Collaborating with Creative Peers

“Artists” React in Unproductive Ways When Their Identity is Threatened

TeamElsbach

Managers and those who work with artistic colleagues and the companies and organizations that breathe the creative process can benefit from practical strategies that enable all kinds of talent to flourish and create value together.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article about the creative collaboration process, my co-authors and I drew on the results of several research studies on teamwork among creative workers, including Hollywood screenwriters, toy designers and R&D scientists.

In a first set of studies, we looked at how these types of professionals work in creative group projects. My colleagues and I discovered that a primary reason that these collaborations fail is not because creative workers cannot generate or share ideas with others, but because they have difficulty taking ideas from others.

These creators, who we called “artists,” tied their creative identities so strongly to their work outputs that any ideas that changed those outputs were seen as identity threatening. 

Specifically, we found that some highly creative workers—those who found it important to create individual outputs that reflected their unique creative visions—resisted incorporating the ideas of team collaborators into projects that they were leading. These creators, who we called “artists,” tied their creative identities so strongly to their work outputs that any ideas that changed those outputs were seen as identity threatening.

In a second set of studies, my colleagues and I sought to identify idea-giving tactics that might be less threatening to the identities of “artists.” We discovered four idea-giving tactics that reduced the identity-threat of idea taking by artists:

  1. Giving general vs. specific suggestions.
  2. Delaying decision making about the ideas given.
  3. Presenting ideas with neutral vs. passionate emotion.
  4. Demonstrating an appreciation for prior work done by the artist.

The first three of these tactics focused on reducing the perceived level of conviction that an idea-giver felt for his or her idea, while the fourth demonstrated like-mindedness between the idea giver and idea taker.

Interestingly, these were exactly the opposite to idea-giving tactics that worked with creative workers that I had previously identified as “problem solvers” —i.e., creators who perceived their role as helping to improve a creative project that they didn’t have to own completely.

Together, these findings reveal that the art of idea giving in creative collaborations requires and understanding of not only the idea itself, but the identity of the idea takers involved in the project.

 

 



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