Using a Compass, Not a Map

We recently held a focus group with experienced leaders in the federal government about a new program—High Change Environments and Wicked Problems—we are offering.

To begin I used a framework suggested by the International Futures Forum (IFF calls it a prompt):

When in unknown territory, look for a compass not a map.

This single sentence elegantly captures a great deal of the change in perspective and measurement that can be helpful in a time of high change.

When using a map, we have a fixed plan. When using a compass, we expect our position to change and that we will need to reorient ourselves. A compass is drawn towards something, such as magnetic north.

In a sea of change, one of the most effective ways to reorient ourselves is to use the power of shared values. Although it often takes time and effort to identify shared values, they have more staying power than other features of a high-change environment. When the situation shifts, ask: What do we value? What are we hoping to accomplish?

In their excellent book, Do More Than Give, Crutchfield, Kania, and Kramer make the distinction between measures that report and record what we have done (a very map-like retrospective view) and measures that support learning (a compass to help understand what is happening now and what we are drawn to for the future). I’ll write more about this in my next post.

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Appreciative Inquiry

Most of Western society is better at negative or critical inquiry than we are at appreciative inquiry where we find what is RIGHT about a person or group’s performance.

It not only energizes individuals and groups when leaders recognize the things that go well, it also gives the leader positive momentum.

One simple thing you can try right away:

Every two weeks or so, set up a list of your subordinates, peers, and boss. Make notes about anything well done. Check off each person as you recognize good work. Then start again.

Most of the time, you won’t have to do anything special. The list will prompt you to be in a position to notice people’s work and to say (or write) something about it. Your comments can be short and information. Make this fast and easy.

There are many free resources on the Internet and books about this topic. Here are a few that we like.

David Cooperrider at Case Western Reserve University is generally credited with turning this idea into a formal organizational development process. Here’s a short summary written by David and Diana Whitney: A Positive Revolution in Change: Appreciative Inquiry

The Appreciative Inquiry Commons provides many free resources and links. The site is very rich and quite dense. Here are some starting links:

US Navy Case Study

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency

materials for appreciative inquiry programs

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