Change. Meaningful, lasting, effective change.
Over the past few months, the topic of change has been a major focus of the Emerging Leaders Networking lunches. In culmination of the series of lunches dedicated to this theme, Stephanie Jacobs, Program Director at the Nonprofits Assistance Fund, ignited a discussion around the ways nonprofits work towards real change.
The conversation began around two points made in the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. The authors write: 1) there is an innate struggle between the emotional and rational parts of the brain when undergoing the process of change, and 2) examples of successful change, or “bright spots”, should be identified and replicated.
While we may need to change in a radical way, sometimes the more comfortable and familiar path is more appealing; the emotional parts of our brain often seek the reassurance of stability. Stephanie challenged us, as nonprofit professionals, to choose a direction, eliminate the barriers in our way, and work from the heart. This way, we can balance our rational desires for the accomplishment of specific goals and processes with our emotional need to work for a cause close to our hearts.
Upon choosing a direction and taking steps toward change, nonprofits can often get stuck asking “What is the problem and how can I fix it?” There is nothing intrinsically bad about this question; however, the answer is often complex and difficult to adopt as a solution. Instead, nonprofits should focus on asking “What worked when we had to solve a similar problem in the past and how can we replicate that?”
Instead of reinventing the wheel every time they address the problem, organizations should take a close look at success stories to find commonalities in circumstances and bring those elements to bear on the problem at hand. By employing this strategy, we can find ideas, programs, and changes that succeed along the way to our larger goals – we can illuminate the bright spots. Once we take these bright spots and apply them to our own efforts, we can radically change the world for the better.
Adopting bright spot strategies has challenges. The largest is the temptation to follow a cookie-cutter approach – take a bright spot and replicate it exactly as it is for a different problem. Adaptation of bright spots enables nonprofits to take the best ideas and integrate them into the context of their own constituents, communities, and cultures. We need to ensure situational adaptation of successful approaches to problems.
Few people would guess sometimes the brightest spots are right next door in our own communities. This does not necessarily mean taking those ideas and putting them into place within your own organizations, as duplication can stomp out the flame of innovation. Rather, nonprofits need to foster the bright spots through strategic collaboration and their ability to leverage what they bring to the table. Not only does cooperation reduce duplication and increase efficiency, it also is attractive to foundations and other donors.
So what is the next step for your nonprofit to solving problems and bringing about forward-thinking change? Find the bright spots in your organization’s community and fan them into a conflagration of success.
How do you identify and adapt bright spots?