Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Learning theory to governance practice: Inviting 'noisy' generative thinking

(Axelrod, N. (2006). Curious boards. Board Member, 15(3), 8-11.)

Boards cannot fear the noise of generative thinking and inquiry. They must embrace it - and understand it as a core capacity in their governance responsibilities.

In light of the aha moment that I had in Monday's post, I felt compelled to share this quote by Nancy Axelrod. Actually, it covers most of the major insights from my research that I've shared so far this summer.  But it's germane today because it describes the phenomenon that occurred in each of the moments where questions posed by board members prompted their peers to stop, consider, explore, and ultimately come up with decisions - and questions - that may not have been their first impulse.

That's one of the most transformative contributions of generative thinking in the nonprofit boardroom: creating the environment where new possibilities can emerge and the capacity to envision more - and new - options that may end up being better and more effective than those that may seem obvious on the surface.

A board culture that values generative thinking and centers itself in inquiry is noisy. It's also scary at times, as the discussion takes us into sometimes uncharted territory. It can feel simultaneously fast, even as it requires that we take time to really think and consider all options available to us. But it's an environment that nonprofit boards must commit to creating if they are to govern fully - to govern from a place of leadership.

This feels like a potentially natural close to the Wednesday "literature review" series I've been running this summer. It may be, or I may still offer quotes from a couple of other adult learning theories that beg to be shared. For the moment, I'll simply close with the encouragement to explore with your board ways to make fostering a culture of inquiry, where generative thinking and governance comes as naturally as the fiduciary oversight tasks that dominate so many of their agendas.

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