Co-editing as creative collaboration

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Bob MacKenzie
Louise Austin


This edition of e-O&P is devoted to exploring the theme of ‘Creative Collaborations’, as a contribution towards increasing, deepening and broadening our understanding of this practice. The World Economic Forum (2018) identified creativity as one of the top three skills for workers to thrive in the future, and a recent IBM study of 1,500 CEOs (2010) found that creativity is the single most important skill for leaders. But individual creativity is not enough. The idea of the single, solitary genius working in isolation is being challenged by the realisation that ‘the biggest breakthroughs happen within networks of people working together in creative collaboration’. So, we (Louise and Bob) invited contributors to join us in an exploration of creative collaboration and what this way of living, creating and working together means to us in the 21st century.

In this introductory article, we explore our understanding of the subject of creative collaboration arising from our co-editing journey. We introduce a thematic overview of each of the articles, and conclude with some insights into what we have gained about co-editing, co-authoring and creative collaborations through working on this edition.

Imagining creative collaboration

Parker J Palmer argues that to ‘know’ a subject is ‘not holding it at arms-length but getting to know it through relationship’ (2007, loc 2258). Our contributors have all gathered around the subject of creative collaboration, not at arms-length, but in deep immersion for the last few months, to offer the reader a rich, multi-faceted and thought-provoking special issue.

Creativity and creative collaboration

Louise’s perspective.

Creativity is one of those terms that refuses to be pinned down by a set definition. From my perspective, creativity is less about the outcome and more about the process. I resonate with Zinker’s (1977, pp. 3-9) premise that engaging in the creative process is an expression of the full range of our experience and uniqueness, and meets our need for a broader and deeper range of living. But where does our creativity come from? In the words of Marcus Aurelius (Aurelius & Staniforth, 1964), ‘dig within, there lies the wellspring for good’. The source of my creativity is often drawn from the wellspring of my imagination. The images that arise seem to appear of their own volition and often don’t involve the participation of my conscious mind. Jung argued that ‘image is psyche’ (1929, para 75) and that images, that feed and nurture our imagination and creativity, flow from our unconscious. Inspired by Jung, I view the unconscious, the imagination and creativity as part of a symbiotic whole. To draw upon the ‘mighty metaphor’ of a tree, creativity is the above world of the trunk, branch, leaves, fruit and blossom, and the roots that lie in the other world below the surface are the imagination. To extend the metaphor further towards creative collaboration, I draw upon the seminal work of Suzanne Simard on the complex system of the forest and her discovery of how trees ‘talk to each other’. The unconscious, I would liken to the fungi that transfer nutrients up the roots and between the roots of the trees.

[Anima Mundi, by Louise Austin.]

Like trees in a forest connected through a massive underground network, creative collaboration is a way to connect to our human and planetary root system, described over the centuries as the Anima Mundi or soul of the world. By creating with others, I have learnt about myself as an interdependent being in participation rather than separate from my world.

Bob’s perspective

In my youth, I was a bookish and somewhat solitary child. My imagination was fed by stories, both written and recounted. Perhaps this is little surprise, as Storr (2019) is not alone in proposing that human beings are essentially storytelling creatures. For years, I have felt overawed by others whose creativity is confidently overt, vibrant and readily on display – people like artists, musicians, poets, sculptors, actors, ‘public intellectuals’. To this day, I feel inhibited from enacting many ‘free’ forms of artistic expression, such as dance, drawing, painting, writing poetry and physical performance, though I’m told that I can deliver a good lecture and facilitate a group with some mastery and improvisation. (Is that an expression of creativity?). It was only around 15 years ago that, through the encouragement and support of several outstanding critical friends and scholars, and through composing my doctoral Explication (MacKenzie 2005) I allowed myself finally to be persuaded (though doubts still arise) that I also embody certain creative qualities. If creativity is an ‘act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality’ (Naiman nd), then it should be possible to find it at work to varying degrees in all walks of life and contexts. My own professional domain essentially ranges over the creative possibilities that arise from interactions between facilitation, writing and conversations. Hence, almost by accident, I have strayed into the arena of editing, which I have come to see as an act of creative collaboration.


Creative collaboration is illustrated in the diverse range of contributions in this edition, and in the account of an editorial meeting in the RSA that we (Louise and Bob) had early in the life of this edition.

