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!