Archive for the ‘collaboration diary’ Tag

The Collaboration Diary 6

Last entry: The Collaboration Diary 5

After our first full-day session bashing out scope and structure, there was a bit of a hiatus. We had as ‘homework’ to each write our first 5 short pieces. We chose themes from our list (Buckets) and went our separate ways. I read relevant stuff (e.g. Rory Sutherland’s Alchemy, my collaborator Doug’s previous book Collaborative Working Pocketbook) and thought about the task. But I didn’t set pen to paper until the weekend before the second get-together/half-day session on the Monday (last Monday 11th). 

But that helped. It kept me focused. It gave me bursts of energy.

On Saturday I sat down to mark the blank sheet.

I picked the 5th topic on my list – Listening. It spoke to me because Enfant Terrible No.2 had sent me the previous day a photo from his lecture at UWE in Bristol, from his Paramedic Science course, of a Powerpoint slide about Listening and Empathy which had struck a chord with him. I used that as the springboard for a 1st person piece about the central importance of Listening in Collaboration.

It took me half an hour to write (the target 300-400 words). I went off for a short coffee break. Came back and wrote a second piece on Authenticity. That took me more like an hour.

On the Sunday I wrote two more. I didn’t write a 5th because I was happy with the first four and didn’t want to make it a chore. I sent them to Doug on Sunday night, having suggested we each read the other’s work before meeting.

I read Doug’s pieces and marked them up for the 2nd session on the Monday at the Royal College of GPs. We started the session by throwing down a quick agenda which we them worked through systematically. In so doing we addressed some big stuff…

Doug was uncertain about our working title – he had tested it on a few people and felt it wasn’t quite striking a chord. We discussed what was wrong or missing , concluded it was too narrow and added “&” and a second adjective to get something that hit the right note for us both.

We talked about the positioning of the book, the difference between Collaboration and Team-Work, and how to make our book distinctive. We felt the new title (as the old had done) captured a sense of a particular, original approach. We also spent some time debating a definition of Collaboration Doug had read and liked. We edited it a bit together and decided to make it the touchstone for the Manifesto that would be our opening. We are each going to write a version of the Manifesto and then combine them.

At 11 o’clock we stopped to observe the silence for Remembrance Day

join hands siouxsie and the banshees album lp vinyl cover design

We looked at the work we had done on structure and felt it was reasonably sound and an easy step from our Buckets document to a neat Structure document for the Proposal.

Item 3 on the agenda was a mutual “critique” as Doug put it. That was very civilised. He wanted to push me beyond the 1st person singular/personal perspective I had adopted – possibly too narrow? I encouraged him to avoid extended metaphors, neat turns of phrase where the sound overrode the sense and to include more concrete examples so the text didn’t feel too abstract. We agreed to be wary of imperative tones.

Finally we discussed the path forward through publishers, both the one Doug has been discussing this book with and other options. He was very disciplined in not making our final submission too early but to keep shaping and refining our (not particularly conventional) approach until the new year.

We concluded by setting our ‘homework’ before the next session and fixing a date in December. Doug has more time to write this month, I don’t so will probably end up leaving my homework until Sunday night just like the good old days.

It was another very satisfying, focused and productive session – shorter than last time, a half-day.

The Collaboration Diary 5

Our first full-day writing session worked out really well. Doug bought me a copy of Eat That Frog! at Euston Station to add to a dozen other volumes he’d brought with as references. I brought along three tomes as rangefinders for format:

  • Alchemy – by Rory Sutherland (which I am mid-way through reading)
  • Unleash Your Creativity – by my friends/collaborators Tim Wright & Rob Bevan
  • Damn Good Advice – by George Lois

They are all examples of books which are written in small units that can be read linearly or dipped into. We quickly found we both had the same kind of book in mind in the wake of Doug’s radical suggestion to take it this way.

We put together an agenda in the classic way. Doug had brought 3 points, I added another 2 (made up on the spot) – all outputs for this session. We achieved all in a 6-hour session.

I drove the process, with Doug willingly coming along for the ride.

First, a couple of key questions I threw out:

  • What have been your best experiences of Collaboration? Why?
  • What have been your worst? Why?

We both listed what came to mind.

We discussed a few high-level ideas – like our core concept (codename DC) – before diving deeper into those questions. We individually drilled down into what characterised those experiences good and bad then shared the results to generate key topics in number.

