I recently served on a team tasked with guiding our co-housing community through the process of choosing paint colors for the outside of our units. With the opinions of 34 households to take into consideration, this was not a small task. Luckily, we crafted a co-creating process that mindfully and intentionally engaged the community throughout the steps involved.
Despite that, the stress and pressure of the work weighed greatly on us. As a team, we felt immense responsibility to ensure that the final product looked pleasant on the eyes, appeared professional, and allowed each individual unit owner to pick their color preferences.
Like any creative process, it's easy to agonize over each and every little detail. There was an endless number of tweaks we could make - first to the color palettes and then to the final layout.
As we were working on the layout, I reached a point where I continually second-guessed our decisions. I tried to anticipate what people wanted. I worried community members would hate it. We tried different layouts, tweaking and tweaking and tweaking.
I was agonizing over the details to the point of losing sleep. Because of that, I decided we had reached the point where we needed to ship the layout design and get feedback from the community. And boy am I glad we did! My worries were all unfounded, yet we did hear the need for a few simple tweaks we could make that were meaningful to the overall outcome.
That experience made me realize an important, yet often misunderstood indicator in the co-creative process. Anytime we start to agonize over what we think other people will or will not like. Whenever we obsessively question if our work is even good or makes sense, it means we need to ship it and get feedback.
Normally, people that create in isolation will hunker down and withhold their work from others when feeling that way. So many leaders take the same approach when they are co-creating, trying to get it just right before sharing it with others. But withholding does not help those you serve, nor does it result in a better end-product.
Author John Green spoke of the first time he engaged his readers in co-creating a novel on Adam Grant's podcast. "They influenced my work in such profound ways...I would do these live shows where I would read stuff that I was writing as I was writing it. And I'd never done anything like that before...And initially, yeah, I thought, well, this is going to be terrible because people are going to be seeing stuff that isn't done and it's going to be embarrassing. But instead what happened is that if I could make myself open in that moment to being like, I don't know if this is working, like I'm reading it out loud, partly to try to figure out if it's working and it was when I was writing The Fault in Our Stars that I realized I didn't actually have to be alone with the story in quite the way that I'd always thought I did. And ever since then, I've, I've done that." (emphasis added)
It is normal to feel anxious when sharing a work in progress, especially since it goes against cultural norms to present a perfect product. While writing A Misfit Entrepreneur's Guide, I often experienced knots in my belly, a prickly sensation on the back of my neck and sweaty palms whenever I published a new section of the book on my blog.
In retrospect, I see how putting my work out there when I felt it was still so incomplete actually saved me a lot of time, energy and heartache in the long run. This is especially true for anyone like me who is adept at overthinking. I have a black belt in anticipating every conceivable scenario of what others do or do not like (perhaps this is a curse of being creative). The more I test out my ideas, I've learned my anticipatory thinking has a low accuracy rate.
As painting has begun in our co-housing community, I see neighbors smiling. They like how a fresh coat of paint spruces things up and enjoy the bright cheery colors. But perhaps even more, they appreciate having been a part of the process through and through. We showed that their voices and perspectives mattered. It turns out that getting targeted feedback when our anxiety peeked had another benefit, it deepened our sense of collective ownership.
Do you want to co-create change that has a positive impact? Are you ready to embark on a journey of personal and professional transformation? What if you could experience a profound shift with just 20 minutes of journaling? Check out the next Journal Jam - more information and registration is available online here.