Author Archive

Oct/20/14//Gibrán Rivera//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Not just all lives. Black lives.

We are just beginning to understand the potency of what is happening in Ferguson.  I have been blown away by the cross-movement solidarity.  Labor has been there this October. has been there this October.  We are finally beginning to understand the way it’s all interconnected.

Julie Quiroz and our friends at the Movement Strategy Center have just published the beginning of an important reflection.  I was particularly moved by this quote:

We are asking you, our family, to stand with us in affirming Black lives.  Not just all lives. Black lives.  Please do not change the conversation by talking about how your life matters, too. It does, but we need less watered down unity and a more active solidarities with us, Black people, unwaveringly, in defense of our humanity. Our collective futures depend on it.

- Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter

I’m in.  Are you?

Read: From Moment to Movement: Learning From Ferguson October

Young Nigel_Ferguson Oct Marchers

Photo by Koran Addo

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Aug/18/14//Gibrán Rivera//Power, Equity, Inclusion


I tend to believe that nonviolent direct action is a more effective strategy for attaining justice than asymmetrical warfare.  That being said, it seems ludicrous to stand on the sidelines and ask the people who are most directly impacted by injustice to calm down, be patient and be peaceful.


Image credit: US Uncut 

If you believe that nonviolent direct action is the path to justice in places like Ferguson, Missouri then you take nonviolent direct action in solidarity with the people of Ferguson.  Please don’t stand on the sidelines and ask people to calm down when government-sanctioned authorities are shooting their children.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/29/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Inspiration, Social Innovation

Creative Change 2014

I just facilitated the 6th Creative Change Retreat at the Sundance Institute in Utah.  The amazing experience leaves me grateful to my friends at the Opportunity Agenda for trusting me with the design and facilitation of such a significant convening.

Today more than ever I am convinced that the change we want to see in the world is a change that demands the evolution of consciousness and culture.  As the artist and the activist come together – as they become one – we will be able to join into a different kind of intervention.

creativechangeretreat_stories Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/22/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Networks

Find Your Scenius

I recently read an opinion piece that seems to validate the work we have been doing for the last number of years.  In “The end of geniusJoshua Wolf Shenk successfully argues that “the lone genius is a myth that has outlived its usefulness. Fortunately, a more truthful model is emerging: the creative network.”

THIS! My friends, is what we have been working on.


Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/24/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured, Learning Edge

Agree on Process



You might have picked up that I’m down on too much process and too much meeting.  It’s a funny place for someone that makes a living facilitating.  It is part of a semi-conscious effort to look at the opposite of my core assumptions and seek the wisdom there. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/17/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, What We Are Reading

Does Collaboration Work?

I like to describe the Interaction Institute for Social Change as a collaboration shop.  I like to describe my work as helping people work better together.   Certainly any article tilted “The Collaboration Paradox: Why Working Together Often Yields Weaker Results” is bound to get my attention.

I find this to be a powerful piece, and it confirms intuitions and observations from my ten years of doing this work.  It is too often that we collaborate for collaboration’s sake.  And it is too often that we fall into the tyranny of a consensus that yields subpar results.


Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco Read the rest of this entry »

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May/20/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Facilitative Leadership

Say Go


I’ve been thinking a lot about process.  What is the best way to get things done?  What is the most collaborative and inclusive way to move forward?  Our bias towards inclusion, towards a process that is truly democratic, can often seem at odds with the idea that “action trumps everything.” Read the rest of this entry »

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May/06/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured, Learning Edge

Learn by Doing

It’s good to plan.  It’s good to reflect.  It’s best to do.

Here at IISC we spend a fair amount of time supporting others in articulating what they want to achieve, including those who must be included, and defining a pathway to action.  When done well, this work depends on a fair amount of reflection on practice – how do you think about what you do?  What are you learning about what you do?

We also train people.  We help them become better facilitative leaders.  We introduce specific practices – specific things people can do.

Without the practice the lessons are lost.  We learn by doing.

I was just talking about this in our office kitchen with Danielle Coates-Connor, one of our colleagues, and she compared it to meditation.

It is quite hip to talk about meditation these days.  Mindfulness is in.  At least in theory.  People have a sense that stillness of the mind and present moment awareness are powerful ways to live and thrive.  But there is a huge gap between knowing this and practicing this.  Too many of us still believe that thinking about meditation is a lot like meditation.   But it’s not.


The same is true for our projects and our dreams.  We can get the right stakeholders together.  We can talk about what we want to do.  We can visualize it.  We can plot it out.  But the learning doesn’t begin until we start.  The change does not begin until we do.

Do you wonder:

How to integrate more “doing” in your “planning?”

How to integrate more “doing” in your “reflecting?”

How to start experimenting as soon as possible?

How to start learning?

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Apr/22/14//Gibrán Rivera//Cities, Collaboration

Activate the Question Campaign

Ceasar McDowell, President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT brings the concept of a “Question Campaign” to our emerging work on Cities.


