In the early 1980s when I first served as a college vice president, I can remember a quiet or calm around the offices of the place during the summer. Staff members not only took vacations but thought and reflected about the previous year, made plans for the coming year, and generally lived a slower schedule with fewer demands. The pace of time seemed to slow down and speed up – depending on the time of year.
Soon after, it began to change to the pace that we “enjoy” now in the summer on campuses and in our practice at JGA with our clients. This was a combination of technology (fax machines, email, voice mail) and the need to be more productive, to compete more successfully and to just plain achieve more for our institutions. The pace was busy throughout the year and at times seemed relentless. Those times to reflect and think ahead became fewer and fewer and generally were shorter and shorter.
It seems to me we don’t do nearly as good a job as we should at making time to consider that which we’ve just experienced and look ahead.
What would we do differently the next time we do X? What lessons have we learned? I’ve observed cultures in some nonprofit organizations in which not only is there no time to do this sort of reflective questioning, but it is actually highly frowned upon.
The notion seems to be that if you take time to think about what has been tried, what worked, and how to do it better in the future, you are somehow cheating the organization of a fair work hour today.
I would argue that the real cheating or disservice occurs when we continue doing what we are doing without taking the time to ask tough questions, learn from the experience and come up with new approaches. We know the common definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect a different result.
The pace at which we all work and live today makes it even more important to force ourselves – if need be- to take time to evaluate, assess and then actively and resolutely innovate and aim higher. In fact, it’s likely that the best which resides in all of us is really only unlocked when we do so.