In yesterday’s dot, I shared the Change Framework (developed by School Retool) that provides a model to articulate an overarching reason for change, identify behaviors that would illustrate the aspiration is occurring, determine a few big ideas toward achieving those behaviors and design several small projects or hacks to make progress toward those ideas.
Hacks are small experiments intentionally chosen to hopefully take a step toward achieving a big idea and to also help the changemakers quickly discover what does or does not work. Hacks are about learning by doing so that iterations can be made early on in the process.
Levers for Change can help generate hacks through focused brainstorming. You can pick one of the levers – Space, Events, Schedule, Finance, Process, Role, Ritual, Incentive or Communication – and try to generate as many hacks as possible to help achieve a big idea through changes in that category. For example, if your Big Idea is to Increase Community Involvement, you could attempt to hack in Space by opening a satellite center or having office hours in a mall; you could have a hack in Roles by redesigning a position to do more community outreach; Communication could involve a thank you note or follow up call for every community member who engages with you, etc. School Retool examples can be seen in this 2-minute video.
No matter how much you strategize, plan or design your initial ideas are not going to be perfect. By creating hacks – and hacks and hacks and hacks and hacks – you will take enough small steps to achieve big change. Think broadly and creatively about the many levers of change you have at your disposal and then get started by pulling one.
For a copy of the Lever of Change handout, click here.
Perfect is an elusive goal and it stops too many people from acting at all.
I know people who are miserable in their jobs but find reasons that all the other opportunities aren’t right for them. There are citizens who don’t vote – or don’t vote for major candidates – because they disagree with one thing they have done or one component of their platform. Others do nothing toward solving a major problem because they don’t have the perfect answer to address all aspects of the complexity, so they continue wrestling with options rather than starting toward some improvement.
Making progress often comes as a result of small steps and compromises. The initial phase of anything new is fraught with trial and error, but part of growing is making those adjustments that improve conditions along the way.
The house you move into may never be a perfect fit, but it becomes your home. The college you chose might not offer everything exactly as you had hoped, but you craft a great experience from your time there anyway. Your partner didn’t check all the boxes on your list and sometimes makes you crazy, but you remain committed to them.
As the midterm elections approach, you won’t find a perfect candidate on the ballot in either party, but you should make the wisest choice you can and vote anyway. The same goes for that next new opportunity – if it provides promising potential, you should say “yes.” Make yourself better and work your way to best rather than staying in place waiting for best to find you.
Many people may find a blank page stimulating and open to possibilities, but I find it intimidating. Having the freedom of an empty canvas is not liberating to me, rather it is often paralyzing. As a result, I utilize many strategies to ensure that my page is not blank for long. Once I get something on the page, the subsequent words tend to flow.
To avoid finding your mind and fingers idle as you stare at your computer screen or piece of paper, begin by using another document as a template. I utilize old proposals as a starting point to write a new one, and even if the topics are unrelated, there is always a heading or formatting that I can carry forward to begin. I open old agendas or minutes and modify them rather than typing anew. Before publishing, I write the dots in Word and always paste tomorrow’s dot number and date on the next page so I have initial content instead of nothingness. When I write a grant, I’ll create the document with just the questions and work from there to fill in the answers.
Another strategy is to cut and paste material that you can repurpose rather than creating it from scratch. If you presented on a topic, use that session description or handout to start a newsletter article on the same subject. Repurpose descriptions from your annual report into a portion of your grant application. Modify your job descriptions to become your ad – then your onboarding document – then your evaluation form.
If you have a major writing project ahead, start now to make notes – and collect the Post-its or slips of paper in a folder – that you can assemble and type up when it’s time to begin your work. You’ll be working from a skeleton of an outline from the start instead of wondering what that first point is.
The first word is the hardest one to write. Set yourself up for success by having the beginning already on the page.
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.