A World Without Downspouts

Without properly working downspouts, water can run over the edge of a house, causing damage and flooding. What happens when the downspouts are forced off? Individuals and organizations across the globe have their own downspouts, but when faced with urgent, unexpected circumstances, the usual solutions are no longer an option. Though change may feel impossible, the reality is that no downspouts can usher in unforeseen and improved ways of doing business.

By Jack Colwell | October 15, 2020

I have struggled with the downspouts on my house for years. Four giant pin oak trees overshadow our small house, providing both shade and constant shedding of small twigs, dead branches, and other debris. The monstrous trees drop truckloads of leaves beginning in the fall, tapering off till spring. In the spring, they drop catkins and helicopter seeds, followed by tens of thousands of small, painfully pointed acorns come late summer and into fall.

Then, the cycle repeats itself. Despite costly, professionally installed guards, the debris still works its way into the gutters and downspouts. The downspouts have several turns and bends where they direct water flow from the edge of the overhang (about 3' out from the house) back to the house's side then turn back away to get the flow once again about 3' away from the house. Each of these bends represents a clog-point where, despite my best efforts, the water stops and turns upward again.

Several times a year, I climb up, dismantle the downspouts—I can't flush them out because of the guards and the packed nature of the debris—and unclog them. The task is cumbersome and lengthy, but I expect it—it's just something that has to be done.

Recently, we started a home improvement project and had to remove one of the downspouts. Then, the rain came. It was an unexpected deluge and I didn't have time to reinstall the downspout, so I positioned a big rock under the opening so the falling water would hit the rock (already 3' from the house) and splash away. I remembered seeing this configuration on some homes in Colorado and figured it would be an acceptable temporary solution. I expected to climb back up the ladder following the storm and reinstall the missing downspout.

To my surprise, my solution didn’t just suffice, it actually performed much better than the downspouts. In fact, it worked so well I decided to remove the other four downspouts to match.

This morning was the first heavy rainstorm since their removal, and I was anxious to see how my new solution would work. I found my wife sitting in the sunroom, windows open, loving the spa-like sound of the water falling on the big rock. I inspected each corner of the house, and, all of the "waterfalls" were working well.

No more downspouts meant no more clog points, with no more climbing to dismantle, unclog, and reassemble. No more Saturdays wasted up on a ladder. In fact, the house looks better without the downspouts, and the "waterfalls" sound remarkably pleasant.

For years, I could not imagine a home without downspouts. I engaged in a relentless struggle against the clog-points until urgent circumstances finally took the downspouts away. The unexpected developments forced me to find a new solution, and that solution is actually better than what I had spent so much time and money on for so long.

While Arbinger has held virtual workshops, training, and sessions for years, they have always been a distant second option reserved for special situations. We specialized in in-person, onsite events. Rarely did our clients require or even prefer fully virtual workshops, let alone workshops with each participant joining from their individual remote workspaces.

Then, COVID-19 presented urgent, unexpected circumstances. The downspouts came off. No in-person events. No traveling. Clients trying to quickly pivot to fully remote teams.

Without the downspouts—the way business was usually run—we had to find new solutions. At Arbinger, we quickly opened access to our virtual workshops and implemented new safety protocols. Our clients jumped at the opportunity, and the results have been better than we could have ever imagined. Our data shows that our virtual workshops are just as impactful as in-person. In fact, because participants who were previously unable to attend because of travel limitations were now able to attend remotely, the virtual workshops have had an even greater impact and broader reach. The unexpected challenge turned into a significant opportunity to serve our clients even better.

Arbinger's Public Safety Practice recently held a virtual summit titled, “Answering the Call 2020.” The 4.5-hour event included multiple webcast sessions on a breadth of important and timely topics. These webcasts include remarkable expert panels from all over America, all eager to participate and contribute at this critical time in public safety. With near-constant breaking news and developing situations, we set an ambitious turnaround time.

Before COVID-19, the logistics of assembling multiple groups of highly respected—and busy—professionals might have been complex enough to dissuade us from committing to our timeline. The costs of flying experts in from across the country, and the time it would have taken away from their jobs could have been prohibitive—especially when demands on their time are at an all-time high. We could not have imagined the possibility of doing something so intricate, intensive, and vital until COVID-19 took the downspouts off.

Months of protests and unrest have followed the death of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020. After weeks of preparing and recording our Public Safety webcast sessions, I am even more convinced that the protests have torn the downspouts off for the public safety industry and removed multiple clog-points. Policing in America is positioned to consider entirely new ways to help things go right in our country's cities and counties, and countless individuals now see the need to be helpfully engaged with public safety.

Police departments must develop and demonstrate systems to quickly identify and help officers who struggle with their responsibility to honor and respect the humanity of each individual. Officers who are not eager to adapt should be rapidly directed to find a less demanding occupation.

Departments need to transparently own their results. By capturing and publicly reporting the impact of their efforts to honor each individual’s humanity, they will continuously adapt, improve, and serve their communities to new degrees.

Civic leaders and police departments have long known the importance of implementing systems of transparency, but there is no more time to wait… They are reckoning with the very real costs of not recognizing the humanity of every individual in every community, and they are doing so in the bright lights of the public. Arbinger’s four decades of expertise in relationship and peacebuilding has been applied to public safety for many years, but this year we have seen a surge in demand as agencies and departments across the United States search for a real path forward into lasting change.

The same solutions are no longer an option. Urgent circumstances have taken off the downspouts for individuals and organizations across the globe, especially public safety. Although radical change feels impossible, the reality is a historic opportunity to usher in new (and hopefully better) ways of doing business and answering the call.

Those who are not engaged directly in public safety can learn a lot from these necessary changes. What are your downspouts? What challenges does your organization face over and over? What problems are you trying to solve over and over, using the same tools with no lasting impact? Imagine your world and your challenges without downspouts. Picture your communities and police departments if real change took place. What would it look like if you could join with countless others to empower every person to make meaningful contributions for the good of communities across America?