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May 15, 2009

Without Form, and Void

During my first year of seminary, I took a Practice of Ministry class in which a series of guest lecturers came to share of their practical experiences from several years in the pastorate. One speaker, whose words I will never forget, was the Rev. Conly Hughes, Jr. of Boston’s Concord Baptist Church. His words of wisdom for a group of neophytes were to illuminate the importance of the pastor’s “ministry of presence”, coupled with her “ministry of absence”. He shared that while it is vital for any conscientious pastor to shepherd in such a way as to be visibly attentive to the day to day, mundane, core issues affecting a community of faith, it is also key that the pastor keeps watch so that her consistency of “presence” does not overwhelm, overpower, nor overbear in a way that stifles the leadership of others, hampers the community’s exercise of agency or which, frankly, allows her to be taken for granted by the people. (At least that’s how I recall the insights I gleaned from his very wise words).

Fast forward: a few years ago, when upon familiarizing myself with Interaction Associates’/Institute’s facilitation methodology, I came across the principle of “Balancing Form and Void”: Creating “Form” is providing participants with a framework or approach for moving toward achieving the desired outcomes. Creating “Void” means stepping back and allowing for open space in the room, both verbally and physically. I immediately noticed the reference to the Biblical text, which comes from the first Creation narrative in the Book of Genesis:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was[a] on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (NKJV)

As is often the case for me with what I believe to be a Living Text, I gleaned a new insight into its meaning, informed by these pastoral and facilitation contexts: Void – or open space, if you will – as a precursor for even God’s most creative, most productive, most awesome works to…(yep, the “E”-word): emerge.

And so, whether it’s the virtues and vices of “presence”/“absence” in ministry, or the balancing act of any good facilitator vis a vis the “form” and “void” of group processes, I am thinking a lot these days about what this has to do with leadership effectiveness, blind spots (i.e., our ability to discern between what the moment/season/organizational growth cycle calls for), and its connection to organizational possibility, potential, and re-creation.

Co-creators, please — enLighten my world.

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May 14, 2009

The Other Side of Complexity

Last week I had the privilege of working with my colleague Daryl Campbell in offering IISC’s Pathway to Change workshop for the first time to the general public. Overall it was a very positive experience, and seemed to confirm our suspicions that the course is timely given the growing demand and desire for working collaboratively. That said, as we were wrapping up we heard a few comments that are not so unfamiliar. “This is wonderful, it’s just what we need, and it’s a lot!” “There’s so much to absorb. I need time to sort it out.” There were a few suggestions to slow down the pace next time, or to space out the days to give time for both absorption and application. At the same time, people recognized that the three consecutive days had a certain power and punch to them, both with respect to connecting content and creating community in the room.

Sitting with this conundrum, it occurred to me that it just may be unavoidable. As we like to say, it’s important to meet complexity with complexity. What we were addressing in the room was the need to work with complex social and environmental issues by bringing more people and ideas to the table, with a variety of tools at one’s disposal. Indeed, it is a lot to take in and apply. And the point certainly is not to overwhelm folk, but rather to help them eventually reach what our colleague Cynthia Parker calls “the simplicity the other side of complexity.” In other words, there is necessary work and wrestling to be done before reaching mastery.

That said, I made an effort in the workshop before we closed to offer some consoling words. Underlying all of the various concepts and tools we discussed, there seem to be a few core ideas for guiding one’s work as an effective collaborative leader/change agent:

  1. Awareness – Everything we talked about pointed to the need to be attentive to the various situations we face as well as our own interior condition. Being aware of what circumstances might call for and not acting on impulse are critical steps in helping to ensure that we are more “in tune” with reality.
  2. Intention – Another theme that emerges is the importance of acting with some forethought, being plan-full in light of the unique situations in which we find ourselves. The basic idea is that we act as an extension of our awareness.
  3. Balance – Collaboration is not about working with everyone all the time or only working through consensus. It comes down to balance – knowing when to make more unilateral decisions and when to be more inclusive; holding results, process, and relationship in dynamic tension as dimensions of collaborative success. Problems arise not so much when we make a wrong call (which we can correct) but when we make the same call over and over again.
  4. Wisdom – It is important to remember that the models we teach are based on practice. Somewhere, someone was doing something effectively and the models capture this success. In a sense, there is something very intuitive about what we teach, and so as important as learning the skills may be, there is also work to be done around getting in touch with our inner knowing, and grounding all of our actions in an ethic of service, authenticity and love.
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May 13, 2009