‘Editing is constantly described as being “the work of many hands”, negotiated rather than arbitrary, carried out by people who work hard to keep their ego in check. Collaboration extends to the reader:’

[Greenberg 2015: 188]

There are many different definitions and assumptions about editing and its contribution to writing and publishing. Not infrequently, it’s largely invisible, and taken to be little more than a technical copy-editing or proofreading function. During our editorial meeting at the RSA (see below) we articulated our roles as far wider and infinitely more creative than that. Essentially, we agreed that it’s one of engaging in critical friendships (MacKenzie 2015) by offering well-intentioned challenge and support as required with a range of different people and networks interacting as a temporary creative eco-system or community of writing practice (MacKenzie 2019). From the outset and throughout, our aim as co-editors has been to support authors and each other in making the text as good as it can be in the circumstances – to help the writing to shine.

Co-editing and co-authoring: our journey

Our editorial collaboration began in earnest some 18 months ago, when Louise contributed an article on ‘The Wounded Facilitator’ (Austin, 2018) in the Spring 2018 edition of this journal (Dilworth and MacKenzie, eds 2018). In ways not dissimilar to those described elsewhere in this edition (Herrera and Dilworth 2019), we were drawn to consider working together as co-editors and co-authors. From this, a shared commitment and a publication schedule emerged as a kind of ‘container’, serving as a necessary grounding and discipline to give our creative collaboration a beginning, a middle and an end. As Tudor Rickards (1997) and others have observed, structures or frameworks can liberate.

Little did we know then what we’d let ourselves in for as we embarked on this unfolding journey of exploration and discovery. And what discoveries we’ve made! As with our contributors, we each brought to bear our respective personal, professional, artistic influences and life stories. Some of those elements overlapped and were complementary, and we also made a virtue of our creative differences. We noticed that we – and others – responded positively to generous appreciation of our individual uniqueness. So, we consciously sought to honour each other’s autonomy and separateness in a way that would not be lost or overlooked in our sharing. Through our interactions, we discovered experientially a great deal about editing and creative collaborations beyond what the literature was able to tell us.



Embarking on the task of co-editing was like setting off on a journey without a map! I have never edited before and so whilst I initially jumped at the opportunity, once the journey began, I entered the realm of ‘not knowing’. A key insight about myself during the last few months was how I respond to uncertainty. Facing the task of co-editing with someone as experienced as Bob, was surprisingly anxiety-provoking.

The RSA London by C.G.P.Grey, Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0

When faced with feelings of uncertainty and not knowing, the task in hand grew in size and proportion. What had initially felt like a walk in the park became a slog up the Himalayas! The small ‘e’ became the Capital ‘E’ of Editorship that I felt unequipped for.

A transformative moment in our collaboration between myself and Bob, was meeting at the RSA in London to engage in a dialogue about creative collaboration. It was as if we both gathered around the subject, in a way that connected us with the subject and also with each other.


‘It’s a mistake to think that writing only takes place on the page. You do a lot of it in your head.’

[Patrick Gale, ‘Saturday Live’, BBC Radio 4, 14 July 2018]

During our RSA dialogue in early August, in a pattern-breaking challenge, Louise suggested that – in addition to speaking about our understanding of our role as co-editors – we might try to articulate its essence in a medium different from that with which we each might normally work. She encouraged me gently to try something different. The setting was an imposing 18th century building designed by the Adams brothers. Louise chose to create a colourful image that soon took shape as what she called ‘a malleable pot’. With some trepidation, I elected to write a poem in manuscript.

As Patrick Gale implies in the previous quote, what we write is an almost magical externalisation of inner psychic and imaginative processes. Responding to Louise’s invitation, I wrote that ‘poem’ with some diffidence (initial resistance?) at great speed with whatever writing materials came to hand – a black thin-nibbed fountain pen and a square-ruled notebook. At first glance at least, squares and scribbles did not seem to me to be a particularly creative combination, especially when set alongside Louise’s creation. (It also struck me that, in transcribing the text later to make it a little more legible, instinctively I couldn’t help beginning to ‘edit’ it.)


My image was of a malleable pot, that captured a fresh and inspiring understanding of the role of an editor. No longer was I striving up a mountainside dragging my contributors and Bob with me, but I was learning from Bob about the ‘invisible hands’ of the editor. An editor, I am discovering, is like being a potter, creating a ‘holding container’ (Winnicott, 1960) for the work of the writers. The editor as potter, not only ‘holds’ the work by containing the anxiety that can be evoked when facing the daunting task of writing an article, but it is also about ‘firing’ the work, so the writing holds together and doesn’t fragment, and finally it is about ‘glazing’ the work of the writer, so the gold shines through.

