The big think

We spent a full day talking about where the Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo Project goes next (We being the steering committee).  As our collective brains twisted and turned over a number of processes, facilitated by the talented Tanya Darisi from Waterloo, we had to remind ourselves to "trust the process" several times.

"This is hard work," said project Director Nancy Mattes before we began.

I've had the honour of participating in many of these deep thinks over the years, in a variety of forums and with many diverse collections of people.  In each case, I listened, questioned, and absorbed.  Often I would draw mind maps in my little book, my way of working out complex problems or understanding issues.

Yesterday my pen kept going to a metaphor of Bell Rock, as a way of understanding the journey of the Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo project.  What started out as a sketch inevitably made its way up on to a flip chart and finally, the wall.

I come to terms with complexity using pictures and words.  Everyone has a slightly different process, as I've observed.  Some take no notes, but think deeply.  Others like to talk, to work through things verbally.  Some listen intently, taking their time to assimilate the ideas and tone in the room.  Having a diversity of exploration styles in the room makes for richer results.

A couple of ideas jumped out at me yesterday.

Be comfortable with the discomfort

"If this doesn't get uncomfortable, then you're doing your job," said someone at the start of one of our gatherings of the Premier's Council on Culture.  Tension, frustration, and yes, exhaustion, are all part of the process.  Embracing and trusting all the negative feelings that come with a deep think is essential.


If you have a fully engaged group you are going to hear things that may not make sense, or get you agitated, or fly in the face that everything that you know to be true.  Pay attention to those voices, listen deeply and intently; they have something important to offer you.

Speak your heart

Going through one of these all-day deep thinks generates all kinds of ideas, questions and feelings.  Holding back doesn't serve the process.  Of course, you have to be respectful, but letting your perspective fly will move the group closer to its objective, whether you are right, wrong or somewhere in the middle.  "Leave it all out on the field," as Tim Reid used to say.

You may think you have achieved nothing, but....

Toward the end of yesterday's session on the future of Social Prosperity, I was doubtful that we'd made any progress, that we ended up going in circles, landing no closer to our target than when we had started.  But a good facilitator and synthesizer has the ability to extract clarity from what appears to be ambiguity.  That's exactly what Tanya did yesterday.  She did a fabulous job of cutting through the clutter and capturing the consensus that we had achieved.  I am in awe of her abilities.

Expect exhaustion

If you are fully engaged in a deep think process, you're going to be pooped at the end.  I'm a big believer in clearing your day (and night) as much as possible on these days so you can give 100 percent.  I was mentally fried by the end of the day and desperately needed to decompress and rest when I got home: a sign of a great 'big think'.

I won't go into the details of what we talked about yesterday, as I don't believe it is my place to do so, but I will say that I was honoured to be there.  I've been involved with Social Prosperity since the very beginning, first with my role at Keyano, as an elected official and then interim Arts Council ED, and now as a member of the United Way team.

I've come to respect, admire and love the people involved.  The team from the University of Waterloo has been integral to the process of building capacity and enabling social innovation.  They all deserve honourary McMurrayite badges in my opinion, as they have invested so much into making us stronger, more resilient and remarkable.


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