When most of us think of the word “Create” we tend to associate it with particular pursuits and professions; e.g., artist, writer, actor, scientist, engineer, photographer, choreographer or chef. However, every single human being — indeed, every living thing must be “creative.” To live is to create. It is not something relegated to particular human professions or past-times. In particular, when you and someone else disagree, instead of hunkering down into a straight-laced no-holds barred negotiation about who gets the biggest slice of a given pie, there is an alternative. That alternative is to dig into that natural creative streak that you have — and that the person you are disagreeing with has — and to create!
Let’s take a simple example. A good metaphor for life, as we know from Forrest Gump, is a box of chocolates. Let’s say there is only one box of chocolates. I want the chocolates. You want the chocolates. What to do? As you already know (but have not yet forgotten) if you are a kid, there are some simple standard ways to deal with such a situation.
You could use a game of luck or a game of skill to determine who gets the box of chocolates. We could split the box in two. If there are 64 chocolates, you get 32 and I get 32. Of course, since I am not a kid, but an adult who is “skilled” in zero-sum game negotiations, I might not settle for just 32. I’ll feel as though I’ve lost by only getting half. I’ll likely hire a lawyer. Which will tend to induce you to hire a lawyer as well. We may go to court and the judge will award 40 chocolates to me and only 24 to you. Victory for me! Of course, I will now have to pay my lawyer 20 chocolates so I only end up with 20 instead of 32, but I’m still better off that you! You have to pay your lawyer 20 chocolates and you end up with only 4! Loser! You won’t be very happy with this outcome so you may appeal to a higher court. In the end, I will be lucky to end up with ONE chocolate, but hey, if you have zero chocolates, I can still call myself a “winner.” Yeah. That’s the “adult” way. Remember those days when you were just a silly little kid and you would have ended up with a mere 32?
Instead of using our adult knowledge and intelligence to end up with less than a naive kid, we could use our adult knowledge and intelligence to end up with more. Here’s one simple way. Typically, all chocolates are not the same. I actually only like solid chocolates with nuts. I prefer dark chocolate, but milk chocolate with nuts is okay too. I don’t even really like the ones with caramel or creamy fillings. I would rather have all ten with nuts than five with nuts and 27 with fillings. If it turns out that you like the ones with fillings better than or equally to the nutty ones, we will both be better off by taking these preferences into account. Of course, it might turn out that both of us hate the creamy ones and love only the nut-filled chocolates. In this case, we have to find a way to split the nut ones and forget about the rest. Right?
Wrong! Of course not. Although it is really greed that makes you blind, in reality, the world does not begin and end with you, me, and a box of chocolates. We could find a third party who loves creamy chocolates; get them to pay us for those and go buy some chocolates with the money — the yummy crunchy chocolates with nuts that we both love. If we play our cards right, we could each end up with 32 nut-filled chocolates. We could each end up with even more if we find someone who really really loves the creamy ones.
Once you relinquish your greed-filtered view of the world, you will see that there is much more to the world than you, me, and chocolate. While it’s true that I really do love chocolate covered nuts, I am in the process of losing weight so even the chocolate covered ones that I love are a kind of double-edged sword. I might find some way to trade my share of the chocolates for something that I value even more. For instance, I might trade my presumptive half of the chocolates for ten apples since you have a surfeit of apples and don’t really like them. Or, since my tangerine tree is still going strong, I might take your half of the chocolates and give you ten seedless tangerines. These are actually, now that I think about it, even better than chocolates. Each seedless tangerine offers the pleasure of how it feels, how it smells, the activity of peeling it, the knowledge comes to mind that the white slightly bitter material between the fleshy segments is filled with rutin which is an important nutrient though the word is apparently not in the spell-checker. When you eat a tangerine, you get to break it into segments. This in itself is a satisfying process. If a friend happens by, you can have the pleasure of offering them a tangerine as well. If you happen to leave one of those tangerines in a sunny car for a few minutes, it will not be ruined. Nor will your car upholstery.
But wait. There’s more! The world as it is, plus the world of my imagination, plus the world of your imagination, plus the emergent world of our collective imagination extends beyond even a world of you, me, chocolates, apples, and tangerines. You might actually not like tangerines, but you could learn from me how to like them, provided you are open to it. It might turn out that the only reason you currently dislike tangerines is that you tried some very small seedy ones when you were a kid. You found them bothersome to peel and deseed with your clumsy five-year old fingers. Then, when you got your hands all sticky, you sticky-fied your mom’s fine tablecloth at the Holiday dinner. She yelled at you in front of the whole family and now you hate tangerines. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault! Nor is it the fault of tangerines in general. Really. These tangerines in the here and now are not those tangerines at all. My tangerines are large, juicy, seedless, and easy to peel. Your fingers are likely far less clumsy than they were at five. Your mom is not here to yell at you for getting your fingers sticky. So, what you could learn from me about the joys of tangerines and the more general fact that you yourself are limiting your current pleasure in life based on a gross over-generalization of specific childhood experiences — that, my friend, is a lot more valuable than a box of chocolates.
I might similarly be currently disinclined to see the value in ten of your apples because I had a bad experience with apples once. Perhaps it was one of those apples that looks all fresh and shiny in the store but once home, one bite tells you this apple is yucky, granular and brown inside. Quite possibly it got frozen in transport or terribly bruised. If you like apples, you can teach me to like apples (again). You and I might even decide to chuck the whole box of chocolates, trading it for money to buy more fruit, or even sending it jointly as a gift to a family for whom a box of chocolates would be far more meaningful than it would be to either of us. The gift of good feelings that we would get by being generous to others could totally outweigh the pleasure of 32 chocolates.
We could take that box of 64 chocolates into the kitchen and so some joint experimenting in terms of a culinary challenge. It might work like this. We take turns choosing one chocolate either by the index (which any chocolatier who is not devil’s spawn will provide) or by appearance alone. Let’s say we flip and let me go first. I choose a chocolate and my challenge is to find something in the kitchen that will enhance the flavor or at least give it an interesting and different context. So, I pick a solid dark chocolate piece. I toast a piece of Dave’s Killer Bread and split it in two. I spread Laura Scudder’s crunchy peanut butter on each half. I melt the chocolate and spread that on top. Now, we taste the result. How does the chocolate add (or detract) from the overall concoction? Would more chocolate make it better? More peanut butter? Should I have added cinnamon? The fun of this and the knowledge we gained and the resulting bonds of friendship could easily be far more valuable than the chocolates themselves. Who knows? Maybe we could go into business with a line of chocolates not meant to be eaten alone but to be used as accoutrements to numerous side-dishes. Our explorations could lead to guidelines about which kind of chocolate goes best with which kind of other ingredients.
Alternatively, we could each take 32 random chocolates and make an advent calendar. Perhaps, each chocolate comes with a picture and story about one of the ingredients or an interesting story about it. When did people first make chocolate? Who? When did people first begin “refining” sugar? Who first boxed chocolate? Do you know the story of “Mother’s Day” by the way? What is the current thinking on the dietary impact of chocolate? Is it good for you? Bad for you? Both? We could turn a simple box of chocolate into a thoughtful and interesting gift of value far beyond the box of chocolates itself. Yeah, it would definitely be a lot of work to make this into a multi-dimensional gift. But it would also be a lot of fun. Who knows? We might even make a multi-million dollar business out of it.
There’s nothing particularly “special” about tangerines, apples, or chocolate in this regard. Anything of value can be made more valuable by the addition of other ingredients, contexts, knowledge, love, caring, gaming, and by changing your stance or attitude toward it. You can continue to negotiate like a little kid. That’s not horrible. At least you’ll get half a box of chocolate out of the deal (or a fair chance for the whole box). Or, you could negotiate like a “real winner” type A go-get-um up-and-coming ladder-climbing dynamo of flash and dazzle. You can then brag to your friends (if you have any) that you ended up with one chocolate while I ended up owing three chocolates. Yes, you could brag that you “won.” Congrats.
Your third alternative: approach every negotiation as an exercise in creativity and creation. Every party to a negotiation brings something to the table tangibly (or why are they there?). But beyond that, each party also brings their unique perspective, values, and life experiences. Working together, we could almost certainly create something of more value than what we are negotiating about. Despite my best efforts, you might just not like tangerines. But maybe you do like oranges. Why? I mean, why do you like oranges but not tangerines? We might discover something of great interest to tangerine growers or the advertisers for oranges. You might like creamy chocolates but you don’t like chocolates with nuts although you like both chocolates and nuts. Why? We might discover something of great interest to chocolatiers. Or, in the process of trying to discover why you don’t like chocolate covered nuts though you like both ingredients, we might discover something about what makes some people allergic to nuts or something about you. Every disagreement need not devolve into a zero-sum game unless you decide or believe that’s all there is. Instead, you could treat every disagreement as an opportunity to work together jointly and create value beyond what comes to the table.
As explained in “The Winning Weekend Warrior” sports are not zero sum games. If you take me on in tennis, one of us will “win” the match and one of us will “lose” the match. But the winning is but a small part of the overall value. I improve, hone, or broaden your skills and you do the same for mine (provided we are somewhat evenly matched). We are both exercising which means we are improving the body, mind, and spirit of each of us. True zero sum games are largely a fiction. More accurately, they are zero-sum only in terms of a very limited view of the context of your experience. Be creative! When there is an issue of disagreement, create!
Comments welcome! My computer is deathly ill and this was created on a borrowed computer so it may take a while to respond, but I will respond to comments when I can.