It all starts with an idea. A new way of doing things. A risk, but a calculated one: if it pays off, it could change the whole game. After gathering some information and learning a bit about the context, we’re off and running, first in one direction but always adapting in response to conditions and changes that could not have been predicted. We’re making progress and success can be seen in the far distance … but it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer, and one has to entertain the possibility that we’ve been running in circles. At some point, it makes more sense to stop for a minute or two, determine where we’ve been and where we want to go, and chart out a new course.
This extended analogy aptly captures the course of a social innovation, namely its combination of reflection and activity, taking stock and taking action. It can also be used to describe the course of a new business or enterprise that starts with a set plan but requires an eye to trends that may affect the bottom line. With my intention to run Strong Roots Consulting as a social enterprise – a business that prioritizes social and environmental bottom lines on an equal footing with the financial – I fall under both camps. In either case, it’s not enough to merely be aware of how the world is changing, I also need to know where I’m coming from and where I need to go.
At one point last week, I realized that I have been doing a lot recently, including work on several projects, general outreach and networking, and the infographics course, but my schedule has lacked that time to reflect on what I’m doing. My solution? A one-person, one-day strategic retreat. Those with a specific vision of what a “Retreat” is would have been disappointed – no heading for the woods (too cold in the prairies this time of year!) or a hotel meeting room, just setting some time and boundaries to get away from the daily routine.
I held my retreat yesterday, and in short it was a great experience and has helped me clarify what I need to be focusing on over the next few months. I’ll get into those specific insights in a future post, but for now some thoughts on process.
Cut out the distractions as much as possible – especially the electronics. I left my laptop at home and shut my phone off completely (though I did fire it up at lunch, just to reassure myself that no crises have hit). Sticking to pen, paper, and a whiteboard also reduced the temptation to work on other projects. If you absolutely need to use a computer for this process, I suggest using a full-screen writing program (I use WriteRoom on my Mac) and also consider disabling internet access through a program like Freedom.
Have a plan. The night before, I generated some questions and exercises to guide my thinking, starting with broad strokes on purpose and direction, moving to assessing my skills and passions, and then finishing with connecting those dots to what’s happening in the community and how Strong Roots can meet those needs. These questions kept me on task, but were general enough to give me some flexibility.
Setting is important. If your “home” space is too liable to disruption (clients, phone calls, other teams present), you may need to go out somewhere. However, you don’t need to go somewhere exotic or completely different: in fact, going to a new locale may be counterproductive, as you’ll need to spend time figuring out that new space and developing a sense of comfort there. For my retreat, I followed the pattern that my two-person team at a former workplace established for yearly planning, namely breakfast at a local greasy spoon diner, back to the office for sequestration in a meeting room, a break for lunch, and then back to planning on-site. I found this approach was an ideal combination of my “usual” space with unusual but still familiar settings: enough to break me out of my normal routine, but not so much as to distract me.
If you have the time, start follow-up ASAP. Any form of planning should hopefully lead to action: if you have successfully identified priorities and ideas and have the inclination to start working on them right away, don’t hesitate!
A one-person retreat will naturally have a different dynamic compared to getting a whole team together, but I think these points are good considerations regardless of the size. What are your experiences with taking time away to plan? Share them in the comments below!