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Strategic Grit: The Power of Experimentation + Discipline

Photo of authors Holly Adams and Jennifer Horn-Frasier

By Jennifer Horn-Frasier and Holly Adams

2020 was tough and the global consensus was that it would be a welcome thing to move on to 2021. But when the calendar turned to 2021, things were still tough.

Wait, what?!?

Okay, as it turns out, starting a new year doesn’t actually mean a whole lot except that you have to remember to write a different year on your checks. We closed our previous blog post with a quote from Angela Duckworth: “At various points, in big ways and small, we get knocked down. If we stay down, grit loses. If we get up, grit prevails.”

Since starting a new year did not magically make things better, how can we—as organizations and as individuals—dig deep and find ways to make the best of this time? We believe that the complementary practices of thoughtful experimentation and discipline can sustain focus and forward momentum.

We’ll explain.

Jennifer: I often use the Strategic Doing methodology, which is a way for people and networks to form agile collaborations to address complex problems. In previous posts, I’ve talked about the Framing Question—used to vividly imagine the future to be created—and Asset Mapping—developing an inventory of the available skills, physical resources, networks/relationships, and capital, then brainstorming how they might be combined in ways to bring to life the imagined future.

But neither of these tools are worth anything if an organization does not do something with them. And that’s where experimentation and discipline come in.

The future is built step by step and day by day. Even when the future seems daunting, or when turning the calendar page does not make things better, it is always possible to take at least one step forward.

Here’s how: Choose an experiment to begin with. In Strategic Doing, we refer to these as Pathfinder Projects, moving the organization on the path toward the envisioned future. Chose an experiment that has good potential to move you in the desired direction and that you know to be doable. Most importantly, have everyone on your team identify an action they will personally take to carry out the experiment.

Next, develop a 30/30 discipline. This is where your team gathers every 30 days (or at some other interval appropriate to the experiment) and does two things: 1) Looks back at the past 30 days to review what each person did and the impact those actions had on the experiment, and 2) uses what was learned from the past 30 days to plan actions for the next 30 days.

Thoughtful Experimentation + Discipline = Momentum in the direction of the future your organization is working to bring to life.

Holly: Thanks, Jennifer. You’re right, the complementary practices of experimentation and discipline are powerful. I do something similar with my clients. Together, we come up with an action item that we know will move us closer to success. At our next meeting, we evaluate that action item’s effectiveness.

During the evaluation phase, we work on how we talk about “failures.” It’s important to keep a growth mindset, and my goal is for clients to see setbacks as learning opportunities and not crushing blows of negativity. We learn grit by repeatedly getting back up, persevering despite disappointment, and ultimately succeeding.

Clients who are perfectionists struggle with learning grit the most because they are too focused on finding that one “right” way to do something. When life or work don’t go according to their plan, they are stuck, feel overwhelmed, and are more likely to give up. To combat this tendency, it’s important to hold them accountable.

Many of my clients benefit from the use of a weekly accountability check-in to talk about 1) things that went well, 2) things that didn’t go as planned, and 3) action items for focusing their attention going forward. This simple method creates the encouragement some clients need to keep moving toward their ultimate goals and strengthens self-awareness so they tackle self-loathing and self-deprecating thoughts before they take root.

We hope our blog series has helped you with your own strategic grit. But we also want to acknowledge that this isn’t an overnight process. It takes time and energy to build strategic grit, and, often, it’s easier to just do the things we’re comfortable doing, the things we’ve always done.

The Stockdale Paradox is a concept that has emerged from research into the psychology of prisoners of war. The paradox is that prisoners of war who are most likely to survive and thrive after release are not the pure optimists; rather, they are the soldiers who balance optimism with reality. They keep faith that they will be released while accepting the extreme challenge of their situation and taking small actions to enhance their chances of survival and release.

The Vietnam veteran for whom the paradox is named, James Stockdale, said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Strategic Grit is a similar balance: keeping your eye on your goals while staying engaged in the work of taking small steps forward every day, even—or especially—when the going gets tough.

Thank you so much for spending some time with us. If you decide you’d like a partner on your own strategic grit path, we’d be glad to talk with you. Here’s to making the most of 2021!

Jennifer and Holly

#StrategicGrit #StrategicDoing #PathfinderProject #3030 #Experimentation #Discipline

 About Jennifer:

Jennifer helps businesses, nonprofits, and community coalitions with strategic evolution: tackling complex problems, determining strategic direction, and taking action to create a new future. She is a Certified Strategic Doing Workshop Leader.

About Holly:

Holly is a trusted partner to individuals and teams, helping them forge and refine purposeful leadership and authentic collaboration to navigate both planned routes and unexpected detours successfully. She is a certified Human Resources Professional and Mental Toughness Trainer.

Turning Chaos into Insight

Did your expectations for 2020 crash and burn? Don’t throw the smoking heap of unrealized goals and planning out! There are treasures buried there, including lots of learning and new insights. Let us explain.

In our last Strategic Grit post (http://bluebirdskysolutions.com/insights/), we discussed creating a clear vision of the future you’re working toward with the help of a Framing Question and a Product Goal.

It isn’t enough to envision the future; it’s critical to take action. In 2020, you likely tried things you would never have had circumstances not twisted your arm (COVID, Derecho storm, lost clients, etc.). As you head into 2021, now is a great time to reflect on the changes you created—or that were imposed on you—to determine what to carry forward and what to leave behind in that hot-mess pile we talked about earlier.

Here are some ideas for finding the keepers.

Jennifer: I often use the Strategic Doing (https://strategicdoing.net/) methodology to guide organizations through planning and action steps to create a new future. One step in the process is to uncover the available assets, the building materials on hand that can be used to craft the envisioned future. These assets can be human skills, physical resources readily accessible to team members, networks and relationships, and, of course, capital.

If you’re so inclined, grab a pen or pencil and jot down all available assets relevant to your 2021 vision. You can organize them into the four categories I mentioned above: Skills; Physical Resources; Networks and Relationships; and Capital.

Once you’ve identified the assets available for the work at hand, you can imagine different ways to combine and use them to move toward your envisioned future. This is, in essence, what we all did in 2020: As the world shifted beneath our feet, we made quick judgments and had flashes of inspiration about how to use what we had on hand to respond to the unexpected. However, the real power is in creating time and space to intentionally do this reimagining and innovating in advance, not just in real-time.

Reflect for a moment on what you’ve done in 2020—and on the future vision you’re working to bring to life. Then ask What worked? Is it sustainable? What didn’t work? Is there something else we should try, given what we’ve learned?

Now randomly choose two assets from your list and brainstorm how they might be used to service your vision for 2021. Once you’ve run out of juice with these two assets, randomly choose two more and try again. You can also try this thought experiment backward: Start with the vision of the future you want to create by the end of 2021 and see what assets on your list could help you accomplish the vision.

This is a great way to begin stitching together a strategy for moving forward in 2021. We’ll talk more about this in our next Strategic Grit post.

Holly: It would be easy, understandable even due to pandemic fatigue and busy holiday schedules, to just coast into 2021 without really thinking much about business goals. Some leaders plan to wait for a vaccine or fly under the radar until someone else decides what 2021 can look like. But please don’t fall into the trap of immobility. Now is the perfect time to begin the grit-building process, even if you can only find a couple of minutes!

A key component in the Strategic Grit process is focusing on the solution, not getting sidelined by smoldering heaps of regrets. Focusing on the solution means asking yourself, what’s the one thing you can do today to take a step closer to a positive outcome? You could also think about what worked in 2020. As Jennifer mentioned, your answer may or may not be sustainable moving forward, but documenting the answer is essential.

Now think about what didn’t work. This list might be long given the challenges of 2020, so just consider your top 3-5 misfires or missteps. Jot them down. This list of what worked and what didn’t in 2020 represents, in an elementary form, your framework for pursuing and reaching your vision in 2021.

