Adam Kahane – Facing Complex Issues

As an organizer of the 2007 C2D2 Vancouver Nov. 12-14 conference – Facing Complex Issues Together, I wasn’t sure how much inspiration and new insights I would be able to take away. To my delight, two opportunities presented themselves for me to interact with and learn from Adam Kahane. Here are some of the ‘golden nuggets’ I retained from his talks:

  • Sun Tze in The Art of War teaches the importance of solving tough problems without destorying the system, or ‘taking whole’.
  • Co-creating a better future requires both love and power. Love is the act of listening from a place of deep attending, compassion, and empathy – as if what is being spoken is sacred. Power is the capacity to achieve purpose and to act together. The most important outcome of a multi-stakeholder meeting then, is for people to find and commit to what they have energy and will to act upon together. (For an in-depth elaboration of his new thinking representing the last 15 years of his work, replete with case examples, see Adam’s article, The Language of Power and the Language of Love, in Fieldnotes.)
  • Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political and economic change. … What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
  • We can deceive ourselves with easy answers such as, “we’re sure this is doing some good”, “talk is work”, and delay taking action until later when we hope all will see what we need to do. As long as we’re not acting, says Adam, then we can imagine that we are in agreement. It is not until we actually start to ‘do something’ to transform and change current reality that we can actually determine whether there is in fact sufficient will to act. Action is the litmus test of whether we’ve had “good talk”. The imperative then, especially in the face of complex issues like climate change where Mother Nature (and not humanity) is in charge, is to act together much sooner, learning by doing and by prototyping, in an ongoing process of action and response.
  • The important questions to guide how we design our work in facing complex issues include: 1) How can we work systemically, generatively and participatively? 2) How can we move from downloading (what we know); debating (our positions) to reflective dialogue and presencing for real learning and understanding? 3) How can we put our purposes together first then decide on our ideas for acting together? 4) How can we become bilingual in the language of love and power?

Author: myriamlaberge

M.A. (Economics), Certified Professional Facilitator Founder & Managing Director