“Narratives can create a very different world, one where pressure evolves from a source of stress to a source of excitement, calling us to achieve even more of our potential, both as individuals and collectively.”
Conferences and other large in-person convenings provide a great opportunity to launch and further develop networks for social change. As has been mentioned previously on this blog, and borrowing from the good work of Plastrik and Taylor, at IISC we see networks for change as developing in various inter-related dimensions, including connectivity, alignment, and action. Paying attention to these dimensions of success can inform a variety of approaches to support a more robust, trust-bound, commonly-oriented, self-organizing and (as needed) formally coordinated collective.
What if the goods of today became the resources of tomorrow?
Regular readers of this blog know that I am particularly interested in living systems and networks and how they can inform how we approach our change work so that it is more in synch with how life works. This video is very much in alignment with my interests and ongoing inquiry, and while focused primarily on the economy and production, IMHO it has implications for all areas of focus for social change. Some of the provocative questions it raises include the following: Read the rest of this entry »
Another story about what can happen when we fail to hold a broader systemic view in our social change work . . . I was working with a food system-focused network the other day and the good news was reported that great strides have been made in reducing food waste, in large part because distributors and retailers are doing a much better job of tracking inventory and fitting it better to consumer demand.
On the other hand, it was also reported that this spells a real challenge for the “emergency food” world and food banks, which have been largely dependent upon excess food to provide for the growing number of people who are food insecure. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the roles that I’ve found to be particularly helpful in coaching collaborative initiatives and groups over the long-term is to help people understand that as a collective, they are unique. That is, like every living being, each group has its own distinct qualities and personality and for groups who have not worked together before, part of the early work is getting a better sense of who we are together and how we want to be together. We cannot simply assume that what worked with one collaborative will work with another. We have to honor history and other contextual factors as well as work to find was is real and essential about this living system. Read the rest of this entry »
Once upon a time there was a funder. This funder had been working for almost a decade to strengthen local community efforts to improve early childhood development opportunities and outcomes around the state. The communities appreciated and were grateful for this support, and the number of community collaboratives grew.
At the same time, in the face of persistent and racialized inequities, recognition was growing that something more was needed to hold these local efforts together, to harness and connect them, and to align state-level efforts with community needs and aspirations. So a call went out from the various communities to the funder to help do something about this. The funder responded, cautiously, and engaged in “listening” sessions with communities and advocates. And it reached out to some potential resources, including IISC, to explore what might be done. Read the rest of this entry »
This video makes it clear how wonderfully complex and interconnected life is. ‘Trophic cascades’ invite us to consider how changes in one part of a living system can change other elements of the system and the system as a whole. How did wolves change the behavior of rivers in Yellowstone Park? Check it out.
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 »
When I take time to slow down, as I was able to do over the holiday break last week, my interest is refueled in practices that support our ability to maintain perspective and a sense of effective agency in the world. My line of inquiry is not simply around what can keep us energized, pull us back from the edge, or deal with burn-out, but focused on how we can align our internal state with external aspirations in an integrated way and grow ourselves so we can help evolve larger systems. My thinking and reading often takes me back to the work of Barbara Fredrickson, the emotions scientist based at the University of North Carolina, as well as to a host of others in the fields of positive and social psychology. Having revisited some of these writings over the break, here are 10 recommended practices for personal and social resilience and development: Read the rest of this entry »
“Much of what we think of as ‘rules’ are really just traditions and habits and assumptions that don’t get challenged until some new kid comes along who really doesn’t see the value of dying at the office or getting punched in the head, just because everyone else has.”
Thanks to Laura Moorehead of the Institute for Civic Leadership for sharing this resource with us. Jason Clarke is the founder of Minds At Work, and has been consulting to government and industry for nearly 30 years. In this talk, Mr. Clarke raises a number of interesting points about overcoming resistance to or ambivalence about change. I especially like his approach of helping people move from what is perceived as negative about change to what is interesting to what is positive. Meet people where they are and help them find that space between what is “good” and “bad”- the space of “unusual” or “different.” This is the space of artistry and innovation.
During his presentation at this week’s Council of Foundations Conference for Community Foundations, the Monitor Institute’s Gabriel Kasper talked about the need for innovation in community philanthropy. This included a call to examine orthodoxy in our organizations and communities, that is, the behaviors and procedures that we often take for granted with respect to the way we go about our business. This notion of orthodoxy was developed by the innovation firm Doblin and is further outlined in an article in Rotman Magazine. Gabriel then encouraged attendees to, essentially, “steal like an artist.” So in that spirit, I wanted to share the plenary exercise he had participants go through that I am particularly interested in bringing to some of the networks with which I work: Read the rest of this entry »
How often do you hear people saying they wish they were better at multitasking? And what percentage of the people surrounding you on the subway or on the sidewalk or waiting in line for something are peering into their smartphones? Read the rest of this entry »
The following is a segment of a blog post from Pamela Mang that appeared on edge::regenerate. Pamela references the newest book from Daniel Pink, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. In particular she highlights a section on the Pixar formula for storytelling, and how this can help us to frame our change work in engaging ways. I have also found it very helpful for getting people to open their minds to complex initiatives and imagine what it would take to really shift things. This can often be a humbling experience, in positive ways, and can lift up the importance of reaching out to others, taking a holistic approach, and speaking to both hearts and minds . . . Read the rest of this entry »
Some very compelling points are made by Carol Sanford stemming from her work with “responsible businesses” about the importance of how people understand accountability. She cites pscyhological research that suggests that having a sense of personal responsibility for outcomes (or an “internal locus of control”), whether those outcomes are good or bad, equates with higher degrees of happiness, health, and creativity. The converse occurs when people attribute success and failure to outside forces. ”Only when people are accountable for their own decisions can they develop the rigor and discipline called for in high-quality decision making,” Sanford writes. Read the rest of this entry »
“The trickster is anybody who’s a bit of an outsider. They’re the ones who make change. They’re not thinking about making change; they’re almost doing it in a selfish way. But because they’re working outside the rules, they change the rules. Everything around them is always new, everything is an opportunity.”
