Here at the Art of Hosting in Chicago working with 70 people fromthe restorative justice field and the early childhood education world. Inspired by a design from Tenneson Woolf and an invitation from Teresa Posakony, my new friend Anamaria Accove and I hosted a lovely exploration of the Cynefin framework using movement and physical embodiment to help people understand the difference between the domains. The exercise went this way:
We taped the framwork on the floor, which is the standard way I teach it. Before we talked about it at all, we invited the group to divide into four groups and follow our instructions.
The first exercise was a simple challenge: to arrange the group by height. There were different ways this was accomplished but everyone settled on a linear shape with the tallest at one end and the shortest at the other.
The second exercise was for people to arrange themselves by age and year of birth. A complicated problem for sure, and there was a variety of good solutions that emerged. Of course in order to do this you need a little analysis, both of the data and a good model fro representing it. But having arranged themselves, each selection was accurate and useful.
In the third exercise we asked people to arrange themselves by place of origin. This wasn’t a particularly complex task, but it did result in an experience of emergence. Again it required conversation, story telling and some meaning making (like, from my mother’s womb? From my hometown? From the place I left this morning?). What emerged were several interesting ways of representing the data, but we honed in on one of the two maps. By asking one or two people where they originated from we were able to predict where the rest of group was from with startling accuracy. What emerged was a map of the United States that came with its own information and data.
For the fourth exercise we asked people to arrange themselves like five year old children at a birthday party right after the cake had been eaten. Utter chaos.
Finally we posed a question from the realm of disorder. We asked the group to arrange themselves by temperature. ”What?” This really helped to show that disorder was not the same as chaos. Disorder invites us to lean in and figure out what is going on before we see if this is a simple or complex task. In that sense it is the opposite of chaos, in that disorder itself is a container. This is such an important domain to understand and to understand especially how we default to assuming how to solve problems without first defining the scope of what we are looking at.
After running this exercise we taught the Cynefin framework but naming the domains, explaining the cause and effect relationships and explaining the decision making schemes for each domain. Many people reported that they understood it at a deeper and more practical level and especially in the domain of disorder which gets a short shrift in the wider world. Folks that were familiar with the framework but who had not groked the concept of disorder got it this time! That is partly down to me learning how to teach it better as well, by characterizing the disorder domain as one that present problems that stop us in our tracks and force us to say “WTF?” WTF has now been translated by the group in this context as “Where’s the Family?” which is actually a pretty good strategy for dealing with disorder!
Richard Straub writes in the Harvard Business Review, on a great piece about what stops managers from adopting complexity views:
Complexity wasnt a convenient reality given managers desire for control. The promise of applying complexity science to business has undoubtedly been held up by managers reluctance to see the world as it is. Where complexity exists, managers have always created models and mechanisms that wish it away. It is much easier to make decisions with fewer variables and a straightforward understanding of cause-and-effect. Here, the shareholder value philosophy, which determines so much of how our corporations operate these days, is the perfect example. Placing a rigid priority on maximizing shareholder returns makes things clear for decision-makers and relieves them of considering difficult tradeoffs. Of course we know that constantly dialing down expenses and investments to boost short-term margins inevitably damages the long-term health of the company. It takes a complexity approach to keep competing values and priorities and the effects of decisions on all of them in view — and not just for management, but equally for investors, analysts, and regulators.
In the short term, a reductionist mindset is most useful for winnowing away externalities so that you can show that what YOU did had real results in the real world, thus justifying your value to the accountability chain and the shareholders.
via Why Managers Havent Embraced Complexity – Richard Straub – Harvard Business Review.
Last year in Slovenia, a group of Art of Hosting practitioners gatherd for a week at a well loved 17th century manor to be together. I suppose you could call it a “conference” but we all called it a “Learning Village.” And it was a learning village. The agenda we set was for a five day Open Space gathering. there was music and local wine drinking and a learning journey on the land, and the teenagers cleaned out an old stone chapel that hadn’t been dusted for 300 years. We talked about our work, did tai chi and aikido, played football and made art. Our kids fell in love and broke up!
It was a village, and there was tons of learning. And no action plans, no next steps, no commitments, no necessary reports. A few months later there was a harvest document lovingly stewarded by a few people. This is all appropriate and good.
And sometimes, there are gatherings where next steps and action plans are important and necessary and are the reason why we are gathering. But always? No.
I have begun to notice that when I see conference agendas with “next steps and action plans” attached to them (and especially attached to the end of the last day when everyone is tired and most people have left), I become sad. Actually and emotionally a little sad. i think it is because doing this unconsciously reduces the pure experience of being together and intenstly learning into something “productive” in order to justify doing it.
So please, think really carefully about whether or not you gathering needs action steps, especially if you are planning a conference where the purpose is for people to simply be together learning and connecting. That alone is significant action. Do we really need to justify it any further?
Spring in full flight in Howe Sound. Blossoms and sun and birdsong and light and a warm shower or two on a grey afternoon.
A couple of days ago I was invited by Transition US to discuss the Cynefin framework and what it means to work with complexity in a one hour teleconference. The recording of that call is now available if you’d like to listen in.
I hate bombs.
In my 45 years I have had six friends and colleagues killed by bombs both on the Air India bombing in 1985 and in the London bombings in 2005. As a 10 year old kid living in England during the IRA letter bombing campaigns of Christmas 1978 I remember being completely terrified whenever letter came through our mail slot.
I hate bombs.
And this afternnon I am sitting at a Starbucks in West Vancouver, BC and the man sitting nthree tables over from me is proclaiming in one of those know it all not quite stage whispers about what should be done about the Boston marathon bomber. He declares that this is what the death penalty is for. The man should be killed and his ilk should be eliminated, he just said.
And my experience of hearing that just now was literally chilling. To hear the hate in his voice, a man sitting here absolutely materially unaffected by the bombings in Boston, declaring in public a vaguely murderous intent as a way of expressing outrage was chilling.
When I heard about the bombings in Boston I treated them as news. Sad of course, but nothing I could do about it. They seemed just as distant as all of the other bombing stories we hear on a daily basis expect that of course I’ve been to Boston and American cities don’t get bombed like that a lot, so it’s unusual and disconcerting. But I never felt an iota of fear, until just now, sitting in a peaceful distant Starbucks in West Vancouver. I am warily watching this man, although by now he seems to have calmed down.
How we talk matters. How we choose to model a response to events in the world can contribute to make us more resilient or more fearful. Bombs go off every day, literally and figuratively. They don’t scare me anymore. People responding to that news with a powerful need to make a public declaration about killing someone worry me more. This is exactly what bombers are trying to do, to create violent and chaotic responses to their actions and to spread fear far beyond their immediate sphere of influence.
Interesting how we help them do that.
How many of you live in communities where community meetings are boring affairs punctuated by outrage? How many of you feel like influencing your local government means showing up en masse with a pettion or an organized campaign to get them to make a small change? How many of you are just plain disillusioned with your local government and have given up trying to help them involve citizens in decision making?
And how many of you are leaders that are frustrated by citizens who just yell at you all the time? How many of you don’t actually know what you are doing, but could never admit that in public? How many of you have tried to involve the community once, failed and vowed never to do it again? How many of you have strategic communications strategies (public or secret) for dealing with your own citizens?
This is what it has come to in many places. In my local community, not unlike many others across Canada, our local Council was elected on a tide of resentment that was stoked against the previous Council. For most of the previous Council’s term, a group of citizens mounted a campaign of smear and slander, including starting a newspaper funded by developers devoted to criticizing almost every Council initiative and culminating in an election campaign where four of the sitting members of Council were branded “The Gang of Four.” And even subsequent to the election 18 months ago, there has been an ongoing litany of blame against the old Council and people considered to be nsupportive of the old Council (and I count myself as one of them). The result is, on our local island, there is a real sense of cynicism. The new Council has not created any new initiatives with respect to involving citizens, and has, if my records are straight, only one “town hall” meeting. We have been short on dialogue and deliberation and if there are any decisions being made at all, they are being made without the invitation of the community. It feels sad, not because somehow the old Council was better than this one, but because our community can be so much more interesting and engaged.
Over the years citizens on Bowen have self-organized not just is lobby groups to advocate for particular policy decisions, but to actually build things that local governments should otherwise be doing. A group of citizens from across the political spectrum participated in a unique group called Bowen island Ourselves, which sought to undertake these kinds of initiatives to compliment local government services and functions. As a result, we did things like develop a crowdsourced road status tool, hosted a parallel process of Open Space dialogues alongside the formal consultation process for our official community planning process, sponsored deliberation meetings on issues such as local agriculture and the proposal to create a national park on Bowen Island, organize and implement BowenLIFT as an alternative transportation system. Lots of stuff.
But when the well becomes poisoned and citizens and elected officials begin just screaming at each other, fear takes over and stuff like that shuts down. We are in a period like that right now on Bowen, and the result is that a number of decisions are being made that have a significant impact on the future of our island, especially with respect to our village centre, without having any creative public dialogue. There is simply no place for the public to be a part of co-creating the future. We will get open houses on the plans that Council designs with a few advisors.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are thousands of tools out there that can help people do interesting and creative community engagement. This list of decision making tools from the Orton Family Foundation came through my inbox today. What is required to choose these tools?
