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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Case study in collaboration

Good things happen when you least expect them. Or at least they happen when you're not desperately trying to make them happen—key word here being desperate. That's a lesson I've learned on my new venture as an independent. I left my plans aside and just decided to go with my gut and follow my instincts.

It's paying off big-time. I've been working consistently and getting paid for the past two months. The best part is that I've reached my financial goal I needed to attain by May 15 in order to stay an independent. Good news all around and I'll be celebrating that night with my colleagues and friends at the Poets' & Writers' League of Greater Cleveland Writers and their Friends event.

But there's one particular sequence of events that illustrates how creative collaboration works at its finest. The benefits I receive through SPJ I previously thought largely intangible. I believe in the organization's mission and support it with my time, energy and money. But lately, I've realized its benefits are far greater.

Through some pretty cool leadership, energy, focus and perhaps a little conniving, Vice President Jay Miller and I have managed to attract some strong minds to the organization. Steve FitzGerald is one such person. I'm thrilled that he will be attending the Ted Scripps Leadership Conference in Indianapolis in June. I'll be speaking at that event, but more on that another day.

Another person is John Ettorre . John, for whatever reason, saw leadership and a larger vision in our group and saw fit to bring his unique brand of "servant leadership" to our organization. Take note, here's how it works:

Jay and I mentioned that we'd like to improve SPJ Cleveland's Web site. John knew just the person to help. He made a call to Jim Kukral , a terrific guy with immense knowledge of online marketing. Over lunch, Jim agreed to help us improve our Web site and we hope to launch the new-and-improved site later this year. Jim shares studio space with two guys, photographer Hal Stata and creative director David Potokar . Several weeks ago, David walked into Jim's office asking if he knew of any female writers/editors for a project he was bidding on. Jim had my business card sitting on his desk and told David to call me. David did that and he and I struck up an instant rapport as editor/art director. He told me about the project he had worked on. The publisher had asked him to resubmit a bid for the work, including finding an editor, after the previous editor left. Dave and I met and found our sensibilities in terms of improving magazine design and content were similar. We also hit it off as small business owners, agreeing on what it would take to both improve the product and get it back on schedule. And so, a new partnership was formed. Dave and I met with the publisher and, after some financial negotiation, he was convinced that we were the pair to take his bimonthly publication to the next level.

Dave and I met this morning and we're thrilled to have the opportunity to not only work together, but also to put our stamp on a project that has so much potential. While I was in the office, I was able to meet with Jim and give him some leads for a new venture he's promoting in town. I can trace all these wonderful things back to a single event—in May 2003, Jay and I heckled John to join our ranks after he pulled off one of the most successful programming events of our chapter. The topic? Blogging. I won't embarrass John by giving him credit, but I do think he opened our eyes to larger possibilities.

Besides, John would never accept the credit. He believes that amazing things happen when no one is worrying about who gets the credit. I think he's right. Our chapter has been about collaboration these past two years. We don't need the credit, we just want to hang with some cool, creative people and see what blooms. Along the way, and perhaps the coolest part of this experience, is that some talented, I would say like-minded, creatives found each other and a way to explore new collaborations. That's beyond sublime, it's transcendent.

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