Pondering (ExPLORE Part Two)

This is the second leg of a six-part journey through ExPLORE℠, our powerful, proprietary Expedition framework. ExPLORE℠ blends time-honored principles with historical planning models and methods of the Great Discoverers to help organizations thrive in their bold endeavors.

Space to consider meaning. That’s Pondering. Pondering is the P in the ExPLORE℠ framework acronym. It represents that part of the expedition that, frankly, isn't very flashy or easy to sell. It’s fun and exciting to tell stories of expeditions. It’s much more challenging to explain the slow contemplation which carefully and methodically planned the expedition, the Pondering.

For example, when reading management books or the day's business news, industry titans are often touted as quick decision makers. Their leadership is dynamic and decisive. Those are great words to describe the outcome, but not the development of the strategy that led to the bold moves. Truly decisive leaders know that Pondering is imperative.

Pondering is critical for long-term success. It’s not just about asking questions, it’s about taking time to contemplate what the right questions are, what the situation is, and what may be but is not yet. It is observing and reflecting on what’s happening around you, striving to understand it, but being willing pause before making swift conclusions.

Famous explorers Lewis and Clark pressed forward and at the same time patiently scanned the horizon and contemplated the implications of their daily discoveries. They were looking for Native Americans, animals, and various topographical formations. At the same time, they were examining the vegetation underneath their feet. They kept journals, drew pictures, and collected samples. They sought to find a passage to the Northwest, what was needed to settle these new lands, and ways to build relationships with the Native Americans. Their expedition was one massive fact-finding and mapping project. Vast, unchartered land lay before them, and they were looking to understand what was there.

Pondering takes time, but more importantly it takes patience. Pondering requires looking at the situation, the product, the opportunity from various angles. It means thinking about what is being said and what is revealed.

When I started the expedition with the music group Jars of Clay, I would meander through the audience during their concerts, watching how the audience interacted with what they were experiencing. I didn’t know what I was looking for until I saw it. After observing several concerts, I began to notice patterns in the makeup of the audience, how the women and men responded to a particular song, and on which songs the phones came out to record the music. From this observation, the question then became, “What does this mean?”

• Here are some things to consider while Pondering: • What is happening. What am I perceiving? • What are the implications of what I am seeing? • Who is doing what? • Why is this happening? • What are the different behaviors I am witnessing? • What is different here than what I am seeing elsewhere? • Where did this come from? • How did this get started? • Why did this get started? • What is the pattern here? • How did this get here? • And you attach this question to all of the above: Why?

Pondering cannot be rushed.

Time helps to reveal situations. One instance in time gives an indication but it may not reveal a pattern. It is only a glimpse, a picture. Watching over time exposes movement. Is there a rhythm or a pattern to the situation? What is the trajectory?

Don't get me wrong. The quick decision can be necessary and valuable. Action is called for, and action is taken. But there is also what I call Patient Vision. Patient Vision is just that; patiently waiting for the vision to be realized.

Take Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase for instance. Thomas Jefferson had a vision. Like few others, he understood how valuable that land was. An expedition like purchasing those territories would take time and money, strong leadership, and recognizance to understand and get to know the land he wanted. Lewis and Clark were his boots on the ground, so to speak, providing all the detailed information Jefferson needed to know the land, claim the land, and ultimately obtain the land. He waited patiently until he was adequately armed with all the available information and then moved forward in the purchase.

When The Exploration Group undertakes an expedition, Pondering is a critical phase. The Pondering phase, which can take three months or more while information is gathered and processed, determines the trajectory of the future expedition.

There are two cautionary considerations while in the Pondering phase, moving too slowly, and moving too quickly.

Let me explain.

When the Pondering phase is moving too slowly there always seems to be something more to be understood before the expedition can begin. Case in point. I once worked with a brilliant gentleman who had some seminal thinking in his field. He was forever having another insight. Numerous people encouraged him to turn his thoughts into a book, but he’d never do it because there was always one more thought, one more idea. In the words of marketing wiz, Seth Godin, the man never shipped. His fear of leaving something important out kept him from writing his first book, which in turn, prevented him from writing any subsequent books.

On the flip side, when the Pondering phase is moving too quickly, an incomplete solution is often put forward. Ninety percent of the time that might be okay, but then the ten percent happens. Everyone involved is confounded and doesn’t know what to do. The solution didn’t work. The organization restructures and they go back to the drawing board. More Pondering was needed. Premature consensus, according to Peter Drucker, leads to incomplete conclusions.

Done Pondering? If you're sure, next we'll go looking for Landmarks, part three.

Don't miss part one of the ExPLORE℠ framework: Expectation.

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