I just taught a course in the American University MSOD program called Implementing System Change. It is the last course of a two-year program. On the last day, I wanted to give the students some time to dive deeply into a reflection about their experience of the whole program.
My friend and colleague, Sue Woehrlin, who teaches at Antioch University Seattle, suggested using the Hero’s Journey as a framework. What a terrific idea! I drafted questions using an adaptation of Joseph Campbell’s stages of the journey.
The interview guide got it’s inaugural run this weekend. The students loved it! And the quality of the group discussion told me that they had gone deep with each other. I think it did its work to 1) help them prepare for their comp exam; and 2) support them in integrating their experience.
The guide is intended to be used in trios, with an interviewer, interviewee, and a note taker. I had envisioned 1.5 hours — 30 minutes a person. We ended up with about 20 minutes a person, which was a little skinny.
Rather than giving them the discussion guide — also in the attachment — to use in groups of 6, we moved from trios to the whole group. So I used the discussion guide to shape prompting questions for the whole group discussion.
I’m sharing the interview guide because it could be adapted for the closure of any immersion experience. Enjoy!
Now isn’t the future of our civilization a big topic! I did an interview on February 29th with Nicholas Beecroft. He’s been pursuing this subject by talking to a variety of people.
The questions Nicholas asked were so big that I found myself looking for simple, practical answers.
Check out my responses to:
How can we boost our cultural direction and self-confidence?
What’s your highest vision for Western Civilisation?
What’s the new, emerging civilisation?
Whats great about the current Western Civilisation which we should preserve and cherish?
How can we ignite a self-propagating group process to transform Western Civilisation for the better?
How can we evolve democracy to be deeper and more effective?
How can we integrate the dark, shadow side of our history so as to unlock our power and potential? Do we or anyone need to have a strategy in the traditional sense?
How do we best support collective intelligence, group change processes and emergence to get the best outcome?
How can we reorganise our large government bureaucracies for health, education, welfare etc to fully liberate the human spirit of the staff and community and to embed a learning, evolutionary system to harness global intelligence?
How do we create new fields of consciousness – our energetic potential into which the future will emerge- create the field of alignment and remove the obstacles and provide the support structures and allow the self-organisation to occur?
Beyond Bookstook place at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. on April 6 and 7, 2011. The organizing question:
What’s possible when journalists and librarians come together?
We brought together about 130 participants to explore this question. Filmaker, Jacob Caggiano, created a fabulous 7 minute video that tells the story. And it was so good, that the Knight Foundation put it on their homepage!
Last year brought Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity into publication. The book brings to fruition years of pursuing a quest to understand the deeper patterns at the heart of the emergent change practices that I have found so powerful in enabling diverse, even conflicted people to discover answers to the complex issues they face.
The feedback on the book has been heart warming, People familiar with the ideas tell me that they find the book helps them get clearer about what they already know. It makes it easier to apply and to share. And people new to the ideas tell me that the notion of welcoming disruption is life changing.
Great questions! I told my friends that I needed to grow into a stronger voice for the ideas that mean so much to me. I want to live up to the book’s potential through what I say and do.
Why? Because I believe that the disruptions in our systems – economic, communication, education, governance, and others – are getting larger. And the more of us who are equipped to step in with some insight into the dynamics at play and how to deal with them, the more likely we will look back on this time and shake our heads at our crazy naiveté and wonder how we made it through the chaos. It means that we will have arrived at a high-order coherence, knowing we have become a social system that engages with its differences creatively while conscious that we are an interactive, ever-evolving whole.
Being a Voice for Ideas That Matter to Me
The practical reality of 2010 is that I have much to learn to be the voice I want for these ideas. After a round of webinars, talks, and workshops, I have run the gamut from home runs to strike-outs in sharing the ideas in the book.
The book is doing its work, bringing wonderful invitations to mentor and work with people in a range of disciplines. Among them: technology companies, the Montessori system, the mental health system, and my passion: journalism.
Recently, Bill Braswell, a manager at Microsoft, gave me several gifts in my learning journey. During a workshop on the book’s ideas, he offered a partner question to my “What’s possible now?” He asked “What matters now?” I find these questions great companions! What matters grounds us in meaning. What’s possible lifts us towards our dreams. Together, they generate a dynamic tension that draws us towards creativity and wisdom.
Bill invited me to present to my most challenging audience. People unfamiliar with patterns of change or why they should care: technology managers. I flopped. Big time. Aside from being humbled, it hit all my “I don’t know how to offer my own ideas” buttons. As I’ve reflected on what works when I’m at my best, I’ve found two answers so far: authenticity and interactivity.
Authenticity. When friends coach me, they tell me that I need to tell people about who I am. The authentic me. I have such a challenging time thinking my story might interest anyone! Bill said it in a way that may have actually sunk in. He advised I tell people:
How I got here
Why it is important to me
Why it should be important to them.
I’ve been doing that ever since. It seems to help. And goes like this:
I started exploring these ideas when I experienced Open Space Technology for the first time. I fell in love because I saw something I didn’t know was possible: that the good of the individual and the good of the collective can both be served. I always thought it had to be a tradeoff. Now I see this dynamic as an measure of success, indicating a higher-order system has emerged.
I spoke above of why it is important to me and why it should matter to others: we’re entering a time of increasing disruption and the more of us who are equipped to work with it, the more likely these times become the launch of breakthrough to more compassionate, creative, and wise societies.
Interactivity. I ran into my own judgments of the sage on the stage. It seems counter to what I’ve been about for years! Suddenly I’m the expert with the answers? I am at my best playing jazz with a group. And when there’s the face-to-face bandwidth for interactivity, it works when I find questions that spark conversations among the people present and between the group and me.
I’m sure there’s more I need to learn. I know that when the bandwidth is less, like in a webinar, I am still stymied on how to spark people’s interest in learning more.
I want to honor Spirited Work – an Open Space learning community of practice that met quarterly from 1998 to 2004 to explore the intersection of being and doing – spirit and work. The seeds of what I know about emergence were not only planted but took root and started to grow through Spirited Work. I’m embarrassed to say that I never name it in the book. My dear friend, Anne Stadler, pointed it out and I was shocked to discover that I had removed the reference in my last edit, when looking for ways to shorten the Preface. While I talk about the experience, I don’t name it. Should I have the opportunity to do a second edition, Spirited Work’s influence on me will be front and center.
I have one last reflection on my growing into my voice. In talking with people who are excited by the ideas in Engaging Emergence and want to use them in their work, I want to become a better mentor. I often feel that I leave interactions having missed opportunities for further engagement. That may be fine, yet I feel there’s more I can bring. I do so much processing so quickly that it doesn’t occur to me to make my process visible to those around me.
In 2011, I plan to experiment with being more explicit about how I work with the principles and practices I name in the book. I know it’s more about providing questions than answers. The inquiries that come to mind are around:
What’s the nature of the disturbance that inspired you to contact me?
In terms of preparing yourself, what’s your relationship with the unknown, with the energy of the situation, with possibility?
What might be a compassionate response?
Why does it matter to you?
Given the disturbance, what matters now?
Hosting a creative response to disturbance
Given what’s meaningful, what’s possible? What intention should guide the work?
Who should be engaged (for random encounters)?
What actions make sense (that are pioneering)?
These questions draw from the different layers of disrupting and differentiating that I articulate in the book. They’re intended to uncover a path towards a new coherence. And they’re my starting point for taking my own next step into 2011.
I did a guest post for Pegasus Communications last week, providing an appetizer for my book. Below is a slightly longer version — with examples restored. If you’re looking for a taste of what it’s about, read on.
What would it mean if we knew how to face challenging situations with a high likelihood of achieving breakthrough outcomes?
Success can occur on the scale of the Belfast Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland. Or it could be in-the-making, like the Transition Town movement that supports communities to self-organize around initiatives that rebuild resilience and reduce CO2 emissions. It might be modest, as when people or groups reconcile their differences, improving the lives of families, organizations, and communities.
Since the early nineties, I’ve sought to understand how we turn difficult, often conflicted issues into transformative leaps of renewed commitment and achievement. I’ve used whole system change practices — methods that engage the diverse people of a system in creating innovative and lasting shifts in effectiveness. I’ve co-convened conferences around ambitious societal questions like: What does it mean to do journalism that matters for our communities and democracy? And I’ve delved into the science of complexity, chaos, and emergence – in which order arises out of chaos – to better understand human systems. In the process, I have noticed some useful patterns, practices, and principles for engaging the natural forces of emergent change. Here are a few highlights:
All change begins with disruption. It’s obvious if you think about it. If there were no disruption, there’d be no need to change. By developing a healthy working relationship with disturbance, we can turn resistance and denial into curiosity and creativity.
