Learning to go with the Flow

Posted by: Gwyneth Tripp

Before the rains came, I was watering my garden and the hose I was using would only spray for a few seconds, and then give out. I kept repeating this, every time looking to see if there was a kink in the hose behind me. As I moved around the garden, it would work intermittently, then the water would slowly peter out or stop flowing all together. Frustrated, but in a hurry, I’d complete what I could then put the hose away. I did the same thing several days later, just trying to get the watering done. Finally, during my third attempt, on a day when I wasn’t rushing, I investigated further and found that there was a second “source” hose connected to the longer tube…and there it was: a kink, tucked-in close to the foundation where I never would have seen it had I not decided to take a break to find the root of problem. Victory was mine!

This experience reminded me of our efforts to launch a new grantmaking system here at the Foundation. The process was long and laborious, but we were thrilled to launch the upgraded platform earlier this year. Once it was live, however, users encountered all sorts of kinks in the system. A few were easy to fix, but many were complex, layered, or simply out of our control. When I approached each issue as an isolated event to quickly remedy, I’d get stuck, or the change would have a cascading effect – causing other issues I couldn’t see when only looking at what was in front of me. It wasn’t until I took the time to step back, consider the bigger picture, and invite others in to help that the solutions suddenly became more visible and durable.

I realized then that quick-fixes are often needed just to keep things moving, but real solutions require thought, creativity, and multiple perspectives. True problem-solving cannot be rushed, no matter how many kinks you encounter along the way; it takes patience, experimentation, and a good dose of humility – all of which are hard to embrace when things are constantly moving around us. Through this process, I discovered that when I was willing to pause and take a broader view of the challenges in front of me, progress and ideas could – finally - flow more freely.

If I’m lucky, the next time I go to water my garden and the hose doesn’t cooperate, I’ll remember to go slowly and take-in the whole situation before I make a decision or move forward. I have a feeling that my heart, mind, and garden will all be better off as a result.