Collaboration has been on my mind lately. When it works well, it’s like a seamless improvisation in which each participant contributes to an experience that unfolds in the moment. Collaboration is not inflicting one’s own will on others.
It requires the willingness to listen well and adjust to new ideas. Not surprisingly, I consider it a conversation.
My Recent Experience
Last year I bought a piece of art from a friend of mine, Vivienne Lawrence, a phenomenal artist in South Africa. (I wrote about my friendship with her father Bobby, also an artist, here.)
Viv’s magnificent creations are a combination of silkscreen and hand painting on cloth. This one has two running ostriches that always make me smile, with a bank of umbrella trees at the top and patterns of Africa throughout.
The artwork sat in a tube for months while I researched where to take it to be framed. The end of January, I was ready to start the process.
My first stop was a framing shop directly across the street from where I live. The ease of transporting home what I knew would be a large, heavy piece was a big draw. The man in the store, however, was not. He looked, pulled out a black frame and black mat, and announced a mind-boggling price.
A request to reduce the cost brought another black frame and black mat – the same uninspiring look at a couple hundred dollars less. And then we were done. No questions were asked. My opinion was not sought nor was it apparently needed. A decision had been made for me.
My second stop couldn’t have been more different. The owner, Gloria, immediately engaged me in a conversation about the piece. Wouldn’t I like it floating in its frame? Yes – that was exactly what I wanted but I had questioned if it would be possible. I couldn't stop smiling as she explained the process and a weight lifted off my shoulders.
She brought out several frames and mats, and we settled on one of each – but something was missing. I pointed to a color in the artwork and asked if there was a frame that could bring that out a bit – and perhaps something with a bit of sparkle to tie in another element of the piece.
Gloria thought for a moment and brought over the perfect frame. It had what I asked for along with so much more. There was a gradation of color and texture that gave it depth, and there was just enough sparkle to enhance the piece without looking metallic.
She said she didn’t know why she hadn’t thought of this one initially. My question had brought it to mind.
For the mat, we matched one of the many shades of off-white Viv used. It is shocking just how many variations of off-white exist. After multiple attempts, we agreed on one.
Gloria called last week to let me know it was ready. I held my breath as she unwrapped the protective paper, afraid to trust the moment – and loved it!
The framing enhanced the art in a way that was both subtle and profound. It exceeded my expectations in every way – including the cost, which was less than the mundane black-on-black recommendations I had received.
Reflecting on My Experience
My experience with Gloria was a partnership. We collaborated to co-create this beautiful piece. Questions were traded as we considered each new addition. Feedback was incorporated to generate multiple new looks until we reached the perfect one.
We came into this partnership with our individual strengths. I know what I like, but not how that could translate into the finished product. Gloria knew her stock and the techniques at her disposal. It was our intentionally honoring conversation that brought it all together.
Collaboration and co-creation go far beyond framing art. Teamwork is a large part of our lives at work, school, and elsewhere. We have an opportunity to engage with our teammates in a way that is truly collaborative, or we can simply push one point of view. It’s a choice.
It is when we engage in a way that honors the value each of us brings that we can start to co-create. As a result, we bring out the best in each other – and that is a beautiful thing.