Category Archives: Reflection

The Unintended Power of Silence | Acting in Networks

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By Donald Officer

We have become only too familiar with the overused term “generation gap.” But consider what it might look like if the gap were a chasm with frightful, fatal consequences for those it draws in.

Stephen Sillett primed attendees for that imaginary leap into danger at the March 2016 DwD when he invited us to explore the Networks of Influence model testing dramatizations his team uses in intergenerational communities as distant or diverse as North Eastern South Africa and Ontario’s Niagara Region.

We started with an experiential exercise, a Calabash of constructed fire. During this simulation we were not in real physical danger of course, as we were persuaded to step into the imaginary fire of the “calabash” cauldron, later to stamp out the flames together: An important lesson in trust like many facilitation icebreakers, but also a demonstration of how people become entrapped in collective blind trust in our customary roles.

Several after the fact observations:

  • This ritual brought our attention to how collective activity exerts a magical influence across perceptions of group members.
  • Forgetting the importance of rituals in our own communities, we miss the chance to examine our own customs or beliefs.
  • For instance, as an anthropologist turned Wall Street reporter, Gillian Tett saw the hidden rituals of the finance world tied to mental models and metaphors of how things are and watched how these dominated the risky actions of traders.
  • Culture trumps strategy.

Establishing a positive and workable context for the exploration to occur is key.  After the embodied opening exercise our paired discussions about influence and networks of influence unfolded unfolded more fluidly. Throughout the room you could feel the openness of the conversations – we already shared imagined worlds emerging from a jointly visualized hole in the ground. From that came insights into how we are influenced. Sharing in pairs again, we further reflected on “networks of influence.”

Over the three hours we spent together in OCAD University’s Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) the roughly two dozen participants learned even more about dramatic enactment and the purpose of “Clean Language.” Clean Language (first presented in a session on Non-Directive Inquiry Stephen and Peter delivered), is a revealing form of unbiased speaking that strips away implicit judgments or unintended critical undertones that function to shut down communications in sensitive situations where pride, unspoken expectation and taboo are subtly, but often dangerously, in play. (Clean Language is a technique that originates from psychotherapy and coaching to help clients discover and develop symbols and metaphors without being influenced by the phrasing of a question.)

As the group began to edge into its own experiential learning circle, Stephen developed the contexts in which the trust fostering tools he was talking about were introduced by his team in the early days of their South African experience. Picture sub Saharan Africa just after the turn of this century. Almost everywhere communities had been hit hard by AIDS. Orphaned children were raised by their grandparents; whole communities were decimated.

Into a rural corner of Northern South Africa the Aiding Dramatic Change in Development group (ADCID) of which Stephen is now co-executive director, with his partner Jennifer Jimenez, humbly offered to help with the CrossGEN: Connecting across Age and Culture project. And humility was appropriate considering the wicked problem they faced. In that particular neighbourhood, young men felt pressure to father a child by 19 in order to be a man, and teenage pregnancy was very high. Marriage would be the focus of the plan except a young man with no cattle to offer the prospective bride’s family would never be groom material. A series of droughts and perpetual poverty meant that bar would stay too high for most of marrying age. Everyone looked the other way as young people routinely had unprotected sex with the aim of creating life even as they ran the risk of premature death.

Shame, guilt, fear and frustration shut down desperately needed intergenerational conversations between parents and adolescents before trust, acceptance and dialogue could be kindled. Why are such discussions avoided when so much is at stake? Ironically, it may be fear of the consequences of conflict.  unfortunately,  positions can’t be changed when they can’t be discussed. To make things worse, the rumor mill started up when suspicions spread that the HIV virus had been secretly inserted by authorities to contaminate the condom supply – one more destructive legacy of the apartheid era.

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Networks of influence form in communities around the globe. They can be toxic barriers or powerful tools for intergenerational bonding depending on what is spoken or not spoken. How does ADCID bring parties and stakeholders to the point of transformation from negative to positive forces? In Southern Ontario, the problems and issues faced by yet another generational divide also presented gaps and taboos. As in Africa, trust building through multiple arts and dramatic mediums to reimagine community and connection opened eyes and hearts in the Niagara Region. Stephen and Jennifer’s transformation process seems to be transferable and repeatable.

