These complex times call for meaningful involvement of people, tapping their collective intelligence and wisdom to co-create solutions that serve the common good. “Engaging Communities and Organizations for Wise Action/Lasting Impact: How to Convene, Design and Facilitate Meaningful Conversations Around Complex Issues” is a new program that I have designed and co-lead with my dear friend and colleague Brenda Chaddock.
Wise Action is a practically-focused, skill-building program for people who want to gain confidence in the process of convening, designing, and facilitating the engagement of a community or organization. It is for people who are in positions where they are already asked to be the guide in the overall process of engagement, and to lead in a whole journey from the call to the plan for action. The program is for facilitators and practitioners who want and need to understand the bones beneath the experience of hosting inquiry and conversation, to the methods, the principles, guidelines that often are tacit knowledge to a skilled facilitator. Wise Action is a blend of formal teaching, action learning, experiencing, understanding the key elements of each methodology, of design principles, and of blending methods to achieve a desired result.
The dates of our next offerings are January 18-21, 2009. A 3.5 day residential practice retreat on Bowen Island BC at the magnificent Rivendell Lodge (download PDF flyer – www.breakthroughsunlimited.com/wise-action.pdf). Register: firstname.lastname@example.org
Since last fall, I have been busily engaged with a group of volunteers across the country organizing the next Canadian conference on Dialogue and Deliberation – Facing Complex Issues Together, coming up in Vancouver BC, November 12-14, 2007 (do register if you haven’t yet done so!). Here are some key research pieces I compiled to help us understand complexity.
Adam Kahane, author of Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities identifies three types of complexity: dynamic, social and generative. Dynamic complexity relates to the lags that occur in time and space between the actions taken by organizations (causes) and their consequent social and/or environmental impacts (effects). Social complexity arises from the diversity, multiplicity, and interdependence of stakeholders from different social, economic, political, geographic or other systems. Generative complexity arises from encountering issues, realities, problems and opportunities that have never before been faced by human beings, and where past solutions and methods no longer work or cannot be applied. Adam Kahane will be a guest panelist at C2D2.
Dr. Brenda Zimmerman (co-author of Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed) says that understanding whether an issue is simple, complicated or complex is critically important to how we go about addressing it. Solutions to complex issues require involvement of multiple views to gain as much of the whole picture as possible; dialogue methodologies are very helpful here. At best, it is important to recognize that we will likely only ever arrive at ‘good enough for now’ solutions to complex issues. At any time, dynamic, social or generative sources of complexity may cause today’s solutions to become ineffective or irrelevant. A good example of this is the case of BC’s interior pine forests. Hard-come-by plans to manage the forests sustainably have been dramatically altered by the arrival of the pine beetle due to climate change. The beetles are decimating the pine forests and transforming the landscape, ecology and local economies at a rate beyond anything previously envisaged. Such is the nature of complex issues.
- Simple – the issue is known; there is certainty of the same outcome every time; e.g., a recipe, a puzzle; an oil change.
- Complicated – the issue is knowable, even if very difficult technically; there is a high degree of certainty of the outcome; e.g., putting a spaceship on the moon; organizing a Live Aid concert.
- Complex – issue is unknowable; there is uncertainty as to the outcome; e.g., raising a child, achieving sustainability, reducing world hunger, addressing homelessness, reducing drug use. etc.
(Definitions extracted from Dr. Zimmerman’s PowerPoint presentation, “Complexity, Mental Models and Ecocyle/Panarchy” delivered in Ottawa, 2007.)
In June, I had the fortunate pleasure to attend Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge’s workshop, The Art & Practice of Presencing: Human Purpose & the Field of the Future at the Omega Point Center in Rhinebeck, NY (US).
Weaving together the experiences and stories from their two groundbreaking books, Presence: An Exploration of Every Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society, and Otto’s new book, Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges, the workshop underscored how any profound change process, whether in a personal, organizational, or social setting, is the result of a journey that includes both tangible and intangible dimensions. This journey begins with the realization that novel, innovative and sustainable solutions require a higher level of consciousness to be tapped than that which created the current situation.
So many of our current attempts to address the complex issues before us fail dismally, suggests Otto, because of the ‘blind spot’ in our collective leadership and everyday interactions to the source from which effective responses and action actually come into being. A shift in the quality of leadership intention and attention is required from:
- downloading (listening to reconfirm what you already know), to
- factual listening (noticing to disconfirm what you know and notice what is different), to
- empathetic listening (redirecting your seeing through another’s perspective), and finally to
- generative listening (connecting to a deeper realm of emergence; the emerging field of future possibility).
There are practices to help leaders develop a new consciousness and to tap collective leadership capacities to meet challenges in a more conscious, intentional, and strategic way. These involve developing an open mind, an open heart and an open will. The Presencing Institute has recently been launched to help refine this social technology, and make it available to change makers, innovators and communities.