Book Review: The Collaborative Habit by Twyla Tharp

I really liked Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit.  While it’s obvious why a choreographer needs to be creative, she actually makes the case in the book that anyone can be creative.  And the exercises and examples she offers can apply in a variety of situations, including business.

So I was very excited about her new book, The Collaborative Habit.  Since I work for a company that is HIGHLY collaborative it seemed that this book might offer some good insights.  The truth is that the real fun of reading Tharp’s books is the behind-the-scenes stories of her amazing life working with the most amazing people in the arts.  Balanchine, Robbins, Baryshnikov, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, Milos Forman.  This second book is heavy on the cool stories and a bit lighter on the prescriptions for successful collaborations.

Still it offered some advice that I found really resonant:

Getting involved with your collaborator’s problems almost always distracts you from your own. That can be tempting. That can be a relief. But it usually leads to disaster.

It is so seductive to focus on other people’s issues.  (And it’s is true in every aspect of life. Isn’t it so easy to tell your friend they should dump the loser boyfriend?) I would argue that this tendency is at the heart of most intradepartmental strife. You have to resist with all your might the temptation to take on other people’s problems. Because if you could solve their problem you’d be doing it and meanwhile you’ve got your own house to clean up.

Before I start any collaboration, I list exactly what resources I’ll require to do the job and then try and find out if the institution is prepared to provide them.

This is a great little piece of advice from her chapter on collaborating with institutions.  But it’s just as true of any corporate drone trying to get something accomplished in almost any size company. If the entire organization isn’t committed and isn’t willing to commit the needed resources then you are doomed to failure.

Richard Avedon taught me what Keats called “negative capability” — a willingness to suspend judgment and see reality as another might. That’s creativity at its most openhearted.

Oh my, such GREAT advice and so hard to do.  Again, this is great advice in every aspect of life.  Empathy is so important to having great relationships.

From Milos Forman I learned that collaboration depends on very precise communication — speaking to the right person at the right time in the right way.

This last one is deceptive because it sounds easy. Ah, but if it were easy we’d all do it, right?  I think this piece has only gotten harder at most modern companies.  We have more and more and more WAYS to communicate, but it doesn’t mean we do it better.  And in non-hierarchical companies the lines of communication are often murky.  The ability to assess the whos, hows and whens of communication is a key skill to be successful where collaboration is concerned.

A good book that is well worth the money and time.

Maddie Quote of the Day

“I’m talking to Tracy!”

From very early days Maddie has associated the phone with my sister Tracy.  Most times when the phone rings she’ll say something like “It’s Auntie Tracy.”  And now that she can sort of hold a conversation on the phone she wants to do the talking.  This is her actually talking to Tracy today.  Sorry for the fuzzy iPhone pic … I was too lazy to get the good camera.

Look at how happy she is talking to her Auntie.

What’s Cooking: Chicken with Olives and Carrots

I made this tonight. It came out so beautiful I had to snap a picture. Yummy, right?

We served Maddie the chicken and carrots but skipped the olives.  And she ate a few pieces of zucchini (which she calls “keenie”).  It’s not her favorite vegetable.  She had green beans and cauliflower for lunch, though, so I didn’t really sweat it.

Some other recent dishes:

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms: Pretty good.  I really like mushrooms, but they can be a pain.  Not sure this was good enough to be worth the trouble, especially on a weeknight.

Lentil Curry: I love this.  I have to make it on a night Preston is out because he doesn’t like curry.  But Maddie loves it and it’s easy, so it’s good for nights when it’s just the two of us.  Plus it re-heats well for lunches.

Pasta with Chicken Sausage and Broccoli: Nothing special, but simple for a weeknight and it has all of Maddie’s faves: pasta, chicken and broccoli.

I also got my new issue of Everyday Food and have already cooked a couple of things: a prosciutto and mushroom quesadilla and orecchiette with bacon tomato sauce, which will be transformed into a frittata tomorrow night.  Unfortunately Martha doesn’t put current recipes on the site (silly, silly) so if you want to try them you’ll have to buy the magazine.  (See what she’s doing there?  Doesn’t that seem like a smart strategy because you buy the magazine instead of getting the recipe for free on the site?  But no, that’s dumb.  Because you aren’t going to remember to go buy that magazine.  But you might click a link, make a dish and then think, “Hey, these are good recipes, I should subscribe to this magazine.”  That’s a smart strategy.  Sorry.  I am wearing my marketing hat … )

So, what’s cooking at your house?

Maddie Quote of the Day

“I fell on my tushie!”

Maddie is learning to walk, which means she falls a lot.  At first she was falling straight backward.  Working with her physical therapist we worked to teach her to fall on her behind so she wouldn’t crack her head open.  Now she falls like a champ and usually exclaims, quick comically, “I fell on my tushie!”

What’s Been Cooking At Our House

I haven’t had a chance to blog, but I have been cooking.  Here are some of the awesome dishes we’ve been eating the last couple of weeks …

Ginger chicken with peaches and onions served over rice: Really delicious and easy.  It’s made with frozen peaches — you don’t even have to defrost them — so I will keep the ingredients for this on hand.

Curried Rice with Shrimp: This was okay. I made it with frozen cooked shrimp that I got at BJs.  Next time I’m going to use uncooked shrimp — I think it would be better.

Lentil soup: Simple and delish. I have a couple different lentil soup recipes that I like and this one gets added to the rotation.

Tomato and olive penne: Really delicious and EZ.  Spicy, which I like.

Cold sesame noodles: I liked this, but more of a summer dish.  I’d add a bit of tofu to it for some extra protein.

Steak with shallot sauce: This was great.  (Unfortunately I can’t find a link for it. Argh.) Preston and I have a hard time with steak.  I LOVE it and I like it rare (like, slap it on the butt and send it out).  Preston wants it cooked and he’s not a huge fan of it in any event.  Since he doesn’t love the taste of meat he wants some kind of sauce.  I generally find sauces distracting and don’t love the extra effort.  THIS recipe was therefore perfect.  The sauce is super easy, super yummy and complements the meat without competing.  I’ll definitely make this again.

Shrimp, tomato and basil pasta: FreshDirect had cleaned shrimp on sale so I decided to try this new recipe.  I have about half a dozen good, easy shrimp recipes now.  This one is more of a summer dish, but since good-quality grape tomatoes are available year-round now you can really make it anytime.  I subbed penne for the linguine.  Maddie can do spaghetti (she was hysterical with the sesame noodles), but penne or rotini is easier for her and involves less clean up for us.

Beef stew: I wanted to make chili for the Super Bowl, but Preston had a hankering for beef stew.  I’m not going to say no to him cooking.  He wanted something easier than the version in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  This was really good.  He seemed slightly unsatisfied, but I thought it was yummy.

Madeline, for her part, yummed down all of this.  Every dish.

Maddie Says the Darnedest Things

Maddie’s verbal skills have advanced by leaps and bounds.  Here’s a sampling of recent conversations.

Daddy: C’mon Maddie, let’s brush your teeth.

Maddie: And comb my ears! [This is from the book Olivia]


Mommy (at 7 a.m., opening the door to her room): Good morning Maddie.

Maddie: I’m sleeping.

Mommy: Want to get up?

Maddie (flopping her head down rather theatrically): No.


Maddie (holding up a garbanzo bean): What’s this?

Mommy: A garbanzo bean.  Can you say garbanzo bean?

Maddie: ‘Banzo bean!


Maddie, while playing with her baby doll: Want to change her diaper. [I report this one not so much for its cuteness, though it is cute, but for its complexity.  A five-word grammatically correct sentence is pretty advanced for a 26-month-old. I’m her mother, so I’m biased. But objectively speaking she’s clearly brilliant.]


Maddie, after having a bedtime story read to her by Daddy: Nice story. Want to go to bed now. [Another complex sentence. And clearly my girl likes her sleep.]

More to come …