From August 4 to 8, Fast Company is hosting the Creative Counselor, who offers advice on how to forge and maintain great creative relationships. The Counselor, aka Joshua Wolf Shenk, is the author of the new book, Powers of Two: Seeking the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs. He's spent five years studying the most famous and productive creative partnerships, from John Lennon and Paul McCartney to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to Marie and Pierre Curie, comparing the common points of these stories with the latest in science and psychology. And now, he's here to help you make the most of your creative collaboration.
Here, the Counselor addresses a common issue: the tension between the big picture, visionary type creativity and the getting-shit-done kind of creativity. A creative who is always executing wonders if she'll ever be in the role of the big idea dreamer.
I am often in the role of facilitator/getting-shit-done, whereas my partners tend to be more of dreamer/big picture. I’m good in my current role but I fear I’ll never pursue my own designs because I’m too busy working with others on theirs. How do I reach a more equal collaboration or partnership?
When’s My Turn?
Great partnerships often put someone in the Get Shit Done role but it ought not be a second-choice thing. And many people who do love to get shit done don’t take the role seriously because they think it’s not "creative." Are you making this mistake?
Creativity is not just having a brilliant idea for an app or sketching something sublime. Creativity is when the killer app or great design comes to life and come into the culture. We tend to think that creativity = dreamers but in fact creativity is always dreamers + doers.
You fear you’re selling yourself short. But is it possible you’re not giving yourself enough credit? Getting shit done may be "producing" and it may even be "directing." I saw over and over again, when I studied the "business guy" in a potent team, that they could also be called "visionaries." This is certainly the case with Matt Stone who is often the doer in the Trey Parker/Matt Stone partnership. Matt and Trey’s lawyer, Kevin Morris, told me he was in awe watching Matt put together the logistical infrastructure for The Book of Mormon. "There were a million deals to be made," Morris told me. "Just the key personnel alone—you had 60 people that needed deals. Matt built that whole structure brick by brick. He figured everything out from the assistant choreographer to the cast; it was extraordinary for someone who had never been through it before."
But let’s say that what you’re doing really is work that you honestly prefer not to do. Then I want to ask: Where are you in your career? If you’re a relative newbie, you may be right to defer your dreams and do whatever it takes to be near accomplished people. Many literary agents, say, or TV execs started as assistants, and they answered phones, fetched coffee, and did other unglamorous things for glamorous people. That’s a path. Just be clear on whether you want to be a protégé or a disciple. Protégés are there to grow up into the people they serve. Disciples serve forever.
If you’re more established, take a break from your off-stage role and see how it feels to star. Find someone else who will Get Shit Done so you can Make It Up. Sheryl Sandberg serves Mark Zuckerberg’s vision at Facebook, but she is herself the visionary, on-stage partner in her work with Nell Scovell, who co-wrote Lean In. Try out the other side, and when you’re there, ask yourself: Is this more creative than what I’ve been doing all along?
The Creative Counselor