The Tyranny of Task

Today I had the privilege in participating in a learning session hosted by Pillar NonProfit.  The topic was community collaborations and how to use the art of cultural animation to explore system level issues in provocative new ways.  It was an energizing learning playground.  We experienced different animation tools.

The thing that is lingering on my mind is what got revealed using the animation experiences. One of the exercises involved sorting buttons. At the beginning of the day I was amazed at how focused we got on doing the tasks assigned and how little time we spent on setting the stage by communicating and checking in with everyone.  Ideas were thrown out and taken up and off we went.  In doing so we lost the potential of creative ideas.  It also illustrated how dominant the “go along to get along” mindset is.  In debrief conversations it came up that some people didn’t want to engage in the task and actually disengaged. Others had ideas but didn’t offer them if not invited.  Some held back in offering alternatives because the proverbial train had left the station and we were in action.

I couldn’t help notice our geography.  Instructions were given and we were immediately eyes down and in action.  As we worked to be productive we didn’t really connect with each other.  This happens all the time and today illustrated how that leads to status quo outcomes versus creative ideas being co-created and put into action with new flair.  We did some good work and it could have been more dynamic with a few tweaks.

As the day unfolded, there was more awareness of connecting, checking in, and inviting people’s perspectives.  I personally became more courageous to disagree with the group direction and offer other solutions.  That became possible because each exercise helped us get to know each other better.  I felt more connected and understood my colleagues a little better.  I felt safe to depart from the norm and raise a dissenting view. This relationship currency is implicit in the ability to create, innovate and even fail together.  True collaboration requires courage and it requires a sense of connection.

So, as I reflect on today I want to keep in mind that cultural animation is not just the art of exploring new pathways to create greatness in our communities.  It’s about building relationships and creating conditions for conversations that don’t usually get to happen. And that's what leads to the innovative ideas and creative outcomes.  It’s days like today that give me hope of future possibilities because of the caring, compassionate people wanting to engage in culture and community shifts.  It also takes time and patience to stay in the conversation and not be defeated when road blocks emerge.