Over the long weekend, my wife and I spent some time looking through the archives of old TED talks and stumbled upon a great one from humorist-philosopher Emily Levine where she talks about the important role of the trickster in facilitating change. Read the rest of this entry »
My colleagues and I find ourselves in many rooms with change agents of different generations. Occasionally we will see conflict arise around differing styles and approaches. Older generations may lean heavily on the notion that “this is the way we’ve always done it” or that new means and methods (social media, for example) are just a passing trend. Younger generations may look at their elders as out of touch with the times, lacking in a new analysis, etc. Thus, even when a common goal is held, an attitudinal gap can result in an unwillingness to work with and learn from one another. Read the rest of this entry »
The following post was written by IISC friend Beth Tener, principal of New Directions Collaborative, with whom I’ve had the privilege of working over the past few years on a few different sustainability-related network building efforts. Beth and I share a keen interest in supporting the development of new economic structures and flows that bring resources back to communities and keep value grounded in real and sustainable ways. You can follow more of Beth’s insights on her blog.
A friend handed me a copy of Marjorie Kelly’s new book Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution; Journeys to a Generative Economy and said he thought it was so good that he had bought a case of them to share with colleagues and friends. By the time I was 50 pages into the book, I had a similar impulse to buy a case. Kelly was the editor of Business Ethics magazine for 20 years and now works at Tellus Institute and has spent years considering how to reform corporations and create enterprises that are socially responsible.
I was recently turned on to the work of Louise Diamond by the Plexus Institute. Diamond has been bringing insights from the dynamics of complex systems to peace building work for many years. Her efforts connect to a growing number of practitioners and thinkers who see the need to approach social change with an ecological and evolutionary mindset. In one of her papers, she extracts some of the “simple rules” that yield core practices for working in this way. Here I have adapted and adjusted some of them in application to network building for food systems change. Read the rest of this entry »
A number of months ago, I posted something on what I called “The Dimensions of Social Space,” the gist of which was the proposal that we are called to tend to different dimensions of our social being in our change work – the autonomous/individual, the communal/collective, and the transcendant/”divine.” When I wrote that post, I was thinking of these as three interlocking circles in a ven diagram. I have since evolved my thinking to see them as systems sitting in nested fashion, going from the lesser (individual) to the greater (divinity) in terms of complexity. Much of this development owes to the field of living systems thinking and the mentoring of Carol Sanford. Read the rest of this entry »
I had a unique opportunity the other day with a client to do a little year end reflection about the path we have walked with a complex multi-stakeholder change process, which has featured a dive into systems thinking thanks to IISC friend David Peter Stroh. David was actually the one who put the question out there, “What have you gained as a result of adopting a systems thinking lens?” Here is some of what came up in terms of gleanings and appreciation:
“Are you a sophist?” I’ve been wrestling with that question for several weeks, at the invitation of Carol Sanford. Carol points out how many of us in the helping professions have fallen into the habit of trying to provide well-intended inspiration and advice to others at the expense of diminishing their capability. She likes to tell the story of Socrates’ awakening to what would often happen to those who listened to the Sophists preach in ancient Greece – people would leave inspired, and keep coming back for more. At a certain point, many of these “followers,” after seeing increasingly diminished returns, would become demoralized and convinced that they would never be able to reach the heights that were suggested in the speeches and sermons they heard. So Socrates took a different tack. He sought to help others grow by asking questions that helped them to move and take control of their own development. Read the rest of this entry »
Seeing the words “Critical Systems Heuristics” may tempt you to run screaming from this post, but please hang in there while I distill what this important framework and addition to the systems thinking body of work has to offer our social change efforts! CSH is attributed to Swiss social scientist Werner Ulrich and his efforts to bring critical analysis to the boundaries that we construct around and within systems. Far from being primordial, these boundaries and divisions are an expression of what people see and value from their particular perspectives. As Ulrich writes, ” The methodological core idea [of CSH] is that all problem definitions, proposals for improvement, and evaluations of outcomes depend on prior judgments about the relevant whole system to be looked at.” His effort is to help make these boundary judgments explicit so that both those affected by and those implementing such judgements might see alternatives that better serve the whole. Read the rest of this entry »
A couple of days ago my colleague Cynthia Parker blogged about the challenge and importance of staying connected across political divides. The conversation that has ensued seems especially relevant to where we stand right now, the day after the elections, faced with what some fear will be an increasingly polarized country. No matter where we may fall along political lines, there are strong feelings on all sides about what is the “right” direction for our country and how to get there. In this increasingly mediatized world, it is very tempting and easy to stand behind our computers and cast aspersions at one another. And all this does is continue to fray the already worn social fabric. How do we continue to recognize that we are all in this together, like it or not, and that respecting our collective humanity is a baseline for progress? Read the rest of this entry »
I want to tip my hat to mentors and thought partners, both near and far, for fueling my thinking around the topic of this post – thanks to Carol Sanford, Richard Hawkes and Tom Lombardi at Growth River, Glenda Eoyang, Richard Barrett, and my IISC colleague Gibran Rivera. There is much discussion in the social sectors these days about the need to be more fearless, to take risks, to fail early, to be innovative and vulnerable. Influenced by my colleagues, I like to frame all of this as being about our need to think and act more “vertically,” that is, with an evolutionary thrust, in the direction of personal and systemic growth and development, opportunity generation, and a sense of accountability to a greater community or “we.” Read the rest of this entry »
The older I get the more of an appreciation I have for science. Perhaps this is the natural balancing process that occurs over time in my Myers Briggs profile – more T to my natural F, more S to my natural N. It also owes to the impatience I have with the tendency I’ve noticed to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to social change. Two examples I’d like to lift up are thinking about and reactions to consensus and hierarchy. As I become more influenced by research into living systems, I realize that these concepts are often given a bad name because of our tendency to take (or make) things very personally. Read the rest of this entry »
“Ninety per cent of the world’s woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves – so how can we know anyone else?”
