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May 29, 2009

The 3/50 Project

This is an issue that I believe is at the core of building community where we live and work. I was delighted to learn that there is actually a national movement (of sorts) to promote the importance of this idea and thought I’d pass it on to you all.

You’ve probably heard me make the point when it comes to buying books for IISC from Harvard Bookstore instead of Amazon.com. For me, in addition to the bookstore, it also comes up around my local hardware store vs. Home Depot, and my local camera store vs. Best Buy. And on and one the possibilities go!

Thanks for considering your own possibilities in this regard. And thanks for listening!

Sara Oaklander

Visit the350project.org

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May 28, 2009

Heart and Soul

“The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.”

—Harold Goddard

As current President and CEO of the Orton Family Foundation Bill Roper tells the story, a couple of decades ago Lyman Orton, proprietor of the Vermont Country Store, was involved in local town planning efforts in Weston, Vermont. In the 1980s, at a time when the state was experiencing a building boom due to the rise of second home ownership, Weston and other small towns found themselves struggling to preserve their unique character while continuing to grow and embrace change. The local town planning commission in Weston, of which Orton was a member, discovered that it was ill equipped to address existing zoning restrictions and bylaws, which left town members powerless around policies that affected land use in their community. The frustration of this experience spurred the creation of the Orton Family Foundation, which began supporting small towns by providing resources, including user-friendly GIS mapping and visualization tools, to citizens to help them envision and ultimately have a say in their communities’ future.

Under Bill Roper’s leadership, the Orton Family Foundation places a particular emphasis on helping towns identify and protect the essence of their community through the collection of shared stories. Like all of the work of the Foundation, efforts have been made to make planning accessible to non-planner types. To this end, language is everything. Roper and his staff avoid jargon by asking residents simply (but profoundly) to identify the “heart and soul” of their community. As they say on their website, “Traditional quantitative approaches use important data about demographic and economic shifts, traffic counts and infrastructure needs, but frequently fail to account for the particular ways people relate to their physical surroundings and ignore or discount the intangibles—shared values, beliefs and quirky customs—that make community. . . . Furthermore, a collection of quantifiable attributes without an understanding of shared values and a sense of purpose does not motivate citizens to show up and make tough, consistent decisions.” In other words, when it comes downs to it, it’s about people.

Time and again, this revelation comes up in various policy debates where experts come together and more often than not leave out the people who are most impacted by (and who have much to offer) their decisions. We know the devastating impact this can have, and yet it continues. In a recent blog post, Dave Snowden rails against obsessions with outcomes measurement when it comes to reforming social services, saying that we continue to look for fail safe, quantifiable, and expert-driven solutions to problems that are much too complex to lend themselves to expertly engineered solutions. He makes a case for greater involvement of the system (including everyday citizens) and the use of narrative to understand the dynamics of and ways of working with the system. With the Orton Foundation example, we might add the importance of using language that invites broader and deeper engagement. This is about creating space for people to share their own experiences and perspectives, allowing not only for the relevance of these stories, but their power to shape something new.

How might we do more of this in our work, to make room not just for the sharing of facts and figures, but stories? And what are the stories we are telling ourselves that are shaping our worlds?

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May 27, 2009

“You Are Brilliant and the Earth is Hiring”

by Linda Guinee

This week over the Twittersphere people started posting “The Unforgettable Commencement Address by Paul Hawken” (from which the title to this blog post is taken).? It is an amazing call, clear and concise, to the graduating class of 2009 from the University of Portland to dig in and work for the earth – but it is much more than that. It is a call to each of us to wake up, take hold and celebrate the mystery of life. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can find it here, I highly recommend taking a look!

A while ago, IISC also called us, through our viral video, to tend the planet.

So, in celebration of this fabulous spring – and new lives about to come into it – I wanted to pass along these calls to all of us. I’m hearing them loud and clear today. And as Paul Hawken says, “Nature beacons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss.”

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May 27, 2009

"You Are Brilliant and the Earth is Hiring"

by Linda Guinee

This week over the Twittersphere people started posting “The Unforgettable Commencement Address by Paul Hawken” (from which the title to this blog post is taken).? It is an amazing call, clear and concise, to the graduating class of 2009 from the University of Portland to dig in and work for the earth – but it is much more than that. It is a call to each of us to wake up, take hold and celebrate the mystery of life. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can find it here, I highly recommend taking a look!

A while ago, IISC also called us, through our viral video, to tend the planet.

So, in celebration of this fabulous spring – and new lives about to come into it – I wanted to pass along these calls to all of us. I’m hearing them loud and clear today. And as Paul Hawken says, “Nature beacons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss.”

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May 26, 2009

Design for Resonance

What a great short video on the design approach! There is so much here that is applicable to social change and to our work at IISC. To offer you a teaser, I was particularly intrigued by the distinction between insights and ideas, where the folks at Continuum argue that ideas are those that make insight actionable. And here at IISC, I think we find some aspirational resonance with the statement that “we don’t hide behind a hundred ideas, we focus on making the right idea possible.” Enjoy!

Resonance from Continuum on Vimeo.

