The stubborn gap between ideas and implementation

I was a virtual delegate at the PCMA Convening Leaders conference again this year (in my office, not in Boston – here’s an account from on-site), and one of the discussions in our lively virtual chat turned to the question of how to engage people  with the content that is covered in a conference session.

One person came up with a really solid idea – at the end of a session, ask participants to turn to their neighbour and say what they just learned and how they’re going to apply it.

We all said the idea totally made sense, was a good idea, and it is.

And yet it got me thinking.

Just like you, if I actually implemented everything I’ve ever heard at a conference session, I’d:

  • Get everything done in 15 minutes a day…
  • while singlehandedly sell a gazillion dollars of services a year…
  • with a team so blissfully happy they’d probably pay me for the privilege of working with me…
  • solving world peace in my spare time.

I don’t think I’m damaging my personal brand too much to say that that’s not a precisely accurate picture of what’s happening for me.

The reality is, we overwhelmingly reject the good advice we get. Even the good advice we seek out and appreciate. For all the lifehacking going on, we tend to remain creatures of habit. Change is hardfor organizations and for people. The best predictor of what I’m going to do is what I’ve already done.

So here’s an idea. Probably provocative, possibly nuts.

How about we turn the question around: why am I not going to do this?

How about at the end of a conference session, turn the person next to you and talk about why you probably aren’t going to do anything about what you just learned. What are the barriers? What will delay you? What elements of what you just heard didn’t really work for you and why not?

And then let’s capture that (somehow), and find out what that means.

Maybe the session didn’t land with the audience. (It happens.)

Or maybe there just wasn’t the time to get into not just why this was a good idea but why it’s a hard idea.

Or maybe the tradeoffs aren’t going to turn out to be worth it. The cost (or the uncertainty) would be too high, the benefits too far-off and misty, or both.

Or maybe there needs to be some follow-up to discuss some of the shared obstacles – maybe these questions lead us to the content for the next meeting, the next session, the next discussion.

The idea isn’t to pick apart the session – it’s to understand thatthe spark of change is small, and needs to be sheltered from the wind and the rain if it’s going to really catch on.

There’s no shortage of good ideas. What there’s a shortage of is application of good ideas. Real disciplined execution. Experimentation.

Talking about why we aren’t going to do something might, paradoxically, help us actually do it.

What do you think?

If we can help you get the important things done, talk to us about our strategic and tactical planning services.

Photo by Dhruvaraj S via flickr, used via Creative Commons license.

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