The Art of Collaboration


“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Building the Front Porch: “The Where”

Establish the tone personality of your Front Porch. What causes will it focus on (i.e. education and mentoring, elderly outreach, civic cleanup, etc.). Name your Front Porch and even create a logo and a graphic identity. The more tangible it becomes … the more likely you’ll cement your participation after the initial wave of emotional momentum. By establishing at least a skeleton of focus, tangential time wasting should be held at a minimum – further reducing the potential for conflict and disengagement.

Your Front Porch must have Solutionist tone. Indians have an expression called jugaad – meaning an innovative fix using few resources. Look at everything and everyone as a resource that can be maximized. If there’s something you need that you don’t have in-house, don’t just buy it – barter for it if possible. Your Front Porch is bound to have something someone else or another Front Porch needs.

Your Front Porches can meet in various places. Being a host (whether at someone’s home or garage or at a local business) further inks levels of participation. “Switching things up” also builds out various locales and further integration of the neighborhood via serendipitous encounters. Front Porches are not physical locations but rather groupings of people brought together for a specific common goal.

Make your meeting times variable also. Not everyone who wants to participate has the same time demands on their schedule. Meetings at your Front Porch can be formally set or even spur of the moment. Imagine a “spur of the moment” Front Porch designed for a time-sensitive mini project or Quest. Notifications can be triggered by text or even location beacons if the Quest is location sensitive. Working and thinking at unconventional times of the day can also spur creativity – breaking one of the “sameness” of their normal time routine.


The Facilitator

“The chair is a position at centre of flows not a person – meritocracy falsely privileges the person.” Indy Johar

“Witness the paradox in decentralized organizations. As they become more decentralized, the CEO or ‘top’ leader exerts less and less formal authority in developing strategy, and managing its people and operations. However, simultaneously they have to play a vital, centralized role in ‘holding the space’ to ensure its progressive, decentralized practices do not regress back to a more traditional organizational model. Further, there appears to be clear evidence that the CEO in all the progressive organizations are highly visionary leaders and play a key role in setting the vision at the highest level. These organizations are ecosystems like rain forests, where ‘there is no single tree in charge of the whole forest.’ But clearly, the role of the founder or CEO is quite unlike any other, and the task of holding the space is vital for the health of the entire system. So in fact a decentralized organization isn’t truly decentralized.” (Resolving the awkward Paradox)

“Listening to the group, reflecting back and clarifying the tasks that are emerging is an act of service; and a skill that can be honed. Some people naturally have a knack for it. Scoping and assigning work, however, is just one of many important tasks— delegating doesn’t make you superior. Delegating also doesn’t always need to be done by the same person at all times. Those who have the capacity to manage task delegation need a break from it sometimes, so they can focus on the details level too.” (No Boss Does Not Mean No Leadership)

“In the absence of leadership, hidden hierarchies will emerge based on personal relationships, charisma and persuasiveness, and various flavors of privilege from wider social dynamics. A leadership vacuum results in ineffectiveness, interpersonal conflict, disempowerment, and burnout.” (No Boss Does Not Mean No Leadership)


Building the Team: “The Who”

While most people believe that “the more brainpower in the room, the better;” there is much scientific proof emerging that the exact opposite is true. In fact, throwing more people at a problem is one of the most common productivity traps that we fall into. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos coined a “two pizza rule.” If a team couldn’t be fed with two pizzas, it was too big. People in smaller teams are far more productive. As group size rises, all sorts of issues spring up and individual performance levels diminish. The larger the team, the more relationships accumulate and the costs of coordinating these relationships sky-rocket. 

Some of my most memorable projects included people with diverse skills who consistently complemented each other. Having people with skills and strengths that compliment each other reduces conflict, competition and motivates the team. For example, if you have someone who is strong in ideation or problem solving, you can complement that person with someone who is strong in execution or operations. A coherent team will build on each other’s strengths and cover for any weaknesses.

The bleedingEDGE Experience Platform is the conduit connecting the Front Porch (merchant), the Contributor (customer) and their community. This “experience platform” is the communications vehicle for the Smooth Space described in the piece Growing an Evolved Society. Tailored for specific situations and events –  each communication is customized to the Front Porch, personalized to each current customer or Contributor and sent via direct mail, email or even text – depending on the preference of the recipient. Everything is specifically timed to maximize its response and effectiveness. The goal of the platform is to solidify the loyalty bond between Front Porch and Contributor. Think of it like your community’s own customized Artificial Intelligence.

Collaboration isn’t a static endeavor. Not only are the relationships formed and the activities that result from it dynamic, so should be the individuals that operate within these collaborations. The Front Porch must be a vehicle for personal growth also. Attention must be paid to establishing and maintaining tolerance and empathy for fellow members of the group. Collaboration should be oriented towards more than just the accomplishment of the task … but also learning how to collaborate better. By developing individual skills, the group as a whole will prosper (as well as Melvin’s network).


Selecting the Solution: “The What”

Once the group (Front Porch) agrees on the project or Solution it wishes to undertake – execution can take place. Each Front Porch will have their own method of project selection however; and the method can change at will also. The process actually won’t normally be formal, since project opportunities can just pop up and generally agreed upon quickly. Create a narrative here, not so much rules – but just a feeling. 

Each gathering, formal or ad hoc, should incorporate a Menu of Conversation. The menu will often roll over from one gathering to the next. The gatherings are meant to be fluid, except for a rough pre-determined agenda items that may be time sensitive. By default, the “menu” can be set by either the leader of the group (Front Porch) or by the owner of the location where the meeting is being held – or anyone else designated by the Front Porch. The “menu” can even be set on a rotating basis. The goal should be not to centralize too much power (however formal or not) in the hands of a few. Diversity of thought, especially the initiation of ideas breeds renewed emotional momentum. The “Chalkboard” (what’s on the “menu”) reflects periodic (or ongoing) issue(s) or problem(s) to solve. Gatherings don’t have to include the items in conversation, but rather they’re always there marinating. Some items may represent macro issues, or tactical sub-plots. Situational or environmental changes within the group or even the community may dictate which items take priority at any given time.

Make effort to not get stuck in the trap of the “first bad idea.” Often what appears to be the right thing to do or the obvious way of doing it, is often just what’s always been done. Think twice before jumping and committing the precious resources of your Front Porch. Introducing outside influences to your Front Porch may give you a different perspective, especially if the Solution your group is pursuing focuses on a different demographic than that of those implementing it. For example: people who are financially secure will look at a problem through a different lens than those who are not sure where the next meal is coming from, or where they will spend the night, or if they will get work the next day that covers basic expenses. A good start is to incorporate demographic maps in your decision-making.

But before you give … think! How can I really make a difference in someone’s life this year? What can I do that extends past just the quarters, the bells and the Christmas dinner? “Walk that mile in someone’s shoes.” Talk to people outside your element, people you’d never associate with. Take a bus. Take a bus anywhere – especially to an area you’d never think about going to, and talk to people you’d never think about talking to. What would make their life a little more tolerable? Find out what would make their “Perfect World” a little closer. “Grow some empathy!” (Before you give … “Walk a mile in their shoes!”)

As a part of the Neighborhood platform we’ve put together a roster of several examples of what can come of collaborations in your community’s Front Porches. These example represent solutions to many common needs every community face. By no means is the roster comprehensive; but it’s a start.

Melvin’s Neighborhood Cause Solutions:


The Collaboration: “The How”

Once a Solution for a collaboration is chosen, the process is essentially just a series of additive contributions. How these additions are made, which ones are allowed and when the process is completed is “The Art of Collaboration.”

