Monday, October 6, 2014

Weekly Word from Our Director: 10/6

Here's this week's email and wisdom from Dean! We hope your week starts off wonderfully.
Happy Monday!

October already?  This autumn weather has just been spectacular, hasn't it?  Last Wednesday evening you might have noticed the sun shining brightly on the valley while a huge wall of ominous looking clouds hung over the Wasatch Range. Of course,Thursday morning the most lovely dusting of snow topped the highest peaks within view from Salt Lake City.  Impossible not to enjoy that against a bright blue autumn sky all day long on Thursday

I've been re-reading  Jim Collins 2005 book entitled "Good to Great."  If you've read it you know that the thesis of the book is quite simple-- organizations should exude greatness.  Collins believes that almost any particular organization can substantially improve its results and performance, perhaps even become great, if it conscientiously applies the frameworks that great organizations use. While of course becoming "great" is rarely as simple as following a script or a "how to" manual, the book does outline some of the things that Collins has found as common themes of great organizations.

Two of my favorite concepts are the “Flywheel” and “Doom Loop.”  These two ideas represent positive and negative momentum and might have some applicability to our work at the Bennion Center. As you may know, a flywheel is a heavy wheel used in machinery to store energy and then release it consistently over time. A flywheel takes a lot of energy to set it in motion - to do so usually requires constant, steady work, rather than a quick acceleration. Think of a wind-up toy. Our youngest son, Harrison, still loves them (and so do I).  It can take a lot of effort and patience to get them wound up properly, and there really is no shortcut, but all that energy is stored in the flywheel of the toy then it's all released for our enjoyment as the marvelous toy scrambles across the floor.  Usually cheap, toy flywheels exhaust their potential energy in seconds; but good strong industrial strength flywheels can continue for hours or days or weeks once they're wound up properly and can actually create their own energy.

Great organizations undergo transformations like this as well. There is most often no magic recipe or no spectacular moment when everything changed. Rather, with lots of steady and consistent work, the wind up occurs and slowly gets the great organization going faster and better. Once it’s in motion, all that stored energy tends to keep it moving in the right direction.

Conversely, Collins describes the “doom loop” as the vicious cycle that unsuccessful organizations fall into.  Often they find themselves rushing first in one direction, then another, in the hope of creating a sudden, sharp break with the past that will propel them to success.  A quick fix or "get-rich-quick" scheme.  Sort of like choosing a fad diet rather than a long term wellness strategy.  Some organizations attempt to do this through acquisitions, some move locations, others through bringing in new leaders or personnel who decide to change direction completely, often in a direction incompatible with the organizational mission or the vision created by its founders, stakeholders, and constituents. Collins argues that the results are rarely good over the long-term for organizations that follow the doom loop.

The difference between the two approaches is characterized by the slow, steady, methodical preparation inherent in the flywheel, as compared to abrupt, radical, and often revolutionary, rather than evolutionary, changes that can be tempting but often fatal.  I agree with Collins that greatness is first and foremost a process.  It is not a destination. No matter where we are (or where we think we are) on the good to great continuum, there is always room for continuous learning and improvement. 

Some food for thought as the Bennion Center continues its steady evolution toward greatness and into its 28th year as a shining star among university-based public service centers across the globe. 

Have a terrific week!

Warm Regards,

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