Archive for IISC:Inside

Jan/13/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, IISC:Inside

Making Meaning Together


At IISC, we began the year with some heavy-duty thinking. We’ll be writing about those ideas in future posts. Today, I want to tip my hat to my colleagues and to IISC’s Board of Directors. After spending a day on Board business, our Board members spent a day with the staff thinking about emerging new directions for IISC.

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Dec/24/13//IISC//IISC:Inside, IISC:Outside

9 Practice-Guiding Questions for 2014

“Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers.”

- Peter Block

Three of our IISC blogger-practitioners have been in conversation about 3 questions they are each carrying with them into 2014 to guide and develop their practice to support social change.  We invite your reflections on and additions to these: Read the rest of this entry »

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Our Six Word Memoir

If you’re not familiar with six word memoirs, it’s a project of SMITH Magazine, which has as its mission to celebrate the joy of passionate, personal storytelling.  As the SMITH folks say, it’s all about “One life. Six Words, What’s yours?”

So over here at IISC we did a little passionate, personal storytelling of our own the other day…each creating a six-word memoir in the moment.

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Dec/30/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, IISC:Inside

Do It Together (DIT)

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

-African proverb

This coming Sunday, my colleague Gibran Rivera and I will be presenting at the Connecting for Change Conference (Bioneers by the Bay) in New Bedford, MA.  This is one of my favorite events each year, as it gathers many thoughtful and innovative presenters and participants from local/regional and national/international levels to talk about how to create whole (just and sustainable) communities.  In our workshop, “Are You Down With D-I-T? Skills for Change in a Network World,” Gibran and I will guide attendees through an exploration of the convergence of two of today’s powerful memes – the DIY (Do It Yourself) movement, which seems to be fueled in great part through younger generations and social media, and “collective impact,”  made popular by FSG in its SSIR articles. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/29/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

What We Know – Marianne Hughes

This is Marianne’s last week as Executive Director of IISC. We’re devoting the blog to her writings and thinking this week.


Earlier this week during an IISC staff learning session, we entertained the question, “What do we know from our years of doing collaborative capacity building work?”  Here IISC founder and Executive Director, Marianne Hughes, speaks to the core framework that supports our process design and facilitation work, the Pathway to Change.

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Jul/05/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Features of Healthy Living Systems

In a rich and recent conversation about the upgrade of our very popular course, Facilitative Leadership, IISC deliverers addressed the question of which main points to instill through the addition of a new and framing segment on systems thinking.  I offered the comment that we need to be sure to say that systems thinking is not monolithic, that there are different schools of thought and approaches within the field, and that we must also be clear about what our underlying cosmology is regarding systems thinking. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Jul/02/12//Marianne Hughes//Featured, IISC:Inside

Marianne’s Celebration Remarks

While my name was on the invitation and my personal passage was the catalyst for this celebration, it really is an acknowledgement of the work of each and every one of you in this room. As you look around it is important to know that you are in the company of people who have answered that powerful question posed in the Mary Oliver poem, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” by deciding to spend their every day making the world a better place. And for this I honor you and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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Jun/19/12//IISC//Featured, IISC:Inside

Ode to Marianne

The following is a poem created by IISC staff members during Marianne’s last staff meeting. Each member was asked to think about a phrase or a word that first came to mind when thinking about Marianne. We love you dearly MH.

Loving mother to all who know her

Creates joyful spaces

So many possibilities and so much love

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Jun/18/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, IISC:Inside

On Transitions

For those of you who follow our blog or know IISC, you know that our founding Executive Director, Marianne Hughes, will soon transition out of her role. Today is our last staff meeting together with Marianne. We will mark the moment with ritual, celebration and a meal. We will invite our whole selves into the experience, just as we have been invited to bring our whole selves to IISC’s community and work over the years.

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Jun/07/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Process Design and Bridging Fear

Fresh off of an offering of Pathway to Change to a group of leaders from across sectors in southern Massachusetts, and with another 3 day workshop on the horizon in San Francisco (July 24-26), I’ve been considering how the theme of fear often comes up in discussions about impediments and challenges to effective collaborative change work – fear of failure, fear of losing something, fear of the unknown.  And I’ve been more and more convinced by how important intentional, creative, and strategic process design is in building pathways through this fear.  This notion has been validated in the writing of Chip and Dan Heath, most recently in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.  In a one page summary, the Heath brothers highlight the important three steps of: (1) directing our rational selves (what exactly are we trying to accomplish?), (2) motivating our emotional selves (what’s so compelling about that future destination? why can’t the current conditions continue?), and creating a clear path between where we are now and where we want to be. Read the rest of this entry »

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May/04/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Making the Invisible Visible

I am so proud of my colleague, Gibran Rivera, for the due recognition that he has received lately in various quarters for his deep thinking and transformative work.  And I am grateful for how eloquently he captures the nature and intention of our collective work the Interaction Institute for Social Change in a recent interview:

“IISC seeks to make the invisible visible. When we are successful, people find themselves working in ways that are life-giving, generative, and unlike most of their experiences of working together.  We achieve this by paying close attention to process. Process works best when everyone knows what it is and where we are [in] it. But process is not enough. We seek to create spaces and conditions that foster connectivity at the level of authentic relationship. When we are working in authentic relationship with one another, when we learn to connect to each other in the place where our shared purpose meets, then it can feel like the work is happening all by itself. But these spaces have to be designed; they have to be held and they have to be tended to. This is where we come in. And this is how interconnectedness becomes palpable.”

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Mar/15/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

We Are What We Eat and Measure

The following excerpt is taken from the introduction to Whole Measures for Community Food Systems, a resource that “is designed to give organizations and communities a collaborative process for defining and expressing their complex stories and the multiple outcomes that emerge from their work.”  The guide is an example of what is possible coming out of the training that we jointly offer with the Center for Whole Communities called Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most.  This year we will offer the workshop in San Francisco (May), at Knoll Farm in Vermont (July), and in Boston (December).   In addition, the Community Food Security Coalition will offer a workshop on Whole Measures specifically focused on community food security work this April in Lexington, KY.

The spectrum of those working towards community food security is culturally and geographically diverse, spanning a broad range of people, places and activities. Organizations and individuals working in the food system and building food secure communities create complex relationships and inter-related activities. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/09/12//IISC//Featured, IISC:Inside

Ode to Melinda

Our hearts and spirits have been moved by Melinda Weeke’s love, passion and commitment to our work.  The following is a small tribute to a powerful and beautiful sister who has forever shaped our lives for the better.  We wish you the best and we will miss you!  We LOVE you. 

Through thick and thin. Truthful you have been.  Hanging with uncertainty

Sashaying with complexity. Witty and musical. Fearless and spiritual

You bring it home. With charm and aplomb. Lead on, my sister, lead on

Gracias – un millón. I love you

And I will miss you

  Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/08/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

What We Know – Curtis Ogden

IISC Senior Associate, Curtis Ogden, reflects on the question asked in a staff learning session, “What do we know from years of doing collaborative capacity building and social change work?” Recorded at Space With a Soul in Boston.

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Another Journey

Dear Clients and Colleagues,

I trust this finds you well in every way.

This March 16, 2012 will be my last day with IISC.  In April, I begin work as the Managing Director of The Applied Research Center (ARC), headquartered in New York City.  ARC is a racial justice think tank that uses popular culture, media, research and activism to promote solutions, and is the publisher of

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Mar/02/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

What We Know – Cynthia Parker

IISC Senior Associate, Cynthia Parker, answers the question asked in a staff learning session, “What do we know from our years of doing collaborative capacity building and social change work?” Recorded at Space With a Soul on February 6, 2012.

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Feb/16/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

What We Know – Melinda Weekes

IISC Senior Associate, Melinda Weekes, answers the question entertained at a staff learning session, “What do we know from years of doing collaborative capacity building and social change work?” Recorded on February 6, 2012 at Space With a Soul.

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Dec/13/11//Gibrán Rivera//IISC:Inside

I’m writing an eBook

All right friends, it’s time.  I’m going to write my first e-book.  I’m going to do it in 30 days using the process outlined here.  Today is day 1.  I will be posting daily updates to my Facebook and twitter feeds.

I need your help.  I want to write about “teams, work and complexity,” I don’t have a title yet.  But it doesn’t matter what I want to write about if you don’t want to read about it!  The first two days of the process are about asking you for a topic.  See what copyblogger says:

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Leadership Transition

IISC Senior Associates gathered this morning to prepare for our future in this leadership transition-We began with this poem….

“You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest?”

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Oct/21/11//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Wecome to the Collaboration Zone

If you have not had occasion to visit our Boston offices, the video above gives you a glimpse of this beautifully designed space that supports the work of IISC and our sister organization Interaction Associates in pursuing our collective collaboration for change missions. Come see us some time, either by signing up for one of our public trainings, or if you’re in the neighborhood . . .

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Aug/17/11//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Profits of Transition

“Chaos is the primal state of pure energy

for every true new beginning.”

- William Bridges

To say that these are uncertain times would be stating the obvious.  And yet I’ve found myself uttering this increasingly to the organizations and initiatives with whom I am working, often met by a temporary sigh (ambiguity loves company, or at least momentary normalization). This uncertainty was perhaps best captured by a client who recently said, “We went into transition in 2007 and never came out!”  At IISC and our partner organization, Interaction Associates, we’ve also been feeling the strain of this extended global “groan zone” in which we find ourselves.  And amidst the angst there are some exciting conversations happening on both sides of the Interaction house that I (no longer so secretly) am hoping will tear down some walls.  William Bridges, in his classic book Managing Transitions, talks about the work of transition as not simply being about “getting through intact” but about emerging different and better.  I am convinced that this is a call to rethink some of the sectoral divisions we have established that are not serving us well.  Surely we can do and be better, as is suggested by the re-posted Guardian Sustainable Business blog post that follows.  Interaction Brothers and Sisters, readers from all sectors, prophets of profit, what are your thoughts about Jo Confino’s words below and how might we create “a framework for more harmonious balance”  to take us the next step in our collective evolution? Read the rest of this entry »

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May/19/11//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Feedback and Favoring Truth

“Our ability to live in reality is essential.

But that takes some training.”

-Robert Fritz

If you have followed this blog in the past week and a half, you know that the IISC staff completed an intense and valuable retreat last week, focused on issues of power and privilege as they manifest in our organization and connect to the ways that we show up and are perceived in the world beyond our walls.  Last time I blogged about this event, I mentioned my take-away about the challenge and importance of embracing paradox.  With a week’s worth of time now to reflect, I am happy to report that the conversation continues internally among staff, and I for one am seeing movement.   There is plenty of dialogue about how to keep the momentum going, to maintain and firm up our hold on the individual and collective truths we accessed last week.

It turns out that one commonly shared insight about staying on track was, drum roll please . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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May/11/11//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Embrace Paradox

Coming off of a couple of powerful days exploring power and privilege in the internal life and external work of the Interaction Institute for Social Change.  So much still to process, and one of my immediate take-aways was our facilitators’ invitation to embrace paradox in the form of different perspectives and experiences, intentions and impacts, stated and espoused values.  As one of our process agreements for our time together stated – “All of us, individually and collectively, embody paradox- identities, beliefs, and experiences that seem to contradict each other.”  As has been stated elsewhere on this blog, and more elegantly by my colleague Gibran Rivera, the invitation is to hold apparent contradictions and tension long enough for something new to emerge, that moves us down the evolutionary path.

I leave you with the words of Gunilla Norris, from her book Sharing Silence, that came our way via OpenSource Leadership. Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/13/11//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Seeing, Being, Doing Whole

Throughout the past couple of years readers of this blog have seen some discussion about the tensions that exist between those working on individual behavior/spiritual change and those striving for structural transformation.  The point has been made that both are necessary.  The fact remains that we often find ourselves in rooms with people who are essentially on the same side of the issue, but engaged in “tactical sectarianism” (thank you, Adam Pattantyus), arguing about whose approach is best.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/12/11//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Pauses for the Cause

Slow signLast week, IISC staff took a step back to consider what we had been referring to as the roots out of which our collaborative capacity building work grows (we have since wondered whether these may be more appropriately cast as “lenses,” but more on that at another time), and to come to some agreement about what is core to our practice in these imperfectly titled areas:

  • networks
  • equity/power/inclusion
  • “the love that does justice”

We were guided in our conversations by the talented Mistinguette Smith, with whom I have had the pleasure of partnering in delivering our joint work with the Center for Whole Communities – Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most. Anyone who is able to handle a group of facilitators has certainly earned her stripes, and if that person can teach those “process experts” new tricks, well now you’ve really got our attention. Ms. Smith, we are listening! Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/08/10//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

The Apprentice

Last month we were graced by the presence of Kathy Sferra, who was on loan from Mass Audubon.  Kathy took the initiative to approach us about spending one month of her six week sabbatical apprenticing herself to IISC, observing and contributing to our work and taking the lessons back to her home organization.  She began contributing instantly as a thought partner, often making keen observations and asking good questions that her relative outsider perspective afforded.  As her parting gift to us, Kathy offered up the following reflections and take-aways, specifically with respect to designing and facilitating meetings and other convenings, that I wanted, in the spirit of the season, to re-gift and pass along: Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/24/10//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Whole Measures, In Sum


Whole Measures | A Program of Center for Whole Communities

Just coming off the second public offering of Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most, IISC’s  joint venture with the Center for Whole Communities.  I have to say, the workshop experience keeps getting better and better.  More is yet to come (next stop, New Jersey in March), and I wanted to offer these words as a way of summarizing our evolving co-creation. 

What we talk about is what we see,

so must convene conversations that matter.

What we see is what we measure,

so we must see the whole (system).

What we measure is what gets done,

so we must measure what matters.

What must be done cannot be done alone,

so we must design and facilitate collaborative processes.

We cannot do any of this by transaction or command and control,

so we must embody transformational leadership.

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Sep/20/10//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

This Auspicious Moment

I read from the poem below at our staff meeting this morning, to recognize one of many transitions we are making as a collective.  Now settling into our new space that features an amazing “Collaboration Zone” that is garnering some attention locally (wait until you see the pictures!), we are also recognizing the new season that is upon us.  By way of checking in with one another during our inaugural in-gathering in our Seaport offices, I invited people to take Robert Penn Warren’s lead below and think about what they hoped to preserve of summer and what they look forward to embracing in the fall.  “Transcend and include,” is what we like to say around here.  So what about you?  As you pause, what do you hope to keep and to strive for?

First Moment of Autumn Recognized Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/26/10//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Questions Paving the Path to Change

With another public offering of Pathway to Change on the horizon (May 4-6), I’ve been putting my thinking towards how best to encapsulate this robust course, which focuses on skills and frameworks for designing and facilitating collaborative change efforts.  The genius behind IISC’s courses in general (for which I can take absolutely no credit) is the simple elegance of the visuals that capture many of the essential ideas and steps.  That said, we can sometimes find ourselves awash in images and wanting something a little more to the point to guide us.  For these purposes, I’ve boiled the course down to a series of key questions that stand behind the various models.  So here is the Curtis’ Notes version (which also applies to a related course, Engage for Results, that we offer to foundations in partnership with GEO):

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Feb/25/10//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Mission Affirmed

I want to thank Susan Wright of Wright Momentum for spurring on this post, which is in essence a response to a thoughtful dialogue we have had going for a few months.  My thoughts here are further inspired by a training my colleague Melinda and I did at the historic Penn Center on St. Helena’s Island in South Carolina, a site where the first school was built in the US to educate freed slaves.  It was also an important site for people to come together across racial lines to do strategy work during the Civil Rights movement.  Melinda and I had the good fortune to spend three days with the amazing Gulf Coast Fellows, a diverse group of grassroots leaders from Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas.  Our time with the Fellows affirmed for me the strategic direction IISC has recently adopted.  Specifically, in considering the next three years (2010-2012), our IISC”s staff has collectively committed to concentrating more of our efforts around: (1) helping to build power and collaborative muscle at the grassroots, and (2) supporting social change work that bridges sectors and organizations (including building networks).

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Jan/29/10//Curtis Ogden//Featured, IISC:Inside

Leaderships for Our Times

In this post I take a look at the overlap and differences between three leadership approaches to which we here at IISC regularly turn in light of our bent towards social change and beliefs about the world in which we live.

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Jan/20/10//Jen Willsea//IISC:Inside

Do You Have a Vision?

It’s the beginning of a new year, and all the treadmills are occupied at the gym. It’s hard to find any space in the locker room because so many people are set on establishing a new healthy routine for 2010. I’m not a new year’s resolution person, but I am thinking about fresh starts, renewed commitments to be good to myself, and shifts in the projects I’m going to put my energy towards. At IISC, we’ve committed to a new strategic direction for the next three years. Perhaps you’ve been mapping out your personal workplan for 2010 or doing some beginning of the year reflection with your peers, about how you want to work together this year to achieve progress on whatever social justice project you’re working on.

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Dec/23/09//Linda Guinee//IISC:Inside

Moving Toward the New Year

Greetings and best wishes for the rest of this holiday season.? In the Northern Hemisphere, we’re now turning toward longer days and celebrating the return of the sun. Boston, like most of the eastern US, was blanketed in snow this past weekend.? And IISC will be on break the rest of this week and all of next week, holding to its commitment of balance, well-being and sustainability.

I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on all the things I’ve learned over the past year, the ways IISC has grown and shifted, and feel honored to be part of such a dynamic organization and group of people.

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Happy Holidays!

The holidays are here and the year is coming to an end. It is at this time that we wish to give you a IISC-heart-filled THANK YOU!! Thank you for connecting with IISC, for reading our blog and for passing it along. A hope of ours is to connect which you here on the blog and we are always eager to hear your feedback. So let us know what you’d like to see by commenting or utilizing the “Share” function on the right sidebar.

As for the Institute, we are taking a little break for the holidays and won’t be updating the blog from the 24th till the New Year. When we return, we’ll be incorporating some of  your upgrades and even adding videos that we’ve made in the office.

If the snow finds you, stay warm, and if you are with the sun, feel free to push it north whenever you’d like. Happy holidays everyone!!

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Oct/14/09//IISC//Featured, IISC:Inside


Congratulations to Louise, Stevie, Sharon and the IISC Ireland Team!! The group was presented a National Training Award for “Partnership and Collaboration” in Northern Ireland. According to the NTA website, the “NTA identify and celebrate organisations and individuals that achieved really outstanding business and personal success through investment in training.”

Ireland.AwardFrom left to right, Sharon Duffy, Louise O’Meara, Stevie Johnston.

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Oct/07/09//Linda Guinee//Featured, IISC:Inside

Bringing Technology Into the Core

Recently at the Web of Change Conference at Hollyhock in British Columbia, there was a session on “Organizational Transformation,” facilitated in large part by Sam Dorman and Jason Mogus (with some thoughts thrown in by Gibran Rivera and myself). In large part, the session was discussing the ways in which organizations are wanting to incorporate technology and social media into their operations and need to shift structures and cultures to do so. Sam and Jason described that many organizations have traditionally been organized so that these functions were siloed into either a technology/IT function or a communications function – and often brought in after direction was set and strategy was developed as the way to spread the word. What has become clear is that this approach not only doesn’t work, but REALLY REALLY doesn’t work. It’s critical for the folks creating the technology strategy to be integrally involved in development of direction and strategy – not just the add-ons that come later.

One of the big questions at Web of Change was how do you do this? It’s a question about how you actually change the culture of an organization, once you’ve identified the direction you want the culture to head. We talked about the model of a collaborative organization – changing from traditional hierarchical organizations to a collaborative model (one of the things IISC works with organizations regularly to do). Gibran then started talking about how, in actuality, much of what’s being done technologically needs to be replicated in person – dispersed leadership, emergent thinking and self-organized, network approaches rather than centralized, hierarchical decision-making. So the question is: what would it take to really unleash the potential of individuals to create and implement projects that bring about real change – and what organizational structure would support this? Read the rest of this entry »

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We Must Tend Our Planet

For those of you unfamiliar, here is IISC‘s first animation. Inspired by Antoine de St.-Exupery’s “The Little Prince”. What do you think?!

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Jul/01/09//Linda Guinee//IISC:Inside

Streamlining Meetings in Twenty Words or Less

Had a fun conversation today with Jessica Lipnack and Jeff Stamps about some ideas about how we might improve meetings. (20)

Jessica asked me, “what if, in meetings, everyone had to keep comments to 20 words – a la Twitter’s 140 characters?”

I laugh tonight, thinking of our Irish colleagues’ comments about American verbosity, how they’d love it if we did this. (20)

Would English be the standard? Or Spanish? Something else? Would we need the same number of words in every language? (20)

I’m not sure I’ll be able to just talk in a meeting again. I’ll probably count out the words first. (20)

What would happen if we did this (even for an hour)? I’m ready to try. Thanks again, Jessica and Jeff! (20)

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Jun/15/09//Marianne Hughes//IISC:Inside

Where To Go

Like most of our clients IISC is answering the most daunting of organizational questions: Where are we? Where we do we want to go? And how are we going to get there? In other words, what’s our strategy? What is the roadmap that we can use to guide our collective action in the next three years? And while ever believing that we had a handle on the future was an illusion at best, the next three year time frame poses a level of uncertainty that can just knock your socks off.

The economic crisis in and of itself would be enough to challenge the best of strategic thinkers but the fact that we are moving through a global systems breakdown and the complete rewiring of who we are and how we function in the connected age takes the challenge to the 10th power.

And, so we are experimenting on ourselves in the hope that we can create a strategy development process that is short, sweet and doable and that we can bring to the sector.

Strategy guru, Henry Mintzberg, dedicates his book, Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour Through The Wilds of Strategic Management, to people interested in open fields rather than closed cages by quoting the introduction to Winnie-the-Pooh (Pooh Original Edition):

“There are some people who begin the Zoo at the beginning, called Way In, and walk as quickly as they can past every cage until they come to the one called Way Out, but the nicest people go straight to the animal they love the most, and stay there.”

We are in the open fields and looking for the animal we love the most. We will share our journey as it continues to unfold.

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