Embracing Free Agents

I was in Atlanta last week with the HandsOn Network gang. It was a fascinating immersion into creative process led by Michelle James (what she calls Creative Emersion.) The goal of the week was to introduce the futures thinking (with the amazing thinker/facilitator Rick Smyres) and social media to ten HandsOn affiliates to help them begin to craft an innovative approach or project of their own.

I had the pleasure of working in partnership with Debra Askanase, who is a bright and generous a partner as one could ask for. Here were the takeaways for me from the week:

Breaking the patterns of our every day thinking takes deliberate planning and space. Michelle is really a master at this craft. We were all struck, though, by how little real creativity we build into our work because of how we tightly pack agendas for meetings, sprint from task to task, focus so much on being “professional”, buttoned up, on task, impersonal. All of these activities work against creativity and leave assumptions unchallenged.  .

Rick is an amazing presenter. His personal story of beginning his professional life running his family’s textile company, until selling it in the early 1980s resonates so strongly with me. We have both been on a journey these past years of evolving from running fortress organizations ourselves to network thinking and action. His presentation focused on ways that organizations need to think different about the future in order to prepare for it. Continuing to use the same set of assumptions – that the same problems and opportunities will exist in the future – rather than search for clues as to how communities will work (e.g. in networked and connected ways) will ensure that organizations solve today’s problems not tomorrow’s. An analogy is when political campaigns are organized to run the last campaign not the next one (think Hillary in the early going in 2008).

Finally, it was gratifying and exciting to see the group really embrace and use the metaphor of Fortresses and Free Agents. One participant, Andy Morris of Hands On Greater Portland, had a fantastic idea, the development of a “Fortress Assessment.” Sounds like a fun crowd-sourced project for next year.

My favorite moment came from Tara Smith of Seattle Works. Tara had an AHA moment in the middle of the week. She shared an email invitation she received that day for a monthly meetup she attends called Faces Behind the Tweets:

Tara admitted that before our session she would have been a little uncomfortable that a free agent like Nita was organizing that month’s events. These are just amateurs, she might have thought, while she has a whole organization built to be a local convener. Instead, after our talk, Tara wrote in an email, “The minute I saw it I thought – FREE AGENT!!!” And she reached out to Nita and offered to help her.

And that just made my week!

Post Note: Another AHA moment during the week came from a participant who said, “Who have fortresses within our fortress!”



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Allison Fine

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