2020 was tough and the global consensus was that it would be a welcome thing to move on to 2021. But when the calendar turned to 2021, things were still tough.
Okay, as it turns out, starting a new year doesn’t actually mean a whole lot except that you have to remember to write a different year on your checks. We closed our previous blog post with a quote from Angela Duckworth: “At various points, in big ways and small, we get knocked down. If we stay down, grit loses. If we get up, grit prevails.”
Since starting a new year did not magically make things better, how can we—as organizations and as individuals—dig deep and find ways to make the best of this time? We believe that the complementary practices of thoughtful experimentation and discipline can sustain focus and forward momentum.
Jennifer: I often use the Strategic Doing methodology, which is a way for people and networks to form agile collaborations to address complex problems. In previous posts, I’ve talked about the Framing Question—used to vividly imagine the future to be created—and Asset Mapping—developing an inventory of the available skills, physical resources, networks/relationships, and capital, then brainstorming how they might be combined in ways to bring to life the imagined future.
But neither of these tools are worth anything if an organization does not do something with them. And that’s where experimentation and discipline come in.
The future is built step by step and day by day. Even when the future seems daunting, or when turning the calendar page does not make things better, it is always possible to take at least one step forward.
Here’s how: Choose an experiment to begin with. In Strategic Doing, we refer to these as Pathfinder Projects, moving the organization on the path toward the envisioned future. Chose an experiment that has good potential to move you in the desired direction and that you know to be doable. Most importantly, have everyone on your team identify an action they will personally take to carry out the experiment.
Next, develop a 30/30 discipline. This is where your team gathers every 30 days (or at some other interval appropriate to the experiment) and does two things: 1) Looks back at the past 30 days to review what each person did and the impact those actions had on the experiment, and 2) uses what was learned from the past 30 days to plan actions for the next 30 days.
Thoughtful Experimentation + Discipline = Momentum in the direction of the future your organization is working to bring to life.
Holly: Thanks, Jennifer. You’re right, the complementary practices of experimentation and discipline are powerful. I do something similar with my clients. Together, we come up with an action item that we know will move us closer to success. At our next meeting, we evaluate that action item’s effectiveness.
During the evaluation phase, we work on how we talk about “failures.” It’s important to keep a growth mindset, and my goal is for clients to see setbacks as learning opportunities and not crushing blows of negativity. We learn grit by repeatedly getting back up, persevering despite disappointment, and ultimately succeeding.
Clients who are perfectionists struggle with learning grit the most because they are too focused on finding that one “right” way to do something. When life or work don’t go according to their plan, they are stuck, feel overwhelmed, and are more likely to give up. To combat this tendency, it’s important to hold them accountable.
Many of my clients benefit from the use of a weekly accountability check-in to talk about 1) things that went well, 2) things that didn’t go as planned, and 3) action items for focusing their attention going forward. This simple method creates the encouragement some clients need to keep moving toward their ultimate goals and strengthens self-awareness so they tackle self-loathing and self-deprecating thoughts before they take root.
We hope our blog series has helped you with your own strategic grit. But we also want to acknowledge that this isn’t an overnight process. It takes time and energy to build strategic grit, and, often, it’s easier to just do the things we’re comfortable doing, the things we’ve always done.
The Stockdale Paradox is a concept that has emerged from research into the psychology of prisoners of war. The paradox is that prisoners of war who are most likely to survive and thrive after release are not the pure optimists; rather, they are the soldiers who balance optimism with reality. They keep faith that they will be released while accepting the extreme challenge of their situation and taking small actions to enhance their chances of survival and release.
The Vietnam veteran for whom the paradox is named, James Stockdale, said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Strategic Grit is a similar balance: keeping your eye on your goals while staying engaged in the work of taking small steps forward every day, even—or especially—when the going gets tough.
Thank you so much for spending some time with us. If you decide you’d like a partner on your own strategic grit path, we’d be glad to talk with you. Here’s to making the most of 2021!
Jennifer and Holly
Jennifer helps businesses, nonprofits, and community coalitions with strategic evolution: tackling complex problems, determining strategic direction, and taking action to create a new future. She is a Certified Strategic Doing Workshop Leader.
Holly is a trusted partner to individuals and teams, helping them forge and refine purposeful leadership and authentic collaboration to navigate both planned routes and unexpected detours successfully. She is a certified Human Resources Professional and Mental Toughness Trainer.