Strive Less, Succeed More

By Gary Oppedahl and Autumn Gray

Municipalities and companies looking for new ways to succeed might want to send their leaders on a canoe trip. The revelations could be, well, revolutionary.

Here’s why: Beginning canoers often complain that they paddle themselves in circles regardless of how hard they stroke the water. Or if they do go straight, they don’t tend to go very far very fast despite their best efforts. What the paddler eventually learns is that if he or she will look for the tell-tale bubbles indicating where currents collide, then follow the current, the energy required to move forward at a decent clip is vastly reduced.

Similarly, more often than not, the harder a government or CEO works and the more they strive and strain, the less progress is made. Energy is wasted. Sometimes they completely fail, left tired and wondering how, after all of that, was it possible that the goal remained out of reach?

The “not fighting,” the “not striving,” that’s often the key. Typically, when a person, group of people, or even a city or company is working toward a specific goal, their focus is very narrow. They know what needs to be done, and they launch into it, sometimes with a plan, sometimes flailing, but full steam ahead.

They lose sight of their surroundings and may not even be completely cognizant of the process as each moment unfolds and ushers in opportunity for new – and possibly better – choices along the way. The rigid fixation on the end result and the quickest path from A to B is blinding.

While pushing forward so fiercely, they miss the bubbles that may indicate a smoother, more successful way ahead.

Some municipalities, Albuquerque included, have discovered the wisdom in letting go, softening the grip, losing some control in the moment to enable a wider view when it comes to creating policy. As a result, they are radically changing the way they tackle social problems.

In the past, the City of Albuquerque’s method of approaching education, community development, economic development, etc., involved bureaucrats coming up with ideas based on their views in isolation at City Hall, and then tossing solutions “at” the community, with fingers crossed that improvement would occur. It was a bit robotic: See problem out there, devise answer in here. And then keep paddling and repeating and becoming more frantic as Election Day approaches.

Today, the City is taking a collective impact approach to improving its economy, decreasing poverty and creating more job opportunities. For example, after several small business deep dives with the community, the Albuquerque Living Cities Integration Initiative discovered that access to capital was a major barrier for small business owners looking to enter the marketplace. Digging deeper, the group found that entrepreneurs were not necessarily looking for five-digit loans. In most cases, access to smaller micro loans to buy equipment or set up an e-commerce site were the barriers to entry.

Through a partnership with the Nusenda Foundation, a Co-op Capital loan product was created to address this need. Co-op Capital is a low-interest, relationship-based loan product that provides capital to low-income entrepreneurs who have challenges accessing traditional sources of funding for a variety of reasons, including lack of collateral and/or low credit scores.

This model involves the City sharing a vision for social change with others in the community. It requires deep investigation and measurement of current activities across sectors. And it relies on long-term communication and observation with the community to inform future strategy.

In short: A lot of different people are taking notes on their surroundings, working to see what works and what doesn’t, slowing down, putting a paddle in the water on the right here, then dragging with the left when a slight adjustment is needed, finding the current and going with the flow.

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