10 Lessons about Collaboration from the Dancing Matt Videos 5

It’s funny how you can learn things from the most unlikely of places. Matt Harding’s “stupid dance” videos hold some great lessons about the process of collaboration. I didn’t “get” the lessons until I read the interview David Pogue did with Matt. It was the behind the scenes view that caught my attention.

1. If you have an idea, try it and then share it. 

Follow your instincts.  You never know if something you do today will have impact down the road. Matt’s journey began as a whim, a small idea, a happy accident. There was no brainstorming session, no sponsor, no grandiose hope to change the world.

2. Once you find something that works, keep doing it but mix it up a bit.

After the success of the first video, Matt followed up with similar videos that maintained the original theme while increase the challenge. He danced with other people, danced underwater, danced without gravity. When you find a collaboration style that works, stick with the style but don’t be afraid to add to it and challenge yourself to try new ways within that style.

3. Be careful of the advice you take and be ready to change tactics.

Matt took advice about which camera to use and it didn’t work so he got a new one. People often have great ideas about how you should do things. Don’t ignore suggestions, take them, try them out and if something doesn’t work, try something else.

4. Support and compromise can balance each other out.

Matt had sponsors and because of their support was able to keep the process going. Sometime collaboration is a grassroots thing and sometimes it’s sponsored by a stakeholder that has a vested interest. Those stakeholders can help maintain the momentum by supporting the process financially and in other ways. This isn’t always a bad thing. Matt started with no support, leveraged the support of sponsors along the way and in the end was able to return to an independent process. Sometimes we have to compromise a little to get a lot.

5. Experts and technology can help you learn your craft.

Matt wasn’t an expert dancer and initially that was ok. Eventually he worked with a choreographer. He also used technology to help him learn. I think this is one of the most important lessons. Matt didn’t bring in someone else to do the dancing. He went to an expert to learn how to dance better. He also used technology and video games, things he finds fun, to enhance his learning. How often do we, in a collaborative process, bring in someone from outside to do our dancing for us? How often do we go to experts to help us learn to collaborate better so we can do our own dancing? How often do we incorporate fun into learning how to do anything.

6. Be flexible in your approach.

Matt experimented and learned what worked as he went. Rigidly holding on to one idea of how things “should” work while trying to collaborate is a recipe for disaster.

7. Use local knowledge and familiar methods.

If there were dances that folks were already familiar with, Matt used those. When local dances didn’t work out he used something else that people were familiar with. Being aware of other peoples learning curve is important when you want to get things done.

8. Look for the pieces that connect as a way to organize the whole.

Matt and his editor Jarrod Pasha printed out stills and put them up on a wall so they could find the connections. Finding ways to see things both as individual pieces and as a whole is critical to collaborative processes.

9. Timing is important.

Matt discovered that speeding up the film rate past 20% caused difficulties. This is true in collaboration too. You can move things along to a point but you can’t rush the process. He aslo discovered the fatigue point and the importance of knowing when people peak. That happens while people are fresh and once they know what is expected of them. That’s when collaboration magic happens.

10. Relinquish the need for perfection and embrace looking stupid.

This is perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned. None of us is perfect so trying to find perfection in any human process is just silly. Sure, try your best and attend to details but there comes a point when you have to accept the outcomes as “good to go”.

The same, in reverse, hold true for looking stupid. Embrace it. Do it purposefully so you get over the fear of looking less than brilliant. It’s fear and common sense that holds us back from trying new things. It’s fear and common sense that keeps us from voicing ideas or thoughts that may be the outliers that change everything. Be fearless, be uncommon.

If you are someone who creates and supports collaborative experiences, then creating and holding safe space, where people can say and do what may at first appear to be “stupid”, falls to you.

To learn more about how to collaborate and hold safe space check out The DNA of Collaboration, a new book by Chris Jones. It has all kinds of great information about collaboration and creating safe, collaborative cultures. The book is an enjoyable read with practical examples along with research based perspectives suitable for beginners and seasoned collaboration gurus alike. As an extra bonus there’s an online companion resource that collaboratively builds on the original content. How cool is that!

So, what do you think? What other lessons can we learn from the “clearly not so stupid” dancing Matt videos?

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5 thoughts on “10 Lessons about Collaboration from the Dancing Matt Videos

  • Reply

    Came across this video when trying to work out next steps for community collaboration and found it very inspirational.

  • Reply
    Ben Ziegler

    I love your collaboration takeaways from Matt’s videos and David Pogue’s interview. Well done! There is sense of wisdom & humility, the way you’ve presented them… and it all speaks nicely to the spirit of collaboration. It also reflects on the breath of Matt’s world, and his ability to experience diversity, and draw on best practices from a bunch of different fields; e.g., in your #8, he’s drawing on a technique common to filmmakers of the highest order… using storyboarding stills to better understand and map out the story.

  • Reply
    katie clarke

    Thanks so much for this. I work with families with disabled children to facilitate them to think about their lives and their children in a positive way. I then run workshops to build strong communities so that they become more active citizens and less reliant on public services.
    I watched it with my disabled daughter and we think it is truly inspirational. I hope it is ok if I use it in my training courses. I am doing a session with parents and commissioners soon and it would be a perfect way to start the day.
    I will also look at the book you suggest.
    kindest regards, Katie

    • Reply

      Hi Katie,

      It sounds like you have a very rewarding job. The video is incredibly inspirational isn’t it. I can’t answer your question about use as it’s not our video but I think that Matt would be proud to have his video used to inspire others