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Ground Rules Deep Dive #11: Commit to Finding Common Solutions

by Milenko Matanovič

May 16, 2018


Together we are capable of extraordinary achievements. Over the years, Pomegranate Center has proven this by encouraging people to uphold a code of conduct that leads to creativity and collaboration. This code of conduct, what we call “ground rules,” is essential to creating a positive atmosphere that focuses on how things can be improved, free from complaints. In this series of short essays, I will look at different ground rules, evaluate why they are important, and share stories from the field.

At the end of a successful community meeting, people should feel that they found the optimal solution, not dwell on whether their idea won or lost. This is an ideal, of course.

More often than not, people attend a meeting to promote their preexisting ideas and are not open to discovering anything new. They see any meeting as an opportunity to persuade others to their point of view. This results in a process where people become intolerant of anything that is outside their thinking. Recently, a meeting between Seattle City council members and the community ended in a shouting match where people prevented those with different positions to speak.

The learning stops. Discovery evaporates. What stays is anger that communicates displeasure and dissent. It does not help with crafting solutions.

When we at Pomegranate Center begin our community work, we suggest that everyone, from employees of government agencies or non-profits, consultants, and community members, commit to finding a shared solution. This request doesn’t magically transform people into thoughtful and compassionate individuals. However, when people become rigid around their proposals, we can ask them: Can your proposal link to those of others? Or: What concessions can you make so that other’s ideas can also materialize?

For example, just like many metropolitan regions, we in the Seattle area are trying to figure out how to manage the influx of new people: How do we grow and not sprawl? How do we balance the need for housing with the need for open space? How do we decrease traffic jams and increase walkability? How do we ensure social justice and equity and decrease discrimination? How do we pollute less? How do we make it safe? How do we bring beauty?

All these questions are related, even though different people gravitate to a specific aspect of the whole picture. These particular proposals are spokes in a wheel, and it makes sense to build them firm and stable. From the perspective of the bike, this doesn’t make sense. Here the task is to align the spokes to become equally firm and make a wheel that doesn’t wobble. It can’t happen without shifting the focus from what matters to one to what matters to all. And the simplest way is to listen to what others have to offer.

The ground rule to “seek common solutions” is a small encouragement to explore how different ideas may be connected. I was at a meeting discussing the importance of trees in the cities. Unexpectedly, two different environmentally-focused themes emerged. First, plant many trees to provide shade. Second, don’t plant trees that shade access to current and future solar panels. At first, the two ideas appeared in conflict with each other. Then one person said that trees only grow to specific heights, and perhaps higher story buildings should become the prime target for solar access. From that moment on we all started to think how this win-win solution can happen, resulting in many more productive ideas. Commonly supported solutions emerged. We all shifted from spoke-makers to wheel-fabricators, concerned with how everything comes together and aligns. It was a joyful experience.

Read the tenth installment in the series, “Maintain the Balance Between Heart and Mind, Expertise, and Passion,” here.