The question campaign is anchored by the premise that  “asking questions invites people into conversation, rather than shutting down discussion by giving only answers.”  Question campaigns “generate dialogue as a crucial first step in creating actual change on the ground.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/15/14//Gibrán Rivera//Cities, Liberation

The City: Time to Turn to One Another

At IISC we are orienting our selves towards the City.  These are the places where most human beings will live.  They are the theater of human struggle, and thus for liberation.  And as Jen points out, they just might be the key to sustainability.


Inequality is tearing our society apart.  Oligarchy’s global claw back has been relentless, and potentially self-destructive.  We are governed by moneyed interests and the precariat have been abandoned.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/11/14//Gibrán Rivera//Liberation, Structural Transformation

Our Interior Condition

The structural vs. transformational debate is alive and well.  I’m glad that Curtis and Cynthia have been dipping back into it over the last few weeks.  It is good to start at the end: the answer is a both/and, it’s not a good idea to get stuck in binaries.


The print pictured above captures it for me.  It is Nelson Mandela’s drawing of the view from his cell at Robben Island, where he was imprisoned for 30 years.

Take that in for a second.

Thirty years in jail for daring to stand up for freedom.

The print’s beauty is undeniable.

How is this perspective possible?

There was something in Mandela’s mind, something in his soul, that could not be subjugated.  Oppression doesn’t get more structural than four walls and a padlock.  But they could not take away his freedom.  This is the freedom that breaks chains.  It is the freedom that inspires the world and liberates a whole people.

Nelson Mandela is the icon that destroys the binary.  Structural and transformational integrate in his lifetime.

I agree with Curtis and Glanzberg that “The pattern most in need of shifting is not out there in the world, but in our minds.” And I agree with Cynthia that our mind changes when we become aware that others share in our condition and that our condition is the product of a very specific structure.

But there is something else happening here.

We have an interior condition.  This interior condition is significantly affected by our thinking, but it is more than our thinking.  This interior condition is significantly affected by our objective conditions, but it is more than our objective conditions.  This interior condition is profoundly individual, but it is greater than the individual – our interior is “inter-subjective.” We have a collective interior.

Bringing our care and attention to what is inside.  Nurturing, cultivating, developing, evolving what is inside.  Connecting to one another there.  Actively engaging a mutual awakening – that is the key to changing our thinking and to transforming our structures.  It is the next step to liberation.


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Apr/01/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Social Innovation, Uncategorized

Brainswarm Instead of Brainstorm


The recent barrage against the effectiveness of brainstorming has been a bit hard for those of us who are grounded in the Interaction Method. But evidence matters, doesn’t it? I know that Curtis has talked about the limits of brainstorming a couple of times in this blog. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/25/14//Gibrán Rivera//Power, Equity, Inclusion

I get angry

I get Angry

This post is a response to yesterday’s post by Cynthia Silva Parker.

I was truly moved by Cynthia’s heartfelt exploration of anger and its role in our quest for justice.  I get angry.  I get angry in some healthy ways, and in many unhealthy ways.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/18/14//Gibrán Rivera//Spiritual Activism

Mindfulness and Freedom

Mindfulness and Freedom

I am just returning from my very first visit to India. I had the unbelievable privilege of participating in the first “Four Noble Truths Event” hosted by the Sarnath International Nyingma Institute.  It was in Sarnath, at the “stupa” pictured here, that the Buddha offered his first sermon – 2500 years ago!

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Mar/04/14//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Liberation

Slow Down

Enjoy the Moment

I’m just getting back from a four-week sabbatical, a special gift from IISC after seven years of service.  I grew in leaps and bounds.  A lot of what been brewing inside of me for the last year or two started to come together in a powerful way.  My time off was anchored by a week-long, life changing, couples’ retreat in Mexico.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/21/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration

Make Magic

Make Magic

Seth’s blog this morning reminded me of an ongoing joke that I have with Linda Guinee, my colleague here at IISC.

Seth’s main question is: “Who is in charge of the magic?”

During my early days at IISC, Linda brought me into design and facilitation of an “Innovation Lab” for one of our biggest clients at the time.  It was big break, and I took it seriously.  Linda, who is quite magical herself, kept reminding me of practical things that I still tend to overlook.  At one point she had to remind me that it was important to give the participants a bathroom break!

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Jan/14/14//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Learning Edge

The Thrive Workshop

Thrive Logo

When I told Ceasar about the Thrive Workshop he was excited about it.  I remembered that when we interviewed him to become President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change he talked about his ongoing work at MIT.  He described the university as a place that is focused on making things work in the real world.  That certainly is IISC’s orientation.  And it definitely is what the Thrive Workshop is all about.


Thrive is not for everyone.  Thrive is for you if you are bursting with an idea and you just can’t get yourself to make it happen.  Thrive is meant to get you started.  Thrive is about getting you out of your head and into the real world. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/10/14//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Amiri Baraka

Here is to the prophets and truth tellers of our day.  Rest in Power Amiri Baraka, we are honored to have you join our ancestors.

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Dec/17/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

A Third Way of Work

Stowe Boyd has posted a provocative and largely resonant manifesto on the future of work.  Our ways of doing business are thoroughly obsolete,  “only 29% [of workers] are actively engaged with work.”  If this obsolescence is true for the private sector, it is even more true for those of us who work for justice.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/10/13//Gibrán Rivera//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Temporary Autonomous Zones

“A Temporary Autonomous Zone is a liberated area of land, time or imagination where one can be for something, not just against, and where new ways of being human together can be explored and experimented with. Locating itself in the cracks and fault lines in the global grid of control and alienation, a T.A.Z. is an eruption of free culture where life is experienced at maximum intensity. It should feel like an exceptional party where for a brief moment our desires are made manifest and we all become the creators of the art of everyday life.”


Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/26/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Power, Equity, Inclusion


Ok.  That’s a bit of an over statement.  But I was truly intrigued by a German town’s experiment in abolishing traffic lights and codes.  Sounds like anarchy?  Amazingly enough accidents are almost nonexistent.

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Oct/29/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Breakthrough Public Process

We work in close partnership with the Barr Foundation.  I appreciated this video of my friend Rahn Dorsey, the foundation’s evaluation director, articulating three keys to breakthrough on complex public conversations.  I specially like that Rahn’s understanding that even when the will for change is strong, it takes good process to make a way.

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Oct/23/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Gravity and the Overview

I saw “Gravity” last night.  It was a fun thriller, relatively formulaic; and yet, also of great importance.  It is significant that “Gravity” has been the top seller at the box office three weekends in a row.

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Oct/08/13//Gibrán Rivera//Love


“Love” is now a category on the IISC Blog.  How appropriate!  Love is one of the three lenses that give shape to our work.  And love is at the very heart of this project of social transformation.  Love is path and goal.  Love is how we get there and it is where we want to go.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/24/13//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration

Collaboration, Cooperation and Do-ocracy

I always describe IISC as a “Collaboration Shop.” The founder of Interaction Associates, David Strauss, authored the seminal book “How to Make Collaboration Work.”  I’m all for people working together to achieve a common goal.  I make a living helping them do that.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/17/13//Gibrán Rivera//Networks

New Ways of Being-With

Last week Curtis wrote an excellent post inviting a developmental perspective on building networks for social change.  It triggered all sort of ideas for me.

Our concept of “self” is not static.  It has evolved over time.  That’s how we end up with concepts like the “me” generation, and the flagrant narcissism that defines our culture (see example – First World Problems).

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/10/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Distributed Power

I’m proud to call Billy Parish a friend; he is an incredibly sweet person.  I am a fan of his commitment and imagination.  I’ve been hearing about his company, Mosaic, since it was but an idea.  I was blown away to see it featured in today’s New York Times – A Bet on the Environment. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/02/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Dialogue Triggers

Appreciating this reflection by my friend Augusto Cuginotti. In the context  of the USA I can already the resistance, “I came to work, not to be vulnerable.” In fact, we spend a lot of time designing spaces that protect us from vulnerability.  But then, how will we ever sail towards what we do not yet know?

 ”Love comes when manipulation stops; when you think more about the other person than about his or her reactions to you. When you dare to reveal yourself fully. When you dare to be vulnerable” -Joyce Brothers

Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/26/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Art and Implicit Bias

The way Maya Wiley quickly and effectively names the problem that we have in how we deal with racism is truly remarkable.  It takes her two minutes to get across a point that can seem quite complex.  Her Center for Social Inclusion is my client and I couldn’t be prouder of the association. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/20/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Liberation

Principles to Live By

The following pst has been reblogged from our dear friend Adrienne Maree. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 

Adrienne Maree Brown outlines core principles to live by.  I find these powerfully resonant and I continue to invite us into greater intentionality in our practices for creating a new world. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/13/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Engage the Future

How to predict the future?  It’s a bit like the alchemist’s dream, ever-seductive wishful thinking.  We can’t predict the future, not with master plans and not with meta-data.  Too many of the problems within organizations have to do with our frustrated wish for someone – ideally “the leader” – to be able to predict the future and to create stability for us. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/22/13//Gibrán Rivera//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Brother Ali on Trayvon

“When somebody says ‘I’m in pain,’ when somebody says ‘I’m being targeted,’ when somebody says ‘there are too many young black boys being killed…’ if our first reaction is to defend ourselves, then that shows a great degree of loveless-ness. Nobody is saying that you hate black people… but I am asking you the question, do you love them?” -Brother Ali

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Jul/09/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

A New Paradigm for Leadership Development

Regular readers know that facilitating for the Barr Fellows Network has been among the most rewarding work I have ever gotten to do – here is why, part 2

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Jul/02/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

A New Paradigm for Leadership Development

Regular readers know that facilitating for the Barr Fellows Network has been among the most rewarding work I have ever gotten to do – here is why, part 1

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Jun/25/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Liberation


I’m sharing another great piece from my dear friend Adrienne Maree Brown.  I am absolutely moved by the way she speaks of emergence.  She is spot on.  As you read, I encourage you to remember that evolution “transcends and includes.”  There are aspects of our industrial paradigm that can and should be included as we move towards working with emergence.  How can you apply what Adrienne is talking about?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/18/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Social Change Institute

Beauty matters, nature nurtures us, this year’s “Social Change Institute” was a remarkable experience and a real privilege to facilitate. Get people with passion together, in the perfect setting, careful design and good facilitation, and good work is bound to happen.

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Jun/03/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

The Big Picture

This deceptively simple diagram delineates the first step in any collaborative process.  Unless you are defining a strategic plan for your personal development, you can safely assume that successful strategic planning is collaborative by definition.

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May/21/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

OPEN Summit US

In January of this year I was privileged to design and facilitate the first ever International OPEN Summit.  Today I’m on my way to facilitate the first ever OPEN Summit US.  The leadership of our nation’s “Online Progressive Engagement Networks” are coming together to support the development of an informal network by strengthening relationships among the people doing this work.  Read the rest of this entry »

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May/07/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

What Strategy Is NOT

Photo provided by Alex Pelayo. Check out the rest of his amazing portfolio here!

This post is Part III in a series on Strategic Planning and Emergence.

Your vision is not your strategy.  Neither is your plan.  Your benchmarks are not your strategy, nor your complicated grids.  Your hedgehog or your very audacious goals are not your strategy either.  Your predictions of what the future will look like, no matter how organized and well researched, are definitely not your strategy.

Read the rest of this entry »

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May/06/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

Great Leaders Great Networks

IISC has had the privilege to working with the Barr Foundation to design and facilitate the Barr Network’s learning activities. See what we’ve been up to!

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May/03/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

What is Strategy

Photo provided by Alex Pelayo. Check out the rest of his amazing portfolio here!

This post is Part II in a series on Strategic Planning and Emergence.

It doesn’t make much sense to look at strategic planning without taking a look at what we mean by strategy.  There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus on what people mean when they use the word strategy.  I like the way Thomas Rice, IISC’s founding board chair, talks about it here.  Thomas stresses that strategy is about how you choose to deploy scarce resources in order to achieve your goals.

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Apr/30/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Strategy, Planning, Emergence

Photo provided by Alex Pelayo. Check out the rest of his amazing portfolio here!

I spend a lot of time figuring out how to work with emergence.  You don’t plan emergence, you create the conditions for emergence.  But how does that fit with strategy?  How do you do strategic planning in a world that is too complex for straight lines and long timelines?

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Apr/09/13//Gibrán Rivera//Inspiration, Structural Transformation

“El Hielo” by La Santa Cecilia

It’s a big week for the immigration debate among our policy makers. If you watch one video today, let it be this one.

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Apr/01/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

Great Leaders Great Network

Being part of the design and facilitation team for the Barr Fellows Network has been some of the most rewarding work I get to do.  It is rewarding because it is beautiful and because it works.  I have witnessed lives change, approaches to leadership transformed.  And I am getting to witness the effect of this work upon the city that I love.  I hope you have the 90 seconds it will take for you to enjoy this video.  You can read the original post here.

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Mar/26/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Collaboration for Discovery

In the early days, when “normal” people first started using the web, we saw websites that looked just like our pamphlets.  We used the new technology to do the same thing we always did – until we dared to experiment.

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Mar/19/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Inspiration

Crowdfunding Community

When we talk about networks we tend to think scale, we think viral.  But networks are also about community.  Networks can thrive in that mysterious place where the most local intersects with the global.

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Mar/05/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Octavia and Emergence

The following post was rebloged from our friend Adrienne Maree. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! 

If you are a frequent reader you know of my love and admiration for Adrienne Maree Brown.  She is the one who introduced me to the work of Octavia Butler.  Art, science fiction, futurism – these are powerful exploratory fields.  Here Adrienne begins to capture what Octavia teaches us about emergence, and since we have been on the topic lately, I thought it important to share her post.

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Feb/12/13//Gibrán Rivera//Liberation, Networks

Conditions for Emergence

The following comments was posted by Gibran as a response to Curtis Ogden‘s Collective Impact and Emergence blog post.  In it we are challenged to think beyond our institutions and think about how to truly impact the communities we work with. 

This is excellent Curtis. It brings me back to one of our most important inquiries – how do you nurture the conditions for emergence? With this inquiry, we are not just saying that emergence happens; we are saying that our best approach is to nurture it. It is a significant shift from a more top-down technical approach.

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Feb/05/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Change is Hard

“Change is hard because people don’t only think on the surface level. Deep down people have mental maps of reality — embedded sets of assumptions, narratives and terms that organize thinking… People almost never change their underlying narratives or unconscious frameworks…”

This is David Brooks, focusing on the woes of a Republican Party that is struggling to reinvent itself.  But the fact applies to all sorts of change.

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Jan/29/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Inspiration

Seneca Falls, Selma, Stone Wall

Something BIG happened on Monday, January 21, 2013.  In his second inaugural address President Obama made an unapologetic link between the struggles for liberation and our nation’s evolutionary thrust.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.

