Author: Craig Freshley

At least two ways

Good Group Tips

In principle, there are at least two ways to solve every problem. When we are able to be nonjudgmental, we are able to see problems not as problems at all but as misalignments. For example, the problem is not that I am right and you are wrong, it is simply that we see things differently. The problem is not that we are spending too much, it is simply that we are spending more than we are earning. When we see difficulties as misalignments rather than problems, it is easier to see more solutions. For example, you could change your view or I could change mine. We could decrease expenses or we could increase revenues.

Practical Tip: When faced with a problem remember there are always at least two ways to solve it. See problems as misalignments, without judgment. Identify all the creative ways to achieve alignment.

– Craig Freshley

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Get a second

Good Group Tips

In principle, a virtue of most decision-making systems such as Robert’s Rules of Order is that for a group to consider an idea, at least two members need to think it worthy of the full group’s time. A motion needs a second in order to be considered. Requiring that I get one other person bought into my idea before taking up the full group’s time assures that the group cannot be dominated by a single person or an untested idea. Further, requiring at least one collaborator enhances creativity.

Practical Tip: Before you take your idea to the whole group, take it to at least one other person first. Be open to feedback and adaptation. Take your idea to someone who could lend credibility and help you take it to others. If initially rejected, try someone else. When at least one other respected group member believes in your idea then perhaps it is time to take it to the full group. If you cannot get at least one other person to believe in your idea, change it.

– Craig Freshley

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Free from past

Good Group Tips

In principle, every encounter, every meeting, is an opportunity to start anew. It is good to learn from the past but not be artificially constrained by it.

Just because we have spent a lot of money or effort on something (referred to by economists as sunk costs) is not by itself justification for spending more. The proper decision criterion for spending money or effort is how it might affect the future, not how it might change the past. Revenge too may create the illusion of making the past better but in fact only makes the future worse.

We cannot change the past by the decisions we make today, but we can change our feelings about the past by making good decisions for tomorrow.

Practical Tip: Glance back over your shoulder, but not so much that you stumble on what’s ahead. Let the past inform the future, but not dominate it.

Experiences from our past are like rocks, best used to pile up and stand upon, see clearly, and step off into the future in any direction—not to be used for building walls.

– Craig Freshley

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Start with a question

Good Group Tips

In principle, when I enter into a discussion with a statement rather than a question I am presuming to already know all the answers. Most conflicts are due to misunderstanding so when my opinion is based on presumption I am probably headed for conflict.

When I begin a discussion with a question I show respect for others, that I want to hear what they have to say. The longer I remain truly open-minded the greater the chances that my opinion is based on complete understanding.

Practical Tip: Even though you might have an opinion forming in your head, hold off expressing it and start with questions instead. Be genuinely open to changing your opinion based on new things you learn. Good questions start with “why”, “how” and “what.” Good questions are open ended. Examples: “Why do you think that? How has it worked well in the past? What do you think is the cause of the problem?”

When I start with a question I am less threatening to others, I am more likely to develop a well-informed opinion, and I increase prospects for avoiding conflict entirely.

– Craig Freshley

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Outside influence

Good Group Tips

In principle, if we want things to be different we have to see or do things differently. If a group of people are seemingly unable to solve a problem among themselves, perhaps they don’t have the wherewithal among themselves. If a group seems stuck in its ways— unenthusiastic, mediocre—perhaps it’s time for some outside influence.

Outside influences can jar things loose, knock things off track, light motivational fires; exactly what might be needed.

Practical Tip: Always bring new influences into your group: outside speakers, visitors, new information. Seek out those with special expertise and relevant experiences. Do not be threatened by outside influences; welcome them.

Outside influences can help you confirm that you are on the right track or inspire you towards a new track. Both are good.

– Craig Freshley

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It’s the planning, not the plan

In this fireside video from a lodge on a lake in Maine, Craig talks about the value of having a plan vs. making a plan.

If you are a planning skeptic, check this one out.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley.

I’m about to start a meeting in this awesome room. I’m at the Kennedy Learning Center on the shores of Damariscotta Lake, right out those windows. We’re going to sit around this table and were going to make a plan.

Now a lot of people don’t like plans. A lot of people say that plans are useless. In fact, Dwight Eisenhower said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” And I get that.

Sometimes — actually most of the time — after you make a plan, circumstances change and the whole plan is no longer valid. But the process of planning is indispensable even if you don’t stick to the plan. Having gone through the effort to think through what is it that we want to achieve — what are the steps, in what order, who’s responsible for what, how much money is each step going to cost — having thought through those plans helps us later even when we have to go off the plan. Even when circumstances change; because we went through the planning process we much better know how to adapt.

So even if you think plans are obsolete I hope you agree with me that the effort of planning is indispensable.

Thanks for listening everybody.

Understanding is always partial

A quick reminder from Quaker Meeting.

Thanks for holding the camera Kitsie!

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here.

Just finished a Quaker Meeting in this room where a woman said, “Understanding is always partial.” What a good reminder. You know sometimes I’m apt to think that I understand it all but I do well to keep in mind that I never understand it all. There are always other people that have a piece of the truth. There is always more for me to learn.

When I think I know it all, for one, I miss the opportunity of anybody else being able to contribute. And two, I miss the opportunity of me learning anything new.

Understanding it’s great. It’s wonderful for me to be able to say, “I get it, I understand that.” But it’s also great to be able to say, “I don’t understand it at all. I don’t know what else is to be revealed.”

You can help your group by always remembering that understanding is always partial.

Thanks for listening everybody.

Flat for planning, stacked for doing

Good Group Tips

In principle, different ways of deciding should be applied to different types of decisions.

Deciding how things should be—planning—is well-suited to a flat decision-making structure; that is, where several decision makers are equal and all fully participate. Some call this consensus decision making. As a rule, the longer and wider the reach of the plan, the broader and flatter the planning structure should be.

Deciding how to implement plans—doing—is better suited to hierarchical decision-making structure; that is, roles and responsibilities are stacked upon each other. There is a chain of command and accountability up and down the ladder. As a rule, the more expeditious and short-lived a decision is, the better it is to delegate it to an individual within a hierarchy.

Practical Tip: For each decision, first decide the type of decision: Is it more of a planning decision or more of an implementation-type decision? Will it have long-term, broad impact or short-term, local impact? Apply a decision-making method appropriate to the nature of the decision. Every group member need not decide small, implementation details. Long-term planning and high-level policy should not be in the hands of just a powerful few.

Not all about money

Good Group Tips

In principle, money absolutely matters but it’s not the only thing that matters. Money represents many valuable things yet fails to account for many things we value. Group decisions all about money often fail to consider adverse long-term effects on our emotions, on our relations, and on other groups, including future generations. This results in conflict at other times or in other places.

Money-based decisions also tend to miss opportunities that do not show up in the financial accounts of the alternatives: opportunities to increase long-term trust, peace, happiness, and other rewards in waiting.

Decisions motivated by profit tend to focus on short-term selfish impact rather than long-term community impact.

Practical Tip: When making group decisions, consider all potential costs and benefits. Consider how it will affect long-term peace among the group. Consider impacts outside the scope of your financial accounting: impacts on society at large, on the environment, on future generations.

The golden rule is: “Treat others as you would like to be treated,” not, “He with the most gold rules.” Actually, happiness does not result from having money or from ruling other people; it results from being at peace.

– Craig Freshley

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Whole Picture in Brief

If you want a group to focus on the whole picture it helps to provide them with tools to see the whole picture. In this short video Craig explains how he condensed a complicated list of recommendations into a two-page paper “ballot” that group members could use to select their top priorities.

You might also like this video: How to get a group to cut down a list.

 


This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here.

I have been working with a group called the Casco Bay Nutrient Council. I’ve been helping them write this report. It contains all kinds of data and analysis about nutrient pollution in Casco Bay. It’s made up of regulators and scientists and public interest groups. And the report also contains lots of complex recommendations; in fact, the way it is right now, it contains too many recommendations. So we had a meeting to prioritize them and try to figure out what are the most important recommendations.

But I’ll tell you, to ask a group to analyze a report of this complexity and then try to come to consensus on what in this report is most important — that’s a tall order. If you want a group to go from a large complex report to a short list of high-priority things, give them a short list to start with.

What this is, is it’s a high-level overview of all the recommendations in the report, organized by topic and number. I would have to say that the highest value I added to that particular meeting was making this piece of paper. I teased out of this 78 page report a list of relatively manageable recommendations. And look at this, I not only numbered them, I provided some columns over here that we used for, well, ranked choice voting you might say.

Even though we might not have time to get to consensus on a short list of recommendations in the meeting, at least I can ask each person to show their preferences, turn them in, and we can analyze the data and start the next meeting with an even shorter list.

If you want a group to condense the big picture you got to show them the whole picture. If you want a group to stay on the high ground, you’ve got to cut out all the other stuff and give them just the high ground. I hope that this helps this group make good decisions and I hope it helps you help your group make good decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody.