Vision, Strategies, Tactics, and Results

We each have a natural set point, a place we feel most comfortable.

We might be seers who can imagine, out of whole cloth, a future.

We might be doers who need to be neck-deep in the work to come to conclusions that mean anything to us.

We might be analyzers who see the whole field of play and can visualize which pieces need to be moved in what ways to tilt the field.

We might be movers who just need to make something happen to feel any sense of accomplishment.

The point is, each of us starts somewhere, and like any good journey the first step is to figure out where that “where” is.

For example, I remember back in college the terror of each paper I had to write.

Inevitably, days before a paper was due I’d stumble across one classmate or another whose answer to a perfunctory “so…what are you writing about?” came back in fully-formed, immaculate, intimidating paragraphs. I’d nod, mutter something in response, and walk away, even more stressed that I was still just reading, and reading, and reading some more, taking tons of notes but struggling to come up with any sort of well-formed ideas of my own.

Over time I discovered that my own process required me to read and sit and write and struggle and read some more until, finally, my perspective would emerge. Not an easy process, but once I’d done it enough times I noticed that I like starting from the middle and working my way up (big picture) and down (specific proof points or tactics). No coincidence, then, that having a daily practice of capturing and developing ideas—in this blog and in my daily work—is part of how I structure my time. It’s a system that allows me to produce my best ideas.

So, if, irrespective of where we like to start, we must eventually build out everything from vision to tactics and all that lies in between, we must ask ourselves questions like:

How do I process information?

Where do I feel most comfortable along the chain?

More often than not, what are the moments, contexts, or situations in which my new ideas arise?

Once I’ve got a new perspective, or insight, or even just an inkling, what steps do I then need to take to fill out the other pieces of the puzzle?

And, finally, given all of this, how can I structure my day, my time, my conversations (or lack thereof) to give myself more opportunity both to develop the nuggets that come most easily to me, and to then turn these into flushed-out ideas that I’m ready to start putting out into the world?

Say it out loud

That thing you dream of doing someday?  That thing that you’re working on already, even if you’re just teething on the idea?   Tell somebody about it.

Tell somebody, even if in a whisper, about that future and what it will look like: how the world will look; the person you will be; the dream.

“Somebody” is a person you trust, a person who matters to you and who matters to the idea. ”Somebody” will be touched by the idea and the brighter future the idea will create.

Even if it’s just one person, the act of saying the idea out loud puts it out there, makes it just a bit more real.  The act of saying it out loud gives one person the chance to react to it, and when they don’t laugh out loud (because of course they won’t) you’ll believe just a bit more in something that seems impossible.  And that might just give you that additional ounce of courage you need at the exact moment you need it.

Say it out loud.

(email counts too if that’s easier for you).

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“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says ‘I’ll try again tomorrow.’”

Mary Anne Radmacher

Pictures and Frames

Here’s an idea pilfered (with permission) from my friend Jennifer.

It turns out that when people go to museums, they spend up to 10 times as much of their time reading the blurbs next to the artwork as they spend looking at the artwork itself.

Which might be why, when we try to describe what we do, we essentially write blurbs that are good enough (at best) to sit next to the picture…which is a shame since we’re all in the business of creating art.  You know: “We aim to revolutionize the customer experience by enabling real-time interaction in a customer-centric fashion using…..”  (Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz).

And yes, the nonprofit sector is the worst offender here, because the things we’re doing, the things in the picture frame, are so motivating and so real, and they inspires such a deep human connection that it’s doubly shameful that we use such wilted language to describe what we do.

So, the next time you sit down to write down what you do or to explain it to someone, start by imagining the picture that’s inside the frame, and describe what you see instead.

I promise it will be more real, less polished, and less likely to be interchangeable with the next organization up the block that seems, to all of us, to do the same thing you do.   (And I bet you’ll write it in real English too!)

Go ahead, even if it’s not your job to do this stuff, imagine the picture that’s inside the frame for your organization.  Describe it 6 words or less.  Send your description to the CEO and to the people that really matter.

Have fun.

[NOTE: Just realized that Katya’s (Network for Good COO) blog has some great step-by-step tips about how to do this.  Thanks Katya!]

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