When implementing something new or creating any kind of change there is a tension between wanting to be more ready and wanting to begin. It’s scary to launch when things are still imperfect but waiting too long can be a curse as well.
Researchers Amy Collier and Jen Ross have coined the term “not-yetness” to describe this not yet fully evolved or developed condition. “Not-yetness is the space that allows for emergence. Not-yetness is not satisfying every condition, not fully understanding something, not checklisting everything, not trying to solve every problem…but creating space for emergence to take us to new and unpredictable places, to help us better understand the problems we are trying to solve.”
They write of not-yetness in the context of technology in distance education, but I believe the concept can apply to all manner of projects. We should embrace the beginning and doing as a method for discovery, without any expectation that what we undertake will have been totally understood by just thinking and not doing. If we become more comfortable with the idea of “not yet”, it opens a window to the perspective that we expect to learn more, that we acknowledge that things aren’t fully figured out and that we are prepared to have a few things wrong at the initial stage.
Not-yetness lets us off the hook of perfection and gives us permission to publicly begin.
What are you working on that is not-yet-developed but could be shared today?
In the movie Columbus, where I first learned of the intentional architectural plan of Columbus, Indiana, one of the characters remarked on how thousands of tourists come to tour the buildings but many of the residents have not done so. “If you grow up around something, it feels like nothing,” he said.
I have witnessed the phenomenon in many places. Those in our river town don’t gasp in awe at the mighty Mississippi River each time they cross it. In St. Louis, many natives have never been up in the Gateway Arch. I grew up less than an hour from Chicago but have never been to the top of the Sears (Willis) Tower or to Navy Pier.
This weekend spend some time as a tourist in your own community. See the natural wonder with fresh eyes. Visit an attraction that others seek out yet you have not. Look up your city’s Visitor’s Bureau on the web and try out one of the places they recommend to play, shop or dine.
Actually see something that you have taken for granted for too long.
Not long ago, I needed two people to help me cross this street. It was covered in a thick coating of ice and that, combined with the incline, made it impassable for me in my regular shoes. Even with assistance and slow, deliberate steps, we barely made it to the other side without all three of us falling.
I thought of this when I had to cross the same street again, only this time in clear weather. In about three strides I easily traversed the pavement and, had it not been for my harrowing crossing the last time I was there, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.
While I wouldn’t wish ice on anyone, I think it’s good to have experiences that are easy under one condition and challenging in another. It helps develop empathy when we note that not everyone experiences the world in the same way or with the same abilities.
Where have you done something that varied depending upon the circumstances? Speaking is easy, except when you have laryngitis. Writing is effortless, unless you have a broken arm and need to use your opposing hand. Driving is routine, unless the sun is in your eyes or there is snow on the road.
Remember that just because we find something simple to do or understand does not make it universally so.
It seems that if a soundtrack becomes quite popular, the next step is for a collection of artists to release a remix album that modifies the core music into something similar but new. It happened with Hamilton and now with The Greatest Showman. Both musicals have remix versions on which famous performers alter the music to their own interpretation. It’s obviously the same song, but it’s also not.
Even though the original way of doing it was great, change is encouraged for the second album. The soundtrack music served one purpose and the remix album is free from the need to fit into the structured framework of the show. As a result, some of the songs are even better in the reimagined version.
I think these remix albums can be a metaphor for the type of diversity we seek to cultivate in organizations. Everyone is singing from the same songbook, but there is room for varied expression and significant differences. The underlying medley is preserved and shared in a personalized way.
Today, do one thing that encourages a remix of your organization’s music. What will that be?
Many people spend their day working from dual screens on their computer. Think of the difference it would make if people received their news from dual screens – allowing them to experience opposing perspectives rather than believing that the one side they see is the truth.
At the gym, a bank of televisions lines the treadmill area and participants can watch CNN simultaneously while watching FOX. It is fascinating to me how the two networks portray the same story with radically different headlines and lines of questioning. By seeing the two versions side-by-side it becomes apparent that both are including perceptions, not only hard facts, and that my take on the item probably lies somewhere in between.
If you only get your information from one source – whether that be in person, print, television or social media – you find yourself in a self-perpetuating loop that does little besides validate that your position is correct. The more you take in from a limited perspective, the more you become entrenched in a particular point of view.
This happens in politics, of course, but it’s also prevalent in organizations. If you only listen to your staff, you are void of the voice of customers. If you gain input only from one other department, you come to see the organization from just their lens rather than more broadly. If you do “only one” of anything, you’re missing out on the complexity that is inherent in most all that we do.
This weekend take steps to take in an “other” – watch a new channel, read something outside your comfort zone, or talk with one of “them” – and see how it can broaden what you believe is reality.
At a recent lecture, the speakers asked us to look around the room and find something that was red. Then we were asked to close our eyes and think of something in the room that was green. Most couldn’t do it. It was a quick, yet powerful exercise to illustrate that we see what we focus on — and often unintentionally ignore what is outside of that narrow view.
Of course, it’s one of the reasons that writing down goals is productive – it elevates our ambitions to top-of-mind and puts them in the front of our consciousness. Focusing on a topic also works for creativity if we allow the time for ideas to “incubate” in our mind. For example, I facilitated a strategic plan for a group that works with generational poverty and as soon as the date was set, I began seeing articles and news items related to that topic. I know that they were always there, but once I began to focus on the subject it was seemingly everywhere.
Our minds are too inundated with information to simultaneously focus in many directions with equal depth. Be conscious about whether you will look for “red” or “green” today and hone in on just one. It is better to bring vibrancy to one color than to mute them all in the background.
Marc and Angel Chernoff lecture “Getting Back to Happy!”, March 21, 2019, Hotel Julien Dubuque
What do jury instructions and dissertations have in common? The end result is incredibly narrow in focus.
When I served on a jury, I left the courtroom ready to hand over a “guilty” verdict for the defendant. In my mind, the evidence showed that he committed the crime. But the jury instructions we received were ultra-specific: for example, did the defendant send X number of harassing communications between X-Y date, etc. In the end, we could only convict him on two of the five counts because of the tight parameters.
When I wrote my dissertation, I was convinced that it would be something in the area of human resources. Ultimately, my research topic was Role Expectations and Predictions of Trends for Human Resource Development at Small, Private Colleges and Universities within the Southern Regional Education Board Area. If you had asked me at the start, I would not have been able to fathom that I would be this specific or that the whole study would hinge on just five research questions, but it wasn’t until I narrowed it down to this level that the real writing could begin.
Often, we spend time trying to manage an expansive interpretation of the problem when it would be better to dedicate our energy to reducing the issue to a far more minute level than we first anticipated. Unlike on television, it’s never a question of whether someone is guilty or not, rather did or didn’t he violate Statute XYZ(a). Research doesn’t tackle a whole subject area, but only a tiny sliver of it.
Consider the issues that loom large in your world — perhaps you would be better off by parsing them into small, specific bits and resolving them one component at a time. Moving to the narrow part of the funnel is where thinking morphs into action.