The best creative team ever

Collaboration is the mot du jour in adland. So why is it that one of the best example of creative collaboration is 70 years old?

As the philistine I am, I just got to know about the Inklings, the literature group of friends formed by Lewis and Tolkien in Oxford in the 30s. Again, thanks the book Group Genius. (You can actually find Keith Sawyer’s blog here: creativity and innovation.)

Both their work, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia would have never reached the success they did, or even come to life at all, without the creative collaboration that they experienced with this ‘circle of friends’.

A great article from the Times illustrate the influence they had on one another: “Down the pub with Tolkien and C. S. Lewis”.

Only through long conversations, shared understanding and most of all respect (even though they strongly disagreed on some subjects), have they been able to transcend each other’s work. None of these two literatture classic would have been if the writers had been working on their own.

Here is the definition of a collaborative circle of friends, taken from the book ‘Collaborative circles: Friendship dynamics and creative work’: (that you can read on Google books)

A collaborative circle is a primary group consisting of peers who share similar occupational goals and who, through long period of dialogue and collaboration, negotiate a common vision that guides their work. The vision consists of a shared set of assumptions about their discipline, including what constitutes good work, how to work, what subjects are worth talking, working on, and how to think about them.

Even while working alone, the individuals members are affected by the group and the roles they play in the group continue to guide and sustain the members.

For members of the collaborative circle, each person’s work is an expression of the circle’s shared vision filtered through his or her personality.

What can we learn from the Inklings?

That we need to develop collaborative circles structures within our agencies. (I’m here overtly generalising for the sake of the argument, there are exceptions to the following, but they are exactly that. Exceptions.)

That it bolsters the point that a creative department composed of creative teams and a few creative directors is not the most efficient way to unleash brilliant creativity. How many times did you think you had a great idea in mind but you just wouldn’t be able to finish it or were missing that extra something (or someone) to help you finish it?

Most of the times the people and the structure available to us (creative and planners) don’t allow to fully exploit the power of such collaborative circles. Of course we can talk to our head of planning or creative director, but these are irregular conversations and often result in a few guidelines on what’s good or not, rather than genuine help. – Please note that a collaborative circle is very different to a mentor / protege type of relationship –

Their is also the old ego problem. Whether you are trying to make it, or made it big, you still feel like you need to come up with the idea on your own. Because you want to get the credit and respect that goes with it. And this is not only true for creative but also for planners. Asking for advice and help to your colleagues or peers can still be seen as a weakness.

However, collaborative circles do not mean that the idea come from a group, hence the credit goes to the group, but they mean a group can help you make the best out of your idea, so the credit still goes to the team or individual. Therefore it would maximise your chances to get to greater and fresher work on a regular basis. And the awards that go with it.

Each member of the Inklings had the other members’ interests at their heart and wanted them to succeed and do their best, pushing each other to fulfill their true potential. If you are lucky, you have found someone internally (or externally) that you can bounce idea off and chances are that you find that invaluable. But it is still an informal process, is irregular, and it’s just one person, limiting your chances of coming up with something truly original over time.

Advertising agencies are not built to allow collaborative circles to flourish because they are built on individiual success, unintentionnally encouraging competition between teams and individuals. In a way, digital agencies have been better at embracing that collaborative trend.

Collaborative cirles provides a structure where people feel free to explore, on a regular basis, the ideas they have and together make them better. It also makes the environment a better place to work for and truly reward creativity and genuine collaboration.

They should be an integral part of our jobs and made mandatory for people to be a part of. They would involve working with people that share your discipline but do not work on your project but also people coming from totally different yet complimentary disciplines. They might take you half a day every week. Although it might seem like a waste of time in the first place, it would be compensated by much better work over the long term, on all accounts.

I might be talking a lot of bollocks here, but it is, in my humble opinion, the concrete application of collaborative circles, not just the adoption of digital, that will determine which agencies will make it to the next round.

  1. Rob
    March 26, 2008 at 2:42 am

    I like this post …

    I spoke about this very subject at the Effies recently – saying we’re experiencing advertsising devolution and in a World where we have more choice, information, research, spending capability, distribution than at any other point in history – it is shameful that in the past 10 years, less brands have truly infiltrated the psyche of society than in the last 50.

    Of course technology and m&a’s have a big part to do with it, but so does the lack of socialistic thinking, which is why the companies making the biggest and best impression, tends to be driven by a core group rather than a process of committee agreement.

    Ooooh it pisses me off so much, ha!

  2. Digicynic
    March 26, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Words of wisdom…
    Have you got any stuff you could share with us? A good old presentation maybe. I’d be interested in reading what you presented.
    How was San Fran?

  3. ronojoy
    March 26, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    Very on point. You single out the Inklings as a specific example but interestingly, some of the greatest cultural output, both artistic, literary and otherwise, from the last century and beyond have come from creative groups as you describe, whether that be modern art groups or 18th century literary movements. The Bloomsbury Group included writers such as Virginia Woolf and E.M.Forster but also the biographer/ critic Lytton Strachey, the economist J.M.Keynes and painters Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell. My point being that successful creative groups can transcend medium also.

  4. Rob
    March 27, 2008 at 2:24 am

    I’ve got something, will post it up soonish – it was written for MTV so I have to make sure the bits that relate to them are taken out or they’ll kick me in the nuts. Again. Haha!

    And to Ronojoy – of course certain groups can work together to make a massive difference – the issue is that in many organisations those groups are only of one discipline so the opportunity to develop something bigger, better and more infiltrating of society [rather than just the category] is severly limited. Not always the case, but it’s scary how often that’s happening.

    I believe great communication is more about the people’s mindset rather than their desire to utlize a particular medium – but hey, that’s just me.

    As for San Fran – well, you’ll hear about that soon 🙂

  5. ronojoy
    March 27, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Yes Rob, you’re absolutely right which is exactly what I was trying to highlight with the my example of the multi-disciplinary Bloomsbury group and the way they affected a culture by producing thinking and output in several different mediums.

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