Collaboration, Part 6: Levels of Commitment…in conversation with Curt Madison

In the first part of our conversation Curt Madison and I discussed the place of competition in collaboration. This second part takes us into consideration of how the degree of commitment changes how we work together.

JGR: Curt, are there different levels of commitment in working together? That’s one of the dimensions my long-term collaborator Stephanie Farrow and I have been discussing in our blog posts here on Riehlife and for our Creative Catalyst column on Telling Her Stories.

5.1 Collaboration: How to Make It Work
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CM: Yes. I’d like to call these levels of commitment as degrees of intellectual bandwidth. You can only commit based on your capacity

JGR: And…?

CM: One way of easing the illustration of capacity to collaborate is to make categories along what actually is a continuous scale. How about Cooperative, Collaborative, and Concerted for categories?

Cooperative effort means not getting in each other’s way. We could have different goals but with intersecting means of achieving them.

JGR: It could also include bringing something to the table.

CM: Yes. That would be a reason to cooperate. Then the next level would be Collaborative effort that means mutually helping each other reach their goals. Now it matters to want the other person’s goal to succeed.

JGR: Isn’t a common goal shared?

CM: I’d leave that for Concerted Effort. Here is an example to explain the different levels
Let’s say bunch of artists make work. They agree to not disparage each other unnecessarily and to accept that art is different things to different people. They are being cooperative.

Now this group of artists decides that they have a common goal of wanting to display their work. Some want to sell. Some want to gain fame. Some just like to be with their friends. They decide to make an exhibit so they pick a date and place and all show up. Great. They have cooperated yet they have different goals.

What if we escalated that to a concerted effort? Now they need to decide on a common goal. Some part of the group wants to sell their work. They need to have rules of how to use joint efforts to gain a common goal. They might need to discuss how to store work, bill for a rented space, decide who gets to be by the door and who has to set up in the back by the bathroom. And on. It begins to get complicated.

As we move from Cooperative to Concerted we escalate the degree of commitment. We get a different set of costs and rewards. It is important to realize that there are levels of benefits and costs. Not every thought of working together means first defining the most difficult item–a shared goal.

These three levels are often confounded. And we can decide in advance how to build capacity for commitment to the level of shared effort we want. We can both measure and create the capacity to work together. We can look at organizations which have greater or lesser capacities to reach concerted action. That is, they have a greater or lesser bandwidth to carry their intellectual resources.
The larger bandwidth, the easier it is to escalate to concerted action if necessary.

JGR: Hmm…yes, my most successful and most fun collaborations (or concerted action) were marked an emotional bandwidth that has to be present for each person to bring their best forward to make something new and better.

In these partnerships there’s a shared culture in how we work together. There’s a capacity to be relational—to give and take. To be generous. I can only count five people I had this kind of work relationship with.

Are you saying that we can pull apart these nuances of emotion and culture to describe the capacity to work together?

CM: Yes, having the more channels we have to redress slights and respond to nuances supports the capacity for concerted action. The structure of an organization, and the culture that supports putting resources into sharing work, makes up the intellectual bandwidth.

JGR: Curt, this opens up some different ways of thinking about levels of commitment in working together and how we can talk about it. Thanks for being my guest on Riehlife as part of my Blog-of-the –Month theme on collaboration.
Curt Madison’s Bio

Curt Madison came to Alaska in 1971 direct from an undergraduate psychology degree at Stanford University. In Alaska, Curt has worked as a riverboat pilot, filmmaker, and biographer collaborating on 22 biographies of elders in rural Alaska with Yvonne Yarber. He has a MA in Political Science from University of Hawaii-Manoa (1976) which included thesis research in Samoa and a PhD from the University of Arizona (1999) in Communication. Dr. Madison flies a two-seat antique airplane on cross country trips whenever his heart needs restarting. He currently is the Director of eLearning Program Development at the School of Management, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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  1. GREAT POST! This is the topic at the forefront of my mind as well and I wrote an article about it for – I look forward to more posts from you about collaboration and all that it entails. Dr. Madison has a great way of breaking down the levels which creates a way to define a more conscious and deliberate collaboration experience.

  2. Interesting interview on the three levels of commitment. The example of artists was especially meaningful, as my husband is an artist and has experienced all three levels in dealing with fellow artists. As a writer, I haven’t collaborated with another writer (yet) on a book, but do appreciate the mutual support between my writing “buddy” and myself. We may write in different genres, but we can still encourage and cheer each other on. Glad to have found you through the blog chain. — Donna

  3. Schall–What a good ezine article this is on “The Power of Collaboration and Joint Venture Partnerships For Marketing Your Business.” Here’s the link for Riehlife readers.

    Donna–thanks for your response. You might be particularly interested in Parts 1-4 of this series exploring two collaborations with two sets of writing collaborators. Also, check out the links in our collaboration series on Telling Her Stories: The Broad View (Story Circle Network). My Creative Catalyst column there is exploring collaboration in a cycle of three posts.

    Tell me more about your writing buddy relationship. That is my favorite. I’ll be writing a post on this for Telling Her Stories. I’d like to collect more stories.

    Janet Riehl

  4. Interesting conversation on the idea of collaboration. As a writer, I haven’t fully participated in this type of interaction. I wonder if a critique group might be considered collaboration as it is a coming together to share ideas. I haven’t joined a crit group yet, although I do consider it from time to time.

  5. Dear Penny,

    Thanks for stopping by. Yes, collaboration (and concerted action) occurs in many forms. Our blog chain is perhaps more of a cooperative venture. Collaboration for me implies that there’s something greater at the end of the effort together. Critique groups are another venture entirely. Collaborative? Concerted effort? Depends on the group.

    Stephanie and I ran a cycle of three posts on Telling Her Stories–our Creative Catalyst column–on the art of critique. Here are the links. These do tie directly in to our views on collaboration. –Janet

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