It’s easy to be drawn to the mythos of the lone genius founder. The a-ha moment. The triumph over long odds. The debut of the idea to throngs of adoring fans. The turtlenecks.
Yet most big ventures aren’t the product of the lone genius. They’re the product of a partnership: people or organizations coming together to do something bigger than they could have done alone.
Steve Jobs is a lot of people’s archetype of the singular, visionary CEO, and he’s one example. He founded his company in a partnership with Steve Wozniak; created iconic products with the agency Frog Design; launched their famous “1984” ads with TBWA\Chiat\Day; he left that company after a failed partnership with a new CEO; started two partnerships in NeXT Computers and Pixar; formed a life partnership with Laurene Powell Jobs; came back and essentially relaunched Apple in design partnership with Jony Ive, and so on.
When combined with the thousands of people who worked at these companies and made it all possible, the wider point is that he didn’t do this on his own. The narrow point, for the purpose of this series, is that he didn’t do this without his partners—and he couldn’t have. His life story, his triumphs and failures and significant flaws: all essentially a sum of the relationships at the heart of it.
And even though partnership itself — the dynamic between co-founders, or one company with another, or a writer and an illustrator — is one of the most defining factors of whether something will be successful or not, the practice of partnership still feels underexamined.
Why do some creative partnerships succeed, and some fail?
The Partnership Project is an effort to answer that question.
What Led Me Here
I’ve spent most of my life in partnerships. My job title has been “Partner” for over a decade. I’ve partnered with hundreds of organizations on digital design projects, and seen it go spectacularly right and occasionally less so. I’ve been in the same business partnership since I was in college. I’ve been in the same life partnership since I was in college (👋 Hi, Lauren — thanks for looking this over).
Last year, I gave a talk to marketing leaders in Denver on the topic, and the feedback encouraged me to dig in more.
The process helped me further appreciate a straightforward fact: good partnership isn’t a fortunate accident. It’s a trade like any other. It’s a skill to be honed. And the people who get really good at it tend to go really far.
Who This Project is For
This is for an entrepreneur starting a new company with a co-founder. This is for an agency like ours who wants to get better at this work. This is for a marketing leader putting their job on the line with an organization like ours. This for two creative people getting together on a project: say, a songwriter working with a producer for the first time.
They’re probably diving headlong into their craft and the problem they’re trying to solve. But there’s no guidebook for how to deal with the most make-or-break part of the endeavor: the partnership itself. Consciously or subconsciously, they may be pondering the same questions I’ve had over the years:
- How can I be the best partner I can be?
- How can I help my partners to be the best version of themselves?
- How can I help create the best possible environment for us to be successful together?
What The Partnership Project Is
Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be writing a series called The Partnership Project, a study of successful (and unsuccessful) partnerships, peppered with academic research and personal experience, and trying to pattern-match and deduce what we can learn from them all.
The goal is to meet the challenge and untold opportunity of a partnership head-on — so as not to treat their success as something we hope for, but something we work towards.