The Hawt Post & Hot VIP Post Blogs – oh the balance, oh the irony

Does anyone else read the blog posts that appear in either the Hawt Post or Hot VIP Post?  I have read these from time to time and am astounded by the right wingishness of the content.  Now, I’m all for freedom of speech – and I’ll fight for anyone’s right to say something offensive to me (or to you, for that matter) – but it does strike me as odd (or perhaps, in a perfectly twisted way, balanced?) that such hateful (IMHO) material is there to read before I make the magic click into the left leaning, liberal safety of the IISC blogspot.  It is sort of like running through a grove of thorn bushes before you get to the flower riddled meadow.

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May 13, 2009

The Hawt Post & Hot VIP Post Blogs – oh the balance, oh the irony

Does anyone else read the blog posts that appear in either the Hawt Post or Hot VIP Post?  I have read these from time to time and am astounded by the right wingishness of the content.  Now, I’m all for freedom of speech – and I’ll fight for anyone’s right to say something offensive to me (or to you, for that matter) – but it does strike me as odd (or perhaps, in a perfectly twisted way, balanced?) that such hateful (IMHO) material is there to read before I make the magic click into the left leaning, liberal safety of the IISC blogspot.  It is sort of like running through a grove of thorn bushes before you get to the flower riddled meadow.

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May 13, 2009

Brave New Borderlines

My brother Dave sent me a link to this TED video today – Seth Grodin talking about how the internet has ended the culture of mass marketing and shifted things so that we’re able to find those who are like us (or interested in the same things we are), engage them and start movements to create real change. Pretty amazing stuff! You’ll hear him talk about the challenge to ALL of us to lead – and grow into leadership.

I love this – love his challenge to all of us to start a movement within the next 24 hours! AND this raises some questions for me.? How do we make sure our movements are not just people like us? How do we ensure that we continue to engage across differences, meet at the border lines? Where does social justice come into this? How do we, at the same time, move into and take on this new way of organizing while continuing to push ourselves at all times, challenge our own thinking, continue to grow into liberation?

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May 12, 2009

Shared Liberation

I’m proud of us, we are just getting started, but I’m still proud of us. The IISC staff just wrapped up four facilitated days (over a number of months) on the question of race and oppression and how these affect our organization and our work. The conversation wasn’t always easy and no one believes the rest of the process will be easy either, and yet we know that we are committed and I think that fact came through. We have so many ways of looking at this thing, so many stories, experiences, wounds, reactions, aspirations, hopes, demands and dreams – but there was one thing that was clear, and that’s that we are ready to shift.

I feel like I’ve had such a long and contentious relationship with this topic, like race consciousness helped me to become more free me but it has also been a lens that held me back. I’m still grappling with it, and I’m evolving as it does, but it feels good to do this work in the context of IISC. I know that here we can make headway and wherever we succeed we will be able to give forward to the people that we serve.

I’m looking forward to making the right structural adjustments, and to helping develop a space where we can all do our own work while also tending to the collective that we are. I’m looking forward to doing those things that we know work as well as to finding new approaches that will allow us to innovate in this field. I am looking forward to an expansion of my own heart in this process, to holding the awareness that we live in a social context where oppression still strives while also reaching forward to the liberation that must also become mine.

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May 8, 2009

Approach Matters

Last week or so, Curtis tweeted a link to an outstanding book-in-the-making by author-practicioner Peggy Holman. If I follow it correctly, Holman is blogging pieces of her book as she is writing it and inviting folks to comment and give upgrades along the way. She is truly practicing what she is preaching, in that as she writes about emergence, collaboration and innovation— she does it. Pretty neat.

