Talent rarely travels alone

How to master the art of collaboration

Recent weeks have been blessed and blighted by thoughts of dear David Bowie. His talent was prodigious, his prescience about many things, the internet included, made me wish I’d listened a little harder at the time, instead of quietly muttering ‘Rebel, rebel’ to myself in never-ending meetings.

So much has been written about him as an artist and master of reinvention. Yet what has also sung through in all the tributes and tales was his love of collaboration. The sheer joy, provocation and elevation in one’s own talents that comes through working alongside talented, different others.

I was reminded of something Lisa Thomas wrote before she left M & C Saatchi. That whilst our industry was losing talent, the stimulation of collaborating with other smart, talented people would be what kept them.

That word ‘collaboration’ appears front and centre in so many agencies’ business intents. Yet we somehow expect it to happen automatically – odd given so many of us have been brought up on a diet of individualism.



Collaboration isn’t just about being in the same room. It invariably involves experimentation and some hit and miss whilst we learn to get the best out of others who are different to ourselves (that’s a whole other story) in the pursuit of fresh thinking.

All this at a period in our industry where few have the time and understandably, generosity of spirit to lift others to do better, be better and hit their purple patch. It’s tough enough just to get through the day and so, people burn out and the brain drain away from the industry continues.

Having enjoyed the confidence that comes from being part of a creative team for many years, I often notice in coaching that so many now are flying solo, expecting and expected to have all the answers. Usually, the C-suite has a hard-won network of compadres and graduates are invested in as potential stars. It’s the hidden majority, the emerging leaders who run our world that are often left to fend for themselves.

Often we talk about how to collaborate with others to best effect, to stop gripping onto everything they know and to experiment with doing things differently. It’s about putting in a little time to reinvent situations and work relationships instead of taking the easy option and calling the headhunters.  

Perhaps to punctuate this point, it’s worth looking at the numbers. A CEO we spoke to recently had run some figures – the hard-earned money they’d spent on recruitment and search fees far outweighed what they’d invested in to develop their people – in fact, 20 times over. We bemoan the lack of talent in our business yet continue to operate a financially punishing revolving door policy instead of helping our people adapt.

If it’s true that successful collaboration and a sense of purpose is what people most enjoy, what attracts and keeps them, we have to get better at it. The latest neuroscience proves we can think differently, learn new habits, yet we know most cultures struggle with it.  

It’s time to ch-ch-change.

Date posted: 07 March 2016