It is a struggle with which many of us are sadly too familiar: no matter how cutting-edge our vision, how transformative our beliefs, and how ambitious our foresight, it is difficult actually to implement these bold new insights. Especially in a context where people’s minds are preoccupied with current problems, or committed to traditional behavior, it can be disheartening to witness your game-changing ideas fail to stick.
But can we perhaps change the way a group might think? Could we possibly cultivate a whole new type of thinking amongst our Boards?
Jeff Hurt argues that it is both possible, and absolutely necessary, to re-structure the way we think. In order to develop more effective governing Boards, there are important and tangible things we should be doing to cultivate a more strategic form of thinking.
We hosted a live session with Jeff last week, which was illuminating on a number of levels. The full webinar is linked below, but here are the three key takeaways from this discussion:
1. The health of our brains, as well as the health of our organizations, are directly implicated by the way we think
While strategic thinking belongs in the frontal lobe, it is the back part of the brain, the limbic system, in which we bury ourselves under the comfort of the past and the fear of the future. What Jeff terms our “love affair” of details, logistics, routine and planning is, he argues, actually damaging our brains. Making plans by relying on and repeating past endeavors, and focusing on the what and the how without first strategically looking to the larger questions of why and for whom our associations are running, causes decline in our brain health.
Interestingly, Jeff emphasizes that logistics and detail-based planning are emotional reactions to potential change, and that to get bogged down in this style of thinking actually ends up harming not just strategic thinking, but the very effectiveness of the logistics themselves. Focusing on strategy first, on the other hand, improves both strategic and logistic thinking.
2. Best Practices need to make way for Next Practices
Best Practices are for Jeff a backwards look at what has worked for organizations in the past. “We can’t assume that the context of tomorrow is going to be the same as the context of today or yesterday”: the future is uncertain, the world is unpredictable, and we cannot guarantee continuity within our industries.
Next Practices, however, are directed to what is coming. Given that our environments are constantly shifting, it is not going to be preparation, not planning, that will equip us with the skills and tools we need to be ready for the future. This means being open to continually changing contexts, having the flexibility to adapt, and being astute enough to observe the shifts as they come.
3. This is going to be difficult
Such abstract strategic thinking is far from easy. It takes practice to cultivate original thinking; it involves fostering integrated reasoning. Integrated reasoning is about grasping the big picture, synthesizing information, and gleaning broad principles from past ideas that can form the basis of new creative thoughts and behaviors.
In practical terms, there are questions you can ask, and exercises you can introduce to your board, that work at unearthing “what matters most” to your organization. What are you here for? Who are you here for? What do they need in order to progress, and what do you need to make that possible?
Original thinking might also demand that you expose yourself to voices outside of the industry, and listen to a variety of perspectives that take you out of the solace of the echo chamber. Again, this isn’t easy – but Jeff maintains that it is vital.
A bonus, and unexpected, takeaway…
Being an expert on adult learning and engagement, Jeff demonstrated a number of teaching tools and tactics throughout the webinar that were enormously effective. While we came for the content, the method with which he delivered it was a lesson in itself. As you will notice if you watch the session, as a speaker he kept listeners engaged through repetition of key themes, constant questioning, and a personal, characterful touch. Most interestingly, he was open and straightforward about his methods: he gave the participants insight into why he was interacting with the slides in a certain way, and pointed to data that backs up his strategies.
By keeping his message succinct, his themes clear, and his methods transparent, Jeff created a dynamic and stimulating discussion. How might we apply this bonus insight to the way we approach our communication with our members, our colleagues, and our boards?
Click the image below to watch the webinar in full, and to find answers to some of these questions!
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