Photo: Ripple Effect

Matters of the Head and the Heart: Part Three — Turning Outward

Posted on July 14, 2020 by John Ferguson, TPF Fellow 2020/21

Editor's Note: CONTINUE READING: Matters of the Head and the Heart: Part One — How Do We Move Forward Together?, Part Two — Looking Inward, and Part Four — The Way Forward.


After a genuine effort to learn and understand ourselves and the circumstances we face from various sources and perspectives, we can then begin to Turn Outward. Turning Outward is a bedrock principle of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. It is a different way of working — grounded firmly in deep listening and discovering shared aspirations within any given community. And it works.

When we are turned inward, we are primarily focused on ourselves. That work is incredibly important as we seek to understand what matters to others. While we must start with ourselves, it cannot end with us. At least not in isolation. To rise above our collective circumstances, change must happen at the community level—and must happen together.

Turning Outward helps us understand the community dynamic in a fresh way — as part of something larger than ourselves. It is not so much an action step as it is a mindset and way of being. It is about being laser-focused on listening to the concerns and, more importantly, the hopes and aspirations of others to build a better future for their/your community.

While maintaining the status quo may be easier at times, it is too often the enemy of progress. Doing so can be divisive and frustrating. Harwood is all about possibility and hope leading to public innovation. As a part of TPF’s Aspirations to Action initiative, I have been fortunate enough to be trained as a public innovator through Harwood’s virtual lab. Through that experience, I can attest there is a palpable difference in the tone of the discussion when those leading it are turned outward. The focus shifts almost entirely to possibility, even if it begins from a space of frustration and despair.

When we have conversations with others in our communities, even just our closest friends, that are intentionally generative and grounded in possibility over problems, it can be truly incredible. You may have experienced this before without knowing what was happening—it just felt different and good. It may have happened by accident or at least without careful intention. Imagine how things might go inside those conversations if we were super intentional about discovering our shared aspirations and discussing real possibilities for the future. I can tell you from experience it is inspirational to say the least.

Remember how many ripples can be created by a single stone. What if a community of any size each threw their stones at the same time? So many ripples could follow both in the short and long term. And those ripples each have the potential to create meaningful and lasting change.

So why wait until after we have looked inward to Turn Outward? Founder Rich Harwood would tell us we must find and declare [our] own sense of purpose and bring our full selves to the conversation. Looking inward allows us to do exactly that.

And Turning Outward lets us listen deeply to others without judgment but with the active intention to discover our shared aspirations for our community and our nation. Together, we can then forge a new path—a new way forward.


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