«If you’ve done your brainstorming with a group, like Jeannette did, you’re in luck. It’s going to turn into a barn-raising spontaneously. In ...»
If you’ve done your brainstorming with a group, like Jeannette did, you’re in
luck. It’s going to turn into a barn-raising spontaneously.
In all the years I’ve been working with creativity in groups, I have never
once seen a brainstorming team come up with a bright strategic idea, like
Jeannette’s Appalachian plan, and then get up, put on their coats, and say,
“OK, kid, good luck. You’re on your own.” That never happens. What does
happen is what happened to Jeannette:
One of her friends said, “You know, a guy in my office has an old van he wants to get rid of. I’ll bet he’d sell it to you for less than $200! It’s in terrible shape, of course. But anyway, here’s his phone number.” And then somebody else said, “My best friend’s brother is an auto mechanic! Maybe he’d fix the van for free if you did advertising photography for him, or portraits of his family. Let me call my friend and have her ask him.” And then somebody else said, “Why don’t you try to get a job in a photo store, so you can get stuff at discount? I think they even let you have the outdated film and photographic paper for free.” Another friend knew a journalist who had gotten several grants, and offered to put Jeannette in touch with him for help writing up a grant proposal. The whole group agreed to ask everyone they knew to dig in their closets for old Brownies and Instamatics, and they decided to put together a list of addresses of people along Jeannette’s proposed route who would be glad to let her stay overnight with them for free. Between them, Jeannette and five friends worked out a plan by which she could go ahead and set her dream in motion without waiting for a grant– for less than a thousand dollars! And then they planned to throw a flea market to raise the money.
If you think this sounds incredible, try it. When your brainstorming team starts coming up with concrete suggestions, contacts, and offers of help, you’ll find yourself scribbling as fast as you can to get down all the names and phone numbers—and within five minutes you’ll have so many real and promising first steps that it takes your breath away.
When you’ve gotten your plan worked down to specific needs, that’s the last moment when anyone wants to give up, go home, and forget all about it. On the contrary, that’s when everybody leans forward and starts getting really involved. It suddenly looks like this fabulous thing might just happen. And it’s not so much that people want a piece of the action. It’s that they want to give you a piece of your action! Each member of your brainstorming team is realizing that she or he has something real to contribute: an idea, a contact, a skill. And each one loves the idea of being able to say, “See that house? See the third brick from the left in the third row from the bottom? I gave her that.
I made it with my own hands.” In Chapter 6, we talked about the importance of identifying emotional problems—the hands-off kind that can only be helped by a sympathetic ear.
But now we’re dealing with strategic problems, the kind that call for helping hands. These are the problems that can be fixed—and we seem to take an uncanny delight in fixing them. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever given someone a lead that led to a job, or an apartment, or a part in a play, or a life-changing experience, or a love affair. Most of us remember and treasure every part we’ve ever played in someone else’s survival, satisfaction, or success. And that’s not because we’re a bunch of altruistic saints.
It’s because helping each other is creative and it makes us feel good.
We’re just beginning to realize that sharing skills and resources is a deep human pleasure and need, one that’s wired into our survival just as much as hunger or sex. If our distant ancestors hadn’t evolved an actual instinct for cooperation, they would have been eaten by saber-toothed tigers the first morning they crawled out of their caves. And the things that keep us alive always feel good. That’s how nature makes sure we will do them.
Pioneer families and small farmers had to pool their labor to get their barns built, their crops plowed and harvested, their corn husked. In the process, they reaffirmed the bonds of community—and had a whale of a good time.
Working together toward vital common goals strengthened their relationships as it lightened their labor. There was no split in their lives between love and work, self-interest and mutual aid. In our complex and technically advanced society, we no longer need each other’s direct and personal help to survive. We’re still dependent on other people, but the cooperation that keeps us alive has become
and impersonal. We can buy houses built by strangers. We can stand in line at the supermarket to buy our food. We can open the Yellow Pages and hire a doctor or a plumber. We exchange most goods and services for money instead of love. We’ve gained the freedom to pursue our individual goals—and that’s a precious freedom—but we’ve paid a high price: the community of purpose that once fused work and relationship into a meaningful whole. Our most practical and satisfying way of getting things done is still together. And the proof is that so much of our potential stays stubbornly locked inside us as long as we try to tap it alone.
Our instinct for cooperation is still very much alive. It’s looking for a job.
Why not put it to work in the service of our individual goals? Sharing dreams and resources could be a wonderful way to surround ourselves with a “family” of winners—a community with a new common purpose: no longer the survival of all its members, but the fullest unfolding of each one’s unique potential.
We don’t have to go all the way back to pioneer days for a working model of that kind of “cooperative individualism.” We have one right in front of our eyes. Our myths of “every man for himself” and “looking out for Number One” have just kept us from seeing it, because it’s in the last place where we’d ever think of looking: in the lives of successful men. As a matter of fact, it’s the reason why they’re successful! Most of them take it so completely for granted that it doesn't occur to them to give credit where credit is due. Ask them and many will say, “Of course I made it on my own.” But I can think of at least one high flyer from modest beginnings who’s given the public lie to that Horatio Alger myth.
The popular notion is that this man single-handedly built up his family’s little farm into a million-dollar business. The way he tells it, when he came home from the Armed Forces to take charge of the farm, a group of men got
together with him, rolled up their sleeves, and said something like this:
“OK, son, the first thing you’re going to need is a certain amount of money.
