Category Archives: Upside Down Thinking

My Basketball Coach

I have always been tall and husky.  I was my current height, 6 foot 7 inches, in my freshman year of high school, and I was a basketball player and I was pretty good at that game. Back then a guy my size was automatically assigned the center position.  And that’s where my coach put me – in the center of the action. Today most guards in the pros are taller than I am.

I was a good passer and had a half decent hook shot and turn around jumper, but I felt out of sorts as the team’s center. I really wanted to play the forward position. I dribbled rather well for a big guy and I could shoot well from a distance.  In fact, I could hit from three-point range before there was a three-point rule. I knew I could score more and pass even better as a forward, but I said nothing.

Fortunately I had a coach who paid attention to his players. Each day before the official start of practice, I shot hoops and did some dribbling exercises. My coach was always there early as well and he saw over time that I was a high percentage shooter from the outside and that I could drive well to the basket when I had to.

When he told me he was moving to me to forward, I was averaging about 12 points a game, with 6 assists and about as many rebounds. As a forward, my average points per game doubled, assists rose to 10 a game, and I ended up being the second highest rebounder in the league. We were 2 and 2 when coach moved me. At the end of the year we were 12 and 3 and made the District Championship, winning it with a 20 footer at the buzzer. I was driving to the basket when I saw our point guard was all by his lonesome at the free throw line. I was half way to the hoop when I passed back to him. His shot rose into the air in slow motion and every player on the floor watched it float through the air and swish into the net as the buzzer buzzed.

Back then, it seemed like every coach discouraged the long game. They wanted lay ups and jump shots taken in the lane. That makes sense  but a good coach keeps an eye out for what can work best for the team, even if what works best defies common practice, defies the norm.

Truth be told, our players were successful with layups and short shots even more so than we had been because now they had a point guard and a forward that could shoot from the outside. That drew the defense out further and further and opened up other players for the easier shots.

My coach chose what would work best for the team, even though his choice was not conventional at the time. Instead of keeping me in the center position he worked with me to refine my jump shot. He taught me how to follow through with my wrist and how to put the proper spin on the ball.  He made me dribble more with my left hand because I wasn’t as good with my left as I was with my right. He worked with me to improve my talent.

My coach was the first leader in my life, after my father. What he taught me about the game of basketball contributed to who I am today and how I see what is going on around me.  I am grateful for his lessons and his willingness to believe in something different from what he was expected to believe in.

The day my coach told me he was moving me to forward, I told him that’s what I had hoped for but didn’t want to ask.

“How come?” He bounced the ball twice and added. “You should always speak up about how you think you can contribute.”

That was the biggest lesson of all.

About Collective Impact: Types of Problems, Degrees of Change, Learning Loops, and Methods of Thinking

Collective Impact is multi-sector approach to large-scale collaboration that is authentically inclusive of citizens in its development and implementation – in particular citizens who have life-experience with the big problems or issues being addressed, such as poverty, climate change, family violence, and so many more.

Collective Impact is not an approach aimed at creating program changes among a few agencies or undertaking collaboration in order to compete with other community initiatives. Rather, it tends to be focused on efforts to leverage talents, existing services, innovations, and resources in order to effect significant changes to policies and systems and where needed, significant programmatic changes. Such changes might occur within governments or government-run institutions, within education and health institutions, within business, or within service providers.

At recent sessions and workshops I held in Vancouver (Community Change Institute) and in Edmonton (Upside Down Thinking) , I shared a perspective on three types of problems identified by Brenda Zimmerman and how they connect to three types of change, three types of learning, and various types of thinking required in addressing each type of problem. My intent is to help our collective thinking about significant problems/issues facing our communities.

Simple problems are those we can fix easily and are sometimes called kaizen (the Japanese word for “continuous improvement”). Solutions to these kinds of problems are akin to tweaking a recipe or adjusting a process to improve quality or reliability of performance. Typically such changes are incremental. Continue reading About Collective Impact: Types of Problems, Degrees of Change, Learning Loops, and Methods of Thinking

Thinking about the Charity Model and Systems Change Debate

There has been a movement afoot for the past 15 to 20 years that evolved out of a growing dissatisfaction with the charitable sector or more to the point, the Charity Model. Critics of the sector are nothing new, of course. And these criticisms are often based on unproven perceptions (e.g. there are too many charities), biases people have toward “the needy” (e.g. I made it through hell, so can you), and some that still boggle my mind like, non-profits need to be more business-like.

But the conversations I am talking about have gone further than that and very often have been initiated and led by well-respected non-profit sector leaders tired of seeing good work (or what they saw as good work) not really moving the needle of big change. The impact, they say, just hasn’t been good enough, which has evolved into concluding that the so called Charity Model has failed us all.

What I find interesting and somewhat unnerving is that this thing we call the Charity Model is in effect a descriptor of organized helping; it is not and I suggest never has been an actual model in the manner that we tend to think of models or frameworks.  Usually a model has an author or set of authors and has an intended purpose, and governs or guides how you do something. I am not aware of anyone who authored the Charity Model. As a term it represents our attempt to put meaning to what the charitable sector does and why, though we tend to spend less time on the latter.

My sense is that the Charity Model is about our desire to capture and understand how the organized expression of love or kindness is implemented through institutions and systems. It is a term that offers differentiation from the private and government sectors. How that expression is organized is certainly worthy of review and adjustment, if not significant change, but my struggle with the direction many are taking is that charity has become something sector leaders want to move away from while replacing it with something better. Continue reading Thinking about the Charity Model and Systems Change Debate

Upside Down Thinking: Disrupting the Status Quo

This is the slide deck from the presentation I did at the Poverty Reduction Summit in Ottawa in May 2015.

Upside Down Thinking
Click the Image. It will take you to slideshare.net where I store many of my presentation.

I give custom workshops on Upside Down Thinking. Contact me for more info.

 

Questions We Must Answer to End Poverty

Over my career in the human services sector, I have been a part of many collaborative and cross-sector efforts that were formed to address a critical social problem. In most cases, if not all, the social problem being addressed was interwoven with economics. So, the problem was more accurately a socio-economic problem. As well every problem we worked on was understood and addressed through myriad lenses. Government, business, non-profit lenses were abundant and then of course each individual from those sectors brought to the table their own mindsets, beliefs and biases.

One of the critical challenges to solving poverty beyond what is simply described above is to find ways to accept the divergence of mindsets while authentically seeking a convergence of ideas and actions that will actually work to effectively address poverty.We require a method of inquiry that refuses to ignore the questions that divide us. Instead we need to engage in provocative inquiry which is often called engaging in “wicked questions.”

“Brenda Zimmerman, a professor at York University, defines [wicked questions] as a tool ‘used to expose the assumptions which we hold about an issue or situation. Articulating these assumptions provides an opportunity to see the patterns of thought and surface the differences in a group. These patterns and differences can be used to discover common ground or to find creative alternatives for stubborn problems’” (Retrieved from http://designmind.frogdesign.com/blog/wicked-questions-about-improving-american-health-care.html, December 1, 2013).

What is important in this method in inquiry is to check our tendency to communicate positions and allow our dialogue to become more like a debate than actual investigation of what it is we all wish to understand and act on. Wicked questions are a way to share our respective mindsets with one another in a manner that helps us understand what is behind our positions. But for such inquiry to be productive, everyone involved has to be open to changing their minds (i.e. changing their positions). That’s the hard part of course and most of the time our inability to change ourselves is what inhibits, if not prohibits, advance on the matter at hand.

Here are some wicked questions I suggest we need to address if we are truly serious about addressing poverty. Continue reading Questions We Must Answer to End Poverty