Since disruption understandably brings out strong emotions, compassion is a great attitude to cultivate. At root, compassion means “to suffer with”. In other words, compassion reminds us that we’re all in it together.
One powerful practice for engaging disruption compassionately is asking possibility-oriented questions. Consider these appreciative questions posed by people engaged in the emotional roller-coaster of journalism’s upheaval:
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has closed its doors, part of the wave of newspapers folding. Given this loss, what’s possible now?
With journalism in such upheaval, what curriculum serves journalism students well?
If not gatekeeper, what is my role as a journalist?
How do I connect community in civil conversation so that news not only informs but engages people in civil society?
Such questions help create welcoming conditions for engaging the diverse stakeholders who care about quality news and information in a democracy.
Engaging disruption creatively helps us discover differences that make a difference. At the heart of engagement is a practice that helps people to maximize creativity, generating innovative ideas and establishing new relationships.
The practice is taking responsibility for what we love, as an act of service. This game-changing way of operating liberates hearts, minds, and spirits. It calls us to pay attention to what matters most, putting our unique gifts to use. As we spread our wings — with all our diversity — it may seem like an invitation to chaos. Yet a meaningful organizing question and welcoming conditions provide spaciousness to explore differences and spark innovation, solidarity, generosity, and unexpected answers.
For example, Google is famous for giving its engineers 20 percent of their time to work on something company-related that interests them personally. Often, the engineers form teams that create new products, improve development methods, and make customers happier. (See The Google Way: Give Engineers Room.)
Wise, resilient systems coalesce when the needs of individuals and the whole are served. Discovering shared meaning turns “us” and “them” divides into a spirit of “we”. This shift is so counterintuitive! Many of us live with an unspoken belief that to belong, we must conform. We sacrifice to make compromises that no one likes and feel more isolated as a result.
The practice of collective reflection helps surface what matters to individuals and the whole. It can generate unexpected breakthroughs containing what is vital to each and all of us.
Such reflection re-framed the state of journalism for many mainstream and new media people by making visible an industry shift: journalism still serves the public good and is now entrepreneurial. This realization inspires innovation and mobilizes leaders who have been unsure what steps to take.
What’s Possible Now?
If a turning point occurs when we experience ourselves as part of a larger system, how do we create such experiences at scale?
Joel de Rosnay, author of The Symbiotic Man, introduced the notion of “the macroscope”. Just as microscopes help us to see the infinitely small and telescopes help us to see the infinitely large, macroscopes help us to see the infinitely complex.
Creating maps, stories, art, media, computer models, or some combination of them all can provide a macroscopic view through which we come to know we fit together. It can clarify our own role and inspirr commitment to others and to a greater good.
If the challenges ahead have you stumped, don’t despair. We are ideally positioned for a promising way forward. Ask possibility-oriented questions. Engage others creatively. Reflect together on what you learn. And share your stories of upheaval turned to opportunity.
[1 Mediratta, B., & Bick, J. (2007, October 21). The Google Way: Give Engineers Room. Retrieved November 24, 2010, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/21/jobs/21pre.html
As I’ve been thinking about the leadership skills that serve networks well, I remembered something I wrote in August 2007 about the roles that show up in emergent systems.
What I posited then was that should any of these roles be missing, the chance of coherence emerging – of finding the simplicity on the other side of complexity – is much lower.
Today I think of network leadership skills in terms of cultivating hubs and making links. Yet, as I re-read these roles, I discovered my thinking hasn’t changed much. I added “inviter” to my original list and moved “disturber” up front. Beyond that, it seems I’d ordered them in something of a temporal way – roles that support disrupting, differentiating, and cohering. My list follows the photograph.
Okay, leadership skills may not be obvious in the picture, but I suspect there’s a lot more going on in this ecosystem that we completely grasp!
What roles would you add or change?
Disturber – Someone who brings attention to something from outside the system (a person on act of nature) that interrupts existing assumptions or patterns. It can also be someone/something from inside the system that is differentiating itself in a way that interrupts current assumptions and patterns.
Attractor – Someone(s) who asks a calling question (implicitly or explicitly) that draws people who care about the issue to come present. In formal systems, we typically call this person the sponsor.
