Strategic Doing in Australia: The Fraser Coast Fanatics take flight

O ur Strategic Doing work in Australia continues to grow. The Fraser Coast Fanatics have formed and are storming ahead with a series of civic forums.

One of the first steps in Strategic Doing is to practice the art of convening around topics that help people recognize and appreciate their assets. (Strategic Doing is an asset based approach to strategy in open networks builds from David Cooperrider’s work in Appreciative Inquiry.) We start with new civic conversations and look for “heat spots”, initiatives where collaborative energy has formed by connecting assets — cool people doing cool things.

The Fraser Coast Fanatics are very focused on building a monthly forum around the first question of Strategic Doing: What could we do? In our December Strategic Doing workshop in Hervey Bay, we agreed to start with a six month commitment to hold multiple forums around the Coast.

Unlike strategic planning, in which early steps are heavily prescriptive, Strategic Doing is more organic and emergent. By following simple rules, we manage the complexity of this emergent process.

Starting these new regional conversations is extremely important. They enable people to practice new habits of civility and deeper conversation (or what some call dialogue or deliberative democracy). The idea of monthly forums reinforces the notion that a small group of people can intentionally create civic spaces, establish rules of civility to govern them, and conduct deeper, more meaningful conversations. It’s within their grasp to design these more powerful democratic experiences. It’s a useful, simple example of “collective creation” or co-creating new value in their community.

As this collective habit develops, participants begin to recognize that civility is not just an ornament, something nice to have. Rather, civility is critical to our capability for complex collective thinking and for creating shared value. (Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School has some interesting work on the concept of Shared Value, an important characteristic of networks and collaboration. More here. This idea of shared value is not new. The notion that civility is tied to complex thinking to create shared value has deep roots in our democracy. James Madison’s notes of our Constitutional Convention make clear that the first act of our Framers involved passing rules of civility to enable complex conversations.)

Shifting the regional conversation represents an important first step in developing a regional strategy. Once the conversation starts shifting, participants begin to think more horizontally. Our default orientation, born of many years in hierarchical organizations, is vertical.

Vertical thinking dampens creativity, experimentation and innovation. It instills in us a sense of passivity, even fear. It leads us to thinking that we need permission before we can act. We believe that we can’t do something unless someone else gives us permission.

With more practice in horizontal thinking, participants become more aware of the people in their networks (or as the Fraser Coast folks tell it, their “spheres”). As they think more horizontally and become aware of their networks and the rich assets within them, they reach a second horizon in their development.

They come to the realization that they could actually do something with the remarkable set of assets that they can access at their fingertips. This realization, as our colleagues in Flint have told us, helps break a sense of dependency. Tendaji Ganges at the University of Michigan calls this sense of dependency the “grant addiction”.

Bob Brown at Michigan State speaks eloquently about this dimension of their experience in Flint. “In neighborhoods besieged by complex, wicked problems, Strategic Doing creates hope through the power of taking action with the assets or gifts we already possess. In that moment when we combine assets, we begin to tell a new story of opportunity and possibility.”

At this stage, people are eager to learn more about how to mobilize these assets strategically by making collective choices. Developing strategic thinking (the simple disciplines of Strategic Doing) represents the next “horizon” in their development. (To introduce this horizon, we developed Strategic Doing: The Game, based on our collaboration with Bob and our Design Team.)

In addition, the Fraser Coast Fanatics have adopted the Strategic Doing Credo developed by our Design Team. This credo helps people acknowledge the generational dimension of their work together. One of the important aspects of Strategic Doing — a key to developing more meaningful and practical commitment to sustainability — is building this sense of inter-generational responsibility within our communities and regions.

Ed Morrison is Director of the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. For the past five or six years, he has been developing new, agile approaches to strategy in open, loosely joined networks, a discipline he calls Strategic Doing. Prior to starting his economic development work, Ed worked for Telesis, a corporate strategy consulting firm. In this position, he served on consulting teams for clients such as Ford Motor Company, Volvo, and General Electric. He conducted manufacturing cost studies in the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada, Italy, Sweden, and France. Ed started his professional career in Washington, D.C., where he has served as a legislative assistant to an Ohio Congressman, staff attorney in the Federal Trade Commission, and staff counsel in the US Senate. He holds a BA degree cum laude with honors from Yale University and MBA and JD degrees from the University of Virginia.

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