As I was working on yesterday’s post, I wondered about the wisdom of calling it “Where, When, and (Exactly) What?” Exactly is a powerful word, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that exactly isn’t exactly what I meant. Exactly implies something not only about precision, but about changelessness, that probably isn’t a good fit for a program that will be jointly created by members of a joyful learning community. I think more precisely is closer to what I meant than exactly.
You may have noticed, too, that yesterday’s post was a bit on the short side. I’d been working on it, and feeling increasingly frustrated, for a while when I “just happened” to get a call from a friend who really needed to talk. So instead of saving another draft, I decided to go ahead and publish, to “ship” as Seth Godin puts it. After all, the alternative to shipping is usually waiting for perfection, and that’s a near guarantee that you’ll never ship at all.
There’s something about factory-model thinking, or hierarchical-individual thinking to use Richard Elmore’s terminology, that encourages waiting for perfection. That little voice, the one Seth Godin calls “the resistance,” will spin its scary stories about getting in trouble, and before you know it, you’re busy-busy-busy trying to avoid trouble, to avoid notice, to make the New Thing perfectly ordinary so it won’t stand out in an unfavorable way. That kills the New Thing, of course, and after a while it feels like it’s killing your passion and even your soul. But it’s safe and comfortable, and it’s hard to argue with a quest for perfection.
And yet the wonderful thing about a joyful learning community, or any distributed approach to learning and organization in Elmore’s terms, is that it doesn’t have to be perfect at the beginning. In fact, it won’t be and it can’t be. The perfection of a joyful learning community isn’t a static thing at all; it’s the process by which the community itself creates, shapes, recreates, and reshapes the meaningful thing its members are building together.
That makes things a lot easier in some ways, but a lot harder in others!
The early history of that joyful community I met on Sunday has some important lessons for anyone interested in building, sustaining, or strengthening joyful communities of any kind. They started with a clear why and a small, but committed group of who, and within a few weeks they had a what and a preliminary where and when. Word spread, and they outgrew the first where and when, so they found a better one … but better doesn’t mean permanently best, and they’re already thinking about what to do when they outgrow the current space. My friend Mark, who frequently helps me sharpen my thinking when incisive and insightful Google+ comments, tells a similar story of the founding of the church his family attends: beginning as a small group of who and a why, with a very temporary when and where, it grew into a large congregation.
Come to think of it, that’s true of the joyful learning communities I’ve participated in over the years … the ones I “just” belonged to and the ones I’ve facilitated.
I “just happened” to receive an email a day or two ago with some good suggestions for rapid execution of the essential features of a product … or a project. If you’re familiar with the principles of lean, you wouldn’t have been surprised by any of the suggestions. But it was good and important for me to see them in my in-box; it helped me realize I’d started falling into that trap of perfection again. “But what about a space?” I was asking. “And what about hours of operation and This Feature and That Feature? And what about the money to sustain things in the long term?” Yes, those things are important, but they shouldn’t be the primary focus at this point. A “perfect” location, “perfect” hours of operation, and “perfect” facilities are a lot less important than the initial group of joyful learning community members. Bring together five or ten of them, plus an adequate temporary space, and we can work out the details of more precisely when, where, and what together.
Now I’m wondering about where and when to bring that initial group together … or whether we should “just” try to bring groups together in the two or three most likely initial locations. What if the answer to “Town A or Town B” is the answer my food-loving father used to give when restaurant servers asked “Would you like the pie or the cake?” “Yes,” he would say … because, in fact, he wanted the pie and the cake. Can a lean network of joyful learning communities form in a series of borrowed temporary spaces?
And if so, is that why it’s been so hard to find “the” right place? Was it always an issue of right time for right places instead?
I’m still not clear about exactly where, when, or what … but maybe exactly was never the point at all. More precisely … I like the look, sound, and feel of that. The quest for exactly can be paralyzing, but the search for more precisely is oddly energizing.
I wonder who will join in those initial joyful communities, and I wonder more precisely what we’ll discover together in the days and weeks to come!