Getting Unstuck: It Starts with a Question

By Sally Wilson, Sally Wilson Associates, Coach and Independent Consultant & Trainer to higher education

This is the title of a piece written by Renee Charney (February 19, 2014) that gave me food for thought – especially as I had committed to writing the ODHE blog this month (and have only just made it by a stroke of the keys!). My ‘stuckness’ for a topic was also informed by an ODHE colleague recently circulating an SOS with the comment ‘why do we suddenly go blank when we’re asked to produce something ‘innovative’?!’

This had me pondering on the expectations of OD departments by their organisations and the notion that somehow ‘they’ (OD) will ‘pull something out of the bag’. Mindful of Cindy’s January blog on making the complex simple, I’m struck by the more complex the difficulty facing an organisation, the higher their expectation of OD and the consequent pressure on OD colleagues, together with the pressure they place on themselves to be ‘creative and innovative’.

Being stuck at times is part of the human condition. Charney identifies being stuck as sometimes ‘feeling out of control and unable to unravel the twisty-turny, thorn-ridden mess’ before us. We’ve all been there, and we’ll be there again. The challenge is perhaps determining why we’re stuck.

For example, a project/commission/problem presented to OD can initially sound like it would be straightforward enough, but turns out to be ‘a bear of a project’. Charney goes on to say her own identification with this is ”I get embroiled in distractions, each one potentially sending me in a slightly new direction. I’m like the lost wanderer standing at a crossroads, but each time I think I’ve made my decision I suddenly see another road opening up and I think “That might be an interesting path to poke around for a while…..”


As in coaching and problem-solving, it starts with a question.  What questions might help to lead us from uncertainty and avoid paralysis?

How willing am I to do something different around this? How much choice do I have about the way in which I act ? What currently stops me taking action? What am I reacting to in this situation? What do I know? What do I need to know? What models/techniques do I have for bridging the gap? Would a graph/visual of the situation help? Should any segments be added to a diagram?

What types of questions help you get unstuck?