Author Archives for Gibrán Rivera

May 5, 2009

A Subprime Story

I’m trying to negotiate the relationship between simplicity and complexity, and I find this video a perfect example of what can happen when this negotiation is successful. The subprime crisis has been sold to us as the byproduct of a highly complex financial system, but it wasn’t just that, was it? We also know that it had something to do with what turned out to be high-stakes gambling sold to us as banking, but it wasn’t just that either, or was it? This piece gets us closer to the answer, and I wonder what we can do to bring such capable storytelling and visual imagery to the work of social change and the development of more skilled organizations. It’s only 2.5 minutes, check it out!

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April 28, 2009

Decentralization and Human Development

I have been a zealous (some would say over-zealous!) proponent of networks and the application of network theory to the work of social change. I have been pushing and working for a radical rethink of our very approach to social transformation. I believe we have to move away from a model that is organization-centric into a mission-based model that maximizes the potential of decentralization. My vision calls for an approach that creates the conditions for the emergence of ideas, opportunities and formations that we could not have been imagined through our visioning and strategic planning efforts.

I am still a believer, and I’m probably still a zealot, I still see the ways in which an unbelievable wealth of passion, conviction, dedication and self motivation is wasted away, trapped by organizational structures that constrain this energy rather than liberate it. However, I have also been delving into a multiplicity of frameworks and studies addressing human development and it is increasingly evident that we are all at different stages of development. Being an adult does not always mean one has advanced through every stage of development and so not everyone can work with the same layers of complexity.

Now, I am clearly aware that I’m delving into dangerous territory, and I have no intention of getting into “who decides who is how developed,” but I will be bold enough to agree with the proposition that human beings evolve through a set of developmental stages, that these stages allow us to deal with greater and greater levels of complexity, and that we are not all at the same developmental stage. This is an important insight for someone working to shift organizational structures. It is possible that the more idealized decentralized models we are looking at might actually be making an idealized assumption about the developmental levels of the human beings involved.

However, rather than pulling back from this push forward along the paradigm shift, I think that what is important is that we understand that such developmental dynamics are always at play. Accounting for this layer of complexity does not mean that we move away from facilitating decentralized, self-organizing systems, it means than in fomenting this next phase of social movement we also seek to create the conditions for developmental progress among the human beings involved. Our job is not to assume that some people just can’t shift, but to understand how certain organizational parameters can support our evolution while liberating our will to create change.

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April 21, 2009

Sifting Pragmatisms

Courtesty of Enlightnnext.orgLast Friday night I went to a great talk by Jeff Carreira, Director of Education at EnlightenNext, it was titled “The Roots of Integral Spirituality and Evolutionary Enlightenment in American Philosophy.”  It has been almost ten years since I last gave such focused consideration to the tradition of American Pragmatism, a strand of philosophy that focuses on “considering practical consequences or real effects to be vital components of meaning and truth.” Ten years ago I was privileged to take a memorable class on the subject, it was called “American Democracy,” and was beautifully lectured by contemporary pragmatists Cornel West and Roberto Mangabeira Unger.

I’ve had an uneasy relationship with the term “pragmatism,” specially as used in popular culture, which is somewhat different from the way it is used in the academy. My activist roots were grounded in an ideological framework that tended to equate pragmatism with compromise. In my work for social change I have often found myself identified with those communities that are more likely to have their needs and demands compromised away by some “pragmatic” solution or other. With this lens, pragmatism has often felt like a way to keep the balance of power stable while giving away enough crumbs for the excluded not to riot.

However, our recent national experience shows us this argument from the other side. We have seen how eight years of ideological leadership wreaked havoc on the country and the world. And today we find progressive hope in the thoroughly pragmatic approach of an even-keeled Obama administration, whose approach to leadership that has thus far proved amazingly steady even in the throes of ongoing turmoil. So I am interested in sifting through the sort of pragmatism that seems to generally keep things as they are, from the pragmatism that facilitates change and the pragmatism that Carreira was talking about on Friday night.

While the conversation has only just begun, I am starting to understand that the pragmatism of the American tradition, which Jeff was connecting to the Integral Philosophy of Ken Wilber and the Evolutionary Enlightenment of Andrew Cohen, is called pragmatism because it demands to be experienced. This sort of pragmatism looks suspiciously at a philosophy that is purely conceptual, it is a pragmatism that calls for the observation and experience of the actual – but it doesn’t stay there. We are talking about a sort of experiential pragmatism that demands we engage the very process of evolution, and this is what makes it exciting.

