January, 2011


Twice this week, I was called into projects because the participants had let things get too complicated.  Their planning groups had started difficult projects, let the doors and windows open to any and every idea, and were now baffled and stuck. 

For a long time, I’ve been using the phrase, “Let’s make things simple first.   We can make them complicated later.”  Clients usually think that this is a planning device – something learned in graduate school or fancy seminars on one coast or the other.  Nope.

I need to make things simple so I can understand them.  Because I often get invited into projects after they’ve become knotted up like cheap necklaces in the jewelry box, my first worry is figuring out how to not sound like an idiot.  So I ask myself, “What’s the simple thing here?  What’s the most important thing? Where’s the easiest place to start?”

So I pull out the really sophisticated planning tools:  making an agenda, keeping minutes, developing a logic model.  These are all  things that I know and trust after years in this business but sometimes seem  too rudimentary for high-flying professionals.  The funny thing?  How often mention of these simple devices calms the worried and disorganized. 

Seriously, here are some things that I think really help people in a group get their heads on straight and work more productively:

  • Go back to the original purpose of the group — what was it that the group was convened to accomplish.  Let’s get that on paper and make sure we all remember the starting purpose and agree that it’s still valid.
  • Stress the importance of the same people staying involved over time.  Often a high-powered planning process will devolve to less influential staff.  This next generation process is good and one to be nurtured, but tough planning processes require decision-makers in the room.  And the same decision-makers over time.
  • Have a designated facilitator, someone without a stake in anything other than the success of the group.  Let that facilitator manage the agenda, the discussion, and the work products.
  • Establish a group norm of  discussion, consensus-building, agreement, and consolidation. Consolidate gains made at each meeting to avoid circling back at the next meeting.
  • Create that logic model. It’s linear, spare, overly simplistic, and incredibly effective – the logic model gets everyone on the same page because there’s only one page to be on.  Distilling the group’s goals and outcomes into a simple logic model format of goals, objectives (activities), outputs, and outcomes sweeps away discussion debris and gets people focused fast.

I had a boss once who referred to endless planning sessions as “being lost in hedgerow country.”  We’ve all been there.  Maybe with some of these ideas, you can be the one to cut through the maze.

Mayfair Madness

A bunch of kids went nuts at Mayfair Mall on Sunday night.  Scared people.  Knocked things over.  Created a lot of hubbub – which is my favorite word for a really loud, messy, situation. So, ok, what’s next will be Mayfair deciding that no one under 25 can enter the mall without a double escort. Groups of more than three kids will be tossed out of the mall.  And there will be worried, worried eyes cast on any gathering – large or small – of African American teens.  Broad brush, this is going to be.

I’m telling you that the real Mayfair Madness isn’t what happened there on Sunday night – although the little rampage/wreckage/intimidation was totally out of line, disgusting, and unacceptable (why has that word become our favorite way of saying that something is BAD to do?).

The real Madness is yet to come.  This is when the Red Rover teams choose up sides.  On the one side will be the folks that shake their heads, tsking, “Those kids don’t know how to act.”  On the other side, the sad, understanding folks, “Oh, those poor kids don’t have anything to do in this town.”

Heaven forbid someone calls me to facilitate a planning session on how to deal with kids not having anything to do so they have to act like idiots at the mall.  Here’s the deal on this one:  Kids act like idiots a lot of the time.  When there are a lot of them together in a mood to act like idiots, a well-proven mechanism  called mob psychology takes over.  This is the same group-think that has resulted in all manner of mayhem and tragedy – people in a group will do things they would never do on their own. 

Pick apart the Mayfair One Hundred – or however many they end up being – and you’ll find a bunch of A students, a couple of athletes, a few kids who spent the afternoon in church, a couple of delinquents, and a whole bunch of kids who thought running through stores was more interesting than eating their 12th Cinn-A-Bon in the food court.

My view:  Relax, everybody.  Kids freaked out.  It’s not the end of the world.  It’s not enough the end of Mayfair.  Or shopping as we know it.   It’s just kids acting nuts.  Do we love it?  No.  But do we need to start planning on how to solve this terrible problem?  Do we need a day long retreat on recreational alternatives for youth? 

No.  We need to roll our eyes and get a grip.