Yesterday I spent a day with 14 students in the Certificate in Dialogue Program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, teaching World Cafe and Open Space Technology. Whenever I am asked to teach methodologies I always spend a significant amount of time actually talking about invitation and harvest, because it is these practices that actually contribute to a productive and meaningful conversation, rather than just using the methodology.
Invitation has always been a big part of my facilitation practice. From the time I discovered the work Michael Herman had done on invitation both as a practice and as a metaphor for organizations, communities and human systems that work, my practice has been devoted to finding the quality in invitation first and then designing good process to support that invitation.
Over the years I have come to think of several phases of invitation in a process, starting with a flash of inspiration and carrying through all the way to stewarding the dissolution of intention long after an initiative has faded away. When someone experiences that flash of insight or inspiration that drives them to create something, I call this “crossing the threshold of longing.” Before that moment, there is no awareness of anything specific, but after that flash happens, an undeniable urge arises, a longing, which, if it stewarded well, becomes the kernal for beautiful, deep and effective invitation. When we can tap into this, meetings become the easy part.
Yesterday in the Open Space, one of the participants posed a topic called “helping people cross the threshold of longing.” We had a lovely conversation about what it takes to pay attention to and support the arousal of longing that can be used in service of invitation. Several insights followed in this conversation.
Crossing the threshold of longing is a total body experience. When you get struck with inspiration, and a irrefutable call arises in you, it is a full body experience. It often strikes out of the blue, and it quickens the breath.
The longing poses a question, and it changes. The kind of intention and inspiration I’m talking about is possibility based and it often takes the form of a question – “What if..?” It can be an inspiring goal that requires several pathways to get there – Obama’s election run came up alot yesterday. And the thing about a possibility question is that as you step out to where it leads you, the question changes. At the early stages of cultivating intention and invitation, I like to help people find others who can hold their intention with them, give them practice in inviting people into the deep spaces of possibility and create a shared intention and vision. Inevitably the intention and vision will change, but when it’s held by a small core team, it will change in ways that nevertheless deepen the foundation of the intention. One of the participants yesterday used the phrase “following your nose towards aliveness.” That sums it up nicely.
You need to let go to have it develop. As people join you in the call sensing what my friend Phill Cass calls “the disturbance that you can’t refuse” one has to cultivate a skillful letting go of attachment to the invitation and intention. The first act of letting it go, of releasing your closely held inspiration into a circle of trusted friends sets the pattern for how the invitation process will unfold. It almost takes the form of ritual. Getting the letting go right is important. let go the specifics and hold the ground.
Invitation takes shape as we reach towards what once seemed impossible. We talked alot about Meg Wheatley’s questions: How do you call yourself? How do you identify yourself? And have you chosen a name for yourself that is big enough to hold your life’s work? These questions invite us to reach for what once seemed impossible. A good invitation captures this stretch in a way that invites us together into the unknown, onto a little fearful and anxious edge, but somehow cultivates a ground of possibility there.
It’s about relationships and conversation. Elders tell me time and again after years of working in organizations and living in communities that the quality of life and work always comes down to relationships. Younger adults and youth will talk about action and outcomes and getting things done productively and efficiently, but older people, who have time to reflect on their careers constantly tell me that focusing on relationships is more important, for quality, sustainability and effectiveness. With this in mind, invitation needs to be about relationships and conversation too. An one page written invitation is a sterile beast. It does not reflect the mode of being that we are inviting people too. If we want people to enter a conversation, we need to invite them there WITH conversation. So reach out beyond sending out the email, embody and practice invitation with relationship building and conversation.
Invite people to come to gatherings that contain life. A big insight from yesterday: Most meetings make us immune to one another and that is a terrible thing in human communities. We often meet in ways that deaden us to each other’s humanity in the name of efficiency or focus on outcomes. It is possible to focus on doing good work AND do it well with others. An invitation needs to reflect this intention otherwise people will see what you are doing as “just another conversation.”
Never let anyone arrive at a meeting alone. If the goal of good gatherings is to have people leave working together, then the goal of a good invitation process is to have people arrive so that no one shows up alone. Introduce people to one another during the invitation process, have them discover each other and cultivate an interest and curiosity in the potential of meeting and working together.
Always more to say on this, but for now, thanks to all who were in that conversation yesterday.