The Least You Can Do

June 17, 2010 Leave a comment

“When you improve a little each day,

eventually big things happen.”

-The late John Wooden

small step

|Photo by aldoaldoz|http://www.flickr.com/photos/aldoaldoz/2340226779|

Since February I’ve been experiencing back pain in a constant and distracting (though not quite incapacitating) way, a result of having poor posture at the computer, not taking enough breaks while sitting, lifting too many small children, and being another year older.  A couple of months ago I went to a chiropractor and he did his best to wrench me back into alignment.  This worked for a few days, and then things were back as they were.  I enlisted the help of a “deep tissue” masseuse who went after my back muscles with steady steam rolling force.  Again, for a few days I was on top of the world, and then it was back to square one.  Then, about two weeks ago, I started seeing a physical therapist, who has given me some gentle stretches and postural shifts and done light massage on my left shoulder.  Et voila, real progress!  Small and subtle shifts have yielded major and lasting results.

Now I want to be clear that I am not putting down the fields of chiropractic or deep massage therapy.  Both have worked wonders for me in the past.  Yet in this particular instance, both proved overly invasive for what ailed me.  What seems to have won (or at least is winning) the day are low grade interventions that gently encourage my body to get back into shape without kicking up too much resistance.  I am finding this to be a great metaphor for much of the change work in which I find myself engaged in recently.  While there is a lot of me that wants to believe that sweeping radical change is really the order of the day, I’m experiencing strong and powerful reactions to small steps and interventions.

Gibran and I had a conversation about this the other day, that we are both feeling appreciation through various clients for what basic facilitation skills can bring to a group.  The space and flow that can be created through gently guiding a conversation can be tremendous.  I’m also reminded of the wisdom of long-time facilitator Marvin Weisbord, that over time he has discovered there is much to be said for figuring out the very least one can do to be of service to a group.

In his book One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, author Robert Maurer notes that innovation, which is certainly all the rage today, emphasizes a “drastic process of change” that is ideally short in time and flashy in results.  It’s great when it works, which it doesn’t always.  Sometimes this is because resistance, in the form of fear or fatigue, is too strong.  In these cases, small comfortable steps may be the better way to proceed.  I wonder about this in the current push towards innovating in seemingly every field imaginable.  Are we overshooting, setting ourselves up, deluding ourselves with what is possible or needed?  When is it best to stay focused on the least we could do to have deep and lasting impact?

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  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Reminds of the opposite of what we say about stakeholder involvement. There, we’re usually looking for “maximum appropriate” involvement. Here, you’re talking about finding the “minimun necessary” intervention. I wonder how asking that question would change the way we and others approach change work and capacity building?

  • Charlie says:

    Evocative thoughts, Cynthia.

    Curtis’ post reminds me of something my pop likes to say: NEVER use a screwdriver as a chisel. If you need the chisel, go get the chisel (and make sure it is sharp).

  • Curtis says:

    Cynthia, I think your question is right on the mark regarding capacity building. I’ve been feeling a tug toward void over form in my client engagements, and the response has been strong. Seeding meetings with the bare essentials of structure and content has been well received. Not saying it is called for in all situations, but I am certainly leading more with the mantra “less is more.” My perception is that people find relief in the spaciousness and having information come at a trickle rather than a blast. Plus, it seems to give more time for reflection and integration.

  • Linda says:

    And like physical healing (where it’s actually YOU who’s healing – not the person doing the intervention), it is most amazing when the group does the real work, with some gentle guiding by the design and facilitation of the meeting. Thanks Curtis!

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