Changing Roles in Changing Times

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Thanks to Jesse Lyn Stoner for inviting me to post Change Your Story, Change Your Organization  to the Seapoint Center blog. It elaborates on five roles highlighted in the Berkana Institute’s Two Loops Model of Change.

Some reflections on the implications of these roles for journalists is on the Journalism That Matters site: Stories for Navigating the Waves of Change.


Two Loop Theory
Adapted from Berkana Institute’s Two Loops Theory of Change




A Radio Interview on The Heart of it ALL

Blue Spinner Greyscale Feathered flippedOn May 24, 2013, I joined radio hosts Sheri Herndon and Erik Lawyer on their weekly talk show, One Becoming One: The Heart of it ALL.

The focus of the hour long broadcast was Navigating Through Chaos and Telling a New Story. We had a fine time talking about how best to work with upheaval and chaos. I talked a bit about the upcoming workshop I’m doing, Engaging Possibilities: Appreciative Inquiry and the Art of Radical Appreciation, on July 8-10 near Jerusalem, Israel. And we talked about journalism in changing times.

For more, listen to the conversation!


Liz Rykert Reflects on Engaging Emergence

Liz Rykert, President of Meta Strategies, interviewed me on a “Plexus Call” — an unrehearsed, spontaneous conversation among leading complexity scholars and practitioners — for the Plexus Institute.  Liz shared her notes with me and I share them with you!

My Preparation for the Interview with Peggy Holman and her new  book Engaging Emergence for the Plexus Institue’s Plexus Call on February 11th, 2011.

As I read the book I felt a sense of circling back and opening up and circling back and opening up. I found myself drawing a visual guide to map out the ideas in the book, helping me to both attend to the sections and the whole at the same time. For me this is not unlike what you need to think about when engaging emergence itself. Of particular note I appreciated the section devoted to the “catches” one encounters while engaging emergence. These rang true for me especially in my positive deviance work. As I went through the book I noted the sequence of questions she shared and extracted those for myself to use them as a stand alone guide to assist in the work. I include them below along with my doodles.

The conversation with Peggy was a delight, full of insight and discovery.

Liz Rykert – Feb 14/11

The Sequence of Questions in Engaging Emergence

  • How can we use our differences and commonalities to make a difference?
  • What is the difference that makes a difference?
  • How do we more fully understand each other and our environment?
  • How do we link ourselves and our ideas with others similar and different than ourselves?
  • What does it take to be receptive to the unknown?
  • Call forth what could be: What do we want more of?
  • What is working?
  • What is possible?
  • How do we create it?
  • What guides us when we don’t know?
  • What purpose moves us?
  • How do we cultivate conditions for the best possible outcomes?
  • How do we include the true diversity of the situation?
  • How do we engage so we achieve the best possible outcomes?
  • How do we inspire explorations that lead to positive actions?
  • What could we do together that none of us could do alone?
  • What would it look like if we were working?
  • What could this team also be?
  • How do we release assumptions of how things are to make space for new possibilities?
  • What is arising now?
  • What themes are surfacing that excite us?
  • What can we name now that wasn’t possible before?
  • How do we call forth what is ripening?
  • Once meaning is named how is it spread?
  • What keeps us going?
  • How do we find potential in the midst of disruption?
  • How do we create conditions in which chance interactions among diverse members of a system lead to break throughs?
  • How do we surface what matters to the individuals and to the whole?
  • How do we make space for the whole story – god, bad, or indifferent?
  • What is the least we need to do to create the most benefit?
  • What is our purpose in seeking change?
  • What is one less thing to do and still be whole and complete?
  • How do we disrupt coherence compassionately?
  • How do we engage disruptions creatively?
  • How do we renew coherence wisely?
  • How do we find potential in the midst of disruption?

2011 Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal Winner

I recently got the news that Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity won the gold Nautilus Book Award for Conscious Business/Leadership.

From their site:

The Nautilus Awards recognize books that promote spiritual growth, conscious living & positive social change,  while at the same time they stimulate the ‘imagination’ and offer the reader ‘new possibilities’ for a better life and a better world.”

They look for distinguished literary and heartfelt contributions to spiritual growth, conscious living, high-level wellness, green values, responsible leadership and positive social change.

Previous winners include Deepak Chopra, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Riane Eisler, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jean Houston, David Korten, Frances Moore Lappe’, Eckhart Tolle, Lynne Twist, Andrew Weil.

Nice company!


See Possibilities — Turn upheaval into opportunity

So many ways to express a few ideas!

I recently published an article in Personal Excellence, a journal that reaches over half a million people.  Here’s the text:

WHAT IF YOU KNEW HOW to face challenging situations with a high likelihood of achieving breakthrough outcomes?

Image by David Kesser,

Your success becomes more likely when you clarify a vision that energizes you and helps you turn difficult, conflicted issues into transformative leaps of commitment and achievement.  By doing so, you engage the natural forces of emergent change.

All change begins with disturbance. Without disruption, there’d be no need to change. By developing a healthy relationship with disturbance, you turn resistance and denial into curiosity and creativity. Since disruption brings out strong emotions, being compassionate helps. At root, compassion means to suffer with. Compassion reminds us that we’re all in it together.

One way to engage disruption compassionately is asking possibility-oriented questions. Consider asking: Given this loss or change, what’s possible now? Asking such questions helps you generate welcoming conditions for creativity.

