Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Abundance and Potency

As we experience and respond to double-digit enrollment growth this fall it’s important to continue looking forward. Equally important is the consideration of how we might approach that future and the opportunities and challenges it will certainly present us. Will the focus of our approach be on what’s wrong or on what’s right? Our collective approach to this future will have a distinct and profound effect on the kind of institution MVCC will be, to both the students and the community we serve.

The Strategic Planning Committee will conduct its annual fall retreat later this month.  It will be facilitated in part by Dr. Richard Alfred and Patricia Carter from the Center for Community College Development – the two principals driving the Strategic Horizon Network (a national network of 14 community colleges, of which MVCC is a member). Dr. Alfred is also co-author of the recent book, “Community Colleges on the Horizon – Challenge, Choice, or Abundance.” Some key concepts from this book are central to the work of the Strategic Horizon Network and, I think, serve as important considerations for the future of MVCC.

Alfred and his co-authors write, “Institutions that work from a deficit-correcting perspective produce incremental gains as resources are committed to eliminating problems that stand in the way of getting work done. Conversely, institutions that work from an abundance perspective – valuing strengths and leveraging resources – generate outcomes that are disproportionate to the resources they are working with. The difference between creating the positive and eliminating the negative is subtle but potentially powerful, and it has important implications for organizational development in community colleges” (p. 29). We have many strengths that can easily be amplified into extraordinary outcomes, if we can only see them - and embrace them - together.

Alfred continues that “cynicism is apt to prevail and there is a tendency to focus on what the institution is doing wrong instead of what it is doing right. Negative experience somehow seems to occupy a more prominent place in our memory and to have a stronger effect on our emotions and cognition than positive experience. This tendency is not without reason: it is an oversight to ignore a positive event, but potentially an invitation to trouble to ignore a negative event. This can be likened to a ‘survival instinct’ and it helps to explain why leaders and staff are more likely to pay attention to negative aspects of organizational life than those that are positive” (p. 129). We can’t ignore what’s not working as we would like, but I believe when we focus on what’s working right and how we can make it better, things that aren’t working well automatically surface. It follows that the problems are easier to solve when we’re trying to make something better versus when we’re simply focused on the problem and trying to fix it.

Somewhat related, the authors also discuss the notion of potency that – “implies an ability to achieve or bring about a desirable result…it can perhaps be most easily understood as the difference between work and commitment. People will work for money, but they will commit to a cause. Institutions that are potent comprise committed people with a collective efficacy for results”(p. 28). The notion of commitment is at the core of my convocation remarks – if all of us think beyond our jobs and commit to the cause of MVCC's stated vision and mission and care for the whole of the organization, we will see potency in our collective actions that will astound our students, our community, and maybe even ourselves!

If you have any thoughts on these ideas, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.