Yesterday I advocated keeping reflective notes to aid in your ability to see situations from a broad perspective. Today I encourage you to capture not just your emotions or commentary about your experiences, but to also develop a method of saving and collecting as many of your ideas as you can. Even if they have no apparent use at the moment, old ideas have a way of morphing into something valuable – maybe even years later.
Lin Manuel Miranda recently shared that he wrote the melody to one of Hamilton’s hit songs when he was 16 and another when he was 10 years old. He tweeted: “Learning to pilfer your own thoughts and doodles for something later is another tool in your toolbox.”*
I keep a notebook of potential leadership dot ideas. Sometimes items sit on the list for ages as incomplete thoughts, but then later connect with a new reflection to give the lesson clarity and depth. I have files (ok, files and files and files and files) of articles, handouts, and reference materials that often lay dormant – until they become perfect resources at the right moment.
A colleague recently called me a “repository of information” – quite the high compliment for me – and indicative of my pack-rat nature of clipping out articles, screen-shotting tweets, making notes and hoarding them all to create a matrix of ideas that can coalesce to provide the perfect training tool or analogy almost on demand.
A blank page is a productivity and creativity drag for almost everyone. It is far, far easier to start with something, even if it is rough, old and not quite on target. Keep track of those nuggets and ideas that cross your path. One day you can use them like kindling and assemble a few tiny twigs to get your creative fires blazing.
The Women’s Marches that have happened across the country have been a visible and powerful show of solidarity, but the underlying purpose of them is to stimulate social change. The organizers in Minnesota took steps to make it easier for participants to stay engaged after the March concluded by providing a list of 44 very specific action steps in three areas: Study Up, Show Up and Speak Up.
I have included the list here in the event you wish to increase your own activism, but even if you are not so inclined, there are two key lessons you can learn from how the March organizers structured their efforts to help those marching make a difference.
Organizers enhanced the likelihood of people following through by utilizing two tactics: 1) the action steps were printed on an 11×17 piece of paper. The information would have easily fit on a regular-sized sheet, but that would have made it much easier to “toss on the pile” and for it to get lost among other papers at home; 2) they asked people to make a commitment of what they would do – in the next 30 days – and then sign it. People are often well-intentioned but translating the desire into action is best done with specificity and concrete steps. It is a very different thing to sign your name under the statement “Today I will commit to becoming a Women’s March Minnesota citizen activist. In addition to my commitments [checked] above, I commit to (fill in the blank) in the next 30 days!”
Think of the kind of change you are trying to inspire and ask yourself if you have created a specific infrastructure around it that facilitates further action. Have you handed out a list for follow-up at your company-wide meeting or retreat? Do you provide specific examples of desired new behaviors in your organization’s newsletter? Have you asked people to commit to a specific action rather than relying on general goodwill or the translation of your intent?
Ensure that you put energy into outlining concrete next steps so you obsolete the need to march steps on concrete in the future.
If you have ever seen a Dale Chihuly sculpture, you know that they are a montage of intertwined glass in vibrant colors, with different shapes and colors assembled in unique and visually captivating forms.
Chihuly’s work reminds me of yesterday’s dot, about how the Smithsonian curated a collection of John F. Kennedy photographs purchased from eBay. The exhibit exclusively utilized ordinary artifacts and made them special by their compilation. In a similar way, Chihuly utilizes individual pieces of glass that are not spectacular by themselves, but create stunning works of arts through their arrangement.
I think that too often we believe that greatness or creativity must be ONE.BIG.THING. — a monumental discovery, an epic piece of art or a product that is truly magnificent. What Chihuly and the Smithsonian demonstrate is that little things can add up to create something with synergy greater than the individual pieces. Dots that are connected can result in something amazing and new, even though the components are not so special if considered alone.
Don’t let your fear of the mountain prevent you from taking that first step. Start from where you are, with what you have, and see if you don’t end up with something noteworthy by putting together the ordinary in new ways.
As I think of the dot number today (1939), I am reminded of that year when Hitler invaded Poland and World War II began. It was the trigger event that started the war, but it got me wondering what led up to that event. First Hitler had to come to power. He had to choose Poland as a place to invade first. He had to negotiate a nonaggression pact with Poland in 1934 “to neutralize the possibility of a French-Polish military alliance against Germany before Germany had a chance to rearm.”* He had to assemble and equip an army. And a thousand other things occurred within Germany, Poland and the world to set the stage for the initial invasion to happen.
I wonder what the first domino was that started this horrific chain of events. More so, I wonder what dominoes are in play right now and are lining up for other events to happen. You could cite steps leading to climate change or the state of U.S. politics, but, closer to home, think about the dominoes in your organization. What small steps are happening now that seem insignificant, but eventually will take on greater prominence – either for good or ill?
Consider who is in your talent pipeline – will that brand new hire become CEO after a few decades – or does the departure of a key employee alter the trajectory of the organization? Is that preliminary research into a new market what will cause your growth to explode? Is there an idea that is percolating now which will eventually become the main focus of your work? Is someone making a decision that puts the organization at a crossroads with its values and will determine its future path?
Hitler didn’t wake up on September 1, 1939 and decide to invade Poland; that strategy was in the works for years before. Who knows what is in the works today.
We can’t predict the future, but we can watch for signs that will alert us to what is already in process and more likely to manifest itself into reality. Pay attention to the “dots” as the inertia of the universe is compelled to connect them with something.
There is magic in doing something right away instead of putting it off — even for a short while.
When I wait too long to get to a bigger project, I struggle to start vs. when I “take a few notes” and start in on it right away. I find that when I write blog entries soon after I get the idea that they are better; old ideas tend to linger and then feel forced. When I outline a session I am presenting right after talking to the client, I get further along with the new training than the one that has been sitting on my desk for a month.
If I take that first step before I have time to dread it, the second steps easily follow. But if I think about something too long, I am apt to talk myself out of it more times than I talk myself into something.
Don’t let your energy dwindle as something lingers on your to-do list. Try to make it a habit to attend to something sooner rather than later. Later almost always equates to longer.
Yesterday as I was folding my laundry, I thought about that elusive sweet spot when things are worn in, but not worn out: when sheets are no longer stiff, but are not tattered; the shoes fit comfortably, but aren’t scuffed, or the pillow has that right consistency of not being too fluffy nor too flat.
I wish I could buy things at this stage of their life cycle, but then, of course, their lifespan would be too short. Part of the natural course is to tolerate some imperfection in exchange for longevity. I have my hair cut a bit on the short side so it isn’t shaggy before my next appointment. I know if I leave with a length that I like, I will regret it on the back end so my stylist and I make accommodations.
As a user, you need to align your expectations so that you don’t abandon an initiative or a product too early in the process. You should expect some rough spots in the beginning — whether that be of your new purchase or your foray into a new venture. It takes time to create comfort. Have patience and allow the sheets to soften or the change to settle before you make a switch at the start.
On the very first day at a job, I was in a meeting where people were complaining about the acoustics in the room. I got up, walked out into the hallway and brought the fake ficus tree into the corner of where we were gathered. It wasn’t perfect, but it went a long way in doing two things: 1) it did help with the sound bounce and 2) it signaled to the staff that actions were valued more than complaints.
When you are new — whether in a new job, in a new role or even on a new committee — it is important to do things early in your tenure that result in visible changes. They don’t have to be monumental, but a series of small improvements sends a loud and clear message that change is a good thing. During my first 100 days on the job, I compiled a list of the 100 things that we had done differently. It was a great way to step back and reflect over the first few months and show people that improvements were happening.
Often it takes some time learning and strategizing for impact to be made on the really big projects that you face. That work is essential, but so is continuing the momentum that comes with a person in a new role. Don’t let the initial energy fade while you are working behind the scenes. Instead, be sure you start with actions people can point to. The short-term visible changes will reassure you and others that good things are happening because of your presence.
[For an extensive resource in this area, see The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins]