Archive for Learning Edge

Oct/22/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks, Your Experiences

What is Network Strategy?

Slide1The above graphic is something that I recently created, borrowing heavily from the good work of Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor, to help convey what is meant by engaging in “network strategy.” One of the challenges we’ve encountered in working with different networks is helping people to understand the difference between strategy development and network development. I try to meet this challenge, in part, by showing how they are not so different, or at least, that they are intimately connected. The diagram is also designed to help people get beyond some of the either/or thinking that we encounter. For example, it’s not that we have to choose between decentralized self-organized action and more formally coordinated collective action. It can be both!

So here’s what the graphic is meant to convey. First of all, network strategy is grounded at a fundamental level in creating (strategic) connectivity, by building linkages and trust between key stakeholders and perhaps unusual bedfellows. This can be done by convening people; sharing stories, data and other forms of information; co-creating knowledge; learning together, etc. Part of the value of this connectivity is that it can lead to orthogonal thinking and bolster individual network participants’ efforts in the shared domain where the network is focused. What also may ensue is self-organized action between those who are meeting one another for the first time or getting to know one another better (see the arrow to the right side of the triangle). This is all well and good and is something that networks should try to track. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/25/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Orthogonal Thinking & Doing

“You have to remember that any boundary is a useful fiction.”

-Buckminster Fuller

Diversity Photo by Fady Habib


As the story is told, a crucial element in the breaking of the genetic code was when physicists moved into the field of biology. These scientists, including Max Delbruck, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Erwin Schrodinger, brought with them a new perspective and new methods that changed genetic research. As Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi note in A System View of Life, it was Schrodinger in particular who suggested that “the gene could be viewed as an information carrier whose physical structure corresponds to a succession of elements in a hereditary code script.” This story illustrates how innovation and evolution occur at the meeting of fields. This is the promise of orthogonal thinking.

Orthogonal thinking draws from a variety of, and perhaps seemingly unrelated, perspectives to achieve new insights.  It is the even momentary blurring of boundaries to see what might emerge. A while back I provided a portrait of a “facilitative leader,” neurophysiologist Erich Jarvis, who understands the power of thinking and doing orthogonally and has used this to create research breakthroughs around avian vocalizations and human speech. Another relevant story is WaterCredit, a model that has developed to address the needs of the nearly 1 billion people on the planet without access to safe drinking water. Through WaterCredit, micro-finance institutions provide micro-loans to individuals to finance their own water and sanitation solutions.  The program resulted from the intentional pulling together of diverse private sector, public sector, and financing institutions.

The benefits of orthogonal thinking speak to the importance of diversity in supporting collective intelligence and resilience. A recent Scientific American article by Kathleen Phillips of Columbia University highlights a number of studies showing how racial diversity creates greater complexity in and broadness of thinking.  The same holds true for gender and ideological diversity.  As Phillips notes:

Being with similar people makes us think we all hold the same data and perspective, which stops us from processing and fully sharing information.

Bottom line: it may behoove us in our social change work to create spaces in which people and ideas that might not otherwise bump into one another, can interact.  Are you getting orthogonal enough?

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Sep/16/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks

Networks and Regenerative Thinking

“Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found…. Local life may be as much endangered by those who would ‘save the planet’ as by those who would ‘conquer the world.’ For ‘saving the planet’ calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know and thus will destroy the integrity of local nature and local community…”

Wendell Berry

Spiral Fern

I’m grateful to the mentors I’ve had who have introduced me to regenerative thinking, an approach that aligns with a living systems view of life and a network way of working, as opposed to one that is more mechanical in orientation.  To be clear, mechanical thinking has its place, but less so it seems in the unpredictable and complex world of social change and working with social systems, including networks.  Yet there still seems to be a fair amount of it out there, underlying various change tactics and wholesale approaches that may be otherwise well-intended.  The problem is that few seem willing to slow down to examine the roots of their chosen efforts, to lift up for closer inspection how their thinking may or may not be in alignment with what they are really after. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/10/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Learning Edge, Networks

Social Velocity

Running water Photo by Guy Renard 25


My friend Joel Glanzberg is a constant source of provocation and insight. The way he sees the world, through a living systems and pattern-seeking lens, is not only refreshing but unnerving in that it is evident how simultaneously critical and rare his perspective is. Joel is great at helping me and others to see beyond objects and structures to underlying patterns and processes, and how these are what animate living systems. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/03/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Learning Edge

Collaboration: Learning to Walk Again

Learning to Walk Photo by Tela Chhe


One mantra I have for working with groups is, “If you’ve seen one group, you’ve seen one group.”  Part of the welcome and challenging nature of collaboration is that in each instance we are dealing with a unique organism or constellation of human beings coming together to get something done.  As complex living systems, groups of people are not prone to simple “best practices” for getting them working in a prescribed way.  There certainly are some “promising practices,” including what we teach at IISC in our Facilitative Leadership for Social Change courses. Still collaboration, including the practice of group facilitation, is a heuristic undertaking – an experience-based approach to problem solving, learning, and discovery that suggests solutions which are not guaranteed to be optimal.

All this said, it appears that there are certain patterns of behavior, archetypal personalities, and common inflection points in group work and network development that tend to emerge that might suggest different kinds of preventions and interventions.  Systems therapist David Kantor has written about some of this in his book Reading the Room: Group Dynamics for Coaches and Leaders as he reflects extensively on his Four Player Model.  And there is psychologist Bruce Tuckman’s classic work on stages of team formation - forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning.  See also the Drexler/Sibbet model of team performance (graphic below).


Something else I’ve been observing and thinking about is the developmental stages of “consciousness” in groups and how we might account for and work with these.  This is akin to Robert Kegan’s work on Constructive Developmental Theory (CBT) which outlines stages of mental complexity or “orders of mind.” As I mentioned in a post last month , developmental theory certainly merits vigilance so as to avoid using it in an overly prescriptive way or to perpetuate power, privilege and dominant cultural perspectives. And I personally have found that it can provide insights and possibilities when held lightly. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/02/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks, Sustainability

Mind the Lines in the Mind


The other day I was working with an emerging inter-institutional collaboration of universities looking to move the needle on “transitioning to sustainability.”  Like so many other conversations that I am a part of these days, there were bold visions tempered by structural realities, including robust conversation about internal constraints to the kind of progress people are striving to realize.  These constraints are not simply internal to our organizations in the form of protocols and politics, but also to our thinking.  As David Bohm once wrote,

“Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally.”

And so there is a call to constantly “mind the lines” that are not simply “out there,” but that are conscious and unconscious projections of our thoughts, and that do not serve our intensions. Perhaps no one says it better than the late Donella Meadows in a piece from which I read the other day and have pulled extracts below.  For the entire essay, visit the Donella Meadows Institute.

From “Lines in the Mind, Not in the World” by Donella Meadows (December 24, 1987)

The earth was formed whole and continuous in the universe, without lines.

The human mind arose in the universe needing lines, boundaries, distinctions. Here and not there. This and not that. Mine and not yours.

That is sea and this is land, the mind thinks, and here is the line between them. See? It’s very clear on the map.

But, as the linguists say, the map is not the territory. The line on the map is not to be found at the edge of the sea. . . .

Between me and not-me there is surely a line, a clear distinction, or so it seems. But, now that I look, where is that line?

This fresh apple, still cold and crisp from the morning dew, is not-me only until I eat it. When I eat, I eat the soil that nourished the apple. When I drink, the waters of the earth become me. With every breath I take in I draw in not-me and make it me. With every breath out I exhale me into not-me. . . .

Between you and me, now there is a line. No other line feels more certain than that one. Sometimes it seems not a line but a canyon, a yawning empty space, across which I cannot reach.

Yet you keep reappearing in my awareness. Even when you are far away, something of you surfaces constantly in my wandering thoughts. When you are nearby, I feel your presence, I sense your mood. Even when I try not to. Especially when I try not to. . . .

I have to work hard not to pay attention to you. When I succeed, when I have closed my mind to you with walls of indifference, then the presence of those walls, which constrain my own aliveness, are reminders of you.

And when I do pay attention, very close attention, when I open myself fully to your humanity, your complexity, your reality, then I find, always, under every other feeling and judgment and emotion, that I love you.

Even between you and me, even there, the lines are only of our own making.

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

Agree on Process



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

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Jun/18/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks

Expand (and Deepen) the Frame


You probably know this challenge.  Start with 3 rows of 3 dots in the form of a square.  Now using only three or four straight lines, connect all of the dots without lifting your pen or pencil from the paper (see answers above).  I was reminded of this exercise by some of the participants in the Tillotson Fund Community Practitioners Network (CPN).  They used it as a metaphor during a presentation about a multi-functional collaborative platform they are proposing to connect a rather vast and disparate region of New Hampshire’s northern most county, including parts of western Vermont, southern Quebec, and eastern Maine.  The vision for the platform is that it would help to build connectivity and alignment around a core set of regional values that would also inspire action for community and economic development. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/04/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Your Experiences

The Map Is Not the Territory

In my current work with the Cancer Free Economy Network, I have the opportunity to partner with a very skilled team of consultants, including Joe Hsueh from Second Muse.  Joe’s core offering to this initiative is system mapping and helping people to hold systemic complexity.  The short video above, taken by another team member, Eugene Kim, features some of Joe’s thinking about what it takes to gain “strategic clarity” when striving to evolve a complex system.

One of the many things I appreciate about Joe is his holistic approach to system mapping which renders it much less mechanistic than I’ve seen from other practitioners.  In fact, as this great article in The Guardian about Joe and his work illustrates, he comes from a very deep, some might call it spiritual, place.  As the article quotes him, “Systems mapping, system modeling – all these scientific tools and methods – these are not ends in themselves. For me, they are tools for us to create a space where we open our minds, open our hearts and open our will.”  In this sense, the (system) map is not the territory in more ways than one.

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May/15/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Degenerative Habits of Mind

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

― David Bohm

2806832762_14236de072_z By Vincepal


I have learned a tremendous amount over the last several years from practitioners associated with the Regenesis Group – Carol Sanford, Bill Reed, Joel Glanzsberg, and Pamela Mang.  Specifically, they have pushed my own thinking about my own thinking, and how this kind of awareness is key to supporting successful system change.  I recommend all readers of this blog to check out the wealth of resources on the Regenesis website.  And I want to highlight a blog post from Pamela Mang, a segment of which I have included below, that points to how our dominant ways of thinking can undercut our stated aims.  The full post can be found here on the edge:Regenerate site.

“The way we think is shaped by patterns that we’ve been taught or picked up over the course of our lives, patterns that are deeply embedded in our culture and institutions. Over time, these patterns have become increasingly interdependent and self-reinforcing and, most problematic, increasingly habitual because they are invisible to us. If we want to change how we think, the first step must be to make visible the patterns that currently shape our thinking. Only then can we decide which are useful when, and which condemn us to degenerative outcomes. . . .  Read the rest of this entry »

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May/07/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Your Experiences

Aligning Beliefs and Tactics

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”

-The Talmud

Last week I had the privilege of being part of faculty for the launch of the Presidio Institute’s Cross-Sector Leadership Program in San Francisco.  My role in representing IISC was to lead conversation around core concepts and frameworks related to the design and facilitation of complex multi-stakeholder change processes. The last day I partnered with Jennifer Splansky Juster from the Collective Impact Forum to do a deeper dive around collaborative process design, with Jen offering more guidance around the specifics of taking a “collective impact” approach. During this session, I invited Fellows to step back and take a deeper view of their cross-sector change work by reflecting on the framework above, the essence of which I have inherited from the thinking and work of Carol Sanford.

This framework offers that our chosen change methods are always grounded in an underlying belief system about what we hold to be true about humanity, the world and what constitutes “knowing.”  Not being aware of or transparent about this can get us into difficulty when it leads to mixing and matching techniques/methods that may contradict one another, or when we are not operating from the same system of beliefs as others.  Here are some questions I offered the CSL Fellows in consideration of their cross-sector work: Read the rest of this entry »

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

Learn by Doing

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Do you wonder:

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

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

How to start experimenting as soon as possible?

How to start learning?

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Apr/24/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks

Networks and Narrative

“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.”

 - John Hagel


Today’s post gives a big tip of the hat and bow of gratitude to John Hagel for his work on narrative, which I believe has much to offer networks for social change.  First a little story . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/16/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks

Network Development Through Convening

8562448300_2a5c7b1e59_z (1) Photo by Kevin Doyle. Some rights reserved.


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.

Here are some methods to consider for convenings to help feed and grow networks for change: Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/09/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Sustainability

Re-Thinking Progress: Getting Cyclical

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 »

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Apr/03/14//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside, Learning Edge

Unintended Consequences


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 »

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Mar/20/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Your Experiences

Unique, Not Special

faces in the crowd Photo by Big Mind Zen Center

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 »

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Mar/10/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

System Change: Can We Get It Right From the Start?

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 »

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Mar/06/14//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration, Learning Edge

The Take and Give of Living Systems

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.

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

The Thrive Workshop

Thrive Logo

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


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

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Dec/19/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Empathy and the Dramatic Arc

“Stories bring brains together.”

- Paul J. Zak

This past week we have featured a couple of posts on empathy (see “Empathy + Equity –> Justice” and “Empathy Connect, Sympathy Disconnects”).  In light of these and also on the heels of recent powerful experiences in a couple networks for change around the use of storytelling to deepen connectivity and commitment, I found the video above to be instructive.  It is featured in a blog post entitled “How Stories Change the Brain” through the Greater Good Science Center.

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Dec/05/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Practices for Resilience and Development

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 »

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Nov/14/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Embracing Change

“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.”

-Jason Clarke

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.

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Nov/13/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Where There is Will

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

- Lao Tzu

Recently overheard:

“Yes, sure it’s great that that community is taking a network approach.  But we don’t have anything like the resources they have here.”

“No, I didn’t follow up on my commitments to the team.  I acknowledge that.  I’m just an “in the moment” kind of person.  When I’m with the team, I’m with them.  When I’m not, I’m not.”

“No, we haven’t met yet.  Someone should take responsibility for getting us organized.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/26/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Flipping Orthodoxy

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 »

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May/24/13//Jen Willsea//Featured, Learning Edge

Finding Focus and Minimizing Distraction

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 »

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May/16/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

How Story Moves the Mind

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 »

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Apr/04/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Internal Control, External Considering

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 »

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Feb/20/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Mischief-Making for Change

“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.”

- Angela Cheng

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 »

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Feb/01/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Generations Co-Evolving

“You want to be engaging with people whose mind is alive, whose consciousness is alive, and who are seeking to create something.” – Carol Sanford

Carol Sanford – Generations learning from other Generations from Choosing 2Lead on Vimeo.

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 »

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Jan/17/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Creating the Structures for a Generative Economy


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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/16/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Living Systems Lessons for Networks

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 »

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Jan/03/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Nested Social Change

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 »

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Jan/02/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Change Reads

One of the many things I love about the Interaction Institute for Social Change is that we are very much a learning organization, committed to sharing lessons from the work we are doing, as well as new ideas and concepts we discover through in-person and virtual interactions with a variety of thought leaders.  This year, like any other, we benefitted from the writings of many, and I wanted to highlight five books that I found particularly valuable in 2012, and invite my colleagues to weigh in as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/21/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Systems Thinking Gleanings

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:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/20/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Inspiration vs. Development

“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 »

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Nov/14/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Be Aware of Boundaries

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 »

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Nov/07/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Embracing Restraint

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 »

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Sep/26/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

How Vertical Are You?

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 »

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Aug/30/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

More Science to the Social

“Sensitivity can be very self-absorbing.”

-Bill Reed

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 »

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Aug/09/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Learning Edge

Buyers Are Liars

“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 »

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Jul/20/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Simplifying Complexity

“Simplicity often lies on the other side of complexity.”

-Eric Berlow

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Jun/21/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Working With Emotional Charge

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 »

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Jun/20/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Growing Response-ability

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:

  1. The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something.
  2. The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/14/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Creative De-struction

“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.”

-Peter Drucker, “The New Society of Organizations” (1992)

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

Why Open Space

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/08/12//IISC//Featured, Learning Edge

Tending Time

The following is a letter by Akaya Windwood, President of the Rockwood Leadership Institute and member of the IISC Board of Directors.

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!

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/06/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

The Whole and the Particulars

The Three Goals

The first goal is to see the thing in itself
in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly
for what it is.
No symbolism, please.

Read the rest of this entry »

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May/16/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Genius to Scenius

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 »

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Apr/26/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Interesting vs. Useful

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 »

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Mar/22/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

From Systems Thinking to Systems Being


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 »

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Mar/01/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Sustainability

“Forward With,” Not “Back To”

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 »

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Feb/01/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

The Betterness of Bitterness

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 »

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Jan/18/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Living System Blueprint, Take Two

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 »

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

New Mutualism

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

- Stowe Boyd

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/12/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Roots of Collective Leadership

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 »

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Jan/04/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Primordial Networking

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 »

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Jan/03/12//Gibrán Rivera//Learning Edge

Happy New Year!

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.

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Dec/22/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

40 Questions

“It is my working assumption that the following forty questions must be definitively answered before we may realistically discuss our respective philosophies and grand strategies. . . . ”

—R. Buckminster Fuller

Picking up from yesterday’s post, here is Bucky’s list of 40 strategic questions: Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/15/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Wanted: A Living System Blueprint

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 »

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Dec/07/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

What’s Your Piano Top?

“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.”

– R. Buckminster Fuller

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Nov/09/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Shaping the New Alternatives

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.