Inviter — Someone(s) who reach out to engage the diversity of the system. Based on the intent of the calling question, who needs to be involved? Inviters are gifted and knowing how to make the connections, particularly to those who may not quite see their stake in the situation.
Guide – Someone(s) provide hospitable space for the work. Sometimes this includes a process that channels energy. Other times, it is simply ensuring the gentle structures for a nutrient environment are present. In group process work, this is the person identified as the facilitator.
The People of the System – The people who bring the varied voices of the system. The broader the definition of the system, the more diversity is in the room.
Bridge/translator – Someone(s) who can provide a sufficient hook for others in the system to connect with the disturbance/disturber. Without this role, rather than creative use of the disturbance, resistance or rejection by the system’s immune system goes up. These folks are active in the conversation, helping the rest of the group connect with what the disturber is attempting to express.
Edge worker – An easy to overlook and critical role! Edge workers generally hang at the margins. When someone checks out because they’re disturbed, an edge worker listens, sees, and honors that participant. Edge workers are gifted at staying present to what is happening for the other person, artfully reflecting back what they experience. They support others to discover the nuggets hidden in their dissonance.
Organizer – As new insights emerge, someone(s) grasps the threads and starts to weave them into a new story, one from which action flows.
Artist – Different forms of expression – words, music, art, movement – matters. Artists help us move beyond stuck places, engaging people on different channels. Art can make meaning more visible and can amplify the effectiveness of the interactions.
Think about the difference between pack animals, with alpha leaders keeping others in line versus birds, ants, bees, or other animals that seem to function with no one in charge. These interactions call on different leadership skills than rising to the top of a pyramid.
What can we learn from flocks, swarms, hives, and other leader-full forms of organizing? More, how can human consciousness enhance the effectiveness of these collective forms of leadership? We live in an age in which networks are an emerging means for organizing. They are more responsive, resilient, creative, and let’s face it, more fun than most hierarchical organizations I’ve experienced. Over time, hierarchies may well give way to networks as our dominant organizational form. Understanding new leadership skills will help us transition.
I’ve observed that leadership in social networks is a more multi-threaded phenomenon than hierarchical leadership. For example, traditionally, we rely on a few people to make strategic decisions for everyone else. Increasing complexity – a more diverse public, greater access to a broader range of perspectives, technological innovations affecting scale and scope of just about everything – makes this strategy less effective. No longer can a few people with relatively similar backgrounds and perspectives make the best choices for a whole system. Whether companies, communities, or social systems, like health care or education, networks call forth new approaches to decision making and leadership.
The Nature of Networks
Social networks are loosely connected, brought together largely by common purpose and personal passion. Following the boss’ orders just doesn’t work in networks. So how does anything get done? More basic, how do people know what needs doing?
Leadership in networks is relational, collective, and emergent. As I’ve read more about networks, two dynamics rise to the top when thinking about how they function:
hubs form and evolve; and
How do these dynamics play out in social networks? My experience with network leadership has been influenced by a seminal experience with the Spirited Work learning community. Spirited Work met for an extended weekend four times a year over seven years. We met in Open Space, a process that supports groups in self-organizing around what matters to them. After the first couple years, the four founders did something quite unique: they stepped down as the sole leaders and invited anyone who felt called to do so to step in to steward the community. In other words, leadership became self-selected. It seemed such a great learning laboratory that I stepped in.
We, the stewards, became a hub for the Spirited Work community. We discovered that whatever challenges existed in the larger system showed up in our meetings. Stewarding was the intensive course! As we brought our diverse perspectives and interests together, we learned to listen for what was beneath the dissonance of our differences because it contained the seeds of breakthrough.
For example, early in our life, we had a financial crisis, discovering our income wasn’t covering our costs. A philosophic clash arose between paying our bills and welcoming whoever wished to participate regardless of their financial means. The larger purpose of Spirited Work – learning to link spirit to practical action on behalf of the community and the world – held us together as we worked through our differences. Ultimately, someone suggested holding an auction to raise funds. A few people took on the task and at our next gathering, the auction debuted. Not only did we clear half our debt in that first auction, people had so much fun sharing their gifts on behalf of the community, it became a regular activity. And our financial woes were permanently resolved.
Leadership and Network Hubs
From the outside, hubs in a network look a lot like hierarchical organizations. They are groups of people organized to accomplish something together. That makes it easy to confuse leadership of a hub with hierarchical leadership, thinking the same rules apply. Not! Giving orders, chain of command, top-down decision making doesn’t function when people choose whether to participate.
