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Monday 1 May 2017

This is how a collaborative person works: 13. welcome provocation

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)

'Orchestra of Dreams, Channel Four's news segment on us, aired that evening. With it came the first taste of some tough questions. How did it feel accepting money from a government that invaded Iraq? Was this guilt money? Zuhal and I were taken aback but also grateful for the provocation, which helped us read the visit's political undercurrents.'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

The above quotation relates to a documentary aired during the NYOI's 2012 tour of the UK. It emphasises how important it is to welcome and be grateful for provocative comments and questions.

Arguably, this is particularly so for collaborative initiatives which are ground breaking and consequently often seen as controversial (just like the NYOI).

This is because many such collaborations find themselves working against the grain of establishment practice and public opinion and the provocations received from the custodians of the former and the representatives of the latter help them enhance the clarity and acceptability of their purpose and key messages, improve their overall effectiveness and, importantly, prepare for any negative reactions, unhelpful political manoeuvrings or animal traps placed in their way.

When listened to openly and carefully, provocative questions and comments reveal much about the preoccupations and interests of the people a collaboration has to work with, work around and, in some cases, work against.

So, as well as getting your mouth ready to make arguments in defence of your collaboration, get your ears ready to listen very carefully to what people are saying and how people are saying it (and get your eyes ready to notice where and when they are choosing to say it).

Then, as I say above, you will be able to use what you have discovered to not only enhance your effectiveness within the context you are working but also prepare for and perhaps avoid the harmful frictions and painful splintering that comes of working against the grain.

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