February 11, 2019
Image by Clearly Ambiguous, “Solar System,” shared under provision of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Last week, I was invited to a convening held by the Social Impact Exchange to do some work with funders who are considering and/or investing in systems change (as opposed to say programmatic) strategies. The invitation was to kick the convening off by helping to “open minds and hearts to new ways of thinking and doing.”
At IISC, we have been playing with what it means to “think,” given what can tend to predominate in many maintstream settings is highly analytical, disembodied and heart-dismissing approaches. Our belief is that we need to (re)claim the fullness of our intelligence in order to create the more beautiful world we know is possible. As our friends at Management Assistance Group have written:
“Too often, we stay in generalized and practical knowing, rarely dipping into foundational knowing or artistic knowing in meaningful ways. By not intentionally drawing on these, our theories and action plans are often disconnected from our values and beliefs, and the bedrock experiences of our lives.
Moreover, privileging one way of knowing over others marginalizes and ignores other truths that people bring from other ways of knowing. This marginalization often lies at the core of conflicts, systemic barriers to change, and inequity.”
To support people in this direction of more holistic knowing, we are creating more space to explore our individual and collective interiors, sit in and with spaciousness and silence, explore reality and possibility in more embodied ways (movement!) as well as engage in deeply relational interactions that can be heart and soul expanding.
At one point during our opening, I offered a collection of systems-oriented quotes and sayings and invited people to do a self-organized group read of them (whoever felt so moved to speak, though only one quote to a person). People were asked to pay attention to what moved inside of them as they read and heard these quotes. This was done, in part, to help dislodge people from unexamined thought patters. I was explicit about this and introduced the exercise with these words from quantum physicist David Bohm:
“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
When the group was over, and after a moment of silence, people were invited to share with a partner what they were most struck by and why. You are invited to do the same with the words below, to read in silence or aloud, to share any reactions and resonance and also to offer other systems-focused quotes/sayings that you have found to help open and expand some aspect of your thinking.
Image by Matthias Ripp, “Planetary System,” shared under provision of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
“A system cannot fail those it was never intended to protect.”
– W.E.B. DuBois
“The problem with problem-solving is the idea that a solution is an endpoint.”
“We act as if simple cause and effect is at work. We push to find the one simple reason things have gone wrong. We look for the one action, or the one person, that created this mess. As soon as we find someone to blame, we act as if we’ve solved the problem.”
– Margaret J. Wheatley
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
– H. L. Mencken
August 8, 2017
I am saddened to learn that Mila Baker passed away recently. While I did not know her personally, she was a mentor from a distance. A few years ago, I read her book about peer-to-peer leadership and found it both enlightening and validating as I continued my journey to uncover more about the promise of seeing and doing in networked ways.
Mila N. Baker
Mila Baker was a writer, teacher, philanthropist, cross-sector leader and artist. At the time of her passing, she served on the Board of Directors for the Berrett-Koehler Foundation, was a member of the adjunct faculty at Columbia University Teachers College, as well as a Principal Research Investigator at the Institute for Collaborative Workplaces, and Visiting Professor at Kuwait University. The following is a post I wrote after reading her book published in 2014.
I just finished reading Mila Baker’s Peer-to-Peer Leadership: Why the Network is the Leader, which adds to the growing case for more widespread network thinking, foregrounding of human relationships, and shifting traditional conceptions (and myths) of leadership in business and beyond. Baker’s book echoes the spirits of Margaret Wheatley, Clay Shirky, Carol Sanford, Nilofer Merchant, Kevin Kelly, and Harold Jarche, and I appreciate how she couches her writing in the evolving leadership and organizational development literature and thinking.
June 13, 2017
“Life moves toward other life… If we trusted more in these cohering motions, we could move into an essential role … supporting the system to explore new connections, new information, new ways of being. It means focusing on opening the system in all ways.”
Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers, a simpler way
“Bridging” in the work of network development speaks to the act of creating connections between socially heterogeneous groups (or putting it a bit more crassly, building bridges between “us” and “them”). The benefits of bridging include making it possible for diverse groups to share and exchange information, creating new forms of access, as well as leveraging new ideas and spurring innovation between groups representing different interests and/or backgrounds. Bridging widens social capital by increasing the “radius of trust.” Unlike “bonding,” or more in-group relationship building (think “birds of a feather flocking together”), bridging can help create more inclusive structures that can have implications for long-term resilience and more equitable development. The following is a story of a network engaging in intentional bridging work for more robust connectivity, flows and opportunity …
Food Solutions New England (FSNE) is a regional, collaborative network organized to “support the emergence of a New England food system that is a resilient driver of racial equity and food justice, sustainable farming and fishing, and thriving communities.” FSNE is convened by For the past 5+ years, IISC has worked with the convening “backbone organization,” UNH Sustainability Institute, to launch and structure itself as a formal network, as well as to concretize and evolve its core commitment to racial equity as it has become more diverse and inclusive and worked for systemic change.