The pictures and diagrams taken from Stephen’s work with ADCID illustrate the ingenuity that can be engaged to weave positive bonds of intergenerational communications while replacing the unspoken obstacles of the silent status quo. Note the mix of tools, institutions and media in the central Canada version of the CrossGEN: Connecting Across Age and Culture project diagram.

As often happens at DwD events, attendees brought their own broad swath of professional backgrounds to the session. Designers, health professionals, facilitators, marketing specialists, strategic foresight students and forecasters counted themselves in. Something about the process is contagious. Conversations energized as three hours flew by. Experiential learning works.

Economies that Work for All of Us (Unify Toronto Dialogues)

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The Spiral Comes Full Circle: How Nation-to-Nation Relations with First Nations Can Lead to Economies that Work for All of Us

  • What would it be like for our human economy to be in harmony with the Earth’s economy?
  • What would our communities be like if we put energy into personalized and localized resources that benefit everyone around us?

In these times of accelerating crises – climate change, religious extremism, cyclic economic collapse – it has never been more important to think how to address their common underlying causes, many of which we have been the subjects of our dialogues over the past year.

This final Unify Toronto Dialogue of 2015 deepened a year long enquiry into money and meaning inspired by the learnings from our Remaking a Living dialogue series. What have we learned from the practices of community stewardship, reciprocal caring economies, and transformation (e.g., Theory U) that we’ve explored that might guide our design of enlivening, human-scale economic systems?

Guided by Kevin Best, we grounded the session again in the indigenous world views that laid the foundation for our series with our January dialogue inspired by Idle No More: A Love Story.  Almost a year after that January dialogue, our new government has promised ‘nation-to-nation relations’ with First Nations in Canada, committed to adopt all the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and pledged to implement the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The following points were revealed in the dialogue:

  • Flow is key.  Learn from the future as it emerges.
  • Come together with the people you love.
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report and the United Nations Declarations and Treaties are a basis for moving forward together.
    Well-meaning settlers need to go beyond tokenism to address injustice.
  • A nation-to-nation relationship between the First Nations, Métis and Inuit and the Canadian Government will be profoundly important.

The TRC grew out of the Canadian Government’s apology for residential schools.

  • Led to 94 recommendations, and Prime Minister Trudeau has committed to implementing them all.
  • Need curriculum of identity restoration.
  • The TRC report provides an entry point into the conversation.
  • The full report will be released on Dec 15 and presented to Canada in Ottawa at noon, Shaw Convention Centre.

Kevin Best: We need to implement as clans, as communities, and come together at a small level – in clan groups of like-minded people.

  • The indigenous view is individualistic for all that does not affect the group
  • Reference the film: Schooling the World
  • Focus on the manageable connections – housesharing, shared space and land, make local economies work for all
  • Tribing up frees energy and resources

 Group discussion

  • The TRC used non-Indigenous ways to deal with Indigenous issues
  • We need to shift toward a reciprocal relationship
  • The disconnect from self is core
  • Each action contributes to a shift in consciousness
    • This process is slow, but it reaches a tipping point
  • Change requires us to use new concepts
    • We need someone else’s ideas
    • Few are willing to be transformed
  • We need to see with both Indigenous (grounded, emotional) and Western (materialistic, intellectual) eyes
  • Structure and individual feed and support each other

Action outcomes

  • When you’re ready, you’ll be able to hear and change
    • You will reach a threshold – keep working toward it
  • Need to create a space within ourselves, between agreement and disagreement
  • Also need to create shared meaning across generations
  • Focus on building relationship
  • Be present to hold the space for the future generatively
  • The community provides the context for action
    • Personal change can happen within that and can in turn influence the community.
  • Openness allows for the unexpected

We explored how fulfilling these commitments in the fullest sense would also mean realizing the promise of regenerative, just and caring economies that we have been dreaming into being through this year’s dialogues. Read the Leap manifesto and discussion at Unify Toronto.

