A number of readings I’ve come across lately reference the important consideration of organizational structure and how it encourages or discourages collaboration. In a post from last week, I highlighted the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, which focuses on “evolutionary (Teal) organizations” that embrace an ethic of self-organization to facilitate more purpose-driven, holistic and responsible engagement on the part of organizational members. In order to encourage self-organization and intrinsic motivation, these entities adopt less formally hierarchical and fixed-role structures in favor of fluidity and networked leadership. According to Laloux, this brings more timeliness and relevance to the inner workings and responsiveness of these organizations. Read the rest of this entry »
Archive for What We Are Reading
I like to describe the Interaction Institute for Social Change as a collaboration shop. I like to describe my work as helping people work better together. Certainly any article tilted “The Collaboration Paradox: Why Working Together Often Yields Weaker Results” is bound to get my attention.
I find this to be a powerful piece, and it confirms intuitions and observations from my ten years of doing this work. It is too often that we collaborate for collaboration’s sake. And it is too often that we fall into the tyranny of a consensus that yields subpar results.
Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, Curtis Ogden wrote about the power of narrative to build engagement and shape the action in networks. We’ve also been taking a deep dive into the role of narrative in racial healing. That is, focusing on the need to expose and transform the deeply embedded narratives about race that allow racism to persist through unconscious bias, individual behaviors and micro-aggressions, institutional practices, and structural arrangements in this society. The report “Telling our Own Story” describes the ways in which narratives about race have shaped the U.S. culture and values, and laid the foundation for social structures based on false stories about the value of people based on a racial hierarchy. Here are a few opening ideas. We hope you will read the full report. Read the rest of this entry »
At IISC we often talk about three hugely important pieces of context for social change work these days:
- We are in the middle of a paradigm shift, from the Industrial Age into an age that doesn’t have a name yet
- By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas
- In 2042 the U.S. will become a majority people of color nation
In this context, as a nation and a globe we are choosing to face or ignore urgent questions about climate change, racism, wealth distribution, violence (the types we condone, penalize, and ignore), and the quality of life that we are willing or unwilling to insist upon for every human being on this planet. It’s quite overwhelming…
The most inspiring book I read in 2013 was Across that Bridge: Life Lessons and A Vision for Change, by Congressman and Civil Rights legend, John Lewis. He built the book around several practices that are essential for social justice work: faith, patience, study, truth, peace, love and reconciliation. Read the rest of this entry »
Adam Grant is a professor at the Wharton School of Business whose research focuses on “motivation, prosocial giving and helping behaviors, initiative and proactivity.” His work and writing, including his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, seem to have something to offer those interested in and engaged in developing networks for social change, as much of it points to data showing that organizations of all kinds benefit from fostering cultures of giving. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve spent time the past week reading through Networks that Work, a handy and concise resource for developing organizational networks, written by Paul Vandeventer, President and CEO of Community Partners, and Myrna Mandell, Ph.D. The book lays out some very helpful pointers for more formally constructed networks. I have highlighted 10 points below that resonate with our experiences at IISC around supporting organizational networks for social change. My comments and extensions are in italics: Read the rest of this entry »
I just started reading Playing God: Redeeming the gift of power by Andy Crouch, thanks to a book reading group at my church, Grace Chapel. I’m already drawn in by the premise that power is a gift and by his central question: How do we use our power to make people and things around us flourish?
If you have not already seen it, our friends at the Leadership Learning Community have published a rich new resource entitled “Leadership and Networks: New Ways of Developing Leadership in a Highly Connected World.” Some of us at IISC contributed to this publication, directly and indirectly, and overall it seems to do a nice job of bringing together otherwise disparate stories about the power of networks in guiding leadership development and movements for change. Here you will find brief overviews of instructive cases such as the Barr Fellows Network, Lawrence CommunityWorks, the RE-AMP Network, and KaBOOM!, along with a list of additional resources and readings. I also appreciate how it explicitly builds the case for considering network approaches, including their ability to: Read the rest of this entry »
IISC staff is engaged in reading this recently published and important book by john a. powell, currently Director of the Haas Diversity Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. I sometimes have the tendency to skip to the end of non-fiction books, in this case the Afterword, to see where the story ends. Without wanting to be a spoiler, I wanted to share these words from powell, which I find a real motivator to dig deeply into the book and the work it asks of us:
“To reach our common ground, to create a sense of mutuality and common space, we must realize that the embodiedness that spiritual seekers know is also needed in the justice system and in efforts to end suffering in our society. Abstract concepts and cold individualism fall short of justice, fall short of addressing need, and allow the victory of greed. We need to reach out to one another from a perspective that makes group membership less determinative of opportunity and more related to enhancement of self and community. We need to increase our sense of abundance and improve our sense of well-being, as individuals and in relation to one another. Accomplishing this requires an identification of the white worldview along with an incorporation of the many of visions that tell America’s story. And it requires a renewed commitment by all of us to fulfill the promise of a truly democratic society.”
IISC is proud to release our first eBook, Musings from the Blogosphere, featuring the writings of our founding Executive Director, Marianne Hughes. Marianne recently left her position as executive director to take some well deserved time off before returning in the fall to continue her client work as a senior consultant. Click here to read a PDF version of this special compilation of posts from our blog, or look for it in the iTunes bookstore to read a free, interactive iBook version.
And, stayed tuned for more free eBooks from IISC in the coming months!
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
This is a slightly edited re-post of something I wrote a couple of years ago, and it came back to mind during conversations these past few days with a group of conservation biologists about how to create more of a compelling case for their work, and also to better understand where various stakeholders (allies and adversaries) are coming from with respect to preserving precious natural resources. The point has been made several times and in different ways that narrative speaks louder than numbers, and that in our change work, it helps if we become acquainted with the stories of others, and work ultimately at weaving ourselves into something more collective. Read the rest of this entry »
I am thoroughly enjoying The Power of Pull: How small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion. Here is a quote I just read:
“Shaping serendipity requires bringing together three elements: environments, practices, and preparedness.” Read the rest of this entry »
I have devoted most of my life to the quest for justice, the path has been beset by victory and loss, hope and frustration. I often find myself contending with a deep awareness that too many of us – including the radicals and do-gooders that I count among my friends – including my own self! All of us seem to be stuck in a paradigm that has reached a dead end. And yet it is all we know. And so we give our hearts and our passion, our energy and life force to a process that often seems doomed.
Peter Block has had considerable influence with a number of us here at IISC through his recent writings – Community: The Structure of Belonging and The Abundant Community. These have inspired me to dip back into some older publications of his, most specifically the wonderful book, The Answer to How is Yes: Acting On What Matters. What I appreciate about this particular work is both its timeliness and his constant reminder that “Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers.” Read the rest of this entry »
Leave it to David Brooks to put a nice point on our string of posts this week and last on the importance of tending to our “interior condition.” Brooks’ recent article in The New Yorker (“Social Animal: How the new sciences of human nature can help make sense of a life”) pulls together much of the brain research that is pointing us in the direction of redefining (or is it rediscovering?) what matters most in our lives. Without going into a lot of the details, I wanted to highlight some of the points the article raises, and then heartily encourage you to make it part of your weekend reading (and then get back to us here with some of your reactions!): Read the rest of this entry »
One of the guiding mantras here at the Interaction Institute is the idea that “the success of an intervention is directly proportional to the inner condition of the intervener.” This idea and our commitment to “the love that does justice,” help us to uphold those practices that nurture our inner condition and facilitate our capacity to love. It is with this commitment in mind that I share the following review:
Sally Kempton has written a wonderful book. Meditation for the Love of It is a breath of fresh air in this current wave of meditation literature. Pleased as I am by the booming interest in the practice of meditation, I am often frustrated by what feels like a one sided perspective of a beautifully multi-faceted tradition. A masterful teacher, a great writer who is able to transmit her own direct experience of the Self, Sally Kempton makes accessible a rich meditation tradition that could otherwise be relegated to the inaccessible realms of esoterica. Read the rest of this entry »
I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Sertl on the twittersphere. Together with Koby Huberman, they have written a book that seems to touch on many of the aspects of this paradigm shift that I spend some much time writing about. It looks like in writing Strategy, Leadership and the Soul Sertl and Huberman are articulating a series of powerful responses to the changes our organizations are experiencing. I see a lot of alignment between the principles outlined in this 3 minute video and the work we do here at IISC. We are moving forward, see what you think.
“A bright green future begins when each of us, today, decides to live as if that future were already here.”
- Alex Steffen, World Changing
Many of us here at IISC were taken with Peter Block’s book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, and you have no doubt heard it referenced in other posts or ensuing conversations on our blog. At this point our couple of office copies have been through many hands, bookmarked, underlined, and are readily referenced in work with partners and clients. One of the most profound parts of the book for me is where Block makes the point that we often think of the future as this far off thing, and subsequently make our meetings and community gatherings all about planning for that eventuality. What we miss is the opportunity to manifest a piece of that future now.
Our friend Larry Dressler just published a book titled “Standing in the Fire” it’s about “leading high-heat meetings with clarity, calm and courage.” Curtis wrote an earlier post inspired by the book. Larry interviewed a wide number of experienced facilitators and I was particularly appreciative of the way he high-lighted the words of our Executive Director, Marianne Hughes.
Referring to what I like to call “the inner condition of the intervener,” Larry says:
My colleagues and I went to see Daniel Pink when he came to speak in Cambridge. We had all read his book “A Whole New Mind- Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future,” and found that it gave us a framework and vocabulary to describe what we were finding in our work, which is that we are not only straddling era’s, we are straddling between the sides of our brains. We are discovering that in the work of social change most of the ideas, the data and the numbers are all available to solve many of our most intractable problems. What’s missing in our approach as outlined by Pink in “A Whole New Mind” resides in the right side of our brain: inventiveness; empathy; meaning and our capacity to design our way to wholeness.
Thanks to the Harvard Bookstore, I had the pleasure of joining some of my IISC colleagues at a Daniel Pink talk last week at the Brattle. In Drive, his latest book, Pink argues that aside from the commonly understood motivators of need and desire for reward, we are specially motivated by our desire for autonomy, purpose and mastery. In his talk, Pink pointed out that the baby boomers are now reaching a stage in life that is defined by purpose, the desire to do something meaningful, to contribute to something grater than their selves.
I suspect that many boomers reading this blog have devoted much of their lives to the work of social change and so they might not be dealing with the same angst. Nevertheless it is worth noting that since boomers comprise the largest population bubble, they are the ones that have defined the last few decades. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve spent a fair amount of time these last few days exploring the book Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. It’s an amazing book – and he spends quite a bit of time teaching about how to avoid “Death by PowerPoint.” I’m totally intrigued – and want to rethink (and perhaps more importantly, re-imagine and mess around with) some of the many ways we get information across in presentations – and in the written recordings we make of meetings.
Reynolds rightfully shows that what we do in PowerPoint is often driven by the software itself, rather than by thinking through the most important aspect of the idea we’re trying to get across. We follow the template and create slide after slide of bulleted lists of text that say what we’re already saying. But here’s the question: what is the most important thing we are trying to say? And how can we work with images to bring our words to life? Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve recently been reading Bernie Mayer‘s new and game-changing book, Staying With Conflict.? A frequent leader in the world of conflict engagement, Bernie Mayer has spent many years working on large scale collaborative change and conflict processes, many of them in the environmental field. He is also a strong proponent of the need to be clear and transparent about the assumptions behind practice. With John Paul Lederach and Leah Wing, Bernie Mayer is one of my favorite practitioners and thought leaders in the “conflict resolution” world.? A couple of years ago, Bernie came out with a book called Beyond Neutrality that loudly and strongly asked for those in the conflict engagement field and those facilitating collaborative processes to cease and desist with the concept that we practice as “third party neutrals.”? In this new book, Bernie is pushing forward, changing the basic understanding of “conflict resolution.” He calls us to understand that, in fact, much of what is needed is not resolution, is not decision-making, agreement-building to overcome deep seated conflicts, but rather approaches that help people build the adaptive capacity and platforms from which to act – to stay with the tensions and conflicts that are an essential part of the human experience, to engage in a way that brings human dignity and that allows us to really stay in the difference. Read the rest of this entry »
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
I, for one, could not be happier that we have as our President a man with such apparent capacity of careful thought, measured analysis, and poetic expression. The other day I reread a passage from Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father and was bowled over by its insight and beauty. The passage comes at a point when Obama is reflecting upon his work as a community organizer in Chicago, which became all consuming as he often spent his social time with community leaders and residents, immersing himself in their lives. He writes:
It is difficult on this Labor Day 2009 not to worry and fret about our collective ability in this country to do what is best, even in our own best interest. The two major policy debates of the day – health care and unemployment – came together this weekend in a heap of statistics, misinformation and just plain rage that leaves me, like so many, wondering: how will we move in the right direction? What is right action?
Heartbreaking stories of financial ruin and despair from job loss and crushing unemployment caused by the recession or untreated illness and bankruptcy from the effects of a completely broken health care system. And, at root of both issues we find the profit motive and really bad policy choices over the last two decades. Read the rest of this entry »
“With the sophisticated mental apparatus we have used to build world eminence as a species, we have created an environment so complex, fast-paced, and information-laden that we must increasingly deal with it in the fashion of the animals we long ago transcended.” – Robert Cialdini
As Alfred North Whitehead once suggested, one of the main conundrums of our evolution as a species seems to be that it has largely depended upon our ability to engage in more and more activities without thinking about them. Hence a world built upon scientific discovery, full of ever declining numbers of people who are scientifically literate. Hence a world of increasing complexity that we often meet with relatively primitive automaticity.
In her book, The Canon, Natalie Angier provides an entertaining primer on the hard sciences for adult non-scientists and along the way makes a strong case for the need for more of us to bring greater rigor and discipline of thought to the day-to-day. She illustrates how we often operate with models of physical reality that are simply false. In many cases, these models were ingrained at an early age and remain stubbornly embedded, owing to certain neurological tendencies. Not understanding these tendencies, we remain convinced that we are more critical in our thinking than we actually are. Read the rest of this entry »
I recently finished reading “Lust for Life” by Irving Stone, and it really stirred my soul! The historical novel about the life of Vincent Van Gogh is one of those big books that invite you deep into the artistic psyche. I became overwhelmed by Vincent’s struggle, his compulsive drive, personal sacrifice and willingness to let go of so many conventions. But it’s not until we are three quarters into the book and six years into Vincent’s quest that we come to what is one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever read.
Vincent finally makes it to Paris and he sees the impressionists for the first time. The scene is one of total awe, the beauty is like nothing he had ever seen before, like nothing he imagined, these were paintings that broke every rule, 300 hundred years of tradition suddenly gone bright with light and color, it was something absolutely beautiful and new. Vincent had worked day and night on his art, he had gone hungry for his art, he had been rejected by artists and non-artists alike, and suddenly here he was, for the first time seeing his burning desires manifest before him, he was awed, he was emboldened and he was inspired. Read the rest of this entry »
In the final chapter of “What Would Google Do?” (recently referred to by Marianne), Jeff Jarvis makes a provocative statement about the future and promise of a networked world. Many of the points Jarvis makes appear to turn things on their head, at least compared to the way that many of us might first react to developments in our ever more densely connected and information-rich world.
A few things to ponder:
1. This current generation is growing up with an ability to stay in touch with nearly everyone they meet throughout their entire lives. Whereas those of us who grew up pre-Facebook may have lost track of old childhood friends and college buddies, this generation has the possibility of always being more directly in touch with the different chapters of their lives. Scary? This seems profound to me, and yet I don’t really know exactly how. What might this do to the very nature of relationship?
2. The flip side of TMI (too much information) is greater transparency. Young people are putting so much more of themselves and their lives out for public consideration. Often this gets construed as risky and/or a kind of exhibitionism. However, if more people are playing the same game, then perhaps the rules will enforce greater overall acceptance and safety of full and liberating self-expression. Jarvis quotes author David Weinberger – “An age of transparency must be an age of forgiveness.” Wow.
3. And what about all of that apparently inane information that people share about their bunions or the mold growing on the bathroom tile? Well, how about the benefit of “ambient intimacy” (Jarvis quoting blogger Leisa Reichelt -www.disambiguity.com), swapping the small details of our daily lives? This may just help us to develop stronger relationships as we come to know more about people who would otherwise be just acquaintances, or grease the wheels for the next time we physically see one another or talk by phone (less catch up time).
Throughout these and multiple other points, Jarvis seems to be suggesting that more integrated lives and more widespread trust are a result of living in the Google age. Given that collaboration thrives on trust, and that collaboration may be our saving grace as a species (see Charles Darwin and my post “The Group Effect” – ), shouldn’t we all be striving to be fully exposed and (wireless) card carrying members of Generation G?
I keep returning to the cover article of the New York Times Magazine of a few weeks ago entitled “Why Isn’t the Brain Green?” Other than being a fascinating piece on what might prevent people from getting into a more environmentally sustainable mindset (and therefore sustained sustainable behavior), it makes a very strong case for collaboration as a smart (and potentially species saving) decision-making process.
Author Jon Gertner has spent considerable time with behavioral economists, looking at the limits of individual decision-making when it comes to long-term trade-offs. For example, researchers at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University have pointed to the shortcomings of two different ways individuals process risk: (1) an analytical approach that seems to have less tolerance for delayed benefits and (2) an emotional approach that is restricted by one’s lack of experience with certain phenomena (such as rising sea levels). Both approaches disincline individuals from making choices that have short-term costs (reduced consumption, paying a carbon tax) but may ultimately be better for the planet. Hence, say some decision scientists, the tragedy of the commons – the overgrazing of land, the depletion of fisheries, the amassing of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Just when Gertner is ready to say, “We’re screwed,” he points to other research that suggests that an answer to our individual failings on the front of risk assessment may lie in our associational tendencies and community-based intelligence. For instance, Michel Handgraaf has conducted studies in Amsterdam that show that when people make decisions as a group, their conversations gravitate more to considerations of “we” and delayed benefits. Similarly, anthropologist Ben Orlove at UC-Davis has studied farmers in Uganda and observed that when they listened to rainy season radio broadcasts in groups, rather than as individuals, they engaged in discussions that led to consensus decisions that made better use of forecasts – collectively altering planting dates or using more drought resistant seeds.
In other words, it may behoove us all to collaborate more, and with a twist. Evidence suggests that it is best to begin thinking through decisions in groups, rather than weighing them as individuals and then coming together. This just might get us more quickly to the “group effect,” to a collective identity and ability to think and act long-term. As Jon Gertner puts it, “What if the information for decisions, especially environmental ones, is first considered in a group setting before members take it up individually?”
What if? Why not? How to? What say you?
What Would Google Do? is a question that I have been asking myself for a number of reasons lately, not the least of which is because I am reading the book right now. I am reading this book and multiple blogs (Meg Hourihan, Clay Shirky, Deb Kantor, Kris Krug, Z Plus) really in the hopes that I can locate myself, our organization and the clients with whom I work squarely in the “new paradigm, “the quantum age” repeating the mantra as I go, “do what you do best and link to the rest”.
This mantra was ever-present for me as I worked this week with a group of folks who are at a most critical juncture in their effort to build a field, the goal of which is to increase awareness and funding to address the root causes not the symptoms of social injustice. A core of the larger global network has been convened, knowledge and product gaps identified, and a commitment to moving forward together has been made. This group was then tasked with figuring out “whither next?” Now what?
Their task is to create a road map that will involve the appropriate people and resources to increase the knowledge and expand the network. As the collaboration-centered process “experts” building collaborative road maps that creates the container for creative engagement, emergent thinking and right action for greater social impact is what we at IISC do but the question remains: what would Google do?
As in most of my life-long searches, I look for some basic princples: the Ten Commandments; the Four Noble Truths; the six articles of faith; burn more calories than you eat and I found some. Here are a few (and like all basic principles have the quality of…..duh…until of course you really, really contemplate their meaning and worse, their implications for your life)
- make mistakes well – admit them, share them, learn from them;
- life is beta – everything is a work in progress and can always be improved; when you make a mistake iterate your way out of it, learn your way;
- be hon est - be direct, authentic, say what you mean;
- be transparent – make your process explicit; hand over control through openness and information
- collaborate – include, include, include….co-create
- don’t be evil – well, here we’re back to the Ten Commandments, the Four Noble Truths etc….
My own answer to the question is: learn, connect and of course, Google!
I have been boning up on systems theory and thinking because of an upcoming presentation that I will be delivering and because I am so interested in applying its wisdom to our own organization.. Oh to find the trim tab!!!!!
So, I am seeing everything through the systems lens when I stumble across this article on positive emotions and there it is in black and white with systems sprinkles to go. See below!
As background: Two distinct psychological states are positive emotions which are triggered by our interpretation of our current circumstances and pleasure which is what we get when we give the body what it needs right now!! Positive emotions tell us what we need emotionally, what our future selves might need. They help us broaden our minds and build our resources…they have that go-forward quality.
Happiness is the overall outcome of many positive emotions which are more narrow, more day to day, moment to moment. It’s not about being happy in general but focusing on being positive day to day which ends up building up our resources so that we can become the best version of ourselves.
It’s one thing for individuals to build their resilience through focusing in the day to day on their strengths and assets, practicing kindness, expressing gratitude, staying in the moment but how does this work in groups?
In a study of 60 work teams conducted by mathematician Marcial Losada it was shown that the really high performing teams had a ratio of 6:1 positive to negative statements where as the low-performing teams had ratios of less that one to one i.e. more than half of what was said was negative. The high performers had an even balance between asking questions and advocating for their own point of view and an equal measure of focusing outward and focusing within the group. The low-performers were essentially not listening and simply waiting for their turn to talk.
He then looked at the behavioral data and wrote algebraic equations that related the positive and negative behaviors to each other and discovered that these equations matched the very famous equations called the Lorenz system. Familiar to us from our reading on systems, Edward Lorenz is the scientist who identified the famous “butterfly effect” the idea of an attractor…an identifiable pattern or hidden coherence that appears in all that is incoherent. Some attractors are strong and some are weak. In this case Losada discovers that underneath the dynamics of the high-performing team was a “complex chaotic attractor” which produces unpredictable or novel outcomes. Underneath the structure of the low-performing teams was a “fixed pint attractor” that caused the team to spiral to a dead end.
And, p.s. there is research that shows that when married couples are in a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative emotions they are in a solid relationship.
It seems that no matter what corner one turns…you come up against the same wise messages be still, be focused, be grateful and breathe.