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September 12, 2023

Obstacles Ahead Barrier Sign

This obstacle will stop your strategic plan

In this week’s Systems Change Newsletter…

  • Invitations & Announcements
  • Catalytic Thinking Exercise: Stop focusing on challenges and obstacles
  • Resources to Further Your Practice

Invitations & Announcements:

It’s Planning Season!
If you're stepping into planning mode over the next few months, there is something you should know: Traditional strategic planning was not developed for the social good work you are doing.

Strategic planning was actually developed by the military before it was embraced by the business world. The goal of that traditional planning process was actually designed for gaining advantage over an enemy (the competition), to create short term gains (win a battle, increase profits). That is the OPPOSITE of what we need for creating long-term, systemic, community change.

If you’re about to create a plan for your organization's work, you won’t want to miss our upcoming webinar on Community Impact Planning – an approach that was designed specifically for creating long-term, systemic change in communities. Find out what will lead you to create dramatic community impact at this link…

Catalytic Thinking Exercise:
Stop focusing on Challenges and Obstacles

Challenges and obstacles and threats – that discussion is part of the script of almost every traditional strategic planning process. We are told this is necessary in order to be realistic about the unforeseen setbacks that could get in the way of our plans.

Unfortunately, neuroscience teaches us that focusing on those roadblocks leads our brains straight into fear mode. As we dwell on what could go wrong, those obstacles grow larger and larger in our minds.

What that means for planning is this:

If we think something will stop us, it is more likely to stop us!

Once we are in that loop of considering everything that could go wrong, our brain chemistry actually prevents us from being creative and rational. And that is the exact opposite of what is needed for folks to be in the open, engaged, creative space that is necessary for creating what is possible.

How, then, can we prepare for what might stop us, in a way that creates ease and energy rather than those roadblock-induced feelings of hopelessness?

The answer is to ensure that there are conditions in place for making things go smoothly, rather than thinking about what we’ll do if things go badly.

Here's the beauty of that approach:

When we talk about all those things that will stand in the way, we are actually talking about conditions that need to be in place, but aren’t there yet.

By reframing those issues simply as conditions for success, and asking, “What needs to be in place for those conditions to be reality?” we are looking at those exact same issues in a light that creates possibility rather than despair. And our brains will react accordingly, bypassing the brain’s fear center to create more energy and more creative thinking.

An example

Let’s consider a simple example. Perhaps you want to add more walking into your day, to get more exercise. Here are some of the conditions for success – the things that need to be in place:|

  • I’ll need to find opportunities to walk every day
  • I will need someone to watch my kids while I’m walking
  • I’ll need options for rainy days or cold / hot weather

Looking through the lens of roadblocks, though, here is what that same list might look like.

Conditions for Success Obstacles and Challenges
I’ll need to find opportunities to walk every day I don’t have time to walk every day
I will need someone to watch my kids while I’m walking I don’t have anyone to care for the kids
I’ll need options for rainy days or cold / hot weather It rains so much here, and then it will get cold and snowy. I won’t want to walk then.

What we see in this example is that the exact same circumstances that might otherwise be labeled as “things that will stand in the way” are instead framed as what they actually are - conditions that need to be put in place. And that reframing frees us from the chemical barriers our brains produce when we are stressed, allowing us to be our most creative.

That is why Community Impact Planning does not ask about the things that will prevent your success. And it is why we focus instead on making sure you are putting in place favorable conditions that will create more ease in reaching for your goals.

Try this
Think about something that you want to accomplish. It could be something small, perhaps something you want to do with your family. Or it could be something huge that will affect your whole community.

Next, create two columns like the ones in the example above.

In the first column, consider what conditions need to be in place for your goal to be reality. To be successful, what must you and others know? What must you be assured of? What must you have?

Now in the second column, turn each of those conditions for success into the language of challenges and obstacles.

Both those lists are addressing the exact same issues. But they sure don't feel the same!

Reading through the first list, it feels doable, yes? It may feel big, it may feel like a lot of work, but it likely also feels doable. You could figure out what it would take for each of those items to be done.

From the example above, perhaps the kids could bike with you when you walk. Or perhaps you could join a gym and use the treadmill when weather is bad. Whatever the ideas, you could find a way to make the items on that first list happen.

Now look at that second list. How does that list make you feel? Do you feel energized to address those issues? Or does it feel deflating?

Those two lists are addressing the exact same circumstances. The difference comes from the questions those two columns are answering.

What needs to be in place for me to be successful?
What will stop me?

When we call something an obstacle, it becomes an obstacle.

When we think about it as a condition that must be put in place for our success, our brains are better positioned to make it happen, simply because we never told ourselves it would stop us.

As you think about this for your own work, you will begin to see how important it is to ask questions that bring out the best in us, bypassing the reflexive survival center of our brains. You’ll also begin to see what happens when we ask questions that trigger that fear center, silently bringing out the worst in us.

The questions we ask can change everything about what we accomplish. And questions that help us create conditions for success (vs. focusing us on what could go wrong) are a big part of why Community Impact Planning (and the Catalytic Thinking framework upon which it is based) consistently create more powerful results than traditional strategic planning.

Resources to Further Your Practice:

    • LEARN: Learn more about why Community Impact Planning is more effective than traditional planning. Learn it here…
    • WATCH: Some brain science basics as it relates to social change. Watch it here…
    • WATCH: In 90 seconds, Hildy explains why focusing on challenges keeps us from creating what is possible. Watch it here…

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Teach people how to change the systems they find themselves in,
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all by changing the questions they ask.

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