a gentle revolution

31 gentle revolutionaries

Dissolves borders and barriers: within us, between us and ideas and people, and between us and the world and the future.  It makes possible the mixing of things we didn’t think could mix towards something new.

‘Collaborating is ultimately about relationships, and relationships do not thrive based on a rational calculus of costs and benefits but rather because of genuine caring and mutual vulnerability.’*

This kind of revolution takes a lot of energy, a lot of new skills.  And when something is achieved, the temptation can be to rest and maintain, rather than begin over.

There’s always a need for an alternative consciousness or alternative community.

James Altucher suggests writing down ten ideas day to exercise the idea-muscle: When we stop having new ideas, recycling old ones becomes the new danger.

‘It is the genius in us who knows the past is most definitely past, and therefore not forever sealed but forever opened to creative reinterpretation.’^

(*From Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution.)
(**From Claudia Altucher’s Become an Idea Machine.  I’ll be trying out James Altucher’s idea, maybe giving it a little more shape by looking at personal ideas, playful ideas around the things I love, and collaborative ideas.  By the end of a year, over 3,500 ideas will have accumulated.)
(^From James Carses’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

gentle people

30 blessed are the gentle

What makes people gentle?

They hope to see more, not only beyond themselves, but also within themselves.

They hope to play imaginatively with what they especially notice in and around them – what they are curious about and are passionate in – because they have done more than ‘work within the outlines of their imaginations,’ they have ‘reworked their imaginations.’*

They hope to play with others via what Edgar Schein** calls “Here and now” humility – deferring to each other when the time is right for particular skills to take the lead, and so realise more:

‘You can only have what you have be releasing it to others.’*

Gentle borders.

Peter Senge points to why collaboration is necessary for greater impact when he focuses on the ecological challenges ‘such as water, energy, material waste and toxicity’, going on to quote Randy Overbey: “Collaboration is key for achieving scale.”^

(*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(**See Edgar Schein’s Humble Inquiry.)
(^From Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution.)

things dangerous and difficult

29 sign of the future

Staying where we are isn’t difficult, but it is dangerous.

Equilibrium, embedded in establishment and complacency, is a most dangerous place to be.

Moving to the edges isn’t as dangerous as we think, but it is difficult.

Disequilibrium, expressed in alertness, industry, and freshness, is our best hope.

Richard Pascale, Mark Millemann, and Linda Gioja argue we have a lot to learn from nature – which makes sense as we are species within it:

‘Coping mechanisms that have atrophied during long periods of equilibrium usually prove inadequate for the new challenge.  Survival favours heightened adrenaline levels, wariness, and experimentation.  Alfred North Whitehead got it right, “Without adventure, … civilisation is in full decay.” … At certain scales (i.e., small) and in some frames (i.e., short), equilibrium can be a desirable condition.  But over long intervals of time and on the very large scales, equilibrium becomes hazardous.  Why?  Because the environment in which an organism (or organisation) lives is always changing. … Prolonged equilibrium dulls an organism’s senses and saps its ability to rouse itself appropriately in the face of danger.’*

There is always a new challenge: if I can’t see the challenges then I’m not really looking.

Part of what we might call equilibrium-thinking is trying to face a new challenge with an old solution.  This thinking also gets lost in time, merging what look to be safe periods of equilibrium into the kind of hazard Pascale, Millemann, and Gioja are warning of.

In the West, we’re often getting on with life, getting things done, finding quick answers: ‘The result of a pragmatic, individualistic, competitive, task-orientated culture is that humility is low on the value scale.’**  This humility equates to wariness as mentioned by Pascale, Millemann,and Gioja.

I see prophetic communities living alternative realities, playing the infinite game.^  It may be difficult for everyone to be as alert and adaptive as they are, but they make it possible for new ways to be discovered by others.  Even when those within the established culture wake up to what is happening, they often do not possess the skills acquired on the edges.  Here is Peter Senge describing a movement away from competition to collaboration:

‘Fortunately, more people are discovering that collaboration is the human face of systems thinking.  Collaborating successfully requires more than good intentions.  It also requires improving your “convening” skills so that you can get the right people together and have more open and productive meetings.’^^

Prophetic communities hone the new skills whilst supporting their members – the very skills others need.  Above everything else, they value the way of humble inquiry.  Though their questions are seen as uncomfortable and dangerous, and are difficult, they bring a freedom of adventurous thought and concern for all.

