When talk is action

When talk is action

Posted on May 21, 2015 by Pam Truitt

Let me state right from the start that I come from the ‘all talk and no action’ culture, so penning a piece that is 180 degrees opposite is going to be part devil’s advocate and part learning something new. The table is set.

A recent conversation with Philip Brown, president of the United Way of Manatee County and a participant in The Patterson Foundation's Aspiration to Actions initiative, unpacked the core of The Harwood Institute’s innovation space. Brown is leading a long-term initiative based on The Harwood Institute's practice of "turning outward" and has generously and graciously given his time to a cohort of turn-outward newbies, myself included.

As you know from your own experiences—and me from mine—innovation means many things to many people. So, when Phil said that "talk is action" is one of the fundamentals of innovation spaces, I felt a rush of No! Wrong! (Though, I am proud that I did not blurt out these thoughts!) When I think of innovation, action words come to mind: change, transformation, a leap in understanding, originality and breakthrough.

In "Harwood-speak," the innovation space contains words like:

  • share across sectors
  • listen closely
  • resist the temptation to plan and fix
  • be prepared for pushback, be patient
  • be intentional and accountable to the aspirations of the community
  • turn outward
  • stretch beyond usual suspects within the organization to bring new voices to the conversation
  • take turns leading the conversation
  • innovation space meetings are separate from other meetings
  • don’t be tempted to ‘add’ it to another meeting
  • keep it separate
  • stick with it

While in the innovation space, The Harwood Institute's practice focuses on key questions:

  • What are we learning?
  • Why is it important?
  • What are the implications?
  • Where else could we use what we are learning?
  • What are we seeing that suggests thing are changing in the community or the organization?
  • What possibilities are there for moving ahead?

But, I have to make a confession: I’ve been a consultant most of my professional life. Clients paid me to provide answers. I have not participated in an innovation space meeting, and I am concerned about the effectiveness of the talk is action approach, but Phil Brown says it works. Colleagues have suggested duct tape to silence my urge to offer ‘suggestions.’ Strangely, I am not offended.

Conversation truly is a form of action when people from all walks of life start sharing with each other about what's important to them. It's part of innovating and creating. What happens when you put that in the context of the greater community? That's where the magic happens.

Have you participated in an Innovation Space meeting? What did you learn?


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