No More Status Quo

A Proven Framework to Change the Way We Change the World

Written By: Heather Hiscox

Heather Hiscox | Author & Founder of Pause for Change

This article is an excerpt from Heather Hiscox’s new book, No More Status Quo: A Proven Framework to Change the Way We Change the World. Read or listen to the full book by picking up a copy today!

Calling All Frustrated Changemakers

Dear Frustrated Changemaker,

This book is for you. Honestly, it’s the book I wish I had many years ago. I use the word “frustrated” because that was who I was and still am working as a changemaker in the social impact sector. And just so we are on the same page, when I use the term “social impact sector,” or “social sector” or “the sector” for short, I am talking about and include what I call the intersection or triad of social change — nonprofit, local government, and philanthropy. While many of the challenges I discuss are not exclusively unique to the social sector, the skills and stories I share were molded by my work in social change.

Since I was old enough to form the words, when I was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I answered, “Change the world.” It has been really hard to feel so frustrated, to feel like I am the only person who sees the harm of status quo problem-solving, and who is searching for new ways to do this
sacred work.

I used to play by the “rules” and norms and felt disappointed and disillusioned. I used to wonder if our programs really made significant changes in people’s lives. I used to question how we were supposed to engage in meaningful work when we were chasing one meeting, partner, and grant to the next. I used to look at community members whom we were so blessed to support and see how often they were ignored and left out. I saw too many leaders and organizations jumping to solutions and wasting resources without a process to guide their decision-making.

Any of this sound familiar?

What I’ve come to know and what drives my work is that status quo problem-solving skills in the social impact sector are creating weak impact and waste at scale.

This book is dedicated to unpacking this one statement and showing how you can work differently to address uncertainty and create deeper impact, all while using less time and fewer resources. We really can change the way we change the world.

I know now that I am one of many frustrated changemakers who are just like you, working through very real struggles, ready for no more status quo. I hope this book gives you support and the belief that you can use new skills to drive change in your organization and community.

I am continually inspired by these words from Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Together, we are on a learning journey, and we can learn and do better for ourselves and our sector. Thank you for being open to learning all the ways you can impact the world every day.

Why I’m Writing This Book Now

The first reason now is the moment for this book is that I am finally answering a call for support. At nearly every speaking engagement I’ve had, an audience member has asked, “Is there something I can read to learn more about this framework?” Before now, the only answer was no, unless you wanted to hire my firm to work one-on-one with your organization. It is time for this framework to reach more people, and more organizations, for whom this way of thinking is new and very much needed.

These new types of problem-solving skills, which are not typically used in the sector, used to be totally new to me too. I didn’t know it ten years ago, but what I was looking for was something to help me navigate the uncertainty and overwhelm interwoven into the sector. Sure, I could have just ignored those pesky feelings, and maybe rocked back and forth under my desk repeating “capitalism, racism, patriarchy,” but instead I lifted my head and explored new perspectives,
guides, and possibilities.

My exploration began when I entered the start-up scene. Before I immersed myself in start-up culture, I had never heard of the Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas, Human-Centered Design, Design Thinking, or Lean Experimentation. I entered the space as a total outsider. I was a thirty-something mom with young babies, focused not on tech or an app but on how to change the world. I embraced challenging the typical image of an entrepreneur, and within just a few years, I launched a local online matchmaking service for nonprofits and the community to share their unused goods. I also wrote a weekly column sharing the ongoing needs of local nonprofits for five years, taught lean innovation to local social impact start-ups, and cofounded the social impact arm of a global consulting firm.

I went from not knowing who Steve Blank, Eric Ries, or Alex Osterwalder were to having dinner at Steve’s house as part of the Lean Innovation Educators Summit (my favorite moment: when I told Steve that I was using lean innovation for social good and he told me, “You are the most important person in this room”), exploring with Ann Mei Chang in the early days as she was writing Lean Impact whether we should write the book together, and investigating how to scale what is now a national social impact accelerator.

While I loved seeing how start-up methodologies brought people to life, how new actions connected teams more deeply to their customers and to each other, and how rapidly they gathered insights to disrupt their assumptions and inform their decision-making, I started to realize that the start-up world and these methodologies were insufficient for creating social impact and social good. None of these start-up and design methods were initially created for social change and social justice.

These methods can also feel overwhelming, overbuilt, and exclusive. Amelia Klawon, with whom I launched two business ventures, shared my passion for figuring out how to challenge the status quo. From 2015 to 2020, we committed to designing a framework that was easy to use, streamlined, and impactful. We would learn about a method, try it out, find gaps for social impact, and experiment with ways to address what was missing. When Amelia stepped away in June 2020 to do fantastic work in her local community, I took sole ownership of the company and embraced a period of deep introspection, analysis, and expansion.

I took what we created and rooted the framework more deeply in social justice and committed to assessing every component of the content (literally every slide and talking point) from an accessibility and equity lens. Is it perfect? Nope. Is it ever-evolving? Yep. The skills themselves were born from questioning, challenging, and iterating, and I am committed to continuing to “eat my own dog food.” The framework is alive and adaptive and is nourished and strengthened by what I learn from and with amazing people just like you.

The second reason I wanted to bring this book to life now is that I have never seen a time as ripe as now for change. While I have been disappointed in what we settle for and call “impact” for many years, COVID-19 and the rise in racial justice movements have jarred our sector as a whole out of complacency. I feel we are finally now asking bigger questions and calling for accountability and more meaningful action sector-wide.

Since most of my professional career has been tied in some way to the social sector, and I’m guessing yours has intertwined as well, you might be able to relate to some of my frustrations. When I worked in program design, I wondered why we were waiting for a “final,” “perfect,” “ta-da” reveal of our solution when we didn’t know if it would even work. When I worked in fundraising, I did not understand why we had to pander to wealthy, older, white men, often whose only
claim to fame was being born and who cared more about wielding power than about our mission. When I worked in grant writing, I wondered how in the heck we would pull off the outsized expectations of impact required in lengthy grant applications with only a pittance of funding. I have so many more examples of frustration that include elements of strategic planning, event design, evaluation, pitch competitions, and change management, and I’m sure you have your own to add to the list!

Specifically, these struggles have shown up for me and my clients in ways such as

  • being asked to execute a solution that feels like it was created in a vacuum, distant from those most impacted;
  • struggling to communicate with decision-makers about which solutions to pursue;
  • feeling like we are supposed to have the clear answer, even when the true problem is murky;
  • becoming frozen due to the many possibilities available or stakeholders involved;
  • investing energy in a solution that seems like it should work, only to have it disappoint; and
  • trying to meet the urgency of the need but losing impact in
    the speed.

While we are talking about these dysfunctions and disappointments, we are also talking about what could be reimagined, and that gives me hope. I’m seeing what used to be talked about only in restaurant booths (way in the back with no one around) “nally being discussed in full ballrooms and Zoom rooms. We are acknowledging out loud that the very foundation and construction of the social sector, the structures, processes, and “best practices,” are flawed and skewed to favor power and privilege. We are recognizing that the sector roots that are in some places tangled, rotten, and destructive must be exposed and transplanted in new visions, practices, and skills to create new outcomes.

So much of what we accept as true, “the way” to do things, or something that cannot be changed is absolutely up to us to change. Our past and existing policies and practices did not arrive from “on high” or on chiseled tablets; they were created by people, and very specific people for specific purposes. But life all around us has changed, people and their needs have changed, and our structures and societal norms have shifted dramatically.

This moment has shown us that we can and should outgrow old ways. There is a mirror being held up to the sector and it must reckon with its own demons; this is the time to meet this moment of transformation. Unfortunately, those who dig their heads deeper in the sand and hang on tighter will be left behind. I’ve seen it firsthand with organizations that are waiting for their strategic plan to kick off, their fundraising drive to wrap up, their new hires to orient, or some elements of their weak organizational culture to be remedied, and as they wait for the “perfect time” to change, they continue to lose staff, revenue, and impact, until their disintegration reaches a crisis point. There is never a perfect time to shift your thinking and be better, but waiting until the breaking point is never the right time.

I hope you will meet this moment and overcome fear, dogmatism, the comfort of the status quo, and elevate, untether, and evolve your work into something different and better. One of my favorite quotes that now sits on my office wall is from Aaron Walker, founder and CEO of Camelback Ventures: “What we are fighting for has never existed.”

What motivates my purpose and passion, and what I fight for, is the belief that we can create a world in which we all have access to prosperity, opportunity, and the choices to fully live in the freedom of our humanity. I share the dream of liberation with many colleagues in the sector, where power and oppression release their stranglehold on our individual and collective thoughts and behaviors. Our sector has taken baby steps toward change and it is not enough. Our ways of addressing social problems are often wasteful and ineffective. People just like you can use new skills and strategies that fit this time of growing uncertainty and possibility to create a new future for the sector and our world.

“Our ways of addressing social problems are often wasteful and ineffective.”

Why We Must Pause for Change

My business name, Pause for Change, and the PAUSE acronym (as the framework) came to be because the most common advice I most frequently share with clients is to slow down, pause, take a timeout. Pausing is the first and most important step to creating change—pausing to identify that there is uncertainty, acknowledging that there is an opportunity to create deeper impact, and making the decision to take action in new ways.

In the social sector, we work quickly to meet the needs of our many stakeholders and we are rewarded for not pausing—for rushing to solutions, working too many hours for not enough pay, and exhausting our personal resources to aid others. Not only must we disrupt this expectation and celebrated behavior of overwork and overwhelm, but also we must ask ourselves, What good, long-lasting, powerful change has ever resulted from a rush job led by people who are beyond burnout?

While the work of social impact is tremendously busy and complex, the PAUSE framework is comprised of simple skills you can use anytime you experience uncertainty and want to save time and resources and create deeper change.

The five skills are:

P: Package the Challenge
A: Assess Uncertainty
U: Understand Stakeholders
S: Solution Testing
E: Evidence-Informed Decision-Making

The PAUSE skills help people and organizations address challenges and opportunities more effectively, whether they are looking at incremental improvement or trying to create disruptive change. I will use the word “challenge” to describe the focus of this work, and while some projects are truly about exploring a promising opportunity, there is still a challenge at the heart of that exploration, so I’ll use “challenge” in the rest of the book to keep it simple.

Some of these skills make logical sense at face value, and others need a bit more explanation. As you work through this book, I’ll give you many examples from real clients of what each of these letters and skills means and how the skills are applied “in real life.” This book is divided into two sections, Part One: What’s Dysfunctional about Status Quo Problem-Solving? and Part Two: How Do We Make Change Using the PAUSE Skills? I wanted to dedicate space to talk about what is messed up about how we work and why I think it is this way, and then dedicate the majority of the content to sharing what all of us can do differently.

It makes my heart sing that I get to share some of the stories I have accumulated from my own experiences and my work with clients. I am thrilled to share these examples beyond the four walls of a workshop because they are powerful, illustrative, and, I hope, inspiring. I want to acknowledge that these stories are my recollections of these events. I have done my best to mask the identities of the individuals without losing the essence of the tale, and although I use “I” for simplicity, these stories were at times experienced with my former co-founder Amelia and other coaches, with leaders and staff from organizations, and with stakeholders, all of whom still take up residence in my heart. Their trust in me and in the process has made all of my learning possible and has benefited the current and future clients whom I have the honor to support.

My hope is that as you read this book you will pause at each stage to apply the activities to your work or an actual challenge (as an individual or with a team). I’m not a fan of the theoretical, and most people learn by action, so I would love for you to complete the activities and document your learning (and in the future, integrate the PAUSE skills into your daily practice). To improve your self-awareness, please pause to consider the questions at the end of each chapter and reflect on the ways that you are transformed on this learning journey.

I want to be clear, as I am with people who hire me to support their organizations, that I am not like traditional consultants. I do not have the answers to how you should address your challenges. I know this because most likely I am not your stakeholder. What I do know is that I provide the skills and support that will empower you to know how best to get clarity and take action based on evidence.

If you use these skills, you will know if a problem really is a problem, what people need most, and, through rapid testing, which solution will actually work (or not) and why. I also want to acknowledge that I speak from what I have experienced and learned up to now, and I will continue to integrate new learning from all the delicious concepts, conversations, missteps (yes, they are part of it!), methodologies, writings, and big, bold questions to which I am continually exposed.

If you want to go deeper in your learning journey, please connect with me at or learn more at I’d love to learn about your organization and your challenges, and explore how I can help. Enjoy the book, and thanks for reading!

About the author » Heather Hiscox

Heather Hiscox is a #FrustratedChangemaker on a mission to change the way we change the world. Heather is the founder and CEO of Pause for Change. The PAUSE method is a proven and proprietary framework that helps changemakers address difficult challenges and pursue promising opportunities. These skills help organizations be certain about which solutions will create the greatest impact while using fewer resources and less time. Heather is also the cocreator and host of Possibility Project, an online conversion series and growing community of disruptive changemakers reclaiming their power through meaningful sparks, connections, and action. Heather speaks at conferencesand events about social impact (nonprofit, local government, and philanthropic) disruption and innovation, and has launched several ventures that benefit the social impact sector, connecting organizations to the training, skills, and resources they need to deepen their impact.

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