(*From Richard Pascale, Mark Millemann, and Linda Gioja’s Surfing the Edge of Chaos.)
(**From Edgar Schein’s Humble Inquiry.)
(^The infinite game is a reference to James Carse’s description of a game marked by including as many as possible for as long as possible, and when the rules get in the way of these two values, they are changed: Finite and Infinite Games.)
(^^From Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution.  Systems thinking refers to seeing the whole picture of how operating systems often have other systems around them, which make them work, or not.)

trust and songs and stories

28 how about being

Trust and songs and stories are the stuff of prophetic communities.

‘The best way to be trusted … means I must first trust myself, and the best way to trust myself is to make myself trustworthy.’*

I want to be someone I can trust.

For this, I know I must be open with others and with the world of which I am a part – how can I trust myself if I’m socially and/or ecologically disconnected?

My experience of what is beyond me must keep growing:

‘Organisations around the world are recognising that either they can expand their thinking to match the real system they belong to or they can artificially shrink the system they are managing to match their thinking.’**

Those who expand their thinking avoid fitting everyone and everything encountered into a confined and static way of seeing and understanding.  Isolate hope and it withers, idealise hope and it reduces to the staleness of soundbites and rhetoric.  Hope captured in the movement of dangerous stories and songs and drama of the prophetic community has the chance of remaining fresh and alive:

‘To speak or act, or think originally is to erase the boundary of the self.  It is to leave behind the territorial personality.  A genius does not have a mind full of thoughts but is the thinker of thoughts, and is the centre of a field of vision.^

(*From Stanley Hauerwas’s With the Grain of the Universe.)
(**From Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution.)
(^From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.  Genius, here, is more about the unique contribution a person can make than their IQ.)

hoping to be heard

27 everyone has a cry

What are you teaching me but don’t know you are?

These learnings for me are whispers heard in conversations which move through a journey of inquiry.

Through humble inquiry (opening mind) I discover what you know but I do not,

Through diagnostic inquiry (opening heart), we discover what is most important of all to each other

Through confrontational inquiry (opening will), we identify what we can do together, and determine not to be put off by what gets in the way of this.*

This process is infused with the prophetic.  If Walter Brueggemann’s definition of what makes Human history is useful, then history comprises of both crying out and being heard.  He claims, ‘the task of prophecy is to empower people to engage in history,’ which is, ensuring people’s cries are being answered.

Why prophetic?

When people cry out, and there is no answer, the prophet emerges in the form of women and men who hope for more with those who cry out.  The tasks of the prophet are those of inquiring, listening, and whispering.

In particular, there is in every person, a restlessness which will not go away.  It is not easy to voice this, and when others hear it, they are not sure how to respond.  The response might be well intentioned, but unhelpful, like the “off the peg” euphemism – “another door will open, you’ll see” – or in some deep care – “don’t worry about it, I’m here.”

It’s not the prophetic process is not caring, it’s just that it cares too much to leave us without new hope anchored in reality and possibility.

Here is the timeless story of the protagonist who wants something and overcomes all obstacles to get it and to bring it back for others.**

“In that special silence, you can hear or see, or get a strong sense of something that wants to happen that you wouldn’t be aware of otherwise.”^

(*Humble, diagnostic, and confrontational inquiry are the three elements of Edgar Schein’s process inquiry, from Humble Inquiry, which I have overlaid with the three elements of Theory U from Otto Scharmer.)
(**Check out Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces.)
(^Joseph Jaworski, from Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers Presence.)

system and spirit

26 she's got spirit

They sound diametrically opposed, but maybe they’re not.

First of all the negatives:

A system is too rigid and inadvertently provokes a spirit of revolt. 
A creative and imaginative spirit is too carefree and prompts a system clampdown.

Then there are the positives:

A creative spirit can produce a generative system.
A generative system can stimulate an increasingly creative spirit.

Life is full of negative examples: ask a critical question at the wrong time and no new ideas emerge; ask an open question at the wrong time and shipping doesn’t happen.

We daydream but never action our hopes.  Or we feel too ensconced within the system and daren’t upset it.

System and spirit need each other.  Some of us need some shape to lead us from idea to shipping; some of us need more openness to fresh innovative thinking.

Perhaps you’ve found your sweet spot?

(I love this idea and cartoon from Hugh Macleod, which I had in mind when I wanted to bring spirit and system together.)


25 yes it's nice

We all have them, fed by these three resources:

Who I am,
What I have,
What I can do.

This is thin|silence: awareness of mind, heart, and will.

More often than not, though, the biggest obstacles we face lie within us, not around us:

‘By reinforcing the separation of people from their problems, problem solving often functions as a way of maintaining the status quo rather than enabling fundamental change … where problems often arise from unquestioned assumptions and deeply habitual ways of acting.’*

Many do not want to go sifting through the things inside of them, but as I’ve suggested elsewhere, this is a kind act, a loving act towards oneself.  And it is the place people wanting to make a difference are prepared to go.

The life which finds its alternatives, is the life which is able to offer alternatives to others.

(*From Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers’s Presence.)

talking boundaries and horizons

24 we should

They’re not the same.  We often must pass through boundaries to move towards horizons.

Which can be unnerving.

Boundaries anchor us, especially when we’re tired – mentally, but also emotionally, spiritually, even physically:

‘As in the case of lines, you are likely to stop when you are no longer sure you should go further – at the near edge of the region of uncertainty.*

Boundaries tells us we’ve done enough; horizons remind us we can always go further.

If we want to progress, we will need to stop speaking the language of boundaries and begin speaking the language of horizons.

Which can be unnerving.

The prophet knows this.  She describes the way things are, discerns what is important and what is possible, and then discovers new ways towards the future horizons**.

The language of boundaries can be nice and polite, even tough and debating, but the language of horizons is inquiring and reflective, and can become generative and find people in their flow of creativity.

(*From Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.)
(**Describing, discerning, and discovering are the triad of leadership abilities included by Alex McManus in Makers of Fire.)


23 just gotta

  1. existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level.

We do not know what we are capable of.

What we are right now is not all we can be.  What we can be takes effort but we can move beyond the normal.  Martin Seligman offers the following personal strengths for taking us to this different place:

appreciation of beauty and excellence
gratitude and wonder
optimism and hope for the future
spirituality and purpose
forgiveness and mercy
passion and enthusiasm*

He got me wondering about how I’m doing.  Where am I now compared to ten years ago, or five years ago?  What would it look like to put more in front of each of these?

Seligman identifies twenty four strengths altogether.  If you want to check out how you fair, towards overcoming the voices of judgement coming from inside and outside, you can try it here for free.

Time to transcend.

(*From Martin Seligman’s Flourish.)


weirdly imaginative

22 you don't need

Weird, as in, weird as the new norm.*

Old normal has been around a long time and will take some getting over, mind you.  It’s remains dominant, meaning the weirdly imaginative are found around the edges, where they share their stories, forming alternative communities around their “edgecraft,” finding their (prophetic) voice.

They know the edge will become the new centre (and then they’ll have to journey to the edges again, but that’s another story).

If we doubt this, or resist entering into it, we may ourselves unconscious producers of “despairing conformity.”

There’s a world of difference between moaning about work and plotting to make work better.

One is accepting of how things are, the other is beginning to embody subversive hope.  The latter types are, in effect, saying, We have one life and we’re not going to miss the opportunity to live it boldly and brightly – which means something different for every person, but weirdly imaginative people know this.

Some may doubt the power of imagination in the face of reality, but what we think is reality is only how certain people are imagining things.

Your turn: imagine weird.

(*See Seth Godin’s We Are All Weird.)