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‘Righteous Mischief:’ Creativity, Innovation, Leadership… and Changing the World!

What usually happens when someone gets into ‘mischief’? They usually get into trouble, right?

But what if we saw mischief as a source of creativity and innovation? What would that mean for our organizations? Our communities?

Was at a gathering recently at the Coady Institute in infamous Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Home of the Antigonish Movement. One of the instigators of that movement, Father Jimmy Tompkins, was apparently quite the ‘mischief’ maker.

Now, we’re not talking about ‘mischief’ just for mischief’s sake. We’re talking about ‘righteous mischief’. This was one of the topics of conversation at the event. How it came up - well, that’s a whole other story. But it came up - and I thought - what an interesting topic. Wonder where that might lead.

Well, here’s a few mind maps of where that conversation went…

The key idea behind ‘the idea’ of righteous mischief was partly that it is ‘purposeful’ mischief. It is in service of something bigger.

One of the other key points is if ‘righteous’ mischief is about breaking - or at least bending - the status quo, being creative and coming up with new ideas.

How do we encourage and support that?

This is not something leaders in organizations often reward.

The feeling in the group was that leaders need to recognize, value and support ‘righteous’ mischief - and see that it probably comes from frustration with the status quo. 

Mischief-makers in organizations are not really trying to make trouble - they are trying to make things better.

For this sci-fi fan, the idea that Tompkins and the leadership of Star Trek’s Jean Luc Picard could come up in the same kind of conversation… that was the kind of conversation I wanted to be part of.

Really, it is a question of leadership. 

If we want organizations and communities to be nimble, and ‘innovative’ - we need a good balance of structure and openness to new ideas. This can be painful - perceived as dangerous even - though for those in power.

Yet - the status quo is NOT working. There are too many people - in our own communities, and around the world - that are struggling and suffering. 

We need to build more inclusive communities that recognize that ALL people have something to contribute, and we ALL need to work together to make a better world for everyone.

So, what could that mean for Nova Scotia? Which was the point of the gathering in Antigonish that I was at. And for organizations and communities anywhere?

We need to VALUE our trouble-makers - our ‘mischief’-makers. We NEED everyone to be involved, and just because someone is ‘disruptive’ doesn’t mean we aren’t all trying to accomplish the same things.

A favourite mentor of mine once told me about a principle that is very good - especially in conflict situations…. 

Seek to understand, before to be understood.

It has become a mantra for me. And this conversation reminded me of it. 

When someone is questioning something, or trying to do something different - we NEED to ask questions, look at what they are REALLY trying to do.

ESPECIALLY if we are in some LEADERSHIP role.

In community work, we also are often prone to burnout. ‘Righteous mischief’ is not just about ‘disrupting’ things. It is about play, and joy, and hope. The idea that we CAN make a difference if we BELIEVE it.

This conversation was one of the most fun, and joyeous - yes, I said ‘joyeous’ - I have had in awhile. I know there are many problems in the world, and many people suffering - and we NEED to do better. But if we don’t come at this from a place of joy and celebration of what’s working, and how we can do more of that - we will be overcome by despair and fear.

So, what kind of ‘righteous mischief’ do you think you could come up with today? How can we break the status quo - and REALLY make a difference for those who NEED a better world? And how can we do it from a place of joy, and love, and caring? Because that’s what it’s really all about - or what it should be about.


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