Five Personal Questions for Public Innovators

This week I am getting ready for our upcoming Public Innovators Lab, which always makes me go back to first principles about what it takes to make hope real in communities. At the Lab, we guide participants through key Harwood Institute ideas, frameworks and tools that we’ve developed over the years, and which people will take back home to accelerate their own efforts to create change and hope. But, no matter the topic, what is always present in the room is a set of personal questions people bring with them to the Lab, questions that sit in the back of their minds waiting to be answered. These are questions that each of us hope to answer. It is only over the last 20 years that these questions have come into sharp focus for me. There are of five of them in all, each one speaking to us as individuals, to our souls and hearts, to our appetites to make the world a better place. Listen to these questions as you read them to yourself, and see how they sit with you, what they summon within you, what they compel you to consider or do.

1. How can I make the leaps necessary to have the kind of impact and life I seek?

2. How can I come together with others to make a lasting difference?

3. How can my public work reflect the best of my personal values and aspirations?

4. How can I unleash the potential within myself and others?

5. What path should I take – and how do I find the courage and humility to take this path?

These questions emerge in different settings and from different perspectives. Sometimes they bubble up in conversations as people tell you about their proudest public or civic victory; other times they can be heard in someone expressing lingering doubts about whether real change is even possible; still other times they are reflected in people’s struggle to balance their need to make a difference with the need to make time for family and friends.

In the Lab, as in other Institute work, we will actively explore these five questions; we will keep them in mind as we consider what it means to create change and hope in our communities and organizations – and in our own lives. It’s clear to me that neither I nor anyone else can give an individual the answers to these questions. Each of us must come to our own answers, for ourselves. Each of us must examine the fit between the aspirations we hold, the realities we face, and who we are.

So, this year, as in previous years, I am enthused about engaging with the key ideas, frameworks, and tools in the Lab – there’s something very rewarding in the discipline that goes into that work. What’s more, I am looking forward to exploring these five personal questions, and how each of us can fulfill our work as change agents and make our own way as individuals.