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Jan/22/13//Gibrán Rivera//Networks

Clinton on Creative Networks

I keep making references to Steven Johnson’s book, Future Perfect.  That’s because I find it to be one of the best articulations of what has become possible in this networked world. I am seduced by the idea of peer progressivism.

I have long held the hypothesis that those of us who have committed our lives to social transformation should be able to find a significant competitive advantage in a world of networks.  Our ethos should be one of sharing, one of working together, one of catalyzing our collective power.  Our values resonate with what is possible today.  But the time to step into this opportunity is right now – right as it is emerging.

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Jan/14/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

OPEN Summit

I’ve been on a whirlwind.  And it began with my facilitation of OPEN Summit.  The first ever leadership gathering of the world’s leading Online Progressive Engagement Networks.  Think as replicated in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Germany and Papua New Guinea.  The great (and unbelievably sweet) Ben Brandzel had been dreaming this up for years!

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Jan/07/13//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

“The Icarus Deception”

Everything has changed forever.  It is a time of upheaval and upheaval is not comfortable.  But it is from here that we build a new world.  Fly Closer to the Sun.

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Jan/04/13//Gibrán Rivera//Inspiration

Complexity and You

The following post has been reblogged from our friends at Management Assistant Group.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! 

Robin Katcher, the new director of the Management Assistance Group, is a friend of the Institute’s and a leader among those of us who work to bring an understanding of networks and complexity to the work of social transformation.  I found these reflections on the more personal aspects of working with complexity to be specially appropriate for the beginning of a new year.

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Dec/26/12//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration

GenFlux Leadership

IISC would like to share our Top 5 most influential post of 2012! Join us until the New Years Eve when we reveal our number 1 blog post!

Fast Company’s has a recent cover story on the new and chaotic frontier of business.

 Despite recession, currency crises, and tremors of financial instability, the pace of disruption is roaring ahead. The frictionless spread of information and the expansion of personal, corporate, and global networks have plenty of room to run. And here’s the conundrum: When businesspeople search for the right forecast–the road map and model that will define the next era–no credible long-term picture emerges. There is one certainty, however. The next decade or two will be defined more by fluidity than by any new, settled paradigm; if there is a pattern to all this, it is that there is no pattern. The most valuable insight is that we are, in a critical sense, in a time of chaos.

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Dec/18/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured


Andrew Zolli is a long time friend of the Interaction family.  His recent piece on the New York Times, Learning to Bounce Back, reminded me of why Marianne Hughes, founder and former Executive Director of IISC has been raving about his new book on resilience.

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Dec/11/12//Gibrán Rivera//Spiritual Activism

Systems Thinking As a Spiritual Practice

David Peter Stroh hits the nail on the head with his recent post on the relationship between systems thinking and spiritual practice on the Leverage Points Blog.  Our ways of seeing and ways of being are profoundly affected by our interior condition.  Many aspects of systems thinking are deeply aligned with the wisdom of many spiritual traditions.

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Dec/04/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

When Should We Collaborate

I like to describe IISC as a collaboration shop.  We look at collaboration through three lenses.  When looking through the lens of networks we are acknowledging a shift from “complicated to complex” (see image).  We often rely on the Cynefin framework to encourage an attitude of exploration, a more open attitude than the quest for technical answers that obsesses so much of our work for social change.

I had not seen the overlay of complexity and collaboration that Shawn Callahan articulates so well.  I love the work of our friends at Anecdote, and this blog post is a must read:

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Nov/13/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation


Today we often use the word extraordinary to refer to something amazing, something great.  The overwhelming re-election of the nation’s first Black President through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is a truly extraordinary event.

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Oct/30/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Stay Open

Our paradigm is our lens on everything.  It is how we make sense of reality.  For example, a deterministic paradigm is a lens that makes you see everything in terms of cause and effect.  It gives you a mechanistic lens with which to make sense of the world.  Determinism can be a really useful perspective – one way of looking at things – but it becomes a problem if it is your paradigm – THE way in which you look at things.

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Oct/23/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

What is School For?

“If it’s work we try to figure out how to do less, if it’s art we try to figure out how to do more.”  Regular readers of our blog know that we are big fans of Seth Godin here at IISC.  And if you’ve been to anything I’ve trained or facilitated you have probably heard me rail against the dominance of an obsolete industrial paradigm.

In this video, Godin asks “What is school for?” and he clearly points to all the industrial trappings that are badly limiting how we educate our young – even in “high performing” contexts.  We are in the middle of a significant paradigm shift, and this is one of our most important questions.


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Oct/16/12//Gibrán Rivera//Networks

More Resonance than Persuasion

I came up as an organizer.  I approached that work by working hard to persuade others that change was possible.  I then proceeded to illustrate the type of change that we could work on.  It is important and dignified work.

But as I came to understand networks I found myself doing a lot less persuading.  I’m not just seeking to build a critical mass.  I’m seeking to make critical connections.  Emergence bursts forth from these connections.

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Oct/08/12//Gibrán Rivera//Inspiration

We are in the Process

If you are a regular reader of our blog you have been part of our ongoing conversations on evolution.  I like to remind my clients that the big bang is not a one time event, that the bang is still happening, and that we are actually in it!

Yes, we are in the process of becoming.  Aligning ourselves with this idea can ground our efforts in a process that began 14 billion years ago.  Talk about a change in perspective!  Our own becoming conscious is integral to this evolutionary process.  So what will we do with this consciousness?  It’s a powerful way to think of movement, of progress, of development.  I loved this video, because it literally helps us to SEE it… with our own eyes, and on any given night.

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Oct/02/12//Gibrán Rivera//Spiritual Activism

Spirituality and Citizenship

I recently had the privilege of engaging in a public dialogue with Amy Edelstein, senior teacher of Evolutionary Enlightenment.  We were brought together to talk about the relationship between active citizenship and active spirituality.

The very idea of citizenship emerges in the context of a trajectory, a movement from less freedom to more freedom.  There is something aspirational in it, it is supposed to help us move towards an unfinished project – an ideal.

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Sep/28/12//Gibrán Rivera//Networks

The Ego and the Hub

I’m into networks.  It takes a significant shift in perspective to get into networks.  We develop aptitudes and ways of being-with that allow us to contend with grater complexity.

I’m so into networks that I had the privilege of participating in a community of practice on networks and decentralized organizing.  Networks thrive on trust and relationship and it was with this knowledge that we dove in.  We became friends, we grew to love, appreciate and trust each other.

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Sep/25/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Process and Culture

I’m a process junky.  I believe that good process makes it possible to do things that would be impossible otherwise.  Any effort ambitious enough to try and shift a system from competition to common intention is an effort that must rely on good process.  Good process provides and often temporary social architecture that is designed and facilitated to maximize generative collaboration.

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Sep/18/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

#Occupy – Year 1

I love the fact that the mainstream can’t get its head around what #occupy is all about.  I am glad the movement does not fit a pre-existing paradigm.

I love the fact that occupiers themselves find no consensus on what #occupy is all about.  It means the movement is still emergent and therefore most alive.

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Sep/11/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Emergent Strategy

There is nothing wrong with strategic planning – except when we believe that strategy unfolds as planned.  A good strategic planning process is one that crystalizes our intention.  It is the process through which we articulate a clear vision of where we want to go.  And it is how we come to a clear agreement on which direction we are going to take.  It is not insurance on the future.  The map can never be the territory.

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Sep/07/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Spiritual Activism

Active Citizenship, Active Spirituality

If you’ve been reading Curtis’ blog posts this week, you might be considering what it means to be an evolutionary.  If you live in or near Boston, you should join us as we deepen this conversation.

Our friends at EnlightenNext Boston are hosting a dialogue between Amy Edelstein, senior teacher of Evolutionary Enlightenment and myself this Friday, September 21, 7:15pm – 9:30pm at Samadhi Integral in Newton Centre.

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Aug/28/12//Gibrán Rivera//Networks

IISC in Singapore

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Aug/21/12//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured

Creative Change

I’ve been meaning to tell you about Creative Change; the powerful intersection of artists and activists that has been taking place for the last four years.  The Opportunity Agenda convenes the retreat, and I have had the privilege of designing and facilitating since its inception.  This last retreat was the best one yet.

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Aug/14/12//Gibrán Rivera//Sustainability

Future Perfect

From a world where words like “strategy” and “planning” still convey an air of seriousness and rigor, it can be hard to transition to a world defined by emergence.  But VUCA is here to stay – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity will continue to define our age.

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Aug/07/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Power, Equity, Inclusion

VRA in Jeopardy!

The following post has been reblogged from The Voting Rights Act is 47yrs old today, hard to believe one of our hardest earned victories is actually at risk

The Voting Rights Act, it seems, is not going to be allowed to ease into middle age quietly. There ought to be festivities greeting the Act today, on the 47th anniversary of the day President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the bill which outlawed voter discrimination that disenfranchised African-American voters. Yet, this year in particular it’s come under aggressive attack by states intent on dismantling the Act. Forget the birthday cake. It may be time to light a candle for the civil rights law.

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Jul/31/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

Want to bridge? DISRUPT!

If you are a frequent reader of our blog you know that I am privileged to be one of the facilitators of the Barr Fellows Network, one of the best network building efforts that I know of.  The following is a blog post from the Social Capital Blog, it is written by Pat Brandes, President of the Barr Foundation and the one who conceived the idea.

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Jul/24/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Be Fearless

I met Katya Fels Smyth about four years ago at the Opportunity Collaboration, I remember sitting next to her on the bus to the conference site and being immediately intrigued by her passion and by the very idea of a Full Frame Initiative. It so happens that Ceasar McDowell, our new IISC President is on the Board of the Full Frame Initiative. We are truly proud to have him be our “Fearless Leader.” The following blogpost was written by Katya for the Case Foundation’s  Fearless Campaign.  Here is my favorite line: “be agnostic as to ‘issue’ but laser focused on people”

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Jul/17/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Organizing or Mobilizing

Marty Kearns, our friend at Netcentric Advocacy, tackles an important distinction and invites us to strategize with the difference in mind.  I found this this to be an excellent piece for advocates.

Organizing and Mobilizing – 2 Distinct Strategies in Your Advocacy Effort.

I have been struggling lately to get more clarity on the concepts of organizing and mobilizing. These are terms of art in my world but often see the concepts mashed together.  These terms do not mean the same thing in an advocacy context and BOTH are very important.

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Jul/10/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

IISC as Network Beaver

No.  It’s not a typo!  I know you are used to hearing us talk about the importance of network weavers.  But June Holly’s recent post on Network Beavers spoke directly to the heart of what we do here at IISC.

“Network beavers create gatherings that pool network assets, relationships, and energy in a space of dynamic and complex adaptive interaction.”

Yes! IISC is a Network Beaver, this is what we do and what we help you do.  We work with you to facilitate and design the spaces that bring networks to life.

Here is June’s Blog Post:

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Jul/03/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, IISC:Inside

Leadership Transition

Last Thursday we celebrated almost 20 years of visionary leadership by our founding executive director, Marianne Hughes.  Today we welcome Ceasar McDowell as the new President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change.

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Jun/12/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Learning Edge

Why Open Space

I’m a big fan of “Open Space,” I like trusting people who have passion.  I believe in the power of connection through self-organization.  It is too often that the most interesting conversations at the conference actually happen at the break or at the bar or at the after-party.  Let’s move what matters to the center!  Here is a helpful reflection by my friend Chad Jones.

Open space is a way to break up the mundane, old ways of conferences. Just as we are realizing that rote memorization does not work in the classroom, and education needs to be shaken up. Our meetings and multi-day conferences need strong winds of new ideas and currents of new ways.

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Jun/05/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation


Last week we started to take a look at Kevin Kelly’s take on the benefits of swarm systems.  We are wondering what are the implications for movement builders.  We looked at how important it is for us to be adaptable.

Kelly also says that swarm systems are evolvable.  He says that these are:

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May/29/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation



I’m a huge fan of Kevin Kelly.  I really think of him as the prophet of the digital age.  He has done lots around complexity.  And he has spent time looking at swarms.  In “Bootstrapping Comlexity,” Andrea Lloyd’s “remix” of Kelly’s book “Out of Control” we find a useful list of benefits and apparent disadvantages of swarm systems.

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May/21/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Strategy and Tactics


I just read a helpful Upmarket blog post on the distinction between strategy and tactic.  It was almost a relief to know that the business sector also struggles with the distinction.  Confusing these two terms has led to a lot of trouble in our work for social change.

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May/15/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

Connection, Attention and Trust

I’m just coming out of a mind bending, heart expanding retreat with Orland Bishop, Rachel Bagby and the Barr Fellows Network.  It was one of those experiences that is hard to put into words.  For lack of a better word, and I hope Orland doesn’t mind this, it was more like being with a shaman than with a facilitator.

Orland led us in an exploration of intention and attention as he invited us to question how we relate to reality itself.  He led with the idea that our relationships – and therefore our human experience – can be radically redefined if we make it our purpose to truly understand the other; and to do it with radical acceptance.

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May/01/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Lessons from Frances

Today is May Day.  A few weeks ago I had the unique opportunity to share some ideas about working with complexity with a group of funders who are committed to social justice.  It was quite an honor to sit in the same panel as the great Frances Fox Piven and the amazing Ai-Jen Poo.

Ai-Jen was recently named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. I’ve been following her work for a while and I can tell you that the mention is well deserved.  Frances has influenced, informed and inspired thousands of people who have committed their life to this work.

In the presence of such an elder and a luminary anyone would be a fool not to take notes.  I thought I would share some highlights from Frances’ talk with you: Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/25/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Three Years Later

Last weekend I had a most unique privilege.  I facilitated the final retreat of a three-year process.  I have been working with the Barrboletas, the Barr Fellows cohort of 2009, since their inaugural learning journey to Brazil in June of that year.  We have a book worth of documentation.  The fellowship as a whole will be highlighted in the May issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  This post is a celebration of their last retreat as a cohort – they will continue to participate in an exciting plethora of network activities as they are moved and able.

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Apr/24/12//Gibrán Rivera//Social Media

5 Tips for Social Media Success

The following post are 5 tips that will help in your Social Media strategy for any organization.  These are just 5 easy tips out of 10 that can be used in order to strengthen any social media platform.  We hope that you find these extremely useful. 

Why should businesses bother with social media? From Twitter and Pinterest to Facebook and Google+, the social realm can bring the human element to a product or service. A Facebook page enables a company to share behind-the-scenes photos or answer consumer questions. On Twitter, that same company can offer coupons, or get in touch with a person immediately over a complaint.

