Thursday, November 08, 2007

How well do you really know yourself?

Well, it got you reading didn't it? A colleague pointed me to Harvard University's Implicit Association Test. This nifty little test uses a random sequence of paired pictures and words to uncover hidden biases in our responses to a variety of cultural groups: African American or White, Old or Young, Straight or Gay, Fat or Thin, Multicultural or Unicultural, and lots of others. It takes about 10 minutes to complete each task. You will be warned that you may not like the results.

I am volunteering facilitation support to the Nanaimo committee planning our Dialogue on Multiculturalism sponsored by the Province and SFU Centre for Dialogue. I was naturally curious about what this tool might show and how useful it seemed for training and other awareness raising activities. It is very simple and quick to use. I would like to hear from others who have tried it to see what you think of its accuracy.

How did I do? Well as usually happens, I'm in the 2% minority. I apparently have a moderate preference for marginalized groups. This doesn't surprise me all that much. I have done a lot of unlearning racism work and for the past three years have been actively delving deep to root out unconscious colonized places in my heart and mind. And as a stealth radical and someone who is not very comfortable with mainstream culture, it's not really surprising that I might feel more warmly towards marginalized folks.

So give it a try and let me know what you think.
Cheers all!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007


joy's bright blade

aroused to incandescence
in the fires of pain

hammered to trueness
by betrayal and forgiveness

quenched in the waters
of love and compassion

only weapon
of the guardian soul

true instrument of heaven

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beyond Intentional Community--Conscious Community

A number of friends and colleagues have noted that the phrase Intentional Community is both inadequate to our understanding and possibly irredeemably tainted by the track record of many intentional communities. I have been thinking a lot about what phrase (signifier) might capture the deeper meaning and reality (signified) of the concepts we are tossing about. Today finally, the term Conscious Community came to me.

One of the sticking points i had with intentional community was a sense that at its very core, it was all about control. If you just get the right people, the right place, the right leadership, the right processes, the right economy, and so on, you can have the nirvana-esque community experience of your dreams. Those folks who failed, well, they just made mistakes in judgement--poor planning--bad personality've heard it. I propose that the reason most intentional communities fail, is that the meaning of intentional, implies at its deepest (unconscious) level the belief in control. And anybody who has taken a look at living ecologies of relationship can see that they are complex systems whose order emerges organically out of chaotic conditions always present at some level. It is the confusion of harmony with changeless bliss. Harmony is NOT static. It is the dynamic tension within healthy ecologies of relationship.

So instead i have proposed Conscious Community. Conscious implies that we are taking full responsibility for what we care about. We commit to be as aware as possible of the impact of our actions and we take personal responsibility for their consequences, even the unintended. Taking full personal responsibility does not mean we take blame or over-extend ourselves to accept responsibility for others reactions to our actions. It does mean that whatever consequences arise from our actions, we stand in mature relationship to ourselves, the other, and the Divine. The concept of Conscious Community includes the deep belief that we cannot control our living ecology of relationship--we can only ever co-create it emergent from mystery into the open space we hold and host together.

A Conscious Community is one in which members commit to bring consciousness to their lives and relationships. Its nature is exploratory and welcoming of deep diversity. Conflict is expected as an essential part of a healthy ecology of relationship and is greeted with an orientation of joy as an opportunity for personal and community growth and evolution. It is not a fail-safe environment; it is a safe-fail environment. It recognizes that all human beings have frailties, make mistakes, hurt those they love, have ugly sides, need solitude and privacy. It commits to provide its members with unconditional positive regard and love, regardless of their imperfections. It holds members accountable for their choices and the consequences of those choices. It is characterized by flow, states of grace, courage, discernment. A Conscious Community still has bad hair days--chaotic and challenging times. It also has the resiliency to thrive through them.

Does this resonate for you? Could you live in a community of belonging like this? Are you courageous enough to accept responsibility for what you care about? If yes, open your eyes and look around; see who is in the water with you and begin.

All for now.
Blessings and love to you all.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Opening Space for Organizational Systems Renewal

Just got back from opening space for moving to action as the afternoon portion of the annual conference of the Organizational Systems Renewal program alumni at Seattle University. It was a total delight to share the facilitation of the day with Kathy Cramer of the Cramer Institute. Her most recent book “Change how you see everything” is an accessible and graphically lovely plea for appreciative thinking and living. She refers to it as asset-based thinking, which she has found is a more readily understood and stickier term than appreciative thinking.

We had a big circle with about 100 people ranging from current MBA students, alumni, faculty, and visiting professionals. We had one good hour-and-half session. With little time and lots to do, we went with flip-charting highlights and next steps up on a gallery. We took digital pictures of that to use to create the proceedings. We had a wonderful lightning report in from our 14 topic groups, with everyone speaking very directly.

