Posts categorized “CoHo”.

Cultivating Communities of Practice

Etienne Wenger provides a useful set of principles for cultivating communities of practice as living, breathing things:

  1. Design for evolution.
  2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives.
  3. Invite different levels of participation.
  4. Develop both public and private community spaces.
  5. Focus on value.
  6. Combine familiarity and excitement.
  7. Create a rhythm for the community.

Read more at the link below.

via Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge – Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice – HBS Working Knowledge.

Mutations are the way to make change

Very few of us have our hands on the real levers of power.  We lack the money and influence to write policy, create tax codes, move resources around or start and stop wars.  Most of us spend almost all of our time going along with the macro trends of the world.  We might hate the implications of a fossil fuel economy, but everything we do is firmly embedded within it.  We might despise colonization, but we know that we are alos guilty of it in many small ways,

The reason challenges like that are difficult to resolve is that we are embedded within them.  We are a part of them and the problem is not like something outside of ourselves that we apply force to.  Instead it is like a virus or a mycellium, extending it’s tendrils deep into our lives.  We are far more the product of the problems we wish to solve than we are the solutions we long to develop.

Social change is littered with ideas like “taking things to scale” which implies that if you just work hard enough, the things you will do will become popular and viral and will take over the world.  We can have a sustainable future if “we just practice simple things and then take them to scale.”  The problem with this reasoning is that the field in which we are embedded, that which enables us to practice small changes is heavily immune to change.  Our economy, our energy systems, our governments are designed to be incredibly stable.  They can withstand all kinds of threats and massive changes,  This is a GOOD THING.  I would hate to have the energy system that powers my life to be fickle enough to be transformed by every good idea that comes along about sustainable power generation.  So that is the irony.  In the western world, the stability that we rely on to be able to “make change” is exactly that which we desire to change.

We are embedded in the system. We ARE the system.  That which we desire to change is US.  You want a peaceful world, because you are not a fully peaceful person – violence has seeped into your life, and you understand the implications of it.  This is also a GOOD THING.  Because, as my friend Adam Kahane keeps quoting from time to time “if you are not a part of the problem, you cannot be part of the solution.” Real change in stable societies like Canada comes only from catastrophic failure.  That may be on our horizon, but I call you a liar if it’s something you desire.  It will not be pretty.  Living on the west coast of Canada, I sometimes think about it because a massive earthquake will strike here – possibly in my lifetime – and it will change everything instantly and massively and forever.  So, while climate change and economic collapse are probabilities, earthquakes are certainties.

So let’s forget about prototyping new things and “taking them to scale.”  But let’s not forget about prototyping new things.  Because one of the big lessons from the living systems world view is that change happens in an evolutionary way.  It happens deep within the system and it requires two resources we all have – creativity and time.  It does not require hope.  Living systems do not hope.  They just change.

Years ago I was inspired by Michael Dowd’s ideas captured in “Thank God for Evolution” in which he talks about mutations as the vehicle of change in evolving systems.  Of course this is a widespread thought, but it was quite liberating to me when I first discovered it because it compels us to use our own creativity to make change.  Practicing something different, as some small level, is not a useless endeavour.  There is no way to know what will happen when you mutate the system.  And so that is a reason for practicing.  That is why I love Occupy and #IdleNoMore  and other social gathering practices.  They are creative mutations of the status quo.  And they are undertaken without any expectation of massive change.  Instead they seed little openings, the vast majority of which don’t go anywhere.  In an evolutionary system, mutations may introduce new levels of adaptability, but they might alos kill off the organism.  But to survive and evolve, an organism needs to mutate.  Remaining the same is also suicidal, because everything else is mutating and changing, and you will lose your fitness if you don’t also change.

So the second resource we all have is time.  if you are beholden to making change along a strategic critical pathway, especially in a complex living system, you will suffer terrible delusions.  Very few of us have that kind of time.  The kind of time we do have is the time to let whatever we do work or fail.  To orient yourself to this kind of time, you need to practice something with no expectation of it’s success.  The moment you cling to a desired result is the moment suffering creeps into your work, and the moment you begin to lose resilience.  Adaptability is reliant on creative imaginations working resourcefully.

So changing from within has something to do with all of this.  Watching #IdleNoMore is to witness a celebratory mutation in the system of colonization.  It is impossible to say if it will have the desired results that people project upon it.  But of course it will “work.”  We need to sit and watch it work as a mutation in a living system.  And the bonus is that we get to round dance while we do it!

Getting beyond the reaction

My friend Bob Stilger writes today from the radiation fields of Fukushima where he has been joining people for the past year in the work of remaking lives after the tsunami and the meltdown.  It’s worth heading over to his blog to follow his ongoing discoveries there, but here are some good bits from today’s posting:


People are learning how to co-exist, and more, with the radiation.  One story I heard was about a town that wanted to have a festival with an outside play area for their children.  Playing on the ground has become prohibited.  They spent days and days cleaning one park so that it was radiation free — now, one morning — so the children could play.  Tomorrow will be a different story.  I thought of a learning center in south Texas that partnered with Berkana for a time – Llano Grande.  When I visited there once I listened with interest as teachers organized a trip.  One of the things they took into account in their planning was who was an illegal alien and who wasn’t.  Special arrangements had to be made for the illegals.  That was just the way it was.  Others somewhere might be arguing about immigration policy, but at the community level you just work with what you have.  So it is in Fukushima.  You work with what you have.

My most amazing session of the day was in the town of Minamisoma.  It was a community of 70,000 people.  As the radiation settled more than 50,000 were forced to leave.  Gradually people have been allowed to return and now the population is around 50,000.  Part of Minamisoma is costal and there the tsunami damage has been untouched since 3.11 because of the radiation — it still looks exactly like the costal areas in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures did in the weeks after 3.11.  But people have returned because it is their home.  They have returned to build something new together.

Early in 2012 some friends got together and decided to hold a future festival.  More than 1000 people from the community participated.  Music performances, presentations, dialogs — many different activities to engage people and invite them to think about their future together.  At the end of the day one of the organizers, a woman who runs a local laundry offered a toast:  before 3.11 we had a reputation for being quiet and just waiting for the government to do what they wanted.  Now we know we must do it ourselves.  We cannot wait for government.  We must join hands and create a future together.  And that’s what they are doing.

In June the opened a Future Center on a corner of a neighborhood.  People started to use it immediately.  Those who organized it said we don’t actually know what a Future Center is, but we know we need a place to create a future together — so we started.

The leadership circle is a delight — a truck driver, a laundress, a dairy farmer, a nurse’s aid, a bartender — ordinary people who have come together because something had to be done.  One had been evacuated from Minamisoma to a town several hours to the north.  It took her more than a year to be able to make her way home.  Another spoke of how his family has been torn apart — he and his wife want to stay here, in their home with their children.  His parents accuse him of killing his children and have moved north into Miyagi.  He thinks they will never speak again.  But these people have stepped forward because they must.  This is home.  There are dangers — but there are dangers everywhere and this is home.

They know this is long term work.  One person spoke of how we hold individual future sessions and that is good.  Things happen in them, but what we are really doing is working to gradually change the mindset of the community.  We are helping ourselves realize that we can and will create a future together.

They are just ordinary people who are working together to create a life.  With each other.  Now.

Any person, any where in the world who promotes nuclear energy should be required to come and spend a week in Fukushima.  They should be required to walk through Itakemura and experience its silent desolation. They should be required to talk with the parents who take days to make a playground radiation free for a few hours so their children can play outside again.  They should be made to look at a future made invisible and then explain to people what they will do differently and how they will solve the problems of the soft underbelly of nuclear energy — dealing with the waste.

These people are strong.  They will figure out how to live in a healthy and resilient way here in Fukushima.  They will not be swayed by people who they think know what’s best for people who live here.  It is their own future.  They know they will make it together, working with what they have.  They are amazing.

via Fukushima: Beyond Reacting –Bob Stilger’s Notes from Japan #36 ~ October 1st :: New Stories.


