Collaboration

There are very few Reality TV shows that I watch. I'm good with The Amazing Race, Top Chef, and Project Runway; The Amazing Race because it's a fairly inspiring travel show, and Top Chef / Project Runway because they're about creating things. When I watch Top Chef, it's with an eye of me knowing fairly well what's going on, because sometimes when I'm not Awesomeographing, I am The Food Geek, and so I know some things about food and cooking. Not Top Chef level by any means, but I can semi-professionally second guess.

When I watch Project Runway, though, I know nothing about creating fashion except for what I've seen on previous seasons. I don't have a professional eye for judging women's clothing, and I couldn't tell you the first thing about how to ruche fabric. In fact, it took me two and a half minutes to figure out how to spell "ruche." So, yes, I am not a clothing designer.

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However, I needed a fez, because I was attending a ball which encouraged us to wear fezzes. And there were enough other creative people making fezzes that I wanted to do something special. I am capable enough with electronics and microcontrollers that I could handle some special effects in the fez, and I had a vague idea of what I wanted, but did not know how to get to the next bit.

Fortunately, a fantastically awesome young lady named Sara Chicazul likes to make clothing, and she was making a bunch of fezzes for this very event. So I commissioned a fez from her, choosing the maximum customization level, and we started a conversation about what I was thinking of doing and how we might go about making it.

During the whole project, I was reasonably certain that I might have been driving Sara a teensy bit crazy, because I would throw out a bunch of ideas and go back and forth and send five-page emails out in the middle of the night or crazy things like that. Reports from my spies in the field claim that she enjoyed the process though, so that's good. And, equally importantly, my fez was amazing. It wasn't the flashiest fez at the party, literally or figuratively, but it was exactly what I was going for and suited me perfectly. All of this was done collaborating over the course of several months, two countries, three timezones, and about 3,000 miles.

I love collaborations. I know the things I'm good at, the things I'm terrible at, and the things I can fake if I need to. Working with someone who can handle the things that I'm not great at is the first reason to collaborate. It's a natural way to divide labor, and it lets people focus on their strengths to make something Awesome.

Awesomeography is a collaboration. As of this writing, it's me and Melissa Ward who conceived of the project and are dividing up the labor. We are probably more similar than different in our abilities and creative bents, so the natural division of labor is not the primary reason for us to collaborate. In our case, we have similar enough visions to what we want Awesomeography to be that we are able to each work on creating content without creating an incoherent site. As we move forward, I'm sure we'll develop further into our individual strengths with respect to the creation of Awesomeography, and I look forward to seeing that happen.

Sometimes you have a chance to work with someone who has similar abilities to you, but wildly different style. This is a hard collaboration, and is the kind they show a lot on the work-related reality TV shows. This season of Project Runway, for example, has had all of its challenges up to when I'm writing this article (weeks before the end of the series) be collaborative, team-based challenges. It's a good way to see the inherent difficulty and rewards in pairing up with someone who is very different from you.

Not all collaborations are going to succeed. Often one voice will drown out the others, and it will hardly seem like collaboration at all. Often no voice will drown out the others, and it will just be cacophony. If you can find good harmony, and each person can learn from the other to make something great, then you have something so much better than you could make on your own, which is the best reason to collaborate.