Collaboration is one of the keys to success as an entrepreneur. No one can build a successful company alone, not even a visionary entrepreneur with a one-in-a-million idea. It takes too many different skills to launch an enterprise, and while some people are brilliant strategists, they're not necessarily great multi-taskers. Or they're managerial geniuses, but terrible at sales. Everyone, even the best leaders, needs collaborators who complement their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses.
There are shelves of business books about why collaboration is so important for entrepreneurs. And a lot of really smart people have developed Ivory Tower theories on the subject. What's interesting to me, though, is how rarely anyone talks about the emotional connection that underpins the best forms of entrepreneurial collaboration.
I'm willing to bet that at one time or another everyone who's reading this post has had the experience of working with people who leave them cold, and others who inspire them to dig deeper, drive harder, simply because they feel more connected to them. When I think about the partnerships that have meant the most to me as an entrepreneur, and the people from whom I've learned the most, at the core there is almost always some kind of deeper connection that goes beyond the bottom line and calculations of mutual benefit. You can't buy emotional connections like that, no matter how rich you are. You have to cultivate them. And once you do, I think you are wise to consider them a wellspring from which to draw, for not only is it a lovely, rewarding part of an entrepreneur's day to build and engage in those connections, it can be incredibly valuable when you take the time to do so.
Look at Steve Jobs (an emotional guy if ever one walked the planet!), and the genius that emerged from his collaboration with his designer, Jony Ive. Jobs used to have lunch with Ive almost every day, and wander around his private design studio batting around ideas with him, just the two of them there. Or consider Jobs' fruitful collaboration with Lee Clow, Chief Creative Officer of TBWA/Chiat Day, the advertising agency that created all those iconic Apple ads--a relationship Jobs remained faithful to for over two decades.
What's more, because Jobs was such a fanatic about unplanned collaborations, his design for Pixar studio's campus envisioned an atrium where those chance encounters could happen. As Walter Isaacson wrote in his recent biography, Jobs believed that "if a building doesn't encourage [collaboration], you'll lose a lot of the innovation and magic that's sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see."
Besides containing a fitness center, viewing rooms, a large theatre and much more, the atrium houses the only two washrooms in the place. Jobs made that design decision deliberately. He did so because he believed that people would be forced to cross the atrium to get to the washrooms, bump into colleagues on their way, strike up conversations, and from those chance collaborations, ideas would flow. Even solitary types, who would typically keep to themselves, would be forced to engage in conversations, if only while washing their hands. By all accounts, Steve's idea promoted collaboration and creativity from day one.
Steve Jobs was an entrepreneurial genius. He created the most successful company of all time. Clearly, there are many reasons why that is so, but I believe his intuitive understanding of and respect for the power of emotional connections--planned or serendipitous--is a huge part of his success story.
How powerful a role do you think emotional collaborations play in determining an entrepreneur's success? How significant a role have those collaborations played in your own entrepreneurial life?