On collaboration

There are two distinct ways of dealing with cross-company industry collaboration – specifically, the collaboration of ideas. You either accept it with open arms, gleefully sharing insights and blog posts and other industry-furthering information, or you hold it to your chest, using it as intellectual leverage.

When I worked in the traditional advertising agency world, we held everything to our chest. We couldn’t post extensive portfolios because we didn’t want our competitors to discover the companies we worked with. We were vague in our methodologies because we didn’t want to give up our tricks. We treated industry colleagues with a measure of wariness.

That’s the old way.

The new way is one of collaboration, understanding that as others make breakthroughs and discover new tricks, we are allowed to follow those breakthroughs and discover our own.

I recently threw an email out to content strategists around the nation. Some of them are big-time. Some of them have written books. And I asked for an important chunk of their time in the form of a deep question about one of the discipline’s core tasks.

I asked for a lot and expected a few terse one-line responses.

On the contrary. Nearly everyone responded within hours, each with an intense, thoughtful and impassioned response. Lots of words. Lots of wonderful nuggets of information. Lots of awesome.

There was no shielding of competitive knowledge, no insistence upon vetting the question, no ego, no NOTHING; just great information from great people who want to further the field.

It’s not just in content strategy, either. You see it in small design shops. You see it at un-conferences. Web is an industry fueled by constant change, which makes the ability to share ideas and use those ideas to make cool things one of the most important skills a professional can have.

I’m still amazed at how open things are. The egos are smaller. The ideas are fresher. The cross-pollination is natural and welcome.

We all stand on the backs of those who came before us. The real difference is whether we use this height to pull others up, or if we’re content with kicking them back down.

This was lovingly handwritten on June 24th, 2011