April 30, 2009
Last week Melinda and I had one of those experiences where everything seemed to come together. We were in Farmington, Connecticut with grantees of the Graustein Memorial Fund’s Discovery Initiative, training them in collaborative leadership techniques for their community-based work around improving early childhood education and care. For starters, the group was remarkable. The chemistry of those that came together from around the state was what any trainer or participant dreams of, and the shared passion for and commitment to their work was nothing short of inspiring. Beyond that, Melinda and I just seemed to be on our game, pulling from a wide range of tools with a well-coordinated readiness to go as deep as the group seemed willing to go. Collectively we created a space that filled gradually with rich learning, self-revelation, strong connection, and things that are still difficult to articulate. It was the kind of session that people left saying, quite literally, “I am different than when I arrived.”
Later as Melinda and I were driving back home on Friday evening, still savoring those three days, we turned a corner on the Mass Pike, and the city of Boston leapt up to greet us. It was around 7:30, the end of a beautiful clear spring day, and the sun was in such a position that it illuminated everything in a rosy hue and accentuated every nook and cranny, making buildings seem almost more than three dimensional. I have always loved that time of day, when the world becomes softer and more vibrant. Come to find out from Melinda that there is actually a name for this in photographic circles – “the golden hour” – the first and last hour of sunlight during which the sun’s rays travel obliquely through the atmosphere, lending indirect radiance and enhanced color to whatever they touch. Read More
April 24, 2009
I write this on the eve of the 3rd day of a training session of our Facilitative Leadership course, where the last of 7 practices,“Celebrate Accomplishment”, often gets the short shrift on this last day of training. The verdict is still out in terms of whether we will give it its just due for tomorrow’s class. Yet, I find myself wrestling with a provocative body of information I became aware of through a recent tweet I received on the subject of praise.
According to a study performed by the National Institute for Physiological Sciences:
Our findings indicate that the social reward of a good reputation in the eyes of others is processed in an anatomically and functionally similar manner to monetary rewards, and these results represent an essential step toward a complete neural understanding of human social behaviors.
In other words, those of us who made a conscious decision some time ago that we would not be, as the hip hop heads say, “paper chasers”, may instead just be chasers of a different kind: the currency of good reputation. Yea, even Solomon in all his wisdom suggests the NIPS report understates the reality: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1). For this wise king, the pay off of a good reputation is not equal to money as the scientists suggest, it is better. Whoa. News flash: As far as this neurological stimulus package goes, we, in all of our do-gooding, may just be as excessive, greedy, and self-serving as the Wall Street titans and capitalist fat cats we are quick to condemn. At the end of the day, it may be, that we all, in a Pavlovian sense, seek the sensation of reward – and whether money or praise, its all about us/our feelings.
What, then, might be the implications of such a phenomenon for the non-profit and social change sector that we live, work and eh….strive, in? On one hand, it confirms what we already know: that for a job actually well done, where a million dollar bonus or even a competitive salary isn’t on the way, we ought to lavish folk with what author and psychologist Gary Chapman calls, “words of affirmation” – verbal appreciation, simple verbal compliments (Chapman, Five Love Languages)
But not so fast! Hold back on the flowery words, my friends, for just a sec!
Consider the words of Alfie Kohn in Punished by Rewards
“[The key factor] in a positive judgment is not that it is positive, but that it is a judgment.
Kohn makes the case that praise actually lowers confidence and heightens pressure to live up to the compliment in order to receive future compliments – setting in motion a “rat race”, or the “praise maze” if you will (explaining some folks’ negative reaction to verbal affirmation).
Not sure what all this means for outcomes, evaluation methods, organizational culture, American pragmatism, parenting or how to break the power of negative words/images over groups of people who have been systematically targeted with such, but I’m sure some of you have ideas. What of it? Anyone others who may be cash poor and reputation rich want to weigh in? (No worries if you want to say something, well, nice….;-)
April 23, 2009
A colleague and I recently met with staff of a client organization to discuss their interest in crafting a regional “partnership” strategy. Leading up to the meeting there had been some discussion with folk about what it would mean to bring a network lens to their work, to perhaps approach this as a “network building” opportunity. Needless to say we were excited and came ready to dive deeply into the conversation.
My colleague and I decided it would be best to “start where the people are” and hear what their interest was in a partnership approach, how this had come about, and how they saw it as different than what they had been doing up until now. There was some very interesting discussion about the need and desire to break out of silos, change from being project-focused to creating more of a coordinated continuum of services, and develop stronger relationships among stakeholders in each of the regions in question.