Waking up beloved community

Last night in Vancouver listening to Le Vent du Nord, a terrific traditional band from Quebec. They put on one of the best live shows I have seen in a long time with outstanding musicianship combined with incredible energy. Listening to them and watching people dancing I had a deep experience of why we humans need art. It brings us into a joyful relationship which each other that we seem built to need – a kind of belonging that transcends each of our individual reservations, a sort of shared ecstasy. The cynic might say that such an attitude is decadent in a world of suffering, but I think it is clear that without these experiences of ourselves as joyful collectives, the serious work of living in our time is compromised by our own personal and private fears.

Lately I have been working with mainline Protestant churches and Christian communities a lot and I have appreciated being able to bring deep cultural and spiritual stories to our work together. The times they are all in are times n which the traditional forms of Church are dying and the new forms havent yet arrived. And while the leaders i have been with welcome the shift, many congregations are in grieving about the loss of an old way of doing things,

Last weekend in Atlanta, the group I was with picked the story of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones to explore together. In that story, Ezekiel, who is a shaman, is carried into the spirit world where is comes across a valley of bones. Turns out that these are the bones of an army and God says to him “can these bones live?” Ezekiel does what all good shamans do when confronted with the awesome power of mystery and gives up any pretense of knowing the outcome. So together, God gives Ezekiel instructions and wakes up an army.

The armies of the old testament stories have always troubled me, because they are forever slaughtering and committing genocide because of God’s commands. But read as an allegory, suddenly this stuff becomes very powerful. For example, most spiritual paths have you confronting archetypal enemies on your pathway, such as greed or anger or the ego. To achieve enlightenment, to get to the promised land, means overcoming these enemies. And an army then seen in this context is a group of people that are greater than any one person’s fear.

So here is Ezekiel in the valley into which an army has been led and slaughtered, and he is being engaged in the work of waking up an army. Why? Well, once they have been woken up, God tells Ezekiel that they can go home. Home is the promised land, a place of freedom and kindness and relaxation and fearlessness. Coming home to oneself, finding home as a community.

To illustrate, another story I heard yesterday. One of the congregations I have been working with has been waking up to themselves in the work we have been doing together. When a group of people wakes up like that one has, all the dust and cobwebs come off them, and all of their beauty and warts are revealed. While we have designed and implemented many little projects in the Church, we have also awoken a little power struggle over a small but important issue. Typical of these kinds of issues, a small group has dug its heels in and doesn’t see its impact or connection to the larger community. Last night they all met and with some deliberate hosting, quickly discovered a common consensus on moving forward, one which I am led to believe takes each person outside of themselves and into a common centre of action.

In short, they had a different experience of themselves and each other, an experience that awakens the centre that Le Vent du Nord awakened last night. It is an experience that Christians can understand fully from their traditional teachings – Jesus constantly talks about love at the centre of the work of the world, and that community is the experience we are after. In the best forms of Christianity – including the form in which I was brought up! – the spiritual path is one of discovering kindness and a shared centre. From that place, transformation of community, family, organizations, and the world can be experienced and pursued. The hard work of dealing with power is made more human by acting from love and the beautiful work of cultivating relationship is put us to use by transforming power.

Last week I took an afternoon in Atlanta and went to visit Martin Luther King Jr’s Church where love and power awoke together in what King called “beloved community.”. These past months and years, I realize that this is what I am working for everywhere – in First Nations, organizations, communities, companies, churches and elsewhere. The beloved community draws us back home to our own humble humanity. It tempers the world’s harsh edges and it enables powerful structures to create beautiful outcomes.

And that experience is worth waking up for. Even an army.

Field work, football and Tiki Taka

A brilliant post from Field work, football and Tiki Taka @ Dance of Unity:

Their style of play is known as Tiki Taka, commonly spelled tiqui-taca in Spanish. In Wikipedia is it shortly described as “A style of play characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession.” With Tiki Taka the ball is continuously passed between team members in a way that the whole team operates as one intelligent field, rather than sum total of talented individuals.


