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 »
Archive for Your Experiences
A few different experiences last week reinforced my conviction that storytelling can constitute significant “action” and advancement, including work done in networks for (and as) change. The first was during a session that I co-delivered on behalf of IISC with the Graustein Memorial Fund and The Color of Words, about our work with an early childhood system change effort in Connecticut called Right From the Start. During the conference session we emphasized that one of the biggest leverage points for system change is at the level of narrative and belief systems.
Surfacing the dominant implicit and explicit stories about what is and should be, analyzing the degree to which they align with our values and intentions, and countering/reframing them if and as necessary has been part of the work of Right From the Start (RFTS). Read the rest of this entry »
“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”
- James Joyce, The Dubliners
The above quote caught my attention in light of much thinking about and work around the importance of being more fully embodied in social change efforts. This year I have personally made some commitments to more intentionally acknowledge and care for my own body, including investing in a rather basic standing desk, and recommitting to a morning workout (this post on the lasting benefits of just a 20 minute exercise routine served as an extra-added push). And I’ve been carrying this commitment directly into my work with clients, not just in terms of focusing on the importance of caring for themselves, but also grounding aspirations they have for their work. Read the rest of this entry »
“Problems require solutions. Questions must be lived into. We often do not know the difference.”
- Krista Tippett paraphrasing Jacob Needleman
I recently had a lively and illuminating conversation with an unexpected teacher. He came in the form of a well-spoken and measured man who works in the field of emergency food. We were talking at a state-wide food system convening about the causes of and solutions for hunger and he mentioned the idea of the “two footprints.” Read the rest of this entry »
“We have an obligation to wake others up so that they can share their light.”
- Mayor Cory Booker
It was a privilege to see and hear Newark, New Jersey Mayor and possible Senatorial candidate Cory Booker speak this week. His topic was education, which is near and dear to his heart, and he began by telling a remarkable story about his parents. Booker’s mother and father were both born into relative poverty in the south, and both benefitted tremendously from other people looking out for them, extended family and community members. His father, who was raised by a single mother, was able to attend college in North Carolina because neighbors came together and took up a collection for his tuition. Ultimately both of his parents received a college education and went on to become successful executives at IBM. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been playing with different reflection questions lately to try and help various networks and multi-stakeholder collaborative change efforts put a clearer and more aligned frame around the kinds of systems (food, education, health, etc.) that would yield more equitable, sustainable, and enriching results. This is not to pretend that they can take control of the systems and command them to be different, but rather to create an image toward which they can nudge these systems via various leverage points. In one recent convening, I borrowed a page from critical systems heuristics, which asks us to identify and play with the existing systemic boundaries, including motivation, power, expertise and legitimacy. Read the rest of this entry »
On Sunday, Gibran Rivera and I facilitated a workshop at Connecting for Change/Bioneers by the Bay about change practices for a networked world. Another way of thinking about what we were exploring was to put it in terms of “practices for wholeness.” Part of our premise was and is that we are suffering from a worldview that leads with and to fragmentation and fixity. This is part of our inheritance from the industrial age that strives to understand through division and an associated mindset that believes we can make a separation between observer and observed with no associated impact. For certain tasks, of course, it makes sense and is possible to divide, diagnose and put back together. But this does not make sense, nor is it possible, in the case of complex living systems. Furthermore, we have gotten ourselves in a bind because our habits of thought have led us to thinking that the divisions and categories we have created are in some sense primordial. And so we are hard pressed to believe, or remember, that what we do to our “environment” or “others” we do to ourselves! Read the rest of this entry »
Blogging this morning from the Building Energy Conference, New England’s most established cross-disciplinary renewable energy and green building gathering. If you are here, come visit us at our IISC booth! One of the big topics of this year’s conference and trade show is thinking in terms of systems. In this spirit, the following post draws from an email that I recently sent to the convenor of a state-wide system change initiative that is poised to identify strategic points of leverage within the system and its component systems to nudge it in the direction of serving all people equitably in the state and ensuring community food security. Related to this goal is the desire to support a more robust local economy and to work synergistically with ecosystems. I believe the questions listed pertain to any complex dynamic system change effort, whether one is talking about food, education, or community energy use and production, and I welcome your thoughts . . . Read the rest of this entry »
I offer this post in memory of my father, John D. Ogden Jr. (1942-2012), who passed away much too young this past Saturday after a two year fight with cancer. Known to all of his friends and family as a good and kind man, my father was also the inspiration for much of my interest in conscious evolution and the fight for justice. From his time as one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in Liberia, he spent his career promoting inter-cultural understanding, most recently as director of international programs at SUNY Cortland. My dad once told me the older he got, the more radical he became. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s my birthday today and a few nights ago my friend Malia asked me to reflect on a lesson I’ve learned over the last year. It was a BIG year for me! I got married and had a son! Lots and lots of lessons.