Hubs form because people are attracted to them. Hubs grow when people are drawn to the purpose and/or the people and believe that they can both give and/or receive something of value. The remarkable communities that maintain the Wikipedia or fill the Open Source software movement are examples of networks producing real-world benefit.
Leadership and Network Links
Link leadership is elusive because it doesn’t fit our traditional thinking about leadership. Why is connecting people or organizations a form of leadership? If you want breakthroughs, interactions among those who don’t usually meet is an essential ingredient. And when hubs connect to hubs, ideas can spread like wildfire.
Hubs and links attract different personality types. As someone who tends to be part of stewarding a hub, I have developed a complex relationship with linkers. They come late to meetings (if they show up at all). They often bring dissonant ideas from “out there”. They never really seem to fully belong to the hub. So they’re easy to discount. And doing so is always unfortunate. And I’ve discovered, they often feel unappreciated.
I’m learning to love linkers! They are late or seem outside because they spend their time with those at the margins. They are often the source of new ideas or differences that can attract others who, in the abstract are desirable, but aren’t getting involved. Skilled linkers learn how to bring outside perspectives and participants in graciously.
There’s So Much More To Say!
I could keep writing because there’s so much more to say. And even more to learn. Still, I’ll stop for now, knowing my understanding of the multiple skills and aspects of leadership in networks will continue to evolve.
Below are some of the questions Cheryl asked and a summary of my responses:
Everyone is familiar with chaos, but I’d like to begin by describing what you mean by emergence for our listeners. What is it and how does it show up in our lives and in our work?
It’s a word to describe something we all experience, usually at the best and worst times. The simplest definition I’ve found is order arising from chaos. So we experience emergence in emergencies – something happens and people self-organize to handle the situation.
Then there are the times when we give ourselves over to the larger forces and follow our noses and something magical happens. Think of great jazz or team sports at their best.
Early in the book you tell the story of how your own perspective on engaging emergence began. Tell us about that experience?
In the 1990’s I managed software projects. I was excellent at figuring out the steps that needed to be done and then making those steps happen — planning the work and then working the plan.
As the projects got bigger and more complex, I ran into a one that involved enough people with different opinions that that old approach just didn’t cut it.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to work with someone who understood how to work in a different way. Once I experienced it, I had to learn more.
It strikes me that one intention of your book is to provide people with tools for overcoming the emotions of fear, panic and retreat that instinctively emerge when we’re confronted with upheaval. These emotions are a natural response to crisis, but how do they get in our way as we’re trying to adjust to these disturbances?
I love your question because it gives me a chance to both answer it and demonstrate one of the simplest ways of doing what you’re asking about.
Change IS often an emotional roller coaster. Just acknowledging that can take some of the angst out of change. We dig ourselves deeper in because of where we focus our attention. In other words, when we focus on how our emotional state gets in our way, we reinforce it and it gets more in our way!
Questions can be powerful influencers of the stories that shape our attention and action. So, for example, what if we turned your question around and asked,
How could the powerful emotions we naturally experience support us as we face disturbances?
What do you notice when the question is asked that way?
Great questions do three things: they provide focus which brings some sense of order. They attract those who care. And they invite others to join in.
In your preface you talk about achieving breakthrough solutions rather than compromises that no one is happy with. We’ve seen a lot of the latter on Capitol Hill in recent years. How does engaging emergence help us to arrive at innovative solutions?
Rather than trying to force an answer, engaging emergence has us do almost the opposite: it suggests we make room for the unknown. After all, if we had the answers, we’d already have pursued them. So instead of pursuing familiar paths, the idea is to give something new a go. How do we do that in a way that something useful arises rather than devolving into chaos?
Create conditions for something useful to happen through:
Bringing clarity of purpose by asking disruptive questions compassionately. For example, given the state of our schools, what’s possible to do on behalf of the children?
Inviting the diverse system of people who care about the question.
Welcoming who and what shows up, recognizing that even if it seems disruptive, it likely contains important kernels of truth that need to be discovered and incorporated into the ultimate solutions.
What are the five principles of emergence?
I have identified five principles based on what science teaches us about emergence. They are helpful both when designing activities that engage a diverse group in addressing a complex issue or when operating in a challenging situation: