In a recent interview with Krista Tippett, on her radio program On Being, the poet/philosopher David Whyte offers up some beautiful reflections about the story behind and theme that runs through his poem “Working Together.” Having been commissioned to write a poem to celebrate the completion of a wildly successful group project, Whyte found inspiration one day while looking out the window of his descending airplane and watching the misty air rushing around the wing, marveling at how the elements of the air and the particular shape of the wing come together to make flight possible. He then rifts on this observation to consider the elements inside of himself, inside everyone, that have yet to be combined, or even discovered, and wonders about the distances that might be bridged as a result. Read MoreLeave a comment
Tag Archive: emergence
In an article in Fast Company, entitled “The Secrets of Generation Flux,” Robert Safian writes that in these uncertain times, there is no single recipe for success. Safian profiles a number of leaders who have been relatively successful at riding the waves in different ways, and notes that they are all relatively comfortable with chaos, trying a variety of approaches, and to a certain degree letting go of control. This resonates with our experiences at IISC helping people to design multi-stakeholder networks for social change. For example, even in a common field (food systems) and geography (New England) we witness different forms emerge that suit themselves to different contexts, and at the same time there are certain commonalities underlying all of them.
The three networks with which we’ve worked that I want to profile here exhibit varying degrees of formality, coordination, and structure. All are driven by a core set of individuals who are passionate about strengthening local food systems to create greater access and sustainable development in the face of growing inequality and climate destabilization. They vary from being more production/economic growth oriented to being more access/justice oriented, though all see the issues of local production and equitable access as being fundamentally linked and necessary considerations in the work.2 Comments
“Network entrepreneurs are keenly aware that they are few among many working across the larger system, and in this way they embody a special type of … leader[ship].”
The concept of leadership has been undergoing an evolution. In this “network age” there appears to be both an expanding appreciation that leadership has always been about more than the singular heroic individual, and that going forward, leadership really must be much more of a shared endeavor.
In our collaborative consulting work at IISC, leadership (or what we often call Facilitative Leadership) is about “holding the whole,” thinking expansively about the state of a given complex system (community, economy, ecosystem, etc.) and paying attention to what will be required to ensure resiliency and/or change for more equitable and sustainable benefit. In these situations, the traditional top-down images of leadership fall far short.
Network leadership is at best a dynamic, diverse, more decentralized and multi-dimensional phenomenon. Many of those with whom we partner at IISC understand this implicitly, and we have found it important to help them be more explicit about this by clearly delineating the roles that leadership can embody in a collaborative/networked change endeavor. Read More3 Comments
“Long term prosperity is primarily a function of healthy human webs.”
– Sally J. Goerner
Over the past several years of supporting self-declared “networks” for social change, we at IISC have been constantly evolving our understanding of what is new and different when we call something a network, versus say a coalition, collaborative or alliance. On the surface, much can look the same, and one might also say that coalitions, collaboratives and alliances are simply different forms of networks. Yes, and . . . we believe that what can make a big difference is when participants in a network (or an organization, for that matter) embrace new ways of seeing, thinking, and doing. So let us propose here that network approaches at their best call on people to lead with some of the following:1 Comment
A couple of years ago, I was turned on to the work of Louise Diamond. Diamond has been bringing insights from the dynamics of complex systems to peace building work for many years. Her efforts connect to a growing number of practitioners and thinkers who see the need to approach social change with an ecological and evolutionary mindset. In one of her papers, she extracts some of the “simple rules” that yield core practices for working in this way. Here I have adapted and adjusted some of them in application to network building for change and resilience in food systems. Read More6 Comments
I’m working with a social change network that is evolving its structure to make better use of existing resources, and we have talked about how aligning more explicitly with network principles, both in its structural design and operations, might help with this. Culling through a variety of principles from other networks with which I’ve worked, I’ve come up with the following dozen examples:
- Always make opportunities to build connections/relationships/trust
- Welcome/incorporate diversity and divergent thinking
- Design for serendipity/emergence
- Make room for sharing, reflection and learning
- Model and encourage generosity (generosity leads to generativity)
- Promote and practice distributed leadership
- Value contributions over credentials (“expertise” takes many forms)
- Make it easy for people to take initiative/self-organize
- Ensure equitable access (to ideas, resources, one another)
- Honor diverse forms of knowledge and expression
- Make the periphery the norm
- Adaptability, not control
A couple of weeks ago I joined a panel of presenters on a webinar hosted by Johns Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future focused on collective impact and network building for food policy councils. Other panelists included Ellen Kahler from Vermont Farm to Plate Network, Jennifer Obadia from Health Care Without Harm, and Whitney Fields from Indianapolis Food Council. My role was to provide an overview of collective impact, giving credit to FSG and the Collective Impact Forum for codifying and advancing research and practice in this arena, as well as network building principles as applied to collaborative efforts to realize more local, just and sustainable food production, distribution and access. Read More2 Comments
Just coming off of co-delivering a 2 day Pathway to Change public workshop at IISC with Maanav Thakore, and I’m continuing to think about how important context is to the work of social change. In particular, I’m thinking about how seeing the foundation of all change efforts as being fundamentally networked can yield new possibilities throughout the work. There is the change we plan for, and the change that we don’t plan for and perhaps cannot even imagine – emergence. This is the stuff of networks, of living systems, of decentralized and self-organized activity, which can be encouraged and supported but not often predicted or controlled. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
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How do I have to be for you to be free?
“A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something – and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.”
– Warren Berger
One of my favorite reads of the past couple of years is Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. It continues to strike me as being an important book for any social change agent. Early on, Berger begins with the following provocative statement, that rings true to personal experience:
“Well meaning people are often trying to solve a problem by answering the wrong question.”
In some cases this is because they have not paused long enough, if at all, to consider the underlying question their efforts are trying to solve (risking “active laziness” which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago). Or, as my colleague Cynthia Silva Parker has said, they are “solving for solution,” essentially promoting and/or fighting over their own preferred approaches. And so they continue to offer the same old, ineffective and outdated, approaches or products. This is especially problematic in a time of such change and flux, when we can’t fall back reliably on what we already know. Read More1 Comment
“What is to give light must endure burning.”
I sometimes use the metaphor of “fire tending” when talking about Facilitative Leadership, the approach to leadership and social change we here at IISC practice, model and teach. Facilitative Leadership is grounded in the ethic of “creating and inspiring conditions for self-empowerment so that people can work together on a common goal.” It is a form of leadership, rooted in a series of connected and reinforcing practices, that increasing numbers of people, organizations and networks seem to be drawn to in this ever more complex, uncertain and dynamically interconnected world.
Thanks in part to the following inspiration from poet and professor Judy Sorum Brown, I invoke “playing with fire” as a way to think about ways of creating optimal conditions for collaborative change. Read More7 Comments
There is growing awareness that current organizational structures can breed irresponsibility. That is, arrangements are created where people are less able to be responsive in helpful ways. This happens, for example, when accountability is bottlenecked in hierarchies and decision-making is distanced from where the action is most timely and relevant. Read MoreLeave a comment
“The ideas of self-organization are very important to understand the autonomy, the authenticity and basic humanity of people.”
One principle of “thinking like a network” that I like to highlight is the notion of moving from permission and perfection (looking for the one right answer) to self-organization and emergence. Self-organization is a defining characteristic of living systems and connected to their adaptive capacity and development. I like this short video as an introduction to self-organization and how it highlights the importance of diversity, connectivity and “local interactions.” NOTE: It starts to get into “network effects” and social organizations around 2:30. The significance of understanding self-organization is essentially that we develop a better understanding of how life, including social systems, actually works and are able to work better with systemic potential, rather than trying to command and control what is much too complex.
“I think self-organization and the newer understanding of life and complexity, when it is applied to the social realm and human organizations, can help people to find their authenticity as human beings.”
– Fritjof Capra