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.

4 comments
Michael
Michael

There is always great excitement and dissappointment (compromise) where art meets commerce. I suppose if we truly wanted our work to live as originally conceived, we would all be painters or sculptors or novelists. Maybe it's money that makes it go awry.

Still it would be fun to have people buy it as is or you take your ball and go home.

Nicole
Nicole

While I believe a certain amount of integrity of vision is important in a creative context, collaboration often supplies equal value. In a digital context, your best work will be that which balances creative with function and message. It's no longer possible to separate functionality from the other components that make a brand. So, while Lloyd Wright might have gotten away with a leaky roof in the past, you can be sure everyone would hear about it today (probably on twitter).

Of course, singular vision doesn't mean overlooking quality. But there is potential for collaboration to keep us honest and get us beyond our own egos.

Then again, if I could live in Fallingwater for a month I could deal with a bucket or two catching the drips.

David Esrati
David Esrati

When I was younger, I knew it all.
As I grow older, and have learned from the school of hard knocks, I now know that collaboration brings much better results. The key, is being a better listener, and asking the right questions. Surrounding yourself with great people also helps. I love Sally Hogshead's radical truth #15 "Aspire to be the dumbest person in the room."
Can't go wrong working with smart people you respect.
If they aren't smart, or you don't respect them- you need to look inside and wonder why you haven't gotten out.