The Myth of Maintaining

When I was younger I went on many a three-day canoe trip every summer with Boy Scouts. In the summer over a weekend we would marshal our canoes on the Saugeen River at Walkerton, Ontario and make our way to the port of Southampton and majestic Lake Huron.

This canoe trip went with the current and so, while hard work, we knew if we stopped paddling for a while we were still moving forward.

On occasion we would paddle against the current to head back upstream to visit with friends. On those occasions we could not stop paddling. We had to relentlessly work to move. If we stopped for a little to rest in a slow moving section of the river we would immediately lose ground and go backwards.

Life can be a lot like this…we are moving along this river at varying speeds but there is always a little resistance…a little current against which we must press. When we stop to rest we start sliding backwards.

At this point I will stop to say that there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this. What is important however is to be aware of this phenomenon that happens with individuals, groups, families, faith communities, organizations, festivals, cities, etc.

As a person or a family drifting a bit with the current to see where it will take you can be a good exercise and open up new opportunity and insight – as a business or some other mission driven entity however drifting is never a good thing because there is nothing intentional about it and you can quickly lose sight of where you are and where you were going.

There are some who believe that once they have reached their goals they can simply maintain and allow their momentum to carry them along. The problem with this is that there is no such this as maintain. The second you stop intentionally moving forward and striving to achieve goals the current begins to pull you backward. This is why new goals must always be waiting in the hopper once the old ones have been achieved.

For organizations there are real consequences for putting things on auto-pilot: customers get bored; revenue/visitation starts to flat-line and eventually drop; and increase in complaints to name a few. Staff and volunteers begin to sense stagnation and become stagnant in-kind leading to increased turn-over and loss of people. Motivation drops and attention to detail, and service levels fall as well.

As people we call this state the rut. “He’s in a rut” we say. We call it a rut because it is difficult to get out of once we are in it. It takes much more effort/energy and resources to reverse backward momentum than to slowly and constantly continue to build it forward.

Back to canoeing – when we would arrive at our destination and the awesomeness of Lake Huron would unfold before us and stretch to the horizon, we would often drift a bit out into the lake and then make our way to shore, pack up our things, load the canoes onto the trailer and head home with thoughts of coming back next year.

We can do this as well – it’s called closing the business, shutting down the organization or festival, shuttering the facility etc. It is true sometimes things do need to die so that new things can be reborn in their place…but make no mistake, you cannot put your business or organization on pause and come back in a year expecting to find it in the same shape; you cannot sit back and assume your momentum will carry you, because if you do, before you know it, there won’t be anything there.

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