I then went to the classic questions I learnt from Rudyard Kipling via Pat Mitchell (who Doug & I both worked with at Melrose Film Productions – we toasted him with coffee):

6-honest serving-men rudyard kipling question words questions

From the six core questions we developed six ‘buckets’ – a term borrowed from Tim Wright (the one referenced above) which we used when writing the interactive script of MindGym.

Doug was at Melrose when I made MindGym and he watched the process closely. By coincidence this tweet came in during our session, reminding me of how much positive impact our creative outputs can have:

tweet about MindGym

Into the six buckets we dropped the topics we had generated. We then stepped through the Collaboration process – both when done voluntarily as an individual and ‘enforced’ within an organisation – and chucked those stages into the buckets. Finally we went back to the suggestions about What Makes a Good Collaborator? generated from online circles and added those too, leaving us with a set of topics divided into six main categories and in a roughly sensible order. All painlessly generated with plenty of interesting discussion in the process.

We concluded by deciding to write 5 pieces each initially to test the waters which we are to select from the list. We set a deadline for that, a date for the next day-long session and plotted a path to publication.

An all-round successful first collaborative writing session.

The Collaboration Diary 4

factual booksAfter an excellent weekend well clear of work (Open House days, Rugby World Cup, Underwire Film Festival, Hungry Hearts big night out at its centre) I am deliberately going in to our first joint writing day with an almost blank – or open – mind. I want to see where we get to together. So no specific preparation. No agenda. No plan.

I remain as excited about the prospect as ever. I’ll take along a couple of books to serve as potential models for the proposal Doug came back with – a less highly structured, more colourful, more narrative-centred book. I’ll take Rory Sutherland’s Alchemy and one or two books on creative thinking that I have vaguely in mind.

We’re meeting on the premises of the Royal College of GPs which is a space I regularly work in when I’m after somewhere on the informal side.

The Collaboration Diary 3


An email arrived from Doug with a radical rethink of our approach. Based on some successful books currently on the market in the business category and some previous work we did together inspired by Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, he suggested we create “a book that you can dip into or read cover to cover” constructed from smaller sections carefully organised, as opposed to one long coherent body of text. This strikes me as a way we can create a really energetic, genuinely readable book.

That email was at 04:43 – I really hope Doug is abroad somewhere in another time zone! It was preceded at 03:27. In that earlier email Doug agreed with my point about how to ensure our tome is distinctive: “I think we need to make sure to keep focus on the thing that will make this book distinctive from the competition – the idea of Dirty Collaboration over and above the rather sterile notions of teamwork that are the norm


The Collaboration Diary

Day 2 – Monday 9th Sept

As I left the writing retreat and the island, the flow of documents and emails from my end ceased. I got up early to write a brief Audiences document to send to Doug and an even shorter Scope one, derived from yesterday’s workshop. That was the lot, the last outputs from five days intensive work. Then onto the boat back to the mainland.

So from intense action on my side, batted off as best possible by a busy Doug at the other, we went to radio silence all day. We both have significant other work so it will be interesting to see how stop&go the process will be. And who will fire off the next note…

The Collaboration Diary

Day 1 – Sun 8th Sept 2019

While out walking and talking with Jonathan Gosling, the leader of the writing retreat I was attending on Lambay Island, Co. Dublin, Ireland, I had the notion that to reflect the meta dimension of our book – Doug and I collaborating on a book about collaborating – we should each keep a diary of how the process looked from our side.

I got back to my desk in the library of the White House and fired off a short email to suggest the diary idea to Doug. He swiftly replied: “That diary idea is a superb one.”

So this is Day 1 my side, the day of that email. On this writing retreat I have been kicking the tyres of Doug’s original proposal. That process is largely recorded here in these blog posts which I used each day as a warm-up:

  • Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 1
  • Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 2
  • Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 3
  • Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 4

Following the one-to-one with Jonathan I decided to broaden things out after much concentrated attention on the Proposal and related documents to outside media in the form of a recommended video: Margaret Heffernan’s Super-chicken TED talk.

I did some more work on the Structure/Contents page, trying to come up with something I felt happier with, more convincing and consistent.

Then I read parts of Doug’s Collaborative Working Pocketbook to get a better grasp of those perspectives of his I found hardest to grasp from paper alone (the concise proposal).

In the afternoon we did a workshop on Readership from which I further developed my thinking on Audience and Scope.

But Doug’s response to the diary suggestion was the key event of the day: “That diary idea is a superb one. But could be a significant chunk of the book. An evolutionary process.”

I was delighted we felt the same about that. And delighted he pushed the idea further.

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