[The ‘Potting Hands’ of the Editor, by Louise Austin]


From time to time, we gently questioned assumptions in ourselves and other contributors. It soon became clear to us that writing and (co-) editing is time-consuming, requiring a judicious blend of encouragement and challenge in a way that doesn’t stifle innate creativity. When we felt that the time was ripe, we encouraged contributors to be their own and each other’s critical friend.


We invited authors to read their emerging article with a critical eye, considering the question ‘What else needs to be done in editing this draft, so that your unique voice truly reverberates in a published – i.e. public – article of which you can be truly proud?’

Soon, we had arrived at a time when their essential text, which we likened to a provisional piece of sculpture, had now been formed, and was ready to be crafted into its public shape through a process of chiselling, shaping and polishing, enhanced where appropriate by feedback. This is akin to what Amy Whitaker describes in her brilliant book ‘Art Thinking’ (2016) as ‘Discernment’

‘to move forward as the creator of the work yourself, you need the subtler tools of discernment. Where judgment is a fixed, moment-in-time evaluation of success, discernment is a process of figuring out what is working and not working. If judging is a process of labelling, discernment is a process of learning’.

[Whitaker, 2016, p. 75]

Over time, I’ve come to realise that creativity in all its forms is an innate human quality. We can’t all be outstanding geniuses or artists. But, given the opportunity, we can exercise and express through a chosen medium what our imagination is prompting. Naiman (op cit) and others hold that creativity can be fostered. Given the right conditions, we can all be creative in some way, if we can remove, dismantle or at least reduce barriers. Hence, as co-editors and critical friends, we have sought to encourage contributors to this edition to discover, express and celebrate their creativity in their writing.

A caveat

For the most part, we tend to assume that creative collaborations are ‘a good thing’. However, we are careful not to adopt an uncritical stance, and recognise that collaborations may not always work, be appropriate or be regarded as a positive undertaking (see Bhote 2019 in this edition on some possible barriers). Even if creative, collaborations can have negative or dark connotations, such as – in an extreme form – collusion with an occupying enemy. There are also ‘creative tensions’ that may need to be resolved, including the struggle between editorial and authorial power in deciding on the nature and format of the ‘final’ text. Who makes the ultimate decisions about who and what does or does not get published, when and in what format? There can be limits to collaboration between editor, author and subject, due to sheer pressure of events or circumstances (e.g. Greenberg, 2015, p. 12). Such limits include time and other resource constraints. (For example, this article alone has gone through some 15 iterations). Needless to say, as editors who are deeply involved in other competing projects, we’ve experienced our fair share of these constraints, as have other contributors to this edition.

In this edition, some fascinating insights into and examples of creative collaborations have found their way into writing in an interplay of words, images, people and circumstances, as the following section outlines.  


Emerging themes

Nicolas Poussin, 1640: ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’, The Wallace Collection, Wikimedia Commons]

As various drafts began to emerge, we saw some distinct themes emerging relating to the interplay between personal autonomy and group membership, the importance of trust, connection and safety, and the paradoxical need to let go of being the expert while bringing expertise to the table. Curiosity emerged as an essential human quality that allows for us to seek out new ideas, new connections, and new environments. One meta-theme that emerges for us in particular is that of the interplay of space and movement: creativity as a dynamic, emergent and ever evolving process. An image that comes to mind here is that of a dance to the music of time.

Following this introductory article, we have organised contributions under four main themes – those of context and understanding, organisational perspectives, psychological perspectives and environmental influences.

Context and understanding

Khorshed Bhote, in her rich contextual overview, challenges our assumptions about creative collaboration. She traces the historical origins of creative collaboration from ancient times through to our modern digital age. She invites us to have a deeper and more nuanced understanding of creative collaboration by considering both its light and the dark side. Tan Ling Sian presents an inspiring account of a project she completed during her training in Leading Creative Collaboration. She argues that the creative process starts with a great or ‘beautiful’ question, considering ‘what it means to be human’. She invites us to consider the differences between creative collaboration, collective creation and collaborative creativity.

