What nonprofits can learn about collaboration from Run DMC

While watching Run DMC’s 1986 Walk This Way video I started to think about collaboration. 

It starts out with a rock band, Aerosmith on one side of the wall and a rap group, Run DMC, on the other side.  The rock group start to warm up and the guitarist lays down that distinct riff.  On the other side of the wall, the rap group decides to use their instruments, two turntables, to scratch a sample of that very same riff.  When it came time for the lyrics, instead of singing, Run DMC rapped.  When it came time for the chorus – the visibly frustrated rock singer, feeling like his song was being high jacked used his microphone stand to break through the wall.  He forcefully took his song back by screaming the chorus.  In that moment both sides found a way to play/work together despite obvious differences.  The rest is history.

 Three lessons from the Run DMC and Aerosmith collaboration that can apply to the nonprofit sector:

  • Question artificial barriers we place between organizations and sectors.  On the surface, Run DMC and Aerosmith have very little in common.  I am glad that the people involved looked beneath the surface and found similarities.
  • Do what you do and do it well. Your work and reputation is your brand.  Prior to this collaboration Aerosmith were legends with a strong body of work.  Run DMC was influential before Walk This Way.  Within the context of the song, both groups maintained their unique identities and it worked.
  • Learn while doing – avoid analysis paralysis. In the simple act of doing the song, they learned how to work together.  The result of their collaboration was a product that changed the game. 

Now, in honor of Cleveland’s recent Rock Hall inductions, take a moment and analyze the video for yourself: 


1 Comment

  1. Nelson-
    I like your lessons learned and especially the one – “learn by doing”. I think starting a process of collaboration takes a huge leap of faith and there is no way to know everything up front. Thanks for a fun way to look at this topic!


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