About the Host 

Kevin Best has focused on how to create a sustainable world through activism, innovative business and restoring Indigenous society for over four decades. He has worked with Indigenous people throughout Turtle Island, consulted to Greenpeace and pioneered green energy in Ontario. He is currently working on a start-up called Odenaansan (Village or “the little places where my heart is”), an integrated, culturally-based approach to restoring Minobimadzin (the good life) through sustainable food, energy, housing and water in Anishinabe communities. Ceremonially adopted into Bkejwanong (Walpole Island) in the late 1990’s, Kevin is a member of the Martin clan and is Neegunneechgun (the one who goes before the people). He is passionate about decolonization and re-indigenization and committed to spreading understanding of these life-giving possibilities.

 

Don Officer on Living & Dying through Change & Transformation

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Something about August reminds us of those unseen tipping points that mark the change of seasons in the year, in our lives, in our organizations and ultimately cultures. The fruits of summer need shorter days and colder nights to ripen. All are harbingers of harvests but likewise endings soon enough to come. So it was timely that Vanessa Reid opened up a conversation to the 30 or so DwD participants in the Lambert Room on Wednesday, August 12 around the perpetual mystery and wisdom of transitions.

Such conversations take courage. Everything about our culture is designed to downplay two obvious, but annoying details. First, we all change through our lives and experiences. With the passage of years we can do less or fewer of some things and more of others. These slow but inexorable alterations do not usually comply with expectations. If that weren’t annoying enough, the many parts of the world around us move along on their own cycles and rhythms. Vanessa gave us a framework for that, a systems approach called panarchy.

Panarchy is a philosophical and methodological approach with a history some of you will recognize. In human terms we feel the perpetual tension between stability and disturbance in every aspect of life. This personal aspect was Vanessa’s focus at the DwD session. Relating her own experiences as a daughter, an agent for social change and institutional steward Vanessa illustrated how she came to appreciate panarchy from the inside out. As the invitation explains she has been immersed in creating  (and sometimes extinguishing we discovered) broadly aligned cultures. All this she accomplished while immersing herself in some very extended, old yet highly contended global cultures from India to Jerusalem to Greece.

The evening was designed to be interactive. Conversing as individuals in a circle, sometimes in twos or threes, participants pondered aloud their own cycles of growth, transformation and death or disappearance in their lives. Throughout the session process shifts between expression and reflection were felt and consolidated. Living in our hard driving high-energy compulsorily optimistic culture, we feel a powerful resistance to accepting personal or social decline’s inevitable consequences as we, along with our personal cocoons, are overtaken by the power of change from without as well as within.

Some of these ideas did indeed sink in during our three hours together. Closing thoughts from the circle reminded the whole group of the ambivalences that big changes intermingled with tenacious continuances visit on everyone. Vanessa is a living model for acceptance of panarchy’s swirling curves as it describes its sideways figure eight of infinity. Perpetuity is of course not always a consolation when we must give up something or a person dear and meaningful to us. Consciousness does not always let matters go gently into that good night. Moving on is nonetheless active and dynamic. Awareness of the call to close is step one.

Donald Officer

The Humble Power of Non-Directive Communication

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The intentions for this DwD were to explore two contexts:

  • How do we avoid personal bias when facilitating authentic & emergent dialogue?
  • How do we create open spaces in communication for deep listening and sharing?

Stephen Sillett hosted our July 2015 inquiry into non-directive communication. Peter Jones presented a dialogue from Ed Schein’s Humble Inquiry, and Stephen held an experiential activity with David Grove’s Clean Language methods. We touched on open and shared conversation experiences of forming and asking questions, touching on how power relations, culture and personal assumptions influence how we ask questions.

Humble inquiry is an approach to creating better working relationships with people in interdependent situations. Schein simply calls this “the gentle art of asking rather than telling.” However, as with most of his work it goes well beyond good management, it’s an approach we can all learn from for better relationships and more effective team and partnership work.

