Communicating. It’s kind of like breathing. We do it every day without thinking much about it, yet we couldn’t last long without it.
We interact with the people and world around us for our most basic needs: food and water, shelter, love and belonging, esteem, and achieving our potential, not to mention accomplishing our day-to-day tasks and life pursuits. Yet, it seems to me that while we all communicate in one way or another, and some of us think we’re pretty darn good at it, we haven’t yet begun to grasp the full co-creative potential that our ability to communicate gives us.
Forty years of studying human communication, psychology, and social change theories, as well as conducting countless formal and informal action research studies of people relating with one another in all kinds of situations, has led me to some observations and conclusions I’m compelled to share. Central among them:
I’ve been fortunate to encounter numerous opportunities for interacting with people throughout my life—consulting with organizational leaders, teaching, conducting organizational research, engaging with thought leaders and community projects, and being in relationships with family and friends. Whether helping to solve problems, plan strategy, resolve conflict, build teams, initiate large-scale organizational change, streamline work processes, embark on a remodeling project, or organize a 90th birthday celebration, I’ve learned that communicating with the people involved in the particular situation is a co-creative process of human interaction. We aim to construct mutually satisfying outcomes together.
In recent years, I’ve begun writing about what I’ve come to call “Generative Communication.” Today, more than ever, we can trace the fault lines of our growing personal and societal challenges to the powerful communication locomotive we’ve been traveling on for generations—steaming full speed ahead. NOW is the time to get off that dangerous iron horse at the next train stop and quickly board a new communication train that is waiting for us—a generative train, one designed for today’s complex world in which we must dig deep inside ourselves and discover communication capabilities we’ve been ignoring in the name of progress.
Yes. We humans have co-created amazing things through our everyday interactions since we first walked the earth some five to seven million years ago. Even in the last 350 years, our progress has been astonishing and continues to accelerate with each decade. We’re extraordinary creatures in the interdependent web of life on earth.
Seeing ourselves as part of that web, and recognizing our unique gifts of consciousness and cognition that set us apart from other life forms upon which we depend for survival, is the first hill we must climb as we pick up speed on the new generative communication train. With our gifts comes the responsibility to develop and use them for our own well-being and that of the inter-related living communities of which we’re a part!
Where will the new generative communication zephyr take us? What are we co-creating through our human interactions on the way? What do we aspire to achieve? How are we contributing to our own evolution and that of our humanity? What do we want to leave behind in the path of our journey? What exactly does it mean to communicate generativity?
This post is the first in a series of essays introducing the Generative Communication I envision. Subsequent posts will address some of these questions and more. I welcome your responses as we grow the idea of co-creating, together, the realities in which we want to live.
Mary A. Ferdig, Ph.D.