I love to talk about my work and the results of folks participating in making plans and taking action around things that are important to them. And the results are amazing at times - did I mention that one project saved $600,000 last year from their efforts or that one community has doubled the amount of food they are distributing to those who are food insecure?! - but in sharing these stories, I am not always clear that the work has often been done in the midst of constraints that, at times, can feel impossible.
Here are some of the parameters on projects that I’ve worked on:
I work to support leaders to outline these types of parameters at the outset of the project. No one wants to come up with a brilliant plan that will then just be rejected by the Powers That Be. That undermines the credibility and quality of the work. So even when it’s painful, naming these parameters - no matter how restrictive they are - is really important to the ultimate success of the work.
And I’ll admit, that when we first hear the parameters, groups I work with are often demoralized. (And sometimes mad, too!) But, interestingly, those same parameters have often pushed us to be more creative and innovative than we typically would have been. It’s almost as if the challenge presented by the parameters, the impossibility of the task, calls people up to be smarter and more resourceful as they figure out what to do.
And that’s what we need: different, new, creative, solutions that aren't comprised of “just do more of what we know” or “try harder through more money”. I won’t pretend that the process to get to those new solutions is easy or that there isn’t a lot of wringing of hands or gnashing of teeth throughout, but the amount of ownership and pride folks feel when they have completed an impossible task is pretty darn awesome.
And, interestingly, as groups start working in good faith with the parameters, those parameters often change. More than once, I’ve seen established parameters begin to soften and then actually disappear as groups get to work and begin to show results. For example, with our homelessness work here in town the original constraint of no new money eventually gave way to a $40 million fundraising campaign by the convening organization. This was a surprise to all of us, including the leadership!
So, I no longer feel defeated when parameters feel tough. I’ve seen folks do incredible work in seemingly impossible situations. I think it actually happens all the time. Now when I hear tough constraints, I take a deep breath I think to myself: Okay, I’ll take your parameters and raise you some really good work. Let’s just see what happens next.
This blog is a place where I share what I'm doing out in the world, reflect on what I'm learning, and also capture some of my random thoughts. I'd love these blogs to start new conversations. Please join me in the comments or send me an email about what these posts bring up