong culture for your partnership, and how to maintain the collaborative relationship over time.

I’ll also talk about how to transition out of the collaboration in a way that preserves the friendship, if needed.

Fear #7: “Collaboration will slow me down.” 

It’s true that you’ll need to take some time to establish a good working relationship with your collaborator, and there will be a learning curve for both of you. But once the collaboration is up and running, a great collaborator helps you go faster — not just by sharing the work, but by doing the things you struggle with, while you focus on the things you’re best at.

Now that we’ve addressed the common fears about collaborations, let’s get rid of some misconceptions that might be getting in your way:

Misconception #1: “If we’re already friends, we’ll be good collaborators.”

This is often not true, but it’s an assumption people make all the time, and often regret later. Having similar styles or preferences doesn’t guarantee you’ll be compatible when it comes to your creative strengths and weaknesses, your work styles, or your communication styles.

The stakes are much higher in a collaboration than in a friendship, because potential money and success are involved. It’s not enough for you to like each other or like the same things — you also need to be able to resolve conflict when you’re making both creative and business decisions.

Misconception #2: “I’m good at working on a team at my day job, so I know how to collaborate with other authors.”

When you’re collaborating on something creative, your emotional investment in the work is probably different from your emotional investment in the team report that your boss needs by the end of the week. The decisions you’ll make in a creative collaboration can take on meanings that tap into childhood experiences, deep-rooted fears, and personal insights that are attached to powerful emotions.

A creative collaboration can require a greater degree of self-awareness and empathy for your collaborator, and can entail a level of emotional work that not everyone is prepared to do.

But if you are willing to develop the skills required to become an excellent creative collaborator, the rewards of working with a similarly-minded partner can be fulfilling in a way that many other relationships are not. There’s nothing quite like the creative momentum you can achieve when you’re energized by your partner’s enthusiasm and inspired by the ideas they bring to the collaboration.

Misconception #3: “If my friend and I are both experienced authors, collaborating will be easy.”

It depends a lot on what each person’s experience is. The ability to create quickly is valuable, but it doesn’t necessarily make someone a great collaborator. Neither does marketing savvy, ability to network, or mastery of skills. These are all great strengths to have, of course, but your mental flexibility, your willingness to set your ego aside, your willingness to go the extra mile, and the compatibility of your respective abilities are much better predictors of your ability to form a successful collaboration.

Collaboration is our not-so-secret sauce at both Sterling & Stone and Invisible Ink. Whether we’re creating bestsellers for ourselves or others, writing screenplays and developing IP, or bouncing ideas back and forth in our writers’ room, we blend multiple voices into a symphony of storytelling magic for a living.

Are you ready to unlock the full potential of collaboration? Reflect on what you want most in a creative partner, and stay tuned for more in this series, where we’ll dive deeper into finding and flourishing with your ideal collaborator.

See you on Wednesday.