I spent this weekend fostering dreams. No, I wasn’t working in a sleep-deprivation lab… I was facilitating an intent workshop for a client. They are a small nonprofit, founded to memorialize and honor the victim of a hate crime. In their early years, they focused on creating a physical memorial (a bench with a plaque) in his name, and provided victim services. They testified on behalf of hate crime legislation. Everything was done by volunteers. Most of them moved on. The organization languished.
However, one person kept the spark alive. He knew the work wasn’t done. He wasn’t ready to let the memory fade, or the underlying causes of the attack be left unchallenged. He still feels the pain of loss, the shock of a friend dead because of who he was.
He struck on an idea: produce children’s videos that address issues of difference and acceptance. He found a college teacher who was willing to make this a class assignment. An educator offered insights into key elements of the content. Students storyboarded, presented, and produced two videos.
Now, where do they go from here?
The typical response would be to “grow bigger.” Establish a funding stream. Find money to hire a staff. Produce more videos. Market them. In fact, this was the approach a graduate student in nonprofit management recommended as he helped them to produce a strategic plan. The plan is sound. It highlights many of the challenges that the organization faces, and provides practical guidance for addressing them. In fact, we will be drawing from the plan as we move forward with the process that started this weekend. But, we are not moving forward by figuring out how they “grow bigger” and produce more videos. Instead, we started off by dreaming. We took to heart the counsel provided by George Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” We became unreasonable.
It is 2020. We are fostering social change in thinking and action, moving beyond tolerance to embrace diversity, empathy, acceptance, and non-judgement. What are we delivering to children, to their parents, to teachers, to learning systems (schools, youth groups, etc.), to our funders, and to the organization itself? What do we need to put in place to produce the outcomes that we are seeking to achieve?
We spent two solid days in the world of the future.
(Sometimes, when I am working with individual clients, I will ask them to not only visualize the future, but to describe what it looks like, smells like, sounds like, tastes like, feels like. It’s the difference between saying, “I plan to move to the beach in three years,” and saying, “Here I am…my first morning waking up in my beach house. The sound of the surf guided me to sleep last night; as I wake up, I can smell the ocean on the breeze that is blowing across my bed…”)
We clarified the organizational intent. We defined, at a high level, how they will deliver on that intent. We developed principles for decision-making and design as they move forward. We validated our work.
We have a lot of work ahead of us before they “begin building the organization.” We need to figure out all of the pieces that need to be put in place to actually deliver on the intent we have shaped. We need to determine which ones they can hope to achieve, and what it means if they don’t achieve the others. We need a roadmap forward. We need the story of how they get from here to there, and what life will be like when they do.
But what we have put in place is the foundation for a “there” that is much different than a video library. It is a future that focuses on results, not actions or products. It is a future that builds strength through diversity. It is a future in which the organization is an exemplar of its own message, and is a leader in helping us as a society move toward oneness: not a oneness of homogeneity, but one of an integrated and diverse community.
How far will they get in four years? That remains to be seen. What I do know is that it is infinitely further than if they hadn’t dreamed of living in that 2020 world, if they sat down and began by planning to move forward from 2016 rather than dreaming the impossible, if they hadn’t had the courage to be unreasonable.
Your comments are welcome below.