A recent call from a old collaborator reminded me of the importance of psychic sharing. Often, when we think of sharing, its around something material and measurable, like saving money. There's nothing wrong with that, but there are also undeniable benefits to shouldering a burden, a problem, or, in the case of my phone call, a creative endeavor. The end product, be it a fresh solution or groundbreaking idea, is never what you thought it would be. It turns out to be something neither of you could have imagined, or executed, alone–something better, because two minds trump one.

In the past, Id written three books with this man. Our respective roles were typical of 20th century collaborations: he the expert, and I the writer. I was his with. Now he wanted something different: to write a book together, as equals.

His personal reasons aside, psychic sharing is in the zeitgeist. And why not? The Internet has made it easier to share ideas and, equally important, economic pressures are causing many professionals to reexamine old assumptions about career, income, and credit. Given a good partnership (more on that below), its easier and certainly more fun to share the process from idea to execution. In short, psychic sharing lightens the burden.

Of course, not all collaborations go smoothly. Ive been there, too. But Ive also picked up some tips and warnings signs along the way:

Collaborate with a consequential stranger, not a loved one. Your loved ones might lay down their lives for you, but they often lack the connections, objectivity, and know-how that will inspire  your mind to soar beyond the confines of the familiarIn fact, researchers have found that people who reach out for information and advice from people in other divisions, other companies, even other industries are more successful than those who stay in their own silos. You might become good friends one day (or not)arguably, psychic sharing may be the best way to launch a more intimate relationship. But its better not to start out that way.

Chose someone who is different from you. You may have a shared interest or a common cause with your collaborator but have completely different orientations and backgrounds. In The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies, Scott Page, a professor of complex systems, writes about InnoCentive.coma website where a seeker poses a complex scientific problem and members of the Global Solvers Network offer solutions. When solvers from multiple scientific disciplines tackle a problem, they are more likely to come up with an answer than if, say, only chemists put forth their ideas.

Redefine equal in terms of respect. Equality is not about degrees, titles, or previous successes. A good partnership is as much dependent on experience, observations, and street smarts as it is on expertise. You may be younger and less credentialed, and lack the traditional trappings of success, but its a question of what resources you bring to the table, not how you got there. If you think, or feel, that youre superior or inferior, its harder to be a true partner. And if you dont respect the other person or vice versa, the partnership is probably doomed.

Let go of control, ownership, and credit. Craig Wynett, the man who conceived of Corporate New Ventures, an idea factory within Procter and Gamble, believes that innovation happens when you dont care who gets credit. The Swiffer mop, known in-house as a diaper (or maxi-pad) on a stick, was the result of sharing–in and outside the company.  Divisions that normally didn't collaborate–scientists who worked with hard-surface solutions and those who developed non-woven materials–combined forces with marketing and advertising people, as well as consumers. The good news, Wynett maintains, is that no one quite remembers who did what.

Find ways to share that suit both of you. Logistics, familiarity with technology, personal style: all these and more can affect partners comfort level in a work collaboration (or a marriage for that matter). Some people prefer speaking their ideas, while others like to ponder and write.  I once had a collaborator with whom I had to tone down my New York fast talk in our discussions, which felt like arguments to her. Finding common ground can be hard, but try to split your differenceshave some work sessions in a mode that makes your partner comfortable. Most important, remember that your way isnt necessarily better; its just familiar.

Relish the experience, not just the product. Were hard-wired to collaborate and share. When  were with someone who stimulates our mental juices or helps us see an old picture through new eyes, its exhilarating and productive.  Its what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as a flow experience. Youre engaged and absorbed, and the rest of the world disappears for that moment. Flow can happen alone, but when it happens with someone, its magical.

Melinda Blau


Melinda Blau

Journalist Melinda Blau is the co-author of Consequential Strangers: The Power of People Who Don't Seem to Matter. . . But Really Do. She has been researching and reporting