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The CoreSource (in Portland at 5513 NE 30th Ave.) is a gathering place where artistic types connect with each other.
Guest Writer

Bigger than the sum of the partners
An artist's diary, part 2
by Carolyn Campbell

This is the second part of Carolyn Campbell's series on co-creating. Part 1 appeared last month.

or years I've thought I was avoiding creating with others. I didn't like all the chatter and the lack of follow-through. It was tedious, frustrating and time consuming.

It wasn't until last year when a colleague said: "Carolyn, you're constantly co-creating. Everything you do is done with other people. It's what you do best."

Well. That made me take pause and reframe my perspective on what I was doing. I realized it's true. I love to co-create. What I avoid are vague, non-congruent processes of cooperating and collaborating.

With this is mind, I started watching partnerships that involve a creative venture. I've become fascinated at the number that stumble and crumble. After the fifth co-creation in as many weeks, I decided to look at common themes that occur.

The CoreSource's home-like setting includes a business coach, a massage therapist and other facilitators who offer workshops on personal and professional development.

As I looked closer I noticed a few key factors that impacted whether a co-creation succeeded or failed. One of the most common mistakes I noticed is people trying to cooperate. Cooperation is so ingrained in us.

We are scolded for not cooperating as children, coaxed into cooperating in school and paid for cooperating as employees.

So what's wrong with cooperating? In most cases, it means someone bends to another's will, or pretends that they do – usually because they want to avoid conflict or tension ... or just don't know what else to do. This is the antithesis to co-creation

Recently, I worked with a group of people who produced a big show. In the public's eye, the show was a grand success. And yet, almost no one wanted to ever do it again.

Although each participant thought they were working on a common idea, they weren't.

They were simply cooperating with what they thought needed to happen to keep the show from falling apart. Many wanted to quit. They were all trying to appease the director. They didn't want to get her upset. No one dared to say stop. That would have been uncooperative. By the day of the show, everyone was consumed with anxiety, barely able to make it through the show.

As we deconstructed it later, we talked about what might have been different. Everyone agreed they wished they had trusted their gut. They were seduced by the opportunity to be a part of the show. They didn't stop and say: Is this right for me? Is this in line with the bigger picture of my work? Is this something I really believe in? If not, you may very well end up cooperating and feeling that your vision was not honored.

The CoreSource, before ...

This summer, as I built a new center for the CoreSource, I experienced this process firsthand. My first partnership stumbled terribly, then failed.

We were both really drawn to the idea of partnering. We were excited about designing and building our own space. We really liked each other. We believed in each other's work. It felt like a perfect match. And then, bit by bit, week by week, the tension of the project overpowered our fragile foundation. It was only a matter of time before we had to make a major decision of whether to continue our partnership.

Once the partnership dissolved, I picked up the pieces and considered how to proceed. I realized that without help – a lot of help – I couldn't accomplish my vision. I took a serious look at how I needed to work with people in order to complete the project and keep it pleasurable.

I set out with a clear intention on how I would co-create with others. I decided that I needed to clearly state my vision with prospective partners. If they wanted to be a part, we would then develop a relationship to serve that vision.

Now that CoreSource is completed – and far more grand than the initial vision – I've spent many hours reflecting on what was different than other projects. Why didn't it work with my original partnership?

... and after.

The biggest change I made was being clear about my role, and letting others be clear about theirs. In my initial partnership, we hadn't clearly defined our roles in the project and their importance to the final product.

Although you can never totally frame a partnership before you dive into the process, it's important that you know the role you are willing to play. You must articulate the roles out loud. To each other. If you feel like you have to defend them, or work real hard to have them taken seriously, take a moment and ask: "Is this partnership in full support of me and the work?" "Do I feel honored ... and do I honor this person?"

If the answer is no, consider making another choice.

Before you have this conversation with your potential partners you might want to answer the following questions. They'll give you a starting point for a productive and insightful conversation.

Remember, do not shy from the answers. Be honest. It can save you a huge heartache later.

  • What part of the vision do I hold?
  • What parts do my partner or partners hold?
  • Do I trust their artistry, professionalism, integrity, ability to follow through?
  • Can I follow their lead?
  • What do I need to support our success?

The last question is one many of us tend to avoid. Saying what you really need may make you blush, or say, I can't ask for that, they'll think I'm goofy. But as hard as it might be, that is precisely the question you need to ask. It doesn't matter if others don't need these things ... you do. So, ask. Stop cooperating. Ask for what's important for you to be successful.

Here are a few of mine:

  • My partners must really respect me, and I them (it doesn't mean we have to agree on everything ... but there needs to be a deep appreciation).
  • My partners must be able to ask for what they want, directly, even if they think it'll upset me.
  • My partners must not be intimidated by my passion.
  • My partners need to cry and laugh at disaster or failures.

So ... stop now and list 10 of your needs and wants from a partnership. I'm serious. Don't just think about them, take a moment right now and write them down.

Carolyn Campbell

Now choose the most essential five. Share your list with people you've worked with. Share it with people you've been successful with and those you haven't. Ask if there's anything they think you've missed about yourself.

Then hang on to the list. Tape it up where you can see it every day. The next time you're thinking of co-creating with someone, bring the list with you. Talk about it. In the end, it's key that you have a relationship that serves you to successfully and enjoyably co-create your vision.

True co-creation means having a strong foundation of partnership so that you can weather the inevitable ups and downs. By taking the time and asking the hard questions in the beginning, you can have an outcome greater than the sum of the partners.

Next month: Carolyn explores co-creating with clients and the community at large.

Carolyn Campbell is a life vision and leadership coach in Portland. Read her previous series in our archives, check out her profile in Sketch Pad, visit her Web site, e-mail carolyn@thecoresource.com, or give her a call at 503-493-9497.

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