I’m cleaning. After seven years in the same office and the same (albeit morphing) job, I’m cleaning in preparation for leaving. And this is no simple task because I save potentially good stuff.
Other people describe what I do in other terms, but they are entitled to their opinions. I often have very good (though admittedly odd) reasons for saving the things I do.
For example, I have discovered several rolls of lists, sheets of flipchart paper covered with the results of brainstorming exercises with various leadership groups across several years. Those lists are now in the trash. Here are some of the reasons:
- Most of the items were captured electronically. Saving them was in part a backup plan.
- The groups all have different people now. No one remembers the discussions and the words on the pages which were clear in the moment look like code words now.
- The plans outlined have happened (in some cases) or been abandoned (in some cases) or been amended (in most cases).
- No one else cares about the pieces of paper. I acknowledge an odd awareness of symbolic objects. I’m not big on big expenses, but a stone from a walk, a mug from a significant conversation, a small plastic cup…each of these can carry significant power to help me remember.
Here, however, is the most significant reason for throwing them away: the lists are worthless.
What happens in a brainstorming session, in a strategy session, in a planning retreat is that people step away from everything and focus on a task or idea or problem or dream. Within the silence, within the bubble, we explore possibilities. We do our absolute best to identify our strengths and weaknesses and opportunities and threats. We prayerfully consider what the next steps should be. And we carefully list all of these musings.
As soon as we list them, however, they are irrelevant. The world they are intended to reflect has changed merely by there being a list which has attempted to give it order. And the further away from that moment we get, the more irrelevant they become.
“But we said that we would…”
Yes, but as soon as we walked back into the office, we discovered that someone died or income shifted or someone was going to be called to another job.
“But I really like that idea (that I came up with)”
Yes, but as we thought about it two days later, it was clear that we didn’t have the information we needed about the larger context. (And we didn’t know that your spouse would benefit from that action).
“But you said…”
That was not a contract, it was a brainstorming exercise. We were identifying possibilities, not promises.
I have a couple suggestions for future discussions of values and plans and purposes, for myself and others. There are particularly intended for groups that are about changing the world.
1. Make what you agree on an outcome. What do you most see as the thing, the purpose, the change, the whatever, that you want to have happen? This way, process can change, specific steps can flex, but you know where you are headed.
2. After the session is done, ceremonially burn the notes.
3. A day later, have everyone write down what they believe was best about the process of meeting, the questions that linger after the discussion, and, most importantly, without looking at any notes, write down what was agreed upon (See 1. above).
4. Compare these notes and decide whether or not you really arrived at any agreement or whether you need to go back and reflect more.
The goal is to come up with goals, plans, purposes that everyone agrees on and about and to. The goal is to have the agreement written on hearts and minds and behaviors…not on sheets of paper…that end up with the trash.