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  • benjaminnewman01

Reflections on The Story of Us

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Collaborating with my fellow Mackerels to develop, frame and produce our collective Story of Us was one of the best group experiences I have ever had. Seeing each of us support one another, share each other’s burdens and create a vision for who we are collectively, reminded me of elements of my family life growing up. Homeschooled with 5 brothers and 4 sisters, I learned at a very young age that I was part of a larger machine participating in various chores and projects that required everyone’s participation in order to be successful. Whether it was my turn to make lunch for twelve people, fold six loads of laundry, or pick up a sibling from a music lesson, the idiom “it takes a village” rang true every day. We were living as a generative community, but we just knew it as life.


The dynamics of safety and power appeared in unusual ways. You learn pretty quickly when you and your brothers are regularly tasked with carrying various pieces of furniture up multiple sets of stairs that you are not only responsible for each other’s safety, but the safety of everyone in your path. We learned that you have to communicate the elements along the pathway that could cause injury. Very often these elements were toys, but sometimes they were small children being pushed down a hallway in a rolling basket for the amusement of the older siblings. We also learned that our power was in the collective. If we worked together, our parents didn’t really care how we got the work done as long as it got done and that created space for creativity and collaboration. While my lived quotidien experience at home was regularly difficult, flawed and sometimes injurious for everyone involved, it also taught me so many principles that I saw reflected in our cohort’s collaborative process of discovering and sharing our Story of Us.


For me, the most exciting moment in a group project is the very beginning. How do we start? Who starts? Do I start? Whose ideas are best or right? Who decides whose ideas are best? Do they speak for me? Do they speak for the group? Does everyone in the group get to speak? Should everyone in the group speak? Do they want to speak? How do we decide what our priorities are? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to enjoy the anxiety and energy surrounding these questions because they represent the start of something new; the collective’s journey of discovery to figure it out. As Tim Gunn says “Designers, make it work!” What I learned as a child at home mirrored our actions as a group. You just have to start. There is no right path. You just start where you are and build.


What emerged was a free flowing generative imagining of what was possible. We combined resources, identified shared values, and let the work take us where it naturally led. Critical to the success of that process was the framing for what we were asked to consider. We had to acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses and the elements that were outside of our control, like the inability to complete the assignment in person due to the time constraints of our in person time together.


By identifying what we all shared as true (i.e. limited time) we were able to create a foundation from which to build our Story of Us. We divided up our cohort of ten into five pairs and asked each one to collaborate on answering one of the five questions presented in the prompt. We would then share their answers with the rest of the group for approval and then decide the best form for telling our Story of Us. We didn’t have a fully flushed out plan, and we didn’t have all of the answers, but we had a place to start and we would tackle the other questions later. As with any collaboration, different ideas emerged within the group. The question of audio vs. video recording was a major hurdle. In the process of weighing the pros and cons, we arrived at a moment in which we agreed to just listen to what our answers sounded like when read out loud and how long of a recording that would create. Meg volunteered and immediately we heard the conviction in her voice that represented our shared values present in our answers and the choice was clear. Each pair would determine their own path to make an audio recording of their respective answer, and Morgan and Vince would use their skills in editing and video production to put all of the recordings together and intersperse them with different pictures and videos from our residency week.


Contained in our answers are the values we collectively share, the convictions we collectively hold, and the strength we collectively bring that represent our cohort of Mackerels. Building on this experience, different members of our cohort shared how valuable the process was and asked if we were open to repeating the effort around individual challenges we face at work. With enthusiastic unanimity we all agreed to find time for each other as a reflection of our collective commitment to one another. It would be truly remarkable if this practice could be repeated with future Mackerel cohorts (who will know they are standing on our inaugural shoulders and are nothing without us). Imagining what might be possible with a group of 20 or 50 Mackerels charged with working as a collective is empowering AF. Whether the Mackerels will solve the world’s problems only time will tell, but discovering and sharing our Story of Us has bonded us together as a collective and given us individual hope.


While we are only ten, small is all. And together, we can and will do great things.


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