Collaborate Beats Compete
If I think back, it seems we are taught to compete with each other from a pretty early age. Tests, league tables, hideous sports days (for me anyway) — so much stuff revolved around winning and being the best. I’m not saying there isn’t value in being competitive. It can be a useful skill. But increasingly, I’ve started to realise how much more you can achieve through collaboration instead.
Years spent working in design studios fuelled the idea that we are pitted against each other. Whilst we worked in teams, we would often be pitching against other studios for the same work. We’d even be pitching against our team mates to come up with the winning idea. And encouraged to make work that would win awards. And of course we had to go up against our contemporaries for any promotions. The competition can be fierce. Frankly, it sucks.
Since setting up Dotto and working with LWD Manchester, I’ve realised how vital a community of supportive people is. People who big each other up, rather than shoot each other down. It not only helps us all get better work, but it makes the whole experience way more enjoyable. A bit like a circle of lovely stuff. It really helps when you’re having a tough time too, knowing there are people around who will give you a boost.
A turning point for me came out of setting up in a shared studio space. Working around talented, generous people who took time to listen and share their experiences was a real benefit. We’ve referred each other for work, shared contacts and tips. And whilst we all work in similar fields, we each have our own specialisms and strengths. Around the same time, I set up the Manchester chapter of LWD, originally with the fab Danielle Gaboury. Initially we knew very few people, and didn’t have a clue how to put on an event. Yet we somehow managed to set ourselves on a path to meet a whole bunch of inspiring and interesting people. And we’ve found that whilst this particular group is predominantly created for women, we’ve had heaps of support and encouragement from people of all genders and backgrounds. And it’s made a massive and positive difference.
I could probably ramble on for ages about ace people and other such things, so instead, here are a few suggestions for getting a bit of collaboration action into your working life…
Work with people, not for them
Try to get out of the habit of a client-supplier mind-set and start to think more like a team. If you and your client are trying to achieve something together and are able to work in a collaborative way, you’ll make much better work. And clearly it’s a far nicer experience for everyone. Likewise, if you commission other people: printers; writers; photographers or other specialists. Don’t treat them like suppliers, trust their knowledge and work together. It’s definitely worth it.
If you like someone’s work, tell them
It sounds simple, and it is! But we often forget to do it. I don’t mean disingenuous fawning. Just when you actually mean it. It can make a huge difference to someone to hear a genuine compliment. This works both ways of course, and can really pep you up when you’re having a wobble. When you get into a habit of being more positive, it’s contagious. It’s also a conversation starter. It can potentially lead to collaborations and recommendations. I’ve often ended up working with people whose work I’ve admired after having a bit of a random chat on social media.
Spread the good word
If you’re not suited to a job but you know someone who is, recommend them. Or if you see something that would suit someone you know, drop them a line. This properly comes around. Most of my work now comes from word of mouth recommendations or through people I’ve met. And likewise, I always recommended work to other people. It’s not the only way to get work but it’s a really good way.
Attend events (that interest you)
Look out for things that interest you (rather than things you think you should attend). They don’t have to be design related. And mix them up to get the benefits of meeting different people. If you feel nervous about attending places on your own, look out for smaller events. I often feel anxious at big events if I don’t know anyone. It can be difficult to walk up to a stranger and start talking. But at smaller, more intimate events, this becomes so much easier. Remember that whilst there may be a few uber-confident people in the world, the majority of us welcome a kind person saying hello.
Start your own thing, then invite people
There might not be an event or meet-up that suits you. So start your own and ask other people. It’s easy to do now through socials and apps such as Eventbrite. You can make it as small and informal as you like. It could be a few people meeting in a coffee shop to chat about something you’re interested in. And if it’s super-niche, excellent! There will be someone out there who’ll appreciate your efforts and join in.
Find places where there are people
If you work by yourself, it can be very isolating. So do something about it. There are lots of co-working spaces and shared studio spaces, some of which you can have ad-hoc memberships if you don’t want a full-time spot. Or if you prefer not to have a regular financial commitment, there are coffee shops around that encourage people to work in them. If you go to the same one for a bit, you’re bound to start to see familiar faces, so have a bit of a chat!
Get collaborate-y with your co-workers
If you already work in a team, brilliant! Look for ways to help you work together more effectively. Head out to events as a team, create shared side-projects. Some agencies start meet-ups in their own workplace and invite speakers etc. What would work for your workplace? If a co-worker does something good, tell them. Give praise when its due and never take credit when it should be for someone else. If your place does feel a little over-competitive, talk to your co-workers about ways to create a more collaborative environment.
Event-wise, we are spoilt for choice in Manchester. Here are a few of my favourites to go and find nice people…
The Breakfast Club: Start the morning over a brew and a croissant. Have a chat and then hear from inspiring people working in the community doing good things. Run by ace pair, Jane Crowther and Alessandra Mostyn (of Manchester Print Fair fame)
Pecha Kucha Manchester: Seven to ten speakers. All sorts of subjects using the 20 seconds, 20 slides format. It’s quick-fire and interesting. Run by the fabulous Kyle Soo and team.
The Public Meeting: Ideas, conversation and social change. A series of events from breakfast to supper clubs and from panel discussions to intimate In Conversation events – gatherings where conversations are encouraged to inspire action towards local and global concerns. Run by the excellent Peggy Manning.
The Other Box: Set up originally in London, but now in Manchester, hurrah! Events, workshops and courses celebrating people of colour and people from other underrepresented backgrounds in the creative industries. Run by award-winning team, Leyya Sattar and Roshni Goyate.
The Pilkington Club: A club for women to create equality of opportunity. The Pilkington Club aims to open up women’s networks, regardless of experience, age, education, social background, ethnicity, religion and so on. Run by superstars Susie Stubbs and Clare O’Mahoney.
LWD Manchester: Free events for women and non-binary people in the creative industries. Championing talent and aiming to create space for collaboration and support. Includes talks, panels, conversations and workshops. Run by me (Dani Molyneux) and Tali Cahani along with our fab team Katie O’Rourke, Alex Francis and Nina Hamer.
Design Manchester: An annual festival of design – with conference, exhibitions, debate, workshops, talks, movies, parties. We’ll be running a ‘LWD presents’ again this year as part of the conference. Hope to see some of you there!