Now consider what’s next. What’s one thing you want to do or try to get closer to your vision/product goal? Start big and keep drilling down to actionable items. What’s one thing you want to try next week/next month/next quarter? Ideally, what’s the one thing you can do TODAY?

Here’s an example of what the framework looks like:

Individual

ž Goal: increase connection to virtual team members

ž What worked: established team and individual check-ins; themed/fun topics

žWhat didn’t work: length of the regular check meetings (too long); not enough structure/lack of a plan

ž What’s next: shorten meetings; employee drives part of the process by checking in regarding hits and misses for the current week and outlining the focus for the following week; shared coordination (employee and manager) for developing themed/fun virtual calls.

This is how you can begin to experiment with data collected from your own experiences in 2020 and use it to make powerful adjustments in 2021.

Jennifer and Holly: We’d love to hear about your asset “keepers” list or how you used the framework provided to take action toward your goals. Let us know!

We appreciate and want to share the following reminder from Angela Duckworth in her book, Grit.

From the very beginning to the very end, it is inestimably important to learn to keep going when things are difficult, even when we have doubts. At various points, in big ways and small, we get knocked down. If we stay down, grit loses. If we get up, grit prevails.

In our next blog post, we will continue to share ways to build confidence to forge ahead. In the meantime, you can reach us at jennifer@bluebirdskysolutions.com or holly@hollyadamsconsulting.com with your questions and comments.

Thank you for spending a bit of time with us!

Jennifer and Holly

 About Jennifer:

Jennifer helps businesses, nonprofits, and community coalitions with evolution management: tackling complex problems, determining strategic direction, and taking action to create a new future. She is a Certified Strategic Doing Workshop Leader.

About Holly:

Holly is a trusted partner to individuals and teams, helping them forge and refine purposeful leadership and authentic collaboration to navigate both planned routes and unexpected detours successfully. She is a certified Human Resources Professional and Mental Toughness Trainer.

Strategic Grit: Are you ready to not just plan but DO?

Strategic Grit: Are you ready to not just plan but DO?

In our introductory Strategic Grit blog post we promised a springboard for clarifying the future you want to create and bringing it to life. Through our Strategic Grit blog collaboration, we’ll share insights about both a get-it-done mindset AND plans of action for success. We’ll provide examples from our methods that allow for unexpected change, which makes them adaptable and valuable for chaotic times such as these.

So, if you are looking forward to 2021 and thinking How do we even start to plan for all these unknowns?!?, read on for some practical ideas.

Jennifer: It would be easy to get hung up on the long list of external factors over which you have no control. But focusing on the obstacles will never get you to where you want to go. The key is to clearly envision the future you do want, then to focus on what you can do to get there.

So: Start by taking time to vividly imagine and articulate the future you want to create. This is a critical step in making real change happen.

One methodology I use with organizations and coalitions is Strategic Doing™, an agile approach to collaboratively tackling complex problems. At the heart of Strategic Doing is what we call the Framing Question. This is a tool that helps people contemplate and picture the desired future, that invites curiosity and enthusiasm, that serves as a beacon of light shining through the darkness of the unknown.

An example of a Framing Question is this: Imagine that, in December 2021, our organization is thriving. What would that look like?

Of course, this example is a generic question; effective real-world Framing Questions are compelling and unique to the circumstances. But the answers to the Framing Question establish a vision of success. Once we are able to vividly imagine our future, the Framing Question challenges us to imagine how we can make it reality.

THIS is where action and change begin. Now the task is to rough out the path to that future reality. What are the actions needed to move toward that future vision? And how will each person do their part?

Here’s where the grit comes in.

Holly: Similar to Jennifer’s Framing Question, I always start my consulting work in Mental Toughness with a basic inquiry to clarify the end goal, what I call the Product Goal. Here are some questions I ask when trying to define the Product Goal:

  • What does success look like to you?
  • If you have achieved this goal, what is the result?
  • What does your ideal life look like 6 months from now?

(These questions can be applied to an individual, a team, or an organization.)

