Managing the Panic Moment

I’ve been reflecting on the design process we’ve all been in together and on the unique complexity of this upcoming meeting. I’ve been thinking about how I’ve been handling the complexity, and I’m wondering how you all have been handling it too.

On the one hand, I was heartened by the checkouts from all of you on the Design Team call today, and how a number of you expressed confidence. On the other hand, I know that it’s been a rocky, intense journey and that the stakes feel very high, especially post-election. These leaders are trusting us to help them manage the complexity of what they’re trying to achieve. That trust is a large burden, and I am so impressed and appreciative of how well you all have been handling it.

As I think I’ve told all of you many times before, there is always a panic moment before these kinds of participatory, emergent meetings. Everyone has them, and it’s totally understandable, because in the absence of certainty, you are reliant on faith. That’s a hard sell, especially when you have limited experience with these types of gatherings — or worse, bad experiences.

Part of the role of a good consultant / facilitator is to guide the participants through that pre-meeting panic moment. But another role is to manage that panic moment yourself, because if you’re being honest with yourself, you should be freaking out also! In fact, if you weren’t freaking out, I would question whether or not you were thinking things through rigorously enough.

I get nervous before every meeting, and I have at least one panic moment as part of every design process. I’ve already had a few for this one. I was talking about this with my sister over dinner tonight, and I said, “Do you know how I manage it?”

She responded, “Yeah, you do that Jack Donaghy thing, right?”

For those of you who are not 30 Rock fans, this is what she is referring to:

I do in fact have a Jack Donaghy-style psych up routine, which is a crucial part of my pre-meeting ritual. But that’s not how I handle the panic moment in the design process. I handle the panic moment in the design process by remembering what I learned from one of my mentors, Gail Taylor:

The success and failure of the meeting does not depend on you. You are simply part of the system, and the whole system is holding the space, not just you.

I want you all to remember this. We are lucky to have a strong team, from Miles River to the Design Team, and that alone gives me comfort about our meeting. But even this group of 11 people is not responsible for the success and failure of the meeting. Everybody in the room is part of the system. Everybody in the room is bringing their own special wisdom and will be helping hold the space.

We design with this assumption in mind. We trust the intelligence of the participants. Most importantly, we trust in the strength of our relationships, which creates resiliency. Failure is simply part of good process, not something to avoid at all costs.

When I remember this, my panic subsides, and my faith is restored. I hope you all remember this and believe this in your bones, and I hope it helps you too.