Collaboration: Calling All Intentivizors
My post comes two days later than usual this week as needs of full time employment, family time and side-hustle finally came to blows. Actually, there were no “blows”, but there were compromises which had to be made. Solopreneurs, and especially side-hustle solopreneurs, would get this concept. There’s only one of you, and you can’t be two places at once.
The rapid virtualization of the world has tricked us even more into thinking that parallel lives can exist, but sooner or later there will be a conflict. Such was faced this past Easter weekend. With a pile of term paper grading having sat in my inbox for a week, and a family justifiably desiring family time with yours truly, I let go of my need to post in lockstep with my Monday schedule. Honestly it didn’t hurt at all, and any readership that I might have to this blog, I’m guessing, lived to fight another day without my unique perspective on the world.
Kidding aside, I had something else come up this past weekend, which required me both to pause, but also to pivot the subject on which I was going to blog this week. My book arrived. Not another round of revisions from my publisher, nor an assortment of random PDFs from an editor. Not another version of the cover art from my brilliant graphic artist. Not another hiccup to overcome with distribution. Nope – distribution had evidently worked. I received probably the first ever hard copy of my book ever made (hopefully not the last), “The Daily Undoing: Being Better at Being Human”. It was surreal. It may have also been the epitome of insecurity to order my own product on Amazon, but I had to see the production process actually work - which it did.
And so, I shelved this week’s post idea (about critical thinking) for another week and decided to go straight to the first thing that entered my mind when my lovely wife Anne-Marie ripped open the Amazon pouch. She quite rightfully and instinctively does this as rarely does anything from Amazon come to our door with my name on it. But it was in her giddy and excited tone, as she announced to the family perched in various corners of our main floor, “Oh my God, daddy’s book! Daddy’s book is here.” That first thing that entered my mind was another one of the pillar competencies I dive into inside that very book, she was holding in her hands – collaboration. As she walked toward me from the kitchen, book proudly displayed, I knew her joy as directed squarely on and for me. But my feelings were appropriately reserved for her, and how HER accommodating my obsession is what made this possible.
While my kids were courteously congratulatory, my wife’s genuine enthusiasm was palpable, and though it was the farthest thing from her mind, the sacrifices that she had made as this book, and preceding podcast, was being made, have never been lost on me. I have made this adamantly clear to anyone who inquires about how I did it (produce a daily podcast, then write a book about it, all while holding down a full time job and multiple other side hustles). “It” was not “I”. It was a result of “them”.
I am aware that at this point of a personal milestone it is both courteous but dangerously often perceived as somewhat disingenuous, to pull out the list of “thank-you’s” from a breast pocket, and begin reading them off in a prepared speech. I don’t want it to be that way, perceptually or literally. I want it known that I come from a place of authenticity, and that the words I ponder, and write about actually resonate from within.
If you pick up my book, or even if you’ve just visited this blog, you will know that I believe there are 8, what I call “pillar competencies” within all of us, as sure as we have muscle tissue, brain cells and hormones. Those competencies, as I’ve often listed, are: curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, communication, citizenship, character, problem solving and…collaboration. Today’s blog is about the last one mentioned on this list. In my book I call “collaboration” the “Do well with others” competency, and I could not be more intentional in that definition. As I do with each of the 8 competencies in my book, I choose to drill down beneath the surface level, to get to what I feel they truly mean.
Ask any HR practitioner, school guidance counsellor, or manager, and they’ll reference the familiar “play well with others” canned descriptor of collaboration. I take some umbrage to the subtle nuance in this rather condescending catch-all, in reference to something I single out symbolically as a “pillar”. First, “playing”, or “getting along with” suggests an automatic submission to those with whom you collaborate. That there must be give and take, and compromise and trade-offs. While this, of course, is true, it also suggests that we might agree to a “lose-win” result in order to “get along”.
“Do-ing” well with others, on the other hand, asserts missions accomplished by both or all parties involved. That we are co-participants in advancing our own intentions as well as those with whom we collaborate, but that we are doing so, knowing that their intentions are equally valuable. The key to my hair-splitting has to do with mutuality. This is not to suggest that every collab is quantitatively (or even qualitatively) in balance, but that the overall intent is to be so.
“Do-ing” well with others is also meant to suggest that each collaborator has an obligation to do something meaningful, purposeful and propelling for themselves, so that we earn greater capacity to do more mutual collaborations with others. It’s kind of like the comparison to a brand like Patagonia, The Body Shop or any other for-profit, yet socially minded enterprise. They have to make money, so that they can further their cause. Do not disparage profitability when it advances a global agenda. Similarly, it is important to take away something from a collaboration in order to make you a better collaborator.
I’d like the following to be viewed sort of like credits rolling at the conclusion of a movie. I’m one of those persons who’s always enjoyed credits. I will always note a random name in the list and empathize just how much their name in that list not only mattered to them, but how it mattered to the making of a movie. My “credits” are to be viewed kind of like an, “in order of appearance” reel. Unlike movie credits, however, I’m going to provide a personal note about each person on this list. Oh, and one more thing, I will confess right now, that this list is not exhaustive. It is impossible for it to be exhaustive because I will undoubtedly overlook someone who’s input mattered. But also, to be truly exhaustive, I would have to credit those who collaborated with my collaborators prior to their collaboration with me, and then, of course, acknowledge those who collaborated with the collaborators who collaborated with me, and so on. Collaboration is a result of human evolution both literally and figuratively.
But I digress. Roll credits:
Anne-Marie Turski, Eva Gaudet and Gabby Gaudet:
My family, who either were blissfully ignorant to my ungodly hours of making podcasts and writing book pages, or, more accurately, put up with my lack of presence, when presence could have really helped them. I cannot wear this badge of honour any longer that I possess some super-human strength to sleep 5 hours a day and still function. My family was left without the full attention of its father/husband at the end of the day, but still they cheered me on.
Marc and I were introduced to collaborate on a “non-textbook textbook” project in 2015. While completing that project we became friends and decided to merge our synergies into a pseudo consulting, educational, training, writing, marketing “firm” which eventually became christened as “Undoing”. That’s right, part of the namesake of the book. The story of Marc, and I and our whac-a-mole pursuits of that “missing” is something best reserved for a separate blogpost. Instead, let me fast forward to January 2021. I had condensed all episodes of the podcast “The Daily Undoing” into bite-sized chunks for the book, and Marc had diligently edited them all, and had written the front matter. Nearing the end of our first Zoom call in a couple weeks, Marc landed the following rather surprising disclosure. “I have done all the reading and I have offered my 2 cents, but Dave, this is not my story, it's yours. And I can't be on the cover as a co-author”. Several conversations would ensue over following weeks, but the dye was cast on that date when Marc quite unselfishly removed himself from the project as a co-author. There, again, is much I want to say about the personal reflection Marc guided himself through to come to this conclusion, but he was adamant. Still he continued to be supportive of the project up to, and including now, and beyond as a supportive and insightful friend.
Alexis was a publisher with Nelson Canada (now Cengage) with whom I had worked with for two marketing textbooks. She was also part of the “non-textbook” project in which I met Marc, and after several interactions over the course of the years which followed, I came to know her as a friend. With both her approachable personality, and experience in media and publishing she also became a go-to authority and confidant as I was preparing the book. Whether it was a quick check in on some bit of publishing world minutia, or the need for a pep talk, I could count on her always.
Shauna Vowell; Bonnie Vandersteen; Trevor Huggins & Matt Boudreau; Jason Zaran; Jessica LeBlanc:
These local entrepreneurs, whom I also call friends, had been supportive of my podcast and made themselves available as sounding boards for my book project. I remain inspired by their character and their tenacity.
Gord & Rhonda Choate:
Family friends and local k-9 educators provided a unique perspective on the universality of “competencies” as a pedagogical concept. They too previewed some of the early action page mockups and provided valuable opinions.
SAIT student who took a particularly deep interest in the podcast, and by virtue was also “used” as litmus test for the appeal of a book version.
SAIT student with whom I had worked for every one of her 4 years in obtaining her business degree at SAIT, and who always demonstrated quite naturally all 8 pillar competencies. I asked Em to write the foreward, and will be forever grateful that she accepted.
Having shown Anne-Marie some mockups of my attempts to design a cover for the book, using Canva, she very diplomatically suggested I contact Nadia, the daughter of friends of the family, and a graphic arts student at the University of Alberta for the Arts. I loved the idea and called her parents, to be transparent with my wishes to approach Nadia for this project. Not only is she an aspiring and brilliant artist, but she too had been a loyal listener of the podcast, and I knew she would capture its essence in one simple, bold, statement-making design.
Just as I quite readily came to the conclusion that my artistic vision sucked, I also had to acknowledge that this whole DIY book making model established by Amazon in its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) business, was another territory in which I’d need some navigation from a pro. Not quite as advertised, KDP left an awful lot up to chance, fate and trial by error. Concepts for which I did not have any patience left in store. Miraculously I found Sonia’s profile on Upwork and hired her almost immediately to properly layout the interior pages of the book…something that I will forever remember as the most trying part of putting it all together. Suffice to say with my newly discovered phobia of self publishing, Sonia came to the rescue on more than one occasion, meticulously laying out not only each action page’s content, but the iconography that went along with each page.
Toward what I thought was the end of editing, between Marc, my wife and I, I began to get jittery that we had all missed something, or that I had not appropriately attributed the many sources from which I had borrowed. I needed a “cleaner”. You know, the kind that Harvey Keitel played in “Pulp Fiction”. Not to compare Courtney to Harvey, but their overall goals were the same – remove errors. Courtney, like Alexis, came from my textbook publishing world, and her willingness to swoop in and lend a hand of assurance was just what I needed nearing the end of the process.
Speaking of the end, I realized right around this time (approximately mid February, 2021) that I was only at the “first” end. There were several more I’d have to reach. By this time the jitters which afflicted me about some malpractice I was committing from an editing standpoint, and I began getting nightmares that I had submitted a manuscript to KDP which didn’t fit the cover, or vice versa, or any other number of paranoid thoughts entering my head. I set off to find someone who could do with the overall project what Sonia had done with the interior, Nadia had done with the cover and Courtney had done with the words. After a handful of interviews with firms I call self-publisher distributors (an oxymoron if there ever was one), I settled on Canadian firm, TellWell Talent. To say my relationship with the project manager who’d been assigned my project became strained would be an understatement. I will say that the job got done, and the finished product looks pretty good. However, I cannot say that it was worth the sizeable investment. We behave sometimes irrationally when we perceive a need to be more urgent than it may be in reality.
Approximately half way through the journey I became reacquainted with Chelsey, a lightning rod of positivity and enthusiasm who could make a morgue’s occupants believe they still had hope. I asked a favor of Chelsey and her team to guide me through building a website for the book, which would eventually house digital assets like courses, memberships and so on. Chelsey and Jeannie put up with my indecisiveness and sense of overwhelm, and helped me to at least have a web-presence prior to the book’s launch.
As I mentioned prior to rolling credits, it was quite probable that I’d overlook someone who added tremendous value in this journey, which could have ranged from providing me with some deep wisdom, to pointing out something I had missed, to just an encouraging DM out of nowhere. In an admittedly lazy and shamefully generic gesture, I do want to recognize all of those not so little things, by all of those big-hearted humans.
Back to my comments on collaboration and mutuality. I’m not really sure, at this point, what, if anything the aforementioned people (other than my family) may have gotten from me as collaborators. I’m not even sure I fully appreciate the sacrifice these people made for me. I can say that I have limitless appreciation for what they have done for me. My hope is that the pros of working with me, were greater than the cons. On the other hand, it is quite probable that they have yet to reap their side of mutuality, and for that I am poised and grateful for an opportunity to do well by them sometime in the future.
The Daily Undoing took these 8 pillar competencies, and spread them out over 366 episodes – one for each day of 2020. That’s about 45 different ways of demonstrating the importance of each, and 45 corresponding actions to practice each. My collaboration actions consisted of things ranging from the obvious, such as “contribute” - suggesting that you go beyond your assigned role, and look for additional ways to add value - to a totally made up word, “intentivize” - asserting when we go into a collaboration first and foremost with the intention to serve (as opposed to being served) true success has a greater chance of being achieved.
I know these people who collaborated with me on “The Daily Undoing: Being Better at Being Human” are intentivizors. In my quest to be true to the subtitle of the book, I hope I am one also, and that their acts of generosity are echoed by me when I am asked to collaborate now and in the future.