The Power of Collaboration

(An interview between collaborators, Dr. Leyla Acaroglu and Emma Segal)

The ninth power their series of #DDSuperpowers, The Power of Collaboration

Over the last few weeks, Disrupt Design Gang Members, Dr. Leyla Acaroglu and Emma Segal, have been collaborating on a free weekly(ish) illustration project of Everyday Superpowers for making positive change. Emma creates the illustrations based on Leyla’s handbooks, which cover making change, sustainability, systems interventions, and the Disruptive Design Method. On Fridays, they share powerpacks with a growing community of creative rebels who want to think differently about solving complex problems in the world around them.

This week’s Superpower is the Power of Collaboration, so, to honor the reflective experience of doing cool creative shit together, they decided to interview each other on what the experience has been like so far.


Emma: So Leyla! After I sent you that voice note on my bike (the best idea-generation device around) about making a Superpower pack, what was it about this project that motivated you to want to collaborate on it?

Leyla: I like it when ideas fit problems in really unique ways, and especially when they use metaphors that help share the change potential. I thought it was really fun and cute (in a totally non-patronizing way) that you had this idea to make superpowers for people after we had been on a call where I joked about getting bestowed superpowers from the UN when they named me Champion of the Earth. Your idea was filled with excitement, and it instantly made my creative mind think through all of the everyday powers that people can use to make change. So, your excitement became contagious, which is a fantastic catalyst to get others energized — an excitement feedback loop!

Since all of my work is about trying to make positive change by challenging the status quo of a system to see if there is a better one waiting to be designed, the idea of everyday powers that we all possess and can use in diverse ways to create design-led systems change was a perfect and fun fit. I think that we are in interesting times, where there is such rapid technological growth that we are losing the ability to see our own agency and potential to create alternatives to what we are being offered. So, the Superpower metaphor made me think about every human having the potential to do cool shit with their lives, no matter how small or big their sphere of influence is. I also loved how it made us riff on Captain Planet jokes as part of the inspo for this collaboration, along with all the fun ways we then went about exploring how to get the project activated.

Each superpower activation kit breaks down how to activate a different change-making #DDSuperpower

Leyla: What was your experience of turning my written words into visual icons?

Emma: Captain Planet forever! My cape t-shirt design is still waiting for just the right moment! Speaking of which, a big part of my job is just that — translating ideas into visual representations, which I love doing. Getting to work on subject matter that I’m passionate about and teaches me new things while I’m doing it makes the experience that much more enriching and fulfilling. Each superpower we decided to work on (and there are so many we could still add!) were concepts that really spoke to me. It was an evocative brain challenge to translate the those complex ideas down to a single and hopefully immediately understandable image. Trying to draw out (literally and figuratively!) your ideas in a funny way is kind of an intimate act — I was mining your vast array of work, with the advantage of knowing you personally as well. I could actually hear your voice in my head as I was going through the back catalogue of toolkits and handbooks (which everyone in the Disrupt Gang can access!) and really trying to distill the essence of the Leyla knowledge and excitement into concise, stimulating, and fun packages.


Emma: What have you found to be the most rewarding part of this collab?

Leyla: I love working with people who have different skills that complement each other. I can’t draw, despite my attempts over the years! I’m still at stick figure representations, so your ability to take my written ideas and turn them into cool graphic representations has been really fun, and the outcomes are super! I love seeing what new visual you come up with each week and how nicely it fits the message for the superpower. I also must say, I like the selective interpretation you have on the words. I continuously write stuff about making change, so it’s hard to know how people view the content. It’s nice to see that feedback loop each week.


Leyla: What are 3 key takeaways for you from the experience of collaborating on this?

Emma: That selective interpretation was one of the hardest parts… I was very conscious of wanting to do your work justice, and every time I had to leave something out I felt a little bit bad! Takeaways, hmmm — so many more than three, but I’ll try to narrow it down. It’s been such a great reminder of how much one is capable of in a short amount of time. We didn’t do all 12 and then release them one at a time… some weeks they were still being edited on the release morning! And somehow, we managed to pull it all together, even with our intense schedules.

I’m looking back at all of the powers we put together, and it’s really exciting to see that track record of follow through. We just decided to go for it. Another is for sure the power of positive feedback loops — the motivation to keep going was fed by the encouragement and excitement of hundreds of signups. Plus, I love teaming up with people who have a matching level of enthusiasm for a project! We had a mutually beneficial exchange of excitement going on that was really rewarding, fun, and self-perpetuating.

Also, it’s so good to hear that you like the drawings! An important takeaway for me is letting go of the siren song of perfection… this is an area I always need to work on, so doing this project with such tight timelines was a challenge I was interested in putting myself into. I draw pretty slowly, and the amount of written material you have is vast; with so many things I wanted to include, it just wasn’t possible! I really had to hone my skills of speed, editing, and acceptance of imperfection.


Emma: What have you found to be the most challenging part of this project?

Leyla: I totally agree with the perfection thing! Although I have always been more of the “get shit done” motto, I, too, manage to fixate on things that can be limiting to the creative production. I do find though that time is always against me these days (I’m sure you and many people reading this can agree!), so it’s the rush to get the week’s power done that sometimes means I don’t get to really go through the copy as much as I would like to. But then again, the restrictions on time that we set ourselves (one each week) was a clear motivator to make sure we did it and not just talked about it — I’m a big fan these days of that rapid iteration and development with a public deadline to make shit happen! We had hundreds of people sign up in the first couple of weeks to get their powers, and it was a massive motivator to find the time to make the content.