This is the first of a series of blog posts. Next, I’m interested in distinguishing between pragmatism as doing “what works” vs. pragmatism as doing “what could work.” Your insights are needed and welcomed!

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April 14, 2009

“Pre-Planning” or “Readiness”

We were in a learning session the other day and I was amused when I heard Marianne Hughes, our Executive Director at the Interaction Institute for Social Change, refer to “back when it was still ok to talk about planning…” I appreciated her currency in the field, as well as the decades of experience she is able to bring to the table. Marianne was talking about how important it was to apply a “pre-planning phase” to any organizational change process. What I specially appreciated was her call for an equivalent moment in group process as we are coming to understand it today, what she called a “readiness” phase.

What is important here is that as paradigms shift we are not just playing around with language but we are actually learning to look at the world with an entirely different lens. I forget who it was that said “strategic planning is obsolete, what we need is strategic thinking.” This to me is a lot like what Marianne was saying, understanding the state of a group that is clamoring for change is not exactly pre-planning, it is actually testing for readiness. When I hear “pre-planning” I get right into linear thinking, and it feels like linear thinking is actually a limitation for groups that want to deal with complexity.

“Readiness” on the other hand seems to be testing for something else. In my experience, testing for readiness must include the skillful probing into a group’s interest or capacity to engage an “adaptive challenge.” And here I’m using the language of Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky who skillfully make the distinction between technical problems and those challenges that demand a shift at the level of values, beliefs and assumptions. It seems to me that a “pre-planning phase” can serve to solve a technical problem, but an adaptive challenge demands organizational readiness.

One of my key learning edge questions is found somewhere around here. I have a core interest in helping people and groups of people shift out of what I call the “dominant-and-dying paradigm” into what I see as the “emergent paradigm.” I am passionate about this specifically because the dominant paradigm has calcified while this emergent paradigm seems to have potentially liberating attributes. Certainly there is much more to explore here, but I’m currently highlighting a key question – how do we test for readiness?

How do we know a group is ready to make a shift at the level of values, beliefs and assumptions?

And if a group is not ready, is there any way we can help?

Any ideas?

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April 14, 2009

"Pre-Planning" or "Readiness"

We were in a learning session the other day and I was amused when I heard Marianne Hughes, our Executive Director at the Interaction Institute for Social Change, refer to “back when it was still ok to talk about planning…” I appreciated her currency in the field, as well as the decades of experience she is able to bring to the table. Marianne was talking about how important it was to apply a “pre-planning phase” to any organizational change process. What I specially appreciated was her call for an equivalent moment in group process as we are coming to understand it today, what she called a “readiness” phase.

What is important here is that as paradigms shift we are not just playing around with language but we are actually learning to look at the world with an entirely different lens. I forget who it was that said “strategic planning is obsolete, what we need is strategic thinking.” This to me is a lot like what Marianne was saying, understanding the state of a group that is clamoring for change is not exactly pre-planning, it is actually testing for readiness. When I hear “pre-planning” I get right into linear thinking, and it feels like linear thinking is actually a limitation for groups that want to deal with complexity.

“Readiness” on the other hand seems to be testing for something else. In my experience, testing for readiness must include the skillful probing into a group’s interest or capacity to engage an “adaptive challenge.” And here I’m using the language of Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky who skillfully make the distinction between technical problems and those challenges that demand a shift at the level of values, beliefs and assumptions. It seems to me that a “pre-planning phase” can serve to solve a technical problem, but an adaptive challenge demands organizational readiness.

One of my key learning edge questions is found somewhere around here. I have a core interest in helping people and groups of people shift out of what I call the “dominant-and-dying paradigm” into what I see as the “emergent paradigm.” I am passionate about this specifically because the dominant paradigm has calcified while this emergent paradigm seems to have potentially liberating attributes. Certainly there is much more to explore here, but I’m currently highlighting a key question – how do we test for readiness?

How do we know a group is ready to make a shift at the level of values, beliefs and assumptions?

And if a group is not ready, is there any way we can help?

Any ideas?

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