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Guest Post by Rachel Botsman | ‘Bring a brick, not a cathedral’

May 16, 2023

This is a guest post by WWSG thought leader, Rachel Botsman.

Dear Rethinkers,

This week’s newsletter is on a simple concept that has changed how I collaborate with people, especially on creative projects. If you’re someone who likes to bring lots of specific ideas to the table or thinks they have the right answer at the start of a conversation (guilty) then read on…!

There is a rule I LOVE in improv comedy:

‘Bring a brick, not a cathedral.’

The idea is to come to the conversation/table/meeting with nothing fully formed, but a contribution. A thread, a piece of stimulus, or one brick. And with the initial pieces, you play, experiment, and learn together. The initial brick, over time, builds into something – a cathedral – that could only emerge through collaboration.

Growing up, I loved watching the comedy show Whose Line is It, Anyway? The funniest ideas happened when each person contributed just one nugget of an idea, and then the group pieced it together to build a scene or story. The bricks became something greater than the sum of its parts.

It doesn’t just work in improv. If you watched The Beatles’ Get Back documentary (and if you haven’t, I’d highly recommend it), Lennon & McCartney are a dynamic example of the power of this concept. They didn’t come to sessions with predefined ideas or fixed outcomes. Often, they’d sit around the piano in the morning (drinking coffee and smoking) chatting about a random headline from a newspaper. McCartney would play a simple riff in his head, and they’d go from there. Importantly, they were not attached in any way to the ‘brick’ so didn’t mind, or even notice when the idea evolved or completely changed.

A constant reminder on my noticeboard!

When we bring fully formed, complete ideas (cathedrals) we’re minimizing the amount of co-creation that is possible. Cathedrals are one gigantic curiosity blocker. Being attached to the whole idea can block the mental and emotional space to listen, be present, and tune into others.

In business, I’ve seen a lot of ‘cathedrals’! I’ve lost count of the number of ‘brainstorms’ I’ve seen where someone with some kind of power in the room had already decided on the outcome at the very beginning. What follows is a lack of ownership or commitment because no collaboration really happened.

Ultimately, ‘Bring a brick, not a cathedral’ is about trust in the power of the collective. Trust that there are multiple ways to make something happen, particularly if you’re not attached to your cathedral.

Next time you’re collaborating with someone, anyone, I recommend asking yourself this: are you laying bricks or building cathedrals?

To build a cathedral you need to trust in the unknown – but the reward will be something that has never been created before.

What do you think of this idea? I’d love to know your thoughts.

If you enjoyed this newsletter, then do read last week’s on the Joy of Being Wrong.


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