Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Knowledge is born in chaotic processes that take time

"Great insights never appear at the end of a series of incremental steps. Nor can they be commanded to appear on schedule, no matter how desperately we need them. They present themselves only after a lot of work that culminates in so much frustration that we surrender. Only then are we humble enough and tired enough to open ourselves to entirely new solutions."
Margaret Wheatley, Finding our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time, 2005.

It would be nice if we could plug in a project model and see predictable results in a year or two. Wheatley's quote suggests that it takes consistent work to arrive at success - but the path is strewn with mistakes and course corrections. In the end, we may not have been going anywhere. Upon that realization, we sometimes step out of a program and see a truth, something that works.

I know that experience. I have labored through projects to make small discoveries about the best use of partnerships and the importance of clear leadership. I once worked with a failing Community Development Corporation and learned about being too many things. Farmworker organizing and education eventually taught me about friendship and networks of trust. These insights led to changes that improved programs and helped more people. Creating this kind of knowledge is something that nonprofits can be good at.

2 comments:

Bob Giloth said...

What I find difficult is having the patience to wait for the results and feel ok about small steps. Some of this is temperment; but I also feel some urgency about lack of opportunities, waste of resources, and muddled leadership. Figuring out how to do either or both in the appropriate situations is real leadership.

Colin Austin said...

Agreed. It takes a willingness to let events unfold, seeing the openings, and then commiting. The downhill skiing model.