Micromanaging

You know the situation. There’s a job that needs doing. You have a picture in your head about how it should be done but you don’t want to do it yourself. So you give it to someone else and they do it ALL WRONG.

This is what happened to me yesterday. I’ll tell you the story.

I am a member of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. The RACI is 100 years old this year so we’re trying to do all kinds of interesting things to celebrate and our Chair has come up with a great idea – 100 reactions in 100 days (here’s our first one: RACI 100 Reactions in 100 Days #1). The idea is that we (we being chemists all over Australia) create small YouTube videos describing a reaction of some sort. We need 100 of these videos so we are reaching out to all sorts of people to have a go. Starting with us here in Tasmania, and that means me.

Now, DS has made some really fun YouTube videos on a whim. They are called Caleb “Cooks” and I encourage you to look them up if you want a laugh. So I said that I could provide a video and I decided that DS should be the actual person to do this.

We don’t actually have a chemistry lab in our house (though believe it or not, I know a family that does) but I knew a cool experiment that can be done with red cabbage and various household chemicals (vinegar, bicarb, dishwashing detergent – they are all chemicals). So I suggested (strongly) to DS that he do that experiment and do a video for me. He was happy to comply.

DH and I decided to go out for lunch yesterday and as we left, DS was happily story-boarding his ideas and coming up with a good video of the purple cabbage experiment. He said he’d do the recording while we were gone. I thought that was a great plan.

We had a delightful drive, a delicious seafood lunch at the Inn at Kettering overlooking the yachts in the harbour, a delightful drive back. The weather was gorgeous – sunny but not too hot. We were peaceful and in accord with one another and we felt like we’d had a micro-holiday.

When we got home the scene was slightly different: the house stank of cabbage, the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it, there were bowls and cups everywhere and there were two more whole red cabbages being put through our Kenwood juicer (one whole cabbage having already received this harrowing treatment).

This is not what I had planned!

When I have performed this experiment I have made the purple cabbage juice by cutting up the cabbage and then pouring hot water over it. DS made the juice by using a juicer which provided a much deeper purple colour.

I would have poured some juice into a few glasses, added the different chemicals, and watched the colour change. I was actually a bit worried that DS’s juice was so strong that there wouldn’t be any colour change at all. I was concerned that he was doing it all wrong and I was severely tempted to step in and change things.

But I held back. I took my books and computer downstairs and I tried not to worry. I could hear the video being made and the first two times DS poured chemicals in to the cabbage water there was no change in colour. I got more worried. I even snuck back upstairs and peaked in through the doorway, ready to give my advice if it was needed.

But the third chemical – vinegar – did what it was supposed to do. The purple cabbage juice changed colour to become pink. I was relieved. I went back downstairs, stopped listening, and left him to it.

I haven’t seen the final video yet. I will post it when it’s done. But I had a chat to DS after he had cleaned up all of the mess in the kitchen and this is what he told me, ‘It felt a bit boring Mum. I looked for other reactions to do but they were all a bit boring too. So I made it big so that it would be more fun.’ And I’m sure it will be. It definitely looked more fun than my idea.

If I had made the video, or made the process my process, then all of the reason for asking DS to do it would have been lost. We would have lost the joy, kept it safe, and kept it boring.

By allowing him full creative control the process was messier, true, but so much more fun. And mess can be cleaned up. And yes, DS did clean the mess up, basically by himself. There are consequences to our actions and we need to deal with that.

I think sometimes we lose a lot of joy in life by trying to retain control over processes that we should leave in other people’s hands.

Take from this what you will.

Here is the link to the finished video:

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