The Laboratory of Life







My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.
Anais Nin

 I have to make a confession. When I am in the middle of a project and really focusing on meeting my deadlines or goals I sometime forget to eat. I forget to return phone calls. I forget to step outside my workspace and take a break. Sometime I forget to breathe. Not cool.

It’s a very bad habit that I have become more conscious of and I am trying to correct it. I promise! I need to do this not only for my mental and physical health but because sometime we all need to look outward for fresh ideas and perspectives.

 Ideas can come from just about anywhere. Sometime they come from customers or clients in the field, sometimes from suppliers and sometimes from other organizations. We always need to be looking and listening to what’s happening around us for something new on the horizon.

Implementing new ideas call for more listening and communication than we like or are used to providing. It requires more relationship building and we know that takes a lot of time. Successful ideas are not just born out of a cubicle on the 12th floor of an organization. They come from the field. You know– the people out THERE. I like to refer to them as, the rest of the WORLD. The people on the ground who have great advice on how things should be done.  As a leader you need to always stay in touch with trends in the industry and the current advice and ideas from folks in a wide variety of  disciplines not just the nonprofit sector.  Read and know about what’s happening socially, politically, economically, with technology and artistically. All of these sectors directly influence the work we do.

The idea killer

The demand for change, the demand for more…faster…better..cheaper will come from both inside your organization and outside of it. It is costly to keep up with all of this listening and communicating, this learning and reading AND to do the day to day work.  So when budgets get tight and you are asked to be more efficient with less, when the pressure is at its greatest should we really be limiting or killing the very things that will bring the next new idea? You know the actual idea that you need to weather this storm. So what’s the biggest idea killer happening in the nonprofit sector, the beast we keep feeding over and over again? 

  We keep cutting our training and travel budgets when we need them most. Our staff stops interacting with outsiders less and less so that we can save money and new ideas are cut off before they could ever be born.

Staying in touch is your lifeline to the future.  Let ideas flow in from the outside. Let information flow in from the outside. Stop being so insular. Treat every project as an adventure with all the energy and excitement of a startup. I have heard some experts say that at the very least you should look at every new project as a ‘start over”.

The Lab of Life

Where in the communities that you serve have you not been? What communities have you not engaged? Have you sat in a class at your local elementary school recently?   Have you been inside the local businesses or factories? Even more important have the people who work for you.  Let this happen every quarter. Give them the opportunity to step out and get energized and fresh ideas will be born. Shop for new ideas

 If your organization does mission trips, then pay for your staff to attend a mission trip run by another organization. Make this idea a priority for your organization.  Break through the boundaries that are holding your back. Collect feedback and suggestions from everyone. Read blogs, and engage in all forms of social media. Make gathering ideas a part of your regular routine.

Where are the meaningful opportunities in your community that allow you to be of service while stretching and challenging you? Find them and take them on. Allocate just as many resources to opportunities as you do to problems. Do not just assign your best performing folks to problems and damage control.  Give them opportunities as well because opportunities are what ultimately produce growth.

Help break mindsets.  Get folks passionate about what they do and how they do it. Every day remember why you do this honorable work and help your organization board members and staff  remember that as well. Engage your head, but always, always keep your heart in the game. Use the lab of life to spark a revolution.


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