Posts Tagged ‘Managing Transitions’

Ben Franklin, Ben Frankllin

John Fuller writes that between running a print shop, making up the US postal system and America’s first lending library, and seed-planting for the revolution, Ben Franklin “also found time to draw up a vast collection of new devices.”  And he never patented any of them.  “Pretty good for a bored-looking guy on the $100 bill.”

The words lending library caught my eye, there.

When I was reading Managing Transitions on the airplane, flying to Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri (specializing in the M places this time around), I was captured–as I wrote in my last blog–by the fact that if you want to make a change effectively, you need a vivid mental picture of what the new thing will look like.

(I wonder what picture of a lending library guided Ben Franklin.  From having helped plant 60 libraries for children in Ethiopia–few of which are lending libraries–I’m impressed at the multitude of tiny things that have to work for books to find their right places on the shelves and in the hands of the readers who will slurp up the stories and ideas inside.)

On my first time through the book, I was caught by the PICTURE idea.  Once I got to my first and second M states and started working with the other teammates engaged by the dream of Ethiopia Reads ( I had to go back to re-read

“Some people really respond to the picture.  Once they get it in their heads, they find a way to reach the destination that has captured their imagination.  Many executives and planners fall into this group, and because they don’t feel as much of a personal need for a plan that spells out the details of the route from here to there, they underestimate how much others need a plan.”



At Vermont College MFA, we argue a lot about the usefulness of outlines in the process of creating a novel.  Too tight an outline and your characters become your pawns, leaping from block to block because you need them to do this, go there, feel such-and-such in order to serve your outline.  They don’t feel fleshy and REAL and compelling…because their motivations aren’t organic.  They are being driven by a plot engine.

No road map at all?  You might get something delightfully organic…and big fat messy.

You might feel so scared as you work that your voice gets drowned out and smothered by Fearnando.

Fearnando is what my author friends and I named the big ol’ fears everyone has to fight off when they are doing something new and big and scary.  One of my VCMFA students created this button that I have by my desk.

Back, back Fernando.

Ol’ Ben seems to have been someone who could dream the dream AND plan the plan.  Amazing.

Vision pulls me forward, whether inventing a book or Ethiopia Reads.   But no one ever finished a novel or grew a nonprofit into something that will last without being patient






The pain and glory of change

As I travel to Minneapolis for an Ethiopia Reads ( board retreat, I’m getting my bearings by–what else?–reading a book.  My very smart baby sister recommended it because it helped her in her work at Reed College.  Managing Transition: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges is written just for times like these in the life of organizations.

Started out bravely dreaming a dream and launching a venture?

It might be anything.

A garden.

A fig tree.

A book.

A nonprofit organization to bring books to Ethiopian kids.

The dreamers imagine and plan and jot things down and poke around the edges trying to figure out what we’re doing.  The as we launch, we blast through a draft or start selling something or open the doors of a book center.  The people doing things at this stage have to be good at improvising and making up STUFF according to the vision of where they’re trying to end up.

I think with Ethiopia Reads we’re at the Getting Organized stage of learning to do things in standardized ways, moving beyond the “natural energy” of the founders and getting to “a more predictable set of activities by a growing number of people.”

Maybe we can’t get predictable.

So many new things have to get solved every day–and we’re still inventing and assessing and asking questions and trying solutions. It’s fun to see new things like these teachers taking qualifying exams in a school that wasn’t even built when the school year began in 2011.  But every step involves new problems.

Every step involves change.  And change, says William Bridges, means a time of transition.

Endings–and grief is a hard train to ride, weird and wild.

A neutral zone, where we muddle and sort and stay entrepreneurial, celebrating opportunities, being willing to take risks.  “How can we come out of this waiting time better than we were before the transition started?”  That’s the kind of question to ask.  And…”what would I like to try that I’ve never experimented with before?”

Stuck on something like, say, a novel revision?

Find 10 or 20 new answers–the crazier the better, says this author.

Restrain the impulse to push prematurely for certainty and closure.

Finally…a new beginning.

“Like any organic process,” the author writes, “beginings cannot be made to happen by a word or act.  They happen when the timing of the transition process allows them to happen, just as flowers and fruit appear on a schedule that is natural and not subject to anyone’s will.”

How to move your own resisting brain or a group of people into a new beginning?

Make sure the problem is vivid.  If you believe your novel is working, it’s going to be hard to convince yourself to try new solutions.

If you think the organization is trotting along just fine as it is, you are not going to want to go through the grieving of endings and the uncertainty of the neutral time.

Clarify purpose.

For a novel this can be “effect wanted.”

For an organization, the purpose should come from its “will, abilities, resources, and character.”

Create a picture.

Realize that some people grab a new vision instantly.  Others shuffle.  Don’t be overwhelming with a picture that’s intimidating, not exciting.  Know that a compelling picture is all about the right details.

When Julie said, “I want to be sure there’s a school in the area where my children were born,” I don’t know whether she envisioned this blue-green building rising amidst the crops.

It makes a powerful picture for the next steps, though.

What a dream…kids learning about their own power–through ideas, through books, through art, through experimenting with taking the old beauty and turning it into new dreams.