I am always interested to see parallel worldviews evolving across different fields. Lately I’ve been thinking about the connections between the burgeoning enthusiasm about networks in social science and social change efforts and the growing interest I’ve been noticing in Permaculture, partly owing to the Transition Town movement and conversations about mitigating and adapting to impending climate change.
Permaculture was developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren during the 1970s as an answer to unsustainable industrial agricultural practices. It entails creating robust, flexible, living systems that integrate ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and agroforestry. The focus of Permaculture is not on the individual elements in a garden, but rather on the relationships between them (just as networks are all about the links). For example, with the Permaculture lens, one is always thinking about how one plant relates to others (could it cast shade or serve as a natural pesticide for others) and how different “zones” might serve one another (a pond stocked with fish can cut down on mosquitoes, eaves on a house can catch rain water that is siphoned into a garden, etc.). Read More
One of my favorite summer reads was the book Leading from Within, which is co-edited by Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner, both of whom have connections to Parker Palmer’s Center for Courage and Renewal. The book is a collection of favorite poems selected by a diverse group of leaders in business, medicine, education, social services, politics, and religion. Each poem was chosen because it provides guidance and support for these individuals’ work and lives, and each is accompanied on the left facing page by a short commentary that sheds light on the poem’s significance.
One of the contributors is Carla M. Dahl, a professor and dean at the Center for Spiritual and Personal Formation at Bethel Seminary. For her poem, Dahl selected John O’Donohue’s “Fluent”:
I would love to live Like a river flows, Carried by the surprise Of its own unfolding.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit with staff of a few unique organizations in central Vermont, including a conversation with Peter Forbes at the Center for Whole Communities in Fayston. What Peter, his wife Helen Whybrow, and their colleagues have created at Knoll Farm, a working organic farm, is truly inspiring, not just for the beauty of the land it occupies and the amazing views that are afforded of the surrounding mountains of Mad River Valley, but also because of the thoughtful attention that has been given to every detail of the Center and the programs that it offers.
The Center for Whole Communities is focused on reconnecting people to land, to one another, and to community as a way of healing the divisions that exist between those who are working for social justice and environmental conservation. To this end they have created a setting and experiences that carefully tend to this mission of reconnection, from immersing people in the landscape, to engaging them in dialogue and storytelling, to grounding them in creative expression and contemplative practice. Read More
Today I recognize the shoulders that we stand upon as willing and enthusiastic collaborators! Click here to listen to an interview with David Straus in recognition of the 40th anniversary of his founding Interaction Associates and officially launching his pioneering collaborative methods, of which the Interaction Institute for Social Change is a grateful inheritor.
David remarks the changes he has witnessed over the last four decades, including an overall movement from resistance to embrace of collaboration as an effective and often necessary approach to solving problems and leveraging opportunities in organizations and communities. And what does the future hold? For David, it comes down to seeing and using collaboration as a means of deeply shifting culture.
And what about you? What and who would you raise up as part of the collaboration canon? And what are the next frontiers?
“With the sophisticated mental apparatus we have used to build world eminence as a species, we have created an environment so complex, fast-paced, and information-laden that we must increasingly deal with it in the fashion of the animals we long ago transcended.” – Robert Cialdini
As Alfred North Whitehead once suggested, one of the main conundrums of our evolution as a species seems to be that it has largely depended upon our ability to engage in more and more activities without thinking about them. Hence a world built upon scientific discovery, full of ever declining numbers of people who are scientifically literate. Hence a world of increasing complexity that we often meet with relatively primitive automaticity.
In her book, The Canon, Natalie Angier provides an entertaining primer on the hard sciences for adult non-scientists and along the way makes a strong case for the need for more of us to bring greater rigor and discipline of thought to the day-to-day. She illustrates how we often operate with models of physical reality that are simply false. In many cases, these models were ingrained at an early age and remain stubbornly embedded, owing to certain neurological tendencies. Not understanding these tendencies, we remain convinced that we are more critical in our thinking than we actually are. Read More
Thanks to Sean Stannard-Stockton for introducing me to this video. He referenced it while writing about the risks of being outcomes-focused in philanthropy. It’s a great reminder to keep ourselves open to what we aren’t looking for. It may also provide some insight as to why networks bend our brains, at least those parts that are singularly focused on results of a linear cause-and-effect kind. The social capital and new forms of self-organized action that are the result of network building activity are not always the first things that appear front and center on our screens. Rather, they may appear in the background, on the periphery, or in the spaces where more concrete images meet. And yet, there is little doubt about the potential of net-centric approaches for social impact. Time to adjust our eyes from the isolated (old paradigm) prize.
When we throw it away, it doesn’t go away. This is an important lesson of both systems thinking and ecology. Fritjof Capra, physicist and founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, writes that we need to relearn the fundamental facts of life, including the fact that matter continually cycles through the web of life and that one person’s (or species’) waste is another’s food. If our awareness and actions shifted in accordance with these facts, how would we live and work differently?
There seems to be no doubt that we have to shift our understanding of the problems that confront us, not just so that we understand what they require as solutions in the traditional sense, but so that we can comprehend what they require of us.
Psychologist Carol Dweck’s work shows that many of us have been educated to have what she calls a “fixed mindset,” one that can become concerned first and foremost with our own standing and status. She goes on to show how this is a sure fire recipe for disaster with respect to long-term results, whether one is a professional athlete, a CEO, a teacher, or a parent. If one is considering sustainable (and shared) benefit, then it behooves us to embrace a “growth mindset,” one that entails the ability, humility, and enthusiasm to learn from our mistakes and to help others to do so as well.
That is one of my biggest take-aways from being in DC last week. So many people are caught up in the game that plays out inside the Beltway where you have to make a name for yourself in order to have an impact. Fixed mindsets rein. But just when are you done proving yourself in such an environment? And what impact do we cheat ourselves of under such conditions in the long run?
“Beware of the stories you read and tell.They are shaping your world.”-Ben Okri
I’ve been very interested to read more about the research of social psychologists focused on the impact of the order of thoughts when it comes to making changes in behavior. David Hardisty has conducted experiments in which people considering whether or not they would agree to a carbon tax to offset their air travel were asked to jot down the sequence of their thinking as they went about making their decision.
What showed up was that in constructing their preferences, the order of participants’ thoughts really mattered, with early thoughts significantly biasing subsequent ones. For example, people who ultimately rejected a carbon tax had negative first thoughts along the lines of, “I will be dead by the time the world is in an energy crisis,” whereas those who ultimately supported the tax had more positive first thoughts about the welfare of their children or subsequent generations. More intriguing, in a follow-up study, when Hardisty asked people to first make a list of the benefits of a carbon tax and then make a list of cons, this affected their preference in a more supportive direction no matter their political inclinations.
Remember this old song? I don’t. But I heard Garnet Rogers doing a version the other day on WUMB. The timing was quite something, as I was in the car on my way to the office and my return from parental leave, trying to hold on to the reality of my situation. And it’s been on my mind as I get ready to embrace and ease into another transition (just remember, 40 is the new 30). Click to listen to Guy Clark’s rendition.
When I was a young man my daddy told me
A lesson he learned, it was a long time ago
If you want to have someone to hold onto
You’re gonna have to learn to let go
You gotta sing like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ll never get hurt
You got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work
Last week I had the privilege of co-delivering a workshop on collaboration and effective teams to this year’s crop of New Leaders for New Schools Residents as part of their Summer Foundations experience. These principals-to-be truly give one hope for the future of education in this country.
Prior to our two days of delivery, I heard Jeff Howard of the Efficacy Institute deliver a presentation to the Residents on the difference between what he called a “performance orientation” and a “learning orientation.” Howard’s claim is that schools often fail when they overemphasize student and staff performance at the expense of learning, and his message to the future school leaders was that they needed to think hard about what is most important as a long-term goal for the people in their building.
In her analysis of leverage points to intervene in a system, the late Donella Meadows highlighted mindsets as one of the most fundamental levels on which to focus if one is hoping to make deep and long-lasting change. The case for this is well made in a recent article in Mass Audubon’sSanctuary Magazine.
Katherine Scott writes in “The Wind in the Wash” about the lost art of the clothesline in America, largely obscured by the now ubiquitous clothes dryer. In this day and age, notes Scott, many children haven’t the remotest idea of what a clothespin is. She is not simply waxing nostalgic, but making an important point about the way we think.