Our 10-year Mission Clock: March 2023 Integrity Body meeting (Summary)

Since June of 2022, the focus of our work at Creating the Future has been around engaging our community to determine what’s next for our mission. That mandate has centered on the fact of the 10 year clock of our mission. What will we accomplish in the remaining 4 years of our mission?

This year, Creating the Future’s Integrity Body gave ourselves permission to take slow time to consider what’s next for our mission – what it will take to turn our community’s aspirations into reality. Among the many things that permission has allowed us to think slowly and mindfully about is the uncertainty of that 10 year clock.

  • When we talk about the 10-year clock, are we aiming towards taking a deep breath, assessing, and keep going at the 10-year mark?
  • Or are we actually planning on having accomplished everything we might accomplish and being done at the end of that 10 year clock?

This is not a decision we have to make and stick to as gospel. It is about the effect on the work we do now. If we don’t know where we’re aiming, not only can’t we get there – we also can’t be certain what work we’re doing in the here and now.

That is the discussion we engaged in during our March 2023 meeting. The following are the questions we addressed. For the full meeting, you can watch / listen at this link.

How are you feeling about this as a topic?

  • This is a worthwhile thing to discuss. Many organizations do – or should – grapple with this. What does it mean to exist in perpetuity? What does it make possible to have an end date in mind?
  • The first thing that comes to my mind is an exit strategy for a sustainable organization. Hildy and Dimitri are the most heavily invested. I wonder what the exit strategy is and how we can be sustainable.
  • We’re not always used to asking “Should we sustain?”
  • I think about the idea of an experiment – is it about the experiment or is it about the laboratory. Will we keep the lab open for other experiments? What happens when you have a successful experiment? You report on it so it can be replicated. I’m thinking about a recent project I was involved with – there was an issue, all sorts of work happened, we learned a lot, and then we moved on. It was less about the laboratory and more about the work that was done.
  • There is this rhetoric in community benefit organizations that these organizations are in business to go out of business. But there is a lot of capacity that these organizations fill. So I think about this in terms of the capacity issue. What’s the capacity that’s needed in the community? What does it take to have that capacity? What is our role in that? If our business is to go out of business, then that indicates this is just an episodic problem and there is no ongoing need. There’s also something in having made the 10 year declaration and that’s an experiment in and of itself.

Who would be affected by whichever decision we make?

  • Anybody who is going to benefit in any way by us sharing what we’ve learned and by Catalytic Thinking being ubiquitous.

What would be possible for those who will be affected, if we aim at continuing?

  • There’s potentially ongoing resources and support that would be available to the people who use or want to use catalytic thinking.
  • Internally, we’d have time to continue to experiment and explore.
  • There’s time to scale up if that’s part of this. We could resource and produce more income for a wider range of people. There would be more education for this work to be reproduced in more communities and more types of communities. There’d be more reach.
  • There’s also the capacity for people to get involved in the work and find community. There are people who can grow into the work – a new generation.
  • I think of the subset of people who aren’t aware yet. There would still be that central hub-point where they can come into the work.
  • It can be more attractive to get involved in the work when it feels alive and current and like it’s happening right now.

What would be possible for those who will be affected,  if we aim at being done at the end of our 10 years?

  • There would be greater independence. People could feel a greater sense of ownership around how the ideas are being shared and how they are engaged with it. There are times we may need a brace, but there is always a point when the goal is to not rely on the brace.
  • This removes the pressure from succession planning and handoff
  • Hildy and Dimitri have been working on re-recording a class that they last recorded in 2017, in preparation for a webinar that is scheduled. Having that “due date” has helped get the work done and has encouraged creativity around what resources they can build on.
  • The 10 year date was based on the metaphor of a shot clock in basketball. Introducing a shot clock changed the nature of the way they played the game.
  • I’m torn. On one hand you want new people to be able to see a beacon and approach it, but on the other hand, you want people to feel empowered to create new beacons.
  • A lot of people ask us “Is it ok to share this?” when in fact, that sharing is exactly what we want! But there’s that perception that someone owns it, rather than we all own it. Since the beginning, people have not known what to do with the blanket statement, “We want you to share it! That’s the point!”
  • Looping back to the idea of “our business is to go out of business,” you are only able to say that when you are truly willing to look at what it would take to do that. I generally don’t see in practice the kind of thinking that would make it possible. I think for us, that’s the real power of this – it forces us to stop thinking about us and makes us actually say “What would it take for people to x? And is that existing? And where? And what is required to continue to support that?” The psychological advantage is that it forces us to consider what it would really take to have the capacity.
  • It’s another example. Sunsetting would be an experiment for others to see how to end. We rarely talk about how we end, especially in a way that doesn’t feel like failure.
  • It’s the difference between seeing this work as a 10-year project, or as an ongoing program. Defined as a project, it will have a beginning, middle, and end. A program can go on forever.
  • There’s also something in having the end date be arbitrary, rather than a meaningful condition being met.
  • Aiming at accomplishing the mission by X date is very different than ensuring that the mechanisms are in place for supporting community capacity.
  • There’s something in defining what “done” means. We don’t have to define it right now. But aiming at sunsetting makes us define “done”; it makes us define what good would look like, what is enough.
  • I’ve noticed that a certain number of people lurk. Sunsetting creates a dilemma for people because it forces them to ask “Am I really interested in this enough to activate myself?”
  • With the list of what is possible if we keep going, none of those things are precluded by our aiming at sunsetting. They become conditions for what would need to be in place. So all of those possibilities if we keep going can be realized if we aim at being done.
  • It gives permission to let go a little and create space for other people to come in and do things together.
  • I’m thinking through the example of foundations. There’s something around letting the current generation decide what needs to happen and not keep the old guard deciding what needs to happen in the future.
  • I’m thinking about an ecosystem where a particular group of trees or plants never die. They never put their resources back into the environment. They just continue forever. In the old original paper about the 10 year clock, there’s a difference between doing and getting it done. We could be doing forever, but are we really getting it done?
  • The model of community benefit organizations is all rooted in business. We’re all corporations and the goal of a corporation is to just keep going. Pepsi is not thinking about sunsetting. This is such a self-defeating model for accomplishing social change. We’ve also talked about being more movement-like rather than organization-like. Movements don’t exist to live forever. Entire industries have risen up around organizational sustainability. Capacity building initiatives are rarely about community, they are about organizations.
  • This makes possible a mandate to share, a mandate to be more creative. Not sharing the concepts, but sharing the work. If we’re no longer here, who’s going to teach? Who‘s going to convene? Who’s going to spread the gospel? There’s a mandate to figure that out. Using the food bank example – if the minus one is that no one goes hungry and the plus one is that everyone has what they need, what does it take for that not to depend on one single organization?
  • Something about this feels very scarcity-driven. We get so focused on having all the things so we can exist tomorrow that we don’t focus on using what we have today.

What’s the worst that could happen if we aim at assessing and continuing?

  • Nobody cares. It would be devastating if we carried on and nobody cared because we weren’t seen as relevant.
  • Nobody wants to take on the burden of the organization. There’s no one to step in and carry that weight.
  • We would suck resources out of a system that could be better served somewhere else.
  • If you really want to do something, you can rationalize doing it.
  • This is a difficult conversation because this is so intertwined with Hildy and Dimitri. It’s also difficult because we don’t have the skills and knowledge that they have amassed over the years and it feels incredibly daunting.
  • I always think of the practice of personal responsibility to the organization. So say for a board member, what is the benchmark of adequacy? Some piece of this goes against broad participation, but there’s also a spectrum of ability. If we’re talking about bringing people in and doing this work in the community, what does that look like?
  • There’s so much we have talked about in terms of the value of sharing, the value of not owning, the value of having other people. In the early days of immersion, one of the required texts was a book called “The Starfish and The Spider” about distributed networks. There’s something about this organization-centric perspective that feels wrong. Something about this feels like it would go against what we’ve been working towards.

What’s the worst that could happen if we aim at being done at the end of our 10 years?

  • People might interpret it as a lack of commitment or a failure.
  • If the capacity isn’t there to continue the outcomes, then there isn’t the ability of things to grow and expand or bring new people in. You end up with the graying out of Catalytic Thinking.
  • There’s a fear of missing out on…something. I don’t know what that is, but I have a fear of missing something.
  • Who are we going to call? Where can people go with questions?
  • We ought to be leaving the world better than we found it and there’s truly something special about this and I want my children to be able to be a part of it.
  • Making a difference before we die is the definition of a “Dead Line.”
  • If we were to aim at sunsetting, what we would really be aiming at is – ensuring that the mechanisms are in place to support the capacity for Catalytic Thinking within the community, without having to come to Creating the Future. Everything we’re talking about are conditions for success. We would need to be relevant, we would need to have leadership happening in communities, celebrating that this was a 10 year experiment, there need to be people to carry it on. Through the lens of Catalytic Thinking, you start seeing problems as unmet conditions for success. Everything we’ve listed here are unmet conditions for success.
  • Sunsetting would mean resources are shared, mission is accomplished, done is defined, and there is no longer a need for a centralized entity to move this work forward.
  • I think about information and ideas versus physical things. Catalytic Thinking is a series of ideas and it is information that can be spread to anyone anywhere. Physical things are an organization, a 501c3, a fundraising machine. We’re really talking about a set of ideas. We aren’t tied to a specific methodology of sharing those ideas.
  • A deadline makes us more creative. Not being tied to a specific methodology or the default of “this is how you do it.” It forces us to share. When we talked earlier about people feeling ownership, it’s not about permission to share, it forces us to share.
  • Rather than a deadline, this is a commitment that we made. This contributes to someone else’s success. They’ve got commitments too. How are we fulfilling our obligations?
  • In terms of the question we began with – it feels like we’re aiming towards defining what “done” would look like and accomplishing our “done” by the end of 2026
  • “Done” is doing an experiment, but not necessarily having some perfect answer for that experiment. The nature of any experiment like this is that it is never totally finished. Some of this is about saying when we hand on the baton. I don’t like this idea that we’re “done.” This thing that we’re a part of is never done. But our role in it might change. For most people in this sector, things end badly. We’ve got to get people more comfortable with the idea that the experiment is never finished, but our role in it may end and we will intentionally plan for ending it
  • Our mission has been to experiment with Catalytic Thinking and share what we’ve learned in those experiments. This is very specific and this work can be done. The impact is what needs to continue.
  • You have to decide when the song or painting is done. But it’s never done. At some point you have to stop. At least with music, the audience changes, though, and the performance may change with it. You can’t give away your whole experience, but you can give the tools away. And when you give the tools away, they change.
  • We’ve got a set of tools. These are the “how” things. We also have the ideas themselves. The tools are no good unless you practice. Finally, we have the transport. How are we getting them out there? This has changed even over the past three years due to technology.
  • When we talked about what shape this organization would take, we talked about it as an ecosystem. “Ubiquitous” and “We continue to exist” don’t seem to go together. The resources need to be out there, but Creating the Future doesn’t need to be the one doing it.

Reflections: In your mind, what is the gist of how we’re moving forward? What are we aiming at?

  • I think we’re heading towards a passing on of the baton. That is, creating materials that are our legacy – Hildy’s legacy – and she’ll continue to drive that legacy forward in terms of the book and her writing. But it feels to me like we’re heading towards an end point. This has made me think a bit about politicians’ careers. Most end in failure because they don’t know when to leave. They stay too long. This feels like we know there is a right time to end and we’re planning on moving towards that.
  • Does Catalytic Thinking naturally lead you to be an anti-organizationalist in its purest form? How do we release the idea that we have to sustain a thing and how do we keep focus on what’s out there? Having that timeframe prevents you from slipping in that commitment. This really forces us to recognize that if the goal is not to have a crutch at the end of 10 years, the generative thing cannot still be the crutch.
  • The key words I’ve been thinking about are permission and commitment. In both of those contexts, we’re creating space for others to do the work.
  • Leave them wanting more. The best way to leave them wanting more, is to not give them more. Exit on a high note. All the conceptual stuff is what continues.
  • Frichoff Capra has an alumni group. Leaders have bubbled up, but he is still available. The fear is being completely cut off.
  • It feels a little bit like being dropped off at college. I wasn’t really ready for it, it felt pretty scary, and I had to trust that I had what I needed to apply the knowledge and skills in the new context.
  • Thinking about the idea that if we succeed at our mission, we as a community will be able to say “We’ve got this.”
  • Just walking away doesn’t assure a legacy. My greatest legacy is that my kid has everything she needs and will kick butt in the world. And my hope for my legacy with Creating the Future is the exact same thing.
  • Almost everything that is possible if we keep going can be accomplished if we set a deadline. However, many of the things that a deadline makes possible cannot be accomplished if we set our sites on continuing. In my mind, that makes the decision simple.

With this discussion, our 10-year clock became very real. We will aim to accomplish everything our community has asked of us by December 31, 2026. Now the work is to determine what needs to be in place to do so. Stay tuned!

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