Rebooting relationships

I have been collecting some very short stories over the summer.

Here’s a handful:

The doctor sits on the bed, takes my elderly father’s hand between her own, looks him in the eye and says “Good morning, Dennis.” He looks up. He listens. He smiles. Most of all he takes notice, he co-operates in his own care. Not an hour later a nurse appears, lifts his arm and begins to take his blood pressure. Not a word. “I’m not dead yet” he says without moving. He refuses lunch. I wonder at the difference…
This evening’s TV news story about a US high school shooting concludes with background on the perpetrator. Neighbours, fellow students, lower school contemporaries are pressed for memories. “We hardly knew him”, they say, “Kept himself to himself.” “He was a loner”. I think I have heard this story before…
I realise on Sunday that my credit card is missing. I search everywhere for two days before beginning the tedious business of cancelling and ordering a new one. Suddenly I remember Morrison’s. Sure enough it was found 5 days ago. I’ve done the weekly family shop in the same store for 20 years. I know from the mail shots how much they know about me, not least where I live, my phone number, my email address and how much they “value our relationship”. Yet no one called. Next Friday I will try Tesco…
My friend is singing this morning. Her son has a job. Autism has disguised a willing personality and deterred other potential employers. The new boss is a neighbour, friend of a friend. We agree it is a good hire…

All of these stories are true. And I have many more. At first glance they seem quite random but look a little deeper and see that although the settings are different – hospital, business, school, neighbourhood – each one is about relationships, what happens when they work and what happens when they don’t.

We live in a world that is changing rapidly, a world of transactions where real relationships are repeatedly and systematically displaced by fast and feeble connections shrinking the quality of our lives, reducing our collective capacity and impairing the performance of our organisations, businesses and services. I wouldn’t want to rewind history even if we could but we do need to learn how to behave differently, how to benefit from progress in ways which don’t diminish our humanity but sustain and enrich it. To achieve that we have to fundamentally rethink how Britain works.

Imagine a place where relationships are the central operating principle running through everything we do – a “relationship centred” hospital, business, school, neighbourhood. What would change?


We know that most things – councils, banks, Job centres, shopping centres, class rooms – don’t work well when relationships are undervalued or at least they don’t work as well as they could. They have been planned for a smooth process not designed for the best outcome. Systematic transactions are plannable. Warm relationships cannot be so easily reduced to recurring algorithms. We can only unleash the potential here by designing or redesigning from a different, relationship centred perspective and by involving everyone in the process. Change the design process and we change the outcome. Root the process in the lived experience of the place and we can make a new story.

To help make this happen we are working on an Open Framework for Relationship Centred Design with a community of practise that will jointly build, apply and share the principles along with practical instruments for co designing and match making.
If you would like to be involved, to help develop or trial the framework or just to be kept in touch with progress please contact



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *