Peggy Holman’s new book, Engaging Emergence, presents practical and creative ideas for working with change.
She posted a blog entry, outlining her book in 824 words. It’s a good way to get a quick introduction to her writing and ideas.
Uncertainty as opportunity
Sustainability has become one of those buzzwords that I hear flying around my client and community circles. People want to create sustainability in everything from agriculture to business to endowment funds. I’ve heard others discussing the desire to “leave a legacy” for future generations. All of these are well-meaning intentions, but what is hidden beneath the buzzword?
Creating sustainability often means putting a system structure into place that is designed to produce the most benefit in the present while maintaining those benefits in the future. I do not deny that we need systems that function efficiently and effectively in the present, but is the ultimate goal to maintain them for the future?
Another word comes to mind: chronic. This word is usually used in association with a disease or other undesirable condition that has to be managed. C.S. Holling said, “Placing a system in a straitjacket of constancy can cause fragility to evolve.” In other words, if we carefully maintain a system, we run the risk of eventually creating weakness that leads to a chronic condition. Chronic conditions take much more time in management, and, after a period of time – perhaps a few years or even as long as a generation – can lead to the death of the system.
So should the idea of sustainability be abandoned? The answer isn’t to be found in keeping our organizations and ourselves in chaos. Instead, I invite you to consider expanding the goals of sustainability from only maintaining a static, stable operating environment to include building a resilient space.
Lest you think I’m piling buzzword on buzzword, I’m defining resilience as creating a bounded space where the system can function effectively and efficiently and have elastic in its boundary. That elastic allows the system to learn, change, and grow in new directions in response to changing conditions around it, while offering a measure of protection. It is both stable and ever changing. If we are going to “leave a legacy,” our organizations must embrace the paradox of sustaining change.
The wind-driven rain poured down the windows on yesterday’s rainy, November afternoon.
On a break, I looked out the window and saw the last rose of fall. With a snip of the shears …
it was inside, filling the room with its color and fragrance.
In the mist of work and life, I’m contemplating a variety of ideas that have crossed my path in the last few days. I’m still integrating them into my mental map. So for now, I’m going to point the way to them:
Writing about leadership roles in emerging systems, Peggy Holman has updated her proposed list. Read about system roles including Bridge, Artist, and Disturber. I’m considering what roles I play and have played as well as asking her question, “What roles would you add or change?”
Petsy Fink writes about her encounters at a senior citizens home in Germany. One of my questions in reflection, “How do our organizations not only honor our elders, but actively engage their wisdom in creating our future?”
Another interesting thread comes from the Interpersonal Neurobiology world. David Rock wrote about a new study that shows we human beings are on auto-pilot about half of the time. We live in the stories we tell in our brains – which is useful for “goal setting and strategizing” – and live in the experience of the moment. Being focused on the here and now makes us more flexible in our responses. The question is, “How do I increase my awareness of which mode I’m functioning in at any given time in order to be most effective?”
What is on your list of unfinished threads that you’re integrating into your map of the world?
Fall Prairie at Quivera NWR
Change is happening on the Kansas prairie as grasses and trees transform to their brilliant fall colors. As Organization Development (OD) practitioners we journey alongside organizations and individuals in the midst of planned and unplanned change. Here are some items gleaned from my reading this past weekend.
George R. Brunk III, Interim President of AMBS, was one author I encountered who is thinking and writing about change. He asked questions that apply at a broader level to everyone involved in organizational change. He argues that change begins at the personal level and needs to be practical, asking. “Where does change begin?” How can a context for changed be created? Should change in an organization begin within the organization or follow change that is happening in a larger context? Or is change complementary between the small and large?
I continued reading Peggy Holman’s Engaging Emergence. Her important reminder is: the pattern of change is that it increases with time. When we begin change, we are quick to measure progress or take the temperature of the organization every day or week. Constantly checking to see if change is happening can distract us from focusing effectively on the process or even stop us from persevering through the fallow ground of transition. Peggy gives the wonderful example of the transition from snail mail to e-mail. It took a number of years for our primary communication mode to change. The shift happened in fits and starts, asking us to change our own patterns and assumptions along the way. Yet the pattern holds, change requires time and the amount of change increases with time.
Finally, on our Quivera adventure, Jon and I began a discussion about “transformational space”. My first reaction to reading this phrase was, “Oh no, another business buzz phrase.” But Stephen Cope , a psychologist writing about stress-reduction, uses it to further challenge my thinking about the need to intentionally create spaces where change can occur more easily. This topic deserves, and will get, its own post. But the question stands, what impact does the way we setup meeting and training rooms or work spaces have on how we engage with each other in the change process?
Here are more questions than answers. But, I find the questions worth pondering.
I’ve collected more than a few classic Organization Development resource links over the last several years. If you are just getting started in the Organization Development field or are looking for on-line resources to lead your own process, here are resources that I’ve found useful (in alphabetical order):
Appreciative Inquiry Commons
Balanced Scorecard Institute
Open Space Technology Links from Peggy Holman
Society for Organizational Learning
World Cafe: Juanita Brown and Tom Hurley
And, links to past posts of resources:
Resource: Harvard Business Review
Resource: Leader to Leader Institute
Resource: Organization Development resources on the web
Resources for Positive Organization Development
Waiting for the Winter Wheat
In Kansas, the winter wheat is planted. We watch and wait for it to emerge, wondering if the weather will support its life. We wonder – and all the while every human being is born with a preference for predictability. We want to know when and where we will sleep and eat. We are most comfortable with people who are like us. We learn more when we are given an agenda or syllabus that tells us what’s coming. Yet life remains uncertain; we can’t control everything or get all of our questions answered.
In our organizations we like certainty too. We create five-year plans, develop key performance indicators, and post weekly metrics on the bulletin board in the cafeteria or coffee area. Yet, here too, the unexpected and uncertainty continually get in the way. Or do they? What if we changed our perspective, paradigm, assumptions, or way of seeing?
As organization leaders and organization development practitioners, our role is to engage uncertainty, to engage what is emerging. I’ve used the Appreciative Inquiry and Open Space Technology processes to successfully engage organizations and individuals in emerging possibilities. As often as I’ve used these processes, I’m still amazed at the unexpectedly innovative and surprisingly positive outcomes – ones that could not have been imagined when we started.
Peggy Holman, coauthor of The Change Handbook, suggests that when we engage emergence, we become more inspired to pursue things that matter, form new connections with other people, and create new possibilities. The challenge is choosing to engage the disruption, chaos, and upheaval rather than spending our energy trying to fix and maintain the existing system. Practical questions for engaging the possibilities in uncertainty:
- What is most important?
- Given the unexpected circumstances, what is possible now?
- Given the broken process, what would it look like if it were working successfully?
- What could we do together as a team that we can’t do by ourselves?
- What would you most like to do?
As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Wisdom of the Sands