I had the pleasure of giving three presentations over the past two weeks; one in Western New York and two in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Although the topics varied, they all featured the notion of redesign- the process of realigning programs and structures to address significant changes in context.
Through my presentations I tried to convey the idea that we all find ourselves grappling with design challenges. As the context of our work continues to change at an accelerating rate, our systems are becoming dangerously out of alignment. This manifests itself through diverse symptomology including internal competition, an increasingly unhappy workforce, and missions and goals that are no longer clear or compelling.
Perhaps because of our need for stability (or fear of instability), in the face of change we often cling to existing structures while layering on new programs and initiatives. This state of holding on to structures in the face of significant contextual change puts our systems in a state of stress and vulnerability. And much like our biological systems, resources and energies will naturally shift to maximize the outputs that are most prized or valued. This can result in gaming the system, finding ways to deliver the test scores, enrollments, rankings or other highly valued outputs at all costs.
The good news is that once we recognize (or admit) that we are in a state of misalignment, we can redesign our systems and structures in ways that can strengthen our value proposition and reinvigorate the people who are responsible for implementing and managing the work.
Through my presentations, I offered a simple framework that can guide design and redesign work. By clarifying and working between the three fundamental design elements: context, drivers and structures, we can achieve or re-achieve a state of alignment that can be “pushed out” into all aspects of programming, budgeting and implementation. And by revisiting these elements as contexts continue to shift and flex, we can adapt and innovate while staying true to core mission and values.
Perhaps the best aspect of this framework, and a design approach in general, is that it is equally as powerful when applied to individuals as it is to programs, organizations, communities and systems. Clearly, we are all living and working within complex ecosystems and contexts that present ever-changing opportunities, challenges and threats. By understanding our unique contributions, needs and assets, we can clarify paths and structures that will optimize our impact while allowing us to remain responsive, relevant and nimble. This is the version of sustainability to which we should all aspire.