Here’s a loan. We figure it’ll take about four years till you’re in a position to pay it back. Harry here has a company that’ll front you the starter seeds and fertilizer. I’m not growing anything on my lower forty, and I’ll let you use it so you can get started. You can use my farm machinery too, here’s the key to the shed. We’ve got marketing contacts in every town in the state, and old Sam has the trucks. Now if there’s anything else you need, you just call on us, hear? We’ll be droppin’ by from time to time to see how you’re doing.”
And that’s how Jimmy Carter, self-made man, got his start.
This system of cronies and contacts is called the old-boy network. It’s an informal institution that many young men on the rise can call on to help themselves get established in their work. It operates both within professions—often in the form of the “mentor” relationship, where an older man takes a younger one under his wing—and between professions. It got its name from groups of men who had been classmates in school, and who kept in touch and helped each other out. The editor published the professor’s book, the accountant finessed the executive’s taxes, the lawyer saw the producer through his divorce, the banker got the entrepreneur a loan, the congressman threw the new Interstate to the contractor—and each man shared his ever-broadening contacts with the others.
That’s how things really get done in our “individualistic” society—right at the top! Never mind the myths. There’s a network of helping hands behind any genuine success. And do you know how Jimmy Carter ended his speech on the old-boy network?
He said, “I have never known a woman who had that.” He was only half right.
It’s true that most women have been incredibly isolated in terms of our talents, dreams, and goals. Not alone: we’d go down to the river and beat sheets on the rocks together, or we’d meet at the laundromat, which amounts to the same thing. But until very recently, there were precious few women in a position to offer their sisters a handhold in the worlds of power, money, achievement, and adventure, and those few didn’t initiate an “old-girl network”—a fact that was cited as proof of the old belief that women are competitive rivals, and that the good-buddy spirit of mutual aid is just one more piece of male equipment we were born without. Consciousness-raising groups gave the lie to the notion that women couldn’t support each other, but that support rarely went beyond the emotional. We exchanged comfort and complaint, not contacts. And that gave ammunition to the belief that only the exceptional woman is built for action—and that she’s not a nice person.
It’s all myths. It’s nonsense. Of course women will compete with each other—if two of them happen to be after the same job or in love with the same man! Men do that too, and it’s as natural as when you’ve got two hungry people and only one cookie. Otherwise, women have always given each other, not only understanding and compassion, but enormous amounts of practical help. The fact is that there has always been a women’s network.
In the domestic and human sphere, where we felt competent and comfortable, women have shared recipes, remedies, outgrown baby clothes, tools, and techniques since time began. The traditional way to make friends in a new neighborhood was to go next door and borrow a cup of sugar!
Cooperation isn’t our problem. It never has been. Women are able to share resources and skills quite efficiently, with a warmth and openness many men envy. Our only problem has been taking ourselves seriously—as full, fascinating people with dreams and gifts and goals. You’ve done that now.
You’ve shaped a clearly defined goal out of the stuff your dreams are made of, and you’ve taken it seriously enough to work out a detailed plan for getting it. You're about to find out that that’s all it takes to bring the “old-girl network” out of the kitchen and into the world—and to convince the old boys to go coed.
If you’ve been brainstorming by yourself, and your flow chart has some holes in it, you can call a group of people together to provide you with the missing pieces in your plan. You can throw a resource party—the modern equivalent of a pioneer barn-raising. And that will become the natural takeoff point for an ongoing resource network: an informal community of mutual aid, combining the clout and goal-orientation of the old-boy network with the versatility and comfort of the cup of sugar connection. In the last chapter, you learned how to build a bridge of actions from a distant goal to your doorstep. Now you’re going to discover that you can build a bridge of helping hands to virtually any person, skill, or thing you need on Planet Earth.
To give a resource party, the first thing you need to do is sit down and ask
yourself a simple question:
Who do you know?
That’s another one of those tricky little questions like “Who do you think you are?” When we ask, “Who do you know?” most of the time what we’re really saying is, “Are you well-connected? Do you have rich, powerful friends?” If you don’t—and let’s face it, most of us don’t—you will probably answer, “I don’t know anybody,” meaning, “I don’t know anybody who counts.” And that’s grounds for inaction. I’d like you to forget that right now and take the question in its original, innocent sense. Who do you know?
Who are your friends and relatives and acquaintances? Whose names and phone numbers are in your address book? You’ve got the makings of a fullfledged, effective resource network right there.
How many of those people should you invite to a barn-raising? In a pinch, you can just have lunch with your best friend, or even talk to her on the phone. Two heads, and two people’s resources, are more than twice as good as one. But the more people you pull in, the more help and ideas you’ll get, because everyone will be inspired by hearing what everyone else has to offer. Four or five is a good working number. Fifteen is about the most you can comfortably fit into your living room. (Anything over fifteen also calls for a slightly more formal procedure, so we’ll talk about how to throw a large-scale barn-raising after I describe how the basic version works.) As with brainstorming, it’s helpful, though not mandatory, to get people of a variety of ages, backgrounds, and occupations: someone from Montreal, someone in her sixties, someone in movies, a carpenter, a stockbroker, an encyclopedia salesman, a shrink. You can ask a few of your friends to bring along their most interesting friends—or their husbands or grandmothers. It’s not necessary for everyone to know everyone else. Success Teams barnraisings start with a roomful of total strangers.
A barn-raising not only gives fresh purpose to old friendships; it can be a great way of making new ones. I meet a lot of people who say, “I don’t make friends easily. I just don’t seem to attract people.” I’ll tell you the kind of people who do. They’re the ones who are on their own trip, who have a fabulous idea and are running with it. They don’t call people up and say, “Uh... whatcha doin’ tonight, Marty?" They say, “I’ve got such and such to do, and I could use some help. Want to come over?” Everyone loves to be around them because they generate so much energy. We were taught that it was selfish to be on our own trips, much less to ask for help with them.