This post is intended to be a follow-up to the last post, Competition, so if you haven't read that, do so.
The idea that we can compete with one another in a healthy, respectful way is something I'm passionate about. Which is ironic, because I'm actually one of the least competitive persons I know. I have just about zero interest in sports or games where someone wins and someone loses. It seems like a big waste of time to me. When I watch the Olympics, I'm more interested in the skier who finished last than in assigning much emotional weight to who came in first.
This disinterest in competition for its own sake is directly tied to my belief in the power of collaboration. Working with someone else to create something better than what you could have on your own is a magical process, and is possible for every single one of us.
My own most important collaboration in the spooncarving world has been with my friend Matt White of Temple Mountain Woodcraft. A year ago, Matt got in touch to ask if I would trade him a couple of spoons for one of his Mora blades that he was handling, and I agreed. A funny thing happened as a direct result of Matt establishing this human connection: I gave him some feedback on his knife handle that made his work much better, and he gave me feedback on my spoons that made my work better too. Meanwhile, Matt became a really good spooncarver, partly from hanging around with me, and I became a good spooncarver, in large part because of the leap I was able to make using Matt's knives.
By sharing the other person's weaknesses with each other, we were each able to improve, and then share these improved skills and abilities with one another. It's a long term relationship. By now, I find myself in the incredibly privileged position of being the royal food taster for each of Matt's newest creations,, as he has gone on to become a really good knife smith. Matt, on the other hand, gets all the feedback of what I do with these knives as I put them through their paces in a way that he wouldn't have the time for.
Our collaboration runs deeper: six months ago we decided to start a project we called Spoonesaurus, which was originally going to be a very specific Instagram thing but has since morphed into an umbrella that basically covers whatever we happen to do together. We are holding our first Spoonesaurus Gathering in one week at Matt's house, where we hope to hang out and carve a lot of spoons with people from all over. Our Spoonesaurus account on Instagram now has a thousand followers and 60 short videos, each one breaking down in nerdy detail some aspect of spooncarving. We try to do one or two news ones a week. We will be starting a Spoonesaurus Magazine this summer, to provide even more resources and community to people who share our passion.
Would I be doing any of these things on my own?
There is something about collaboration that gives you permission to dream big. When it's just you, it is easy to stop yourself and think "who am I to put this out there?". When it's you and someone else, you prop each other up. You don't want to let the other person down. You create positive feedback loops.
Six months ago, both Matt and myself were trying to get traction with our knifemaking (or handle making for Matt at the time) and spooncarving (in my case). Now, these are what we do, full time or close enough. I directly attribute this change to our collaboration.
Collaboration goes further than that, even. It gives you a teammate. When I'm not sure what to do about something, I run it by Matt, and vice versa. When I'm desperately in need of a vent or need a sounding board to make sure I'm not crazy, I talk to Matt.
So while I'm all in favor of healthy competition, I would say that collaboration wins every time. If you are feeling like the competition is too much, reach out and see if you can collaborate instead. You might be surprised at where you are in six months.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.
One idea is as worthless as another until you actually do something about it, and then it is the action, not the word that matters. --Orson Scott Card