It has been a heartening return to my home state these past couple of days while delivering a two-day Facilitative Leadership workshop with members of Michigan’s philanthropic community. Yesterday, we spent some time in the afternoon talking about power and how it plays out in different kinds of change initiatives. The point was made a number of times that those who are most impacted by the issues we are trying to solve must be in on the solutions, including the design and carrying out of the processes of problem-analysis, opportunity identification, and vision creation. Read the rest of this entry »
Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
-Elizabeth Alexander (From “Ars Poetics #100: I Believe”)
Let me start by saying that I am well aware of the inherent irony of posting a piece with this title in the blogosphere and furthermore tweeting about it to my “followers.” That said, I offer this in the same spirit of the saying, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha.” In other words, thanks in advance for reading/sharing, and then let’s get back to the work of being our own lights.
As I turn thoughts to this week’s holiday, I am thankful for so much: for health, for family, for friends, for the opportunity to do the work I do, where and with whom I get to do it. And I am also grateful to be living in these uncertain, trying, and exciting times. If we would believe history and the views of certain amateur and professional philosophers, we might see our current circumstances as the makings of a great age and evolutionary leap forward. Read the rest of this entry »
I spent last week alternately avoiding and arguing out loud with the wall-to-wall media coverage of the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001. I started to hear—mostly through the silences and omissions—many lessons that seem still to be unlearned.
“Rain does not fall on one roof alone.”
Proverb from Cameroon
Labor Day weekend took on a new twist this year in the state of Vermont where people came together to clean up, comfort one another, and rebuild after Tropical Storm Irene’s devastation. I was visiting my in-laws in Chester, VT when the storm hit last Sunday. Chester, as it turned out, made national headlines as a few local residents’ homes were swept away. This is how The New York Times painted the scene the day after: “With roughly 250 roads and several bridges closed off, many residents remained stranded in their neighborhoods; others could not get to grocery stores, hospitals or work.” Other parts of the state suffered as well, including Waterbury, where state offices were washed out, even forcing the state’s Emergency Management command post to evacuate. Three people are known to have lost their lives as a result of the storm. Read the rest of this entry »
Writing this post from beautiful Knoll Farm in Vermont’s Mad River Valley where we are offering Whole Measures for the first time with the Center for Whole Communities as host. Knoll Farm is something to experience, a 400 acre working organic farm and retreat center with stunning views that speaks to the power of place as a foundation for our agency in the world. Much of what the Center for Whole Communities stands for is the bridging of boundaries, between people and the rest of the natural world, between cultures, between experiences and perspectives. And this site bespeaks a profound love for the diversity of land and community that sustains us all. We hope that this is just the first of many offerings at this unique and mundane (very much of the world) spot.
In a little book that is on the table in my yurt entitled Entering the Land: A History of Knoll Farm, co-founder Peter Forbes writes, “We are lucky have such a place as a teacher. In spite of all the pressures that might have made its history obscure and irretrievable, Knoll Farm remains a testament to the story of the past. Similarly, it sets a promising stage for the story of the future. How will this story read? What role will humans play in it? . . . The answers to these questions are in the land, for the land is the root of our well being. It is time to listen, to sink our hearts in the soil and make it familiar again.”