Humble Inquiry is the skill and art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.

Schein notes three modes of humility – Basic humility, Optional humility, and Here and Now humility. We always have a choice to approach a situation as an inquiry, with questions that invite the other person to share, to ascend a bit. We allow the other to be the expert in their own experience. This is especially powerful when you as the questioner may already be in a more powerful status.

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Clean Language

Clean Language draws from techniques developed by David Grove, derived from counseling, and used  in organizational development and group facilitation. Several books and materials available on the Clean Language website provide pathways for interested participants to follow. Stephen will be running clean language workshops in the future and can be contacted at stephen@adcid.org

These activities can be very powerful, especially when exploring emotive, complex or confusing situations. It slows down our everyday way of communicating, which is often goal-directed and constrained by time, inhibiting our capacity for clear, clean communication.

This approach involves formulating questions that focus attention and develops a person’s understanding, without adding the questioners’ own needs and advice to the balance of conversation.

Experiencing the Process in Embodied Metaphors

The exploration of metaphors was initiated through a person’s real incident in the past expressed using “body images”. This help to give a strong anchor, from which to process the meaning using “clean language” to enable the participant to build a deeper understanding of what is happening.

As shown in the photograph, other participants played roles in the metaphor through an image theatre method.

tableau

 

 

Voice Qualities

David Grove deliberately ‘marked out’ his use of Clean Language through changes to his normal way of speaking:

  • The speed of his delivery is slower than half normal pace
  • He uses a slightly deeper tonality than normal speaking
  • He often uses a distinctive sing-song rhythm
  • There is an implied sense of curiosity and wonder in his voice
  • The client’s idiosyncratic pronunciation, emphasis, sighs etc. are matched

Syntax: The syntax of Clean Language is peculiar and would sound very strange if used in normal conversation! It uses Pacing and Leading in a particular way. For example, all the questions begin with “and” and are orientated to the clients ‘perceptual present’. The generalised syntax, in its full form, comprises 4 components:

“And [pacing clients words]

+ And as/when

+ [question]

+ [refer to this particular experience]”

 

About the Host

ssillettStephen Sillett is co-executive director of Aiding Dramatic Change ~ in Development (ADCID), and helps the organization research, facilitate and direct dialogue, drama and art processes for healing and community development. Through ADCID projects and in partnership with other social actors, he is exploring approaches that engage community members in conversations, consciously orientated to maturing visions of the future. Research interests include the facilitation of non-verbal and spatial meaning-making practices within group workshop and the creation of interactive performance. He directs InFusion Labs where theatre artists, therapists, scientists and social practitioners explore spatial approaches to exploration and discovery.

To learn more and ask questions to practitioners visit ADCID’s Linkedin Group or Facebook Page

Strategic Learning: Personal innovation in a fluid environment

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How might we enhance our experience of learning to accord with personal or professional strategy?

Can we strategically direct our learning individually and together to adapt and lead through a changing world?

June’s DwD was hosted by Donald Officer, delving into a shared inquiry and practices toward discovery of our personal lifetime learning potentials.  Strategic learning can be viewed as choosing what we specifically need to know and practice to reach goals and commitments, during a time when traditional practices of learning are themselves in the midst of change.

Learning practices have become diffused, breaking boundaries of media and form, and can be seen as chaotically disruptive. Universities have launched MOOCs of their top professor’s courses, diploma mills have gone online, and students become debt burdened in pursuit of formal educations that may be obsolete before program completion. Training, facilitating, coaching abound.

Each of us has the opportunity to remake ourselves in a serious powerful way while connecting with others to make massive significant change. To do this we have to realize something so obvious it’s as invisible as the air we breathe.

