It is easier to ask ‘what if’ questions when they are generative. When we have time to consider the answers without the pressures of a burning platform. Does your enterprise think generatively? What if our cause was asked to share our story in the New York Times What would we say? Who would speak? What would we showcase? What if our signature event was cancelled due to elements beyond our control? How would we communicate? Would our response reinforce our beliefs or would our values be inconsistent with our actions? How could the unexpected enhance our reputation?
Dedicating time to engage our decision-makers in low risk generative thinking leads to higher results when major events take place in real time. Fire Departments train responders to avoid making an emergency worse by acting inconsistent with the training. Putting ourselves or the organization in peril serves little benefit to those who believe in your cause.
Our best thinking is perishable if we do not use it. If the wind is not blowing, we can still practice tying knots, navigational skills, and hoisting sails so we are more competent when the storm reaches us.
Alexandra Franzen proposed a few powerful questions last week on her blog. It was shared with me and I read it hastily on the way to catch a flight. Only once I was securely captive in my window seat as I jetted across the continent did the power of her questions begin to unfold. As I peered out the window I caught sight of another aircraft piercing the sky headed in the opposite direction, a thousand feet below and moving expediently into the vacuum of airspace that we had just vacated. A three second encounter gave me pause. It forced me to try to calibrate the power of air travel. How quickly I took for granted the physics, technology, and decision-making that allowed me to sit in an abstract state contemplating something completely irrelevant to aerodynamics, engineering, and navigation. The expertise of the flying ecosystem had allowed me to have a completely different experience than say the Wright Brothers.
When I consider Alexandra’s questions it reaffirms to me the importance of purpose. If we have not considered the effect, impact, and experience we intended to impart then we miss our greatest super power. Few people join a cause to raise more money, re-word a mission statement, or attend an all-weekend retreat. We joined because of an experience that was offered to us and we wanted to share with others. We want other people to feel the way we feel.
I offer Alexandra’s questions as ones you should bring back to your tribe and ask aloud. I think this may be the most important dialogue you can have right now. Otherwise, you may be sitting in a window seat watching your enterprise’s best experiences headed the other way, a thousand feet below.
“What is the effect that I want to have on people?”
“What kind of impact do I want to have?”
“What kind of experience do I want to create?”
“How do I want people to feel?”
What is the most remarkable dialogue you are engage in at this moment? Not a decision, evaluation, or a conversation. Rather dialogue where one builds on the ideas of others, asks questions to clarify intent, and willingness to listen without judgement. Patrick Davis lead a remarkable session at the BoardSource Leadership Forum building a case for the power of dialogue.
Has your enterprise spent as much time in dialogue as it spends discussing the budget? Why not? We rarely address transformational issues by making a quick decision or collecting data. Rather, it is in our divergent discourse that we offer ourselves the opportunity to engage with new ideas.
Two individuals who have developed compelling frameworks for centering ourselves around dialogue are Bohm and Bonnie. Their guidelines follow:
No group decisions (we make fewer decisions than we realize already)
Suspend judgement and suppress “we have already done that” thinking
Build on ideas with ‘yes, and…’ statements
Be aware of which lens we are using as engage
Establish clear intentions
Listening not only what is being said, but why it is being said
Avoid building a case against or for while listening
Promote advocacy and unscripted thought
Engage in inquiry with questions that allow for greater understanding
Ask ‘what am I doing?’ Where the head turns so goes the body
Asking ourselves to tackle the wickedly big questions is a courageous act. Balancing the interplay between hope and the brutal facts is akin to drawing an arrow on a bow. The right amount of tension and extraordinary precision can be achieved. Too little or too much tension and the impact of the arrow declines precipitously.
I am bringing the practice of guided dialogue to my ecosystem and look forward to reporting the results. I wonder which brave organizations will risk a few quiet moments and a little change to reap extraordinary rewards?