The more I do our collaborative consulting work here at IISC, the more interested I become in the role of the convenor in complex multi-stakeholder change efforts. This role, typically held in our work by a funder or someone else with convening power (local/state government, school district, a well-connected community-based agency) has much to say about the success and nature of a social change effort, and yet from my perspective remains under-appreciated and/or poorly misunderstood. Over the next few months I’ll spend some time in this space reflecting on what we and others are learning about this critical role and soliciting your thoughts, reactions, and experiences.
This past week I’ve been in Florida for our family’s annual pilgrimage and a desperately needed reprieve from what has certainly been a challenging New England winter. And as in years past, I’ve had the fortune to be able to attend a speaker’s series that my father-in-law has been instrumental in putting together down here. Last Friday I got to hear from Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to President Carter and counsel to numerous other American heads of state, both Democrat and Republican, on matters of foreign policy. Brzezinski had only 45 minutes to present what ended up being a dizzying tour of his perspective on the current state of geopolitics and suggestions for US strategy going forward. As grand (and certainly opinionated) as this undertaking was, I was most struck by how he began his talk, and the ensuing response. Read the rest of this entry »
Ever since the mid-term elections, I’ve taken to choosing a politically-oriented question for the practice meetings I do with participants in our collaborative skills workshops. Specifically, in helping people to more firmly grasp the difference between content (an egg) and process (how you prepare the egg), I’ve invited participants to consider “process-oriented” changes they would like to see in our public leadership. It’s been interesting to see some of the common themes and requests emerge across the political spectrum. Below are some of the ideas that have come up for federal, state, and municipal/town levels: Read the rest of this entry »
“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”
Life and work certainly have been burning of late, and while I have been thankful for the opportunity across the board for full engagement of mind, body, and spirit, I am also missing some of my reflection and writing time. And now I hear the voice of Mr. Cohen again - “Forget your perfect offering, there’s a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in.” So here is my little offering of light as the seasonal darkness grows, in the form of a few questions that continue to smoulder throughout my work.
- When was the last time a public engagement process failed because of too much participation?
- Can anyone be process-averse? (Kind of like being allergic to the air we breathe?)
- Has one ever really gotten it done?
- Is there really such a thing as certainty?
- What isn’t a work in progress?
- If we know what we are doing isn’t working, what will it take to try something different?
- How are we going to thrive if we don’t get at least a little crazy?
“How do you do that? How do you step back and get perspective?” The question came from a table mate in an Art of Hosting workshop at this week’s Systems Thinking in Action conference. The earnest and wide-eyed inquisitor silently suggested the qualifier, “And how do you do this when there is so little time?” The question hung in the air in the midst of our World Cafe-inspired conversation about the kinds of change that are being called for in our respective communities, however we choose to define them.
My first response was to laugh. How indeed? As parents of three small children under the age of five, my wife and I often scratch our heads at how we can create more breathing space in general. Frankly, the notion of stepping back often feels like a luxury we can’t afford. And I know there are others in the same space with a variety of unremitting demands. My laugh was surely an acknowledgment of this seemingly impossible situation. And in the context of this rich albeit brief cafe conversation it also became something else, thanks to the careful attending of my colleagues. Read the rest of this entry »
I recently did work with an organization that had approached us with an interest in designing a retreat during which staff would consider options for embracing climate action and environmental organizing strategies as part of their efforts moving forward. In one of our early planning calls, I asked how this new direction made sense given where the organization had historically focused its resources (affordable housing, open space advocacy, community beautification), and the response was a very thoughtful, “That’s a good question.” Furthermore, I asked if there was anything they were planning on letting go of. Again, pregnant pause and . . . “That’s a good question.” And so began a very fruitful conversation, the upshot of which was an opening segment of the retreat that focused on developing a coherent frame for the organization that could more easily and sensibly integrate climate and environmental work. Read the rest of this entry »
“The process of coming to terms with vulnerability is one that necessarily shifts a person’s values focus to one that emphasizes self-transformation and interdependence.”
