I love Dave Shumka and Graham Clark. They are Canadian heroes. Stop Podcasting Yourself is a trailblazing form of the medium that’s been making hearts smile since podcasting was a thing. And their latest project, Our Debut Album, in which two comedians (Dave and Graham) have one hour to write a hit song, is not only awesome, but there are several professional lessons to take away from the show, too. Here are five collaboration lessons from Our Debut Album.
Vulnerability unlocks potential
Personal and professional growth is accelerated when we’re vulnerable. We should all reflect on the special kind of vulnerability it takes to write a song in less than an hour. Now imagine expressing your creativity to an audience of what I can only assume is over 15 million people! I work at Vancity on a team that wins awards for advancing learning, leadership and culture in the workplace. We acknowledge that trust and vulnerability with each other are essential for us to do great work together. Because doing awesome work means being vulnerable, especially when you’re the boss.
Be confident in your abilities
Dave and Graham are both competent with musical instruments, especially Dave. Tom Petty should buy one or all of their songs. My favourite part of the podcast is when Dave says something like, “wow, we’re really good at this” after the duo strings together a few great lines. I love the confidence, especially when, 10 minutes later, they start running out of time, can’t sort out their ideas, realize they’re just pretty good at songwriting, and are required to leverage their incredibly quick wits to wrap things up by the deadline. Knowing more about what strengths and weaknesses you bring to a project (e.g. Graham Clark is probably the greatest drummer not signed by a major label and neither of the guys can play the cello) is critical for understanding how to work together. Marcus Buckingham, who works with organizations around the world to help teams understand and leverage their strengths, argues that partnerships like Dave and Graham should focus on what they’re good at and then everything else will come. This is 100% true.
Putting a time limit on brainstorming and other creative exercises actually enhances the processbecause such constraints drive innovation. As Abby Shumka, the voice of the clock on the show (not in your house), counts down the minutes until the song must be complete, I find myself delighting in the efforts that Dave and Graham make to complete their work of art. If you have constraints in your life, like a lack of money or a physical disability, there is a lot of research that highlights the creative potential of folks who don’t have it all. And, hey, if you’re basically Beyoncé, but find yourself lacking creative motivation, just set a timer for your next brainstorming session or uni-task with monomaniacal focus until you reach your goal.
Think like an outsider
Every now and then Our Debut Album adds a guest collaborator to the team. Guys like Emmett Hall and Aaron Read contribute musical skills and comedic timing to the show. They also offer an outsider’s perspective to the songwriting process and change the show’s chemistry. Having diversity of thought makes teams stronger. Putting yourself in the shoes of a customer, member or listener can also enhance the creative process and positively disrupt a team or community’s dynamic.
Failing is learning
Writing a hit song in one hour is hard. Creating a whole album of one-hour-written hit songs is pretty much impossible. And yet here we are. It’s happening. Dave and Graham have nearly completed their, like, opus, I guess. Leveraging years of excellent collaboration and production (Stop Podcasting Yourself is literally a template for podcasting), Dave and Graham are demonstrating awesome learning agility by creating something in a very different medium and learning new skills along the way. According to Pamela Slim, who helps folks “escape cubicle nation”, we need to approach our work like scientists and not business people. Instead of “failures” we need to see “results that were different than what we expected” and then adapt our way forward. Just like Graham’s drumming!