A funny thing happened on the way to finishing The Pollyanna Principles: I got a personal lesson in how well those principles work, not just for our organizations and communities, but for our personal lives as well.
First, some back story.
This past summer, I thought the book was done. As the last step before layout, the manuscript went to about a dozen proofreaders. That is when I learned that the book was not done at all.
Each of those individuals, completely independent of each other, found a HUGE flaw in the book. To the person, they all agreed on precisely what the problem was. It was not the logic or the content of the book. It was a flaw in the writing.
I completely agreed with them. The problem was precisely what they said it was.
And I had no idea how to fix it.
Some more back story, this time about the Pollyanna Principles.
The Pollyanna Principles provide a path for reinventing the way Community Benefit Organizations do their work, to aim at creating more significant, visionary community change. It is based on the work Dimitri and I have done for the past 10 years, taking a Community-Driven, Vision-Based approach to internal organizational systems such as governance, planning, program development and resource development.
What we have found in doing vision-based work is that problem-solving cannot solve entrenched, complex, systemic problems. Whether it is a community problem (poverty, homelessness) or an internal problem (board issues, money issues), it is not that any particular solution is failing to work. And it is not that we simply haven’t hit upon the correct solution.
It is that problem-solving itself does not work for addressing entrenched, complex, systemic problems. That is because problem-solving aims squarely at what we do NOT want. And we cannot accomplish what we DO want by focusing on what we do NOT want.
When we aim at what we DO want, however, we solve those problems on the way to creating that visionary change.
For proof, consider the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terror. The “war” on board problems, the “war” on funding problems. Are we any better off in any of those areas than we were before we aimed at those problems?
On the other hand, though, we can point to huge strides in a very short time, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought NOT to simply eliminate segregation, but to create an equitable and just world. “I have a dream” is not a problem-solving statement focused on what Dr. King did NOT want; it is a statement of the positive vision for what he DID want.
We need look no further than the election of Barack Obama for the results of such a vision-based approach. Vision-based work solves our problems – in this case segregation – on the way to creating something extraordinary.
So back to the book. Here’s what happened:
One of the proofreaders who had been stopped cold by the book’s glaring problem took a different approach with me. Instead of telling me what was wrong, she talked about what the book would look like if the book was RIGHT.
She did that in one sentence. I’m serious. No long problem-solving conversation of “what if you did this or that?” It was one sentence: “Make the book be X.”
That one sentence was like magic. After literally months of not knowing how to fix the book’s problem – after finally resigning myself that I would have to just publish the book as is (rationalizing to myself, “It couldn’t be THAT bad, could it?”) – after all that struggle, I knew INSTANTLY and PRECISELY how to fix it at the moment she uttered that one sentence.
From there, while we were on the road, in addition to all the other work that comprised the Community-Driven Tour, I wrote feverishly. I eliminated 100 pages – yup, 100 pages. (You lucky readers – a quicker read for you!) And I did so joyfully. The writing was fun, because I knew what I wanted each page to accomplish.
The manuscript is now done. It is in the hands of proofreaders again, and their comments are GOOD! I am so excited to know that this is finally the book I wanted it to be. I am so energized to see what it will accomplish!
But to me, the best part is that the very writing of the book became proof of the Pollyanna Principles in action. When I was trying to solve the book’s problem, I could not figure out how to do it. When I aimed for what it would look like if it were right, the pieces fell easily into place. The end result is truly a celebration of what is possible – for our communities, for our organizations, and for our world.
On our way to creating something great, we solve our problems. But the goal is not the problem – the goal is the GREAT stuff on the other side of the problem.
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