Etmanski: Create a Container for Your Content

Being on the Board of Skills Society, I find myself wondering how we might get our message beyond our immediate community of supporters.  A common problem confronting most not-for-profit originations.

 

How do we get people to care about something that doesn’t really matter to them?

 

 There are lots of strategies.  The Elevator Pitch.  The One-Pager.  The Brand Message.  The Narrative.  Social Media Strategies.  Flashy Brochures.  All of these are effective to a certain point.  However,  how can the message a person hears be converted into an action they take?

 

For Etmanski, “Presenting the right content in the right container makes it easier for people to do the right thing” (p.64).   For impact beyond the local context, the message needs to inspire people beyond your community of supporters to  contribute to the million small acts of the movement.

 

5 Characteristics of Effective Containers

I crafted questions to  help you evaluate your message and its ability to reach beyond your community of supporters.

  • They are playful and fun.” – Does your message make people feel good?
  • They are non-judgmental” – Does your message blame or guilt the people you are trying to reach?
  • They ignite our imaginations” – Does your message inspire people to think about what is possible?
  • They personalize the abstract” – Does your message articulate how the issue is connected to the people you are trying to reach?
  • They tell a story” – Does your message have characters and a plot?

 

After running your message through Etmanski’s tips, I would encourage you to ask yourself one more question; does your message still have the ring of authenticity or does it feel contrived?

 

Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation by Al Etmanski is a guide for social innovators to move their idea from localized success to broader systemic impact.

 

 

Scenario Thinking: Explore and Synthesize (Phase Two/Three)

Scenario thinking has five basic phases as outlined in What if? The Art of Scenario Thinking for NonProfits.
  • Phase One (Orient) –  creates a clearly articulated issue/question
  • Phase Two (Explore) –  identifies all driving forces.
  • Phase Three (Synthesize) – prioritizes driving forces
  • Phase Four (Act)
  • Phase Five (Monitor)

Phase Two: Explore

Begin Phase Two by brainstorming all the driving forces potentially impacting the organization beyond the day-to-day.  “Driving forces are the forces of change outside your organization that will shape future dynamics in both predictable and unpredictable ways.” (P.27, What if? The Art of Scenario Thinking for NonProfits)

Remember that driving forces can be reasonably predictable or the vaguest of uncertainties and it’s important to them all.

 

Phase Three:  Synthesize

Phrase Three is where the scenarios start to take shape by prioritizing the driving forces brainstormed in the Explore phase.  The driving forces with the most relevance to the issue or question discovered in the Orient phase and the most uncertainty should be prioritized the highest.  The selected driving forces become the foundation for our scenarios.

Using two driving forces, create a matrix with four quadrants. (example taken from What if? The Art of Scenario Thinking for NonProfits)

Less——government ——More

Weak—–economy———-Strong

 

The four quadrants will create four scenario frameworks.

  • Less government with weak economy
  • More government with weak economy
  • Less government with strong economy
  • More government with strong economy

Create narratives for each scenario framework that start in the present and run into the future.  Remember, it is a story not a dissertation or analysis.  “Content is less important than the types of conversations they spark and decisions they spark.” (P.30, What if? The Art of Scenario Thinking for NonProfits)

The narratives will eventually fade to the background as more conversations begin to reveal opportunities and threats. Conversations should become the focus and not the scenarios.

Unpacking Beliefs

My belief is not reality.  My constructed contractor Pete is not the real contractor Pete.  Seems very straightforward and even obvious.  The challenge emerges when trying to apply this to practice.  To begin thinking liminally, if I understand Gray correctly, is to understand how my belief about contractor Pete is formed.  To help understand this process Gray introduces the Pyramid of Belief (based on the Ladder of Inference) in which Reality forms the base and The Obvious sits on top.

Reality:  As mentioned in Is Contractor Pete Really an Assshole?, it begins with acknowledging reality as unknowable.  It is not possible to know everything about everything. I can’t know the contractor Pete that exists in reality because I can’t know everything he does and thinks.

Experiences: My experiences of reality through my senses form the basis of my beliefs.  This includes everything I perceive from reality whether I can recall it or not.  How I perceived contractor Pete through my senses generates my experiences of him including the things I noticed and the things I didn’t.

Attention:  Because our experiences of reality are so vast, our brains need a means of prioritizing the information we encounter.  This means we pay attention to some pieces of information and disregard others.  When I’m craving a salty snack my attention is drawn towards the Old Dutch chips rather than the M&Ms, pasta, or canned beans in the pantry.  When I first encountered contractor Pete to do the installation in the kitchen I noticed his walk, his dress, the way he talked, the way he treated his assistant, the way he treated his tools, and the way he treated the materials he was installing.

Theories and Judgments:  Based on what I noticed about contractor Pete, I began to form theories about what to expect.  Can I expect a quality installation based on how he treats the materials and his tools?  What can I expect from him if I have a problem in the future, based on how he treats his assistant and how he chooses to answer my questions?

