No man is an island. Nobody does it all alone. Even the stories you hear of the "self-made man" are rarely as straight-forward as you'd imagine.
There's always been an element of luck involved. Hard work, talent, determination and a willingness to succeed irrespective of the odds are ultimately what makes the difference in the end and these factors can obviously not be discounted.
But a helping hand along the way...somebody who said " I like what you're doing I'd like to help you out if I can" can make the difference between that all-important door opening and not.
Having that connection-both connecting with someone on an personal level and that onward connection to the gatekeeper or even past the gatekeeper is essential for success.
So that's what we're talking about...collaboration.
The secret behind every success story is the story of a group of people-however small-helping each other work towards a common goal-or indeed just supporting each other. Being there whenever a helping hand was needed. As mentioned in previous episodes, the gig economy has meant there's many more people multi-tasking yes-but jumping from project to project-working short-term-...sharing skills, sharing contacts, sharing talents...collaboration makes it happen. The key word here is sharing.
This is a subject that is discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s great book “Outliers”-The Story Of Success.
There are so many other factors involved in each individual story…from being born at the right time, going to the right school, having the right connections. Being a genius helps as well! I’d totally recommend reading this book if you’re interested in understanding the many varied paths to success. It’s never just the one thing in isolation.
I was fortunate years ago, early in my music career, to work with the Acclaimed British Film Director Ken Loach on the film "Carla's Song".
I had a very small role to play. I was merely playing the part of nightclub singer...not much a stretch!
I was singing two songs live in the movie-which was slightly nerve-racking but I love a challenge.
The scene started with me singing "Your Song" by Elton John in the background. So if I screwed up what I was doing the scene would have to reset and start again.
So I didn't want to screw up! But the reason I'm mentioning this story is because Ken Loach practices what he preaches. Everybody on that set had an equal part to play and I was made to feel just as important as the lead characters in the scene. It was truly a collaborative process for him. But, by having that approach he ensured that he got the best out of me and everyone else on that set. I didn't want to let him down. I wanted to do my best.
I will be the first to admit that collaboration has not come easy to me. I was very closed off to it when I first started making music. The joy for me was making music by myself. So, it took a while for me to get into the right mindset for collaboration. There was a certain amount of “letting go” that I had to do…realising that maybe I didn’t have all the answers. Ultimately though whenever you work with collaborators that creatively challenge you to do better and stimulate you to come up with your best possible work…that is when the true benefits of creative collaboration are to be found. In the end, what I found was that by being more open in that area of my work I became more receptive to input in other areas. I also, by accident, became a better listener. Practicing that old saying “you have two ears and one mouth”-in other words listen more and talk less.
Collaboration, particularly in the digital age, has become a completely different thing as well. I’m sure lots of us regularly work with other people in different countries on projects, whom we have never met. I have done songwriting sessions on Skype. I regularly write melodies and lyrics over the top of backing tracks that are sent to me from people all over the world. It is the norm. Equally, I’ll put tracks together for other writers to write “toplines”/melodies to. This way of working is common place in most creative businesses these days.
The important thing about all of this is that people are working together. By working together we can all rise. We are also creating ever more opportunities for success by not limiting ourselves to our own abilities or connections.
In collaboration we tend to gravitate to those people who share our values and beliefs. In effective organisations when those teams are working towards a common purpose that’s when the strongest bonds are formed. We all want to have that sense of belonging. We all want to feel that what we are doing is worthwhile and appreciated. We want to be involved. But we also want our contributions to be recognised. Collaborate ? Yes. But, don’t take all the credit for yourself. Credit where credit is due.
There’s a wonderful tradition in Africa called Ubuntu that is perfectly described by Nelson Mandela:-
“The profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others. That if we are to accomplish anything in this world it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others”.
Isn’t that a wonderful idea? That only by working together can we truly accomplish anything.