Dear Collabo-Haters: How Six Brains Led to this Graduation Video

(Disclaimer: These thoughts and opinions are all my own. If you’re a self-proclaimed collabo-hater, no judgement. Well, a little judgement.)

To all those collabo-haters out there who think working together is a jingle sang by a friendly purple dinosaur named Barney (😉), here’s an example of how collaboration helps our team create better products.

The idea began totally different

The idea began with brain No. 1: Kristen Browning-Blas, director of communications for the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

She read some compelling application essays from veterinary students and thought we could somehow turn them into a video, more specifically a graduation video. CSU’s veterinary program is competitive, to say the least. Only 7% of students who apply actually get into the program, so as you can imagine, applicants’ essays have to be better than great. And they were.

Kris passed the idea to me and then…

The idea changed

I loved the idea of graduating veterinary students reading the essays that got them into CSU in the first place. But, when a person reads an essay out loud it comes across more academic and less personal. The students who wrote the essays were clearly great writers, but I wanted to push the concept one step further.

I decided to ask graduating veterinary students to write letters to their future selves; what they hope to remember, what they hope to learn, and how they might change the lives of animals. It was a solid idea. I felt confident about it. I shared the concept with Team Social, and then…

The idea changed again

BOOM. Jen Smith hits me with an even better idea. She saw a Colgate Athletics series where graduating athletes wrote letters to the next student who will wear their jersey numbers.

If you want to see an insanely beautiful example, read this Letter to the Next #11

Basically: 😭 #AmIRight?

This was it. The idea was formed. (Thanks Jen 👊) Next: execution.

I needed help executing my vision

I emailed students from Kris’ list of application essays to gage interest. The two students were in. Bing, bang, boom.

I had a very specific look in mind for the video and knew Chase Baker could help bring my vision to life. Of course, he took it to the next level. He showed me some examples of scene transitions he was interested in trying out where a moving object in one scene drags the next scene into frame. We didn’t know if it would work, but throughout filming we staged a couple shots for the transitions.

(See the transitions in our actual video at 53 seconds, 1:36, and 2:19)

But how did the letters turn out?

The collaboration with the veterinary students was the most important partnership in creating the video. They HAD to write good letters, because their words were essentially the concept for the video. Our b-roll was solely meant to give their words deeper emotion.

They did not fail to impress. Their letters were 👌 and set the tone we were attempting to convey. Read the veterinary students’ full letters.

The timeframe we asked the students to write the letters in was tight, so we received one letter a couple days before her shoot, and the other letter five minutes before the shoot. Chase and I were nimble during the shoots, marking up the letters for specific lines we wanted to use on the fly, throwing out ideas for different shots as they came to mind. We had to work nimbly, but it allowed us to collaborate in a way that produced even more beautiful, spontaneous shots, along with our planned shots.


The video turned out completely different than I imagined it in the beginning, but the beauty was on point. The creamy slo-mo, the intimate shots, the baller transitions. Sure, the video played out well on social. But I think the reason it performed well stemmed from collaboration. The video is a good reminder that collaboration leads to compelling content.

Collaboration has been proven to make people more motivated as they take on challenges. Workers in a collaborative workplace also feel less fatigued and have higher success rates. The pressure for creatives to be creative is becoming increasingly heavy as the demand for content output increases. Just do a simple Google search and you’ll find article after article sharing “6 ways to stay creative under pressure.” Not to mention, creativity is addictive. When someone’s original idea performs successfully, of course we want to do it again and again…and again. But expecting a high rate of creative-genius moments can actually make us less creative.

On the other hand, many creatives have a real attachment to their ideas. Collaboration can sometimes feel like an attack or critique on our ideas. But, attachment to our ideas can prevent better ideas from surfacing, which is the whole premise of my blog. If it hadn’t been for Kris’ initial idea, Jen’s push to improve the concept, Chase’s vision for enhancing the video visually, or the students’ letters, I probably wouldn’t be blogging about the success of this video.

One piece of advice (or reality?) that I think about when my ego is Hulking out: “There is no such thing as a new idea,” a quote by good old Marky T. If, in theory, there is no such thing as a new idea, then how can we make existing ideas better? Answer: (clap with me) Co 👏 Lab 👏 Or 👏 A 👏 Tion 👏

Keep an open mind to others’ ideas, and allow the ideas to arrive in natural and comfortable environments, not through force. Don’t expect too much of your fellow creatives and don’t pressure them to have the “a-ha” moment every time you need them. But, don’t sit at your cubicle all day like a collabo-hater with your collabo-hating headphones on until you go home.

Team Social collaborates on every project in one way or another. Collaboration for us can be a big group project, or as small as a random suggestion. It’s one of our team values we internalize and practice regularly. We also allow space for each other’s personal creative process and projects. It’s a good balance for us, and every team should find what level of collaboration works best for them. There’s no right answer.

So get to collaborating, friends, and remember:

“The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.” -Barney

Note: Although Barney didn’t write “The more we get together,” he still left us as woke children who would someday demand more collaboration in our workplace years later. Barney was a brilliant dinosaur wiser than any millennial child could have ever known. “The more we get together, the happier we’ll be” perfectly explains the results of the Stanford study on collaboration that took researchers almost 14,000 words to explain. Barney taught the lesson to us in less than 10 words and even put a beat to it. But, that’s a blog for a different day.