“Aboriginal Australians had/have long-lasting oral narratives told to whole tribes. The story was ‘kept true’ by telling it in front of everyone (not have each player read it alone in their own time). You progress in your understanding of the intended meaning by asking the right questions and being referred to the next level of knowledge custodian.” (Neil Davidson)

The Minneapolis-based rap collective Doomtree is a case study in collaboration; going against a history in the genre where many would rather kill their peers than work them. For the record (literally and figuratively), this has changed in recent years – but still Doomtree is different. The five rappers who collaborate with the crew’s two DJs are forward-thinking in that they view the idea of hip-hop as a collaborative enterprise; and it is evident in the group’s work. To accomplish their desired result, they religiously abide by four axioms:

  • Check your ego: Most of the members have been in situations where rap is considered a competition. In fact Eminen’s famed psuedo-biopic, “Nine Mile” was all about how he used a rap competition to rise above his sordid upbringing. But in the end, as troupe member Sims says: “We’re a band … there’s no killing anyone else here.”
  • Get to where you need to get: This sounds mundane, but if everyone can’t get together – you can’t collaborate. And by getting together, you commit to it. It says this matters and “I’m prepared and willing to take the time.” In Doomtree’s case, “We end up driving a few hours from home, out of cell-phone service, like a cloistered jury or something,” Dessa says.
  • “Let’s get this done:” Once they’ve set up shop themselves, Doomtree doesn’t do a lot of waiting around. Once one of them throws out a good idea, whether it be a beat, a verse or rhyme – they run with it. Not having to be the one who starts it is liberating. “I don’t have to have a verse, or I can make my verse a little bridge. It’s freeing in a way,” Sims says. “I find it really fun—it allows me to be more playful and take more risks, because if they don’t work, I don’t care.”
  • Trust the collaboration: Trusting yourself and your collaborators, to know how to run with a creative instinct is a gift that comes with the freedom that this sort of process brings. And it’s something that is easiest to find when you’re not looking over your shoulder, or trying to hoard all of the elements you think you need to be great.

Would you rate yourself as a good collaborator?

  • Do you understand the unique value you bring to a project? Do others agree?
  • Do you resist documenting that unique value to stay unique?
  • Do you share expertise when asked without trying to take over or reinvent the entire project?
  • Do you get yourself up to speed before you contribute and try to understand why things are done that way?
  • Do you get the job done or go the extra mile to ensure it’s as good as it can be?
  • Do you work to build good relationships with other team members?
  • Do you adapt to other collaborators’ way of working or do you demand they adapt to you?
  • Do you clearly communicate when the project will be done and keep people updated?
  • Do you clearly identify everything you need in advance or drop challenges on others at the last minute?
  • Do you claim your time is more valuable than anyone else’s?
  • Do you notice and uncover when other collaborators are uncomfortable?
  • Do you listen and embrace feedback or do you resist and deny it?
  • Do you give unsolicited opinions before checking if they’re wanted?
  • Do you leave projects when you’re no longer needed?
  • Do you compromise your point of view when necessary for a team to complete a project?
  • Do you make other collaborators feel better about their work or do you bring them down to demonstrate your superiority?

Not everyone must participate all the time (initial project selection, additions and execution). And even if they do participate, the level of intensity will vary according to the project (depending on resources available and enthusiasm). Don’t cluster collaboration members by activity levels. And contribution should not depend on rank or status. “Immediate or situational rank” should be dependent on ones expertise on the issue current at hand. If the parameters which the initial draft are acceptable to a ‘contributor’ then they can input and join in: An example of this is documented in the piece “Everything Can Change Except Values” about the dynamics at Apple. In the case of Melvin’s Neighborhood, the base tenets must stay in place. If a potential ‘contributor’ can’t abide with the tenets established by the Front Porch (in accordance to those set by the Neighborhood), then they will have to move on.

Create a Serendipity portal (web page) that allows a Resident to virtually walk around town and experience different action opportunities prodding them to leave the house. View it kind of like entering portal of secret door in a video game. Every Front Porch will have offer a different opportunity. Everyone is always welcome; bridging the societal chasms. The Serendipity portal should be set up like a menu (not like a meeting). Even though the collaborative activities will occur physically at the Front Porch, that doesn’t mean virtual collaboration can’t also be done. On the contrary, social media and virtual community gathering tools are invaluable.


