by Nancy Napier
As seen in the Idaho Statesman Business Insider on June 20, 2012
My name is Nancy Napier and I’m a member of a gang. Yes, you read that right. Then again, it’s not your normal gang. Still, it’s a group that has common goals, some common language and common attitudes. And those are? To get better than we were yesterday and last year, to be better than our peers, and to never, ever become complacent.
You may have heard of this gang. It’s a diverse group of organizations in the Boise region, ranging from the arts to software, sports to education, law enforcement to advertising. Each organization is high-performing, highly creative and aggressive about learning. The Gang includes, among others, the Boise State football program, the Trey McIntyre Project (an innovative dance company) and Healthwise.
In the last few months, I’ve given several talks around town about The Gang and its lessons. I have been struck by the audience reaction. People are often surprised that organizations in wildly different fields have something in common, like using creativity to do things differently to get better. They smile and lean forward to hear more about what a detective and coach might learn from each other. They tilt back and open their eyes wide when they hear that the Ada County Jail is now a model that sheriffs come to study from around the country. They chuckle when they hear that structure helps creativity rather than hurts it.
And in the end, some people ask how to start a gang. Consultant and former business executive Linda Clark-Santos and I have started two other gangs, named The Posse and The Hard Rock Miners. (Names count, and we do live in Idaho). Through the process, we’ve learned what helps build successful gangs. We want to pass some thoughts on to you, in case you are thinking of starting a gang.
Start with two givens. First, gang members must truly want to learn and to get better. Period. Not just to talk, but to learn and do. Without that, the group is a nonstarter.
Second, gang members must represent wildly different, noncompetitive fields. The Posse includes people from hospitality, youth sports, the arts and business. The Hard Rock Miners come from government, education, the law and business. Different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives are the core of gang success. No diversity, no learning.
Third, we find that when people do not know each other ahead of time, the group coalesces faster. Why? First, each person must speak in simple English, not in their field’s jargon. Gang members are forced to tell their stories in a fresh way. All slates are blank, and we all learn together from scratch.
Finally, we find that having an outsider or facilitator identify and vet the members adds credibility to the process. Having an objective outsider select and help shape the group boosts expectations that each member will be someone credible to learn from. The facilitator then helps get the discussions going. The facilitator should also bring some new knowledge as well.
Secrets of a gang: Find aggressive learners, recruit people outside of your field who you don’t know, and have someone help facilitate.
Get moving. We’d like to see Idaho become known as a state full of gangs that learn.
NANCY NAPIER Executive director of Boise State’s Centre for Creativity and Innovation