Thoughts on Tilted RVA III & Collaboration (Letter from John, March 2015)

Whenever I wonder why I’m doing what it is I do for a living – building relationships; helping people anticipate the future and connect the dots; creating and facilitating conversations of discovery and possibility – I stumble into another reminder.

Last weekend, members of the Floricane team walked into the room with about 70 entrepreneurs and small business owners to network, share ideas and learn. This was the third year running we’ve worked with a few of our peers (read: six or seven other small business owners) to organize and run Tilted RVA, a small business unconference.

Once again, I was reminded how hungry small business owners are for conversations that matter. How eager all of us are to connect and share our stories. How curious we are about the questions that keep us awake at night. And, once again, I discovered that even when we don’t put our best foot forward, the right people are in the room having the right conversations.

And, at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

Collaborating is hard.

Collaboration is a habit I actually have to push myself to practice – most days, I’d genuinely prefer to figure every single thing out by myself. That doesn’t really work well for me. Not if I want other people in my life – you know, my family, or my team at Floricane, or any of our clients – to want to spend any time with me.

Our community isn’t wired to collaborate well, either. (In that regard, I suppose I’m a better native Richmonder than I thought.) The idea of creating win-win partnerships seems to challenge people’s sensibilities. Even more confusing? Invite people to establish neutral partnerships where neither partner gains in a tangible way, but others benefit.

Read into the previous two paragraphs, and you can see threads of a story. Collaboration takes time. It takes effort. You may have to compromise. You may not gain in concrete ways from partnering.

It sounds positively terrible when you frame it with that language.

But standing in the back of the room last Saturday as the all-day unconference ended, and no one raced for the door, well, that was interesting. The energy was higher at the end of the day than it was at the beginning. That tells you something. It tells me something.

Whenever I am facilitating groups, and I begin to doubt my effectiveness, I give them a collaborative task. I listen to the energy in the room climb as I get out of the way, and the group connects to create something together. And then I relax, and realize I’m not as terrible at any of this work as I sometimes fear.

Of course, I’m not as good as I sometimes convince myself I am, either.

Which is why I have partners like Caroline, Debra, Theran, Anne and Shamoniki with me at Floricane. It’s why we partner with our peers at 37 Ideas, One South, The Spark Mill, TMI, Zuula Consulting and the City of Richmond on Tilted.

And it’s why this year we have reached out to more organizations than ever before to co-create things that we couldn’t have tackled alone – certainly not as well as we will with our partners. (We’re excited to tell you about them this spring!)

Remembering to be excellent to each other, that we are responsible for our experiences with others, and to work on the hard things are great guidelines for the unconference space created by the amazing team at The Bill Conference.

Great guidelines for living, too.