- Sydney J. Harris
Recently I was in a conversation with an acquaintance who is a real estate agent. We started bantering about houses and communities that would fit our values and lifestyle/family goals. At a certain point, she said, “You know, we can dream all we want, but as we like to say in real estate, ‘buyers are liars.’” In response to my baffled look, she added, “Most people think they know what they want, but I find you really have to take people out into the field, ask a lot of questions, show them a bunch of options, and see how they respond.” Turns out people often end up in a somewhat or completely different place from their originally stated aspirations. Read the rest of this entry »
The following is a re-post from Dan Rockwell’s blog, Leadership Freak. It is timely in that the past few weeks I have worked with a number of clients where questions about how to deal with difficult people and emotions have been on the top of people’s minds. One of my first responses to these questions is to say that we should make sure not to leap to immediately making it all about the people. As we like to say at IISC, often people problems are process problems in disguise. And there is no denying that emotions can get high at times and that there are those people who seem to want to bring spice to what might seem to be the most bland of situations. So what do you do? Over to Dan . . .Read the rest of this entry »
Over the past couple of years, I have learned much from Carol Sanford, organizational consultant and author of The Responsible Business. This includes a deeper understanding of the word “responsibility.” Often this term has a burdensome association with it, as in, “with great freedom comes great responsibility.” Here are a couple of definitions that come up when you Google the term:
The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something.
The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.
“Society, community, and family are all conserving institutions. They try to maintain stability and to prevent, or at least to slow, change. But the modern organization is a de-stabilizer. It must be organized for innovation and innovation, as the great Austro-American economist Joseph Schumpeter said, is “creative destruction.” And it must be organized for the systematic abandonment of whatever is established, customary, familiar, and comfortable, whether that is a product, service, or process; a set of skills; human and social relationships; or the organization itself. In short, it must be organized for constant change.”
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.
Kim and I planted the garden a couple of weeks ago, and this year I decided to start from seed. What a miraculous thing! When I spied the first little green shoots poking up through the soil, I stood in awe and wonderment. How could it be that a tiny dry speck, when put in the ground and watered becomes a green and living thing in a matter of days? Wow!
This post is a slightly edited email message from Bart Westdijk of the New England Grassroots Environment Fund (NEGEF). NEGEF has 16 years experience resourcing the grassroots, thousands of citizen-led environmental and civic engagement initiatives around New England. Bart spearheads some of the amazing work the Fund is doing in the virtual and social media spheres to better connect grantees, add value in new ways, and create a larger sense of movement. Exciting new ventures include an emerging crowdfunding initative with ioby and a grassroots leadership skills building academy. Keeping in the spirit of NEGEF’s emphasis on collaboration, networks, and partnership for social change, Bart sheds some light on the concept of scenius . . . Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been enjoying David Rock’s Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work, a book that pulls from neuroscience literature in an attempt to help us understand ourselves better, and to create new pathways to creativity, productivity, and . . . social change! Rock leads with the idea that the highest point of leverage to help someone change behavior is at the level of their thinking – to help them think better for themselves. He goes on to illustrate how what we pay attention to and how largely determines the content and quality of our lives. This includes the way that we pay attention to problems. Read the rest of this entry »
The post below is a repost of a piece by Kathia Laszlo on the “Rethinking Complexity” blog from Saybrook University. It captures a lot of what I am exploring these days about systems thinking as an intellectual exercise to greater embodiment of doing systemically. Enjoy!
A system is a set of interconnected elements which form a whole and show properties which are properties of the whole rather than of the individual elements. This definition is valid for a cell, an organism, a society, or a galaxy. Joanna Macy says that a system is less a thing than a pattern—a pattern of organization. Read the rest of this entry »
Last weekend, while on school vacation with my family, my wife Emily and I went to hear Richard Louv speak at McKee Gardens in Vero Beach, Florida. If you don’t know him, Louv wrote the books The Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle and is a big advocate for getting kids and adults outdoors to overcome what we calls “nature deficit disorder.” I have heard him speak in the past, and very much appreciate his work. That said, I was a bit troubled by the public comment session and conversation after his talk. Read the rest of this entry »
This post comes courtesy of our friends at the National Bitter Melon Council (NBMC) – Jeremy Liu (also a board member here at IISC) and Hiroko Kikuchi. NBMC is devoted to the cultivation of a vibrant, diverse community through the promotion and distribution of Bitter Melon. Its projects, events, and festivals celebrate the health, social, culinary, and creative possibilities of this underappreciated vegetable and of embracing bitterness as a key to personal and community change.
Everyone experiences bitterness. We all deal with it; often in ways that are counter to addressing the bitterness, by denying, rejecting, or repressing the emotions, and/or our loss and our attachment to loss that create our bitterness. The need to actively address our bitterness is profound. Read the rest of this entry »
At the end of last year, I posted a piece about our work with an early childhood system change initiative through the Graustein Memorial Fund in Connecticut. At the time we were exploring different formats and technologies for creating a new “system blueprint” for early childhood development in the state. Our post and related tweets asked for possible resources to conceptualize and create a living blueprint for this dynamic system, and I wanted to give an update about what we have heard so far and where we stand in our conversations.
