Author Archives for Curtis Ogden

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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October 8, 2009

Roots Rising . . .

Today’s post is inspired in part by a story I heard recently about a foundation that was paying consultants to work with grassroots community initiatives at a lower rate than it was for them to work with “more formal” organizations.  It is also fueled by last week’s work with some amazing community activists in Holyoke, MA at the Food and Fitness Policy Council and from around New England at this year’s Grassroots Retreat convened by the New England Grassroots Environment Fund (NEGEF) and Toxics Action Center (TAC).  It both blew me away and fired me up to learn about all of the initiatives that are under way from Hartford, CT to Hardwick, VT, Great Barrington, MA to Little Compton, RI, focused on local food and energy production, the preservation of local water rights, smart growth promotion, healthy lifestyles for our children . . .

Many of these efforts are being run with very few resources beyond the passionate people who have other full-time jobs or who in some cases are unemployed and still working as volunteers (this is not to overlook the financial support and wonderful technical assistance offered by the likes of NEGEF and TAC).   Often these change agents are in the work because they cannot not be in it.  This is about their lives, their families, their homes.  And yet, what seems to get lost is that it really isn’t just about their lives and communities, it’s about all of us and wherever we live.  We always live downstream or upwind from someone.  We are all connected. Read More

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October 2, 2009

The Vision Thing

Vision is up.  It’s everywhere.  President Obama has brought the fine art of visioning to the highest office in this country and is inspiring others to partake in his enticing images of an engaged and service-oriented citizenry as well as in becoming fellow storytellers of a preferred and more hopeful future.  Just the other day people I know who work in state government mentioned that they are seeing visionary language on Massachusetts state websites the likes of which were lacking prior to Governor Patrick taking office.  And many who have been laboring for years for a more just and sustainable world, sense the window of opportunity that has opened to audaciously put forth their intentions for, and commitment to, a reality that may have seemed unimaginable only last year.  Despite (or perhaps because of) the economy, boldness is in!

Which raises the question for me – what makes vision work?  I mean, what really makes it take?  For every group or person I work with who gets excited about personal and organizational visioning, there is another who sees the endeavor as being lightweight and fluffy.  “Where’s the beef?” they want to know.  Where’s the action?  How does intention become invention? Read More

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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”).

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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.

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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.

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