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Saying “yes” to synergy

I’ve been on both the proposing and decision-making ends of a few collaborative relationships lately, which have helped me learn some important things about human personalities that are worth thinking about out loud:

1. What makes us resistant to collaboration? 

In one situation, I was organizing an event and was approached by someone who wanted to co-host the event. I was fairly certain he wanted to co-host so he could promote his own projects and products, and initially, I was extremely resistant to bringing him on board; I didn’t want the social event to become a platform for advertising. Also, he’d popped up out of the blue, so he seemed a bit of an opportunist.

I stepped back and thought about his proposal for a few days. Why was I being so resistant to collaborating with him? The person was more of an expert than I about the subject of the event, he’d presumably bring his own network to participate, and perhaps a bit of stumping for his product wasn’t as outrageous as I’d initially thought. I got back to him and invited him to co-host the event, and he was an enthusiastic, gracious, professional collaborator.

2. What makes others resistant to collaboration?

I’m the kind of person who won’t propose a collaboration if I don’t think it’s a win-win for everyone involved and I don’t like to waste people’s time, so if I come to you with a proposal, you can be sure I’ve thought a considerable amount of time about whether we’ll be a good fit.

After proposing something I thought was extremely synergistic to a prospective organizational partner, I received a disappointingly lukewarm response. “Well, if there’s a synergy,” he said, “then we can consider it.” I wanted to say, “Listen, buddy, there IS a synergy; why can’t you see that?” but obviously, I didn’t. Something about the proposal either wasn’t clear or made him feel a bit threatened. Even though I still think there’s great potential to collaborate with this organization, a partnership won’t be beneficial for anyone if one of the stakeholders is suspicious of the other, if one isn’t willing to take some risks, or if one thinks that opportunities are like pizza… ie: there’s a finite amount for each person (which I’ve written about elsewhere).

3. What makes us say “Yes”?

When I think about the way the partnership with the Belize Tourism Board materialized, I’m slightly amazed because we went from concept to contract in less than a month. There could have been–should have been–dozens of obstacles because I was dealing with a bureaucratic, governmental agency, but I had a collaborative partner who was committed to the idea we’d discussed and co-created, and she pushed it through aggressively.

This is key: everyone has to buy in and believe that the partnership is mutually beneficial. They all have to start with optimism and idealism and trust in each other, but they also have to plan to be as objective and honest as possible when assessing the performance of one another.


What in your personality makes you resistant or open to collaboration? What might happen if you said “Yes”? 

Do you speak another language?

One of the very best things I’ve ever done, besides marry Francisco, was learn Spanish.

It’s been incredible for my career and it’s been indispensable in my personal life.

But I’m not talking about Spanish (or French or German or Mandarin or….) when I ask whether you speak another language. I’m talking about the language of other professionals outside your own discipline.

Earlier today, I was on a conference call with more than a dozen staff members of a tourism board’s* public relations and marketing firms; the goal was to streamline efforts and ensure that everyone was aware of each team’s projects. I was probably the only person on the call who doesn’t come from the world of PR and marketing. Though I considered myself to be someone who’s quite comfortable with PR and marketing folks, I quickly realized that people from these fields speak differently–really differently–from writers.

“We have to find our sexy look,” said one person on the call, much to my amusement. Writers say things like, “We have to find our hook” or “We have to find our angle” or “What’s the story?” PR people, apparently, say things like “We have to find our sexy look.” It took me a couple seconds to realize what she was talking about– we have to find the event/experience/idea that will make us stand out, make us different. I wanted to say, “Sexy look? Are you serious?” Instead, I thought about what our sexy look might be.

There were lots of other words used on the call that were fairly foreign to me. I understood what they meant in the context, but they’re words I don’t use in my own daily work and words that would sound strange coming out of my mouth. They aren’t words I want to use, but they’re words that are worth learning– they’ll make for a more effective collaboration.

Now, excuse me while I go back to brainstorming about our verticals.

If you’re collaborating with professionals from other fields, what challenges and opportunities have you encountered? 

*I’ve been working as a manager of a writer- and photographer-in-residence project for the Belize Tourism Board since April.


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