As the Core Team has engaged in its research about all this, we’ve realized that there are three separate but possibly connected aspects to this “blueprint”conversation”: Read the rest of this entry »
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:
Next Tuesday, my colleague Gibran Rivera and I are excited to lead a webinar hosted by our friends at the Leadership Learning Community called “If You Till It They Will Come: Nurturing Collective Leadership.” The above slide is a bit of a sneak peak, and certainly one of the headier, nonetheless important, elements we will cover. The idea behind this graphic comes from the work of Carol Sanford, who has highlighted the fact that our leadership and change methodologies are always grounded in an underlying belief system about what we hold to be true about the world and humanity. Not being aware of or transparent about this can get us into difficulty when we are mixing and matching techniques/methods that may contradict one another, or when we are not operating from the same system of beliefs as others. So here is how we are tracing the roots of our approach to cultivating collective leadership for social change: Read the rest of this entry »
I spent time over the break reading through Howard Bloom’s robust Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century. Described as a “lusty tome” by evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis, the book is an exploration of history through the lens of group rather than simply individual selection. Bloom’s concept of collective information processing is eye-opening, provocative, and possibility-inspiring. It is also very timely given the growing emphasis on networks and collective approaches to change. Here is a taste, found in the opening pages:Read the rest of this entry »
One of the many things I like about celebrating New Year’s Day is that for a moment in time the awareness of millions of people is simultaneously focused on the same point of transition. We conspire to create an opening. We align ourselves with the cycle of the planets. We leap into a future that is necessarily new.
I’m not big on apocalypse or fear mongering. But I am often in awe of the stars. 2012 is going to be a big year for the stars. We’ll hear a lot of silliness, but creative are good alchemists. Let’s allow ourselves to toy with the idea of transition – of shift, of developmental leaps.
I have previously written in this space about a state-wide early childhood system change effort in Connecticut, for which my colleague Melinda Weekes and I are currently serving as the lead process designers and facilitators. For the past year, we have been engaged in a robust and somewhat emergent process of exploring some of the underlying systemic dynamics surrounding early childhood development and care in the state, and beginning to re-imagine that system, in all of its complexity as it holds the vision of nurturing whole children, from informal to formal elements, from grassroots to grasstops.
At this point, we are poised to think more deeply about what it would mean to create a “blueprint” for that system, acknowledging that this blueprint could never cover every component and dynamic in the system, nor would we want it to be static. Read the rest of this entry »
“I am enthusiastic over humanity’s extraordinary and sometimes very timely ingenuities.
If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat may come along and make a fortuitous life preserver. This is not to say, though, that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top.
I think we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings as constituting the only means for solving a given problem.”
A few months ago I posted a piece entitled “Negativity and Self-Limiting Advocacy,” which seemed to get a lot of play in the 2.0 sphere. The gist of the entry was that negative mindsets limit our view of possibilities and can wall us off into tried and not so trustworthy ways of being and doing on the social change front. John Hagel, author of The Power of Pull, posted the entry below on his Edge Perspective site this week, which extends this conversation to thinking about how our responses to the prevalent uncertainty surrounding us have a lot to say about our future economic and ecological well-being.I really appreciate his focus on narrative, especially on the heels of attending New Ventures West’s introductory course on integral coaching, and I am excited to think more about how we can co-create new and liberating narratives and “platforms” that bring into being the regenerative future that is waiting to emerge more fully. I would also add to Hagel’s assessment at the end by suggesting that beyond young people, there is much hope and wisdom to be found in those who have been most marginalized by the dominant culture and yet have found ways to walk in and hold onto two worlds, to survive and to thrive. And to take note of and learn from the wisdom of life.
We live in a world of increasing pressure and uncertainty, driven in large part by digital technology infrastructures. These marvelous infrastructures bring us unprecedented connectivity and opportunities to better ourselves. Read the rest of this entry »
Given my interest in living systems theory and practice, I’ve been very excited to learn more recently about sociocracy. I was tipped off by Beth Tener of New Direction Collaborative who passed along a book suggestion in We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy by John Buck and Sharon Villines, which serves as a guide to sociocratic principles and methods. A unique method of governance, sociocracy applies scientific understandings of how the world works through open systems thinking and complexity to creating more self-organizing, self-correcting, inclusive and efficient organizations. Read the rest of this entry »
Today I’ll once again have to turn to Kevin Kelly, our contemporary sage of the technium. His recent blog post “Why the Impossible Happens More Often” is a must read and it is extensively quoted below. For a long time I have been trying to make the point that what is happening in the web is not just about social media and new technology – it is about us, and how we are with each other.
