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November 10, 2010

Having What We Have

have what we have

|Photo by a_whisper_of_unremitting_demand|http://www.flickr.com/photos/jpovey/2039387260|

“How do you do that?  How do you step back and get perspective?”  The question came from a table mate in an Art of Hosting workshop at this week’s Systems Thinking in Action conference.  The earnest and wide-eyed inquisitor silently suggested the qualifier, “And how do  you do this when there is so little time?”  The question hung in the air in the midst of our World Cafe-inspired conversation about the kinds of change that are being called for in our respective communities, however we choose to define them.

My first response was to laugh.  How indeed?  As parents of three small children under the age of five, my wife and I often scratch our heads at how we can create more breathing space in general.  Frankly, the notion of stepping back often feels like a luxury we can’t afford.  And I know there are others in the same space with a variety of unremitting demands.  My laugh was surely an acknowledgment of this seemingly impossible situation.  And in the context of this rich albeit brief cafe conversation it also became something else, thanks to the careful attending of my colleagues. Read More

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November 9, 2010

Theory U – The 1st Proposition

Theory-U

I am a huge fan of C. Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.  It is one of the most powerful frameworks for understanding the essential shifts we need to make as we step into this paradigm shift.  Scharmer sums up his Theory U with seven propositions, I’m going to write a series of blog posts taking a closer look at each of them: Read More

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November 8, 2010

The Artisan

artisan

“Everyone today has to be an artisan and bring something extra to their jobs.”  This says Thomas Friedman in the New York Times.  I’m not sure I like where he is coming from, it sounds a little bit like adding obscure features to a DVD player.  But I do like the point.  I like this idea of being artisans, of engaging our work as a craft, adding meaning to our tasks by putting our own signature on what we do.

Somewhere beyond Friedman’s capitalistic “do more,” in places outside the yupified fields of trendy taste, there is significant power to the work of an artisan.  For example, the work of social change has become so professionalized that it is often disconnected from the depths of purpose that could unleash transformation.  But by thinking of ourselves as artisans our own self-expression can actually serve connection, it can bring us closer to that place where hearts can meet.

Consider the purpose of your work, then think of what you do every day…  how much more of yourself could you bring to this field where we toil?  What’s your craft?  What is it that you can create?

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November 4, 2010

Surfacing Systems

systems

|Image from Pegasus Communications|http://www.pegasuscom.com/course_preview/gettingstarted/whyiceberg.htm|

Systems thinking is in the air.  This past weekend I was delighted to have the opportunity to teach an introductory course on the topic with John McGah of Give Us Your Poor.  Together we took 17 graduate students in the UMass-Boston MSPA program through an intensive and interactive look at the world through the systems lens.  Even before we got things rolling on Saturday morning, the pre-reading (Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems) had provoked two people to say that they were already seeing the world differently (and more clearly).  By the end of our 36 hour romp, which included guest presentations by David Peter Stroh and Paul Plotczyk, students were saying that all public sector employees, nay EVERYONE, should be required to take a systems thinking course.  All of this enthusiasm comes just a week in advance of Pegasus Communications’ annual systems thinking conference here in Boston, which has a focus on “Fueling New Cycles of Success.”  I am very excited to attend, and look forward to building upon the wisdom I’ve gleaned thus far about surfacing and living with systems (human and otherwsie), which includes these gems: Read More

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November 3, 2010

More Hints of Collaborative Success

success

|Photo by epSos.de|http://www.flickr.com/photos/epsos/3432528120|

Last week, in preparation for a session with Ontario-based community grantmaking board members, I blogged about what to look for in the proposed and early stages of a collaborative change initiative to suggest that it was on the right track.  The ensuing session was incredibly rich, filled with two robust and impressive case studies featuring the YSI Collaborative, which focuses on strengthening youth social infrastructure in the region,

youth success

and an environmental collaborative focused on minimizing corporate polluting in the Hamilton area.  Both presentations and subsequent dialogue in the room were filled with great tips regarding what makes for successful collaboration based on practice.  Here is some of the wisdom that was shared by those in the room: Read More

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November 2, 2010

An Extraordinary Episode

vote

Vote Today! It does matter.  But you probably already knew that.  I’m down on the state these days.  And I don’t mean Massachusetts.  I mean “the state,” the dominant organizing structure for human affairs.  But I still think we should vote – wield some of the influence we have. Read More

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October 28, 2010

Hints of Collaborative Success

OT1What do you look for up front to suggest that a collaborative endeavor is on the right track?  This is the question that former IISC colleague and current VP of Programs at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, Courtney Bourns, and I are charged with answering today.  Our audience and partners in this endeavor are a group of community grantmaking committee members convened by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.  The attendees want to know what to look for in applications and out in the field (‘beyond the grant”) as hints of future success.

This is an intriguing and challenging question, especially given the fact that the signs of success are often in places we do not think to look and of course there are never any guarantees.  I certainly look forward to an engaging conversation with this group, and these are the thoughts I am prepared to share with folk at this point: Read More

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October 27, 2010

Geiger Counters for Quality

signs

|Photo by marcomagrini|http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcomagrini/698692268|

“We don’t talk about what we see,

we see only what we can talk about.”

– Fred Kofman

This week I’ve been rereading Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems and really savoring it.  Each time I look at it, I pick up something new, not just about systems thinking but about life in general.  I’ve been focused primarily on Meadows’ chapter “Living in a World of Systems,” which considers how we can work with complex systems while acknowledging that even when we understand them better, we cannot predict or control them.  One of her suggestions is that we learn to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.  This is not a question of throwing out what we can quantify as being somehow overly reductionist. Rather, it is a matter of not giving up on what we cannot measure and making quantity more important than quality.  How important this is for our social change work!  Read More

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October 25, 2010

A Whole Heart

Over the last few days my family has been going through a sort of sacred grief.  The mystery of connection, the power of vulnerability, turning to life with one’s whole heart – these are the themes covered by this wonderful talk and confirmed by my own experience.

It is quite likely that you landed in this page to take a quick peep at this blog, that you did not come here for a twenty minute commitment, but I encourage you to take the time, a shift in perspective is enough to change a life.  Samantha and I are so convinced that this is central to our work in the world that we have decided to prototype a “Whole Heart Workshop,” a place for us to practice better ways of being-with.  Stay tuned for more, this will be good.

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October 21, 2010

Dimensions of Social Space

staircase

|Photo by|www.flickr.com/photos/nikonvscanon/1302296182|

This post first appeared back in March of this year, and I am re-posting as I prepare to co-present a session tomorrow at the Bioneers by the Bay gathering in New Bedford, MA.  In our session, “Transformative Leadership for Sustainability” we will experience each of the dimensions below . .

As process designers, facilitators, and change agents, we are called upon to help create conditions in which amazing things can happen between people, whether alignment, agreement building, innovation, etc.  At times this can be a tall order. Thankfully we are supported by an array of tools and techniques at our disposal. Knowing which of the social architect’s tools to turn to in any given situation is a core challenge. Something I’ve recently found useful as a guide is consideration of the different dimensions of social space and how these can be leveraged so that collective work can bring about the very best.

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