Creativity: Control vs Collaboration

red-tileI recently toured some Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in California and Wisconsin and noticed close up the square red tile that declares everything about the building — from the setting to the approach to the entrance to the materials used — reflects (or at least reflected at the time the building was completed) the totality of Wright’s personal vision. You don’t get a tile if you mess with Frank’s idea. In some cases that meant you couldn’t even question the furniture, light fixtures, flooring and china to be used within that specific dwelling, as Wright often designed all of it. He even went so far as to create wardrobes and gowns for women who lived in his houses so they wouldn’t clash with his interior decoration. Of course, as everyone knows, his designs often sacrificed function for beauty. Stories about their leaking are legendary. So would they have been better or worse if Wright relinquished any of that control?

In almost every creative business (is that an oxymoron?) — advertising, music, film, publishing and architecture — it’s rare that any one person, no matter how brilliant or creative he may be, gets to retain total control over an idea. Creative partners, collaborators, and gatekeepers shape it somehow. Clients approve and alter everything from ad campaigns to architectural plans. Focus groups shape movies. Editors change manuscripts. And in a rapidly changing digital environment where creations, content and ideas are often dependent on the technology that either enables them or distributes them, the group of people collaborating on a project and influencing how it appears and works gets even bigger. Writer, art director, designer, technologist, information architect, composer, editor, animator all find themselves part of one creative team. Sure one person has the initial idea, maybe, or the vision for its finished form.  But these days it seems the  quality most valued is not the ability to retain control, but rather the talent to inspire and navigate collaboration. So, is control better than collaboration? Or does collaboration improve the idea? Share your thoughts.

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