With Pith

Ethan Petuchowski

Further Adventures in Collaboration

Getting to the same page

When a colleague and I are in a discussion about something and both start to get very excited about where it is going, I start to believe that we both must be seeing things in the same way. This is a fantasy. You start to feel that “connection”; it gets palpable. It feels like we’re really communicating consciousness to consciousness. It feels like thoughts are pipelining across thin air. Sometimes it’s true, but I’d posit that usually it is not. And this misunderstanding of the true level of agreement can later be a cause of grief. You feel like the other person abandoned your shared vision when they take the result of your conversation and make something different from what you intended.

In a recent project, my partner and I have both had a lot of excitement about where it’s going. Obviously the excitement is a prerequisite for us to want to continue to work together, but it is tiring to think we’re on the same page and in fact not be. So I proposed that he make a document outlining exactly what we’re doing so that I can come to grips with what he envisions. We both found that creating this document was enormously helpful, however, the problem is that I don’t want to get bogged down in formalities, and I don’t want to set anything in stone that should remain fluid or even unspecified. I want to cut to the exciting part, which involves construction and creativity, and skip all the boring crap. In the end I can’t tell how much predetermination is useful. So far, just running forward has not been very productive, so we keep crawling back into the pre-planning phase. Surely that can’t keep happening forever, evenutally we will have pre-planned the whole thing out; but I don’t want to have to pre-plan the whole thing out.

Working with another person is a truly different beast than going it alone. You have to decide who is responsible for what. We both bring very different skills to the table and it is clear that we will need all of them. Some skills need to be brought to the table that neither of us possess, and it is not clear who will be the one to provide those. So far he’s been the one with ideas and I’ve been the one with direction. So I direct him where to put his ideas, and from those ideas I keep the good and throw away the bad. Is that a healthy dynamic? I don’t know. I want to remain in a place where we both trust each other’s judgement and don’t hold back, because otherwise that’s how tension builds. I think so far this has gone decently well.

But I wonder if being the “judger” is a negative spiritual influence. So that was why I started contributing to the creative output. He was very receptive to this even though he knows I’m not the one with the ideas. Maybe when I have ideas and let him judge them, we’ll each get a feel for how hard the other’s position is and start to become better at our own roles. That only makes sense.