Engaging creatively with disruption helps you discover differences that make a difference. To maximize your creativity, generate innovative ideas, and establish new relationships, take responsibility for what you love as an act of service. This game-changing way of working liberates your heart, mind, and spirit. It calls you to pay attention to what matters most, drawing out your unique gifts and talents. Spread your wings and step up to your leadership potential.

Create welcoming conditions that provide the space to explore different perspectives. You will spark innovation, solidarity, generosity, and unexpected answers.  You will discover shared meaning or purpose that unites individual needs with those of the organization, turning us- and-them divides into a spirit of we. This shift is counter-intuitive!

If you believe that to belong, you must conform, you will sacrifice to make compromises that no one likes.  The result: feeling dissatisfied and isolated. Instead, collectively reflect, inviting unique expressions of what matters to you and to others. It generates breakthroughs containing what is vital to each and all of us.

When you face challenges, compassionately disrupt by asking possibility-oriented questions like How can we use our unique gifts to create great results? Creatively engage diverse people by inviting everyone to take responsibility for what they love as an act of service. You’ll discover differences that make a difference. Finally, wisely renew yourself and your organization by reflecting with others and acting on what matters. You will turn upheaval into opportunity.

Peggy Holman helps you create a desirable future. She is author of Engaging Emergence and coauthor of The Change Handbook (Berrett-Koehler).


Out of tragedy, hope

At the January 12th Tucson memorial for the six people killed when Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot, President Obama called for a more civil discourse.  His message was well received (See Obama’s Call for Civil Discourse Resonates Around the Country).

Image by David Kessler,

I watched FOX news for their response immediately after the president’s speech figuring they’d be his biggest detractors.  I was impressed, hearing not a single critical word.

The shooting in Tucson opened the door for a deeper reflection on how we treat each other.  A quiet group in Congress, the Center Aisle Caucus, is encouraging Democrats and Republications to break with custom and sit together during the upcoming State of the Union address. (See Emerson, Carnahan team up to promote civil discourse in Congress by Bill Lambrecht.)

That’s a promising beginning.  Still, civil discourse isn’t just for politicians.  If we each get involved, it could spark momentum to face the multitude of challenges that defy polarized haranguing.  It can make creative use of our differences.

It won’t be easy.  The more we know about what civil discourse looks, smells and tastes like, the more we appreciate why it matters, the more likely that, when it gets hard, we will keep working towards it.

We have some subtle challenges to overcome.  Divisive forms of discourse are embedded in our culture.  Advocacy, the basis of our political and legal system, is implicitly about win/lose.  Dialogue, which is based in inquiry and I believe is at the heart of civil discourse, calls on different skills.  And it takes practice.  It’s a muscle we haven’t exercised for far too long.

When first introduced to dialogue, I remember a light bulb moment in which I discovered that deeply listening to another wasn’t so that I could turn their heartfelt beliefs into a weapon.  I don’t recall the specific exchange.  I just remember the response when I jumped on something another said to make my case.  I hadn’t appreciated the effect my words would have on someone who made himself vulnerable by speaking his truth.  His perspective was so different from my own that I just reacted.  Had it not been for others wiser than me, the fragile beginnings of an open exchange would likely have died at that moment.

Years later, I appreciate the value of listening to understand, of bringing compassion – “suffering with” – as I interact with others.  And I have learned that creative interactions can lead to innovative and lasting answers that serve us all.  Further, they contain aspects of what each of us brings to the situation.  If I listen for deeper truths – shared values often hidden within our differences – I can help us uncover breakthrough insights and actions.

Today I pay attention to people different from me trusting that even when I’m offended, I can find some kernel of wisdom at the heart of their message.  Further, when married with my own deep needs and those of others, wise, resilient answers emerge.

That belief has changed how I interact with others.  It requires me to listen creatively no matter how a message is delivered.  Because we are human, I know that some point of connection exists.  It’s up to me to seek it, even when pissed off, hurt, or triggered in some way.

The practices for engaging emergencepreparing oneself, hosting others, stepping up and stepping in, and doing it again – equip us to get involved and influence others.  The more internalized the principles of welcoming disturbance, seeking meaning, pioneering, encouraging random encounters, and simplifying, the more promising the outcomes.

Civil discourse is a pathway to addressing complex challenges because we need each other to find answers none of us can discover on our own. Creativity lives on the edges where unexpected connections occur.  If we want a vibrant economy that provides good jobs, a healthy environment, excellent schools, and strong relationships with neighbors across the street and around the world, we need each other.  In fact without each other, it is impossible to create the kind of democracy that, as President Obama said, “is as good as [nine year old] Christina[-Taylor Green] imagined it.”

So what are we waiting for?

Let’s talk.


One Year Ends and a New One Begins

Where have I been?  Where am I going?

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.

Image by David Kessler,

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.

Several friends, including group process practitioners, Chris Corrigan and Teresa Posakony, asked me what having the book out meant for me.  Amanda Trosten-Bloom, co-author of The Power of Appreciative Inquiry and the new Appreciative Leadership asked me how I thought the book’s publication might change my practice.

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.

Other Reflections

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:

  • Welcoming disturbance
    • 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?
  • Seeking meaning
    • 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.

Happy new year!


My book, Engaging Emergence, in 824 words

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?

Image by David Kessler,

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: