Thursday, July 10, 2008

Efficient and Strategic Work

We might reinvigorate our lives by learning to ask new questions. Asking large questions seeds the ground with new possibilities. While at first glance this may seem to be un-strategic work, I suggest that inviting senior leaders in any setting to reflect on the deeper questions that animate them, and that animate our organizations, is some of the most important work they can do. This is because it forces them to think about their choices, many of which are often made unconsciously, out of habit, and out of fear. Choices sown with these energies inevitably collapse. Think of inquiry of this sort as the ultimate act of efficiency: dealing with problems far upstream, before they surface and require expensive rework and change.

-- William Isaacs, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together

I recently picked Isaacs' book off my shelf to consult a diagram that I knew was in there. The book fell open to the passage above which was circled boldly by me a few years ago when I read it. Wow! How great for me to re-read this beautifully written passage that confirms the importance of holding the tension of resistance steady with every leader that tells me, "We just don't have time. This is a lovely idea but we just do not have time to indulge in those sorts of thinking activities."

No time is the first reaction of most leaders to whom I recommend deep, systematized organizational reflection. I am always amazed at how rushing to do more of the same feels better and more productive than thinking divergently, from whole to parts, questioning original assumptions in order to do better, more effective work. I think we as leaders get sidetracked from our purpose by feelings of comfort and efficiency. We lose our sense of intention in order to get items complete. The result is our work becomes rote and develops a diminishing relationship to the declared purpose.

How sad that we exchange comfort for the invigorating work of developing depth and meaning.

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