The Good Work Book Blog
Co-creative relationships: the greatest challenge of all
Recently my husband and I enjoyed a delightful breakfast in a local café that offers particularly good food. We sipped our lattes and munched on eggs and bacon (him) and gravalax and potato croquettes (me) companionably. We gossiped about his work and my plans for my future. We talked family matters and our plan to add a new fur family member to it. It was a lovely experience in which I could rightly say that all was right with my relationship world.
Then we drove home and because it was the weekend when we got out of the car we spent a moment or two surveying our backyard, which has yet to be developed into a formal garden. It has a couple of raised vegetable beds, a row of lemon trees in pots, a heap of discarded rock and unsightly piles of second hand building materials set alongside an ill-tended compost heap.
I stared at it hopelessly. The fact of the matter is that this sight had assailed my eyes for the past 10 years and more. Why?
I could say that it was due to the fact that all our spare cash had been earmarked for renovations on our old Federation house. I could say that establishing a garden requires a lot of heavy manual work that I am not suited to. I could say that my husband’s and my own time has consumed by activities that are necessary to create an income. I could give many excuses, but the real reason that the garden has not progressed is because we do not work well together.
This problem was manifested in its essence on this particular morning.
I said to my husband, ‘I have been thinking that we need to design this area soon.’
He replied, ‘Oh yes, well, I have done that already. This is what I am planning.’
He strode forward and measured out a length of grassy sward that lies beyond the back verandah.
‘I’m going to run a retaining wall along here. The steps from the verandah will go along from there to there.’ He waved his hands to indicate his scheme. ‘The vegetable beds will be extended and I’ll put the new ones closer together.’
It was clear to me that a vision of this scheme was clear in his mind but it was considerably less clear in mine owing to the fact that I had never been involved in this plan. I was scrambling to make personal sense of his ideas and to engage in them.
As I have a natural tendency to look at lines and proportions, at the flow of paths and buildings that visually connect parts of a garden its various features, I translated his scheme into my own aesthetic perspective. It seemed to me that the location of his proposed retaining wall would give more visual dominance to the vegetable garden than to the extended area beyond it which looks out to a fine country landscape. In my own mind I saw the extended area as being more important to the pleasure of the garden than the vegetable patches. But in the speed of the exchange, I could not articulate that. I resorted to an immediate objection
I said, ‘I don’t know that I think the retaining wall should go there. Why not two or three metres closer to the house?’
My husband’s hackles immediately rose. ‘Why do you want that?’ he said in the tone of one whose arms are raised in pugilistic fashion.
‘Because I think the proportion of the garden will be wrong.’ I replied, no doubt in a tone equally defensive.
The conversation thereby degenerated into an argument about who was rigid and who was not listening, and who knew the most about design and who did not. I threw my hands up in resignation and my partner raced off to the next-door neighbor to smoke a cigarette he knows I dislike.
So it was that after a harmonious breakfast our pleasant connection was brutally cut. And of course the plans for the garden are liable to have been put on hold for another 10 years.
This story of conflicting visions for work, differing intentions, unacknowledged capabilities, mental rigidities, ego and poor communication strategies is repeated with far worse consequences the world over. The potential for the Good Work of one individual to be enhanced, respected and incorporated into the Good Work of another is negated on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, knowing how to develop a co-creative vision for work projects that harness the different dreams, perspectives and skills of all those who will contribute to it is a rare skill in a world where people still prefer and are familiar with leaders who will leave them little personal responsibility for outcomes.
In our sequel to The Good Work Book, I plan to tackle the difficulties inherent in creating co-creative relationships. (Readers will be pleased to hear that I aim to have my own backyard in order before we publish it. :-) I have just one principle in mind when I offer our guidance to other people: I have to have proved it works.)
In the meantime, I would love to hear your suggestions or personal experiences about the contentious issues of working relationship that you think should be covered in the new publication. Please add a note in the comment column.