Thursday, May 19, 2011

When a Frame Becomes A Box

I'VE ALWAYS VIEWED CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ORGANIZATIONAL VISION as exciting opportunities to put a whole host of ideas and convictions from the sublime to the ridiculous out on the table for everyone to think about.  You never know where a spark might come from that will light the path for an organization's direction and enlighten thinking. 
I've always been puzzled by folks who think visioning is nothing more than silly, unattainable chatter.  I suspect that these naysayers have participated in enough visioning discussions where nothing was done to pin down key concepts so that all of it floated away like a clutch of helium balloons.  I hear that.
The absolute requirement for me is to never leave a visioning discussion without pinning down key concepts or common threads of ideas.  These, then, become the contextual frame which holds all the nuts and bolts discussions of strategies and tactics.  As I've written here, I am believer that the nuts and bolts ought to be driven by vision -- otherwise, you'll never achieve it.
Frames can be complicated, but they can be simple, too.  For most organizations, simpler is probably better -- after all, the bottom line for using contextual frames has got to be because they cut through the clutter to provide clarity of direction and impact.  For the more literal among us, I'm going to suggest a literal frame:  four sides with each side representing a piece of the vision.  If you chose just four key concepts that would define your organization's impact, what would they be?  Civic engagement?  Sustained economic development?  Excellence in education?  Furthering the creative process?
I think there's a lot of merit in being fairly restrictive when converging ideas -- it's much easier to add later than to decide on too many right off the bat only to have to cut back when it's clear you can't move that much forward.
The fine line we all must walk is knowing when a contextual frame becomes more of a restrictive box.  What would the warning signs be?

Photo:  frames from Robert in Toronto, flickr