I once worked with a friend and, at the outset of projects it became obvious that we had very different ways of thinking. At the creative stage I was enthusiastic, optimistic, interested in possibility and unencumbered by commercial reality. He was grounded and immediately looked for pitfalls or anything that was unrealistic.
I later valued his approach, he would prevent a lot of errors in advance and when things ‘went live’ they tended to work perfectly. However, during the creative stage I found his deductive critique exhausting, and his careful approach could be very prejudicial – he would make his mind up with little exploration.
I attempted to address the differences in our approach but conversations ended in disagreement; and we were personal friends, so we must have been communicating really badly do disagree so strongly.
Eventually I resorted to telling the following story:
A man is working in his garden and realises he needs a wheelbarrow. He doesn’t have one so his wife suggests that he borrow one from next door.
The man is resistant to the idea, but, unable to come up with a good reason why not he reluctantly shuffles around to the next-door neighbour’s house to ask to borrow a wheelbarrow.
During the short walk, the dialogue in his head goes something like this:
I know what he’s going to say; he will have some excuse why he can’t lend it to me; full of cement or goldfish or something; and even if he did lend it to me he will be round first thing tomorrow morning to get it back; but when he borrows my stuff he hangs onto it for months; and when he returns it it’s filthy or broken or something.
He arrives next-door and rings the bell. His neighbour opens the door and with a welcoming expression says, “Hello Dave, what can I do for you?”
To which he replies, “You can keep your f###### wheelbarrow.”
My friend laughed for about a minute and from that day forward, critical and prejudicial comments were referred to as wheelbarrow moments.
The joke, used as a metaphor, gave us a language to talk about our differences on a day-to-day basis in a way that was accepting and fun, rather than personal and disagreeable.
Some years later I got married and noticed an enormous box on the table of wedding gifts. I was deeply curious and when I finally opened it, it was a wheelbarrow with a gift tag on the handle that read ‘you can keep this’.
The metaphor lives on long after explicit communication is forgotten…