June.CIrcle

 

The session further developed ideas in small group exercises and open reflective dialogue:

  • Recrafting personal mission statements to build transformative learning
  • Learning for them versus learning for you – no, it isn’t self indulgent
  • Ways we learn that schools won’t acknowledge and what to do about it.
  • Just in time, just in case and just because we feel like it
  • Necessity not curriculum is the mother of invention
  • Learning to think strategically (and save yourself from the planners)
  • Powerful media (new and old) tools we all can access
  • How to curate your own learning space

 

 

 

Informal like strategic learning is by nature non-linear. During the June DwD workshop we made some important connections while many more remained implicit. Don provides further context:

Microlearning Experiential learning and neuroscience: The neuroscience lies in the way we both construct new associations on the neural framework of existing linkages and also on the way the brain becomes more fully engaged via novelty, especially confronting potential threats. A little danger is a learning thing. The inner game: Timothy Gallwey’s approach to learning as evidenced in his inner game books, is to bring the routine into focus as though it were novel, since we never intentionally change what we do not take note of. Meaningful deliberate change starts with reflection and then proceeds to the rallying of motivation.

Metalearning Building a self: we touched on this only lightly and indirectly in the workshop. The simple definition of metalearning is learning how to learn which, presumably, leads to a helpful form of self knowledge. See also learning curation. At greater length we discussed surfing and diving, a fairly intuitive double metaphor to, on the one hand, approach information or data that requires little analysis before it presents its meaning versus delving deep into interpretation which on the other hand, demands murky speculation before it offers up meaningful results.

Learning curation did not really get discussed. This concept comprises everything from scrapbooks to blogs, always implying significantly more. It includes live links, all manner of graphic representation, wikis, webinars, contact lists, notes in any form or whatever else keys into learning touchstones that might in the manner of a museum diorama grow into an entire expanse or long thick thread of knowledge.

Informal learning model (diagram and discussion)- During the session we briefly examined an experiential learning diagram of David Kolb’s 4 point Concrete Experience through Active Experimentation model. Kolb’s representation resonates with neuro-scientific research shown below as is Julia Sloan’s dynamic 3 step Strategic Thinking model (Preparation, Experience and Re-evaluation). In the full version, arrows and the rectangle connect by multiple feedback loops while a series of curved arrows represents turbulence and resolution within the Experience phase. Both depict change models alluding to cognitive and affective challenges as well as conflicting mindsets or paradigms , but to be precise, both operate more from a learning perspective than from a general psychological framework.

 

Triangulation to assess informal or strategic learning – was suggested as a form of disconfirming heuristic. The idea is that without the more familiar landmarks of formal knowledge the informal learner might test a particular learning against intuitive, perceptual and reasoned benchmarks. These modes are not infallible even in concert of course, but might very well keep the learner focussed and oriented on the bigger picture until the landscape better defines itself.

 

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Part 2 in DwD Series on New Learning: Paths to Discovery

An evolving bibliography and references

  • Postmodern Education: Politics, Culture, & Social Criticism by Stanley Aronowitz and Henry A. Giroux; University of Minnesota Press; Minneapolis, 1991.
  • Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance by Jay Cross; Pfeiffer (John Wiley &Sons); San Francisco, 2007.
  • The Inner Game of Work: Focus, Learning, Pleasure and Mobility in the Workplace by W. Timothy Gallwey; Random House; New York, 2000.
  • Learning to Think Strategically: Second Edition by Julia Sloan; Routledge; London and New York, 2014.
  • Infed – The website on Informal Education (highly recommended)

 

About the Host

Donald R. Officer has been a writer, planner, communicator, management consultant and educator for over three decades. Persistently seeking better ways to approach the fuvaluesture and how to live there, he has become a strong advocate for a major rethinking about our ideas on innovation. Don’s recent career as life coach has launched a serious innovative rethinking of his own life and the meaning of learning and professional practice, insights which he shares with DwD in this session.

DonO

Don has written articles for newspapers, journals and magazines and edited policy papers, newsletters and on-line forums. He continues to review books and write articles on many social change topics, especially strategic thinking,for magazines and his blog, The Intention Coach.  Meanwhile he continues to toil away writing longer works on psychology and education. These are destined for wider publication.