The principle of non-contradiction

Lawrence Lessig has noticed a very important practice that is emerging from the #occupy movement. It is the principle and the practice of non-contradiction:

In this movement, we need a similar strategy. Of course a commitment to non-violence. But also a commitment to non-contradiction: We need to build and define this movement not by contradicting the loudest and clearest anger on the Right, but instead, by finding the common ground in our demands for reform.

This is a a very useful contribution to the tools that are emerging from the #occupy movement. It is edgy because in traditional social activism you are defined by what you stand against, and opposing things is the means to ending them.

But one of the implications of “we are the 99%” is that no one is more 99% than anyone else. That is a big tent, and it is powerful as long as we can practice true diversity within it. This is a massive challenge. The 99% contains every kind of person, friend and ally and loathsome enemy. That is the nature of a huge complex human community. So practicing non-contradiction is like practicing non-violence in that it requires us to be in relationship with those we do not like.

Even though I practice non violence as much as I can I bet there is a limit to that. My job as a peaceful human being is to stretch myself beyond my own limits in practicing peace. Sometimes non-violence gets tagged as “compliance” but it isn’t that really. It is a commitment to a new world and a new way of being.

It is similar with non-contradiction. There are things in the world that probably need contradicting, and I am sure there are limits to this principle in my own practice and capabilities. But for this movement, and for this new world, we need conversational space and space is opened by engagement and being non-contradictory. If you believe that we truly interdependent, then we have to work to see that one person’s racism is my problem too. That I participate in the conditions that perpetuate those things that I would otherwise stand in contradiction to.

Let’s track this modality. Election seasons, protests and events can all benefit from this practice. It is a high calling to call yourself a practitioner of non-contradiction, but is it essential to a world of interconnection, interdependence and mutual benefit.

Let’s get this straight

Behaviour change is not the same as culture change.

That is all.

Insights on shifting systems

Running an Art of Hosting workshop this week for employees of the City of Edmonton.  We are about 30 people all together looking at the art of hosting participatory process, convening and leading in complex environments where certainty is an artifact of the past.

Naturally because these people work for a municipal government, the conversations we are having tend to be about systems.  We are working at the level of what it takes a system to shift itself as well as what it takes of an individual to lead when the answers are unclear.

For me, lots of good insights are coming up.  A few that cracked in a cafe conversation this morning included these three:

  1. The fundamental question facing governments is not why or what or who, but HOW.  How can we deliver services differently?  How do we change to include more public voice in our work without losing our mandate?  How do we cope with the scale of change, chaos, interconnection and complexity that is upon us?  These questions are powerful because they invite a fundamental shift in how things are done – the same question is being asked of the Aboriginal child welfare system at the moment in British Columbia, which is looking to create a new system from the ground up.  Shifting foundations requires the convening of diversity and integrating diverse worldviews and ideas.
  2. New systems cannot be born with old systems without power struggle. As old ways of dong things die, new ways of doing things arise to take their place.  But there isn’t a linear progression between the death of one system and the birth of the new: the new arises within the old.  Transformation happens when the new system uses the old to get things done and then stands up to hold work when the old system dies.  While old systems are dying, they cling to the outdated ways of doing things, and as long as old systems continue to control the resources and positions of power and privilege, transformation takes place within a struggle between the new and the old.  Ignoring power is naive.
  3. A fundamental leadership capacity is the ability to connect people. This is especially true of people who long for something new but who are disconnected and working alone in the ambiguity and messy confusion of not knowing the answer.

Its just clear to me now that holding a new conversation in a different way with the same people is not itself enough for transformation to occur.  That alone is not innovation.  The answers to our most perplexing problems come from levels of knowing that are outside of our current level.  The answers for a city may come from global voices or may come from the voices of families.  Our work in the child welfare system was about bringing the wisdom of how families traditionally organized to create a new framework for child welfare policy and practice, and that work continues.  Without a strategic framework for action, for transforming process itself, mere reorganization is not enough.

Preparing for Estonia

I’m off to Estonia on Saturday to run an Art of Hosting workshop with Toke Moeller and Piret Jeedas. To say I’m excited is an understatement.

First, this is only the second trip to Europe I have made since I left the UK in 1981 after living there for three years. It’s interesting to see how things have changed in Europe over 30 years. On this trip I am intending to connect in London, during a brief stopover at Heathrow, with one of my school buddies from those days, who I last saw when I was just 13 years old.

But the real highlight of the trip will be the time spent in Estonia, a nation that has one of the largest traditional repertoires of folk songs. Only a million people live there but there are tens of thousands of songs that are shared and sung by everyone. So important are these songs that it was through music that a cultural movement was born in the 1980s that led to Estonian independence from the Soviet Union without a single drop of blood being shed. There is a terrific new eponymous movie about The Singing Revolution which we watched last night as a family. The essence of the film was that Estonian culture, language and tradition formed the basis for a slow and patient awakening of cultural sovereignty and pride that led to mass meetings and gatherings, and the singing of traditional songs of affection for the nation. From that current flowed the courage and will to establish political sovereignty that resulted in the self-liberation of Estonia from more that 50 years of occupation by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

To offer a workshop on the Art of Hosting powerful conversations in a nation that has done that seems a trifle hubristic. But the Estonian story is one that lauds the power of vision, courageous commitment and self-government and it provides both a tremendous ground for our work and inspiring lessons for those of us whose nations are still labouring under colonial administrations. With so many First Nations in Canada clinging to language, culture and music, what I am about to learn in Estonia can provide me with some important lessons about how cultural expression, skillful dialogue and courageous participatory leadership can result in profound social and community transformation.

Reframing failure

I love working with engineers.  They are curious and always looking for ways to make things better.  They sometimes suffer a little from bringing a mechanistic problem solving mindset to complex living systems, but more often than not what they contribute to processes is a sense of adventurous experiment.  This video shows why.

A few months ago at an Art of Hosting workshop in Springfield Illinois, Tenneson Woolf and I had a great conversation about failure.  We were curious about how the mechanistic view of failure has worked its way into human consciousness in this culture.  There are very few places in the world where people are free to try unbridled experiments, especially in organizational life.  There is always a scarcity of time, talent, money and materials that forces a mindset of efficient execution.  Failure is not an option.

And yet, failure of mechanical systems – an engine blowout in the example above – can be catastrophic for the machine but doesn’t have to be accompanied by the destruction of people.  Humans fail in different ways – we most often get things wrong or end up doing things unexpectedly but as PEOPLE we don’t fail.  In other words, it is not possible for YOU to fail.  Your body might give out, your mind may fall apart, but YOU don’t fail.  Living systems, even in death, continue to cycle.

This is the difference between me and a machine.  The argument can be made that it all comes down to lines and circles.  Machines exist on lines.  They are built and then they enter the stream of time, becoming subject to entropy immediately.  Mechanics try to keep them together so that the machine survives the longest possible time with the greatest effeiciency.  But all machines come to an end eventually and fall apart.

Not so humans and forests and oceans.  These exist in endless cycles of complete interrelationship.  Even when the earth itself is consumed by the sun in another 5 billion years or so, all of the heavy atoms that have flowed through this planet will be repurposed and reused in the next incarnation of the solar system.

The failures of living systems then are simply the mechanism that drives evolution, the next order of learning, living, structure and life.  As time winds down, another arrow winds up – the evolutionary spiral of learning and adaptation.

There is a great image in the above video of an engineer standing next to a bucket full of a million shards of an engine staring down into total destruction and a complete end to a prototype and at the same time  moving forward one more step in the cycle of learning and evolution.  That is what reframing failure is all about, being careful to learn from your mistakes and not to see the pieces in the bucket as any kind of useful analogue for a life of curious engagement.