Once we’ve explored the answers to these questions, we talk about the current state of activity to understand the gap between our current reality and our ideal reality. We often discuss why we are naturally motivated to stay in our comfort zones, even when we know there are good reasons for change. We work together to identify the actions that will generate the most opportunity for growth and success, and we examine ways to increase self-awareness, build trust among team members and supervisors, establish accountability, and boost optimism.

Mentally tough and gritty individuals increase the likelihood of success by taking a long-term goal (a Product Goal) and chunking it into smaller, attainable goals (Process Goals). Successful people understand the difference between a goal and a plan. A goal remains relatively fixed, but the plan can and should be flexible. Regular check-ins allow for tweaks to our plan and changes in behavior—which keep us focused on our Product Goal.

A sailor, for example, never sails his or her boat directly from point A to point B. Factors such as wind and water conditions must be considered, and so the good sailor adjusts his or her route at regular intervals, otherwise the wind or currents can take them off course and potentially into real danger.

Jennifer and Holly: We would love to hear from you about your own process for clarifying your future vision and ensuring success. What might your organization use as a Framing Question to navigate 2021? What goals are you setting for yourself or your team in 2021 and how will you support achieving them?

In our next blog post we will take a deeper dive into bringing your future vision to life. In the meantime, you can reach us at jennifer@bluebirdskysolutions.com or holly@hollyadamsconsulting.com with your questions and comments.

We’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for spending a bit of time with us!

Jennifer and Holly

About Jennifer:
Jennifer helps businesses, nonprofits, and community coalitions with evolution management: tackling complex problems, determining strategic direction, and taking action to create a new future. She is a Certified Strategic Doing Workshop Leader.

About Holly:
Holly is a trusted partner to individuals and teams, helping them forge and refine purposeful leadership and authentic collaboration to successfully navigate both planned routes and unexpected detours. She is a certified Human Resources Professional and Mental Toughness Trainer.

Introducing: Strategic Grit

Introducing: Strategic Grit

Hello! We’re Jennifer Horn-Frasier and Holly Adams, two consultants from the Midwest who use strategy and grit to help individuals, teams, and organizations create a clear vision of the success they seek, and then make it happen.

Strategic Grit is born of the lessons we’ve learned in 2020, as well as the lessons that our clients have learned. As the Coronavirus has taken a tighter hold of our nation and its economy, it’s become clear to us that those best equipped to ride out tumultuous times are those who possess certain qualities: They are nimble, and they are resilient.

And that’s when we came up with Strategic Grit: A resilience that is not random, but well-planned, effective, and durable.

Our goal is to share what we’ve learned from helping people become more strategic and more resilient, and how you too can use a more strategic and resilient mindset to reach your goals.

More specifically, Jennifer will share how she uses a decision-making framework to help organizations create a long-term vision that everyone understands and embraces. Holly will get into the nitty-gritty (no pun intended!) of how to effectively identify and articulate goals, incorporate accountability, and continually reevaluate progress.

We will use real client stories to illustrate how to make Strategic Grit happen, and we’ll incorporate your feedback and questions into each and every blog. We want this to be a conversation, not a long-winded lecture.

We think that Strategic Grit will help you and your team feel emboldened to respond to change, navigate upheaval, and keep moving forward, and we can’t wait to get started!

We’ll post our next blog here in about a month. Until then, if you have something you’d like to share with us, you can reach us at holly@hollyadamsconsulting.com or jennifer@bluebirdskysolutions.com.

Thank you for spending a bit of time with us! More soon!

Jennifer and Holly

About Jennifer: 

Jennifer helps businesses, nonprofits, and community coalitions with evolution management: tackling complex problems, determining strategic direction, and taking action to create a new future. She is a Certified Strategic Doing Workshop Leader.

About Holly: 

Holly is a trusted partner to individuals and teams, helping them forge and refine purposeful leadership and authentic collaboration to successfully navigate both planned routes and unexpected detours. She is a certified Human Resources Professional and Mental Toughness Trainer.