Kategoriarkiv: Dialogue

Book Review: The Supreme Art of Dialogue

The Supreme Art of Dialogue: Structures of Meaning by Anthony Blake is, as the title says, a book about the art of dialogue. The structures of meaning in the sub-title refers to the flows that arise in the making of meaning during dialogue.1

David Bohm argued that society can be deeply affected by people are thinking in phase, and that this can be achieved through dialogue. The unity attainable in dialogue is different from agreement. In dialogue, disagreement is combined with a willingness to listen to others. The unity that emerges in dialogue actually makes it possible to enhance the differences.

Agreement and disagreement are too crude descriptions. Dialogue stems from a deeper, and as yet ill-defined, kind of unification.2 People think together in dialogue, rather than in competition. People also come to know each other in a very deep way.3

We are accustomed to using methods to achieve results, just as we might use a tool, but it’s more appropriate to say that dialogue uses us.4 The complex and ever-changing process of dialogue produces new meanings. In dialogue there’s utter trust in this underlying capacity in people.5

Meanings come together to create other meanings in dialogue. Dialogue, furthermore, allows and trusts the emergence of roles through the process itself.6 The greatest lesson of dialogue is that we can learn from each other—not through instruction, but through meaning. The whole point of dialogue is having a group to tap into a type of collective intelligence and awareness that is not possible in isolation.7

If what is on the surface is merely an ’echo’ of reality, then what is below the surface—within or in silence—’creates’ reality.8

People in dialogue are like people wandering through a garden, discovering the structure of the landscape in which they move.9 All structures emerge out of the dialogue itself.10 What is unconscious can become conscious, or, in David Bohm’s terminology, what is implicit can become explicit. People in dialogue discover the meaning as they speak together.

An implicate information field becomes present as soon as people decide to dialogue.11 The role of listening is not simply to register what is said, but to become aware of what might be said. Listening contributes to the making of the dialogue, and is not merely a reflection of what is happening.12

People must be present to each other or there is no dialogue.13 Dialogue works with whatever arises in the moment. It can never be reduced to a formula.14 Dialogue is genuine only if people are invited to it. People can only volunteer. It is not possible to have a dialogue if people are told to do so.15

This is an excellent book!

1 Anthony Blake, The Supreme Art of Dialogue: Structures of Meaning, p.5.
2 Ibid., p.10.
3 Ibid., p.16.
4 Ibid., p.17.
5 Ibid., p.24.
6 Ibid., p.25.
7 Ibid., p.27.
8 Ibid., p.67.
9 Ibid., p.75.
10 Ibid., p.83.
11 Ibid., p.102.
12 Ibid., p.111.
13 Ibid., p.174.
14 Ibid., p.186.
15 Ibid., p.259.

Organizing retrospective 92-96

This is a post in my series on organizing ”between and beyond.” Other posts are here. This is a retrospective of what has happened during the week. The purpose is to reflect on the work itself. Here is my previous retrospective. Here is my next retrospective.

What has happened? What needs to be done?
This is a retrospective, not of the last week, but of the last month.

I’ve read the following books during the month:

  • The Supreme Art of Dialogue: Structures of Meaning by Anthony Blake.
    The structures of meaning emerge out of the dialogue itself. People discover the meaning as they speak together. Dialogue works with whatever arises in the moment. It can never be reduced to a formula. This is an excellent and interesting book! Here is my book review.
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk.
    The body continues to keep the score even if we try to ignore the alarm signals. The only way we can change the way we feel is to become aware of our inner experience and learn  how to befriend what is going on inside ourselves. This is an excellent book too! Here is my book review.
  • The Dynamics of Transformation: Tracing an Emerging World View by Grant Maxwell.Different assumptions lead to different ways of relating to experience. Opposed assertions both contain partial trues within their contexts. The challenge is reconciling them into a third perspective. All that is required to make the transition from one world view to another is a decision. This is a thought-provoking book. Here is my book review.

Finally, here is a video where Anthony Blake describes the art of dialogue. Dialogue requires being in sync with oneself and others. The critical issue is reciprocity, being truly heard and seen, or there is no dialogue.

Anthony Blake, Conference ’Art for Business’ (Nov 2012)

What was good? What can be improved?
It’s good that I finally got this retrospective written. However, I need to get back to writing weekly retrospectives.

Related posts:
Organizing in between and beyond posts

Learning to see in the dark

Here is Dahr Jamail’s interview with deep ecologist and systems theorist Joanna Macy on Learning to See in the Dark Amid Catastrophe.

Joanna Macy says:

”[…] you can’t do it alone. The dangers coming down on us now are so humongous that it is really beyond an individual mind all by her/him/itself to take it in. We need to sit together, grab each other and be together as we even take in what is happening, let alone how we respond.

[…] I’m doing this work so that when things fall apart, we will not turn on each other. […] And we don’t have to waste time being scared of each other.

[…] We have to help each other wake up to how we are destroying everything we love […] To discover how much we really love being alive. To give ourselves a taste of what that passion is. To let us fall really in love with our planet, and its beauty, and to see that in ourselves, as well as in each other.

[…] Take stock of your strengths and give thanks for what you have, and for the joys you’ve been given. Because that is the fuel. That love for life can act like grace for you to defend life.”

David Bohm on ecology, organization, thinking, dialogue, and wholeness

David Bohm on ecology, organization, thinking, dialogue, and wholeness:1

… the ecology in itself is not a problem. It works perfectly well by itself. Its due to us, right?

The earth is one household really, but we are not treating it that way …

… the more you made society big and you had organization, and you had to get to the top, and people on the bottom would suffer. … it’s a mistake.

So the first thing we have to do, in the long run, is to look at our way of thinking …

Now, that means that people have to participate, to make a cooperative effort, to have a dialogue, a real dialogue …

… wholeness is a kind of attitude or approach to the whole of life. It’s a way. If we can have a coherent approach to reality then reality will respond coherently to us.

1 Wholeness: A Coherent Approach to Reality – David Bohm | Creative by Nature (2014-10-01) (accessed 2016-08-20).

We all need to enter the central garden

The ”central garden” is Juanita Brown’s metaphor for the place where we come to discover and realize something about dialogue, meaning making and collaboration.1 It’s the place where we can reach an understanding that lies beneath methods and practices. The field of dialogic practice is massive, well researched and well documented,2 and the literature is filled with the importance of relational and sense making work.3 And still, dialogue doesn’t have enough presence to provide workable and practical alternatives.4

What is the problem?

I think it’s related to that you can only absorb counterintuitive truths by studying and seeing them yourself. This requires time and a willingness to question all assumptions. In a way, we all need to enter the ”central garden”!

1 Chris Corrigan, What’s in the central garden?, Chris Corrigan’s blog, 2016-06-15. (Accessed 2016-06-19)
2 Ibid..
3 Ibid..
4 Ibid..

David Bohm och den vetenskapliga andan

Paavo Pylkkänen skriver i David Bohm och den vetenskapliga andan om Bohm och hans syn på vetenskap, andlighet och – inte minst – dialog (min betoning i fetstil).

Bohm och hans världsbild
Bohm upplevde mer och mer att … den verkliga utmaningen var huruvida människor kunde diskutera och agera tillsammans på ett kreativt och koherent sätt. Bohm kände att för att uppnå detta, borde mycket mer uppmärksamhet ges till kommunikation och dialog. Följaktligen initierade och deltog han under de tio sista åren av sitt liv aktivt i en process med gruppdialog, som har blivit känd under namnet ”Bohmian dialogue”.

Den vetenskapliga andan
Vetenskapen, när den utförs ordentligt, erkänner ett faktum oberoende av om vi tycker om det eller inte, dvs. oberoende av huruvida faktumet överensstämmer med våra djupt antagna (tros)föreställningar. Enligt Bohm är en sådan öppenhet mot erkännande av fakta sällan vad som sker mer generellt. … Ett sådant insisterande på en viss typ av ärlighet är nyckelfaktorn i vad Bohm kallar denvetenskapliga andan.

Andlighet och mening
Den vetenskapliga andan leder Bohm till att diskutera andlighet mer generellt. Vad är andan, eller engelskans ”spirit”, frågar han. Ordet ”spirit” innebär ursprungligen ”andetag” eller ”vind” (som vid andning eller inspiration). Bohm föreslår att vi tänker på ”ande/anda” som en osynlig kraft – som en livgivande essens som rör oss djupt, eller som en källa som rör allting inifrån. … En viktig sak som vi knyter samman med anden är mening. Bohm använder begreppet mening på ett brett sätt där det inkluderar betydelse, värde och ändamål. … Enligt Bohm upplever vi värdet i någonting genom att bli starkt berörda. Vi kan vidare säga att när någonting är mycket betydelsefullt upplever vi dess värde och allt detta ger upphov till ett starkt ändamål eller en stark avsikt. Man ser någonting liknande i hur orden ”mening” och ”betydelse” används i det svenska språket: ”Vad menar du?” eller ”Vad betyder detta?” (signifikans). ”Det betyder mycket för mig” (värde). ”Det var inte meningen” (avsikt). Enligt Bohm är dessa tre (signifikans, värde, avsikt) livets nyckelsärdrag.

Vetenskap: mekanistisk eller icke-mekanistisk?
[Bohm] hävdar att relativitetsteorin och kvantteorin är mer kompatibla med en icke-mekanistisk världsbild än de är med en mekanistisk. Kvantteorins matematik antyder att materians grundläggande rörelser kan förstås som en process av ”öppnande/utvecklande” och ”omslutande/invecklande” (”unfoldment” och ”enfoldment”). … Enligt Bohm innebär den moderna fysiken att allting innerst inne är relaterat till helheten och således till allt annat. Ett annat exempel på en inre relation är medvetandet. I medvetandet tar vi in information om allting, och det totala innehållet i medvetandet bestämmer vad vi är och hur vi reagerar. Vi är således via vårt inre relaterade till helheten och därmed till allt annat, i stället för att vara endast relaterade externt och mekaniskt. … Bohm föreslår vidare att den implicata/invecklade ordningen är gemensam för medvetande och materia, och således kan vara en grund till deras relation. … Därför är det inte bara så att all materia är internt relaterad, utan även medvetandet är internt relaterad till materia. Och genom detta är allt medvetande också internt relaterat.

Enligt Bohm är förmågan att ha en dialog en nödvändig startpunkt. På detta sätt kan nämligen människor från olika subkulturer komma tillsammans till en dialog och dela sina meningar med varandra, och detta kanske ger upphov till nya meningar som kan vara gemensamma. Vi måste börja med människor som är tillräckligt öppna för att kunna starta dialogen – vi kan helt enkelt inte börja med dem som inte vill. Vi behöver en plats dit människor kan komma tillsammans enbart för att diskutera, utan att försöka lösa problem, utan helt enkelt för att kommunicera, dela med sig till varandra och se huruvida de kan nå en gemensam förståelse. … [Bohm] föreslår att vi transformerar kulturen genom att vi börjar med en kärna, en liten grupp av människor. Det handlar inte om en praktik, men en situation där vi ständigt och kreativt lär oss i kommunikation med varandra. När vi börjar dela meningar, kommer vi också dela värden och utveckla en gemensam avsikt. Om alla förstår samma sak, kan vi alla arbeta tillsammans. Om vi alla ser saken på olika sätt och har olika ändamål kan vi inte göra detta. … Vad som behövs är således en dialog, vilket innebär ”mening” som flödar genom människor. Grundidén är att kunna diskutera samtidigt som man väntar med sina personliga åsikter. Åsikter hålls fram inför alla så att deras koherens (sammanhang) eller icke-koherens kan bedömas. Man ska inte undertrycka dem, insistera på dem eller övertyga eller övertala andra om deras värde. I stället vill vi förstå. … Bohm hävdar att om vi kunde lyssna på varandra på detta sätt, skulle det ge upphov till ett gemensamt medvetande som skulle vara sammanhängande.

Vetenskap och religion
Bohm förstår … ”religion” på ett annorlunda sätt … Andlighet för Bohm handlar om existensen av de subtila nivåerna i verkligheten. Vetenskapen står inte i motsättning till dessa nivåer utan utgör tvärtom ett sätt att finna dem och förstå dem. Enligt Bohm leder den vetenskapliga andan, när den uppföljs på rätt sätt, till andlighet.

Pylkkänen avslutar med att ”om man inte tycker att Bohms pragmatiska argument för andlighet är övertygande, är det kanske lättare att se något värdefullt i Bohms förslag vad gäller dialogen”.

Integral Management

Integral Management is a management model which addresses the question: ”What does it take to have everyone in a company wholeheartedly join forces and take on challenges that, to most companies, would seem quite impossible?” The model has grown organically for more than 25 years. It’s based on a learning dialog involving tens of thousands of managers and co-workers from around the world. There is a book in Swedish, Manöverbarhet (maneuverability), by Lasse Ramquist and Mats Eriksson, which describes the management model and its development since the early 1980s in detail. There’s also a shorter English version of the book, Integral Management (see the picture), which describes the model and how to make a company come together as One Team.

Related post:
Analysis of Integral Management

The supreme art of dialogue

Anthony Blake has written a book on The Supreme Art of Dialogue: Structures of Meaning where he explores meaning-making and how to unlock the possibilities of dialogue from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Here is a talk by him on the the same subject at the Art for Business Forum in Milan November 2012. And here is an interview with him in conjunction with the Forum where he lists the following critical aspects of dialogue:

  • People are invited into the dialogue and take part voluntarily. They must decide for themselves whether it is worthwhile.
  • People sit in a circle – which is both symbolic, because it makes everyone equal in status, and efficient, because it enables everyone to be seen and heard.
  • The session has a defined beginning and end which is kept to rigorously and no one leaves or enters during this time.
  • Any other activity than speaking is discouraged.
  • Common courtesy of not interrupting, etc. is presumed.
  • People speak clearly to be heard and not at excessive length.
  • Very often people want to impose the things they are used to, such as having a leader, setting an agenda or following a defined methodology. These must be resisted.
  • The number of participants is critical. The larger the number of people the better, because this makes diversity more probable, but they must also be heard and have time to speak. 15-20 people seem to be optimum.
  • Dialogue depends on equality, autonomy and freedom of speech. Therefore a dialogue group within an organisation has to be carefully composed.

What is Dialogue?

The following quotes are from posts by Susan Taylor at What Is Dialogue (emphasis mine).

The process of Dialogue is designed to create opportunities for new understandings — a space where new knowledge can be born. Through active listening, treating people equally, balancing opinions with inquiry and suspending judgement — by speaking honestly, noticing your internal reactions to what others say and examining your own beliefs – and in slowing things down and permitting moments for pause and silence, you are creating an environment where people are in conversation, creating new realities in a way that is meaningful and significant.
— Susan Taylor, The Magic in Dialogue

Holding space comes with profound responsibility and the capacity to be present, operating with neutrality, providing grounding for individuals and the group to simply be where they are – without judgment, criticism and blame. This requires you to be mindful. It necessitates that you open your heart and at the same time make a commitment to the unfoldment of what is occurring, allowing each person to have whatever experience he or she is having.
— Susan Taylor, Be Mindful Be Attentive

When a group is in “true Dialogue”, you are developing your collective knowledge, actively seeking information via empathetic listening and inquiry. In this, you are able to tolerate ambiguity. You are mindful of your basic assumptions and avoid negative judgments. You become creatively flexible through a desire to learn about the worldview of others in a way to fully understand them. You reduce uncertainty by asking questions from a place of authentic curiosity, merging all aspects of the worldviews in the room in an effort to develop shared meaning. In Dialogue, you take your time, slowing the cadence. Uncertainty is expected and you embrace differences, rather than ignoring them, learning as you interact, adjusting your behavior as appropriate.
— Susan Taylor, The Platinum Rule

One of the key principles of Generative Dialogue is that of natural rhythm. This can be quite challenging to achieve as many of us are accustomed to using checklists and agendas in our meetings. With these checklists and agendas comes structure and within that structure, we tend to get attached to specific outcomes. If you are looking for Synchronicity or have interest in attaining Flow, you will need to let go of any connection you may have to any specific result. It is as simple and as difficult as that!
— Susan Taylor, The Natural Rhythm of Synchronicity

The Elements

The Elements with Joseph Jaworski is an interesting series of short videos on:

Dynamic facilitation

Jim Rough and Rosa Zubizarreta has written a Manual and Reader for Dynamic Facilitation and the Choice-Creating Process on evoking practical group creativity and transformation through generative dialogue. The manual covers the groundwork, basic elements of the facilitator’s role, how to get started, key aspects of the different meeting stages, and applications. The reader part includes a selection of Jim Rough’s writings.

Book Review: Labcraft

Labcraft: How innovation labs cultivate change through experimentation and collaboration is a book which illustrates ways in which labs cultivate change through experimentation and collaboration. The labs themselves are part of an emerging family of hybrid organizations which create dialogue, cross-pollinate perspectives, and create space for new things to emerge.

The book was co-authored by 12 different lab leaders/facilitators of which most had not worked together before.  They were brought together and produced the book in four days using the Book Sprint methodology. The authors believe that we are living in times of fundamental transition in the way we organize our societies and economies. Furthermore, they believe that there’s an abundance of untapped energy, ideas, and potential that can be leveraged to address the big challenges of our times. The book itself demonstrates what is possible when people join forces in new, innovative, and experimental ways. The authors combine their individual experiences with a willingness to represent a multitude of voices and perspectives. Together they convey an invitation to create spaces and initiatives for innovation and collaboration everywhere.

The book is published under Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 License. Below are excerpts (in italics) from Part III of the book, where the authors take a closer look at strategies for generating and accelerating emergent innovations. This is the part which I find most interesting. However, the book overall is well worth reading and I highly recommend the book to all who are interested in collaborative approaches!

Excerpts from Labcraft, Part III: Lab Strategies, pp. 64—114.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

Many of our labs start with stepping back and trying to understand the landscape in which we are operating, and the interconnections between various players, rules, and stakeholders. Social systems are vast and complex, and individual organizations can sometimes forget that. As intermediaries and conveners of diverse stakeholders, our labs have an opportunity to make a larger part of the system visible to all, or to help that system see itself better. … Seeing the whole system helps people and institutions that are normally immersed in it to see the forest rather than the trees. When people are able to broaden their view, even just a bit for a short period of time, and look at the system as an observer, an “aha” moment is much more likely to arise. And for any of us, it can be empowering to realize that we aren’t the only tree trying to change the forest. Finally, mapping the system can help us identify the emerging alternatives, and any barriers to their entry. …

Cultivating Connections

The practice of cultivating connections is an enormous part of our labs’ work, which begs the question: connections between whom and what? Our labs often bring together people who don’t—or can’t, or won’t—normally engage with one another. We facilitate interactions between actors from differing sectors and fields, divergent backgrounds, and distinct, frequently antagonistic factions in our societies. Often, we do this to uncover commonalities. These engagements commonly end with a remarkable alignment of needs, challenges, and aspirations. And—equally valuable—a shared understanding of points of divergence and conflict often emerges. It’s essential to build understanding of opposing perspectives, and build depth and strength of relationships. … Over time, these are the some of the most important learnings our labs have found crucial to cultivating connections:

  • Create safe spaces. In labs, participants can come and hear views they don’t normally align themselves with; be honest about the challenges they face; and show up as individuals, not the organizations they represent.
  • Take a birds-eye view. Find the parts of the system that don’t understand each other, and look for people doing similar work in different systems. These stakeholders usually learn the most from each other.
  • Unexpected connections can be the most obvious ones. Sometimes it seems to make sense that two people should work together. And yet, for many reasons stemming from hierarchies and organizational and disciplinary silos, they just don’t. At the same time, some pairings or groupings that seem unlikely can become the most fruitful. Don’t take any connection for granted; you might miss some excellent opportunities.
  • Don’t wait to be asked. Often we’re not given the mandate to convene, but do it anyway.
  • Pull experience from everywhere. We build unexpected connections across disciplines by bringing together ideas like social enterprise, personal development, marketing, design, advocacy, and education.

Staying Close to People

Another aspect of our lab approach is to work directly with ordinary citizens and users—people. Our goal is that decisions within a system emerge from the authentic experience of end users, and the professionals that represent institutions “on the ground,” such as teachers and nurses. Staying close to people isn’t just good practice, it’s about respecting the rights and agency of users to influence processes that impact them. … Some of our key learnings as we aim to stay close to people are:

  • Get immersed. The best make-or-break observations often come when the observer is embedded in the target systems and with target beneficiaries. There’s no substitute for being there. … You can also build design skills in people who are already immersed in the context.
  • Just asking might not get you what you need. Interviews are invaluable, but they’re only one tool in the observer’s tool kit. Users may lack the schema or even language to communicate their needs. And often they are so intimately familiar with—and invested in—existing narratives about a problematic situation, they may not be best positioned to see what would be clear to a third-party observer.
  • Build for the hardest to reach. …
  • Positive deviance is powerful. Staying close to users helps us fight the assumption that we must make a new thing. Instead, we commonly find that elements of the overall challenge have already been addressed by community members who successfully developed their own local solutions that deviate from the mainstream way of dealing with the problem. Hence, our efforts are better spent iterating upon and scaling these existing bottom-up solutions than reinventing the wheel.

Experimenting and Prototyping

The notion of experimentation figures prominently into how we as labs identify and conceive of ourselves. What’s a laboratory, after all, without experimentation? We don’t just use experimentation in order to develop new solutions; it’s in our DNA. The concept of experimentation in the “hard” sciences is widely understood to involve these steps: look at the evidence; propose a hypothesis that explains that evidence; create a trial that tests the ability of your hypothesis to confirm, predict, or explain the evidence; and use the results of your trial to refine your hypothesis. … Our approach to experimentation looks considerably more like the natural sciences than a cursory glance might reveal. … We create hypotheses … We translate our hypotheses into prototypes for new or improved solutions … We test those solutions through their application, often in the form of pilots or trials with users. And we use the results of our tests to iterate and to inform the creation of still-better solutions. And we develop our own strategies and programs through a trial-and-error process of experimenting and prototyping. The prototype emerges as a central feature of our approaches. … It’s vital to experimentation that we introduce some thing you can test—something real that can succeed or fail, that can go off the rails, that can have unintended outcomes, that can break! That test allows us to learn. There’s a ton of great thinking out there on prototyping, so we’ll say only this: prototypes are disposable. Create them quickly and cheaply to make your thinking tangible, get it into the hands of users and stakeholders to test it, and throw it out when you’ve extracted what you need to know in order to make a better version. Iteration is what we do with that learning: we take our lessons from trials and pilots and feedback loops built around our prototypes, consolidate them into a refined hypothesis, and build a new and improved version of that prototype. … Some of the things we’ve learned over time about experimenting:

  • Know what you’re trying to discover. There’s a lot to be said for insights that emerge from pilots, and even more to be said about being open to being surprised. But our experience suggests that our efforts are best served when we define from the outset what we hope to learn from a pilot or trial.
  • If it isn’t working, stop doing it. This may sound obvious, but continuing on with something when it’s clearly not working happens more often than you might think in almost every type of organization. One of the key aspects of rapid-cycle prototyping is that you simply stop doing something when you realize it’s not working, learn from that, and move on.
  • Don’t take it personally. Labs take risks, so failure will happen. … Make sure the culture in your organization genuinely supports the notion that things won’t always work, and backs up the individuals who lead experiments.
  • Be strict about learning. Experimentation isn’t a substitute for deeper learning. There’s no point in failing for the sake of it. It’s crucial that no matter how much you may want to forget a failed experiment, you reflect after every activity that went wrong on what went well, what didn’t, and what you’d do differently.

Enabling Change Agents

One of the most important principles underpinning our practices is “go where the energy is.” We find pioneers and help them get their work done better and faster. Change agents can come from anywhere. … They can be highly skilled or completely fresh. They may have solid institutional backing—or none. The core philosophy here is that the people ultimately best suited to make change in the system are the people who are actually in that system or those impacted by it—those who live and breathe it every day. … Some important learnings about supporting change agents:

  • Create communities of change agents. Participants can learn from each other as well as from you, and they’ll have a support system that remains long after you stop facilitating.
  • Nurture accountability. Where possible, help people who are personally committed to your cause and are truly motivated to learn. People who are “told” they have to participate can be hugely disruptive to the process. Ownership can only be taken, not given.
  • Be realistic about timeframes. Genuine capacity-building takes a long time. From the start, set expectations regarding impact.
  • Acceleration is quicker that incubation. If you incubate concepts, rather than strategies or businesses, expect that many ideas or projects won’t get off the ground. Accelerators that support scalability for pioneers who are already innovating produce much faster results.
  • Be clear about what you hope to achieve through capacity building, and let your objectives inform your efforts. …

Power and Labwashing

How do we navigate the power dynamics between institutions and labs? Central to our craft is the ability to play the game while changing it. … As a result, we constantly walk a tightrope between challenging the status quo and asking radical questions using unconventional methodologies—while not alienating our own supporters and critical stakeholders. Swaying too far one way might make us irrelevant, while moving too far the other opens us to critique of “labwashing” important issues. An exercise that superficially looks like a lab process, but really only touches the surface and avoids really challenging the status quo, actually diverts scarce resources from where they could make a greater difference. To be successful, we need to “take our own medicine” and critically reflect on how we walk this tightrope. Becoming co-opted by power players and structures in the existing system is one of the greatest risks we face. When do we become so immersed in the game that changing the rules becomes a secondary goal? What we’ve seen across our labs is that these tensions, paradoxes, and questions arise constantly and must always be addressed seriously.

Tracking Fuzzy Impact

… All labs are real-life examples of how institutions and civil society can work together in more human, democratic, and creative ways. But the reality is that many of the people we depend upon for our survival—those who help resource us—are waiting for us to explain in clear and measurable terms the difference we’re making. For some aspects of our labs’ work, this demand is straightforward; in other areas it’s significantly more challenging. … It’s inherent to the mission and culture of most innovation labs that we stay open, not draw quick conclusions, and adapt—not begin with assumptions and narrow the possibilities.  So there’s an inherent contradiction between the predictive modus operandi of the existing institutions we work in or with, and the emergent approach that our labs use to innovate. … As labs, we see that a more general exploration of the problem will allow us to understand the nuances and opportunities within the problem space, and help us to define it differently. When we do that, we’re more likely to arrive at a breakthrough. We create different levels of impact. Some are tangible, some intangible; some are direct and some indirect. … In one way or another, all our labs create impact. And in the best cases, that impact is directly measurable. … Many of our impacts are less tangible, and yet no less real. One way to understand these less tangible impacts of labs is to distinguish between four levels of impact: …

  1. [Impact at the Level of] The Lab Itself
    Creating and running a lab is in itself an outcome that we shouldn’t ignore. … The value of this work lies in expanding the climate of ideas. It creates connections and breathes diversity into systems caught in the trap of “no alternatives.” Capturing the impact of these activities in a clear narrative [is] one of our challenges. A poignant question might be “what wouldn’t have happened if the lab didn’t exist?” …
  2. [The] Spinoffs [Generated]
    Many of our labs have created new labs that focus on other themes or challenges, using a similar methodology. …
  3. [The] Innovations and Innovators [Cultivates and Supported]
    A third level of impact comes in the form of developing new solutions, policies, technologies, business models and products (the innovations), and through building the capacity of change agents (the innovators). The involvement of change agents in our programs can range from intensive retreats and long-term incubation projects to participation in a one-day event … This aspect of tracking participants is a real struggle, as resources are scarce and capturing the impact of the many participants who pass through all of our programs is impossible.
  4. [Emerging] New Narratives
    A fourth level of impact created by labs is the cultivation of new meta-narratives—the stories through which we understand society and detect opportunities for change. We act as hubs in networks of changemakers and emerging innovations, and from that unique position we can see the new stories emerging in between seemingly diverse projects and ideas.

We’re all experimenting with [finding new] ways to keep track of our impact. …

Staying Nimble

Our labs each occupy a specific position in between the old and the new, between massive challenges and emerging alternatives. These alternatives are sometimes small, sometimes even seemingly irrelevant, yet are impossible to ignore, especially in the long term. Stuck systems produce various kinds of urgencies, and one of the most prominent ones is the constant impulse to grow. … The key challenge here is to find a way to grow our impact without becoming the same rigid system we’re trying to transform. Can we work at scale and still be nimble? Or does scale imply compromise?

What our labs seem to have in common is a search to find new ways of spreading, replicating and diffusing. … We open-source our processes so others can use them, build on them, adjust them to their own contexts, and drastically improve them. …

A guided meditation through our interiors

Here is a video with Genpo Roshi who has integrated aspects of Zen state training with Voice Dialogue. The process works by engaging the “voices” of the ego—such as desire, fear, and “the controller”—and then moving into an experience of Big Mind/Big Heart, and the integrated free-functioning self. My question is whether this self really is the ”aware ego” or still is a ”voice”?

Solving Tough Problems

Adam Kahane has written a book on Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities. Tough problems are complex across three dimensions: dynamic, generative, and social complexity. Dynamic complexity is when cause and effect are far apart in time and space. Generative complexity is high when the future is unpredictable and unfamiliar. Social complexity is high when those involved do not share the same assumptions, values, and objectives.

Kahane writes that ”Simple problems, with low complexity, can be solved perfectly well—efficiently and effectively—using processes that are piecemeal, backward looking, and authoritarian. By contrast, highly complex problems can only be solved using processes that are systemic, emergent, and participatory.” This means a solution has to be worked out through an emergent process as the situation unfolds.

To solve tough problems it is necessary to shift from downloading and debating to reflective and generative dialogue. To facilitate generative dialogue it is necessary to be relaxed and present, to hear and help others to hear what is happening. You will miss what is actually happening if you are preoccupied with what you want to make happen. The generative dialogue is an open way of talking, listening, and creating.

Principles for our journey from self to Self, from we to We

As human beings, we are on an open-ended life journey full of breakdowns and breakthroughs. It’s a journey that is about becoming who we really are. This journey requires us to move although we cannot fully see. It takes courage to leap into the unknown.

Here is a summary of twelve principles and practices that can help help us in our individual journey ”from self to Self, from me to We”. They are from the book Leading from the Emerging Future by Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer, pp. 169—172:

  1. Practice, don’t preach. Start by listening. Listen to others, to yourself, and to the whole. Listen to what life calls you to do.
  2. Observe, observe, observe. Let the ”data” talk to you—through your open mind, heart, and will. The impact of this deep observation is profound.
  3. Connect to your intention as an instrument. The more you can connect to what is essential for you, and clarify what you want to be in service of, the better you can act to bring the future into being.
  4. When the crack opens up, stay with it—connect and act from the now. When opportunity presents itself, act from what wants to emerge. Say yes, then do it, before asking whether it’s possible.
  5. Follow your heart—do what you love, love what you do. It’s the only reliable way to connect to your way, your emerging future path. Otherwise you are in danger of living someone else’s life.
  6. Always be in dialogue with the universe. The larger context that surrounds you always provides useful feedback. Listen and evolve your idea based on the feedback.
  7. Create a holding space of deep listening that supports your journey. The most important leadership tool is your Self. Filter out all the noise and focus on what’s essential for you. Do it every day.
  8. Iterate, iterate, iterate. Practice and adapt what’s emerging. Explore the new by doing.
  9. Notice the crack to the field of the future. All change takes place in a context. Explore the edges of the system and the self at these edges. Sense the emerging future.
  10. Use different language with different stakeholders. Be multilingual. Single-focus approaches are almost certain to fail. Involve all who are needed.
  11. If you want to change others, you need to be open to changing yourself first. Build and strengthen your relationship with others. Be open to change yourself first.
  12. Never give up. Never give up. You are not alone. Always learn from failure. Getting discouraged by failed efforts is a waste of energy. Don’t get trapped in judgment, cynicism, and fear.  Courage connects you with who you really are. Go to the edge and leap into the unknown. You are not alone.

Future Search for product line redesign

Future Search is a planning meeting setup which has been in use since the early 1980s. IKEA has used Future Search for product line redesign as described in Faster, Shorter, Cheaper May Be Simple; It’s Never Easy by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff.

I find the approach interesting. Here’s a short summary:

  • IKEA sought to redesign a specific product development and distribution system.
  • The managers already knew that to restore their market advantage, they had to flatten the hierarchy and broaden the lines of communication. What they didn’t know was how to do it.
  • Several of the IKEA managers had attended Future Search training. They wanted to modify the method without altering the basic principles. They also believed that resources and expertise would line up if people were involved from the start.
  • What happened was that the new product line design came out of a dialogue born from the deep knowledge in each person of their connection to the product. Many things happened at once, greatly shortening the time from idea to action. Actions could be taken without asking persmission from anyone not present. Having all key people in the room dramatically improved the participants relationship to their work and their coworkers.

Crucial ingredients for collective action

Petra Kuenkel writes on her blog that: ”Innovative approaches and new solutions often derive from people’s ability to dialogue and partner for the future. The quality of how we do this matters. People implement what they have helped to create.” She lists the following ingredients for successful collective action:

  1. Understand the system
  2. Create resonance
  3. Prepare for the common ground
  4. Build a strong ”container”
  5. Get the stakeholder system into a conversation with itself
  6. Get the system into the room
  7. Develop a diagnose of the current reality together
  8. Allow differences to emerge, but in a structured way
  9. Design a structured integration process
  10. Create task orientation
  11. Bring in expertise as needed

Organizational metamorphosis

Goethe’s Way of Science makes it possible to see the continuous form and metamorphosis of the growing plant. What I’m wondering about is whether organizations are like plants? If so, this has profound implications on how we see and think about organizations. Henri Bortoft writes in The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way of Science (page 93) that:

[Dynamical organic systems] have to be understood holistically and not analytically, as well as dynamically and not statically.

For more information, see Dialogue on Leadership: Interview with Henri Bortoft by Otto Scharmer.


The differences between discussion and dialogue

Dialogue is an approach to organisational interaction developed initially by the physicist David Bohm. The following briefly describes the differences between discussion and dialogue:

Further Reading