The Danger of Treadmill Verbs
Sometimes it's better to hop
My colleague and friend Ann Latham is a pro at creating effective meetings. One of her secrets is to ensure that everyone is always moving forward toward an identified goal. No wheel-spinning allowed! So when I read her recent post about “treadmill verbs” and how they bog down meetings, I immediately drew a parallel to philanthropy.
Treadmill verbs describe those actions that can bog us down and keep us from moving forward – all in the name of doing good work. You’ll doubtless recognize words like learn, review, study, and plan. “Destination verbs,” on the other hand, are words that describe forward movement and accomplishment. Think of words like approve, decide, confirm.
It’s not that philanthropy doesn’t require a good dose of treadmill verb activity. As grantmakers, we need to plan, scan, meet, discuss, listen, review and more in order to do our work effectively. The problem comes when we continue to engage in these activities and are unable to move past them. Hence, we’re stuck on a treadmill of our own making rather than making forward strides.
Think of your work as a journey. Focus on your destination, what you want to accomplish (whether in a multi-year grant initiative or in today’s meeting), and how you’ll know when you’ve arrived. Then, think about the activities (verbs) that will speed you down the path you’ve laid out, and which will keep you running in place.
Here’s a challenge:
Take a look at the list of treadmill verbs and destination verbs below. Feel free to add your own to either list.
Pay attention to how often you hear or say each of them in the context of your work over the next week or so.
Then, start inserting destination verbs into your own conversations in place of treadmill verbs whenever you can.
My bet is that you’ll begin to see some movement and forward momentum where things may have stalled out before!