Beliefs:  Experiences, attention, theories and judgements are ways to make reality manageable by molding it into beliefs I use to navigate its complexity. My belief that contractor Pete is an unprofessional asshole allows me to simplify our interaction.  It also simplifies what I can expect from him in the future making it easier for me to ‘never use his business again”.  “Beliefs are the foundational model that you use to navigate the world” (p.18, Liminal Thinking)

The Obvious:  My pyramid shapes the contours of my ‘obvious’ otherwise known as my version of reality.  “Learning how to navigate this ‘below the obvious’ construction  zone is one of the core skills of liminal thinking” (p.19, Liminal Thinking)

You’ll notice I did not go into a tediously biased narrative about what contractor Pete did to earn his moniker (unprofessional asshole).  This was intentional.  My goal is not to have you simply agree or disagree with my obvious.  Instead my goal is to think liminally about what happened so I don’t have a repeated experience with another ‘contractor Pete’ in the future.

“Liminal thinking requires you to become more conscious of that invisible belief construction process, in yourself and others” (p.19, Liminal Thinking)

 

Liminial Thinking Principle 2:  “Beliefs are created.  Beliefs are constructed hierarchically, using theories and judgements,  which are based on selected facts and personal, subjective experience ” (p.21, Liminal Thinking)

Is Contractor Pete Really an Asshole?

Over the past few months my wife and I have been renovating our kitchen.  During the process we had two contractors.  Contractor Joe was communicative, open, and pleasant.  Contractor Pete was aggressive, defensive and hostile.  Choosing a path towards becoming a liminal thinker compelled me to pause and look more closely at why there was such a difference between the two contractors.  It would be easy (simple) to conclude that Pete was asshole and Joe wasn’t.  Joe was a professional and Pete wasn’t. But being a liminal thinker requires thinking beyond the simple. The goal is to think differently so I can do things better.

“Liminal thinking is the art of creating change by understanding, shaping, and redrawing beliefs”  (p. xxiii, Liminial Thinking).

If I want to avoid experiencing unprofessional asshole contractor Pete in the future (change), I need to understand, shape and redraw my beliefs about him.   So how do I proceed?

It starts with realizing that the contractor Pete existing in reality is unknowable.  It’s simply not possible for me to know every action and thought contractor Pete has ever had.  So this leaves me with my belief about Contractor Pete.  Gray illustrates this so clearly by asking you to think of an elephant.  Now that you have an elephant in your mind, is there an actual, real elephant in your head?  The elephant in your mind is a construction of an elephant based on your past experiences with elephants.

The unprofessional asshole contractor Pete is my construction based on my experience with him.  He is not a fact in reality.  The unprofessional asshole version of Contractor Pete only exists in my mind like the elephant in your mind moments ago. Undoubtedly, Contractor Pete will have a different belief about his professionalism and character.  His belief is also a construction and is not a fact in reality.

A belief is something you hold in your mind, a kind of map or model of external reality” (p.6, Liminal Thinking)

The result is a situation in which I will battle for my version of reality and Contractor Pete will battle for his – because it is so obvious to both of us who is right.  Unfortunately, the argument over whose belief is right distracts from the learning needed to do something better.  We get stuck battling over whose obvious is more obvious and forget that the original goal is to do a better job of the kitchen installation.  

Liminial Thinking Principle 1:  “Beliefs are models.  Beliefs seem like perfect representations of the world, but, in fact, they are imperfect models for navigating a complex,  multidimensional, unknowable reality.”

You Couldn’t Think Your Way Out of A Wet Paper Bag!

Over the past couple of years, and as I get a little older, I find myself involved in meaningful, inspiring conversations with friends and colleagues about how we should organize our communities, organizations, institutions and systems.  Conversations about systemic change to make things better for everyone.  Like an education system that teaches real students rather than the mythical average child.  Or, on a grander scale, a global economic system accessible to everyone (The Size of the Pie).

But how do we proceed?  I know it starts with refusing to accept “That’s just the way it is” as our default. 

Then what?  I believe the answer lies in how we think. 

We need to think differently. Not better. Nor faster. Nor smarter. Most of the time we think without really thinking about it.  But have you ever stopped to think about how you justify to yourself that having a second dough-nut is a good idea? Have you ever stopped to unpack how that process happens in your head?  I never have because I’m already too busy thinking about how good the second dough-nut tastes.  

Then I began reading Dave Gray’s book entitled Liminial Thinking. He deftly unpacks the complexity of how our thoughts are created and ultimately lead to our actions.  My plan is to take you through my experience of the book as I read it, think about it and apply it to my practice.  However, Gray makes these concepts so accessible that I would recommend you give yourself the treat of experiencing it for yourself. 

Ultimately, my goal is to think differently so I can do things better.

 

Podcast Pick: On Average by 99% Invisible

I’m a huge podcast fan and sometimes I come across an episode that I feel compelled to share.

On Average by 99% Invisible (20 min) is an informative bit of  research illustrating how the mathematical concept average can solve problems……or create them.

It starts by outlining the historical origins of how the average measure was discovered and subsequently used.  For example, it helped solve a clothing issue for President Lincoln by creating the Small, Medium and Large sizes we see in stores today.  Later  it illustrates how designing for the average had disastrous outcomes for the United States Air Force.

Can you think of any examples in your life/work where designing for the average has been a help? or a hindrance?