Then the time came to pop the question – “What about networks? How do these fit into your work?” I was invited to say a few general comments about network theory and network building and how this might be different than general collaboration/partnerships/coalition building. On the heels of my brief presentation, there ensued commentary that is coming to be a bit of a refrain. “I still don’t understand how network building is different than what we are trying to do in terms of partnering.” “I’m not sure how we fit our work into that theory.” In some instances, there was palpable consternation expressed along with these comments – “Frankly, that just makes it all the more confusing for me.”
Okay, I said, let’s stop right there. If we are working too hard to fit our efforts into network theory or bending our brains too much to understand how networks are different than other kinds of collaboration, then we may not be headed in a very productive direction. I decided to add simply that partnerships have a lot in common with networks, that they may in fact be networks of a sort. The only caution is that partnerships can be overly deterministic in terms of who is in and who is out and how things get done, which might not move the needle as much as we hoped. If network theory can offer anything, it is the suggestion that we not make our partnerships too much like business as usual with the usual suspects. It might be of some benefit to hold space open for new ideas to emerge and make efforts to reach out to those to whom we might not otherwise engage.
To these comments, all heads around the table nodded. Brows unfurrowed. And we moved on. With each of these kinds of conversations I realize that we are all truly where we are. I am also reminded that practice often makes a more powerful lead than theory. The two must, of course, dance together, but the real star is what we make happen in the world. So I say, let’s not wait until we get it right, because there is no such thing. Let’s just remain open as we go, because there’s life in that.
April 21, 2009
I am currently working with a client who is focusing on an issue that illuminates all of our recent blogs about this great moment of transition. They are seeking to influence the international community to make the issue of fragile states, a first order root cause in creating an unjust and disordered world. And, here’s the problem…the U.S is still working out of its cold war script i.e. that “most transnational problems like terrorism or piracy can be linked back to an enemy state with an irredeemable ideology” though most recently there are signs that a new understanding is beginning to emerge. The Obama administration is talking about “smart power” and the need for multilateral action. And, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently testified to Congress that ‘In recent years, it seems that we’ve had more security problems from states that have been in trouble than we have from strong states that have been an adversary to us in the traditional way” And, hello…we’re making friends with Cuba!
In Donella’s Meadows book, “Thinking in Systems”, she talks about the greatest leverage point, or place to intervene in a system to make change is at the level of paradigm, the mind-set. She describes this as the shared idea in the minds of society, the great big unstated assumptions about how the world works. So, here we are with a front row seat as so many of these great big unstated assumptions are being examined opening the door for real change. Let’s be aware and awake and contribute where we can!
April 17, 2009
I suppose it’s the overlooked companion of Change: Anticipation. It’s the silent provocateur that causes us to peer into the distance, squint past the horizon, turn the proverbial corner, stand on the brink, gear up for the jump off, and on and on. It is the automatic reflex within us that kicks into gear once we have a cognitive or instinctual knowing, that things are about to…shift.
That Change is afoot, we well know: Sam Cooke crooned it; Grandma prayed for it; Obama touted it; analysts predicted it; planners plan for it. My thoughts here turn to unpacking a hunch that what we are missing out on, quite unbeknownst to us, is the wisdom, creativity and knowledge available to ( through?) us/clients in that (anticipatory space of) calm before the storm (of Change). Scharmer’s naming and exploration of pre-sencing gets at it; Gibran’s queries around testing for “readiness” in groups is along the same lines; prototyping as a way into solving complex problems is yet another expression within this same sphere. Rather than an anxious, fear-based, controlling energy wherein we brace for change, I’m suggesting that there is a playful, curious, self- and Other-awareness we can decide to adopt that enables us to learn from Change, and how to navigate it, perhaps even before it occurs.
Although it sounds pretty ethereal and intangible, I am convinced that there are skills and practices that individuals/groups can employ and imbibe that strengthens abilities to anticipate Change in a fruitful, strategic, edifying way. What those skills and practices are, Im not entirely sure (ability to reflect, trust, sensing, spiritual sensitivity, emotional healthiness, confidence, calmness – whether as individuals or among groups — are some things that come to mind).
At a time when families, institutions, neighborhoods, our nation and indeed the World seem to be in a cosmic holding pattern as we await what unfolds with the economy, the planet, the political arena, and within our own neighborhoods, the words of the great mystic Howard Thurman remind us of what is available to us in challenging times, where Change is imminent and the Hope that Curtis speaks of is so desperately needed:
“The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication, they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges, and to kindle a hope that inspires.” ~ Howard Thurman, Footprints of a Dream, 1959
Help me along. What do folks think this notion of a sphere/realm of practices of anticipation when change is imminent?