Mantras and Prima Donnas
By: Clara Jacob, Paulsen Marketing
“Collaborate or die.”
Well, duh. Being against collaboration is like being against music. Or breathing. But how much should we collaborate – and when?
If you’ve worked with a one-man band or a prima donna, you know that some folks generate outstanding work with no outside help.
In fact, in Imagine: How Creativity Works, author Jonah Lehrer* cites research showing that group brainstorming doesn’t work.
However, that doesn’t mean you should work alone, Lehrer says. Group brainstorming fails because one of the rules of engagement is not to criticize.
And it turns out that criticism – or dissent – expands creative potential. “The reason criticism leads to more new ideas is that it encourages us to fully engage with the work of others,” Lehrer says.
Lehrer uses Pixar’s process as a model. “… The team leaders at Pixar emphasize the importance of plussing, a technique that allows people to improve ideas without using harsh or judgmental language. The goal of plussing is simple: whenever work is criticized, the criticism should contain a plus, a new idea that builds on the flaws in a productive manner.”
In Lehrer’s book, a Pixar animator admits this can occasionally lead to hurt feelings. But, he says, “If you want to make the best stuff, then you’re going to have to accept some trade offs.”
Speaking of hurt feelings and Pixar – the methods of Steve Jobs are up for discussion following the publication of his biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Jobs could be quite the jerk – but he got good work out of people.
Does this mean we’ll all end up working for tyrants and having our feelings hurt continuously?
Koval wouldn’t think so. If anything, he’d say prima donnas are going out of style.
“We don’t want to be precious about design, we don’t want to be precious about the process. We want people to come by and comment … We do lots of jamming and facilitating,” he said.
And while individual streaks of brilliance do occur, Lehrer finds that diverse, dissenting, challenging groups can be wildly creative and productive.
For me, a combination – working alone and then in collaboration, back and forth – is very effective.
Koval offered another nugget of wisdom gathered over his years as a design professional. In fact, it’s pretty much the mantra for collaboration.
“At the end of the day, you can’t be an ass.”
*Recently, Lehrer has come under fire for self-plagiarism (showing a lack of creativity) and for fabricating quotes attributed to Bob Dylan (showing an excess of creativity). Perhaps he’d be better off working in a group.
Clara Jacob is creative director at Paulsen Marketing.