I had the good fortune in June to find myself in the Virgin Islands facilitating a strategic roadmap session focused on addressing food systems issues, followed by a few days on the beaches with my family. The wonderful thing about a beach vacation, other than watching the absolute joy on your child’s face as they splash in the waves, is the space it creates for thought: unrushed, deadline free, wide open thinking. The combination of vacation and an inspiring conversation about the Virgin Islands food systems left me with a lot of room for deep thinking.
Have you heard of the book “Thinking Fast and Slow”? It explores how our brains have two modes of thinking – instinctive, automatic thinking (fast) and deliberate thinking where you formulate arguments, solve problems, create plans, etc. (slow). Basically, slow thinking is where you exert mental energy. And because we are always operating at high speed these days, it can be easy to get caught up in fast thinking and avoid putting the energy into a more purposeful thinking process.
It’s not always a bad thing to do this though. Because we all have such rich experiences to draw from, we can intuitively read many situations quite well and act with confidence even if we haven’t had time to stop and assess more carefully. However, being away from the rush of getting things done created room for me to recommit to slow thinking, not just for major decisions or turning points in our work, but along the way to prepare for the many opportunities to catalyze meaningful change.
When we think too quickly, we make up patterns, see stories in what is otherwise random information. With slow thinking, we find underlying causes and investigate to find meaningful solutions. Have you ever watched a young child try to understand how something works? They use slow thinking, only without the benefit of all the technology and relationships we can use to track down new information. Instead, they puzzle over something new, pull it apart (and yes, occasionally break it in the process), sometimes manage to put it back together, and have the most entertaining observations along the way, like this interpretation of how to grow a pumpkin: “first dig a hole in dirt, cover the seed, then you have to water it, and wait for Halloween to come!”
I want to bring that sense of openness, wonder and thoughtful investigation back into how we do our work every day, not just in approaching the major decisions. This might be why I’m such a fan of developmental evaluation, as it gives me an opportunity to wear the slow thinking hat when I’m working with innovative groups who are tackling important challenges.
So, here’s my summer 2015 resolution: I will take the slow, deliberative thinking that is core to developmental evaluation and integrate it more fully across many different types of change strategies. More importantly, I will help others create that same space for thinking, building our collective capacity to catalyze change based on more than just intuition, based on the best we can devise about how to improve the world. I hope you’ll all join me in a commitment to taking the time for slow-thinking this summer and go deeper and – hopefully further – in catalyzing change.