February 16, 2010

V-Day 2010


I know I’m coming late to the party, but I saw the Vagina Monologues for the first time this weekend and I was blown away by it.  Rather than writing yet another raving review of what evidently is a deeply moving work of art, I want to make a comment on the movement that it has unleashed.

I saw the play as produced by MIT undergraduate students who did it in concert with thousands of others around the world – I think it most appropriate to let V-Day speak for itself: Read More

February 12, 2010

A Week in the Life

Its been a week of provocative, profound and promising experiences on behalf of IISC. I’ve been on the road — learning, training, networking and promoting our work.  Here’s a rundown of some of the great ideas, people and organizations I’ve had the honor of connecting with these last few days:

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February 11, 2010

Question Box


|Photo by Mikl Roventine||

My wife and I recently missed one of our favorite church services of the year – The Question Box Service.  For a few weeks leading up to this particular Sunday, parishioners are typically invited to submit questions for the ministers to respond to.  These questions can be of any number of varieties – philosophical, ethical, political, personal, whimsical – and tend to be very wide ranging.  The answers to selected questions become that day’s sermon.   As interesting and entertaining as it is to hear the clergy offer their spontaneous reflections (they dress down for the occasion, doffing their robes and sitting crossed-legged on stools in front of the pulpit, a la talk show hosts), I find the questions themselves fascinating, especially when artfully phrased.  Just the reading of the card can elicit a ceremonious “oooh” or “ahhh” from the listeners.

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February 10, 2010

Government of the People, By the People, For the People?

I’ve been thinking a lot about why people love to hate government, and why I just can’t bring myself to hate it, too. I hold tightly to the notion of government “of the people, by the people and for the people” and want to hold it accountable to serving its role to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

To the people who say (as I heard recently on the news) “I want government out of my life and out of my pocket!”, I say, see how far you get without roads, bridges, schools, water, sewer, fire and police forces, courts, public transit, public parks, libraries, and the like.  To those who say (as I also heard recently) “I was raised that if you see something that needs to be done you just do it. No whining. No waiting for government. You just do it.” I have a few questions. Does that include paving a pothole? Educating a neighbor with special needs? Making books available to children and adults doing research? Building an extension to a road or transit system? Ensuring that the air and waterways are not polluted? Providing shelter, health care and other safety net supports for people in need? Making sure that everyone does their part to avert a climate disaster? You get my point. As a tax payer, I’m getting a pretty good deal for what I pay. It would take more than 80 years of paying our property taxes to exceed just the cost of educating three sons in private schools!

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February 9, 2010

Happiness Matters


|Photo by Portable Church||

It sounds simple, but I increasingly find the idea that “happiness matters” an important principle to remember.  Understanding that happiness matters gives us a great lens with which to evaluate our efforts.  As I go about the work of social transformation – am I happy?  Are the people I work with happy?  I hope it’s obvious that I’m not equating happiness with the cheap thrills that are abundantly available to us in this age of hyper-capitalism.  I’m talking about the happiness that is defined by a sustainable sense of contentment.

I am talking about being happy even as we engage the often challenging work of social transformation in a world that desperately needs it.  I often say to activists that miserable faces of martyred frustration often are, in and of themselves, the best argument against being in movement with those that want a better world.  I contrast this experience to the abundance of song and dance that defined the struggle to put an end to South African Apartheid.

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February 8, 2010

Breaking Ground

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.

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February 4, 2010



|Photo by nathanborror|

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.

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February 3, 2010

Multicultural Leadership

I’ve been really enjoying reading the book Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age by Juana Bordas. It’s a great read, in which she describes leadership based on African American, Latino and Native American leadership models in the US, while making a global connection. Bordas calls us to broaden beyond a single view of leadership and work toward

“an inclusive and adaptable style that cultivates the ability to bring out the best in our diverse workforce and to fashion a sense of community with people from many parts of the globe. This inclusive form of leadership is in sync with many cultures, enabling a wide spectrum of people to engage, contribute and tap their potential.”

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February 2, 2010

From Complication to Complexity

If you don’t have four minutes, make them!  Here is one of the simplest explanations of the Cynefin framework and it is one of the most useful ways to understand the shift that we must make in the social sector.  I start most of my client work by arguing that the problem we are facing in the sector is that our system has been developed to address complex problems as if they were complicated.  For example, our urban public schools are trying to teach many kids who might be facing hunger, trauma, violence, lack of documentation and a myriad other social ills, but we are spending our time arguing about curricula and standardized tests.

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February 1, 2010

Howard Zinn

Last week one of my heroes died. The first time I remember being with Howard Zinn was at an anti-war meeting at Boston University in 1970. Even then his strong presence guided so many of us by providing a deep historical perspective on activism and resistance and their rightful place in a healthy democracy.

He figured large in my life in the years since then. Through his writing and speaking he articulated a thoughtful rationale for an alternative point of view to traditional mainstream media analysis.

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January 29, 2010

Leaderships for Our Times

Leadership - Liverpool street station

|Photo by victoriapeckham||

In this post I take a look at the overlap and differences between three leadership approaches to which we here at IISC regularly turn in light of our bent towards social change and beliefs about the world in which we live.

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January 28, 2010

Finding Our Place

It is rare for any of us, by deliberate choice, to sit still and weave ourselves into a place, so that we know the wildflowers and rocks and politicians, so that we recognize faces wherever we turn, so that we feel a bond with everything in sight.”

Scott Russell Sanders, “Local Matters”

Place 1

|Photo by Muffet||

Some dozen years ago I went on a road trip with my grandfather to our ancestral home in Arkansas.  Leaving from upstate New York at this time of year was not exactly a recipe for easy driving and awe-inspiring views.  After a particularly dreary stretch in Ohio, I was ready to snooze the rest of the way when we crossed over into Kentucky.  Suddenly things opened up.  As we continued south on Route 75, I felt my body started settling into the lovely rolling farm-studded landscape.  I remember how my breathing eased and the extraordinary sensation of “being home,” though I had only been to the state once before.

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