Well first, a local government must be brave enough to stand in front of it’s citizens and ask for help. Assuming that you have the answers to complex questions is unwise. Better to be learners in office than heros. Second, a local government has to trust it’s citizens and create a climate where ideas can be discussed respectfully. Sure there are always going to be people wanting to take shots at you (especially if you played that way before you were in office) but as local leaders, there is an art to opening space where citizens can be in dialogue rather than debate. Third, local governments have to be serious about using what they learn and being clear an transparent about why they are choosing some ideas over others. Lastly it helps if local government leaders actually relish their jobs and see their community members, even the ones they disagree with as interesting and worthwhile neighbours. I have heard many local elected officials over the years express outright contempt for their citizens (although rarely does it happen while the official is sitting in office)
If you get some of this right, things can open up. If that’s what you want. But it takes leadership, and not just the kind that massages agendas and works behind the scenes. It requires leaders to stand up in front of their citizens and declare their willingness to make a new start and to leverage the best of their community’s assets. It requires leaders to trust their citizens and to relish working with them to create community initiatives and services that are loved and enjoyed by all.
I’d love to hear stories of local governments that changed their tune midstream to become open and excited about inclusive and participatory decision making processes. It would inspire me to hope that maybe something like that is possible where I live.
Dan Pallotta at a TED talk on why overhead matters in non-profits.
Here is the essence of the talk:
- Non-profits exist to alleviate social problems for which there is no market.
- Working at the level of causes means needing to take work to scale.
- Going to scale means that we need to grow the resources available (without using commerical or profit making methods).
- What is called “overhead” is actually the capacity to do this.
Perlotta makes a compelling argument for increasing overhead in the non-profit sector and talks about why we have to change our mindsets in order to see this as unproductive. The essence is that in situation where you have a fixed amount of funds, then limiting overhead means you can get more of the funds to clients. But in a situation where the amount of funds can grow, investing in overhead allows organizations to both meet their mandates AND to grow the scale of donors and impact to reach upstream for deeper change.
Overhead can be thought of in a variety of ways, including:
- Operations and capital maintenance, so people have good and safe facilities to work in
- Talent and benefits, for people who will never receive a bonus payment in their lives. Many of the people that work for charities by the way are folks that have been clients of non-profits in the past, so this alos makes good economic sense.
- Strategy, learning and research, to ensure that the methods being used are the best avialable and to help organizations makes sense of complex and changing environments.
- Communications – connecting with others nto make an overall impact on the sector or issue as well as attracting resources such as talent and money to bring the initiative to scale.
- Working with governments to help shape policy to address root causes. Otherwise known as “going upstream” this helps charities get at the root causes of their client’s distress and not simply be plucking babies out of the river without figuring out who is throwing them in.
The work of fundraising for deep social change needs to make the argument that investing in overhead is an investment in real change and not just meeting client needs. In many ways it is a BETTER investment, because it means that you can address underlying issues which makes it possible to solve some problems and move resources into other places. If you want to make real social change, find an organization that has a sophisticated approach to issues and you increase your chances of making shift happen. None of the clear victories of the last century came without these kinds of activities in place. Eliminating polio? How do you think that happened?
The Groups Works pattern lamnguage deck is now available for the iOS mobile platform. You can download the app here: Group Works for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad on the iTunes App Store. Or you can also run an Infinite Canvas on your iPad as well. Learn more here.
The Group Works Deck team has released these apps as a protoyping exercise and wants feedback on how people are using them.
My initial assessment is that the do a terrific job of reproducing the deck with the added benefit of have related patterns hyperlinked within the cards themselves. What I’d like to see is a link on each card to the underlying pattern. I think the patterns in this project are very important because they are the source of the card titles, images and desciptions and although the level of detail varies at the moment in teh pattern language, this information is very important. Having access to it on the app would be a huge resource.
Download the apps for yourself, or get a copy of the deck itself, a beautiful tactile design tool for group process facilitation.
Today was a day of hosting on webinars, with a group looking at the emerging edges of the non-profit sector in BC and with a group od UNited Church ministers and lay leaders who are hosting transformation and learning together in a community of practice. At the end of our second call, this Thomas Merton quote was shared with us:
“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”
This resonates strongly with the tack Meg Wheatley takes in her no book, So Far From Home, which is a call to spiritual warriorship, despite everything.
Several really stunning insights fell at me feet today, from this five hours of online discovery. Forexample, a friend working with victims of sexual abuse in northern BC talked about how people who do this work are not burnt out by the work – humans have been caring resliiently for each other for eons. What burns them out is maintaining the systems that formalize that work of community. As humans we are easy in relationship, but our energy and lives are sapped by turning away from what nurtures us and tending nto a system of professional practice, regulations, administrative accountabilities and resource deployment that leaves us tapped out.
Or another insight today that the real practice of making change is making space for dissent so that there can be an authentic yes from the centre of the work. Or that evolution is a difficult metaphor for change work, because so much of what we are aiming to change has been put in place intentionally and which purpose.
We are one learning journeys with these groups, and these little insights trickle in like sunlight when you are listening openly and sharing in each other’s discovery. Nice way to end the week.