Saturday, January 10, 2009

Move Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Moving beyond your comfort zone is uncomfortable and takes effort so we rarely do it.

We have all bought books, paid for conferences and asked for advice, only to ignore it and go back to familiar patterns and “safe” ways of thinking.

When I returned to work after a long and much needed vacation, I felt like I was lost. I forgot what my job was and why they even hired me to do it. It was a brand new year…and I had no idea how to start.

So what is a girl to do? Read her own blog of course!

In that moment of utter uselessness, thinking back about what I learned in 2008 served me well. I remembered that in the book Breakthrough Thinking for NonProfit Organizations by Bernard Ross and Clare Segal there was a section on something called mind mapping.

“Eureka!” I thought, “I can doodle a bit and pretend I’m actually working!”

So I dug out that old unopened package of markers I bought in 2007 (when I read the book for the first time) and pulled my copy off the shelf for a little refresher course.

Mindmapping isn’t a new tool it was founded in the 1960’s by a man named Tony Buzan and has been used for decades in psychology, business and education. However, as Ross and Segal point out, there are very real and practical applications in the non profit sector. Mindmaps can help us perform better, be more successful and breakthrough to BIG new ideas and extraordinary results. That was exactly how I needed to start my year.

The concept is simple. Get some coloured markers and as big a piece of paper as you can find. Change your physical space; maybe put it on a wall. Start with a central idea and create branches from that which flow into other ideas. Draw pictures, use colour and put down all your thoughts.

I had a few false starts but once I got the middle right I was just like Jackson Pollok – there was no stopping me! The traffic jam in my mind was now moving through my fingers onto paper AND I was having fun too.

Feeling deeply satisfied and highly motivated I emerged from my office triumphant, the year was planned and I was a superstar.

It was time to share my masterpiece.

There are only three of us in the Foundation but over 70 in the parent organization. It is fair to say that most people were a little perplexed at first. It took some time to explain to science and program staff what this “picture” was. Once they understood it, most people found it very refreshing. The manager of finance even asked me to take her team through the exercise and “How do you do all that?” was repeated often.

Each river draining into the Lake has a purpose. Each stream helps us get to that purpose. All of these small “ecosystems” will be supported by a budget and will raise money.

What this map also provides is a comprehensive look at how much the three of us accomplish and how it all connects. I also saw very clearly the areas I knew well and gaps in both my knowledge and resources.

This is not a board approved strategic plan. We are working on that now. However, I still need to keep operations going and I can not do that if I’m stuck or “faking it”. This exercise helped to motivate and inspire me - so I can work again. The three of us already posted copies of it on our wall. It will help us keep the big picture in mind and stay focussed – you can’t do that with a spreadsheet.

Having had a fantastic start to the year at work, I took my masterpiece home to impress my family. My 12 year old glanced briefly at it on the kitchen table and with no explanation she immediately responded with “So that’s how you are going to raise money this year? Cool.” My 10 year old came by a few minutes later, again, no explanation and responded with “Oh ya. So how much did you make last year?” They knew immediately what it was and what it meant.

Children already think like this! What happens to us? I think it is that we stop playing and being creative. We are trained to think it isn’t appropriate in an adult world. We start feeling safe inside our little box.

If you want to think differently and deliver extraordinary results read Breakthrough Thinking, if you just want to roll up your sleeves and try mindmapping Tony Buzan will tell you how right here.

Mindmapping is a tool I now have to be more productive, creative and solve any challenge. Just like phoning my donors, I am going to make this a habit.

When you learn something at a conference or in a book; when you demand time and advice from someone smarter and more experienced than you – don’t waste it, do something with it. Move beyond your comfort zone - good things will happen!

Thank you for spending time here.

(If you would like to read the map in more detail just email me and I'd be happy to send it to you)

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