Monday, 16 March 2009

Collaboration - how does it work?


Isn't there something intrinsically strong about work produced not by one mind but two (or more)? Sure, you can have dilution. But equally you can have a potent mix!


Solo or Collaborator?
My Experiences
Pros and Cons

Solo or Collaborator?

Woody Allen writes alone. Steve Martin writes alone. Einstein got help with his maths from a trusted friend but worked on his theory of relativity alone. Picasso painted alone.

"The Office" was created by Gervais and Merchant; "Seinfeld" was created by David and Seinfeld; and the discovery of DNA was made by Crick and Watson. Indeed, a lot of science today is the result of collaboration. Nobel-prize chemist Ahmed Zeweil reminds his audiences that his work is really that of directing a lab of about 25 top-flight doctoral and post-doctoral researchers. In TV productions, writing a show "by committee" is typical.

Could there be an invisible line, somewhere around the 1960s, when it became more and more accepted for innovators to work together? A time when it became not just accepted but expected that collaboration brings about better-quality inspiration? I know that in science one of the buzz-words is the word "inter-disciplinary"; put that in a paper or proposal, and you're going places.

My Experiences

I find this topic particularly interesting in light of the fact that in both my research output and my fiction output, I have this feeling that I'm missing collaborators. I've tried finding them, but gotten nowhere. Finding a person with whom you can brainstorm, write, share, exchange, create, ... turned out to be very difficult.

In science, most of the people I know work quid pro quo. "I've done this, I've got this working. What have you done, what have you got working? Let's fuse our works and get some outputs!" It's so exchange-based, so dull! And if you question it, you're looked at as if you're delusional. "Did you drop the Nobel prize off your CV or something? When you get your Nobel, we'll sit here for hours, pondering and musing. In fact, win the Nobel and we'll do all the running for you. But for now, pal, what have you got for me that I can get some recognition from right away?"

In comedy writing, I'm finding a different problem. The clash of tastes; of senses of humour. Whereas my attitude is: any collaboration is good, the writers I have dealt with are very protective of their "point of view". They find it immensely difficult to not own the full vision of anything they put their names to.

A friend told me I should just write my own stuff independently. "It's harder, but it will make you stronger," he said. And isn't it interesting that it took two of Gervais and Merchant, or David and Seinfeld to create what one of Woody Allen could? In fact, could those later writers (who have all cited Woody Allen as an inspiration) have felt the same measure of confidence about their styles without Woody Allen's trailblazing work?

Pros and Cons

Admittedly, there is something to be said for the feeling of comfort and confidence in your collaborator's input. And, maybe, they're right to insist on being in-tune with their prospective collaborators. I suppose it's like picking a life partner; it's not an easy, anything-goes, it's-all-experience decision.

But is the collaborator decision on a par with the marriage decision?

In the world of science, where things are highly structured and people are fastidious, your past record is paramount. Without a record you won't even get to talk to anybody. Once you're in, your ideas do not need to be very good, if you've got access to data, resources, staff, funding, connections, etc, these can compensate. Of course, if you've got a weak record and no special benefits, no one will want to collaborate with you.

In the world of writing, the world is flatter. Provided you've shown some evidence of mastery of technique, it's a world of ideas from then on. In some respects, you have less room for negotiation when collaborating artistically. Either we bond in idea and presentation (substance and stylisation) or there's not much else we can 'trade'.

What do you think?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, thoughtful analysis. So, wow, you're like a comedian and a scientist - that's weird. Or maybe it's funny!