The Art of Collaboration

The opening weeks of 2019 have been bumpy. The daily news feed serves up stories that highlight the dissention among our elected officials. Yet another mainline church stares down the barrel of schism over differences of opinion regarding the LGBTQ community. An undercurrent of tension lies within the fabric of a local organization that is near and dear to me. Some personal and professional relationships are not firing on all pistons. I seem to be channeling Shakespeare’s King Richard in thinking: “Now is the winter of our discontent…”

Truth be told, I have a great life. I consider myself to have been richly blessed on so many levels. But I am a social being who revels in community, and I find disharmony deeply troubling. I’m particularly vexed by scenarios that get stuck in win-lose confrontations without putting forth good faith efforts at finding a win-win. It seems we might risk becoming Macbeth’s “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

connectionThe library bookshelves teem with tomes on leadership and team building. The book that caught my eye was Twyla Tharp’s The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together. Tharp is a world-renowned dancer, choreographer, and author who lives and works in New York City. She founded the Twyla Tharp Dance Company and created a distinctive body of work that fused classical, jazz, and pop music.

Here are quotes that resonated for me:

“The wisdom of a smart group is greater than the brainpower of its smartest member.”

“People are people. And people are problems. But people practiced in collaboration will do better than those who insist on their individuality.”

“Personal emotional commitment is essential. Collaborators aren’t born; they’re made. Built one day at a time through practice, through attention, through discipline, through habit.”

“Collaboration balances self-absorption. It’s a powerful tool for socialization and tolerance.”

“A clearly stated and consciously shared purpose is the foundation of great collaborators.”

“The sooner you establish a routine, the more smoothly your collaboration will advance.”

“The first requirement of collaboration is commitment… With agreement, you don’t revisit. You execute.”

“Creative disagreements between sympathetic collaborators spur new ideas.”

“Collaboration can be internal – an act of listening to others and then having a silent, private conversation with yourself.”

“The ultimate best result of any collaboration is learning to look through your collaborator’s eye.”

Twarp also shared the ethos of the Guarneri Quartet, an American string quartet founded in 1964 that performed for over four decades with only one personnel change: “Honesty and bluntness, but not to the point of pain. Mutual respect, but not to the point of formality and stiffness. Shared values, so the group’s mission can carry it over the inevitable bumps. And, of course, actual achievement, so the group is supported by an appreciative community.”

As patrons, we can let art lift our hearts, spark our imaginations, and promote an appreciation for our shared humanity. As a community in distress, we might reflect on what the collaborative arts have to teach us about finding a way forward.