Author Archives for Curtis Ogden

October 1, 2009

Presence for Productivity . . . Plus

My colleague Linda Guinee recently forwarded a great blog post by Mark McGuinness of Lateral Action .  Mark is a consultant in the realm of personal creativity and productivity and he is the father of infant twins.  This recent development has him taking a hard look at the advice he often gives others and what holds up under the demands of two babies and sleepless nights.  Whether or not you are a parent of young children, it is well worth a read, and I couldn’t agree more with tips such as “let go of routines, focus on systems” and “you can’t please all the people all the time, prioritize the important stuff.”  Much of this is in line with Melinda’s post last week (see “Less=More: A Dare”).

Read More

Leave a comment
September 24, 2009

Putting "The People" in Philanthropy

Shadows

We had an interesting conversation during last week’s Engage for Results session at the Donors Forum in Chicago.  IISC has been partnering with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) to offer this two day skill-building session to foundations interested in strategies for engaging stakeholders in their grantmaking.  This offering grew out of GEO’s Change Agent Project, which revealed the strong interest on the part of nonprofits to be in deeper relationship with funders in order to achieve greater impact.

On the first morning, I shared some striking results from a 2008 GEO survey of attitudes and practices of foundations in the United States.  Specifically, less than half (49%) of those foundations surveyed indicated that it was important for their organization to seek external input.  Among GEO membership the number was higher, coming in at 78%.  However, the survey also showed that overall only 36% of respondents actively solicited feedback from their grantees.  That strikes as quite a discrepancy between stated beliefs and actual practice.  So I turned to the workshop participants for reactions.

Read More

5 Comments
September 24, 2009

Putting “The People” in Philanthropy

Shadows

We had an interesting conversation during last week’s Engage for Results session at the Donors Forum in Chicago.  IISC has been partnering with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) to offer this two day skill-building session to foundations interested in strategies for engaging stakeholders in their grantmaking.  This offering grew out of GEO’s Change Agent Project, which revealed the strong interest on the part of nonprofits to be in deeper relationship with funders in order to achieve greater impact.

On the first morning, I shared some striking results from a 2008 GEO survey of attitudes and practices of foundations in the United States.  Specifically, less than half (49%) of those foundations surveyed indicated that it was important for their organization to seek external input.  Among GEO membership the number was higher, coming in at 78%.  However, the survey also showed that overall only 36% of respondents actively solicited feedback from their grantees.  That strikes as quite a discrepancy between stated beliefs and actual practice.  So I turned to the workshop participants for reactions.

Read More

Leave a comment
September 17, 2009

"Maximum Contemplation, Minimum Action"

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

6 Comments
September 17, 2009

“Maximum Contemplation, Minimum Action”

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

Leave a comment
September 10, 2009

Strategy or Fluency

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.

Read More

Leave a comment
September 3, 2009

Wholeness and Reciprocal Transformation

knoll-farm

Source

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

Leave a comment
August 27, 2009

Collaboration Past, Present, and Future

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?

Leave a comment
August 20, 2009

Back to Thinking

“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

Leave a comment
August 13, 2009

Keeping Our Eyes (Not Just) On the Prize

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.

Leave a comment
August 6, 2009

No Such Thing as Waste

Landfill

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?

Leave a comment
July 30, 2009

MyShift


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?

Leave a comment