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I recently found myself in a different sort of creative project — creating the program introduction for a gala honoring a beloved local celebrity, Craig O’Neil, who was being honored for his work as a volunteer master of ceremonies and auctioneer at countless non-profit galas. O’Neil is an old radio man and current news anchor, but he may just be one of the most gifted comedians I’ve ever seen — roasting and cajoling the philanthropic community to open their hearts and wallets. And I had the dubious honor of acting as his emcee for the evening.

After struggling with how to guarantee his evening was as funny and entertaining as the ones he has created for others, I hit on an idea of redrafting the Beyoncé hit, All the Single Ladies, and choreographing the song complete with back-up dancers. The result would be an homage to O’Neil and his wife Jane encouraging the crowd that “if you liked it then you should have put a bid on it.”

I met with theater and dance faculty at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to ask for their help in bringing this ridiculous idea to life. They willingly agreed. And what followed was a near perfect example of the power of teamwork in creative endeavor.

My original concept was more along the lines of me with backup girls singing a couple of verses of the song. But the director/choreographer, Stephen, had grander plans. He envisioned the full song in all its glory, including a moment for Craig to be invited on stage to participate. I was assigned two lovely and talented student dancers who threw themselves into the process and made my untrained movements seem somewhat professional. The head of the department gently rewrote my script into a brilliantly funny introductory rant. And our tech and soundman not only produced the audio track, but insisted that the number begin with a video introduction, which turned out to be a fabulous addition. Finally the gifted costume crew turned out costumes for me and the girls that Beyoncé would have envied!

It was a terrific success!

When creative minds are willing to work together and respect the individual creative authority of each participant, the result is so much greater than the sum of the individual parts.

And that is how it should be. When creative minds are willing to work together, really listen to one another, and respect the individual creative authority of each participant, the result is so much greater than the sum of the individual parts. A safe environment was set for participants to throw out ideas for real discussion. The group tried to say yes to most all the ideas, making adjustments and negotiating compromise. We tried things before rejecting them outright. Yet the person who was directly responsible for a part of the project had last right of refusal. It was seldom needed, because the ideas netted better and better results.

I think we all surprised ourselves with the quality of that little introductory number. And it just wouldn’t have been the fabulous, crowd-pleasing performance it was if one teammate had been closed to working in this collaborative fashion.

Great collaboration requires listening with an open mind, sharing without fear of being shut down, willingness to negotiate and try things before rejecting them, respect for one another and clear determination of who makes the final decision. A team playing by these rules is unstoppable. I hope you are a part of team like this —or that you are willing to play by these rules to bring powerful creativity to your next collaboration.

Author Thoma Thoma

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