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Creating OpenIDEO's Values Through the Practice of Sharing Stories

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Now more than ever, it’s important that we take the time to re-connect to what’s truly important: our purpose.

Last week, the OpenIDEO team came together and spent two days at an inspiring site tucked among the giant redwood trees of Northern California. Our intention was to carve out time to reflect on our work, celebrate each other and re-center on our shared vision. It’s something important to us, though we hadn’t done it in a while.

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We kicked off the retreat by revisiting our organizational values. We all share a desire to form strong values, which drives our work forward. We wanted to avoid empty, hollow values that don't truly embody our lives and work. We also wanted to draw a clear division between values and aspirations.

Our values reflect who we are now. We tapped into the power of stories to form our values. Through storytelling, we were able to create values that reflect our lives. Here's what we came up with:

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We wanted to share the process of how we arrived at these core values, which will actively drive our work forward. We also encourage you to facilitate this at your next Meetup or within your organizations if you feel it's a good fit. Not only is this a great way to form values, but it's an excellent tool to facilitate deep connections in your communities.

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To frame the exercise, we invited everyone on the team to answer this question:

How did your life journey bring you to your work at OpenIDEO?

We encouraged everyone to be vulnerable and and tell deeply personal and meaningful stories. This way, our narratives would be rich with insight and build even deeper connections among our team.

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Some things to note:
We had 9 people in our group and the exercise took 2 hours. You could break into smaller groups if you have more than 8 or 9 individuals or a time constraint.
You’ll need enough Sharpies/Post-its for everyone.
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Each person took 10 minutes to share their story while everyone else listened and wrote insights from the story on Post-Its. These insights could be values we heard in the story, moments that we resonated with or re-occurring themes that came up throughout the narrative.

Once a person shared their story, we took 5 minutes as a group to share our insights while — in very IDEO-like fashion — sticking our Post-Its onto a wall. Often, multiple team members would write down similar insights, so we’d also take that time to group like-minded ideas together.

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We continued the process until everyone had the opportunity to share their stories. Our wall was full of inspiring insights captured from each person’s wonderful story.

We then took 10 minutes to inspect the wall and take it all in. Our goal was to use the time to identify common threads that appeared through everyone’s narratives. Using those threads as inspiration, each person wrote down a set of five values that we believed represented us and the OpenIDEO community.

These values were written on Post-Its and stuck onto a second wall. We also took time to explain why and how we decided on our five values. This helped us narrow down 250 insights to 45 (9 people with 5 values each). Again, common ideas were grouped together and broader themes started to emerge — like “Create with Others” — which eventually manifested into the values listed above.

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Articulating our values is just the first step. It takes real guts to commit to living our values as a rallying point for our team and as the fuel to drive our work forward. We must demand diligence in keeping ourselves and each other accountable for reflecting these values through our actions. By practicing our values through actions on a daily basis, we are creating habits and a culture that reflect our life journeys and our collective purpose.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.” 

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