Global warming or not, Winter has arrived in Chicagoland.
Blessed with a proclivity for denial, I’ve watched the hanging planters on our porch, as their summer residents, the marigolds, the petunias and the geranium slowly lost their battle to night-time temperatures. As the days shortened, they began withering in response. But eventually, even I couldn’t ignore the desiccated forms swinging brown in the breeze every time I looked out the window.
In a burst of Acceptance, and armed with a pair of scissors and a trash bag, I stepped out and took them down. While a lucky very few potted plants were spared and brought inside, the potted annual plants were not exempt from my shears. They, and the dill plant soon joined the former flowering residents already in the cinch sack. The flowering plants that had brought me so much enjoyment through the summer were gone.
It took less than 30-minutes.
As I stood back and surveyed the empty porch, it now stood as if some form of empty parentheses, prepared to accept the snows that will inevitably cover the now empty forms of what was my Eden.
Taking them down was my action. I emptied the parentheses. But that didn’t make me a parenthesis killer. Just because hanging baskets and the clay pots were now empty didn’t mean they were any less than they were purposed to be. All they wanted was to be best hanging basket or pot each of them could be.
In their future, there would be summer nights again. They would see new growth, new color…and all of it was already living inside of them, just waiting for the next chapter. They weren’t bad baskets or pots, they were just off-duty.
It made me wonder what my stacked baskets and pots talked about at night.
It gave me a mental cartoon of just how important I have come to believe in the thoughtful and courageous acts each of us take when we take down a vestige of an old behavior that no longer pays its rent. I knew what I was going to write to you about: Cull the old. Prepare and welcome the new. It’s what farmers have been doing for centuries. Wake up. Life is both short and inevitable. Hakuna Matata!
Then, I heard the news break in with a special report. In one short breath, I learned about an act of evil in Newtown, Connecticut that cost us 20 kindergartners and their teachers…and a mom. The whole gruesome act took less than 10-minutes.
Minutes after that, all of us, all across the country and even the globe, were all linked in a communal stare at the gaping atrocity being presented to us in living color as heavily armed law enforcement swooped down on the grade school campus.
Every conversation we hear shows a breadth of topics woven into this tragedy. Some only talk about how to achieve better gun show controls, background checks and reinstated bans on semi-automatic assault weapons.
Others speak to the mental health component – from accessibility to delivery.
Religious leaders reel under the weight of being asked to explain how God could let such horror killings exist. How can such Evil be God’s will?
I would propose all of us, together can re-engineer our Tribe and the boundaries we draw within it.
Having been brought to tears on more than one occasion since the murders in Conneticut, I leave you with the best I can offer. Be open to the moment if you get the urge to hug a teacher or a first-responder. Tell the lady at the dry cleaners you appreciate the good job she does. We all talk about offering our prayers and condolences to the families and we should. It is proper. But why not do something tangible in their honor? If we can do just that, we can figure out all the rest of it.
But not giving into despair starts at the level of one, square one, you. Not letting the victories of Evil being enough to bring you to the edge of quitting. Being victorious in face of Evil is not taking place in some stadium. It’s where I live. It’s where you live and where we live together. We defend what we stand for. Evil does nothing to diminish our power to do Good or make a difference in all the little corners of all our little rooms. Usually un-noted in the press, most quiet and random acts of kindness are as instantaneous as they are brief and silent.
Think of how your situation will be different if you think like that for less than 10-minutes each day…less time than it took for those kids to die.
We will get through the shock of Newtown, CT. We just will…it’s what we do as a Nation. Then, we will remember and refocus on coming back in the Spring.
Our pots and baskets in this Life may seem empty right now, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have Purpose. Let me leave you a snappy little bit of emotional shorthand to take with you this week: “We” = Love One Another”.
I think Someone may have said it something like,
“This I say unto you. Just do it”.
PHOTO CREDITS and ATTRIBUTIONS: Hanging Basket Officially Dead: http://superlifestylecoach.typepad.com/my-blog/2011/07/index.html; Hakuna Matata Source: http://goonemorestep.blogspot.com/2012/03/mistakes-hakuna-matata-moments.html; Kids Exiting Newtown School: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/trauma-linger-kids-article-1.1220751; Parents at Newtown Shooting: http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2012/12/newtown_priest_victims%E2%80%99_parents_agony; Love One Another Bumper Sticker: http://www.spiritualstickers.com/product/view/recent/; Flag at Half Mast in Newtown, CT and inset: http://news.yahoo.com/newtown-special-town-shattered-tragedy-011627597.html; ap-ct-shooting-2-dm-121214-wmain-jpg_182848: http://gma.yahoo.com/blogs/abc-blogs/live-updates-newtown-ct-school-shooting-171310519.html; young-children-sandy-hook: http://rt.com/usa/news/shooting-reported-connecticut-school-085/; New York Times Front Page Tribute: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/new-york-times-shooting-victims_n_2311329.html?utm_hp_ref=media; Starting Lanes and Ron Ashkenas: http://blogs.hbr.org/ashkenas/2012/12/in-a-change-effort-start-with.html
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On a completely different note, here’s a really ‘good read’ by Ron Ashkenas I found to be simultaneously provocative, and curious. I present it to you in its’ entirety with a link back to the original at the conclusion of the piece.
In a Change Effort, Start with the Last Mile by Mr. Ashkenas.
“One problem that constantly recurs in changing organizations is what we might call the last mile dilemma. The term comes from the telecommunications industry, which struggled for many years with how to efficiently extend their networks the “last mile,” or into individual homes. In large organizations the analogous challenge is how to make sure that important changes actually reach the most remote stakeholders, whether they be front-line workers or customers.
I first became aware of this issue many years ago as a consultant for GE, where at a particular facility I saw posters, signs, and other branding elements for RCA — a company that GE had acquired over ten years previously. Regardless, many outlying locations still identified themselves with their old company. A more current example is some work we’re now doing in a large healthcare firm in which the CEO has been stressing the importance of empowerment — but front-line leaders still wait for instructions from their supervisors.
Recently one of my colleagues, Nadim Matta, was recognized as one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers for his efforts to figure out the last-mile problem in the context of health, social, and economic issues in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. As the president the Rapid Results Institute, a nonprofit our firm helped to create, Matta found that huge amounts of talent and resources in these regions were being devoted to developing top-down solutions for agricultural productivity, clean water, maternal health, and other areas. The experts and government officials assumed that these solutions would trickle down naturally to the people who would benefit. But in many cases the ultimate “targets” of change (people in villages or cities) had not been engaged, didn’t feel real ownership of the solutions, or didn’t fully understand what was required.
To overcome the last-mile problem, Matta turned the paradigm of development on its head. Instead of experts and officials shaping solutions and giving them to the recipients, he worked with local leaders to challenge the ultimate recipients to come up with their own solutions in 100 days or less, and to use the experts, government officials, and aid workers as resources. In other words, start with the last mile and do it quickly so that everyone gets a shot of adrenaline, some short-term success, and the reinforcement to expand and scale.
Although it sounds simple, this shift has had a profound impact on development in a number of countries and has been adopted by many groups, including the government of Kenya and several departments in The World Bank. Furthermore it’s had an impact on thousands of lives, contributing to the success of HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in Eritrea, increased education of girls in conservative communities in Sudan, and the reduction of soil erosion in Rwanda, just to name a few. This “Rapid Results” approach also is being used by the Veteran Administration, HUD, and other United States federal agencies to accelerate the placement of chronically homeless veterans in permanent housing.
But the reality is that most organizations, not just developing countries, have last-mile problems and might benefit from experimenting with this shift. If that’s the case in your organization, here are two questions you might consider:
1.Who are the ultimate “targets” of change — those who will need to do something differently in order to achieve the organizational goals?
2.To what extent can you get these targets engaged in developing solutions right from the beginning, instead of waiting until the cake is fully baked?
While answering these questions may not always get your change through to the last mile, they may help you accelerate the pace for getting there.”
Ron Ashkenas is a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting and a co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization. His latest book is Simply Effective.
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