The Vision Thing

October 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Vision is up.  It’s everywhere.  President Obama has brought the fine art of visioning to the highest office in this country and is inspiring others to partake in his enticing images of an engaged and service-oriented citizenry as well as in becoming fellow storytellers of a preferred and more hopeful future.  Just the other day people I know who work in state government mentioned that they are seeing visionary language on Massachusetts state websites the likes of which were lacking prior to Governor Patrick taking office.  And many who have been laboring for years for a more just and sustainable world, sense the window of opportunity that has opened to audaciously put forth their intentions for, and commitment to, a reality that may have seemed unimaginable only last year.  Despite (or perhaps because of) the economy, boldness is in!

Which raises the question for me – what makes vision work?  I mean, what really makes it take?  For every group or person I work with who gets excited about personal and organizational visioning, there is another who sees the endeavor as being lightweight and fluffy.  “Where’s the beef?” they want to know.  Where’s the action?  How does intention become invention?

An answer has been emerging for me as I’ve been experimenting with some personal visioning, witnessing others, as well as perusing the writings of a few thinkers and practitioners on the subject.  Perhaps this is best summed up by the idea that it is best to live from one’s vision as opposed to towards it.  In other words, vision becomes especially powerful, not only when it raises the goose bumps and tickles the mind, but when we can TASTE IT, when there is some sense of being able to embody some part of it NOW.  This is not to say that we can instantaneously and completely manifest our intentions (what’s the challenge in that?), but there is something to assuming that a seed is already present and growing.  Consultant Peter Block speaks to this in his book Community: The Structure of Belonging, when he writes about the power of convening groups and conversations today that are in some sense an embodiment of the future they hope to create.  What can we do today, he asks, that has something of tomorrow in it?  How we talk to one another, who we talk to, what we are willing to talk about . . . .

For me, powerful visioning has been taking place around the creation of a Sustainability Practice that brings IISC’s resources to serving those striving to ensure that we have a hospitable planet for generations to come.  Beyond naming the intention, I’ve been trying to live out the vision in every conversation I have with potential partners, attempting to bring some value to each of those exchanges.  Low and behold, it is taking!  And so I am learning, the future is now.  And I want to hear from others about what makes or has made vision work for you . . .

No Comments

  • Talitha Abramsen says:

    Curtis,

    Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging book is one of my all time favorite’s (including his The Answer to How is Yes book). I have been re-reading COMMUNITY over the summer in preparation for leading Open Space convenings and for personal grounding. I love his concept of “shifting the story your community/organization/group tells about itself” as part of a larger civic re-engagement and community visioning process.

    His questions: “WHat is the story about this community or org that you hear yourself most often telling? The one that you are wedded and maybe even take your identity from? What are the payoffs you receive from holdig on to this story? What is your attachment to this story costing you?”

    All of those questions are profound in their simplicity and capacity to get at the underlying assumptions that hold us back from valuing the potential in developing collective intelligence and shared purpose.

    and his statement- “The cost, most often, of holding onto those stories, is our sense of aliveness.” That just makes me sit and reflect. Visioning is about speaking to our vulnerabilities, our inner core, that inner aliveness that comes out of dormancy when we tap into a process, a group of like-minded folks, or a piece of hope that we can inhabit a better world. And that inner sense of aliveness can only manifest when we understand our reasons to stay complicit with the past, and tell a story based in problems and not possibilities.

    Another wonderful person I have learned a great deal from over the past couple months, that speaks directly to Peter Block’s work, is Marshall Ganz at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. His “public narrative” framework (which was the basis for training the Obama grassroots campaign workers across the country–Camp Obama’s) speaks to the action element needed in a visionary leader, that Obama was so able to harness and use as a catalyst, igniting and uniting the hearts and minds of so many disengaged citizens for a shared vision and common purpose. The Story of Self, Story of Us and Story of Now model Ganz developed after so many years as a grassroots organizer in various civil rights movements–I have begun to weave that model into my own thinking about developing individual and organizational visions and even effective program design elements for social change initiatives. I had the opportunity and privilege to be trained by Marshall this past spring and much of my thinking was greatly transformed by his work, framework and beliefs. Since there I have seen many parallels between Marshall Ganz (as well as one of his mentors, Saul Alinsky) and Peter Block and have highly recommended seeking out all of their writings/work on the web– of which there is much posted already.

