Wednesday, November 25, 2009

There’s a New “Normal” in Town

I’ve been hearing it for awhile, now… we cannot hope to hang on until things return to “normal.” “Normal” has gone for good. There’s a "new normal” in town and it only promises to keep morphing. Regulations will become tighter. Technologies will continue to change the way we do business. Upcoming generations will want to mold projects and processes in their image. The community will demand increasing levels of participation, accountability and impact. Collaboration will emerge as something necessary, something real, something more than a “front” to satisfy funders. Creativity will rule. The sharing of knowledge will become the norm. And, so the list grows.

How can we deal with these shifting sands? People a lot smarter than I have failed to come up with a definitive answer. However, I do have some thoughts. We cannot look backwards with longing. We, like Lot’s wife, will be buried in that sand.

We must realize, as my friend and colleague Hildy Gottlieb says, that we are creating the future now, whether consciously or not, with everything we do or say. So, we need to define our desired future, claim responsibility for our actions, see the elements dropped in our laps as constructive and utilize them, moving quite deliberatively in the direction that will take us where we want to go.

We must have faith in the community – the combined intelligence and experience sets of diverse individuals, all with skin in the game – and embrace what it has to offer. This might mean flattening our organizations’ hierarchies, or at least encouraging people to build the networks they feel would be most effective without regard to reporting lines.

We need to stop viewing our organizations as turf that must be protected from trespassers and poachers at all cost. Psychologically, thinking about the value easements on personal property offer to the owners of the property, as well as to the greater community, might help here. As a first step to breaking down the walls between “us” and “them” we could encourage that those in our organizations start talking to and working with individuals at all levels in other organizations, even other communities. And, we should start looking at how to leverage resources between organizations, as well.

We must encourage out-of-the-box thinking. In fact, we should be encouraging people to burn that damn box for once and for all! This might mean that we take a lesson from some Fortune 100 companies and give people time each week to work on projects unrelated to their jobs that are of personal interest to them. Incredible ideas have come out of such policies in the for-profit sector. Why aren’t we encouraging people to dream, then share what they are developing? My guess is that we’ll find things in these projects that will move organizations closer to not only their own visions, but to healthier, more vibrant communities.

It won’t be easy. Real change rarely is. However, there is a saying that “change is inevitable, only the struggle is optional.” Let’s embrace the "new normal” and together clean up Dodge.

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