What you learn looking down on it all

Chris Hadfield, Canada’s greatest guitar slinging astronaut, has this to say:

“… I was up (on the space station) for five months and it really gave time to think and time to look at the world, actually to steal 90 minutes at one point and just float  by the window and watch the world, go round the world once with nothing to do but ponder it.


And I think probably the biggest personal change was a loss of the sense of the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’.


It’s really we sort of teach it to our children, you know. Don’t talk to strangers, this is us. This is our whatever – our family, our house, our neighours, our relatives, your school.


It slowly grows where the line between us and them is. Um but to – I’ve been around the world thousands of times, 2, 593 times – and that line we impose on ourselves of where us ends and them starts, just keeps diminishing and it wasn’t conscious. I noticed maybe a third of the way into my half year stint up there that I just started referring to everybody as ‘us’. Unconsciously there was some sort of transition in my mind that ‘Hey, we’re all in this together.’


And I think you come across any city in Australia and you see the pattern of the downtown and the suburbs and the surrounding farms and the water and the rail and the communications, just the standard human pattern. And then if you just wait until you cross the Pacific – takes about 25 minutes and then you come across the Americas and there’s that exact same pattern again. And then you wait another 20 minutes and you come across northern Africa – and there’s that exact same pattern again.


And we solve the same problems the same way, all over the world. It’s just ‘us’ and everybody just wants some grace and better chances for their children and a chance to laugh, understand it all. And that inclusionary feeling was all pervasive and unavoidable, having seen the world the way I’ve seen it and it was part of my motivations in doing my best to share it when I came back.”

Thanks to Alan Stewart for transcribing this.

12. August 2014 by Chris Corrigan
Categories: Being, Community | Comments Off

Learning little things

For a couple of years now I have been teaching myself how to SUP (stand up paddle board). It’s a pretty simple process. But like all simple things there is a depth to practice and technique that helps you get better and better. And the changing context of the ocean and the winds and weather means there is never a way to “win” at it.

The thing about SUP is that the conditions change radically all the time. One day is flat calm and the water is like glass. Another day – like today – it’s windy and the chop is sloppy and the currents are really strong. Almost every time out is a new challenge with new little victories and little defeats.

Mastery is like that. It’s about learning a technique and then applying it as the context shifts. It’s about getting good at something and then facing a humbling experience that teaches you something about yourself.

Today it was learning about the power of the currents whipping around Dorman Point. Lately it’s been about trying to offer quality process when there is fear and ego and expertise at play.

Mastery comes from a myriad of little learnings gathered from a myriad if different context. There is no flash of insight that makes you a master and there is no way you can ever feel you have arrived. That we are all human and always falling short of our ideal for ourselves and others is the great secret that helps us to connect, if we can see it. If we instead hold ourselves so far above or below this line of vulnerability that we can’t see our small tender selves in others then the benefit of our little learnings are lost, mere spindrift in the current of our learning lives.

I think it was my friend Toke Møller who said “never trust a sword teacher without scars.” Truly.

04. August 2014 by Chris Corrigan
Categories: Uncategorized | 2 comments

Using Open Space Technology

A post I made to the OSLIST today…

I seek simplicity in trying to describe where and how Open Space does it’s magic.

One of the ways I have had excellent success over the years in describing this work is derived from David Snowden’s work on the Cynefin framework.

The short story is this:

We are faced all the time with problems that are basically knowable, and problems that aren’t. Knowable problems mean that with the right knowledge and expertise, they can be fixed. A technical team can come together and analyse the causes, work with what’s available and craft a solution. Then they can get an implementation plan in place and go ahead and do it. These kinds of problems have a start line and a finish line. When you are done, you are done. Building a bridge is one of those kinds of problems. You build it and there is no tolerance for failure. It needs to be failsafe.

Open Space doesn’t work well for those kinds of problems because the solution is basically already known, or at least knowable.

Then there are problems for which no know solution exists, and even if you did get a solution, you can’t really “solve” the problem because the problem is due to a myriad of causes and is itself emergent. For example, racism. Look around and you will find very few people that identify themselves as racists, but look at the stats for Canadian society for example and you see that non-white people are trailing in every indicator of societal success. Essentially you are seeing the results of a racist society but no racists anywhere. This is an emergent problem. Racism itself is a self-organizing phenomenon, notwithstanding the few people that actively engineer racist environments. Such a problem didn’t really start anywhere and it can’t really end either. What is needed is a way of addressing it, moving the system away from the negative indicators and towards something else.

In other words, this is a complex problem.

The way to solve complex problems is to create many “strange attractors” around which the system can organize itself differently. Open Space nis the best method I know of for creating such strange attractors, as they are born from the passion and responsibility of those that want to create change, and they are amplified by people coming together to work on these things.

It’s “post and host” rather than “command and control.”

And because you can’t be sure if things are going to work out, you have to adopt a particular mindset to your initiative: one that is “safe to fail.” In other words, if it doesn’t work, you stop doing it. If it does work, you do more of it. And all the way along you build in learning, so that the system can see how change is made and be drawn towards those initiatives that are currently making a difference. Certainly this kind of problem solving is not useful for building a bridge, as you cannot afford a failure there. But for problems with no known solutions, it is brilliant.

Harrison has spent decades outlining this simplicity in even less words than I have now and his writing and thinking is, and continues to be far ahead of it’s time and maybe a little under appreciated because it is delivered in simple terms like “don’t work so hard.” But ultimately this is the best and most important advice for working in complex systems.

Open Space. Do it. Learn. Do it again. Don’t work so hard.

More than that really starts to build in the delusion that people can possibly know what to do. From that place solutions will be deluded. That they may work is pure luck. Open Space offers us a disciplined approach to addressing complexity in an ongoing way. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity.

22. July 2014 by Chris Corrigan
Categories: Open Space | 4 comments

The simple rules for working with complexity

I’ve been using the Cynefin framework for many years now.  For me, I think I’ve internalized it through practice and it becomes second nature to not only talk about and teach from it but to use the way it was intended to be used: to help make decisions.

Today Dave Snowden posts a very useful set of guidelines for working with complexity that are captured in the framework.  This list is useful for us to tuck away as it provides very clear guideposts for moving around the complexity domain:

The essence:

  • In any situation, what can we change?
  • Out of the things we can change, where can we monitor the impact of that change?
  • Out of the things we can change, where we can monitor the impact, where could we amplify success and/or dampen or recover from failure.

What we should avoid:

  • Retrospective coherence, we should learn from the past but not assume that what happened will repeat, or that it had linear causality
  • Premature convergence, coming to quickly to a single solution (although coming quickly to parallel safe to fail experiments is a good thing) rather than keeping our options open
  • Pattern entrainment, assume that the patterns of past success will entrain the inevitability of future failure unless you actively manage to prevent it.

Then the three basic heuristics of complexity management:

  • Work with finely grained objects
  • Distribute cognition/sense-making within networks
  • Disintermediation, putting decision makers in contact with raw data without interpretative layers

Admittedly this is technical language, but I appreciate the clarity.

20. June 2014 by Chris Corrigan
Categories: Design, Facilitation, Learning, Practice | 2 comments

Precision in harvest planning.

Since 2007 when Monica Nissen, Silas Lusias and I sat down at Phil and Laura Cass’s kitchen table to write up our thinking on the Art of Harvesting I have been a keen student of the art and practice of meaning making, sensing, visualizing and sharing the fruits of our work. We have called this practice the Art of Harvesting and I am as happy as anyone that it has become a big part of our practice.

Increasingly however I notice that the term “harvest” is being used with some imprecision that leads to confusion. For example in meetings people will often say things like “we will do this work and then we will do a harvest.” I have to admit that I am confused by this statement. What is the harvest? Is it simply a two minute silent reflection on the work? Is it a 30 page report? A vidoe? A picture? a collection of post it notes?

I owe this confusion to the fact that in English the word “harvest” is both a noun and a verb. As a verb, it is a beautiful word to describe our practice of “harvesting” just as “hosting” is a beautiful verb. But as a noun it is imprecise and meaningless and sometimes confusing to the process. Newer practitioners ask “what is a harvest?” thinking that it must be a certain thing done in a certain way rather than an agile response to purpose and context.

And so I have adopted a simple practice. While I continue to use the term “harvesting” as a verb, I have tried to stop using it as a noun, and in working with clients, students and apprentices I have stopped them when they use this word as a noun and invited them to tell me WHAT we will be doing, HOW we will be doing and WHY we are doing it. This leads to far better harvesting plans.

For example, instead of a design that says:

1000-1130 World Cafe: two rounds of discussion about our vision, one round of harvest
1130-1145 Final Harvest

We get

1000-1130 World Cafe: two rounds of discussion about our vision, one round on “what are we seeing about where we are going” Harvesting: 1. participants will record insights on post its. 2. Harvest team will group and theme these post its. 3. Graphic recorder will create a mural of the main ideas 4. Videographer will interview participants on these themes to elaborate further

1130-1145 Collective harvesting: Participants take two minutes to silently reflect on the conversation and how it guides their work. Participants then given five miuntes to journal on that topic and host conducts a 10 minute popcorn conversation with the room to allow a few insights to be shared. Tim will make a slam poem and read it out to the group.

Harvesting is important. In fact it is, for me, the most important thing. “We are not planning a meeting, we are planning a harvest, and the meeting serves the harvest.” I invite you to reflect on your use of the term harvesting and bring as much or more precision in your design to this practice. Just as a farmer must till the sol and plant with the final crop in mind. our hosting practice means nothing if we cannot create fruit to accelerate learning, wisdom and powerful results.

15. June 2014 by Chris Corrigan
Categories: Art of Harvesting, Art of Hosting | 6 comments

Building capacity by loosening the reins

Crane Stookey on a kind of “I don’t know” leadership.

To keep the defenses down I rarely give the teenagers in the Sea School crews a straight answer, so that after a while their dependence on me as the “leader” breaks down. They need to feel that in the big picture I am trustworthy, that they are safe with me, but they also need to learn to distrust me and trust themselves, with a self-confidence that doesn’t depend on knowing. Rather than knowing on my terms, it’s better that they don’t know on their own terms, so they are inspired to find their own answers.

An overreliance on experts who claim to have answers depletes the capacity of groups. I love Crane’s idea of being trustworthy rather than providing a false sense of security.

15. June 2014 by Chris Corrigan
Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off

How the old patterns die

I can always rely on John O’Donohue:

Once you start to awaken, no one can ever claim you again for the old patterns. Now you realise how precious your time here is. You are no longer willing to squander your essence on undertakings that do not nourish your true self; your patience grows thin with tired talk and dead language. You see through the rosters of expectation which promise you safety and the confirmation of your outer identity. Now you are impatient for growth, willing to put yourself in the way of change. You want your work to become an expression of your gift. You want your relationship to voyage beyond the pallid frontiers to where the danger of transformation dwells

via The Question Holds The Lantern | John O’Donohue.

29. April 2014 by Chris Corrigan
Categories: Being, Leadership | 3 comments

A Better Way to Say Sorry

It’s simple:


I’m sorry for…

This is wrong because…

In the future, I will…

Will you forgive me?

But it’s so important.  When you are engaged in work with teams of people and you are doing things none of you have done before, there are going to be mistakes made and people are going to be offended.  Learning how to apologize is important for a couple of reasons.

A sincere apology builds trust and strengthens a group. There is nothing better than a group of people in which people take on responsibility for their actions.  True leadership arises when folks step up, show their self-awareness and understand how their actions have impacted the group.  You build tons of social capital within a group by acting this way and it makes you resilient and more grace filled and more forgiving.

Secondly, a sincere personal apology is an incredible liberation for both you and the person you have offended.  If you have even an iota of moral clarity, something in you will be triggered when you have offended another person.  You KNOW you were wrong.  Stepping up is a cleansing feeling.  And to have an apology like that accepted and to be forgiven is beautiful.

This is fierce practice.  It requires us to be vulnerable and honest and to be carefully self-aware.  And done sincerely it builds capacity, grace and humility.

18. April 2014 by Chris Corrigan
Categories: Collaboration, Community, Leadership | Comments Off

Communities of Practice

My friend Peter Rawsthorne begins a series of blog posts today reflecting on what is required to keep a community of practice together online and across organizational boundaries.

What do you need to consider when building a Community of Practice CoP that spans organizational boundaries where client confidentiality needs to be honored. There are a plethora of things to be considered when building an online virtual community of practice, these include; the team and the contexts’ relationship with openness, the memberships ability to be self-determined, how online communication will be broadened and followed, and how the internet is the platform.

via Critical Technology: Virtual Community of Practice Conundrum.

15. April 2014 by Chris Corrigan
Categories: Collaboration, Community | Comments Off

An intro to the Art of Hosting and some mapping


Back in November Janaia Donaldson from Peak Moment TV interviewed Dave Pollard and I about the Art of Hosting, especially as it applies to transition towns, resilience and community leadership.  That video was released today along with a lovely 10 minute edit in which Dave maps out some of the essential Art of Hosting elements using the GroupWorks Pattern Language card deck.  Enjoy.

08. April 2014 by Chris Corrigan
Categories: Art of Hosting, Community, Conversation, Design, Facilitation, Leadership | Comments Off

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