    Thanks so much for your thinking on this issue Curtis- you made my heart open, smile and sing on this dreary Friday afternoon. Much needed inspiration and affirmation to follow what makes one come alive.

  • Curtis says:

    Wow, Talitha! Thank you for the reminder about Ganz’s work and pointing to its connection to Block’s. “Tell a story based on possibilities” is really powerful guidance. Talk about enlivening the people! And yes, aliveness! Been talking a lot about that recently with groups of all kinds. Not just with respect to vision, but process in general. How as designers of experiences can we tap the seemingly hidden vein of new heights of imaginations and commitment?

    Thanks, again.

  • Oscar Perez says:

    Curtis and Talitha,
    Thank you both for this wonderful and inspirational information! I have yet to read anything by Peter Block, but the concept of living your vision as if it is already happening is something that I have researched and consciously work to embody in my own life. I am actually working on a Ph.D. that is principally founded on the fact that the self and the world around us are a product of the narratives that we accept, create, and share with others. In my research I have spanned various philosophical currents and spiritual belief systems that put an emphasis on the narrative of the self as being fundamental to the ways we interact with and create the world we live in. I believe that visioning and living our vision are two major aspects of this. I will definitly pick up the two Peter Block books and look forward to incorporating the wisdom they contain in creating and sharing my vision. Thank you.

  • Curtis says:

    Oscar,

    I’m curious to know more about the doctoral program you are in and if you have something of a bibliography with recommended writings on your PhD focus. Sounds fascinating. Do you know the work of Otto Scharmer (Theory U)? He too spans philosophical and spiritual writings to develop an approach that looks at helping new futures emerge. The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) has also been doing work in this area, looking at how the stories we tell both reflect and bring forth reality. Look forward to continuing the conversation . . .

    Curtis

  • Curtis says:

    Oscar and Talitha,

    Thought you both might appreciate this quote by the writer Ben Okri if you don’t already know it . . .

    “Beware of the stories you read or tell. . . . They are altering your world.”

    Curtis

  • Oscar Perez says:

    Curtis,

    I’d love to get into the details of my dissertation, but, as it goes with these things, it is a long story. I’m getting a Ph.D. in Portuguese and Brazilian Studies at Brown, and the topic of my dissertation is something that I have been working on and interested in for quite a while. However, it goes beyond the linguistic limitations of my department because it is more oriented towards the ways (self)narratives inform our views of ourselves in the world and the types of interaction that inspires. Being multi-lingual, I’ve pursued writings on this topic in Spanish, Portuguese, and English, in order to find how a person can become the type of leader that will inspire community integration and involvement for social change. I think that one major aspect of this is language acquisition and the capacity to view oneself through the different lenses that having different linguistic registers offers, as well as the importance of engaging with diverse communities through the knowledge of their own language so that all the groups involved may benefit.

  • Curtis says:

    Oscar,

    So interesting to think about how being multi-lingual gives one the opportunity to look through different lenses and see different stories about the same reality. I am reminded of Barack Obama, who seems to have that capacity as well as someone who spans worlds in more ways than one. This seems to make him the perfect leader for our times, something that the Nobel Prize recognizes, no doubt. Lead on!

    Curtis

  • Talitha Abramsen says:

    Thanks Curtis and Oscar for including me in your conversation. I have enjoyed reading your responses and appreciated the quote Curtis. The other book I really like from peter block is The Empowered Manager. His website asmallgroup.net is also a great free resource.
    I said to someone else i feel like a Peter Block Missionary, keeping his books and printouts in my bag to share with anyone so inspired. Glad to find some kindred spirits on the same “perch”.

  • Curtis says:

    Being a Peter Block missionary is not such a bad thing! Also, if you want to look at the work of someone else in his camp, with some interesting network twists, check out Jack Ricchiuto at http://www.designinglife.com. He also contributes to the Network Weaving blog at http://www.networkweaving.com/jack. Oh, and I noticed your email address, Talitha – chaordic maven. Love it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.