One of my favorite assignments from college came in an advanced drawing class. We were asked to work in pairs and create a series of images that represented both of us. Most pairs produced visual mash-ups of their individual styles, but something curious happened with our work. My partner and I created a set of images that were not only stylistically departures from our personal sensibilities, but they also could not be deconstructed into either of our individual hands. What we produced was a true co-creation, what today I would  recognize as an act of genuine collaboration. Together we created something that didn’t exist before, and that neither of us could have created on our own.

Further, looking back today as a practitioner and a student of applied collaboration, I’m also interested in how we got there, in our process. Instead of forcing upon ourselves a detailed description of what our output should look like(or more likely, each lobbying the other to embrace their vision) and then striving to achieve that “shared” vision, we focused on following a few simple rules and let the work emerge. These were our rules:

  • You must participate: how much and in what way is up to you
  • Nothing is precious: if you don’t like something change it
  • No hard feelings: if something you liked gets changed, so be it
  • Don’t stop improving things until you are satisfied: don’t settle because the other person is satisfied

When all was said and done, we both agreed that together we had created some of our best work of the semester. But more than that, it was one of the first times I realized the power, and the pleasure, of applied collaboration.