ship-mark-detwiler-2“That’s the way things are always done.” “It’s too big to move.” “It’s too hard to change.”

We hear these statements all the time. The group comes up with a lofty goal, and the naysayers start their work.

  • We don’t have enough staff to do that.
  • The ship is already moving in one direction; we can’t change now.

Are you sure?

Last month, I toured the Kalmar Nyckel, a replica of the 141 foot long 17th century Dutch Pinnace that carried Peter Minuit and the founders of Ft. Christina – now New Castle, Delaware – in a 2-1/2 month journey across the Atlantic from Sweden.  Carrying about 50 people in a ship whose deck was only 93 feet long, the ship made at least 4 round trips across the Atlantic, and was then outfitted for naval duty.

Each anchor on the Kalmar Nyckel weighs 900 pounds, far too heavy for individuals to even join together to hoist. But a simple machine, the windlass, magnifies their strength 10X.

Working together, the sailors inserted levers into the horizontal windlass, pushed down, and repositioned the levers, continuing the process to hoist and lower the anchor, or hoist topmasts and yards too unwieldy to manage alone.

In the 17th century, and for millennia well before that, humanity already had the tools to magnify our strength. Together.

In the 21st century, our machines may be different, but they are still tools that can magnify our strengths. Especially when we work together.

One of the greatest assets an organization has is the people who can see beyond their own strengths, to the possibilities of engaging others with complementary strengths. Using technology, we are now able to meet people who share our vision, even if they don’t live in walking distance. They may not be on the same ship as we are, but we can still work together to do big things.

Board members need to be able to see that path. We constantly talk about our organization’s finite resources, without recognizing that in our daily lives we already magnify our resources by working together. As individuals, we ask for help when needed; we plan trips and parties with others.

The next step is to apply that same thinking to the whole organization. When faced with a lofty goal, the response is not,  “We can’t do that.” The response is “Who else can we bring into this to make it possible?”

What big things can we do if we engage with others, using our 21st century tools? Instead of letting the naysayers affirm the status quo, board members can ask – how can we make it possible?

What leverage can YOU apply to make big things happen?