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The Firefly Group helps people use everyday situations for learning and connecting to the Big Picture. After working with Firefly, you will be energized with specific action steps to achieve your goals.
We do this through training of trainers, leadership development, performance improvement training, strategic planning, writing training manuals, and clarification of organizational mission and vision. Our methods are engaging, thought-filled, and results-oriented.
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|Always in Crisis||Shoveling Snow||Trouble that Doubles|
Even when problems develop quickly out of our control, we can make them worse by our shortsighted actions. Learn more about the nature of exponential growth along with some specific suggestion to avoid its negative impact beginning with this 99-Word Story.
Always in Crisis
At a local social service agency, each case manager worked with up to ninety clients solving problems and dealing with difficult situations on a daily basis. Their supervisors dashed from one disaster to the next while juggling meetings and paperwork. Everyone wore a cell phone. The most common comment was, "I'm in crisis!"
One summer, most everyone took a week off to attend a workshop out of town. During that time, not a single client phoned with an earth-shattering problem. Somehow they took care of themselves.
I have often wondered who really created all the emergencies.
Avoid Exponential Growth
What has been accumulating around you?
For me, it's a pile of snow. A huge pile of snow. The photo here shows the snowfall on my deck as of the middle of February. It includes not only Mother Nature's expected contribution but also everything that has slid off the roof above. The shovels leaning against the half-completed removal job are not even standing on the deck's surface. Instead they rest atop a two-foot layer of ice too hard to chop through. So that's a very tall pile of snow.
My wife and I were getting worried. How much might that frozen pile weigh? Is the wooden structure of the deck strong enough? Will the ice packed against the foundation begin to rot the siding?
With these questions, it was obviously time to clear that snow away. You can see I've begun to make some progress but it's a big job. And because I've had to be out of town, it is still unfinished.
You might be wondering why I let this task go unattended for so long. Why was I procrastinating?
Well, usually, I don't see procrastination as a bad thing. Most of my procrastination is really a type of preparation for a heavier work load to come. (I've written about this in my News Flash of January 2013.) But in this instance, I realize something different is at play: Sometimes the effects of a series of benign actions don't simply add one to another. Neither do they multiply. Instead, they accumulate exponentially. The effects double, then double again, and yet again. Suddenly, we look up and notice that a three-foot drift has become six feet deep. Or that a two-week backlog of orders has become four.
Most of us are not accustomed to thinking in terms of exponential growth. There is the old story of a king who agreed to pay one of his advisors in rice. The advisor asked that he be paid one grain of rice the first day. But on each subsequent day the payment was to be a doubling of the day before. Though it sounds like a pittance, by the 30th day, the advisor had earned more rice than the whole kingdom could produce.
Because we don't expect it, exponential growth can catch us by surprise. Violent weather events, over population of the planet, the sudden disappearance of an endangered species, global warming, and a project cost overrun are all examples. We find ourselves frantically trying to shovel our way out of a big accumulated mess.
Share your examples of "snow" you've had to shovel then check out the Ideas section below for some suggestions about avoiding the effects of exponential growth the next time around.
How can you avoid becoming frozen in your tracks by the perfect storm of conditions created by exponential growth? Here are a few ideas that occurred to me while I was chipping away at the pile of snow on my deck:
Most likely there are other ways to weather the effects of exponential accumulation. Perhaps you have discovered some too. If so, please share them with me.
If you always had a plan B; if you could prepare for the completely unexpected, would you ever encounter a crisis? The 99-Word Story raises the question of how much we might contribute to our own failure or success. Certainly things happen that are out of our control: freak weather, market swings, or the health challenges of a co-worker or client. But sometimes we contribute to a crisis by being shortsighted, unintentional, and unrealistic about our abilities and resources.
Use this activity to help your team look for and recognize the effects of exponential growth. It is best described by Linda Booth Sweeney and Dennis Meadows in their book, The Systems Thinking Playbook (© 2008, ISBN-13: 978-0966612776) which is an excellent source for interactive strategies to teach about exponential growth and how systems interact with each other. You can search the Internet for other interpretations of this example of exponential growth such as this example or this one.
Trouble that Doubles
Time: 30 minutes
Participants: Any number
Materials: A paper napkin for each person; Rulers or measuring tape
Distribute a napkin to each person and invite them to fold it in half. Ask them to fold it in half again. Say, "You just folded your napkin twice and you'll see there are four layers of paper. If you fold it a third time, how many layers will you have? (Answer: eight) So each time you fold the napkin in half the thickness is doubled."
Invite people to fold their napkin as many times as they physically can and measure its thickness. Say, "You've reached the point where it's becoming impossible to fold the napkin again. It's probably about half an inch thick. Thinking hypothetically, how thick would the napkin become if you could fold it a total of 33 times?" Ask people to write down their prediction then have them share and explain their estimate.
Reveal the answer: 33 doublings of a napkin would stretch from Boston, Massachusetts to Frankfurt, Germany, a distance of more than 3,600 miles (5,900 kilometers).
- How do you explain the fact that many of us made such an in adequate prediction? (Some of us jump to conclusions too quickly, others may be math-challenged.)
- What makes it difficult to think in terms of exponential growth? (We are more familiar with linear growth. We are used to measuring the growth of individuals rather than observing the growth of larger, dynamic systems.)
- What are some examples in our work where growth and change are wildly unpredictable?
- What are some ways we can be more prepared for unexpected change? (See the Ideas section above for some suggestions.)
- What are some examples of how we might unintentionally increase the severity of a crisis? (Again, see the Ideas section and turn the suggestions around for some clues.)
- One way to become more aware of exponential growth is with a mental experiment. Think of a problem or trend. Assume it is just one element in a much larger system that we cannot fully see. If this trend was an example of exponential growth, what outcome might we expect? How could we prepare for such an outcome? What might we do to prevent it in the first place?
If you give this activity a try with your team, please !
If you like what you have read in this issue, I would like to bring the same innovation, creativity, and playfulness to your next meeting or learning event.
Whether you need a keynote speaker, or help with strategic planning, performance improvement, or training facilitators and trainers in your organization, I look forward to your call (802.257.7247) or .
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