On practice and perfection

We’ve been leading some bright spots workshops lately, which involve arts leaders analyzing their organizations beforehand in a survey and then working some issues that are challenging them by using the bright spots principles. In one of these workshops, Jessica Robinson Love from CounterPULSE asked, “I am curious that the bright spots methodology is all about looking for what is working in the system, and yet when in applying the framework to our own organizations you are asking us to look for what isn’t working. I wonder if there is a way to use the same concept of looking for brightness to the process of developing these bright spots principles?”

I think it is a brilliant question. I don’t have the answer, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it.  I believe in the methodology of looking for what is working and building off of it, and why wouldn’t that apply within an individual organization as well as a system? And yet I also know that sometimes there are blind spots where nothing seems to be working, or disconnects where replicating what is working in one area won’t help us solve a problem in another. For example, if I am really bad at budgeting realistically, can I just double down on my strength in creating compelling theater pieces? Probably not, I’ll just end up deeper in debt. So I think that there is also value in being honest about ones own organizational weaknesses and learning from others who are finding success.

But what Jessica’s question brings up for me in this moment is the need for us to hold both our strengths and challenges in mind at the same time, so that we can approach the practice of improvement from a place of empowerment and capacity rather than deficiency. And this is really the way it is. So far, none of the organizations who have taken the survey are challenged at everything. More importantly, however, every one of them has some strength in each of the five areas (based on the ADEPT qualities in the paper), even if it is an area in which they struggle overall. (Notably, there is also not one organization that has taken the survey that is perfect in every category.) In our next workshop in Seattle we’re going to try to work this more, we’ll see how it goes.

One more thought. Zen master Suzuki Roshi told his students, “You are perfect just as you are. And there is always room for improvement.”  We can be as harsh on our organizational flaws as we are on our personal ones, so I like this way of thinking about organizational evolution. It allows us to engage in honest inquiry about where we can improve, without judgment. It also reinforces what I think is one of the fundamental lessons of this research, which is that we are really talking about “practicing brightness,” not “achieving brightness.” As with any area of mastery, practice is as important for the master as the beginner. There is always room for improvement.



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