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May 26, 2009

Facilitative Leadership in the Age of Connectivity

We deliver a powerful (by all accounts) leadership development program at IISC called Facilitative Leadership. It is our flagship training program because it directly speaks to the mindset, heartset and skillset needed to lead in the Age of Connectivity. Facilitative Leadership starts, ironically, with the notion that we must radically change our perception and thinking about leaders and leadership, itself. Originally based in a Newtonian, mechanistic understanding of how the world works, our ideas about leadership have evolved over the last fifty years. We’ve gone from a heroic, command and control approach to a more participative, collaborative approach that involved teams, less hierarchy, and a much higher level of engagement and input, to now — a time when our understanding of the world is informed by quantum physics and complexity theory…a world described by Tom Freidman as flat, where all of knowledge, not to mention finances, has been connected and democratized. We are defining and understanding leadership at a time when our systems breakdowns and global crisis demands that we create a future that is so radically different from the past

Several thought leaders with whom we are familiar have themselves been struggling with this concept: Peter Senge in his new book The Necessary Revolution introduces us to the idea of the animateur, the French word for people who seek to create systemic change. He says that an animateur is someone who brings to life a new way of thinking, seeing or interacting that creates focus and energy.” And, in Peter Block’s new book, Community – The Structure of Belonging, he renames leaders as “social architects” defined by their ability to set intention, convene, value relatedness and present choices. The animateur and the social architect seem to be getting us closer to the kind of leadership we need for these times.

As we embrace leadership as being first and foremost about shared responsibility, as a leveraging and unleashing of much needed collective intelligence and commitment; we see in fact that the central task of leadership today is to create the conditions for others to flourish and to thrive, to step into their own power. We see that the roles that leaders play in these times are more aptly described as catalysts, champions, connectors. We see that these leaders are strategic, collaborative, and flexible and they are most often rooted in real authenticity, service and love.

We are daunted in our sector by the demographic reality of baby boomer leaders exiting in the next five to ten years, leaving a massive leadership gap. Or, now, because of their disappearing 403(b)’s, postponing retirement and causing another set problems. I am wondering if this conversation – while important and real – may also be taking us off course or at least maybe taking up too much of our time.

My belief, particularly in these most troubled times, is that we are being called to boldly invest in and develop networked, boundary-crossing social architects….multi-cultural, multi-generational social architects. We need to build their capacity in collaboration, design, facilitation, network building and the uses of new social media in service of real change. It is our collective capacity that will lead us into a future that is so very different from the past.

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May 21, 2009

The Group Effect

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?

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May 21, 2009

Writing a Theory of Liberation

At the 2008 White Privilege Conference, I went to a workshop on Critical Liberation Theory, led by Barbara Love, Keri DeJong, Christopher Hughbanks, Joanna Kent Katz and Teeomm Williams. I was recently re-reading the piece they gave out at that workshop. Their workshop talked about the ways that we can each take daily actions toward liberation. This, they suggested, requires first clearly articulating our own theory of liberation, through which we can then build a praxis of liberation – daily work that brings us in the direction of liberation itself. I was remembering that during their workshop, they talked of the need to know fully where you’re coming from (understanding oppression), but to look forward toward liberation. Otherwise, they described it as if one were leaving on a car trip from Massachusetts to drive to California while looking out the back window instead of looking at the road ahead.

Rereading this, I started trying to think about how to actually articulate a theory of liberation. What would be in it? And I began to see that while I know what I don’t want, the vision of liberation is a little more challenging for me. This, I’m sure, is the legacy of internalized oppression, internalized supremacy and white privilege. The system has put limits on my ability to fully see what liberation looks like, and I’ve internalized these limitations. I know bits and pieces, but a clear articulation seems a bit of a challenge. So I’m making the commitment to start really attending to this in my life, to a clear articulation of my theory of liberation so that I can start taking daily actions toward its realization.

At the same time, I began thinking of Damali Ayo’s piece on five things white people can do and five things people of color can do to end racism. At her workshops on racism, she was constantly getting requests from people wanting to know what they could do. So she sent a request to her mailing list asking people to send in five things white people and/or people of color can do to end racism. About 2000 people responded and she condensed it into a guide (the Fix It Guide).

So I started wondering what would happen if we did a similar thing here – put it out there and ask you: what would be included in your theory of liberation?

Here are some random thoughts from a long plane trip I took yesterday – please add!

  • relationships and society would be demonstrations of fairness and equity
  • sustainability would be demonstrated in all our actions
  • love and compassion would be at the root of our thinking and our actions – and would help guide our creativity
  • all people would be able to fully participate in and have voice about decisions which affect their lives (directly or indirectly)
  • all people would be able to express their full humanity and potential
  • community would be fundamental

What would you add (or subtract or change)?

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May 19, 2009

Learning and Living Networks

I’m intrigued by the idea of living systems and so I spend a lot of time thinking about what it is that gives a network a life of its own. If I’m convinced of the need of decentralized structures and in the power of self-organization then I have to concern myself with what it is that motivates networked efforts to take on a life of their own. When I look at my own experience of life in a network I understand that learning is a key motivator for decentralized self-organization.

To be specific: I want to learn the best way to apply the logic of decentralized structures to movement building efforts.

In order to do this: I read, I experiment, I share my learning, I become engaged in relationships with others who want to learn the same thing.

People who are engaged in a quest for something that they are passionate about come together of their own volition. I am part of a network of friends who are people interested in movement building and social transformation, we come together to socialize as well as to problem solve and learn together. In order to keep this network alive we most often have to overcome obstacles like being too busy working in some social change nonprofit!

So my own experience of life in a network demonstrates that the desire to learn about something that you are passionate about is great fuel for decentralized self-organization. But there is one more layer of nuance here. Among my group of friends we are not doing the kind of learning that is defined by some specific quantity of knowledge being transferred from one head to another, we are engage in the type of active learning that informs creative action.

So there is learning, but there is also something about creative power. But that’s a topic for another blog.

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May 19, 2009

What Would Google Do?

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!

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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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