Eighteen months ago, FSNE was faced with making a decision about where to hold its annual Food Summit. The Summit was originally conceived to bring together delegates from across New England to strengthen collaboration for regional food system sustainability. The commitment was made early on by the convenor to move the Summit around the region, holding it in each of the six New England states once before going to any of them for a second time.
Delegates to the 2015 New England Food Summit gathered in Boston, MA.
In 2016, Connecticut was the last state to host the New England Food Summit. The network’s backbone organization was faced with a decision about the specific location within the state. Previous Summits had been held in prominent hubs in the other states – Portsmouth (NH), Burlington (VT), Portland (ME), Pawtucket/Providence (RI) and Boston. While places like Hartford and New Haven might have been natural considerations given their respective amenities and relative centrality in the state, the choice was made to bring the Summit to Bridgeport. This decision was spurred in no small part by the leadership of State Senator Marilyn Moore, who hails from that city and is a member of the FSNE Network Team. Senator Moore pointed out that not only would it be significant for Bridgeport to play host, given it is often overlooked in favor of its more well-known and regarded neighbors, it would also be enlightening for Summit delegates to see reality on the ground. Furthermore, this choice was viewed as an expression of FSNE’s commitment to racial equity and food justice.
April 21, 2016
Image by Steve Jurvetson
Much of the work we do at IISC includes some element of helping to develop networks for social change. This entails working with diverse groups of individuals and/or organizations to come together and create a common vision and clear pathway to collective action and impact. I’ve been reflecting on how important it can be to not simply focus on creating or developing networks “out there” and across traditional boundaries, but also “in here,” within different recognized borders.
“When a living system is suffering from ill health, the remedy is found by connecting with more of itself.”
– Francisco Varela
The notion that part of the process of healing living systems entails connecting them to more of themselves is derived, in part, from the work of Francisco Varela, the Chilean biologist, philosopher and neuroscientist. As Varela and others have surmised, living systems are networks, including individual people, groups, organizations, and larger social systems. Furthermore, they have noted that when a living system is faltering, the solution will likely be discovered from within it if more and better connections are created. In other words, as Margaret Wheatley puts it,
“A failing system [or network] needs to start talking to itself, especially to those it didn’t know were even part of itself.”
I find it interesting in the context of social change work to consider how the process of re-connecting at and within different systemic levels can be beneficial to those levels and initiatives as wholes.
September 18, 2013
“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet
|Photo by muffinn|http://www.flickr.com/photos/26445715@N00/3092761353/in/photolist-5HidcB-7fk9W4-7fk9YM-7fp2H9-7fp3vd-7ueieU-fhxQiW-8Vb4qT-8Vb3LB-8Ve8tA-8Ve8Cf-8Ve8dS-9ifHmE-9icD5Z-defTUR-d8TvrY-d8TDNN-8RZpMu-d8ToLu-daa2HF-8RAUDQ-7FG4oc-d8SYJo-da9Uxx-da9WRc|
In their article, “Using Emergence to Scale Social Innovation,” Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze highlight the critical role of self-organization, spontaneous and purposeful arrangement and action without formal or “external” management, in facilitating social change. As self-organization occurs in social networks, emergent and unexpected phenomena flow through the strength and flexibility of connections between people and groups. As Wheatley and Frieze note, these emergent phenomena tend to result in “a powerful system that has many more capacities than could ever be predicted by analyzing the individual parts.” This is part of what constitutes the “intelligence” and resilience of networks. This capacity flows naturally when conditions are ripe for individuals to freely find each other and create. Read More
December 13, 2012
|Photo by Melissa Wiese|http://www.flickr.com/photos/42dreams/518103211|
I was so grateful when Laura Moorehead, Director of Training with the Institute for Civic Leadership, shared this reading from Margaret Wheatley at the close of my time with this year’s ICL class. From my perspective, there is much wisdom here, and the words do a very nice job of summarizing much of what IISC was there to share and discuss regarding leadership, networks, and collaborative change . . .
There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about Read More
April 11, 2012
“Life is irresistably organizing. Life opens to more possibilities through new patterns of connection.”
M. Wheatley & M. Kellner-Rogers, A Simpler Way
|Photo by Kelly B|http://www.flickr.com/photos/foreverphoto/147660610|
The late David Bohm pointed out the lost potential of quantum physics as he saw it being assimilated by a traditional and very mechanical mindset that wanted to make it another instrument of control, prediction, and quantification. For him the power of the field was much more subtle, qualitative, and lay in the understanding that there is an “implicate order” to reality from which form emerges via our thoughts and efforts to make meaning. From Bohm’s perspective, much of what ails us stems from disorganized thought that has us attaching to form, regurgitating and defending our prejudices, as opposed to thinking that embraces the more creative flow of life. As he once expressed it, “Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally.” Read More