“Herding cats” … 

I hate to deviate from my normal utopian outlook, but I can’t stress enough that a transition to a participatory society won’t be easy. America’s founding fathers proclaimed democracy is a messy endeavor. And one where “the people” actually do the work will be even more so.

However well intended collaborations are to represent equality of views, they almost inevitably end in creating bottlenecks among top contributors. Often little gets done without getting run past these informal leaders. Special effort must be made so the most active and overburdened collaborators know how to filter and prioritize tasks and requests. They have to know it’s alright to say no (or to allocate only half the time requested). And maybe best of all, encourage them to make an introduction to someone else when the request doesn’t draw on their own unique contributions. (insight gained from Collaboration Overload)

Another obstacle is the fact that the “deep thinking” needed to bring a project to fruition is a solitary task. This can further contribute to the inefficiency of the process. Collaborators need to know when to collaborate and when to remove themselves from “the party” and burrow down and get cerebral.

And then we have the collaboration “time drain.” More collaborations mean more meetings. And more meetings mean more time spent in meetings and less time actually doing the work. Even though the social aspect of collaborative efforts is important, having meetings for the sake of having meetings shouldn’t be the default action. Just because it’s a collaboration … doesn’t mean it automatically needs a meeting. Make the time together worth everyone’s time. Collaborations should be synergistic … not antagonistic.

Not everyone flourishes under a system self-determination though. Gabriela Krupa illustrates this on her experience with Holacracy:

“I caught myself in a paradox: I’m happy to have leeway in my work and be able to do things as I see fit, but at the same time I would appreciate someone who could point me in the right direction: ‘this is right, just continue that way’ or ‘change direction, you can do better.’ I caught myself looking for confirmation that my choices and actions were right, wanted, or useful for my colleagues.” Just because open or flat organization don’t have a formal management structure, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t set up informal mentoring arrangements. In fact making a concerted effort to mentor in the informal settings can work much better than formal hierarchical management relationships.”

“Even if we abandon the idea of a static centralized hub, we can nonetheless still see it as creating a centralizing force. Those who volunteer to be delegates get the opportunity to form bonds with people across the city and in different campaigns, that those who choose to operate only in the local groups would miss out on. This can have the effect of increasing the communication power of those dedicated individuals, without it translating into greater power throughout the whole network.” (Imagining social movements)

In the end, collaboration is nothing more than communication. How do we create the foundation for collaborative, civil conversations, moderator participation, appreciate everyone’s contribution and reduce the influence of charismatic people (or get their help leveling the playing field) – should be the ultimate goal of the Front Porch and specifically that of the group moderator. (Mazzi Partners)


Execution: “Rubber to the Road”

It’s not enough to identify a problem and figure out the solution. That solution has to be implemented. Melvin’s Front Porch Solution formula provides a guide for this. But above all Melvin’s Neighborhood is about “resource maximization.” Or as the Indians call it, jugaad: “making do with very little.”

Solution template: 

  • objective
  • target market and marketing strategy to reach them
  • resources needed
  • resources currently at hand
  • resources yet to get and where are they going to come from
  • agenda / timetable (including drop dead date)

Solution Guidelines:

  • Every Solution is compose of multiple components – and should be considered a project on their own with its own endpoint.
  • Make each Solution component small enough to get a handle on (i.e. tutoring for a single school).
  • Multiple Front Porches (Merchants) can work on a common Solution and components allocated accordingly.
  • Practice “resource maximization“; and barter, trade as much as possible (include multiple participant trades).
  • Layout agenda for each Solution (including components) including resource requests (labor, materials, etc.).
  • Melvin’s Neighborhood will support Front Porch Solution projects with 1:1 marketing efforts as part of the bleedingEDGE Experience Platform.