When Scott and I, Scott of the scientific persuasion and I of the creative, first realized we’d be joining forces on a few projects, there are two words that sum up our reaction: sheer panic.
Kidding, of course. But that might not be far from how some folks in both disciplines would characterize the prospect of collaboration. The sad fact is, while each side has a great respect for the other, actually sitting down and working together can present all sorts of obstacles.
Fortunately, our collaboration was very fruitful, with little of the cross-discipline friction that can crop up. Some of that was just blind luck, some of that was because we’re two swell guys, and just a bit was because we made a conscious effort to do things right.
Now, we’ve collaborated once again to bring you this list of what we learned and what we know, in hopes that your next partnership can be a good one.
1. Start early. Creatives, if you only loop scientific in to your clever little idea at the last minute, well, maybe you’re not so clever. And scientific: tossing a genius study that changes EVERYTHING at a near-finished project like a live hand grenade isn’t going to go over well. Everyone should be involved at the start of the project. This makes it more likely that you’ll start off right—and that everyone will stay along for the duration of the ride.
2. Spend time on building a foundation. Time is a factor in any project. This is probably not news to you. But as tempting as it might be to rush forward, take the time for you and your partner to create a solid, well-rounded base to work from. This can take many forms, but to give an example: I helped get Scott plenty of background information up front, and he turned that into a simple, clear grid of knowledge that became the background for multiple projects. We still use it to this day. The bottom line: scientific knows how to build a foundation that won't crack because it's grounded in data, and creative knows how to do thousands of beautiful things with it. If you do it right, it will serve you well for months or even years to come.
3. Don’t invite any egos. A true collaboration is more than just getting the science nerd to talk fancy for an audience, more than creative handing all the research dirty work to scientific, and more than just asking creative to make a scientific slide “pop”. While we all have our specialties, valuable inspiration and input can come from anyone. Seek true feedback from your colleagues across the aisle, and the final project will be that much better. Remember: you’re all on the same team. You both own the project. There’s no need for fighting about who should do what and with whose permission.
4. Don’t underestimate the in-person visit. Geographical limitations can be tough to avoid. Until we have Star Trek transporters, that’s just a reality we have to deal with. But whenever possible, make the extra effort to get together in the same room. In one project, Scott and I hit a snag where we kept going back and forth on the phone and via email without really understanding each other. Finally, Scott headed up my way, and all it took was one hour at the white board for everything to click. Lesson learned: we should’ve accepted that travel as a necessity much earlier in the process, and saved ourselves some time and frustration.
5. Be more like your partner. In case you haven’t gotten it by now: collaboration is the place where titles disappear and there are no toes to step on. If you’re more scientifically-inclined, think about things from a creative point-of-view. And for the creative folk, put on your best scientific hat and really consider the data. In the whiteboard session I spoke of earlier, Scott busted out some impressive marker skills—so impressive, in fact, that part of what he drew made it into the final art of our project. The result was something beautiful that might not have happened if we had been more siloed in our duties.
6. Keep in touch. Once the project is complete, you can go your separate ways, right? No way. Even if you’re separated by great distances and new projects, make the effort to keep communicating with your partner. That way, as new information comes to light—both from the client and from the scientific field—you’ll both be up to speed. Again, an example: my team and I feed Scott updates from the brand, and he rewards us with the latest data that’s tailored specifically to what our client is looking for. This strengthens our knowledge and ensures that if the project needs any updates, we’ll be ready to jump back to it at a moment’s notice.
How have you worked across disciplines? Let us know!