Deciphering "Collaborative Spirit"

Deciphering "Collaborative Spirit"

I have big ears for how creative businesses talk about themselves.

It’s just recently, that ‘collaboration’ and ‘collaborative’ got so loud, it could easily outblast the entire Burning Man. Or earn a well-deserved “meme of the year” award.

Humor aside, I have a strong stance on why using "collaborative" while describing your company attitude can be detrimental to your business.

But before we get there - here's a story.

Back in the day, I used to work a lot with clients in China. It's a culture on its own, for sure. And one thing struck me more than anything — their servilistic approach towards their clients.

Servi-what? OK, did I just make it up? Nah, it should be there. Servilism is an attitude where you assume an inferior position, almost as if you're a servant.

I may be not picking the fine detail, as I don't speak Mandarin, and English could be contributing to some nuance getting lost in translation.

But still, the business attitude was clear: once they signed up on a client, they were at their mercy and in unconditional service.

"We can't do that, they won't pay us".

"I know they are not right and it's unfair. But if we don'd do it, we won't get paid and they won't hire us again".

It's not a single case. It's a pattern.

Which brings an important question of the balance between being in the service business and being in the expertise business.

In the creative industry, you'll find a full spectrum.

It's not that one is good and the other is evil.

If you're running a company doing subcontracted work, or under a body-leasing model, even of high craftsmanship level, you're likely more in a service business.

Your clients have a clear sense of scope, the budgets are laid out with transparency, you'll be presenting line items, and once it's signed you'll have to push the stuff through the pipeline. Yes, you need your craftsmanship expertise, but you're not hired to solve a business problem. What are you expected to be like? Be nice, do what you're told, deliver fast. Don't make troubles when there are changes, revisions or explorations on the go.

Is it bad? I wouldn't like to run a business like that, and I never had, but it can be highly profitable and rewarding. I know many firms built like that, crafting high-end 3D, arch vis work, or VFX, some of them turning multi-million dollars business.

On the other hand, you may be hired by the clients for a website, but soon on the first call you both know it's not about the website, the stakes are high, and there's a fair bit of business and strategic thinking involved, before you get your hands dirty with the creative. You're not expected to take orders. You know better, you apply your expertise and lead the client through the engagement, often showing them horizons they'd never imagine.

So where's your firm here? Likely somewhere in the middle.

Back to "collaborative" — I have a very clear readout of this. Let me translate the way I process it, reading between the linees. "We're highly collaborative" means a range of things, but clearly sets the expectation that you're here to follow the lead, you take scope changes lightly and take the fire of incoming "direction explorations" requests with a big smile. It could mean you bend nicely.

Don't get me wrong — nothing wrong with collaboration, especially when it assumes a true partnership, built on expertise symmetry and mutual respect. And I know a few firms up there, that can proudly say they work in a collaborative spirit, which means just that. The thing people miss is: they have impeccable reputation, strong market position, experienced sales teams, qualified clients and processes so robust, that scope creep never eats their profits. Budgets are either so high, that the scope creep does not really matter, or their position and kind of relationships they forge with the client makes it obvious that "direction explorations" are well-paid trips.

But there's just a handful of these.

In most other cases, when I read "we're collaborative" I read "we bend nicely".

It's a promise.

But is it the one you truly want to make?

Now you know.

Stay prolific, and till the next one.

Thinking bigger, seeing farther, making impact. Insights into building and evolving creative businesses and B2B brands. Coming at you from "the fast thinker", Patrick Kizny. #b2b #branding #marketing #creative