Conversations in Motion
A Review of
Ten Skills for Agile Leadership
Edward Morrison, Scott Hutcheson,
Elizabeth Nilsen, Janyce Fadden,
Hardback: Wiley, 2019
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Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
Strategic Doing is perhaps the most important book of 2019 that you haven’t heard of (unless, of course, you follow me on Facebook and have heard me raving about it there.) Strategic Doing is not primarily a book, but rather a process for finding “new ways of working together to tackle big challenges” (xix). The recently released book of the same name provides an introduction to the process, telling a number of striking stories along the way that drive how effective this process is.
If you have experience with any organization, be it business, nonprofit, church, or neighborhood, you will likely be familiar with the prominent gap that tends to lurk between vision and action. Strategic planning is one key way in which organizations discern and clarify their vision, but all too often this process can drag on and become disconnected from the implementation of the vision. On other hand, activism that is eager to act and to see transformation often fails to bear fruit because it does give much thought to strategy or to the dynamics at play in the arena in which it intends to act. The process of Strategic Doing aims to guide us though the chasm between vision and action, recognizing that resolving our biggest organizational challenges will require healthy doses of both.
Strategic Doing is presented in the book as a sequence of ten skills that coalesce in the cultivation of a deep, focused conversation that moves the organization into a cycle of action and evaluation. In our world that struggles to have sustained, meaningful, and transformative conversations, what is most compelling to me is that Strategic Doing is most fundamentally a conversation. Although Strategic Doing has been successful in a wide range of organizations, the organization that I am most familiar with and that I think could richly benefit from Strategic Doing is the local faith community, especially churches.
In my new book How the Body of Christ Talks, I argue that conversation needs to be a vital part of congregational life. Strategic Doing offers our congregations a path forward into learning to talk and to work together. It offers us the opportunity to bring the vision that we inherit from our scripture and traditions as well as that of our leaders to engage with the people and assets of our congregation that will enact and embody that vision. Bodies, our human bodies as well as our congregational bodies, are conversations in motion, always discerning, moving, evaluating, and reacting. Strategic Doing is rooted in this sort of bodily wisdom, and seeks to provide us with a means of leaning into this wisdom and continuing to cultivate it in our own particular organizations.
Strategic Doing, the book, offers not only a concise introduction to the ten skills that comprise the Strategic Doing process, it also weaves a rich narrative tapestry of diverse organizations that have used the process fruitfully over the last quarter century to initiate substantial changes, which collectively forms a powerful testimony for its efficacy. This is an important book that we should be reading, talking about, and practicing with in our congregations, or at least if we want to see transformation in ourselves and in the networks within which we are embedded.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He has authored a number of books including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com