We know you Innovators…reading all you can get your sweet hands on to help decipher the best way forward for your organization and your community during this uncertain time. And if you’re like me, you’re reading informative and provocative pieces with lots of words that call upon you to do something that starts with the prefix “re”… reinvent, reimagine, reinvigorate, restart, reset, refresh, revitalize, rethink, redesign… You get the idea. As it turns out, the prefix “re” according to Dictionary.com means “again, or again and again, or back or backwards”. Merriam-Webster is a bit kinder. They say “re” means again or back or anew.
I believe those “re” words are all great words. But this global health and economic crisis demands more than doing something again or back or backwards, or even doing the thing anew. We need to do new things. So here’s my list of the innovator’s most productive strategies in the toolkit to determine the best new things to do for our organizations and our communities.
- Observe with new perspectives. Listen carefully and compassionately to the stories of the people you need to serve. When and how you can safely do so, get out and be there with them, even if it’s in a neighborhood Zoom meeting or in a homeless camp or an online high school classroom or in line waiting to get into Costco. Embrace their reality as much as you can.
- Challenge existing processes and assumptions. Push to identify the desired outcomes of the stakeholders you serve and have a bias towards those outcomes (immediate and longer term) and not towards internal priorities and agendas. Systematically consider: what are the things that your government must do to achieve those desired outcomes; what can you do in collaboration with others; and what do you need to give others the room to do instead of doing it yourself.
- Clarify the data you need, and watch trends, not data points. We are all overwhelmed with data points. Your job as an innovator and leader is to determine what data will serve your action towards the desired outcomes for the people you serve. Do you need benchmark data for turnaround times for approving business start-ups? Information on access to transit and mobility or commute times for various neighborhoods? Mapping of people who report underlying conditions to assist your EMS? Achievement and equity gaps in local schools? Define the outcomes and the problems you are trying to solve and focus on the data that informs decisions at a deeper level about what causes the stories that you have heard.
- Use Human-Centered Design to create. Start with empathy for how the situation is affecting people in family systems, work systems, etc. Challenge expectations and be sure to clearly define the problems and outcomes needed by people. Be mindful of the internal change dynamics while trying to affect the larger community and brainstorm the universe of ways to positively impact before settling on solutions.
- Avoid quick fixes, but try stuff. Let your residents know what you are going to try, and when, and why, and for how long, and invite their feedback on how it’s going. Keep the longer, larger view in mind. As we’ve heard about the protocols for vaccine testing, the first round is to administer to a few people and see what happens, then to give it to a few hundred people and see what happens, then give it to thousands and see what happens. We need to be just as disciplined in identifying different ways of serving. As Henry Kissinger recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal (April 3, 2020 in his article “The coronavirus pandemic will forever alter the world order”), “The historic challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future.”
- Never stop working on building trust; it is the primary currency of your ability to successfully lead others into an uncertain future. Communicate fully, honestly, accurately, frequently and with compassion for all that people are going through. They need to know not only what you are doing, but what you are planning to do and why, with an opening to tell you how it will affect them and lead time to correct course if needed. Seems obvious, but many of us are falling short on this, and it’s absolutely critical if people are going to join you and support your decisions.
And about that word “procreative” in the title… we all know what procreate means (!), but did you know that “procreative” means generative, productive, having the power to beget (bring into existence; give rise to; bring about). Rather than “re” anything, let’s generate, let’s produce, let’s beget and bring about a new and different path forward for the people we serve.