Jumping Over the Candlestick


Jack be nimble,

Jack be quick,

Jack jump over the candlestick.

While there are few who would accuse Mother Goose of being a bastion of leadership wisdom, don’t sell the old gal short. Sometimes simple wisdom comes from unexpected places, and many an “expert” could benefit from taking note.

There is so much emphasis today on systems and processes, evidence-based and measured, best-practice and prescriptive . . . I get it . . . funders want to make sure their resources have the greatest impact, consumers want a guarantee that what they are purchasing will have the intended results, and employers want to know that their employees will behave in a predictable manner. The thing is, people (consumers), and the problems they want solved (or needs they want met) aren’t systematic, measured or prescriptive.

I am certainly not saying an organization doesn’t need systems, measures or knowledge of what has been proven effective. Just ask my staff, we have plenty of all of those. I get concerned, however, when the pendulum swings too far toward believing success is only found along a single path. After all, if we don’t challenge ourselves to see a situation with new eyes, how will we ever find a solution to unmet needs?

Sometimes we need to follow in the path of ole’ Jack and be nimble and quick . . . zig when others are zagging, experiment, fail fast and try again. Sure, not every effort will have the intended results, but the willingness to consider a new approach or possibility, and the comfort in shifting course based on changing variables, is the only way I know to successfully leap over a candlestick.

A word of warning — people (funders, monitors, even concerned friends) will likely try to discourage you from “breaking the rules”. Think about it . . . who really thought David would be able to take Goliath down with three small stones . . . a seasoned expert would probably tell Jack jumping over was not an advisable way to get to the other side of a candlestick. Breakthroughs don’t come from following the orderly well-trod path. Incremental change might come that way, but not game-changing advances.

So what’s the answer? Systems and evidence and best practice have their place, and may even be your mainstay as an organization, but I believe you need a few Jacks on staff, too. You need some people who have a knack for disrupting the status quo, who are not willing to accept that this is the best we can do, who question whether conventional wisdom is really all that wise. Carve out a spot for these people, and give them enough leeway to approach something from an entirely different angle. What happens when you do? Well, let’s just say . . .

. . . I’ll see you on the other side of the candlestick!

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