|Photo by Dave F|http://www.flickr.com/photos/92163630@N00/4025069261/in/photolist-78FwRT-7eEdPY-7rjYoy-7uNgmF-7vfzgW-7S6HqS-ahxM9M-bLxMq2-bLxG9H-bxD6L3-bxD6gw-bLxFGB-bwN9uq-8kt9LS-cTQhiL-bxD1Cb-acnUyb-ack4wz-9Hw99M-8JYow6-8V696G-7Zduf2-dKgycj-9C6fhQ-9HyZKY-bvGe6y-98DdGq-8sEggt-drjdQF-acnRFq-acnRBf-ack1tM-ack1DR-ack1Ag-acnRM3-acnRRY-ack1Qx-acnRrw-acnRP9-aBxDYM-bLxKtB-bLxK5c-bxD3eE-aoY5QL-aD4XFc-ctuFgG-ctuJyu-ctuFK3-ctuGww-ctuJDE-ctuFM3|
I recently was reminded of a truth about resilience. It came in the form of a story told by someone about the root system of red wood trees. These giant and venerable beings, some standing as high as 350 feet and as old as 1000 years, are not so deeply rooted in the soil. Their roots tend to only go to a depth of about 4 to 5 feet, which is extraordinary when you consider how far up they reach. So how do red woods remain vertical amidst storms and the ravages of time? The answer is that they reach out to one another. Below the surface, they stretch their roots out horizontally where they become entwined with those of their neighbors. This becomes the source of the forest’s strength – vast networks of interconnections.
On a day when we like to focus on independence, I like how this story reminds us of the extent to which our ability to survive and flourish is caught up in our common roots and interrelationships.
A couple of weeks ago there was an intriguing article in Next City entitled “The Post-Hero Economy: Learning to Lead Through Networks.” In it, Jennifer Bradley and Bruce Katz tell the story of some extraordinary attempts to boost a region in the midwestern United States. The focus is not on a leader or leaders, but on a network. As the authors state, “When telling stories of transformation and turnaround, it is tempting to shape them into personal stories about heroes. One charismatic visionary — a mayor, school superintendent, entrepreneur, outraged citizen — steps up and, with unrelenting vigor and inspirational leadership, starts an irreversible cascade of change. But there is a growing body of research suggesting that, as a system or problem becomes more complex, arriving at a solution requires multiple minds from multiple sectors or perspectives.” Read More
I was recently turned on to the work of Louise Diamond by the Plexus Institute. 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 food systems change. Read More
|Image from Anders Sandberg|http://www.flickr.com/photos/arenamontanus/273180669|
Yesterday I posted a bit of a summary of Carter Phipps’ provocative new book, Evolutionaries, which included the suggested trajectories from a variety of evolutionary thinkers and observers, including greater (and increasing rates of) external and internal complexity, convergence, creativity and change. The implications I left off with included a call for a stronger embrace of our creative self-starting (entrepreneurial) potential and also the necessity of engaging in more intentional and skillful collective (cooperative or collaborative) effort.
To take this another step, there is much in the evolutionary (biological/physical and philosophical/spiritual) literature that validates and extends our thinking about how to work with life and dynamic systems to steward change in broadly desirable, just, and life-affirming directions.
“Somebody’s gotta tell them, that we are not ghosts, that we are in this city and we are alive!”
– Jessica Care Moore
Feeling nostalgic, shaken, stirred, and inspired during my current trip to Michigan, and my first return visit to my hometown of Flint in 15 years. So much here has changed: foreclosures – 2,000 last year alone, 40% of all property parcels in the city are vacant or abandoned, jobs have disappeared now to the point of 25% unemployment, 36% of all residents live in poverty, half of the student population in the public schools has left in the last 10 years resulting in numerous school closings including my high school, of those students that remain 81% qualify for free lunch. And the flip side, there are anchor institutions, physical landmarks, and stalwart active citizens (thank you, Sylvester Jones and Harold Ford, among others!) that remain and provide some sense of backbone, continuity, and hope. Read More
As I prepare to do a couple of trainings for leadership in multi-stakeholder networks in the New England region (focus being on the skills of facilitation, process design, and managing decision-making), I intend to frame our conversations with some exploration of the differences between traditional organizational leadership and what is required to steward networks towards positive impact. I begin with the presumption that network form and function are chosen strategically for the ability to accomplish something that could not be done at all or as well through other approaches. Whether trying to develop a food system to eliminate food insecurity or change an educational system to yield more equitable opportunities and outcomes, the attraction to a network approach is likely due to a desire for some combination of the following: Read More
|Photo by Simon Cockell|http://www.flickr.com/photos/sjcockell/3251147920|
Last week, I had the opportunity to work with a cross-sectoral group of emerging and established leaders from around southern Maine through the Institute for Civic Leadership, an initiative IISC had a hand in establishing some 18 years ago. For the past six years I’ve offered three days of collaborative capacity building entitled “Facilitative Leadership and Teams” to each successive cohort, and it’s been interesting to see how the offering has evolved over time. Throughout there has been an interest in looking at how to leverage what is now an incredible base of 500 + individuals who have been through this leadership program. And so this year we dived formally into network building strategies. Read More
“Networks are not just about sharing the pie. They are about growing the pie.”
– Ellen Kahler, VSJF
It has been a privilege and an inspiration to spend the past two days working with my colleague Beth Tener and the amazing team at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF) to help launch the Farm to Plate Network. Over 150 people came together to connect and take the conversation deeper around how they want to work together to double local food production in the state over the next 10 years, as a way of boosting economic development, increasing jobs, and ensuring that every resident has access to healthy food. A big rallying cry has been the devastation that Tropical Storm Irene wrought on the farming community. And as we learned from former Secretary of Agriculture Roger Allbee during a very enlightening presentation about the Great Flood of 1927, once again Vermonters responded in ways that have impressed those (including the American Red Cross) who came to help, with their self-organizing and neighborly efforts to get one another back on track.
In an encouraging speech to launch the proceedings, Governor Shumlin highlighted the challenges and opportunities that stem from the changing climate that is predicted to increase precipitation 20% in the state in years to come. “Our best days are ahead of us if we can pull together,” he said. Read More
|Photo by ernohannink|http://www.flickr.com/photos/ernohannink/3931122112|
Last week’s post on “Negativity and Self-Limiting Advocacy” ended up setting off quite a conversation. In light of that, I thought I might further flesh out some of what Barbara Fredrickson recommends via her book Positivity in a chapter entitled “A New Toolkit.” Here she enumerates ways to enhance overall positivity, and therefore broaden our individual and collective minds, build resourcefulness and resilience, and flourish in the direction of our highest aspirations. Here is what she suggests, based on rigorous research: Read More
|Photo by Robert Higgins|http://www.flickr.com/photos/37893534@N07/4779016818|
“Stakeholder” is a big word in our practice at IISC. When it comes to our collaborative change work, we take stakeholder analysis very seriously, in certain situations spending a few days to complete this critical task. The aim is generally to surface the names of those groups and individuals who as a sum total will help to ensure that we have the system represented in the room. What this means is pushing people, at times, into uncomfortable places to consider typically unheard voices and those they have outright resisted inviting to the table but without whom they could not hope to make the kind of change to which they aspire.
Typically we engage in a conversation with our clients and partners that asks them identify, in the context of some given change effort, those whose stakes are defined in the following ways: Read More
I was alerted to this slide show by the Leadership Learning Community, for which I am most grateful. I appreciate how it brings together considerations of complexity and living systems for organizational leaders.