If it was easy, everyone would do it.
The Too Long Didn't Read
I find a simple series of exchanges (in person, via phone, and/or email) tells me all I need to know about the possibility of collaboration with another. I am either looking forward to the next iteration in the sequence or I am not. In the end, what more is there?
At issue is the problem of forming a practical partnership with another person for purposes unknown. And since studies have shown that lists featuring alliteration are fundamental superior to lists that do not (see above) and that cobbling together cohesive core concepts with cheesy catch phrases that start with the character C are classier still (see below), what follows (with any luck) is a brief outline (i.e. the short and sweet) of all that follows.
Limitations to the discussion:
- No Cash
- Not an employment situation
- No Kernel
- No pre-existing social structure.
- No Code
- This is not a how to guide.
What the discussion is about:
- How are we going to do it?
I suppose I should start by saying that in my experience, when folks talk about starting a new venture, they almost always dream way too big. Want to know what I think the best way to start a restaurant is? Cooking something at home for your family and friends. Rinse and repeat until they (your first customers) are asking you over just so you can cook their favourite dish, cater their parties, prepare the appetizers, and so on and so forth. The first step isn't leasing a 10,000sq store front.
Secondly, if I were already a proven success (had already opened the aforementioned restaurant and was now looking for book a second location, the first doing so well), it would make sense for me to leverage that success into control of the next enterprise... which is vague, so let me be clearer. If I had a string of business successes behind me, I'd have some cash. Rather than watering down my vision (i.e. the control) or giving away the profits (seeking buy-in from other investors), it would make sense for me to use my existing team to create the second location; thus any additions to the teams would be closer to employees than partners (even if said employees have an equity stake).
Or if that's still not clear (and it probably isn't, thus why I feel the need to go on), success builds upon success and it's easy (or easier) to leverage that success than start from scratch. If one partner to an endeavour brings significantly (always a fuzzy line) more prior success than the others (more money, more key contacts, more fame, more academic recognition, more whatever), at some point the relationship devolves into that of one working for (or assisting) the other.
So, really, all this condition means in the end is that I shall be discussing a partnership of equals and not one where one party outshines another by virtue of... well, anything.
This long-little rant isn't about joining an existing group or modifying a group in place. That can be fun, that can be rewarding, but that is not the focus of my thoughts (and yes, these are little more than thoughts, see the next section below).
To start, if a group (or social structure) already exists, for the most, it is almost always (forever with the qualifications) a take it or leave it proposition.
This is how we do things here. If you don't like it, go start your own group.
Which is fine, well within their rights, and all that, but at the gist of what I'm going to be driving at is a methodology (or mindset of sorts) towards enabling small groups of two, three, or perhaps at most four people to get together and form a cohesive group (and yes, this is a personal number, I would theorize that the better the leadership traits, the higher the number this might be for another).
One can always use a larger group or organization as a feeder for one's own group (as many folks do and being the reason many a networking organization was created in the first place), but this is not a how to guide (if it be a guide at all, which I'm guessing it really won't be) on how to swing the local PTA around to your way of thinking. Rather, it's a way of thinking about the PTA, so you recognize that its purpose, for you, is to recruit one or two other parents into a sub-group... perhaps one whose goals align with the larger group... and perhaps not.
I like the idea of tight-knit group of workers in some large anonymous multi-national, banding together to make their corner of the universe work right. If they do this on their own (transcending the bureaucracy of corporation) and without any team-spirit building exercises ('let's split into small groups now and see how we can apply this to ourselves') then this would be exactly what I'm talking about. Nothing wrong with a large organization splitting up into committees and what not, but at the core, if the committee is not internally more cohesive and stronger than the wrapping organization, it's not what I'm talking about. It's not hard to imagine two guys down in accounting forming a life long bond of friendship that transcends their careers and lasts long after their summer internship ends; and then, it's even easier to imagine neither one of them looking back and considering the other again. This rant then, presumes the former is better than the latter and seeks to look at creating this condition more clearly.
Finally, this is not a step by step guide. I do not believe I have either the insight or experience for that. Really, more to the point, the purpose of this rant is to create an opportunity (the space, whatever) for me to think things out, organize my thoughts, and put out some sort of 'feeler'; that is to say, one might be able to say, 'yeah, this is what he's talking about' at some future date, but not be able to get to that future time and place by means of following any specific advice contained herein.
Of course, if you want specific advice, I'm an opinionated guy, so:
And, though this might not aid in curating a group (it does and it doesn't), it's a standby for me
- Always be on the look out
- Start small
I'm sure I'll go into this last again later, but the idea is simple enough. If you, like personally, want to become... what? A singer in a Rock 'n Roll group, writing songs and singing on your own seems like good practice to me... and steps that will make one more appealing to any potential band-mates, but in all likelihood any given potential band-mate will not (in the long run) turn out to be a future mate, it's just the way these things work. (Many will play, few will win.)
- Do what you would do on your own.
- Proceed as a group of one.
When the needs of these two contradictory concepts overlap, one's found a worthwhile opportunity that's meaningful to explore. So, let's explore it.
- Plan for the life of the group
- Plan for the death of the group
And by concerns, I mean, where I focus my eyes... on the prize... and all that. But what is the prize? And yes. I've seen handshake agreements made on more ambiguous statements than:
'Don't worry, we'll work out the details later.'
Which is fine, but we don't have either an agreement or an agreement to agree (at least, not in my eyes) until all the details are worked out. Until then, all we have is an idea... the idea that it would be nice to come to an agreement and work together; but until all of us knows what that means and it's been laid out in black and white, it would only be a matter of blind luck if anyone could possibly agree on the exact nature of the details.
Prenuptial Agreements are nothing more than pre-negotiated divorce settlements... and any good contract has the terms of its dissolution clearly spelled out. And why anyone would want to enter into either (a marriage or a business contract) without knowing the full terms of the before, during, and after is beyond me.
Still, one dates prior to marriage; and so, perhaps it is best to think of what follows as some ideas on the nature of collaborative dating...
In a democracy of two, all votes must be unanimous.
Will you follow my dream?
Or will I follow yours?
Meeting in the middle, now that's the real trick...
I don't even know that I have anything insightful to say here, outside of this is one of the key areas of contention, how things are decided and by who.
Like I said at the beginning, I like to get a feel for the terrain by repeated contact over time, and part of this is to suss out the decision process... and the nature of the collaboration.
In an employment situation, the employee sells their subservience and an employer buys their dominance. But in a partnership (a word I don't actually want to use for legal reasons, but which informally fits the bill), things are more touch and go: dominance in one area, subservience in another...
Having done a fair bit of writing, I've long imagined what it would be like to collaborate with another. I've even taken a few stabs at it. But overall, the biggest hurdle is deciding (and/or agreeing) what will be written (when and by who)... and if someone writes something stupid, well, how is that even decided.
These are the issues of control.
And some folks might argue that all one has to do is take control... but I'm thinking these are the same people who lead where no one else follows.
Buy In is important. I mean, don't get me wrong. I can be Bought In, as can most folks.
Myth of the Muse
First, let me say, I believe in Muses, I have come under their influence a time or two, and they are a joy to be-hold. However, that said, I have also come across other (mere) human beings (and these are far more common) whose sole desired contribution to a project is to be the Idea Man (or woman, egoism is not isolated to the male of the species).
Now, I don't have a problem following another's vision. This can be both refreshing and (at times) lucrative. But if the only thing said Idea Man or Idea Woman brings to the table is just another idea, they are not bringing much of anything, at all. Just ask any (real to life mythic style) Muse you happen to see, muttering to themselves, sitting on some park bench, waiting for some Artist to finally realize their potential and you'll know what I mean.
Or if that's not clear (and why it shouldn't be, I certainly don't know), ideas are a dime a dozen (that would be a baker's dozen with an extra freebie thrown in), because it's the actual implementation that counts. So if the Idea Man (or woman... or come to think of it, perhaps I should just say, Idea Person of unknown sexual orientation) also happens to be a leader and/or gifted organizer, well, that will work, because what this type of person is is actually bringing to the table is the ability to lead and/or organize. And seriously, what more proof do you need that a Leader is in fact a worthy Leader than to suddenly realize that amongst their many followers is an honest to goodness, real life Muse.
Yeah, I'll just let that sink in for a moment.
Control of the Vision
So, have we settled that?
By control, I don't mean who is CEO, who signs the contracts (it's way too early for that), answer the phone, or clean the dishes after the meal, I mean who decides what the project is.
What are we going to do?
I write. When most folks 'collaborate' with a writer, what they want to do is tell the writer what to write. They think this has value. It doesn't. A whole section of this website is devoted to half finished projects and contains a list of several hundred writing prompts, ideas if you will. So, ideas are meaningless. I come up with them far faster than I can implement them. But deciding what to implement, that's perhaps the key reason I value writing for myself rather than in a corporate environment. And although I'm sure I would be happy to 'collaborate' with another, if the only thing they bring to the table is an idea, well, if I hold my own (unimplemented) ideas in such low regard, I can't see how you'd expect me to value yours any higher.
And yes, the same thing happens with coding. I know you have this great idea for the next killer app. But if the only thing that idea is inspiring you to do is ask someone else to code it for free (on spec), then maybe you don't really believe in that idea either.
How are we going to do it?
So, you've got this great idea for a book. Is it great? I mean, if it's that great, then obviously, you've already gotten a great big fat advance from a publisher. See how that works, the idea, I don't care about, but a contract in hand, well, that's something important, that's what another can bring to the table.
It's hard to know what another can bring to the table. This post isn't about singing my praises. I have a hard time doing that. Every day I am confronted by my limitations, so claiming mastery over anything seems a bit brazen; but still, I know I bring something to the table. And along, in conjunction, along side sussing out the issues of control (above), and credit (below), there are the practical concerns of who does what?
And for the moment, let us assume that if one of us doesn't do it, it's not going to get done. Is that OK?
But I'll take that a step further. If I don't do it, it isn't going to get done. And is that OK? I mean, if it's not OK, I'm going to do it, and if I'm going to do it, then I'm going to do it with or without out you, lord knows, I've edited dozens of books on my own, not even claiming to be a good editor, but it needed to be done, I wanted it to be done, and it was a good bet that it wasn't going to get done if I didn't do it myself, because, an un-edited book, webpage, blog, bit of code, or whatever, is, um, difficult to convince others of it's worth.
So, I know I ramble. I ramble. I am rambling. By saying that I am rambling, I am enabling my rambling, letting it run free, doing what I do, so on and etcetera.
But in all that nonsense is the key. There are certain things that I am just going to do. And I find it hard to imagine a working collaboration that doesn't begin with me doing what I'm going to do and they doing what they're going to do, reiterate, rinse, repeat, and slowly (or not so slowly) realize how we can work together and that combining our efforts will sum to more than our individual efforts.
Is that not clear?
In the face of a possible collaboration, I wrote this page. Heck, I wrote an entire fictional story. And I'll do more, because it's essentially what I would have done anyhow.
And if you're looking to collaborate with me, I guess the real question is what are you doing, have done, what is the edge of collaboration, where can we join?
Let's see it.
Don't want to share that, I understand. I'm not as keen as I once was to publish all that I did to the web. But the results, yes, I'm quite happy to push the results, to show off, to do, that which I do... and perhaps, that we can do together in our own separate ways.
Focus Pinky! Focus!
As one great mouse once said to another.
The nature of cooperation is figuring out who does what, how, when, and where. Given that through the process described in the section on Control, we know the vision, then what constitutes an addition to that vision? What moves that vision closer to the goal?
What is an input?
How is it vetted?
Who does what, when, and where?
What does 'helping' really mean?
This is ambiguous... at best, part of the sussing out process.
I'm pretty good at writing (or read the page and come to your own conclusions).
I'm pretty good at coding (or, you know, look at some of my samples and/or outputs and come to your own conclusions).
And all evidence to the contrary, I'm highly organized. I had a career that spanned 25 years that focused on Administration and Project Management.
But then, you're likely a better writer, coder, and administrator than I'll ever be, so specifics aren't really important. If we share a vision, I'm sure we can share a path towards making that vision manifest in reality, which in the end, is what a collaboration is all about.
Who gets the glory?
Or seriously, glory?
I want to know who gets the cash?
Cash is King.
Determining ownership is the last step, to me at least. I don't have a partnership, I don't have a collaboration until the details are worked out. Until then, I'm just working on my own... perhaps with another who is also working on their own, parallel play, and all that.
But the legal in me feels the need to explicitly state that until something is signed, in writing, fully notorized, no agreement has been reached, we're just talking. I like to talk. And that I talk about my current projects and let that talk guide my future endeavours is to be expected, it is the nature of talk.
But at some point (the point of a contract and written agreement) one is no longer feeling out the potential for a partnership, one is ready to enter said partnership.
And in this, it is likely a colossal mistake to try and document the vision or enumerate responsibilities or dictate the work flow, as the whole point of any agreement (contrary to the expectations of those who've never done 'business') is to codifying the separation process and what happens when things go wrong.
Who owns what?
Who is owed what?
This is no primer on contracts; but rather, on my philosophy on initial stages of a group collaborative project. And in that, I'm trying to state that there really is no need for a contract until the need for a contract becomes obvious: i.e. that it has become obvious (to one or both parties) that it would be mistake to continue contributing to what has obviously become the other's project without an agreement delineating future compensation in place.
That until that time, there really isn't anything to protect. This page, I own the copyright. Chapters in a book, clearly mine. Code, everything I've ever written I've started with a copyright notice:
#© Copyright Brett Paufler
print 'Hello World'
I think is how that went. So, there's no loss of protection on my part in sharing. Hey, I'm sharing with you now. You aren't any closer to owning the rights to this web page. And implicit in the laws of the land are the converse protections for others (your work is yours). The only time it matters is when the collaboration takes off and the whole does indeed become more than the parts; and the ownership of this greater whole becomes important.
Is that clear?
No? Well, suffice to say, you and me are no where near the point where it does.
Cant' Keep a Good Rant Down
This really is a long rant. I wrote the above quickly, probably in a single sitting; and then, perhaps sensing it's randomness (I have keen insight that way) decided to sit on it for, well, almost a month now. But there are a few things I do want to go over, before I post this page.
So, without further ado (and/or reading the proceeding), I think I've sort of hinted at how I'm constantly on the look out for collaboration:
And in that search, I've pretty much come to the conclusion that the first step in a collaboration of any nature is having a simple conversation (in person, via email, or phone); and then, having another conversation; and another one. Until it is very very clear in in my mind whether I wish to have another conversation with this person. That really is the filtering process.
And then, I do tend to make small talk constantly, talking to people in elevators, while waiting in line, and so on. But these pretty much never turn into more. It's so hard to convert that momentary connection into something more.
And then, finally (because maybe I really should have killed this page where I stopped writing originally), there's a sort of progression of projects that I think is key towards a collaboration. I mean, if you're hiring me, great, but that's not a collaboration; that's me doing what you want for money. A collaboration is more along the lines of me doing what I want and you doing what you want and together it turns out we can both do what we want so much more effectively:
- Personal Projects
- You like code. I like code. Let's talk code.
- So, that's my current project? Let's see yours.
- Here's a little thing I wrote just for you.
- Group Projects
- I have so little experience
- It has always been so much easier for me to go it alone
- Hey, but that doesn't keep me from trying.
Is any of that clear?
I'm posting it anyway.
Though, some kind of open ended come on
seems like it might be more appropriate here.
Drop me a line.
Let's see what you've got.
© copyright 2016 Brett Paufler