I loved her writing style and am fascinated by her content, so I thought it fitting to bring it forward into this space for our collective grazing. She frames the work of emergence as a way to navigate change – whether on the personal, organizational or global level. Through noticing “patterns of change” through the stories we tell ourselves, Holman calls for a shift in our frames of reference for understanding and engaging Change:

In fact, terms like “bottom up” or “top down” cease to have meaning as we start working from a perspective that looks far more like a network of connections among diverse interacting individuals. As our frame of reference shifts, consider some illustrations of that new story of change. It is not that our traditional story disappears, rather it is integrated into a larger context:

preface-tableSo to riff on Curtis’ most recent blog, Im thinking that part of the what is wild about The Wild of Vermont is that it is a space that incites the engagement of mystery, uncertainty, vulnerability, creativity and humility. It is an approach. Holman’s table above, I think, is his way of making the same case for a re-orientation of approach. Like our 1:1 ratio around planning time to meeting time…I hear a sound that emphasizes Approach as vital to Emergence. As I stated to the participants in last week’s FL, quoting my sister-friend and she-ro journalist Charlayne Hunter Gault, its about when you enter a community, “coming correct”. Its not so much that you’ve arrived, its more about how you enter. Approach matters.

Share! My ears, mind and heart are wide open to musings on how we create spaces for emergence in our work, bring wildness to Cambridge, and/or “come correct” with our clients so that transformation, breakthroughs, innovation….really does happen. And this, not only as “deliverables” for our clients, but frankly, for our own sakes as well. Whats your sense? What do you make of Holman’s “patterns of change” above?

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May 7, 2009

Where Is the Wildness?

“Shhh!  What was that?!”  I barely heard my wife over my concentrated efforts to keep my marshmallow from falling into the fire.  “Curtis!  Did you hear that?  Something’s out there!”  I looked in Em’s silhouetted direction and saw that she, my daughter Annabel, and my mother-in-law were all peering into the darkness and at the bushes on the edge of the pond.  “What is it, Daddy?” Annabel asked.  I got to my feet, grabbed a flashlight and slowly walked towards the now clearly audible rustling, my daughter right behind me.  “There it is!” I heard someone say.  I saw it too.  I gradually moved the light onto the shadow moving across our line of view, and had the glint of two beady eyes return the beam.  Annabel’s hands clenched my calf.  “A porcupine!”  A very big slow moving porcupine.  After a few seconds’ stare-down, the creature turned and went lumbering into the woods and out of view. “That was cool!” cried Annabel, still clutching my leg.

Cool indeed.  An adrenaline rush, a mystery uncovered, a dramatic stand-off.  Everything any child, or adult, might want on an excursion to the woods.  Our weekend in Vermont was filled with moments of exciting encounter like that, from having tussling and territorial woodpeckers dart over our heads, to finding crayfish under rocks, to hearing and deciphering the distant whistle of a black bear; much of this done in bare feet (or sandals), with dirt under our fingernails.  I find our forays into the wilderness to be liberating and invigorating, and as much about wildness as wilderness.  In the North Country I feel certain veils drop, inhibitions lift, and an inner aliveness bubble up.  I see this palpably in my daughter, and it makes me long for more of this in my life overall.

Wildness is something that often seems to get cast as chaotic and “uncultured”.  And yet I know from experience that it can be a gateway to something wonderful and powerful.  I think about those times when, as a trainer or speaker, I have been unleashed, more uncontrolled and less measured, when unbridled passion took hold.  I think about the impact that this has had on me and those around me.  As scary as it can be to let go, these moments have given me a glimpse of something profound and true that may be overlooked in a more buttoned up existence.  And so I’ve been thinking about bringing more Vermont to Cambridge.

What would it mean to be wild in the work we do?  What would this look like and what might it achieve?  For a humorous peek at a possible answer, check out professor and nature writer David Gessner’s “transformative” performance . . .

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May 6, 2009

People's Stories

Sitting in the Atlanta Airport with some random thoughts. Marianne and I worked with a pretty amazing group of LGBT Funders this past Sunday, talking about systems thinking and how it can be used to create strategies to move the community forward in these economic times. It was a wonderful and very inspiring session, in large part because of the amazing people in the room and their willingness to grab hold and go deep right away.