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Apr/13/12//Gibrán Rivera//Liberation

The Coalition of No

I am a big fan of Seth Godin. But this particular post seems to be extra relevant! Those of us that are working for justice too often get caught up in the dead-end negativity he describes.  But thankfully we are also at a moment of transition!  And more and more of us are stepping boldly into the future with a passionate and resounding YES!

 See what you think.

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Apr/10/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

On Planning


Last week Seth wrote a blog post titled When execution gets cheaper, so should planning.  Provocative statement, specially when planning is at the score of your business!

Here is how he concludes:

The goal should be to have the minimum number of meetings and scenarios and documentation necessary to maximize the value of execution. As it gets faster and easier to actually build the thing, go ahead and make sure the planning (or lack of it) keeps pace.

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Apr/03/12//Gibrán Rivera//Inspiration

Own Your Silence

I caught this drawing posted among many other charts in IISC Learning Center. It caught my attention. I have long been familiar with the idea that silence equals complicity. But I always applied it to movement and our work for justice. I never quite thought of it as applying to organizational dynamics.

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Mar/30/12//Gibrán Rivera//Structural Transformation

Post-Industrial Education

“The New American Academy does a tremendous job of nurturing relationships. Since people learn from people they love, education is fundamentally about the relationship between a teacher and student.”

The following post is a commentary from Stowe Boyd – The New American Academy: Post-Industrial At Last.  It called my attention because it makes a link between education and collaboration, learning and relationship. See what you all think! 

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Mar/27/12//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured


Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing

-T. S. Eliot, Introduction to Dante’s Inferno.


Our friend and colleague Roberto Cremonini recently shared the above quote with a budding community of practice coming together around networks. It is the epigraph to Imagine, Jonah Lehrer’s latest book on creativity.  It seems to make more sense today than ever before.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are social animals.  Makes me think of the definition of Ubuntu – I am because we are.

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Mar/20/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

Let’s Learn to Swarm


“From honeybee swarms we’ve learned that groups can reliably make good decisions in a timely matter as long as they seek diversity of knowledge. By studying termite mounds we’ve seen how even small contributions to a shared project can create something useful. Finally, flocks of starlings have shown us how, without direction from a single leader, members of a group can coordinate their behavior with amazing precision simply by paying attention to their nearest neighbor.”

-       Peter Miller, The Smart Swarm

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Mar/06/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Structural Transformation

Joy, Community, Connection

Last night we came together as IISC to bid farewell to the great Melinda Weekes; we are proud that she is moving on to be the Managing Director of the Applied Research Center.  But today’s is not a post about Melinda.  It is a post about community.

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Feb/28/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Your Experiences

With Great Care and Attention


It’s my birthday today and a few nights ago my friend Malia asked me to reflect on a lesson I’ve learned over the last year.  It was a BIG year for me!  I got married and had a son!  Lots and lots of lessons.

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Feb/21/12//Gibrán Rivera//Sustainability

The Sabbath Manifesto


The issue of personal ecology is one of my biggest concerns in our ever accelerating world.  It is the biggest pain point I find among leaders and organizations.  It is a sense of being overwhelmed, of trying to do too much, of never having a break.  And worst of all – it can be addictive.

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Feb/13/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Inspiration


Sometimes you fall in love with a client.  There is a sweet spot where your own heart’s purpose is fully aligned with what your client is trying to do in the world.  In that sweet spot they are no longer really a client – you become true partners.

I’ve just wrapped up the contracted part of our work with Urban Bush Women, but I’m certain that ours is a partnership that will continue.

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Jan/24/12//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured

Collective Leadership: Doing and Being

Last Tuesday, Curtis Ogden and I had the privilege of hosting an LLC webinar on collective leadership.  Much of what we did was point to observable patterns in ways of working together and how these tend to open up possibilities for shared leadership.  The metaphor of tilling the soil is most appropriate precisely because we have run up against the limitations of industrial implementation.  The appropriate response to increasing complexity is one that can get beyond linear causality and into a mindset of ecosystems.

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Jan/17/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Learning Edge

New Mutualism

I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections

- Stowe Boyd

Today, Curtis Odgen and I will be hosting an LLC Webinar on Collective Leadership.  We are talking about a significant shift in how we organize our work for social transformation.  Stowe Boyd, the net’s social anthropologist, recently posted what he calls the beginnings of an elevator pitch on “New Mutualism.”  I found it resonant, relevant and tremendously exciting; here it goes:

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Jan/06/12//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Inspiration


What has been the most important epiphany in your life?

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany and I’m from Puerto Rico where we celebrate it as Three Kings Day.    In fact, I’ve just heard it argued that Puerto Rico is the country with the strongest tradition of “Día de los Reyes.”  Our Christmas gifts used to come on this date instead of December 25.  We would leave grass under our beds so that their camels could eat as they went from house to house.  I grew up in a nationalist household, so my family was among the last hold outs as “Americanization” (which was really commercialism and marketing) led more and more people to get into Santa Claus.  To this day my father hates Santa – it’s actually kind of funny.

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