The Storyteller


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Book Review: The Collaborative Habit by Twyla Tharp

I really liked Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit.  While it’s obvious why a choreographer needs to be creative, she actually makes the case in the book that anyone can be creative.  And the exercises and examples she offers can apply in a variety of situations, including business.

So I was very excited about her new book, The Collaborative Habit.  Since I work for a company that is HIGHLY collaborative it seemed that this book might offer some good insights.  The truth is that the real fun of reading Tharp’s books is the behind-the-scenes stories of her amazing life working with the most amazing people in the arts.  Balanchine, Robbins, Baryshnikov, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, Milos Forman.  This second book is heavy on the cool stories and a bit lighter on the prescriptions for successful collaborations.

Still it offered some advice that I found really resonant:

Getting involved with your collaborator’s problems almost always distracts you from your own. That can be tempting. That can be a relief. But it usually leads to disaster.

It is so seductive to focus on other people’s issues.  (And it’s is true in every aspect of life. Isn’t it so easy to tell your friend they should dump the loser boyfriend?) I would argue that this tendency is at the heart of most intradepartmental strife. You have to resist with all your might the temptation to take on other people’s problems. Because if you could solve their problem you’d be doing it and meanwhile you’ve got your own house to clean up.

Before I start any collaboration, I list exactly what resources I’ll require to do the job and then try and find out if the institution is prepared to provide them.

This is a great little piece of advice from her chapter on collaborating with institutions.  But it’s just as true of any corporate drone trying to get something accomplished in almost any size company. If the entire organization isn’t committed and isn’t willing to commit the needed resources then you are doomed to failure.

Richard Avedon taught me what Keats called “negative capability” — a willingness to suspend judgment and see reality as another might. That’s creativity at its most openhearted.

Oh my, such GREAT advice and so hard to do.  Again, this is great advice in every aspect of life.  Empathy is so important to having great relationships.

From Milos Forman I learned that collaboration depends on very precise communication — speaking to the right person at the right time in the right way.

This last one is deceptive because it sounds easy. Ah, but if it were easy we’d all do it, right?  I think this piece has only gotten harder at most modern companies.  We have more and more and more WAYS to communicate, but it doesn’t mean we do it better.  And in non-hierarchical companies the lines of communication are often murky.  The ability to assess the whos, hows and whens of communication is a key skill to be successful where collaboration is concerned.

A good book that is well worth the money and time.

Filed under: Book Reviews

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