I then went and spent a couple of days with old friends in Birmingham, Alabama – a wonderful time both because Dorothy and Cindy are such amazing humans, because we’ve now known each other for 20 years (we met in 1989 when I was helping bring the NAMES Project Quilt around the country), and because being someplace else often brings new things to light.

One of those was that we went Monday and tried to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (which is, unfortunately for me, closed on Mondays), and instead walked through the Kelly Ingram Park across the street, the former staging area for large civil rights demonstrations where fire hoses and police dogs were set on the demonstrators, most of whom were children. The park is now full of amazing statues of the demonstrators and has been dedicated as “A Place of Revolution and Reconciliation,” words which are read throughout the park and at every entrance. The park is across from the Civil Rights Institute, kitty corner from the 16th Street Baptist Church and around the corner from the motel where King and others stayed in Birmingham. This is important history to me, and I’ve spent much time over the years reading these stories, learning about the people and events. To my friends, on the other hand, these were people they knew – or know now. The father of one of the girls who was killed in the bombing is a photographer they know well. Dorothy’s uncle was one of Rosa Parks’ attorneys – and almost every name and every picture is someone she knew or knows. The stories and people are alive and contextualized as she talks about them. It is not history from a book or a documentary, but a part of her life.

As, when the movie Milk was playing last year, many of the “characters” are people I know. Real people who were involved in making change.

So again and again and again, it is people’s stories that light my imagination, that show that change is possible, and prove that resilience is all around us. I’m grateful for the generosity that allows people to share their stories. And am walking through the airport in a different way right now – wondering what stories these thousands of people, heading someplace or another, carry.

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May 6, 2009

People’s Stories

Sitting in the Atlanta Airport with some random thoughts. Marianne and I worked with a pretty amazing group of LGBT Funders this past Sunday, talking about systems thinking and how it can be used to create strategies to move the community forward in these economic times. It was a wonderful and very inspiring session, in large part because of the amazing people in the room and their willingness to grab hold and go deep right away.

I then went and spent a couple of days with old friends in Birmingham, Alabama – a wonderful time both because Dorothy and Cindy are such amazing humans, because we’ve now known each other for 20 years (we met in 1989 when I was helping bring the NAMES Project Quilt around the country), and because being someplace else often brings new things to light.

One of those was that we went Monday and tried to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (which is, unfortunately for me, closed on Mondays), and instead walked through the Kelly Ingram Park across the street, the former staging area for large civil rights demonstrations where fire hoses and police dogs were set on the demonstrators, most of whom were children. The park is now full of amazing statues of the demonstrators and has been dedicated as “A Place of Revolution and Reconciliation,” words which are read throughout the park and at every entrance. The park is across from the Civil Rights Institute, kitty corner from the 16th Street Baptist Church and around the corner from the motel where King and others stayed in Birmingham. This is important history to me, and I’ve spent much time over the years reading these stories, learning about the people and events. To my friends, on the other hand, these were people they knew – or know now. The father of one of the girls who was killed in the bombing is a photographer they know well. Dorothy’s uncle was one of Rosa Parks’ attorneys – and almost every name and every picture is someone she knew or knows. The stories and people are alive and contextualized as she talks about them. It is not history from a book or a documentary, but a part of her life.

As, when the movie Milk was playing last year, many of the “characters” are people I know. Real people who were involved in making change.

So again and again and again, it is people’s stories that light my imagination, that show that change is possible, and prove that resilience is all around us. I’m grateful for the generosity that allows people to share their stories. And am walking through the airport in a different way right now – wondering what stories these thousands of people, heading someplace or another, carry.

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May 5, 2009

A Subprime Story

I’m trying to negotiate the relationship between simplicity and complexity, and I find this video a perfect example of what can happen when this negotiation is successful. The subprime crisis has been sold to us as the byproduct of a highly complex financial system, but it wasn’t just that, was it? We also know that it had something to do with what turned out to be high-stakes gambling sold to us as banking, but it wasn’t just that either, or was it? This piece gets us closer to the answer, and I wonder what we can do to bring such capable storytelling and visual imagery to the work of social change and the development of more skilled organizations. It’s only 2.5 minutes, check it out!

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