Updated: Dec 5, 2022
In a zoomed-out macro sense, we all understand that change is necessary. As time progresses, everything eventually goes out of date and needs to be replaced, whether we are talking about physical objects, organizational design, human understanding, or even ourselves as living creatures. There are myriad examples of how we have developed tools, concepts, or technologies that have brought new effectiveness or accomplishments to our society, which may have become 'standards', and then which eventually are replaced by others which serve us better at a new point in our journey. The 'buggy whip' is the classic American metaphor for this, where the development of the automobile made a perfectly useful and valuable item and industry no longer useful or viable.
In the nonprofit creative and cultural spaces of the United States, it is a regular experience to see creatives and cultural leaders gather at conferences or online and have a conversation encapsulated in the phase 'Things are still broken! See you next year!' Identifying problems and seeing increasing gaps between our circumstances and our structures or behaviors is much easier than developing concrete and actionable solutions that can be used to find better outcomes for individuals, organizations, industries, or society as a whole.
There are two particular challenges that continue to inhibit our ability to cross this divide from identifying problems to implementing new solutions.
The first challenge is our shared human instinct to look for 'THE' new solution.
When we gather together, there is a tendency to want to find the new standard, the new best practice, the new silver bullet or the new singular answer that will magically work for everyone. As our society evolves from trying to find our 'collective sameness' to deeply appreciating the power of our differences, we similarly are beginning to move to a place where we can develop different solutions, systems, or structures for different situations and celebrate together when something is successful, even if that solution would not be successful in another context.
This shift of attitude requires more than the appreciation that innovation means embracing regular 'failure' in the search for progress. It also requires support and joy in the act of seeking itself, and the generosity to invest energy in finding solutions that may benefit some individuals or groups and not others. In the long view, where the joy and rigor of continued exploration can lead to a host of pathways, solutions can be found for everyone - but not every answer for every person can be found in a single moment or in the short term.
A second challenge is that the current design of nonprofit organizations very deliberately inhibits innovation and change.
Human beings struggle to embrace change as a fundamental concept, because change means the risk of the unknown. Historically, most people prefer to wait to change until either there is a well-established track record that many other people have already 'proven', or until there is a crisis situation that demands change because holding the course means certain doom. Unfortunately, given the increasing awareness of the need for a variety of more customized solutions, waiting for 'silver bullet' solutions can mean needless suffering waiting for a proven solution that never comes. Waiting for a full-blown crisis is even worse.
In organizations that are in crisis, there is a willingness to change, but the urgency around change and the fear associated with the crisis do not permit the time and thoughtfulness to apply expertise and openness in equal measures to designing new options. In organizations that are not in crisis, the obstacles instead are the tendency towards overload for staff, and the tendency towards preservationism for boards ("The most important qualification for a Board member is that they love what we do").
So how can we address these challenges?
We can embrace the given circumstances of the above, especially that collectively seeking a diversity of solutions is a path that opens possibilities and that there are very real capacity challenges in the day to day of our current industries.
Then we can rely on three of our greatest strengths: Creativity, Generosity, and an affinity for coming together with one another. We can commit to create and value and hold spaces outside of the organizational day to day where knowledgeable and creative individuals with a diversity of perspectives can meet in different formats with a goal of creating these diverse, practical solutions and sharing them for public use. This can help specific individuals and organizations in practical terms, and can also help shift some of our large gathering conversations from a place of identifying problems to a place of sharing options and celebrating efforts to move into a better future.
This requires creating and holding spaces that don't necessarily exist now - spaces that live between our producing or presenting organizations, academia, our research partners, service organizations, and funders, where individuals from all those spaces and beyond can apply their creativity and generosity together.
What questions or thoughts do you have about how our industries overcome these obstacles to healthy evolution?
Doug Clayton & Calida Jones, Co-Founders, Creative Evolutions
Creative Evolutions has been founded on a principle that holding space for new actionable solutions is essential. We are hosting and partnering to create multiple 'think tank' tracks to seek and develop ideas and share them broadly. What great solutions have you tried yourself or have you heard of? Share them with us and let's build on those for the future together!