For me, as close as I can figure, the idea of Generative Communication came from a slow-growing seed in the recesses of my mind, likely embedded in my DNA. Let’s call it “a propensity for challenging the status quo.” My dad would have said, with a hint of frustration, “You just can’t take ‘no’ for an answer!”
As a kid, I also grabbed onto the claim that we humans only use one-tenth of our brains, which fueled my belief that—if we tried harder and put our heads together—we could solve impossible problems. Sprinkle in some natural curiosity and a bit of tenacity, and the budding elements of a Generative Communication concept were on their way.
The ideas germinated in my rural life growing up in western Iowa where I drew lessons from watching my dad and other farmers adapt to weather events and market prices, neither of which they could control. I observed farmers’ reliance on family members, and occasionally on their neighbors, to work together to get things done—sometimes for survival.
My ideas of what GC could be were fed by intense decision-making conversations that took place when I discovered I was pregnant at 16. These sorts of conversations continued while raising our four brilliant children with the now-60-year love of my life.
Imagine the chaos, love, disagreements, good times, crises, bad moods, thrilling moments, laughter, sadness and all that arises in a family of six living under one roof: endless opportunities to engage in complex human interactions just to keep on keeping on.
Experiences serving on the local school board, church committees, and a local activist group further informed my ideas of what it means to generate positive outcomes (or not) from interactions among people. And throughout my young adulthood, I was steadily working away at my formal education from GED through Ph.D., which helped to satiate my curiosity, develop cognitive skills, and build my understanding of the world around me.
Once I entered graduate school and the kids were becoming self-sufficient and heading toward their own young adult lives, my academic focus was clear: human communication studies and psychology. Here I found an array of theories and began to develop a deeper understanding of exactly what human communication entails. While my term “Generative Communication” would not materialize until many years later, the foundational ideas began to take shape.
I realize that others may find the theories I highlight to be esoteric and less interesting than I do, but they are a large part of how I came to the idea of Generative Communication. Among other things, they informed my approach to the 30-plus years I practiced organizational and leadership consulting. In many ways, my work was a laboratory for informal field research as well as more formalized action research studies.
So, what happened next? We’ll explore this more in PART TWO next month, where I’ll recount some examples of how I applied what I would eventually call “Generative Communication” to my work, and even to my life as I recovered from a serious injury.