The word “vulnerability” seems to be up in many parts of my life. On the home front, there is a lot of discussion about vulnerability as being key to building stronger relationships with my wife and daughters. What this generally means is being more in touch with feelings of not being in control, of concern for those most dear to me, and of desiring greater closeness. At times I seem to be good at ignoring these either because I perceive them as painful or inconvenient, and subsequently create a buffer to my ultimate aim which is depth and richness of connection. Read the rest of this entry »
A couple of weeks ago I worked with a special group of special education facilitators who will be helping to coordinate key players in their school district to provide services to students with different learning needs. This work will put these people in some difficult circumstances when it comes to occasionally not being able to provide exactly what parents want for their children. For this reason, we spent a fair amount of time talking about how one can be of service when faced with irreconcilable differences. Much of this came down to staying grounded in one’s values, continuing to regard the humanity of those of others, and standing firm for what the district could reasonably provide.
What I also also saw on display for those three days was the incredible power of artful and compassionate inquiry. Read the rest of this entry »
“The Uses of Not”
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful.
Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t,
there’s room for you.
So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.
-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
It was the afternoon of the second day of the three day training and I noticed that the coffee cake still looked pretty much as it had on the morning of day one.
“Sure does look good,” said one of the participants, now standing beside me.
“Not good enough to eat, apparently. ” I responded.
“Oh, I think everyone likes having it here,” she said with a grin.
“To look at?” I asked.
“To resist!” she replied, with a distinct tone of satisfaction. Read the rest of this entry »
Why will I be selected to be a part of Seth Godin’s nano-MBA? Because it was made for me! Because the very essence of my job is to produce interactions that organizations care deeply about and because this is how change happens – there is a reason we are called the Interaction Institute for Social Change.
I’m doing this because my job is to help organizational leaders understand how to transcend organizational constraints. Because we are experimenting with ways to liberate the passion and the energy that are over-abundant in the social sector. Because the sector’s infrastructure has calcified and has become a constraint – and we are here to unlock it, and to set that energy free. Read the rest of this entry »
My wife and I are wrapping up our annual winter vacation to visit family in Florida. Each year this proves to be something of a spiritual practice for me, and this trip has been no different. As wonderful as it is to slow down, un-hunch shoulders, and wear fewer layers, the focus of my practice tends not to be the natural surroundings and climate so much as what I find to be the challenging social environment.
With the dust now fairly settled from President Obama’s first State of the Union Address, I feel like it’s safe to offer a few comments here without being labeled an aspiring pundit. IISC friend and fellow network-phile Bill Traynor of Lawrence CommunityWorks captured some of my own feelings initially – impressed by the speech, on board . . . for now. Coming into that evening I was concerned about what I had been picking up as a big push of the “Obama brand”, leading me to ask along with Naomi Klein whether the man in the Oval Office is more about symbolic gesture than substantive change. Suffice to say that I don’t have the behind-the-scenes knowledge to confidently declare how much is actually getting done. But to the extent that anything in front of the curtain matters, and we know at least some of it does, I came away with some real adaptive leadership lessons from the SOTU Address.
I attended a powerful, short workshop led by Adrienne Maree Brown (abbreviated from longer trainings she offers) and Invincible on how to facilitate high tension and/or high conflict conversations at the Making Money Make Change conference. Weeks later, ideas and exercises from that workshop are still sticking with me.
Adrienne calls herself a “facilitation evangelist,” because she believes that the world would be transformed if we all practiced facilitation intentionally and were prepared with the tools to do so. I agree with her. And this reminded me of something so basic – facilitation isn’t just for meetings! I hadn’t thought about practicing facilitation in tense conversations with family members, for example, but Adrienne pointed out that facilitation in these and other everyday situations, whether the role is explicit or practiced silently within oneself, can have a profound impact on peoples’ experiences – turning what could be explosive into something more productive.