Creative Collaboration & Honesty

“Honesty is speaking the truth, but more broadly, it is presenting oneself in a genuine and sincere way, being without pretense, taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions. This sometimes involves the courage to exercise one’s will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, either external or internal.” VIA Institute on Character

On the surface, building and keeping trust with the people with whom you collaborate is simple. If ‘trust’ is an expectation that your word or promise can be relied on, if you consistently act in ways that support these expectations - by keeping your word and following through on your promises - you are displaying trustworthy qualities. You are a creator and collaborator who can be trusted.

Beyond keeping your word and following through on your promises, you will also need to exhibit honesty if you want your collaborative creative relationships to thrive. Your commitment to honesty should begin with yourself; confessing to the truth of your own beliefs and behaviors no matter the perceived social pressures or the personal narrative you’ve constructed for yourself.

The difficulty in being truthful with ourselves can sometimes be seen in our relationship with popular culture, when upon hearing or seeing or watching something new and exciting, our mind tells us “no” but some other voice tells us “yes.” For me, this conflict is most often presented when I listen to new music that upends my expectations of the artists involved. 

For instance, I once held a strongly unfavorable opinion of Taylor Swift’s music and her fans. “Her music isn’t for me and I’m not the type of person who likes Taylor Swift’s music” is what I told myself. Then I listened to ‘1989,’ her solo album featuring “Shake it Off,” “Blank Space,” “Bad Blood” and “Style.” I liked the songs. I really liked the songs! But a voice kept reminding me that her music isn’t for me and I’m not the type of person who likes Taylor Swift’s music. So I would put the album on, pretending that I was playing it for my kids (who loved the album as well). I watched + re-watched ‘The 1989 World Tour’ documentary on Apple Music, pretending that I was just putting it on for my wife (who also loved 1989). I started exploring some of her past albums and singles, because why not? My mind was telling me “yes” to Taylor Swift, but my music snob ego kept telling me “no.”

Eventually, my mind (and Taylor Swift) won the battle of attrition against my ego. But I wasted a lot of mental energy that would have been more effectively channeled towards more important challenges had I just been honest with myself. According to Dan Ariely - a bestselling author and professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University - it’s not surprising to see such internal dishonesty in creative people. 

In ‘The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves,’ Ariely suggests that the same habits that provoke us to produce imaginative ideas are also responsible for enabling dishonesty and the subsequent rationalizations:

We may not always know exactly why we do what we do, choose what we choose, or feel what we feel. But the obscurity of our real motivations doesn’t stop us from creating perfectly logical-sounding reasons for our actions, decisions, and feelings …

We all want explanations for why we behave as we do and for the ways the world around us functions. Even when our feeble explanations have little to do with reality. We’re storytelling creatures by nature, and we tell ourselves story after story until we come up with an explanation that we like and that sounds reasonable enough to believe. And when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much the better.

Obviously, the negative consequences of dishonesty bleed well beyond the lies that you might tell yourself. More troublesome are the lies and half-truths that you might be encouraged to tell the people who you work and collaborate with. From the perspective of a creative collaborator, this dishonesty can be most damaging if it compromises the integrity or potential of a person, project, product or organization. If you truly care about your collaborators and their potential, you will challenge them honestly and directly when you’re confronted with an opportunity to deliver constructive criticism. Once you’ve learned how to trust your intuition and listen to your truth, its your duty to be honest with your collaborators. It’ll only make your teammates better, strengthen your collaborative relationships and lead to more resonant creative productions.