The conversation I shared yesterday, with a young social change agent trying to find his path, brought up for me an issue that is glaringly absent in almost all discussions of “best practice” in the social change arena.
Put simply, we devalue thinking, exploring, experimenting. What we value is “doing.”
When individuals take time for exploring interests – learning for the sake of learning – we consider it a luxury, a recreational activity. And the staffs and boards of organizations? Truly, time for thinking and exploring has absolutely no place in organizations, period.
In a workshop I taught in New Zealand this past spring, a gentleman stood with a question. His organization is fighting an initiative by the national government that threatens local control in a way that is somewhat unfathomable in a democratic country. They are fighting the good fight 24/7, with not a moment’s rest. Here is his question.
“What you are suggesting – focusing on our purpose, our vision for the community, our core values, and then creating our plans based on that – that would indeed bring us forward. But the reality is we have no time to think. We do not have time to close the doors and talk over these sorts of issues in a thoughtful way. And while we are confident that taking that time will absolutely bring us farther forward than we will be if we don’t do so, we simply do not have the time.”
We all know the feeling.
In the consultant immersion courses we teach, much of the emphasis is on pre-planning everything a consultant does. “When you sit in the morning to line out your day, consider the following…” I tell the students.
In one class, one of the more seasoned consultants said what many of the others were thinking. “Where do you find the time to do all this thinking?”
This “no time to think” and certainly the pressure to “do” vs. “explore” is most evident in board rooms of Community Benefit Organizations. I wish I had a dollar for every board chair who told me, “We would like to talk about the impact we want to have in the community, but we don’t have time for that. We have important and urgent matters that must take precedent.”
And what is it they feel is so much more important than exploring the impact they have in the community? We all know the answer: reviewing the financials and other internal matters.
So I guess my advice to boards and EDs and social entrepreneurs and funders who want to create more impact is the same as the advice I shared yesterday, in my conversation with Abbas.
Take time to think. Take time to explore and experiment. Take time to reflect on what is powerful in the discussion, to learn and grow and add that new learning into the next conversation. Take time to discuss with no preconceived notion of the end result.
Take time to try new things – new programs that we are not sure will work but are better than not experimenting at all.
Take time to ask questions with no answers. Take more time to ask more questions, digging deeper until the answers find you.
At every board meeting. At every staff meeting. For a portion of every day.
Our power to change the world will not come from responding to day-to-day circumstances. That power will not come from reviewing the financials and the HR policies. The power to create change will not come from frantic doing doing doing. And it will not come from shying away from experimenting with approaches that are big and bold and unproven.
Our power to change the world will come from thoughtful conversation, experimentation and exploration – all aimed at the positive, powerful, amazing results we want to see in our communities.
So are you ready to take a moment, close the door, breathe deep, and just think?