Cognitive Biases in Times of Uncertainty

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 »

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Nov/01/11//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Learning Edge

Entering the Field of the Future

Last week, Melinda Weekes and I participated in the Presencing Institute’s Global Presencing Forum.  It was an excellent experience at the edge of social innovation.  It was great to be in the presence of Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge (see Scharmer’s reflections here).  And even better to in the company of a global community of people seeking to advance social technologies that can actually address the challenges we face.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/28/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Dynamic Governance

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 »

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Sep/06/11//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Learning Edge

Reclaim the Impossible

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.

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Aug/04/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

A New Toolkit

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 »

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Jul/27/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Who Do We Think We Are

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 »

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Jul/20/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Value-As Storytelling

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 »

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Jul/14/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Holding Tension

“Tension and transparency of tension create capacity.”

-Mistinguette Smith

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 »

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Jun/29/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

The Ps of Regenerativity

“It is time we recognized that ‘the system’ is how we work together.”

Yaneer Bar-Yam

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 »

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Jun/08/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Positivity and Expanding Truth

“Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, and more beautiful than sadness. Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.”

André Gide

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 »

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May/12/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Positive Leadership and Sustainability

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 »

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Feb/16/11//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Worldview Literacy

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.

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Dec/07/10//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Learning Edge

Theory U – The 4th Proposition


Click here to see The 1st Proposition

Click here to see The 2nd Proposition

Click here to see The 3rd Proposition

The 4th Proposition of Theory U is:

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/02/10//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

The Connected Mind

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Nov/29/10//Gibrán Rivera//Learning Edge

Theory U – The 3rd Proposition

theory u 3

Click here to see The 1st Proposition

Click here to see The 2nd Proposition

“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 »

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Nov/18/10//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

For Presence

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 »

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Nov/16/10//Gibrán Rivera//Learning Edge

Theory U – The 2nd Proposition


Click here to see the 1st proposition

The 2nd proposition of Theory U reads:

(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”).

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Nov/09/10//Gibrán Rivera//Learning Edge

Theory U – The 1st Proposition


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 »

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Nov/04/10//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Learning Edge

Surfacing Systems

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 »

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Oct/27/10//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Learning Edge

Geiger Counters for Quality

“We don’t talk about what we see,

we see only what we can talk about.”

- Fred Kofman

This week I’ve been rereading Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems and 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 »

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Oct/08/10//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Patterns for Change, Part 2

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 »

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Oct/07/10//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Patterns for Change Part 1

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 »

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Sep/10/10//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

The Complex and the Quantum

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 »

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Sep/09/10//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Learning Edge

Accentuate the Positivity, Take 3

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.

And as I have blogged about in the past, I am aware and research shows that keeping a net positive outlook can be critical to heightening collaborative outcomes and staying engaged in the tough times.  So what are some steps for staying on point without veering towards disconnected or disconnecting pessimism? Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/26/10//Gibrán Rivera//Learning Edge

Time for Some Action

good intentions

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.

It is with this context in mind that I finally get to the Lloyd Nimetz opinion piece in the Stanford Social Inntovation Review – “Information Overload, Action Deficit.”   Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/16/10//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

The Biology of Social Change

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.

By way of summary, here are the 11 “enabling rules” that the presentation highlights for leadership to work in better alignment (and sustainably) with dynamic systems: Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/28/10//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Trust on the Rise

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 »

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Jun/17/10//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

The Least You Can Do

“When you improve a little each day,

eventually big things happen.”

-The late John Wooden

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.

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Jun/14/10//Gibrán Rivera//Learning Edge

Systems Thinking & Leverage Points

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?

Hello Colleagues,

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?

Thanks for any thoughts you might have on this!

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Jun/04/10//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

A Picture’s Worth

“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.”

—David Chrislip

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.

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May/27/10//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Design Comes Back Around

“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.”

-Paola Antonelli

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.

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May/20/10//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Learning Edge

Welcome to the GeoDome

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!

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Mar/23/10//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Learning Edge

World Café for the US Senate

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?

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Mar/05/10//IISC//Learning Edge

Design Thinking for Social Change

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 »

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Feb/18/10//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Accentuate the Positivity, Take 2

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.

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Feb/09/10//Gibrán Rivera//Learning Edge

Happiness Matters

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.

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Feb/02/10//Gibrán Rivera//Learning Edge

From Complication to Complexity

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.

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Jan/25/10//Marianne Hughes//Learning Edge

Paola Antonelli on Design

Check out this great Ted Talk by Paola Antonelli on design.

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Jan/07/10//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Learning Edge

Re-Solution to Change

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:

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