Reminders of How to Collaborate, as Seen in My Home Office
Let me start with a confession. I don't have a home office. My husband occupies the only office space in our house, so I end up drifting from room to room during different parts of the day, trying to find the best light for Google Meet. On my journey to the perfect natural filter, I pass by different objects that serve as good reminders for how to collaborate with open-mindedness, respect and diaper-defying confidence.
These used to be a bunch of sickly plants of all varieties—jade plant, string-of-bananas, kalanchoe—each one dying a slow, lonely death in its own pot. One day I decided to throw them all together in a single planter to shake things up, and lo and behold, they started thriving. At this point they are clearly planning a takeover, but it's nice to see them working together.
Succulents aren't the only thing that can bloom beyond where they're planted. Really interesting things happen when you let different minds into the mix. After all, a great idea can come from anywhere: a trip, a conversation, a TV series—even (brace yourself) an account manager. If a non-creative on your team offers an unsolicited opinion on casting, typefaces, headlines, or whatever the case may be, try not to let your ego get in the way of opportunity.
This is a reproduction of a sign that used to hang in Steve Jobs's office. What a sap! OK, it's actually a handmade banner gifted to my sons from a friend who works as a creative for Big Tech, and it's displayed in their dungeon—I mean playroom—in the basement. The message here is about self-control, and I find myself also needing to take these words to heart when I go down there and randomly find rotten banana peels stuffed into a guitar.
Kindness doesn't diminish brilliance. Talented-yet-testy creatives often get a pass for the bad energy they bring into the workplace. However, in my career, the ones who have delivered their ideas with space for conversation, and their feedback with respect and encouragement, have gotten the best work out of me. Going through the emotional response to a harsh or condescending remark ends up being a distraction from the work.
One of my favorite things to do is to throw away my children's artwork. There's so much, and 90 percent of it features Captain Underpants. But every once in a while, I find pieces that are profound enough to earn a place on the fridge. Like these two. The unibrowed fellow to the left looks like the result of a collab between Edvard Munch and Sesame Street. He's clearly about to present a big concept to a high-stakes client, or have an internal review with the team member mentioned above. We've all been there. He is us, and we are him.
If you're not a little nervous when presenting your ideas to the people who can kill them, chances are you're not invested enough. At the same time, if you're not coming across as 100 percent confident in your pitch, you're asking for it to be shot down. Moral of the story—don't let the presence of the green guy derail you. Be the pig with the sunglasses. He's got swag.
Meet my officemate, Gladys. She is deaf, incontinent, mentally feeble, and fine with it. This 185-year-old lady is the chillest dog I've ever met. You can put her in a diaper and force an allergy pill down her throat, and her tail will keep wagging. Gladys is goals.
Make no doubt about it, collaboration is complicated. The creative huddle can be a supercollider of opinions, egos, breakthroughs and brilliance. I've walked out of meetings feeling totally validated and empowered, and I've walked out of meetings feeling defeated and full of doubt.
Though disappointing for sure, those undesired outcomes aren't end of the world. Every interaction—good or bad—is an opportunity to learn and grow. When it comes to collaboration, it's important to take everything in stride, turn a deaf ear to the negative voices in your head, and keep that tail wagging.