Last week’s post on “Negativity and Self-Limiting Advocacy” ended up setting off quite a conversation. In light of that, I thought I might further flesh out some of what Barbara Fredrickson recommends via her book Positivity in a chapter entitled “A New Toolkit.” Here she enumerates ways to enhance overall positivity, and therefore broaden our individual and collective minds, build resourcefulness and resilience, and flourish in the direction of our highest aspirations. Here is what she suggests, based on rigorous research: Read the rest of this entry »
The physicist Fritjof Capra, founder of the Elmwood Institute, tells the story about a meeting convened years ago by him and his colleagues with a group of Native American elders and thought leaders to explore different perspectives around ecological thinking. From the outset, the gathering was marked by some suspicion towards the Elmwood group, given the historic dynamics of exploitation. The meeting opened with a round of introductions, and an Okanagan woman from British Columbia was first to speak. She began by stating the tribe from which she came and then described the landscape where the tribe lives. She then talked about her father’s and paternal grandparents’ origins, in similar detail, and continued with a description of where her mother and maternal grandparents’ came from. In the end, she linked each family member not just to a named geographic location, but also an illustration of the associated rivers, mountains, plants, and animals. “This is who I am,” she said, wrapping up. “The features of the land determine my conduct, responsibility, and ethics. Now I want to know to whom I am talking, before I say anything else of substance. And I don’t want to hear the books you’ve read, the degrees you’ve obtained, or the organizations you are a part of.” Read the rest of this entry »
In our Whole Measures workshop, we come to a point when participants realize that the promise of learning how to “measure what matters most” is not a case of digesting “best practices.” This is often a difficult moment, one fraught with frustration, but also the beginnings of insight (or a reminder) that we are each part of a gradual unfolding that is unique depending upon our particular context, and that to simply embrace some kind of cookie-cutter method of measuring health and wholeness is futile. This is so, in part, because before we measure what matters most, we must determine what matters most, and this changes from system to system. Furthermore, it is no easy task of discernment. Often people are good at setting goals, or talking abstractly about “values,” but this does not always equate with getting to heart of what is most meaningful to us, as demonstrated by the lives we actually live or our hearts’ deepest desires. One of the best processes we’ve found for doing this is to embrace storytelling. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week I blogged from Knoll Farm in Fayson, VT, where I was serving as a co-trainer of our Whole Measures workshop, which we offer in partnership with the Center for Whole Communities. In that post I reflected on the connection that the Knoll Farm site creates between people, and between people and land. A remarkable aspect of the Farm is its intentional design, in that its human-made elements naturally work with and build upon the contours of the landscape and draw people’s attention to certain dynamics that reflect essential truths. An example is the large yurt, that sits on an outcropping at the end of an old logging road. It is a welcome (and welcoming) sight as one rounds the bend having climbed a fairly long steep incline. Its brown and green colors integrate nicely with the forested landscape, and its very structure invites one into contemplation about the life that surrounds it and with which it is in relationship. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m writing this post from Quincy, Massachusetts where I’m attending the International Conference on Complex Systems. My head is very full and there is much to process that will no doubt spur further posts. A question I brought with me into these proceedings is what we are learning from complexity (in fields such as systems biology, network theory, epidemiology) about developing stronger collective regenerative capacity, the ability to work with each other and our various contexts in order to both survive and thrive (co-evolve). So here is a first take, in alliterative fashion: Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve spent a few blog posts over the last year or so looking at how the research around positive emotions and outlooks connects with more effective collaboration and change work (see “Accentuate the Positivity”: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). Just a couple of weeks ago, inspired by Erik Gregory’s LeaderLens presentation, I considered the connection between positive leadership and sustainability, looking at the way in which the creation of positive environments might lead to greater adaptive capacity. Having recently explored more of the research of psychologist Barbara Frederickson, I see a greater case to be made for maintaining positive outlooks, individually and collectively, as they increase our ability to engage in creatively adaptive and regenerative work at deeper systemic levels. Read the rest of this entry »
A couple of weeks ago I was an enthusiastic participant in our sister organization Interaction Associate’s most recent offering in their LeaderLens webinar series. The featured presenter was Erik Gregory, a specialist in positive psychology. With roots in the theories and practices of Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Erich Fromm, positive psychology focuses on the study of human strength and virtue, rather than pathology. This includes looking at what explains resiliency, courage, optimism, and hope, even in the most daunting of circumstances. Read the rest of this entry »
There is some exciting work happening through the Institute of Noetic Sciences called the Worldview Literacy Project. This initiative seeks to help students understand from a relatively young age what a worldview is, where worldviews come from, and the potential for switching and/or holding multiple views. Given that fundamental change is rooted in our mindsets and preconceived notions about what is and can be, this project would seem to hold great promise. Judge for yourself by listening to these remarkable young people and future (or perhaps current) change agents.
The most important tool in that leadership technology is the emerging Self – the leader’s highest future possibility. Theory U is based on the assumption that each human being and each human community is not one but two: one is the current self, the person that exists as the result of a past journey; the other is the Self, the self that we could become as the result of our future journey. Presencing is the process of the (current) self and the (emerging) Self listening to each other.
“Let’s all keep an open mind” How many times have you heard that one? How often has it worked? Keeping an open mind is not as easy as following a ground rule once it has been stated, specially not in a culture where we are rewarded for being right – for knowing. Read the rest of this entry »
Sometimes it takes science a little time to catch up with the world’s wisdom traditions. Recent research findings from a couple of Harvard psychologists, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, confirm what meditation and mindfulness practitioners have long known – our ability to stay focused in the present has a strong correlation with contentment. Using data collected from a specially designed iPhone application, the researchers report that people spend nearly 47 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what’s happening in front of them. Furthermore, they find that, “Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness. How often our minds leave the present, and where they tend to go, is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.” You still with me? Read the rest of this entry »
(1) The leadership process requires three movements: (1) establishing the horizontal connection (“observe, observe, observe”), (2) establishing the vertical connection (“connecting to Source”), and (3) acting from what emerges in the Now (“acting in an instant”).