As OD professionals who had spent two years learning various whole systems change approaches, they had asked to see the very pure form. Many had experienced some derivative of OS, but few had seen a really clean opening of space. So I obliged with the cleanest, purest version I know how. The opening took the usual 20 mins and they leapt up ready to go, creating their topic groups in amazingly short time. Kathy had warmed everyone up wonderfully, so they were ready with what they wanted to work on.

It was interesting to open space in the middle of the event. I wandered off around 10:30 to continue my personal prep. Had an hour of meditation followed by finishing prepping the space during the lunch break (making signs, etc) then working on the invitational section of my opening to ensure it was focused properly and reflected the work they had done in the morning session.

The only down side, and it was slight, but I noticed it, was that we had to have the participants rearrange their chairs themselves, on the fly, into a circle. There was one area that wasn’t quite visible from the whole circle and it was a lot harder to keep their energy in the container and draw them fully into the field. I did a lot of deliberate connection walking to compensate for the odd drift in the energy at that arc of the circle.

It was a very satisfying day. Had faith in who was there, watched the folks get down to work, the magic happen, deep connections made. Met lots of people doing deep change work out in the world and many others trying to open a bit of space in large companies (including Microsoft! Hi Iris and Mary Alice!).

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Complexity for Regular Folks, Part 2

Well, i had this post half written, lost my connection to the internet and lost the whole thing. So, this is the second necessarily shorter version... And i am not an expert in any way, so if you have additions or corrections to this, please send 'em along.

Atractors and scalar invariance.

Attractors are the simple rules that determine the direction of a system, its stability, its general trend. There are three groups of attractors: single point, periodic, and strange.

Single point attractors pull the energy of a system to one point or goal. A magnet is one good example of a single point attractor. If you sprinkle iron filings or some pins on a peice of paper and then put a magnet underneath it, the filings and the pins will be drawn towards a single point--the magnet. Another example, from palaeontology (for my kids): Many of us have seen films of palaeontologists working to remove massive chunks of stone--everyone on the dig site is drawn towards the work, lends shoulders and hands to move the boulder. All of their energy is directed towards a single goal--removing the rock. Systems governed by single point attractors tend to produce heroic model management.

Periodic attractors oscillate between two points. We have many experiences of periodic attractors, seasonality in employment, rush hour, and the most common--breathing.
We can cope with and benefit from systems governed by periodic attractors. We can get clarity from goals based on our knowledge of the oscillation. And we can recruit and train heroic model leaders with skills in anticipating and navigating the fluctuations.

Strange attractors were first described in the 1960's by Edward Lorenz (Lorenz attractor and graph) as he puzzled out the mysteries of the weather. While local weather patterns seemed completely unpredictable, when Lorenz modelled more global weather data on a computer, an interesting regularity appeared. The equations consistenty produced graphs in the shape of butterfly wings. At a larger scale, there were obviously rules at play that produced a predictable pattern. What those rules were, however, was difficult to tell, hence the name strange.

Complex systems are shaped by strange attractors that can be governed by a few simple rules. For example the movement of flocking birds is governed by three simple rules: stay equidistant from your neighbour and other objects, maintain the same speed as your neighbour, head toward the centre of the group. These simple rules allow a flock of birds (or fish or bees) to be 50 times more sensitive to changes in their environment than any one individual. (So complex systems are not well suited to the heroic leadership model. They are governed by interdependence, and so need a more interdependent style of leadership.)

So, to recap, strange attractors affect the flow of energy in complex systems. Strange attractors are comprised of a number of simple rules that interact with one another to produce the visible results we can observe. Discerning what these rules are is supported by certain attitudes and behaviours that Westley et al delineate--and that i will chat about in another post (hopefully also drawing some links to Spiral Dynamics).

So what is scalar invariance? Scalar means scale, or size. Invariance means not variable, unchanging. So put together, scalar invariance means that complex systems tend to act the same whether you are looking at only a few individuals (the micro level) or a mass (the macro level). You can extrapolate the simple rules governing the attractors of large systems by looking at the parts of those systems. In very simple terms, you can see the whole in the parts. As Blake would say, "the world in a grain of sand."

Both of these characteristics of complex systems are important to those wanting to effect social change. Identifying the strange attractors, and then looking under the surface to find the rules governing the attractors will have more leverage than attacking the surface characteristics. And scalar invariance means that local knowledge and expertise can effect change with global impact. And that small-scale efforts and experiments

Which leads us to one last concept from chaos science: complex systems are highly dependent on initial conditions. I am linking this to concepts from Aikido. In Aikido we have a very simple math. All systems have an energy of 10. If someone is attacking you with a force of 7, you only need to respond with a force of 3 to complete the system. In dealing with complex systems, the attractors hold a lot of the energy of the system, so a small input of energy at the right place and time can have significant results on the outcome.

There is good news here for those of us looking for ways to influence change. No guarantees, but lots of possibilities.

There is a lovely little animated game using attractors that you can play over at thecleverest.
Strange Attractor equations and graphs.
Formal definition of attractor.
Interesting discussion with illustrations of the four attractors of chaos science with speculative parallels to consciousness.
Some very cool 3-D images of attractors and other fractals.
Good next step for those wanting more information on attractors and complexity theory: Attractors Everywhere.

Next: a few more additions to our growing list of skills and attitudes for thriving in complexity.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

On hosting meaningful conversations

I am busy preparing a training manual on public speaking and public conversations for non-profit staff and volunteers. So, i have been musing a bit this morning on why i love facilitation when it is about hosting meaningful conversations.

What arose for me today was depth. I love asking the questions and holding the space for the questions that lead to depth. That let us get beyond the surface to the complexity that always is present. And i love it when that complexity gets unpacked, unfolded out in all its brilliance and unknowability. I love it when we get to a level of complexity where we must act out of the essence of who we are and not merely from what we know.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Complexity Theory for regular folks- pt 1

The subtitle for this post should probably be: And why should i care anyway??

Authors Brenda Zimmerman, Frances Westley and Michael Quinn Patton give a compelling and highly readable answer in their new book, "Getting to Maybe" (Random House Canada, 2006). The other really cool thing about this book is that two of its authors are Canadian. Woohoo!

The short answer to why care about complexity: because it's how the world works and perhaps more importantly to many of us--it's how little old us can change the world--from where we are--NOW.

I have been working away in my brain on a blog post about working on the edge. And the edge i have been working on is all about complexity. It is the rub i find everyday in my conversations with leaders of organizations, with other consultants and with my friends and neighbours. Most of us have been taught skills and conditioning to help us thrive in a complicated world. Those skills are all about organizing, managing, and controlling. We are increasingly frustrated when these skills don't produce the results we are looking for.

In my work and in my life i am constantly communicating that the world has changed. We now live in the midst of complexity. And that calls for a very different skill set. A skill set that is often at odds with the way we have worked and lived in the past.

Over the next little while i want to share with you some of the skills, competencies, and mindsets (and reactions to them) that i am seeing emerge. I will also share the insights i am gathering from reading , "Getting to Maybe". And i will try to make the science behind complexity theory accessible to those of you for whom the words strange attractor, iteration, fractal, and scalar are seldom found in your recreational reading.

To begin, the number one reaction i see when folks start to explore working in ways that meet the demands of complexity is fear. This fear can manifest as resistance, hostility, anger, disbelief, mistrust. I believe that the fear has two main sources: certainty and grief.

What do I mean by certainty? When we make decisions, we like to feel that we have based them on an adequate amount of data that we can trust. When working with complexity, we often have to make decisions before we have that perfect data--in order to benefit from emerging trends and patterns. This can feel very uncomfortable--like leaping from a ledge without knowing what is below you. Even if the jump is a relatively short one, we all want to know that we are going to be okay--and that is something we can't know until we've landed. Some skills to cultivate: comfort with risk, ability to function with paradox, flow, letting go, intuition, pattern seeking, trust.

What do i mean by grief? In the past few months i have had the chance to learn a lot about grief--especially about grief as it is experienced by children. And of course, we are all children. What i have learned is that change, ALL and ANY change evokes the grief response. Think about that. In all change there is a loss--even if there is also a gain. Now consider the pace of change in the past 30 years. Birgitt Williams says, "there is always grief in the room". What does grief look like? Resistance, denial, anger, depression. When folks begin to understand that clarity is no longer possible (replaced by more relative qualities like discernment) and that paradox, risk, and flow are the new names of the game-most of us are looking at a truckload of loss. Some skills to cultivate: compassion, openness, letting go, resting down, faith in others and self.

So what are the new skills, attitudes and competencies for living in a complex world? For starters, as Westley et al state, "Getting to maybe has almost nothing to do with certainty and everything to do with serendipity, conviction, risk taking, and faith." Not very popular words in the offices of the world.

I hope together we can explore more of these new ways of thinking, living, working--being--over the coming weeks and perhaps generate a great resource for us all.

In the next post i will take a look at some of the jargon of complexity. Strange attractors, and scalar invariance. And why would you care? Because attractors are the tipping points of the system and scalar invariance helps you spot patterns at the micro level that can promote change at the macro level. Can't wait, can you ;)