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  • Ninay Desai

The Collaboration Credo

The image of the single person following their dream with no help from anyone has a fantastic quality to it. It’s the kind of stuff that drums up the iconic Eye of the Tiger soundtrack from Rocky in our imagination. The solitary nature of the pursuit makes the accomplishment seem all the more creditable. But is that how great things come to be?

An illustration of two human heads talking about the ideas in their brains. Signifies the idea of brainstorming and the importance of collaboration.

Take Apple. Most people think of Apple as being the brainchild of one man, Steve Jobs. That’s branding for you. Even in that now-legendary garage in Los Altos, California which was the birthplace of Apple Inc, there was a team of two, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Decades later, there was a team of designers and engineers who worked on the Macintosh computers, iPods, iPads and iPhone models that rocked the world.

The same holds true for almost every organisation and invention. Even works of art. Artists are often portrayed as solitary beings in a whirlwind of dreamy ideas, toiling away in solitude to create works of art that astound and enthral the masses. But that’s not usually the case. Many artists benefit from exchanging ideas with other artists and even people from fields far removed from their own.

An image of The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci. Within the drawings of a circle and a square is the sketch of a naked man with his arms and legs outstretched, in two different positions. The significance of The Vitruvian Man lies in its core analogy which revolves around the relationship between the microcosm of man and the macrocosm of the universe.
Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man

Take for instance, Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. I propose Vitruvian Man as an example because it appears simple enough to be a one-person job, but that’s far from the truth. Leonardo learnt about geometry from Andrea del Verrocchio, with whom he apprenticed as a young man. Cosimo de’ Medici’s tomb (which was completed in 1467, a year after Leonardo became Verrocchio’s apprentice) was adorned with geometrical patterns dominated by a circle inside a square instead of the usual religious imagery. This pattern of a circle inside a square would be used by Leonardo for the Vitruvian Man decades later.

Vinci collaborated with Francesco di Giorgio, an architect in conceiving the Vitruvian Man. The drawing itself was Leonardo’s homage to the concepts of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, who lived and died almost a millennium and a half before Leonardo was born. Pollio served in the Roman army and specialized in the design and construction of artillery machines. His most important work was De Architectura, known today as The Ten Books on Architecture. In this work, he described the proportions of the human body. Though Leonardo, ever the perfectionist, relied on his own meticulous measurements.

At the heart of the Vitruvian Man is an analogy that goes all the way back to Plato and the thinkers of the ancient world – man as a microcosm of the universe which is the macrocosm.

The Vitruvian Man embodies a moment when art and science combined to allow mortal minds to ask eternal questions about who we are and how we fit into the grand order of the universe. It also symbolises an ideal of humanism that celebrates the dignity and value of humans as individuals.

Great ideas are often sparked by individual brilliance. Sometimes they require a singular vision. But executing that vision often calls for working with others. Innovation is a team sport. Just like creativity can be a collaborative endeavour.

While we are welcome to get our ideas from books or the works of those who preceded us, it is worthwhile to meet our collaborators in person when we can. Having studied the lives and processes of some of the brightest minds, the best-selling biographer, Walter Isaacson writes,

“Ideas are often generated in physical gathering places where people with diverse interests encounter one another serendipitously. That is why Steve Jobs liked his buildings to have a central atrium and why the young Benjamin Franklin founded a club where the most interesting people of Philadelphia would gather every Friday. At the court of Ludovico Sforza, Leonardo found friends who could spark new ideas by rubbing together their diverse passions.”

We can all benefit from collaboration whether it is at our workplaces or for our personal projects because, regardless of how bright we believe ourselves to be, we are seldom smarter than five or six brains put together. And most importantly, the varied interests, knowledge bases and unique perspectives of our collaborators can spout answers we may never imagine and pose questions that lead us down new paths of discovery.

Like it did for Spencer Silver, the scientist partially-credited for the creation of the Post-It. This is how it came to be. Silver was trying to develop a very strong adhesive. He failed. What he ended up making was an extremely weak adhesive. Though this new glue didn’t serve his purpose, Silver shared his unintentional invention with his colleagues at 3M.

A few years later, Art Fry, another scientist at 3M, was at his church choir practice getting frustrated. His bookmark kept falling off the page, off the music stand and onto the floor. That’s when he remembered Silver’s weak adhesive and figured he could use it to make the ideal bookmark. Thus, was born one of the most recognizable brands today – the Post-It. That’s the power of collaboration.

Some of us scoff at the idea of meeting our colleagues or hashing out ideas in conferences considering them a waste of time but these meet-ups do have some merit. The benefit of these exchanges lies not in formal settings, long presentations or meetings that should have been emails but in quick chats, focussed discussions and the tossing together of ideas. That’s the reason why communities of like-minded individuals flourish even online.

Speaking of online forums, I was on Reddit just the other day. Someone had posted a question requesting suggestions for a character nickname/name. I responded to it in the hope that my response might, in some way, be helpful to this anonymous person. Call me a romantic but there is something so intensely human about reaching out to others for help or suggestions and to want to contribute toward someone else’s project with no thought to reward or credit. Therein lies the seed of collaboration.

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True . Most of the great works & achievements are result of team work. But, no one knows the foundation brick. Everyone worships Kangure.

Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai

Thank you for reading and leaving a comment. I have a question though. Who or what is Kangure?



I liked it. Nicely written the credit for someone's achivement is seldom theirs alone, there is always someone in the background who helped them.

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