I recently read “Poke The Box” (Affiliate Link) , Seth Godin’s newest and first Domino book. While I found the book to be oddly laid out and organized, I did find a number of very useful ideas throughout and many that got me thinking. One of those ideas, is from a small section called “This Might Not Work”.
Seth encourages us to say those words, often and operate from that position where failure just might exist. In that section, Seth asks the question, “Is your work so serious and flawless and urgent that each thing you do, every day, must work?”
Oh, The Pressure
I got to wondering about how this might be different, or should I say be perceived differently, by leaders in the non-profit sector. As a contributor at 501 Mission Place, I’ve been thinking about the constant pressure that non-profit leaders put upon themselves, that the margin of error for them, appears much smaller. As a former non-profit Executive Director, I am familiar with how narrow that margin feels, both financially and to the mission. There is a sense that one must constantly serve the mission or else risk it all falling apart.
What I notice with some non-profits, is that the mission traps them. The mission and service to it, tends to narrow the focus of those working in it. In fact, that’s often the challenge, finding a way to work on your business instead of in it. If non-profit leaders get stuck in their business, surrounded by mission and service, how then do they grow their organization? How do they move from being so enmeshed in the day to day realities of who their mission serves, to a place where they can take risks and innovate, to a place where they can comfortably say “This might not work”?
Reflect, Redraw, Rejuvinate
Estrella Rosenberg suggests that we lead with vision instead of mission. I think she’s onto something, but I’ll ask the question that I love to ask, “So, what does that look like?”. No it’s not rhetorical and it might be a bit different for every circumstance, but I am certain that it starts with a few things:
1. Step away from your work often enough to ask yourself if you are working on the right thing?
2. If your mission is to serve people at a certain point along ‘the stream’, take time to look further upstream at why folks end up at your spot. Look for opportunities to become involved in advocacy and legislation that would reduce the need for you to serve.
3. Look outside your organization, community, and cause to see what you can learn from successful people, organizations and businesses that have gone before you.
More than anything, ask yourself, “What would that look like?” and find the space to try bold new ideas even if they ‘might not work’.