The Sense of Urgency
As leaders of our small company, we shape Picture Impact. We are aware that our own embodiment and mindsets infused with white supremacy culture are evident and influence how our company shows up in the world and ultimately the impact(s) it has. To that end, we seek to be intentional about our practices, our choices, and behavior and are seeking to learn to see white supremacy culture; to unlearn the ways of being, doing and thinking we have been brought up within; and to actively choose to live beyond the narrative it demands of us.
These creative prompts invite the two of us into a conversation of how we experience this in our work life and company. We hope to share with you snippets of this conversation and ways we have identified to create more space within, outside of, and beyond the bounds of white supremacy culture.
Read more about the series here…
There is too much to do.
Shame washes over me. It is black, muddy, thick. I feel I am drowning every minute, getting buried a bit further, not sinking like in quicksand but being buried alive.
Urgency eats up all of the air. It consumes me until I become very small, almost not there at all.
I can’t hear your kind words. I can’t hear my own heart beat. I can’t hear the song of my thoughts, my heart stirring. All is muffled as the dark closes in on me until it becomes white, bright, sterile. Numb and nothing. Urgency has locked me in a room with no escape, even the sounds I make, my pleas, become nothing as they fall out of my mouth.
I want to fight it. I want to claw my way out but it becomes too heavy, too fast. I am weighted down until all I am is smothered alive.
As I face this urgency monster tension washes over me. It is the color of dull grey punctuated by flashing red, like a wasteland.
I hear pounding in my ears and a small insistent voice, you’re only enough if you do this, like the grind (and farce) of an elite high school.
I taste cotton in my mouth, sticky and flavorless, gumming up even my ability to talk, to express myself.
I smell burning, not like the welcoming campfire, but like danger. Like smoke speaking to the “or else” of my likely failure.
I see very little other than the walls of a small box closing me in, like options have left on vacation without a note about their return.
I sense a full court press — relentless and encompassing pressure, like a drumbeat on a broken record, leaving no space for music.
I want to sleep and achieve and cry and earn a gold start and yell at the top of my lungs and whimper and mock our collective game.
But I feel powerless and an urgent need to not be so urgent.
What Dr. Okun says about a sense of urgency
- continued sense of urgency that makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive, encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision-making, to think long-term, to consider consequences
- frequently results in sacrificing potential allies for quick or highly visible results, for example sacrificing interests of communities of color in order to win victories for white people (seen as default or norm community)
- reinforced by funding proposals which promise too much work for too little money and by funders who expect too much for too little
- realistic workplans;
- leadership which understands that things take longer than anyone expects;
- discuss and plan for what it means to set goals of inclusivity and diversity, particularly in terms of time;
- learn from past experience how long things take;
- write realistic funding proposals with realistic time frames;
- be clear about how you will make good decisions in an atmosphere of urgency;
- realize that rushing decisions takes more time in the long run because inevitably people who didn’t get a chance to voice their thoughts and feelings will at best resent and at worst undermine the decision because they were left unheard
A snippet from Anna & Katrina; Urgency and Picture Impact
We feel urgency in our industry in responding to RFPs (sometimes even start dates of the project listed are past when the RFP is first posted). When you ask clients, “when do you need it by?” They usually answer with, “well, we needed it yesterday, the time is already past when we needed it, so how fast can you be?” We just have to react, we have to respond. We don’t ever even get to do complete thinking for a project. It robs us of responding to complexity, of sinking into any kind of relationships, it prioritizes just doing and producing — automatically.
We feel urgency in being called to fix a problem. “We’re at 3 years and things are off the rails, but we only have 2 years to correct for it, produce results, finish strong”. We are asked to save the program, spend 3 months designing/doing, get the program up to functioning only to immediately begin close out once it starts working well. Hearing and seeing people is sacrificed in this way of working. When we have the opportunity to work together from the very beginning, we can really shape a responsive and effective project. When we are walking alongside a project or program as designers and as learning partners we can work in collaborative ways and really lean into the time it needs (maybe even a whole year) to design and be together without predetermining outcomes and interventions and what success looks like.
There’s an urgency created by the scarcity of day rates. In this industry the day rate has a firm cap. You have to take multiple projects across the “same” day, with juggling 2–3 projects or more at a time. Leading to missed deadlines. Leading to split attention. Leading to timelines that are unrealistic. Again, sacrificing relationships, people, and humane timeframes that bring everyone together, not just a product on paper.
We feel urgency from clients during projects for immediate response and immediate fixes and responding to items that (predictably) arise but which are out of scope and unplanned for and not resourced. My urgency is expected to be your problem. Time zone differences, differing holidays, and routine “field work” sprints all contribute to a culture of immediate response. It is normative for staff to be working 14-hour days and be allocated to multiple projects. Staff burnout is regular and projects are staffed at 3–5 years increments so that if someone burns out and leaves, it goes unnoticed and is not of concern.
We even feel a sense of urgency within our company, that we put on ourselves. We constantly see so many possibilities of what we could create and what we could offer and how we could try and change the world. We assume that the moment we see something it needs action. Not just action, but action from us — after all, if we don’t do it, it can’t possibly happen. So, heaven forbid we have a week where our bodies and spirits needs restoration and rest, not production and doing. The negative self talk, the internal judgement, the pressure within ourselves is very present.
- Setting expectations internally and with clients about our operating hours
- Checking in with each other when we feel a sense of urgency about the reality of that urgency. Feeling urgency is something to be noticed and to not stay with alone, but bring to the light and discuss to gain perspective and re-gain choice.
- We are actively and consistently calling out and communicating, at the RFP and response stage, about projects that cannot be completed with the offered LoE and projects that cannot be completed in the desired timeframe. We either send a note before bidding and/or we put forth a proposal outside of the bounds within the RFP and discuss our reasons for doing so. We are committed to not overpromising or pretending about actual timelines.
- We are each working with coaches, who have dug into our “to do” lists. Helping us notice and calibrate our expectations of what can actually be done in a specific time period and not using these lists to perpetuate a sense of failure or to exist outside the bounds of human possibility — you all know what I mean, the two-week long “to do” list that is for Monday!
This week we wrote a statement of work for a new client, intended to support contracting. In this SOW document we made sure to set expectations about communication and collaboration, as well as timeline. We explicitly addressed all the tasks involved throughout the project, not just the deliverables. We made a timeline that is color-coded with responsibilities for both Picture Impact and the Client. We are all working toward a timeline that is set with intention and only possible everyone playing their roles and no outside interference.
We specifically, wanted to set expectations for ourselves, as much as our clients, about how and when we respond. Here’s what we said and will be trying to live into:
Communication and Collaboration
There will be periods of close collaboration during this project and periods where Picture Impact needs to have space to produce on the agreed upon deliverables within budget and timeline.
During periods of collaboration we commit to careful planning and design of our time together and request that attendees come regularly and prepared so our time together is productive for everyone. Given the time zone differences we make ourselves available for co-design sessions and phone calls between 7am and 2pm CST (Minneapolis).
Between scheduled sessions and predetermined phone calls, we are available for communication via email or WhatsApp and will respond within 48 hours, excepting Fridays and weekends which we reserve for internal work and our families.
During production periods of the project we will send a once weekly update on progress and are happy to respond to questions that have arisen during the week via email. If questions arise that cannot be managed via asynchronous communication, we will make ourselves available for up to 4 hours of team calls over the course of the project.
This article is written by:
Anna Martin, Evaluator, Social Worker, Facilitator, Complexity Coach, curious mischief maker and co-founder of Picture Impact.
Katrina Mitchell, Designer, Urban Planner, Strategist, Maker, relentless seeker of beauty and co-founder of Picture Impact.