Organisational perspectives

Raymond Honings offers a challenging and new perspective on creative collaboration within organisational settings. He argues that creative collaboration is not enough to increase team performance, and that the missing ingredients are human connection and business purpose. Drawing upon personal examples and case studies, he invites us to create the right conditions for creative collaboration. Mairead O’Siochru’s informative and thought-provoking article explores how the members within the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), a membership organisation, trade union and professional body, can be brought together through creative collaboration. Drawing upon the concepts of Old and New Power, she invites us to consider where power sits when it is generated by a creative collaboration. Her case study of the recent RCN national campaign puts creative collaboration theory into demonstrable practice. Liz Nottingham passionately argues for the need for courageous and disruptive creativity within organisations. She challenges the status quo with her call for a movement of a ‘new, brave, vulnerable and creative leadership’ to lead in the 21st century. She invites the reader to experiment with her unique model of Courageous Creativity inspired by her training in the Advanced Diploma in Leading Creative Collaboration and by the example of Danny Boyle, who designed the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.

Psychological perspectives

Lynne Irwin offers an authentic and very personal exploration of her own relationship with creative collaboration. She shares how her own resistances prevented her from embracing her creativity, and how she overcame these obstacles. She demonstrates how this engagement with her creativity enabled her to facilitate creative collaborations in an authentic way. She invites us to embrace our own creativity. Eleonora Herrera and Steve Dilworth offer a moving and poignant account of their own creative collaboration as they explored together, through movement and dance, their shared and deeply human experience of grief. This creative collaboration was built upon a bedrock of trust. They invite us to open up to the ‘mystery’ of trusting the process and the imagination, and allowing the work to be steered to an unknown destination. Marijke Dekker shares her lively and engaging personal story of how her professional life transformed from that of a business executive to a Contact Clown after completing her professional training in the Advanced Diploma in Leading Creative Collaboration. She invites us to consider the role of the unconscious and demonstrates how a contact clown is a facilitator of creative collaboration.

Environmental influences

Alison Hodge illustrates how group coaching supervision can be a creative collaboration with her highly innovative approach. This consists of ‘talking and walking’ across different locations including art galleries and the natural world. She invites us to consider how the co-created learning relationship of coaching supervision can encompass the environment, in a way that creates a visceral experience. Emer Wynne, along with her fellow co-inquirers, offers a very ‘live’ and engaging experience of what creative collaboration means through the lens of Nancy Kline’s Time to Think. This co-inquiry, within a Thinking Environment, presents creative collaboration as part of the human condition. Her article invites us to ‘Live the Question’ rather than seek ready answers.



It has been a privilege to work with Bob, and to witness his gift as an editor: his ‘invisible hands’ made manifest. This has not been simply a process of master and the apprentice, but a creative collaboration. For a relationship to become a creative collaboration, is a process of a mutual sharing of our own unique gifts. This shared endeavour has been one of ‘giving and being given to’ that psychoanalytic thinker Jessica Benjamin (2018) describes as ‘Recognition’, which she argues is the building block of all relationships. Recognition is knowing that we affect others and we are affected by others. My experience of co-editorship, as a creative collaboration, revealed to me this new insight about the importance of mutual recognition: appreciating and celebrating each of our unique gifts. Bob has a unique gift of helping budding writers overcome their blocks and find their ‘disciplined voice’ as writers. Bob really shows a passionate love for the work of editing and has been a true inspiration!


Working with Louise has been a welcome refreshment. On more than one occasion, she has invited me to reach beyond my comfort zone, and asked fresh questions. Louise has also introduced me to the creative possibilities of technologies such as ZOOM and Microsoft Word online, which I will incorporate into my subsequent editorial practice. Our creative relationship has reinforced in me a belief that, in whatever form, context and degree it happens, collaboration is a process of working together for a common purpose. In our many exchanges over our extended collaboration with our contributors and each other, Louise and I have come to understand a little more about the mysterious and almost alchemical processes through which people collaborate creatively.

Reflecting on the nature of our collaborative relationship, several artistic metaphors come to mind. These include weaving, dancing, choreographing, curating, juggling, and clowning (e.g. Dekker 2019, this edition). We’ve been constantly exercised by which personal pronouns are appropriate at any particular time. In creative collaborations, when does the ‘I’ become ‘We’, and vice versa? These are fundamental questions of individual and collective authorship and creativity which require further engagement.

As co-editors and co-authors, we’ve done our best to perform our role as a process of creative collaboration, and to reflect the qualities that Greenberg ascribes to editors in general:

‘They tend to be people who are able to see things from different points of view and who see editing as an opening up of possibilities, rather than closing things down; a collaborative conversation rather than hierarchical control; judgment as action rather than criticism. They come across as being driven not just by the ulterior motive of meeting a practical target, but also by an ultimate motive, love for the work.’

[Greenberg, 2015, p.185]

We leave it to you, the reader, and to the authors who appear in this edition, to judge how well we’ve realised our aspirations, and to decide upon the relevance of these contributions to the practice of personal, management or organisational development. We’d be delighted to receive your feedback. For our part, we feel proud and privileged to have collaborated with other stakeholders and with each other on this creative publishing enterprise.

What next?

We plan to host a post-publication Gathering to continue the conversations inspired by the articles you find here. In addition to the online pdf version of this edition, which is freely available on the AMED website, there is the option of purchasing a professionally-printed hard copy at cost. So please feel free to contact the AMED Office for more information, and do watch this space!


In addition to the authors, we owe a great debt to David McAra of AMED for his customary excellent and patient formatting work behind the scenes, and for hosting the secure editorial page for pre-publication versions. Another important invisible contributor has been Linda Williams, who supports the publication process tirelessly from the AMED Office. We thank Ned Seabrook of AMED in anticipation for his creating individual pdf copies of each article following publication of this edition. And finally, thank you to all those anonymous critical friends whose conversations and attention has enhanced the writing in many subtle ways. You know who you are.

References and websites

Aurelius, M. & Staniforth, M. (1964). Meditations. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Austin, L. (2018). The Wounded Facilitator: the gift of counter-transference when facilitating transformative learning in groups. e-Organisations and People, Vol 25, No 1: Spring, pp: 59-67.

Benjamin, J. (2018). Beyond Doer and Done to: Recognition theory, intersubjectivity and the Third. New York: Routledge.

Bhote, K. (2019). Creative collaboration: a new make-over for an ancient concept? e-Organisations and People, Vol 26, No 3. Autumn.

Dilworth, S. and MacKenzie, B. (editors) (2018). Sharing experiences of facilitation through writing, Part 1. e-Organisations and People, Vol 25, No 1. Spring.

Greenberg, S. (2015). Editors Talk about Editing: insights for readers, writers and publishers. New York: Peter Lang.

Herrera, E. and Dilworth, S. (2019). Moving experiences of creative collaboration. e-Organisations and People, Vol 26, No 3. Autumn.

IBM Samuel J Palmisano (2010). Capitalizing on Complexity. Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study. accessed 28.9.19

MacKenzie, B. (2019). Writing in a social space: forming a university community of writing practice. e-Organisations and People, Vol 26, No 2. Summer. pp: 92-101.

MacKenzie, B. (2015). Critical friendships in writing and editing. e-Organisations and People, Vol 22, No. 1, Spring. pp: 42-51.

MacKenzie, B. (2005). A Learning Facilitator’s Uses of Writing. Doctoral Explication. IMCA Business School.

Naiman, L. Creativity at Work., (Accessed: 30 September 2019).

Jung, C. G. (1929) Problems of Modern Psychotherapy. CW 16, Princetown: Bollingen.

Palmer, P. J., Jackson, M., & Tucker, E. (2007). The Courage to Teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. Available at: (Downloaded 9.9.2019)

Rickards, T. (1997). Creativity and Problem Solving at Work. London: Gower.

Storr, W. (2019). The Science of Storytelling. William Collins.

World Economic Forum (2018). The Future of Jobs Report 2018. (Accessed: 18.9.19)

Winnicott, D. (1960). The Theory of the Parent-Child relationship. Int. J. Psychoanalysis., Vol 41, pp. 585-595.

Whitaker, A. (2016). Art Thinking: How to carve out creative space in a world of schedules, budgets, and bosses. New York, Harper Business.

Image credits

Louise Austin: (a) ‘Anima Mundi’, page 2; (b) Bob’s RSA ‘poem’, page 5; (c) Louise’s RSA ‘malleable pot’, page 6; and (d) The ‘Potting Hands’ of the Editor, page 7.

Nicolas Poussin painting, 1640, page 9: ‘A Dance to the Music of Time, The Wallace Collection, Wikimedia Commons.

Image of The RSA London page 5, By, CC BY 3.0,

About Louise and Bob

Louise is Course Director of the Advanced Diploma in Leading Creative Collaboration at Artgym and Course Director of the Post Graduate Certificate in the Therapeutic Arts at The Institute for Arts in Therapy and Education. Louise is on the cusp of embarking on a PhD in Psychoanalytical Studies at the University of Essex.


Bob is commissioning editor of AMED’s journal e-Organisations and People, and convenor of the AMED Writers’ Group. Stimulated by this latest experience of creative collaboration, Bob is eager to discover answers to the question ‘What next?’


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