I have a favor to ask of you. As you shake hands with old friends and new peers at Fundraising Day, I want you to remember the first time you touched the person you love, bare skin on bare skin. I want you to remember being allowed to hold a newborn. I want you to remember turning toward a friend in pain, even though you were frightened and felt inadequate to the task. I want you to remember how you felt and to remember that everyone you meet, however briefly, holds their own versions of those feelings inside of them.
The moments that last are overwhelmingly those that help us feel and generally involve the attention and active participation of other human beings. And yet we design the places where we work and the transactions that define our work as if how people feel didn’t matter at all.
In meetings, at conferences, in pitch sessions, and in performance reviews we follow a script and we rarely ask about the script’s authorship or how suitable the script is to the performance underway. Luckily or unluckily, I’ve worked in many rooms where no shared script exists. Bringing together artists, leaders from Indigenous communities, frontline social workers, engineers, researchers, and energy sector executives quickly reveals the inadequacy of the scripts we’ve inherited and a desperate need to start over if we hope to build a shared commitment to a better future.
Over time and through often painful experimentation and failure, some recurring themes have emerged that suggested a way of thinking about designing the moments when people come together. My workshop will be an elaboration of these themes, but they are pretty straightforward for anyone that relies on other people.
Firstly, we need to make moments special. When we make them special the moments are enhanced, because taking pains convinces us that the activity is worth doing. Essentially, socially important activities need to be emotionally and physically gratifying.
Secondly, when we focus on our own needs, we are apt to ignore how others feel and we are less likely to get where we want to be. However, when we focus on how we want others to feel, we ignore our own needs, yet paradoxically are more likely to achieve our goals. For example, when we follow a script to seek financial support from a potential donor we can quickly get an answer to a question we have. Will this person support us? However, when we take time and energy to focus on how we want that person to feel, no answers may be forthcoming but all-new questions may emerge that suggest new opportunities for action.
Thirdly, existing scripts too often assume causes and effects that rarely are realized in the world. People are complex, messy, and often contradictory. Scripts imagine people as complicated machines that will respond in appropriate ways to the right sets rational arguments. We don’t believe this about ourselves so we certainly shouldn’t apply this to others. We all want our children to grow up as strong, capable, and happy individuals. Few of us believe that we can force this to happen. We need to focus on creating conditions rather than creating outcomes.
Most of this may seem obvious but remarkably few people are this intentional when preparing to bring people together. We are very good at creating spoken and unspoken rules. We are less good at understanding the unintended consequences of those rules on others and how they affect the experience of our collaborators and friends in the work that we do.
Through organizational design, leadership development and strategy facilitation, Jerrold supports partner organizations to synthesize their ambitions and the needs of their stakeholders, communities and audiences.
Jerrold was previously the Director of Innovation and Program Partnerships for leadership programming at Banff Centre. Jerrold completed his Master’s in Strategic Innovation and Change at the University of Denver with a focus on strategy formulation in creative sector organizations.
He has developed partnerships, cross-sector collaborations and development programs to leverage the strengths of various sectors in addressing complex, systems-level social and cultural issues (hopelessness, economic inequality, city building, etc.). He has also directed the creation of leadership and entrepreneurial programs that prepare individuals, project teams, and organizations to connect with other sectors, organize to leverage digital creation and consumption, benefit from greater diversity in audiences and creators, while setting a point of view and a path forward.