I am a huge fan of C. Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. It is one of the most powerful frameworks for understanding the essential shifts we need to make as we step into this paradigm shift. Scharmer sums up his Theory U with seven propositions, I’m going to write a series of blog posts taking a closer look at each of them: Read the rest of this entry »
Systems thinking is in the air. This past weekend I was delighted to have the opportunity to teach an introductory course on the topic with John McGah of Give Us Your Poor. Together we took 17 graduate students in the UMass-Boston MSPA program through an intensive and interactive look at the world through the systems lens. Even before we got things rolling on Saturday morning, the pre-reading (Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems) had provoked two people to say that they were already seeing the world differently (and more clearly). By the end of our 36 hour romp, which included guest presentations by David Peter Stroh and Paul Plotczyk, students were saying that all public sector employees, nay EVERYONE, should be required to take a systems thinking course. All of this enthusiasm comes just a week in advance of Pegasus Communications’ annual systems thinking conference here in Boston, which has a focus on “Fueling New Cycles of Success.” I am very excited to attend, and look forward to building upon the wisdom I’ve gleaned thus far about surfacing and living with systems (human and otherwsie), which includes these gems: Read the rest of this entry »
This week I’ve been rereading Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systemsand really savoring it. Each time I look at it, I pick up something new, not just about systems thinking but about life in general. I’ve been focused primarily on Meadows’ chapter “Living in a World of Systems,” which considers how we can work with complex systems while acknowledging that even when we understand them better, we cannot predict or control them. One of her suggestions is that we learn to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable. This is not a question of throwing out what we can quantify as being somehow overly reductionist. Rather, it is a matter of not giving up on what we cannot measure and making quantity more important than quality. How important this is for our social change work! Read the rest of this entry »
Picking up from yesterday’s post, the question I left off with was how do change agents identify and work with patterns in complex human systems where control and predictability are elusive. This is where Holladay and Quade offer up Glenda Eoyang’s CDE Model. This model names three different conditions that change agents can analyze and work with to shift constraints within a system so that it can achieve more optimal fit with (and thrive in) its environment. Below are an explanation of these conditions and examples of what can be done to either tighten or decrease constraints in the direction of more organized or unorganized surrounds. Read the rest of this entry »
What do you do when you cannot control or predict? For many people I’m sure this question raises just a little bit of anxiety. After all, having some sense of autonomy and mastery is reported as being key to our mental well-being. And yet increasingly we find ourselves in complex and changing situations that are beyond our grasp and where the outcome is very much uncertain. Of course this is not the case with everything. Some of our work falls within the ordered realm. But how do we work outside of this tidy zone? Read the rest of this entry »
I was recently sorting through some of my thoughts and feelings about complexity and social change when I arrived at a question to gnaw on – What is the difference between taking an “emergent” versus a “quantum” approach to complex problems? We are told that complexity does not lend itself to existing, linear, cause-and-effect responses. The multiplicity of factors contributing to complexity make it difficult for traditional kinds of expertise to grasp. So what is one (or many) to do? Read the rest of this entry »
Another school year begins and with it we students of life are filled with excitement and perhaps some nervousness about what will be asked of us. For me, I look forward to work that will keep me deeply aligned with purpose and, yes, challenged. No doubt there will be moments when my outlook will be buffeted. I will admit to being someone who in the genetic cortical lottery was not bestowed the rose colored glasses. It’s not that I didn’t get a winning ticket, I just have to work for my earnings.
We have Clary Shirky talking about Cognitive Surplus and the distinction between communal benefit and civic benefit when it comes to collaborative action. We have Daniel Pink talking about Drive and the search for meaning which inspired me to write about the Purpose Bubble. And just last week here on the IISC Blog, my friend and colleague Curtis Ogden was talking about the need “to recognize the change capacity of the marketplace” and creating mechanisms to reclaim markets.
I was alerted to this slide show by the Leadership Learning Community, for which I am most grateful. I appreciate how it brings together considerations of complexity and living systems for organizational leaders.
Our colleagues at Interaction Associates have done some wonderful work on the importance of trust in the workplace and what leaders can do to cultivate this, especially under uncertain circumstances the likes of which seem to be omnipresent these days. More recently, former IBMer Irving Wladawsky-Berger has taken this conversation to a new level in a post that looks at trust as “the most important operational resource in our society.” In our increasingly complex, interconnected, and distributed world, he says, one’s reputation as an individual or institution is foundational to what we might call success. This observation contributes to his sense that we are in the midst of a values-based generational transition as potentially profound as the sixties.
Without rehashing the entire post here (I encourage you to read it in its entirety by going to this link), I want to point out some of the more interesting parts and ask what folk engaged in the social sectors and social change work think Read the rest of this entry »
Since February I’ve been experiencing back pain in a constant and distracting (though not quite incapacitating) way, a result of having poor posture at the computer, not taking enough breaks while sitting, lifting too many small children, and being another year older. A couple of months ago I went to a chiropractor and he did his best to wrench me back into alignment. This worked for a few days, and then things were back as they were. I enlisted the help of a “deep tissue” masseuse who went after my back muscles with steady steam rolling force. Again, for a few days I was on top of the world, and then it was back to square one. Then, about two weeks ago, I started seeing a physical therapist, who has given me some gentle stretches and postural shifts and done light massage on my left shoulder. Et voila, real progress! Small and subtle shifts have yielded major and lasting results.
One of our consultants just wrote the following e-mail to our team here at IISC. I thought it would be a good idea to put the question out to our readers – any thoughts?
I am wondering if you might have ideas about two things:
1. How to introduce systems thinking to a group – simply…
2. What questions you might ask when trying to identify leverage points in a planning process?
Context: The group has gathered a lot of anecdotal information, the intention is to gather additional information on best practices and research, however, we are not there yet. So how to begin to identify levers when we don’t have the benefit of having all data?
“If you bring the appropriate people together in
constructive ways with good information, they will create
authentic visions and strategies to address the shared concerns of their organization or community.”
Clearly I am no Chris Jordan. Thankfully, along with the talented and committed Mr. Jordan, there is a group of conscientious elementary school students in Grafton, VT who have taken it upon themselves to create the kind of display captured in my home movie above that conveys in a visceral what our reliance upon plastic bags means in this country. The students strung together 2,662 bags, enough to ring two large fields. This is the number of bags that Americans are calculated to dispose of each second.
“Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need, and beauty to produce something the world didn’t know it was missing.”
The other day I was clearing out some file drawers at the office in advanced preparation for our impending move into Boston this summer, when I came across a 17 year old paper written by Interaction Associates founder David Straus. This paper’s date times with the founding year of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and speaks to the longer historical roots of the Interaction methods that IISC and IA share. As I read the paper, what struck me most was David’s very early recognition of the interconnections between design, thinking, and cognition.
Last Thursday my IA colleagues Ashley Welch and Andy Atkins and I teamed up with David McConville of The Elumenati and Ned Gardiner of NOAA to take a group of cross-sectoral leaders and thinkers on a unique journey. This trip included a visit to the outer edges of our universe, passing through our solar system, galaxy, and neighboring galactic bodies. Then, out of breath, we zoomed back in to take a new look at our planet Earth through the lens and visualized overlay of data about our terrestrial home – warming trends, population density, biodiversity and traffic patterns. Welcome to the GeoDome!
If you have been paying any attention to the national political scene, you know that in these days of no compromise everything seems to balance on the mathematics of the US Senate. Given the latest equation, it was no small deal to learn that Senator Evan Bayh will not be running for re-election. About a month ago he wrote a New York Times opinion piece that has been on my mind since then – Why I’m Leaving the Senate.
The piece is worth reading in full, but here is the part that inspired this post:
Any improvement must begin by changing the personal chemistry among senators. More interaction in a non-adversarial atmosphere would help… It shouldn’t take a constitutional crisis or an attack on the nation to create honest dialogue in the Senate. Let’s start with a simple proposal: why not have a monthly lunch of all 100 senators?
In a recent conversation with professors and students at Savannah College of Art and Design’s Design Management program, I was asked to share what we at IISC mean when we use the phrase “design thinking” in social change initiatives. Talking with vocational designers about designing for social change was a very different conversation from conversations with change agents and activists on the same topic. I subsequently came across this insightful blog entry by interaction designer Dan Saffer, “Thinking about Design Thinking”, and although he does not apply a social change agenda to his thinking here, he helps lay out distinctive features of what designers mean by the term “design thinking” as follows (we can apply the social change lens on our own): Read the rest of this entry »
In a previous post I referenced the work of Marcial Losada, which indicates that elevated group performance is associated in part with a high degree of “positivity.” Specifically, groups that excel in terms of innovation and productivity tend to be those where there is at least a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. The importance of this ratio has been further highlighted by some other findings and experiences I have had working with community-based activists.
It sounds simple, but I increasingly find the idea that “happiness matters” an important principle to remember. Understanding that happiness matters gives us a great lens with which to evaluate our efforts. As I go about the work of social transformation – am I happy? Are the people I work with happy? I hope it’s obvious that I’m not equating happiness with the cheap thrills that are abundantly available to us in this age of hyper-capitalism. I’m talking about the happiness that is defined by a sustainable sense of contentment.
I am talking about being happy even as we engage the often challenging work of social transformation in a world that desperately needs it. I often say to activists that miserable faces of martyred frustration often are, in and of themselves, the best argument against being in movement with those that want a better world. I contrast this experience to the abundance of song and dance that defined the struggle to put an end to South African Apartheid.
If you don’t have four minutes, make them! Here is one of the simplest explanations of the Cynefin framework and it is one of the most useful ways to understand the shift that we must make in the social sector. I start most of my client work by arguing that the problem we are facing in the sector is that our system has been developed to address complex problems as if they were complicated. For example, our urban public schools are trying to teach many kids who might be facing hunger, trauma, violence, lack of documentation and a myriad other social ills, but we are spending our time arguing about curricula and standardized tests.
Legion are not just the excuses but the explanations behind the excuses for not living up to our annual New Year’s resolutions. I know these excuses and theorizing about the real reasons for my failings quite well. And yet this year I remain hopeful that I will have more success in honoring my commitments, thanks in part to the work of Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. In their book Immunity to Change, the authors lay out a handy set of questions that I believe shed valuable insight on how individuals and groups might hold themselves more accountable to genuine and realistic change aspirations.
In analyzing the pattern of a failed change effort, Kegan and Lahey suggest that we answer the following:
Every year at this time, like most of you, I make several commitments which are generally to increase my health and well-being, deepen my spiritual life and learn myself a few inches back from the learning edge. This years’ learning commitment is to learn all things technological i.e. everything from powerpoints to Twitter and everything in between. As it stands now I know just enough to get by, develop bad habits and to be dangerous across multiple platforms.
And, like the book falling off the shelf as if guided by some cosmic know-it-all, I picked up the latest Orion Magazine the other morning to find an interview with Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired Magazine where he puts forth the idea that technology is holy. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m reflecting on World AIDS Day.? The World Health Organization established World AIDS Day in 1988, and it’s been observed on December 1st ever since to raise awareness and focus attention on the global AIDS epidemic. In the early years, some museums would have “A Day Without Art,” shrouding artwork to demonstrate the impact of the epidemic.? And there were many other ways of observing – e.g., candlelight marches, displays of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, local awareness-raising or fundraising events around the globe. Read the rest of this entry »
If you have not yet read the LaPiana Associates report Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector, I highly recommend that you do. If you are interested in the future of social change, it’s for you. Skim through it over Thanksgiving break. Share tidbits with friends and family at the dinner table. It’s a relatively concise piece that puts into clear language what many of us are experiencing and intuiting, and it just might give you something to get through those awkward holiday moments.
The report basically makes the case that post our current economic crisis, the nonprofit sector, along with the public and private sectors, will not be going back to their pre-crisis standing. Rather, there is a convergence of forces fundamentally reshaping the way we think and work that will make any kind of return impossible (and undesirable). These trends include:
Demographic shifts that redefine participation
Abundant technological advances
Networks that enable work to be organized in new ways
Rising interest in civic engagement and volunteerism
Both the article and the book deal with what Nassim Taleb describes as the characteristics of a black swan (i.e. a highly improbable event), which are: it is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact and after the fact we concoct an explanation that makes it more predictable than it was. The near financial collapse (saved from complete collapse by government intervention), the astonishing success of Google and 9/11 are all black swans. Both authors speak directly to our human limitations in explaining our inability to see what’s coming whether opportunity or disaster. A major reason according to Taleb is that humans are hard-wired to focus on specifics when we should be focused on generalities. We concentrate on what we know and simplify, narrate and categorize. And, we simply do not reward those who can imagine the impossible. Read the rest of this entry »
Let’s start with an oversimplification of what a “traditional” client intervention might look like. Let’s understand the client to be an organization or a group of organizations wanting to do something together. Such an intervention is likely to focus on the group defining “who we are,” and very quickly following that up with “what to do.” The “what to do” is then followed by the articulation of a plan or strategy towards a mutually agreed upon goal. Ok – so let’s remember that we are oversimplifying the case!
How does this change when we start to do more work from an “emergence paradigm?” What happens when we start to work from a paradigm that defies the predictability of planning? The question of “who we are,” remains centrally important, the identity of the group holds it together and provides a frame for its shared intention. However, in an emergence paradigm the energy of attention is then focused on the articulation of a strategic intent. What is this group’s purpose and what is the most strategic path towards that purpose, but most important – what is this group’s intention and how will it manifest?
There seems to be no doubt that we have to shift our understanding of the problems that confront us, not just so that we understand what they require as solutions in the traditional sense, but so that we can comprehend what they require of us.
Psychologist Carol Dweck’s work shows that many of us have been educated to have what she calls a “fixed mindset,” one that can become concerned first and foremost with our own standing and status. She goes on to show how this is a sure fire recipe for disaster with respect to long-term results, whether one is a professional athlete, a CEO, a teacher, or a parent. If one is considering sustainable (and shared) benefit, then it behooves us to embrace a “growth mindset,” one that entails the ability, humility, and enthusiasm to learn from our mistakes and to help others to do so as well.
That is one of my biggest take-aways from being in DC last week. So many people are caught up in the game that plays out inside the Beltway where you have to make a name for yourself in order to have an impact. Fixed mindsets rein. But just when are you done proving yourself in such an environment? And what impact do we cheat ourselves of under such conditions in the long run?
Of course we can!It’s what we do!But can we evolve at will?Can we be a conscious part of our evolutionary process?I’m not trying to get trippy here; it just seems to me like we have to evolve and we have to do it fast.A few weeks back Nicholas Kristoff wrote a piece titled “When Our Brains Short-Circuit,” he tells us that “evolution has programmed us to be alert for snakes and enemies with clubs, but we aren’t well prepared to respond to dangers that require forethought.”His point is that we might be quick to freak out about terrorism (things blow up right away), but terribly slow to act when it comes to global warming (it unfolds over decades) – but which is more deadly?
And our big problem is that the political process we have forces lawmakers to move swiftly on whatever is freaking out the most people, even if it is at the expense of the long-term, or civil liberties for that matter.
We were intelligently designed to run from a saber-toothed tiger, but we have not yet evolved to deal smartly with the massive problems our own “advancement” has created –seems that we evolved unevenly, very fast industrially but very slow morally.And this is where my question comes back in.Is there anything we can do to advance our own evolutionary process?Are there modes of engagement with our selves that might help to catalyze radical shifts in our awareness?Alarmist communications only take us so far.Technical fixes are moving too slowly.Global warming can only be stopped by a radical shift in what Ron Haifetz would call the level of our values, beliefs and assumptions.I call this an evolutionary shift.
Last week I had the privilege of co-delivering a workshop on collaboration and effective teams to this year’s crop of New Leaders for New Schools Residents as part of their Summer Foundations experience. These principals-to-be truly give one hope for the future of education in this country.
Prior to our two days of delivery, I heard Jeff Howard of the Efficacy Institute deliver a presentation to the Residents on the difference between what he called a “performance orientation” and a “learning orientation.” Howard’s claim is that schools often fail when they overemphasize student and staff performance at the expense of learning, and his message to the future school leaders was that they needed to think hard about what is most important as a long-term goal for the people in their building.
At IISC, we’ve talked a lot about how huge leaps are made in thinking when you spend time at the intersections between different fields.A recent book, the Medici Effect, Puts this out in the popular literature.That it is, in fact, living at the intersections that allows for different views into the world.And at this very moment in time, when the old approaches are falling behind and the world is so in need of new ways of looking at things, it seems a very good time to be spending time on the corners.
I’ve had some direct experience – as when Katy Payne and I discovered that humpback whales use rhymes in their songs.We were studying humpback whale songs, reading poetry and reading about oral transmission of folk literature.Suddenly, we had an “aha moment,” realizing that the patterns in humpback whale songs resembled human rhymes – that they sang the same grouping of sounds at the end of each section – and wondered if humpback whales, as well as humans, may use these repeating patterns as mnemonic devices.We’ll never know for sure – but spending time at the intersection between those fields is what brought the moment forth.
What a great short video on the design approach! There is so much here that is applicable to social change and to our work at IISC. To offer you a teaser, I was particularly intrigued by the distinction between insights and ideas, where the folks at Continuum argue that ideas are those that make insight actionable. And here at IISC, I think we find some aspirational resonance with the statement that “we don’t hide behind a hundred ideas, we focus on making the right idea possible.” Enjoy!