Leyla: How did you find the process we developed (from the practice to the more experimental)?

Emma: It’s true — neither of us has time, ever! Something that really stands out is how influential the technology aspect has been. The ability to collaborate across the boundaries of space and time, while still meeting our self-imposed weekly deadline, has been critically dependant on using platforms we can both edit in real time, in small snippets here and there. We’ve had to be flexible and accountable to each other, plus comfortable with an ever-evolving process — like you’ve called it before, the lava stage! But, we’re both people that like to dive into projects and figure them out as we go, which I think we’ve kind of sorted out now. The flow (see what I did there?) seems to be working well.


Emma: Has anything surprised you during the process of this collaboration?

Leyla: I’m always surprised by everything! I have a very curiosity-focused mind, so I am always wondering why people do things and how to constantly get better at doing things myself. So, the only surprises that have been outside of the ordinary level of wonderment are the fun insights that any project gives organically as you go through the process. Like each new power illustration — they are always so fascinating to see what you have come up with! And, the copy selects and then the number of people signing up for the powers along with the thoughts triggered from each week’s combination of words and illustration, too. All of this makes me start to think about all the potential there is to turn this project into other iteration, such as a comic book or card deck that can be used by others to help activate change. Superpowers for all!


Leyla: You are a professional illustrator — did you find this experience different to your other illustration projects, and if so, how?

Emma: This is a weekly research, design, and illustration project with no outside client needs to consider, so that part is quite different. I am usually creating for a specific client and purpose other than my own agenda. Personal work for illustrators and designers is so important in order to develop and refine your own voice, and it’s something I don’t do enough of! I also find that I’m a much harsher and more emotional critic to personal work than when it’s for others. I’ve been working on developing an “internal client” (a term I just invented!) to cut down on those mental roadblocks.


Emma: How do you think we could have improved this project and collaboration?

Leyla: Ha! There is always room for ‘improvement’ on everything we do, but then if we were all constantly focused on what we could have done better, we would lose the beauty in what was gleaned from the processes of doing it to begin with! I guess what I am saying is the actioning of this collaboration has inspired me to do more of them, despite it being hard to find the time and to stick to the commitment. It’s the very fact that I have committed that makes me do it and thus, gives me all these great opportunities to discover new things. Like the power of collaboration!


Leyla: How have the making of the superpowers helped you with your change making?

Emma: It’s been the perfect project to practice my Disruptive Design (DD) skills — mining (your written work), landscaping (exploring and identifying critical nodes to communicate), and building (drafts of and then the final superpower). It’s very empowering to develop and own skills that can actually effect change in the world. I’ve been incorporating these ideas and superpowers into the teaching and work I do more and more as the project has rolled out, and hopefully, so have our DD Gang members! We definitely wanted it to be actionable, more than just knowledge sharing.


Emma: What do you think we can take from this experience to encourage others to take on collaborations?

Leyla: Maybe we could call it creativity dating? Or, Tinder for Creatives… because I have so many mediums that I love to work in, but my skill set limits me. Over the years, I have had some really successful collabs with animators and filmmakers, which are areas that I could learn, but to be honest, I just won’t invest the time where my natural ability does not lean. So, teaming up and making stuff is like going on a really good date when you just want to hang out for hours and do fun stuff — yeah, everyone should creatively date!


Leyla: How would you foster collaboration in the future?

Emma: Well it sounds like we’re starting a Tinder for Creatives, so that’ll be extremely fun! I think that’s a great idea actually. It can be hard to find mutually compatible creative partners with complementary skills, and I feel lucky about how well this has all played out. I’d love to help others team up in similarly fulfilling and creative ways. One of the reasons we decided to write this article was to encourage collaboration and learn how it can be done, even with — or especially with — ridiculous schedules and distance.


Emma: We have three more super powers we planned on for this series — what on earth will we do without a weekly Superpower?? :)

Leyla: I think we should iterate! We didn’t set any goals on when we would complete them or how many; the last time we talked we decided to get 12 out as the Superpower Dozen. I think we should see if we missed anything and then decide if we should invest more time in iterating on the concept and building the next stage. We should definitely open up to the community of people who have rallied around it (there are hundreds of people who are signed up to get them!) to see what that tells us and take it from there.


Leyla: What would you like to see evolve out of it?

Emma: I agree with you completely — I’d love to see what the community thinks, how they’d like it to evolve to best serve them, and what other iterations we can build on. I know you already started incorporating a superpowers component into the Fellowships, which is awesome. Let’s keep the ball rolling! It’s invigorating to be involved in a positive contribution to the world, and I’m excited to see how else we can build on this collaboration.


The first nine #DDSuperpowers

Want to activate the Power of Collaboration and other #DDSuperpowers for making change and disrupting by design? Join the (free) powerposse and download the power activation packs!

Want to collaborate with Leyla, Emma and other members of the #DDGang? Join us in ganging up on inequity, injustice, and unsustainability.