Basketball legend Bill Russell has a new book out, Red and Me. In it, Russell tells the story of his amazing partnership with Red Auerbach, one in which the coach learned as much from the player as vice versa. Russell unarguably holds claim to the greatest team player in all of sports, known especially for his ability to make everyone else around him better, including his coach.
In a review of the book in last Sunday’s NY Times, Bill Bradley (former All-American, New York Knick, and US Senator) related a memorable quote from Oscar Robertson, the former perennial All-Star guard for the Cincinnati Royals. When asked if Michael Jordan, after his third year in the NBA, was a great player, Robertson replied, “Not yet. He still hasn’t learned to make the worst player on his team look good.” Eventually MJ, like Russell, mastered that all-important, but sometimes elusive, leadership skill.
In a team sport, that is the definition of greatness.
Interestingly, it appears there’s a parallel to any creative business as well. We live and work in an era when creativity has become more the output of a group of people; writers, art directors, animators, flash developers, programmers, and UX specialists all have to work together seamlessly to create something remarkable. It’s no longer just an art director and a copywriter who own creativity, if in fact that were ever the case.
As a result, the ability to elevate everyone else’s idea or contribution is the new ultimate skill. It’s less about collaboration (working better with other people) and more about amplification (making the work of other people better.)
Here’s some of the things we’re doing at Mullen to try and turn collaboration into amplification.
1. We’ve redefined the definition of the creative team
It used to be a writer and art director, the typical advertising team. Now that team includes a developer, a UX specialist, a connection strategist, a social influencer, et. al. By working together from the outset of a project, there’s an increased respect and trust for everyone’s contribution.
2. We look at work in an unfinished state
There’s a tendency on the part of many creative people to conceal an idea until it’s fully baked. We don’t do that. There’s one big wall where early ideas and work in progress get posted. Everyone can see it and anyone can comment. The creative director gets to make the ultimate call, but everyone’s free to offer an opinion.
3. We focus on the idea, not the individual
Yes everyone wants credit for the ideas he or she generates, along with the pats on the back, accolades from peers and eventual awards. But if you put aside individual glory for a moment and focus on the idea, the work, and the details that matter (regardless of who else lends a hand or gets his name on the project) the better the outcome might be.
4. We encourage anyone to talk to anyone
Everyone claims to hate politics and hierarchy, but in a lot of companies people get pretty upset when others don’t go through proper channels. I say screw the proper channels. When anyone at any level can make a suggestion, share an idea, or express an opinion you have an environment that fosters amplification.
Collaboration is good. Amplification is better. Do you work in an environment that fosters and rewards it? Do the leaders and key contributors in your company simply collaborate, or do they amplify?