Facilitating Creative Collaboration – Lessons from a Creative Entrepreneur

Alison Coward’s seminar on Facilitating Creative Collaboration went down really well with the audience. If you missed it, here is my take on it.

Alison is the founder of Bracket Projects, a consultancy that specialises in helping freelancers, businesses and organisations benefit from effective creative collaboration (http://bracketprojects.co.uk/), and the newly launched Bracket Creative which runs a network of talented creative people, with all the skills needed to create a project from start to finish. (http://bracketcreative.co.uk/)

The particularly interesting thing about Bracket Creative is the way it puts together teams of freelancers to meet the specific needs of a client/project. Matching the skills and personalities required to form a creative team capable of collaborating through the duration of the project, on the completion of which the team disbands and again become independent freelancers. This notion of a pop-up business was on Business Week’s 20 Most Important Inventions of the Next 10 Years. With the recession pushing more people into freelancing and technology making it increasingly easy to work in a virtual office, it seems a logical next step for offering a “full package” of services to clients.

There are some key hurdles to note:

Finding the right people. This is not simply about matching skills – a team needs to be able to work together, so their personalities need to be at a balance with each other. This can be especially challenging with creative freelancers who are used to working independently and not having to answer to anyone but the client. They prefer to manage themselves, their time and value their autonomy. Members of a pop-up business must be able to collaborate and communicate. A team must have a balance of personalities, and Alison admits that when putting together teams she selects the team based on intuition, she knows what will work and what doesn’t. An option for the less experienced might be to use methods for determining people’s personality traits, e.g Belbin, Myers-Briggs and the like. They can give indicators to help have a spread of personalities to ensure that you have both implementors and idea people, coordinators and shapers. These tests are, however, not fool-proof.

Getting into the collaboration mindset. As part of her role in Bracket Creative, Alison kicks of a new team with a group session to get everyone on the same page. In these sessions the team members are able to develop common goals, sort out areas of disagreements, agree on processes, protocol, timescales and division of tasks. They need to find a common agenda, and get individual agendas out of the way. The team will also develop its own toolkit. This sets the tone for further collaboration down the line, as issues are aired and settled up front, making it less likely that the whole thing will fall apart due to a disagreement later on. Everybody knows what’s in it for them, and what is expected.

Key to the Collaboration Mindset:

  • Letting go of control
  • Leave your ego and your culture at the door
  • Patience
  • Sharing ideas
  • Communication
  • Motivation

The interesting thing for me is that this resonates with pretty much every creative process I’ve encountered, with some differences. One of the things that I really like about this approach though is the focus on tackling the individual agendas and elements that may cause conflict up front. Collaboration works better when people are well matched, but it still requires people to leave their egos at the door and find a common approach.

Another thing that struck home for me is the idea of People –>Process –> Technology, in that order. Get the people element right first, then decide collaboratively on the process, then match the technology to what you are planning to do. I’ve worked on many projects, especially with technology people, where the technology and process is decided, before the people involved in the project has worked through their issues to form a common and well understood and agreed on agenda. To often the agenda is set by people outside the project, or a small minority of people within the team, without the flexibility to acknowledge and work through the individual agendas of other team members. Let’s just say that these projects invariably has to regularly deal with conflicting views and expectations. Wouldn’t it be good to sort this out at the start?

The final observation is the need for a facilitator. Someone who is the force bringing people together, the negotiator in the early stages and the facilitator of communication and collaboration through the project. Without this person, in my opinion, the team would fall apart and the pop-up business idea would struggle to work.

Everybody has examples of collaboration that didn’t work, what are your examples when collaboration does work?

Author: Kristine Pitts


Chance favours the connective mind

This Tuesday, Professor Clive Holtham from Cass Business School (a contributor to this blog) gave a seminar on Designing Creative Spaces where he talked research into what it takes to create a space that enables creativity to happen. What caught my attention most about this talk was the notion of Third Spaces leading to innovation. (What is a Third Space? Well, the First Space is home, Second Space is work, and the Third space is the in-betweens.)

Clive briefly talked about the original coffee houses in London as an example of a third space that has proven to encourage innovation. It had two key ingredients: a space for talk/networking and a powerful stimulant (in this case: coffee). The largest insurance market in the world, Lloyd’s of London, began life as a coffeehouse. It was started in 1688 by Edward Lloyd, who prepared lists of the ships that his customers had insured.

As chance would have it, the term coffee house cropped up again yesterday in a TED video that I was sent by one of the MICL students.

In this video, Steven Johnson talks about where ideas come from, and argues that the idea itself is not formed in the Eureka moment, but that this moment is really the culmination of all the connections your brain makes of the knowledge you gain from doing research, learning, having experiences, talking to others etc. etc. Darwin described his idea of the origin of species as a eureka moment, but apparently his logs show that he had the idea before the time of this eureka moment, in that it had formed from what he observed and deduced through his research. The origin of species didn’t start as an idea at all, it started with observations and research which lead to the idea.
Steven Johnson also tells a fascinating tale of the origins of the SatNav. (Watch the video).

Today I read a similar argument by Jeffrey Phillips on how Innovation Doesn’t Begin with Idea Generation. He argues pretty much the same point as Steven Johnson, that ideas are made by our minds making connections between the knowledge and information we have. (It’s a well argued point, unlike this blog post).

I suppose, beyond telling you about these 3 fascinating sources of information, I was curious as to what your opinion is on connection making and in the spaces that you go to to stimulate your creative connection making.

Personally, my favourite third space for connection making is walking. Please do share yours.

Author: Kristine Pitts

Tackling the Challenges of Dementia Care: A Creative Problem Solving Approach

I thought I’d give you a quick update on the MIRROR project, as the University have been publicising it (see CityNews).

Mirror is a €6.45m R&D project funded by the European Union (EU) Seventh Framework Programme. It aims to empower employees to reflect on their performance, share their experiences, solve problems more creatively, and work together to develop best practice. As part of the project one of our objectives is to improve the quality of care for people with dementia through new software and techniques designed to foster creative problem solving and collaboration amongst care workers. To do this we are working with the Registered Nursing Home Association.


Caring for people with dementia is incredibly difficult, because each case is unique and can change quickly. We hope to make it easier for carers to deal with the problems they encounter, by helping them learn from previous situations, and apply their own and their colleagues’ knowledge in new ways.

Over the course of the four-year project, our team her at City will work closely with two care homes, to evaluate their needs and design a set of smart applications and accompanying hardware that can be readily incorporated into their working environment.

For example, a carer could use a digital pen to capture a resident’s details quickly, easily and remotely, before sharing the data with a colleague who could devise a treatment based on a prior, similar experience. This example overcomes two key constraints: Staff currently have limited exposure to technology, so if staff can continue taking notes on pen and paper, it will lessen their resistance to the introduction of the technology, while at the same time make records available digitally so that all staff can share information about residents.

Our aim is to develop practical tools that carers can use in their day-to-day work, to develop fresh ideas, put them into practice and record if they were successful. We’re in the market for good examples of what’s been tried elsewhere, also from other domains, so please do share.

Author: Kristine Pitts