As we move through 2013, collaboration continues to be a trending topic in government and one I seem to keep running across, both in my personal and professional life. Having just returned from a study abroad program accompanied by 30 of my fellow classmates, I found myself a little burned-out in the collaboration department. After spending days filled with group projects, company tours and exploring the beautiful country of Italy (for which I am certainly not complaining), the idea of collaborating to accomplish just about anything, big or small, seemed a little stressful and exhausting. However, upon my return to work I was struck by intrigue and inspiration when I ran across a particularly interesting Fast Company article, “How Pharrell Williams is the Ultimate Collaborator.” To be honest, it was the Pharrell Williams aspect which initially drew me in, but after reading the article and listening to the accompanying 30 minute interview I not only looked at Pharrell differently, but collaboration as well.
Some of you may be unsure of who Pharrell Williams is or what he does. However, it’s highly likely you’ve heard him on the radio in recent weeks. His latest collaborative success, “Get Lucky” (Daft Punk’s latest single ft. Pharrell Williams) is being played just about everywhere, with over 60 million views on VEVO & YouTube alone. While Pharrell may be most recognized for his contributions to the music industry (he’s a musician, producer and 4-time Grammy winner), there is much more to the famed “ultimate collaborator.”
To call Pharrell an entrepreneur would almost seem an understatement. In his interview at Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored Event, Pharrell discusses his many collaborations, focusing on how he finds success through collaboration and how he has come to be one of most successful collaborators in the world.
So where does this fit into government?
As I listened to Pharrell discuss his collaborative endeavors, I began to think about collaboration in government, pondering why I didn’t always feel this excited about collaboration’s potential. Looking at collaboration through a different lens helped me develop a new outlook toward collaboration in government. I realized that although collaboration in government may not consist of working with major musical talent, it can be a great way to energize existing relationships with other government communicators and create a fun way to exchange ideas.
Here are some highlights from the interview that resonated with me.
Collaboration is a two way street. When asked about how he decides who to collaborate with, Pharrell attributes his decision to his “curious nature.” He is constantly looking beyond the world of music, going to see where products are made and asking questions such as “why do you do it this way.” When he has an idea, he will ask around to see if anyone had ever heard of it before. If no one has, he gains the confidence to reach out to a company to collaborate. Pharrell admits that he realizes he may not know a lot about the particular field, but he knows he has an interesting idea. He says, “I get paid to learn, but I also bring something to the experience.”
Collaboration at all levels is a two way street; you give and you take, and in the end it can be a truly meaningful and enhancing experience. Government agencies can benefit from this by sharing resources to reach common mission goals, such as cross-promotion of services or events.
It’s all in the taste and tone. When it comes to the qualities Pharrell looks for in those he collaborates with, he says it’s crucial to look at a company’s history to “find a great consistency of never falling below par with its products [which]… need to be made with functionality first.” It’s important to think about what you need to accomplish and then seek out those organizations who have expertise related to those goals.
Collaboration doesn’t mean you have to give something up. Does collaborating mean that in the end you have to sacrifice something because somebody else had an idea that was different from yours? When asked this question in the interview, Pharrell quickly responded with a “no” and went on to explain his reasoning. While Pharrell enters each collaboration with an idea, he realizes that in order to make an idea successful, he has to learn from the experts and work with them, accepting and incorporating their knowledge and ideas.
One government organization may have expertise in a certain topic or campaign, while another may have expertise in reaching mass audiences successfully or utilizing social media. Working together provides an opportunity for both organizations to learn from one another, maximizing success.
Your ideas have to be part of the collaboration. Collaboration revolves around sharing ideas. For collaboration to truly take place, everyone’s ideas need to be a part of the process. When Daft Punk first approached Pharrell about “Get Lucky,” they played the song and “just wanted to hear [his] reaction.” From there, Pharrell shared his thoughts on how the lyrics could be. Daft Punk created the music and Pharrell wrote the lyrics, with the overall message of the song agreed upon and created by both parties- a true collaboration. Everyone’s ideas need to be incorporated in some way and need to be heard and considered.
You don’t want to challenge an ego. It’s happened to everyone at some point. When working with others, there is bound to be at least one ego in the group. Egos can be a challenge when you’re collaborating. Pharrell offers up some interesting insight on the subject. He says, “You don’t want to challenge an ego, you want them to feel great and feel the biggest fire they can. If someone is agitated, that’s good.” While this can be easier said than done, when an ego inflates, take a step back and “let them feel the fire.” Good things may come as an end result.
If you’re not learning, you’re wasting your time. Pharrell’s final words deliver an important message. Addressing how he cultivates talent and touching on advice he shared with artist Mayer Hawthorne, Pharrell says, “For the most part, even when those things are happening [advising musicians], I consider myself a student because I am learning something. If you’re not learning, you’re wasting your time.”
I underlined this last statement because it’s by far my favorite and in my opinion, the most powerful. As you go about your day, it’s easy to forget to take advantage of learning opportunities and to remember how important learning, of any magnitude, truly is. Learning should not stop with one’s academic career, it should be a continuous and daily occurrence. It’s how we grow as individuals, students, professionals, as human beings and ultimately, how the world around us continues to grow as well.
To read the Fast Company article or hear the entirety of Pharrell’s creative conversation on collaboration, check out the links below: