Resolving To Say ‘No’ To Get ‘Yes’

Every year my husband and I spend New Year’s dinner talking about our previous year: What were our goals, our highlights, how did we do? In addition to patting myself on the back for successfully getting to Pilates classes more regularly, I also found myself proudly recounting COMPASS’ evolution this year. COMPASS’ goal for 2012 was to explore the possibilities of expanding our communications savoir-faire beyond ocean science, to develop a plan and roadmap for what this might look like. We all felt excited and energized at this potential but we also felt some angst and trepidation. But now, a year out, we can look back and say we’ve come a long, long way and have successfully defined and aligned behind a vision of what our future looks like. And, with all of 2013 in front of us, our next goal is equally one-part thrilling and one-part daunting: retool our organization and expand our capacity to achieve this new vision.

Sometimes it takes saying ‘no’ to get to ‘yes.’
Photo via cpalmieri on Flickr.

One of the first challenges we face is that the big appetite for what we do and the opportunities we have outweigh our capacity (for now). Thus, our team has two interwoven New Year’s resolutions:

1. Be uber-focused about what we take on.
2. Be balanced. Be sane.

As we expand our radar and antennae beyond oceans to a broader ecosystem service cache, opportunities to engage and transform will be immense. One of Nancy’s mantras applies here: “we can do anything, but we cannot do everything.” This means that when new opportunities arise that we would like to take on, our decisions will be made in the spirit of “instead of” rather than “in addition to.” The statistics of New Years resolutions tell us that successful resolutions are less about full-scale changes and more about forming good habits. We’ll be relentless in picking our opportunities; seeking out and taking on opportunities where science and scientists have the greatest potential to transform dialogues about the relationship between people and planet. We will need to learn to flex our ‘no’ muscle, something that is not habitual for us, in fact, it’s our habit to say ‘yes’ even when it means working nights and weekends at the expense of our family, friends, or health. We will have no hope of succeeding in our 2nd resolution, though, if we don’t work on prioritizing, saying ‘no’ to some things, and letting others go.

We at COMPASS, and many other people who are passionate about their work, have a tendency to say “yes! In addition to…” over “yes! Instead of…”. We get this. We see this with the scientists we work with – they love what they do, they are passionate about their research and they are passionate about getting it out to the world. We also know that engaging in communications about science is not to be taken lightly – it’s a huge undertaking that involves commitment (which means time). What are you giving up when you take on this important and huge undertaking of sharing your science? Teaching? Grant writing? Publishing? Department responsibilities? For most of you, it’s hard – or even impossible – to let any of these go. We think this is a problem.

As our scope expands to be less topical and more about a larger swath of science, we not only want to continue providing communications and outreach support to scientists and their research, but we want to help shift the culture, norms, and incentives. We want to ensure that engaging in communications is part of the menu of options rewarded and supported in a scientist’s world. In 2013, we are particularly looking forward to convening a group of thought-leaders, experts, and change-agents to explore how to scale-up and build systemic communication trainings for STEM graduate students (and we are pretty psyched and inspired that NSF’s Division of Graduate Education is supporting this effort). We hope that by doing more of these kinds of efforts, our work will result in more lasting change – making it easier for scientists to form habits around communicating and institutionalizing them.

We hope that some of you included “more outreach and public engagement” on your list of New Year’s resolutions. How will you develop better habits to make this happen? We hope our New Year’s resolutions will ultimately better enable scientists to form good habits to this end – to get out and share and engage, but remain balanced along the way. We are passionate about scientists being balanced too, and we want to help make that happen. Here’s to a great year of sharing, culture changing, and especially, balance!} else {