Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Today's dirty word: Collaboration.

This will come as no surprise, but I'm an old school guy. I'm not sure when that transition happened, but it did. And as my buddy recently told me, it's best to just own it.

So I do, confident that my first hand memories of printed polyester shirts and the Watergate hearings have nothing to do with my ability to out-think, out-write and out-perform today's crop of copywriters.

However, I cannot hide my disdain for this new term that is creeping into agency life wherever I go.

I'm talking about collaboration.

It's the notion that if two people, an art director and a copywriter, are good at coming up with creative solutions to a challenge, then four people, or six people, or eight people, are even better.

I'm familiar with this approach when it comes to codeine-enhanced cough medicine. And can attest to its euphoric efficacy. Three teaspoons of Promethazine are always better than one. But it doesn't work when it comes to work.

Collaboration simply muddies the water. Even the term bothers me. I can't help think of the Vichy government who collaborated with, and were puppets of, the Nazi regime.

I can't imagine how young people today, who may be drinking the collaboration Kool Aid, can stand out and make a name for themselves and their work if they are content to throw all their ideas into the collective bucket of mediocre groupthink.

You see, when I find myself briefed with other teams on a big project, I don't want to work with them. I want my partner and I to beat the pants off them. I want our ideas to outshine theirs. So that when the next big project comes along the powers that be say, "let's get that old angry fat dude and his partner, they had some killer ideas."

I'll take competition over collaboration any day of the week.

I still have a vivid, photographic memory of a weekend spent at the old Chiat/Day warehouse. We were in the throes of a 100 million dollar pitch. We gathered in The Fish, a Gehry-designed conference room shaped like the inside of a sperm whale, and presented work to Clow and Kuperman.

My partner and I were guppies swimming with sharks. The rock stars of the business: Rabosky, Butler, Feakens, Gentile, Siltanen, Rice, Sweitzer, Hooper, Vincent, Jordan, Curtis, Hughes, Dunkle, et al.

Each team stood up and, hoping not to embarrass themselves, and presented their best thinking. The tension was high. But the desire to best the other teams was even higher.

And guess what? It worked.

Everyone, through the process of competitive humiliation, got better. Not unlike hot steel being forged into a precision sushi knife.

There was a time when I knew all the names of all the people in the ad business who were doing the good work. Now, thanks to collaboration and the demise of the star system, I don't know any.

Or, maybe I do know their names but can't remember them. Hell, I can't remember where I left my reading glasses.


Jeff said...

You had me at "Nazi regime."

Rick Rosenberg said...

Rich - I couldn't agree more. I hate to think it has anything to do with being old school or not. I wonder if there are any "youngsters" who might agree.

FavreLansky said...

I'm sort of young. And I def agree. There's a craft. And nothing can ever be crafted to its best by a committee.

Carrie Talick said...

I truly miss those meeting where teams went up against each other. It was terrifying, thrilling and, if your ideas won, it was almost better than sex. Almost. Competition brings out the best in most of us. But Groupthink, like open office space, is the rule of the day. And the resulting work is the punishment.

Jimmy Gilmore said...

I don't think the problem is the death of the rock star system amongst creatives. I think it's much more insidious than that. It's a lack of respect of creatives and creative culture by our betters - management. They would rather spend less on young people who will collaborate toward achieving a metric than to produce good work. Sure, there are still big name CDs out there but the ecosystem has been disrupted. Until clients demand better.... the collaborative rabbits will bread and produce shit everywhere.