Lessons Learned

What is Collaboration?

“Let’s collaborate.”

It’s something that groups from all walks of life say and do. See Figure 1.

Figure 1: Examples of collaborators

  • Management consulting firms with their clients
  • Companies with other companies
  • Members of a project team
  • Governments with other governments
  • Rappers with other rappers

I’m sure you have collaborated, probably as a member of a project team. If you have collaborated with another rapper, please email me so I can ask you about your amazing life.

The thing is, I think there is a common misunderstanding about what collaboration is and it’s this:

Collaboration = Brainstorming

You can guess what I’m going to say. It’s that collaboration and brainstorming is not the same. Let me share some thoughts on why it is not the same as brainstorming and what it actually is.


According to Google, the definition of collaboration is “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.”

The operative word here is “with.” You can work with people in many ways. You can:

  • Meet together, divide work, and go your separate ways
  • Brainstorm ideas together, then have one person execute on what was brainstormed.
  • Bring different skills to the project to create something you could each not make on your own (i.e. a producer makes a beat and a rapper raps on it).

As long as you are working with someone to make something you are collaborating, which leads to the next point.

Brainstorming is one of the tools you can use when you collaborate. 

Brainstorming is great when there is no clarity on what the best solution to a problem is. However, if you clearly have a solution to a problem that requires more than one person to make, you can technically (and efficiently) collaborate without brainstorming.

Collaboration is about getting things done.

At the end of the day, if you work with a bunch of people and end up not creating anything, you haven’t collaborated. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Musicians for example “jam” and just play music with each other. But you have to press the record to be collaborating.

 Assessing the quality of collaboration is probably a mix of several things like:

  • The quality of the end product.
  • How hard it was for the collaborators to work with each other.
  • How long it took to create the product.

I’d like to elaborate on the 2nd bullet point, “How hard it was for collaborators to work with each other.” This is where brainstorming can have a huge influence on the quality of collaboration. If one person hates brainstorming while another person loves brainstorming, collaborating will be difficult. It won’t mean that collaboration did not happen. It will mean the collaboration just wasn’t good.

I’d love to collaborate with you. If you have any thoughts to add on this topic, please feel free to comment below!


Steven Choi works at Root Inc., a strategy execution firm. He collaborates on a daily basis to help clients engage their workforce in strategy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *