Last summer, the Spark team was in one of our monthly all day team retreats. We use these conversations to ground ourselves in what matters about our work and stay true to our values.

To begin the day, we watched parts of two Ted talks:

  • The first talk helped us explore the concept of excellence, including how to define and understand excellence as something that is owned by everyone at every level: excellence cannot be imposed from the top nor independently generated from those on the ground.
  • The second talk reminded us to shut up and listen, which used a wonderful example about hippos and agriculture that will stick with you! It was a potent reminder that no matter how much you think you know, you don’t know all of the things that are critical to causing meaningful change.

The dialogue that followed has become part of the fabric of Spark, so much so that we keep a copy of the word cloud below at our desks as a daily reminder!


We explored the many ways that catalyzing change is different from implementing projects, preparing deliverables, facilitating meetings, doing the day-to-day work of a consultant. Here are some of our primary take-aways from that day:

  • Catalyzing change is about the process and the relationships, but it’s also about understanding that people need to have joy in that process, excitement, and opportunities to act on their passions. It’s about knowing that creating meaningful change is outside of our control as partners in many efforts, which means our best role is to lend our support to our partners, helping them be the leaders.
  • We explored how our own biases and assumptions get in the way, while also recognizing that they are a very human reality and we all have them.
  • We thought about the voices who most need to be part of a process and the reality of engaging them – listening, taking time to hear what they are saying, and the need to realize we are not the experts in the room, the community is.
  • We faced our egos head on and agreed that we need to not assume we know the answer, to know that even when our facts are right, they may not be important, and to listen more than speak. Arrogance is the death of progress.

These insights are not revolutionary, but together they reminded us what it takes to be catalytic without owning the change. They continue to remind me, day to day, and keep me grounded in what matters.

We hope they can also remind you of what it looks like when you are your best, creating an environment where meaningful change flourishes and your partners thrive amid the exciting uncertainties of making the world a better place.