Permission to Dream

A few years ago, I started tinkering with a new toolkit, which I’m calling the Rubber Band Visioning Toolkit. I created it for a bunch of reasons.

First, I want to see consultants design and facilitate better visioning sessions. I often see visioning designed as a one-off. This is not only an ineffective way to do visioning (as I articulated in my blog post, “Rubber Bands and the Art of Visioning”), it can even cause harm by opening loops that won’t get closed. I also noticed that many consultants who facilitate these sessions don’t actually do their own visioning, not even in one-off form. My hypothesis was that, if consultants had the opportunity to do their own visioning, it would have a slew of benefits, including helping them get better at designing visioning for others.

Second, I want people to have widespread access to visioning. It’s a crazy thing to say, because visioning is simply about stretching your imagination, it’s about striving for something you really want. You don’t need any special tools or guides to do it. You definitely don’t need to hire a consultant for it. And yet, we rarely give ourselves permission to do this, much less the space and the time. That’s a huge loss. I think we all would be so much better off if we all had a clearer idea of what we wanted in the world.

As is always the case with my toolkits, I’ve been piloting it with a bunch of different folks, tweaking and evolving it along the way. I have another set of changes I want to make to it before publicly releasing it hopefully early next year, and I’m planning on making it part of an official offering as well. (As with all of my toolkits, it will be public domain.) While I figure all this stuff out, I’ve continued to pilot it with friends and colleagues. (If you’re interested in giving it a go, ping me.)

I love piloting all of my toolkits. I love designing and tweaking, and I love the excuse to engage with others with this stuff. But I especially love piloting the visioning toolkit. It is so stupidly simple, and yet the impact it has on folks is profound. It’s also incredibly intimate to silence your self-censors, if only for a moment, and then to share what you really want. How often do we really do that with even our closest friends and family?

I kicked off a new session earlier today with two new folks and an old friend and colleague, who had gone through the process once before earlier this year. It was 90 minutes at the end of a packed day, but it just re-energized me and made me very happy. I am so grateful to all of the people willing to give it a spin. I can’t wait to share it with more people, and I hope others will use the toolkit to facilitate sessions with people they care about.

Be Intentional, but Hold It Lightly

Seb Paquet and I had our second weekly call this morning. (Our “jazz hands” insights video from this week’s call is below.) Seb opened the conversation by sharing a personal story and discussing the importance of being fearless, but not reckless.

Which raises the question: What’s the difference between “fearless” and “reckless”?

After our conversation, Seb posted this very question on Facebook. There were a number of interesting replies, with more likely to come. Two, in particular, resonated with me. Alan Yelsey suggested that the distinction was in whether or not you “fully considered the risk or the value of the objective.” Helen Aitkin noted that the etymology of “reckless” was “without care.”

I agree with both Alan and Helen. I think that intention is the critical distinction, which is still a very fine line. If you take a risk that has a 90 percent chance of failing, and you understand that risk up-front, you are being intentional, but other people might still consider it reckless.

So many of the challenges that we face are ultimately about navigating tensions gracefully. By definition, there are no easy ways to describe how to do this. The best principle I’ve found for navigating these tensions is to be intentional, but hold it lightly.

In other words, have a goal, but don’t be so bound by it that you miss out on the opportunity to learn. Put a stake in the ground, but be open to surprises and new learning. If you practice this basic principle over and over again, you eventually develop an instinct for how to assess risk and navigate uncertainty. If you move without clarity about your intentions, or if you hold on to those intentions too tightly, you will likely fail.

This, to me, is the essence of craft, and it’s become the foundational principle of my work.

I shared this principle with my friend, Mark Bolgiano, a few years ago, and he noted that this same principle applies to golf. You need to have a strategy for how you are going to propel your ball to the hole, but if you grip your club too tightly, you will likely miss your mark. I found this to be a nice physical metaphor for how to think about this principle.

Similarly, Seb brought up the analogy of scientists discovering anomalies in their experiments and reacting in frustration, when the anomalies may actually be clues to some groundbreaking new principle. If you hold onto your intentions too tightly, you miss out on the learning.

The discipline of being intentional is an art form in and of itself. On both calls with Seb so far, we’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing the challenges of setting good goals and being explicit about success. Here are some principles that have emerged along with some relevant blog posts:

  • Define success as a spectrum, from minimum to wild. Seb was the first to share this principle in our conversations by way of a great template from Amy Kirschner. He also noted the importance of considering the zone of proximal development. I first picked up this idea from Kristin Cobble (read her blog post for more), who was strongly influenced by Robert Fritz’s “rubber band model” for navigating tensions.
  • Define both success and failure. This is a good way of coming up with and gut-checking your spectrum of success, and it was my “jazz hands” moment from today’s conversation. When we are far removed from the actual moment of assessing success or failure, it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we might treat something as success when we actually believe it to be failure. If you ask, “What is failure?” explicitly, you can identify this behavior well in advance.
  • Ask the “wild” success question twice. In the same way that we might be overly lax in defining minimal success, we can often be overly constrained in defining “wild” success. We self-censor ourselves, because we don’t really believe that wild success is possible. Another trick I picked up from Kristin is to ask this question twice, explaining, “Okay, how would you really, truly define wild success?”
  • Always measure something, and evolve your metrics as you learn. If you rely purely on how you feel, you will either rationalize your way into thinking you are always successful, or you will punish yourself unfairly.
  • Include failure rate in your definition of success. This was Seb’s “jazz hands” moment from our conversation. If you’re trying to accomplish anything hard, you need to expect that you will fail some percentage of the time. You should actually incorporate that failure rate into your success metrics. We agreed that succeeding about two-thirds of the time felt about right, which is consistent with Google’s expected measure of success.

Here’s a story I shared last year about applying the principle of being intentional and holding it lightly on one particular project. And, without further ado, here are Seb and my “jazz hands” moments from today:

Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.