Over the past few years, I’ve had a growing passion for writing. As a guy who spent most of my early years labeled as the “math nerd” (which, to be fair, is still a fairly accurate descriptor), I have truly enjoyed stepping out of the numbers as a blogger and the published author of a book.
To this point I have largely constrained myself to non-fiction. There is plenty of room for creativity here, but it is still relatively safe as I am playing within the sandbox of innovation that I’ve lived and breathed throughout my professional career. My new goal is to do some fictional work, and to push myself to a whole new level of risk-taking and imagination. While it is a thrilling proposition, it is daunting. And finding the time to further hone my skills, is proving to be elusive at best.
While it has taken me 41 years to start this process, my 12-year old daughter already is finding ways to build her own creative writing skills and has several projects in the works. And, as the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, her primary roadblock is the lack of time as well.
So to address both our creative inkling and our motivational downfalls, she and I have started a collaborative project to spur each other to write every day. She developed a new fictional adventure story-starter and spent ten minutes crafting the opening. She then passed it to me, and I spent ten minutes of my own building the tale from there. And so it has continued. Each day, we spend no more than ten minutes continuing the story, adapting to the twists and turns that the other introduces, setting up new directions for the other to pursue, and diverging into a narrative web that is far richer and much different than either of us could have imagined at the beginning.
Seeing the story evolve is fascinating, and both of us are amazed with the different elements that the other adds. We both had some pre-conceived notions of how the story would evolve and some of those have come to fruition and some have been abandoned outright. Of course, there are elements that each of us would have done differently, but in these divergent stages we have embraced the varying directions and continued to encourage each other to push boundaries and introduce surprises.
We have now reached the more difficult phase of the project. Driving to a conclusion. When we were diverging, it worked wonderfully to independently innovate and to build and take our project in various directions. But now we are finding that it is necessary to collaborate a bit more on where we want this story to end. We are still allowing for the independence and freedom along the journey of writing, but are needing to work together to chart an ultimate destination. Otherwise, we will find ourselves diverging endlessly or losing motivation as one or the other’s vision begins to dominate the final reveal.
Back to my comfortable world of innovation now… I find this process a sharp parallel to a lot of the work I do with teams in developing new-to-the world ideas and products. You’re not alone if you are currently fighting so many business fires that carving out time to focus on innovation is challenging. And when teams do make that investment in the upstream work, often they converge too early, which fails to allow an idea to pass through all members of the team to diverge, to build, and to grow. The ultimate goal must be to both embrace and to accept a range of possibilities early on, but also to elevate and to align on the best holistic solution at the end.
Whether writing a book or growing an idea, this back-and-forth of open divergence and collaborative convergence is key to maximizing the innovation while making choices to ultimately complete the project. I’m excited to continue authoring this new fictional adventure with my daughter, and will be curious to read (and to share) how it ends. The best part of this collaboration is, there’s no need for a spoiler alert!
Note: In researching the topic and images for this blog, I learned that the name for these cooperative techniques for writing and drawing are referred to as “Exquisite Corpse”… developed by French surrealists. I think my daughter and I will stick with calling it “Collaborative Writing”.