Monday, April 22, 2013

We Can Only See the Destination By Moving Towards It

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These words came out of my mouth in a conversation with one of my staff people yesterday. Our association is venturing into a new area of activity--something we all know is necessary, but for which few of us have any natural aptitude. Understandably, everyone is looking to me for direction, for a clear picture of where we are going.

"We can only see the destination by moving towards it," I said, by which I meant several key things.

We're all in this together. This is a team project. What we're doing will change the very nature of our association and how we define value for our stakeholders. It doesn't live solely within one functional area--and none of us have enough expertise to shepherd the rest of us through it. We need everyone in the organization to be a part of what's going on.

We're co-creating the future. The future is undefined--and that's a good thing, not bad. It means we have more, not less, control over what's going to happen and how we're going to benefit from it. We must progress, yes, but we can progress at a pace that we define, and the measures of our success will be mutually determined, not handed down from above.

We need to interact with the environment to understand what can and should be done. Given the current state of our knowledge, creating a detailed and long-term plan of action is both unrealistic and counterproductive. For each step we take forward, we must stop and reassess our assumptions and understanding of the emerging world around us before taking the next one. We are not moving on a well-traveled highway between two cities we've known all our lives. We're making our way across a marshy swamp in a dense fog. When we move forward onto one dry rock, we have to pause and look around before stepping on the next one.

This is not the way we're used to operating. I get that. But if we're going to create something new--and get to a place we've never visited before and for which we have no directions--we need to find a new way of doing things. And we can only find that way, not by standing still and predicting what we must do, but by moving towards it with openness and courage.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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