Author Archives for Curtis Ogden

December 3, 2009

Twitter and Creation

“What does Twitter do to our relationship with Creation?”  This was the final question in a wonderful conversation the other day with Liz Parsons, Co-Director of Contextual Education at the Boston University School of Theology.  Our free-ranging dialogue ended on this note as we were exploring potential win-win formats for field placements for BU students at social change agencies.  What would be in it for the agencies?  Stating my belief that many students bring with them more natural collaborative inclinations and social media savvy than “seasoned’ social change leaders, I posited this as a value proposition inherent in members of the younger generation.  Which got us firmly down the Twitter path . . .

When Liz’s provocative question popped, my mind split.  On the one hand, I could see the case being made that Twitter and other Web 2.0 tools provide an additional and unhelpful buffer between us and the world.  Too much reliance on the technology can, as essayist Bill Holm writes, “separate and deracinate us from nature and one another” removing “any sense of from-ness or connection.”  The question looms whether we need any more mediation of our experience when so much suffering seemingly stems from disconnection.  In a follow-up message, Liz mentioned that when her husband purchased a laptop, it came with an ongoing slide show of nature photos.  “As if we have to be reminded,” she wrote, taking the words out of my mouth.

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November 19, 2009

Sacred Stories

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

William Stafford, from “A Ritual to Read to One Another”

I, for one, could not be happier that we have as our President a man with such apparent capacity of careful thought, measured analysis, and poetic expression.  The other day I reread a passage from Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father and was bowled over by its insight and beauty.  The passage comes at a point when Obama is reflecting upon his work as a community organizer in Chicago, which became all consuming as he often spent his social time with community leaders and residents, immersing himself in their lives.  He writes:

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November 5, 2009

Means and Ends

One of the core models of IISC’s practice (for both our training and consulting work) is something we call the R-P-R Triangle, which basically makes the case that success in collaborative efforts is a multi-dimensional affair, not solely defined by “results” (goal or task accomplished), but also by “process” (the way or spirit in which work is carried out) and “relationship” (the quality of the connections between the people engaged in the work).  Our Executive Director, Marianne Hughes, has called this “the spine of collaboration,” suggesting that if we are not thinking in terms of all dimensions, we are not really serious about seeking win-win solutions with others.  And indeed experience really proves that these dimensions are intimately linked and dependent upon one another when diverse stakeholders come together to realize a shared vision.

RPR chart

A twist was given to this triangle the other day when a Facilitative Leadership workshop participant said he was struggling, not because he did not find value in this notion of “multiple dimensions of success,” but because of his concern that even in this model, process and relationships might appear to be subservient, or the “so that,” to results.  He went on to say that he is part of an organization/community in which relationships are really paramount.  They are an end in and of themselves and in a way synonymous with results.  How then, do we account for this in this model he wondered. Read More

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October 29, 2009

The Design of Experience: Fun

Thanks first of all to Margaret Benefiel of Executive Soul for turning me on to this video.  It times beautifully with a lot of thinking, writing, and experimenting we’ve been doing here at IISC about/with the power of design, and specifically the design of experiences that can change behavior and bring out the best in individuals and groups.  Check out this clip from The Fun Theory, an initiative of Volkswagen, that aims to show that fun is one of the best ways to change behavior for the better.

In the collaborative leadership trainings we do, inevitably we get to a point where people talk about the dry, frustrating, “deadening” and even pointless meetings and gatherings they often attend.  Many are at a loss for what to do.  One response on my part is to ask, “What has brought you to life at meetings that have been particularly engaging?”  And when the answer comes, to say, “Do that!”  If it brings us to life, there is a good chance it will do the same for others.  To paraphrase innovation guru Marty Neumeier, in order to “focus minds and intoxicate hearts” many more of us will need to think and act like (process and experience) designers.  So what are you doing to throw a little fun into the mix?

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October 28, 2009

Climate (of) Change

It has been quite a week or so on the climate action/activism/advocacy front.  From the 350.org global day of action to the Bioneers conferences happening around the country, to some interesting personal conversations I’ve had with staff members of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Conservation International (CI), to ongoing preparations for the upcoming UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagan, it seems clear that momentum is gathering towards taking serious and significant steps to help mitigate and adapt to changes in our global climate that have already begun.

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October 22, 2009

Accentuate the Positivity

Been looking for the answer to unlocking your group’s/team’s potential?  Look no further than a complex chaotic attractor!  According to researcher Marcial Losada, this is what underlies the dynamics of high performing groups and produces novel and outstanding results.  Integral to chaos theory, a complex chaotic attractor, when it emerges in a group, is what leads to innovation, bringing a system to new levels of insight and possibility.  The question is how can we create the conditions for the attractor to emerge?

Losada has an answer, based on intense observation and statistical analysis of high and low functioning groups.  What he has to say has an interesting parallel to what we at IISC have been pointing to as essential elements of the facilitative leader or collaborative change agent who is able to effectively tap into the participation of others.  The core elements we have listed in our “Profile of a Facilitative Leader” include being:

  • collaborative (interested in working with others, seeking win-win solutions)
  • strategic (keeping one’s eyes on the big picture and different possible paths of action)
  • receptive and flexible (actively soliciting others’ ideas, changing course when necessary)

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October 15, 2009

"Maximum Contemplation, Minimum Action"

It’s Blog Action Day, and thus, we write with others on climate change. Be sure to check out the other blogs too!!

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.).

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October 15, 2009

“Maximum Contemplation, Minimum Action”

It’s Blog Action Day, and thus, we write with others on climate change. Be sure to check out the other blogs too!!

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.).

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October 14, 2009

See(d)ing the Whole

Thinking of the fall harvest, the other day I was picking through David Ehrenfeld’s essays in Becoming Good Ancestors: How We Balance Nature, Community, and Technology, when I came across an amazing story about a team of Russian plant biologists.  In the first half of the last century, Nikolai Vavilov, who is known as the father of modern crop plant protection, traveled far and wide, gathering samples of crop seeds from all over the world for his Institute of Plant Industry in what is now St. Petersburg.  His collection made him the chief preserver of global agricultural diversity.

Vavilov was an outspoken critic of Trofim Lysenko, the chief agronomist under Stalin who subscribed to a non-Mendelian approach to plant genetics.  Though Lysenko’s theories were later discredited, Vavilov was arrested for his criticism and imprisoned in a Siberian gulag.  In his absence (he eventually died in Siberia), and in the face of the German armies marching on Leningrad in 1941, Vavilov’s dedicated assistants scrambled to preserve the Institute’s seed collections.  They prepared duplicates of samples, shipped some to other parts of the country, and secretly planted others in nearby fields.  Ironically and tragically, several of these scientists died of malnutrition.  They literally chose to starve to death rather than consume the edible seeds that surrounded them.

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