Posted in IISC Inward-facing Thoughts

April 26, 2010

Questions Paving the Path to Change

Many road signs featuring question marks symbolizing uncertainty

|Photo by Qoncept||

With another public offering of Pathway to Change on the horizon (May 4-6), I’ve been putting my thinking towards how best to encapsulate this robust course, which focuses on skills and frameworks for designing and facilitating collaborative change efforts.  The genius behind IISC’s courses in general (for which I can take absolutely no credit) is the simple elegance of the visuals that capture many of the essential ideas and steps.  That said, we can sometimes find ourselves awash in images and wanting something a little more to the point to guide us.  For these purposes, I’ve boiled the course down to a series of key questions that stand behind the various models.  So here is the Curtis’ Notes version (which also applies to a related course, Engage for Results, that we offer to foundations in partnership with GEO):

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February 25, 2010

Mission Affirmed

I want to thank Susan Wright of Wright Momentum for spurring on this post, which is in essence a response to a thoughtful dialogue we have had going for a few months.  My thoughts here are further inspired by a training my colleague Melinda and I did at the historic Penn Center on St. Helena’s Island in South Carolina, a site where the first school was built in the US to educate freed slaves.  It was also an important site for people to come together across racial lines to do strategy work during the Civil Rights movement.  Melinda and I had the good fortune to spend three days with the amazing Gulf Coast Fellows, a diverse group of grassroots leaders from Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas.  Our time with the Fellows affirmed for me the strategic direction IISC has recently adopted.  Specifically, in considering the next three years (2010-2012), our IISC”s staff has collectively committed to concentrating more of our efforts around: (1) helping to build power and collaborative muscle at the grassroots, and (2) supporting social change work that bridges sectors and organizations (including building networks).

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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 20, 2010

Do You Have a Vision?

It’s the beginning of a new year, and all the treadmills are occupied at the gym. It’s hard to find any space in the locker room because so many people are set on establishing a new healthy routine for 2010. I’m not a new year’s resolution person, but I am thinking about fresh starts, renewed commitments to be good to myself, and shifts in the projects I’m going to put my energy towards. At IISC, we’ve committed to a new strategic direction for the next three years. Perhaps you’ve been mapping out your personal workplan for 2010 or doing some beginning of the year reflection with your peers, about how you want to work together this year to achieve progress on whatever social justice project you’re working on.

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December 23, 2009

Moving Toward the New Year

Greetings and best wishes for the rest of this holiday season.? In the Northern Hemisphere, we’re now turning toward longer days and celebrating the return of the sun. Boston, like most of the eastern US, was blanketed in snow this past weekend.? And IISC will be on break the rest of this week and all of next week, holding to its commitment of balance, well-being and sustainability.

I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on all the things I’ve learned over the past year, the ways IISC has grown and shifted, and feel honored to be part of such a dynamic organization and group of people.

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December 21, 2009

Happy Holidays!

The holidays are here and the year is coming to an end. It is at this time that we wish to give you a IISC-heart-filled THANK YOU!! Thank you for connecting with IISC, for reading our blog and for passing it along. A hope of ours is to connect which you here on the blog and we are always eager to hear your feedback. So let us know what you’d like to see by commenting or utilizing the “Share” function on the right sidebar.

As for the Institute, we are taking a little break for the holidays and won’t be updating the blog from the 24th till the New Year. When we return, we’ll be incorporating some of  your upgrades and even adding videos that we’ve made in the office.

If the snow finds you, stay warm, and if you are with the sun, feel free to push it north whenever you’d like. Happy holidays everyone!!

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October 14, 2009


Congratulations to Louise, Stevie, Sharon and the IISC Ireland Team!! The group was presented a National Training Award for “Partnership and Collaboration” in Northern Ireland. According to the NTA website, the “NTA identify and celebrate organisations and individuals that achieved really outstanding business and personal success through investment in training.”

Ireland.AwardFrom left to right, Sharon Duffy, Louise O’Meara, Stevie Johnston.

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October 7, 2009

Bringing Technology Into the Core

Recently at the Web of Change Conference at Hollyhock in British Columbia, there was a session on “Organizational Transformation,” facilitated in large part by Sam Dorman and Jason Mogus (with some thoughts thrown in by Gibran Rivera and myself). In large part, the session was discussing the ways in which organizations are wanting to incorporate technology and social media into their operations and need to shift structures and cultures to do so. Sam and Jason described that many organizations have traditionally been organized so that these functions were siloed into either a technology/IT function or a communications function – and often brought in after direction was set and strategy was developed as the way to spread the word. What has become clear is that this approach not only doesn’t work, but REALLY REALLY doesn’t work. It’s critical for the folks creating the technology strategy to be integrally involved in development of direction and strategy – not just the add-ons that come later.

One of the big questions at Web of Change was how do you do this? It’s a question about how you actually change the culture of an organization, once you’ve identified the direction you want the culture to head. We talked about the model of a collaborative organization – changing from traditional hierarchical organizations to a collaborative model (one of the things IISC works with organizations regularly to do). Gibran then started talking about how, in actuality, much of what’s being done technologically needs to be replicated in person – dispersed leadership, emergent thinking and self-organized, network approaches rather than centralized, hierarchical decision-making. So the question is: what would it take to really unleash the potential of individuals to create and implement projects that bring about real change – and what organizational structure would support this? Read More

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July 1, 2009

Streamlining Meetings in Twenty Words or Less

Had a fun conversation today with Jessica Lipnack and Jeff Stamps about some ideas about how we might improve meetings. (20)

Jessica asked me, “what if, in meetings, everyone had to keep comments to 20 words – a la Twitter’s 140 characters?”

I laugh tonight, thinking of our Irish colleagues’ comments about American verbosity, how they’d love it if we did this. (20)

Would English be the standard? Or Spanish? Something else? Would we need the same number of words in every language? (20)

I’m not sure I’ll be able to just talk in a meeting again. I’ll probably count out the words first. (20)

What would happen if we did this (even for an hour)? I’m ready to try. Thanks again, Jessica and Jeff! (20)

June 15, 2009

Where To Go

Like most of our clients IISC is answering the most daunting of organizational questions: Where are we? Where we do we want to go? And how are we going to get there? In other words, what’s our strategy? What is the roadmap that we can use to guide our collective action in the next three years? And while ever believing that we had a handle on the future was an illusion at best, the next three year time frame poses a level of uncertainty that can just knock your socks off.

The economic crisis in and of itself would be enough to challenge the best of strategic thinkers but the fact that we are moving through a global systems breakdown and the complete rewiring of who we are and how we function in the connected age takes the challenge to the 10th power.

And, so we are experimenting on ourselves in the hope that we can create a strategy development process that is short, sweet and doable and that we can bring to the sector.

Strategy guru, Henry Mintzberg, dedicates his book, Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour Through The Wilds of Strategic Management, to people interested in open fields rather than closed cages by quoting the introduction to Winnie-the-Pooh (Pooh Original Edition):

“There are some people who begin the Zoo at the beginning, called Way In, and walk as quickly as they can past every cage until they come to the one called Way Out, but the nicest people go straight to the animal they love the most, and stay there.”

We are in the open fields and looking for the animal we love the most. We will share our journey as it continues to unfold.

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