Collaboration: skill or instinct?

by Jini Stolk

I’ve been invited to speak at an exciting new series in Peterborough: the Peterborough Centre for Social Innovation’s Innovation Talks. Ella Cooper from Neighbourhood Arts Network and I will be talking about collaboration and creative problem-solving to an audience from the worlds of business, nonprofits, government, economic development, academia, and the arts.

Of course I’ve been thinking about my remarks, and I have to admit that I’m still up in the air about whether collaboration can be taught or learned. I know there’s a great hunger for tips and techniques on successful collaboration. We talked about an overall collaboration learning strategy this past February at Work in Culture’s interesting Partnerships and Collaborations workshop. But is collaboration really a business skill that we have to learn – or an arts skill that business has learned from?

Certainly, there are no end of successful collaborations in the arts (from coproduction extravaganzas, to Arts Vote, Creative Trust’s endowment fundraising, and numerous arts service organizations and funders initiatives) or including the arts (such as the Ontario Nonprofit Network and the Shared Platforms constellation) to name just a few that are Toronto-based.

There are others I’m profoundly jealous of, among which is the Chicago dance companies’ shared audience development initiative. Why oh why can’t we do that here, along the Parliament Street/Regent Park Dance Strip? Perhaps we should organize a delegation to our favorite Sister City, this time made up of leaders from the arts and cultural community, to connect and learn about their model. (If you want to be as jealous as I am, review this November 2012 piece by Martin Knelman.

My most profound insights into collaboration came from a conference I was privileged to attend on Networks for Impact at Harvard Business School. We learned that people collaborate around shared values; that collaboration is about the empowerment of individuals; that collaborators have to place the social impact they want to achieve above any concern for the growth of their individual organizations; that the focus of collaboration has to be on quality rather than numbers; and that it flourishes through the leveraging of complementary competencies.

I recently was sent this beautiful guide to collaboration from colleagues in the UK involved in the NewcastleGateshead Cultural Venues project.

I’ll let you know what I decide to say in Peterborough about the art and skill of collaboration. If you can join us, the event is

“You Heard it from the Arts World: On collaboration, enterprise, and creative problem-solving”, Peterborough Innovation Talks
September 24th at the
Market Hall, 140 Charlotte St, Peterborough
doors open at 7PM, speakers at 7:30PM

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