“The fierce urgency of now”


This pattern, which I have been tempted to title, “Destinal Challenge” or “Defining Challenge,” is more “practical” in nature than Compelling Journey, for example, but is nevertheless applicable at virtually every level, from enterprise-wide strategy development to project team implementation. It draws upon the practice of “contradiction analysis” as applied by the Institute of Cultural Affairs in comprehensive village development efforts and corporate strategy workshops. It answers questions such as, “What would make the greatest difference,” “What is the root cause underneath all other problems,” “What is the greatest obstacle to authentic change.” It is the “worthy adversary” that requires and draws out the best from an entire team, and when the Worthy Challenge is overcome, the actual results may surprisingly exceed expectations by redefining what was possible.

Core of the problem in context

A subtle reductionism is frequently in play at every stage of community or corporate planning and action: the tendency to settle for what is possible, affordable, or simply whatever may come from having “done our best.” This can understandably happen when a critical milestone has been delayed for an extended period of time. or when available resources have been stretched thin and are nearly exhausted, or when that one last external complication has apparently sounded the death knell for the desired vision.

Core of the solution

Therefore recast the current circumstances in light of the underlying contradiction, the worthy challenge, the overcoming of which would signal a dramatic change in the structure and flow of the situation.

Additional considerations

Continuing to “simply do our best” incrementally drains group energy and motivation by repeatedly falling short of effecting genuine change, and therefore in some sense consciously capitulating to the “impossibility” of the situation.

Any number of facilitative practices are available, but the key communications issue is to raise the “worthy adversary” question in a context of broadened perception and receptivity. There is a healing resonance in corporately recognizing the Worthy Challenge which can draw out fresh creativity, attract additional resources, grant permission to let go of ineffective approaches and take new risks.

Note that a Worthy Challenge is virtually NEVER not having enough time, money or people; but this is a consideration that merits its own post.

Relationships to other patterns

At its heart, a Compelling Journey is a series of overcoming Worthy Challenges that reveal a group’s distinctively evolving role. Worthy Challenge provides the focal point and “traction” for advancing Continual Capacity Building, Distributed Leadership, and Emerging Consensus, as well as the genuine value context for Explicit Acknowledgment.