Alterophobia: Afraid of the Other

Chapter I – Anxiety of the Unknown

What can be more terrifying than what we haven’t yet come across? How much our own imagination can travel way beyond our experiences to imagine a negative future?

I was part of a training some years ago in the exact moment when moving to another country, an unknown place for an unknown period of time. When I shared my anxiety with the group, our very experienced facilitator brought what in her definition meant to be anxious. Anxiety, she said, comes with making a negative prediction of the future.

Why would I project a negative future about moving to this new place?

I definitely could find reasons and create stories of a change that wasn’t sucessful, but when taking the time to explore more, I could also find reasons and stories to support the very opposite. My previous experience could inform me that a culture change would mean challenges but also learnings and sweet discoveries.

And in knowing all that, why create a negative version of the future?

I went on to imagine that what makes us (me) anxious has to do with not knowing what story will unfold. Not knowing makes us (me) apprehensive and afraid. Something about not being in control of my story, about not knowing what will happen, that brings up these emotions.

And even if I repeatedly heard the central motto of many self-help books about there: control both the present and the future is a myth, how to actually deal with this?

If with this investigation emerges a possible answer, there might be a self-help book with my name out there one day. 🙂

The next chapter on the Alterophobic series… The Need to Control:

Why do we feel we need to be in control, to create previsibility and a future purpose?

Conversational Competencies | The Work of the Present

Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction. – Bakhtin

Our capacity to produce alone or even to accumulate knowledge fail to grant us more power and influence in today’s systems.

To act better we need to increase our conversational competence, our capacity to coordinate our perception with others, in a process of continuous shared construction.

Why a conversational focus?

Conversation is the primary form of intervention of the century: it is how we act, we work and we produce today. We are in a world where conversational work takes the central place in our daily actions, leaving manual work behind for good.

If Taylor was the reference in productivity for organising peoples actions over time, today the greater part of production lies on people coordinating actions among themselves.

What changed?

Doing-together is mandatory because complexity in our current issues do not allow the presence of an omniscient entity with the ability to distribute concatenated actions from beginning to end. Instead, we have the need to pay attention in a wider range of issues at the same time so we can produce something of relevance.

This reality asks for many people paying attention to interconnected parts of the whole at the same time they are creating a process of continuous coordination among them.

How do we coordinate? We coordinate via conversations, manipulating language, closing agreements, making and fulfilling promises so the collaboration among many becomes effective.

There are things that can be produced individually, but the complexity of our time, of our systems and issues at hand indicate it is time for collective production more than ever before.

What are the competencies to produce together that we should learn to value?

On Loneliness and Responsibility

The Experience of Learning | Why You Should Be Less Productive and Stay More Present

We are in the productivity era. The work seems to be finding a way to get things done better, faster and simpler. It all looks good, but our focus on productivity is killing our experience of learning.

Yes, being more productive is also preventing you to learn. Here is why.

Of course I want to be productive, so sometimes I ask myself the question ‘how can I do this better?’ and then instantly my mind goes for a walk and I enter in organising mode, trying to put order on my mess.

In my case, where learning opportunities are being ‘produced’, be better at producing led me to think that focusing on productivity works more like a knitting obsession.



You can get ten thousand hours of not-learning-much by focusing on productivity.

In fact, many people stay years in school just doing that: producing mostly useless material, sometimes thriving on being trained on something, but learning very little.

I’d say the big bad wolf here relates to anxiety, anticipation, expectation.

While becoming anxious in producing learning for ourselves or others, we don’t actually experience learning. And with no experience, what you end up getting is just another set of stuff in your toolbox or bookshelf, another energy and focus drainer made to prevent you from keep on flowing and actually learning something after all.

Learning is like water flowing out of the source. It is an event where one pays attention to the now, to the moment when an offer becomes available to be recognised and there is an opportunity to stare at it in awe.



So this is it: when people say learning, they usually mean training. To learn the piano, algebra or Japanese means to do a lot of training until you get good at it.

And to master chords, maths and kanjis are wonderful achievements, so go for your classes and practices, but don’t clutter. Not jumping to the next item on your checklist allows you to listen to the key learning opportunities, the ones which pull the rug from under your feet.

Those opportunities happen when you are paying attention to the experience of being here and now.

Authority, Power and Experience

What is the connection between Authority, Power and Experience?

I’ve learned that authority is not related to “being an author”, but rather with growing, making it grown. And also that ‘to have power’ or ‘be powerful’ means being capable of performing a deed.

We can make our power to influence and action grow, our capacity to act on something, when we have authority. To be an authority means to grow our actions so they carry more power, they generate more possibilities.

To have authority and power does not mean to be pre-potent, to be someone who puts his own power ahead, before everything else. Our power and authority can be at service, it can be both great and humble.

Power comes from Authority

To have more capacity to and for something means to have grown in the direction of being capable. To have power is the result of making our capacity grow, of being an authority.

This wasn’t (and still isn’t) always the case. In past societies, authority could be declared by birth right or divine decision, for the ones belonging to one specific societal cast or having a specific role. This type of authority was many times considered unauthentic as it would not be a result of perceived capacity from others.

Looking to it in our current social system, authority is normally declared in a specific system in which we can see many domains and dimensions. We can be an authority of law but not an educational one, or a political authority but not an artistic one, etc.

Every human system and subsystem defines what it takes to be an authority and have power within the system. The capacities of whom has power are also very different, both in terms of distinct domains and in levels of expertise.

To look at distinct domains it is sufficient to imagine the developed capacities of a sumo wrestler compared with a buddhist monk, or a CEO and a ballerina.

On leves of expertise, we can vary from beginner to a master’s level in a given capacity. [1]

Levels of Expertise
MasterObserved and/or participated in practical historical changesDesires and it is capable of reinventing the practice facing the world’s changing context
VirtuousSuccessful output in past practices in a variety of different contextsMoves without deliberation in the world of practice, produce excellence in others
ExpertPast actions with a number of situations, and experience with its consequencesPerforms with excellence and starts to see the practice in its world context
CompetentReacted previously to symptoms and has initial practical experience in the domainCan complete satisfactory practices in clients and community
Advanced BeginnerUsed in the past rules that relate situational characteristics with concrete actionsStarts to recognise aspects of practical situations as symptoms of future possibilities
BeginnerUndertook previous practices on related domainsFollow rules, instructions and standard practices previously learnt

Capacity Over the Self

These capacities can be, like the examples above, functional, and are capacities that enable us to perform an activity with greater expertise.

Regardless of domain and level or authority in a functional capacity, we can always explore in us human beings our capacity over ourselves. It is in this capacity of self mastery that new possibilities emerge that were once hidden.

Personal mastery is not necessarily a result of a specific practice since every journey towards a functional capacity is a journey to knowledge and most likely to self knowledge as well.

Despite that, a conscious self knowledge practice allows us to observe ourselves while walking the path at the time of the journey itself.

The tipping point to greater levels of expertise are perhaps conditioned to a true journey of self knowledge as a way to allow a deep knowledge of something.

This is related to the fact that knowing is connected a great deal with the observers of the world that we have being. When we broaden our observer, we also judge with better discernment and with more authority.

Authority comes from Experience

Both functional and self authority is connected to experience. To become a master in a specific function requires many hours of experience in it [2], while becoming a master of oneself might be a lifelong task for everyone.

Lived experience becomes embodied capacity and is this is the form of authority that we experience as authentic in ourselves and we recognise in others.

Think about someone you admire… Admiration is the result of watching and recognising an embodied capacity in someone else, regardless of our desire to achieve that capacity level or not. We admire authority and mastery.

Authority is always declared, but has more power when it is recognised as authentic by the self and others.

How does our experience translates into authority? What have we done to become an authority in the things that matter to us? And to become an authority over ourselves?

  1. Flores, Fernando (1994) “Creando Organizaciones para el futuro”, Dolmen Chile. Bear similarity to something called Inspired by the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition.  ↩
  2. Some authors, like the pop Gladwell, says that 10000 hours of practice are needed for experience in a field. There are other opinions and theories written at Business Insider and at the BBC.  ↩

In Our Work with Groups

You and the Collective

Just out on another day of hosting a group of people doing their business in collaboration.

When things go well, ego invites to the dream that it was all about how wonderful my work is and how great I was today, but time had shown that it’s not about me at all. People are just good at doing this.

At the same time, our work hosting groups is essential as an instrument to sustain the experience of collaboration and not let the conversation fall into the same old patterns usually in place. Those learned patterns are revisited so many times that it’s like falling into an old habit.

On the other hand, when things go a bit sour, we can again choose the path of taking it on our incompetence or inability – much of the same “it’s all about me” behaviour – or even just blame an external source of disaster and become the poor victim of it all.

Either way, both carry the assumption of conversations being mere cause and effect events that can be simplified by finding something or someone to blame and, of course, to fix it.

It’s never about us and also we play an essential role in it.

We are both insignificant to what will unfold and at the same time essential as we create context and container for it.

Context, Container and Content

In this work we listen and act understanding and choosing the conditions needed and then paying attention when things are unfolding.

Those can be expressed in 3 Cs: Container, Context and Content.

Before we even meet the group as a whole, we are up and running to create context and container for the conversation, usually with a great deal of previous work, some interviews to adquire language, a good choice of space and structure, etc.

Here, though the energy is diluted, is where 80% of the amount of work is done. Context and container will do some of the important work later on.

And finally when we meet, it is time for the art of being present and some deep listening to be aware of shifts in context and the emergence of content – being those feelings, actions or concepts.

This is energy intensive but less quantitative work. One does not see much being done as the job is really to just stand there paying attention.


Read More

  • Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!: Ten Principles for Leading Meetings That Matter – Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff – e-book at Amazon
  • The World CafĂ©: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter – Juanita Brown, David Isaacs and the World Cafe Community – e-book at Amazon
image by garlandcannon

We are made of stories

I’ve heard that we are made of stories, not atoms. At school, where we study people both in biology and history*, I did think we could be both. Specially because there are people who are not biology anymore but are still history and even some people that have never been biology, but are definitely part of who we are.

Atoms fall short in representing the greatness of the human family. Beyond structure, what makes us human are the stories we’ve been told and the ones we choose to tell.

We meet to build trust among ourselves and then replicate the stories (and history) that we choose to replicate and also to decide collectively on the additions and subtractions we want to make on them. Trust is what feeds social conviviality. From trust derives the knowledge of how to be together. From knowing how to be together all other knowledges emerge.

Most of our gatherings take place for us to build and rebuild trust so we can continue to agree and disagree together. Gatherings are spaces to generate stories for the collective and are in them that we are made, remade and unmade.

As the future has been built from our actions, we are in the past the stories we tell, in the future the declarations we make, and in the present we are the meeting of both things, represented in the choices we collectively make in every moment.

If we are really made of stories we’ve got to nurture them more. Not the stories directly, since they are our mothers and can take care of themselves, but to nurture the spaces of trust that can feed them.



* In Portuguese, original language of this article, we use the same word for story and history.

by lugar a dudas cali @ flickr

The Power of The Collaboratory

When we look at what is happening at the world, complexity seems to be climbing the mountain. I wouldn’t say there are more complex problems, but perhaps more capacity in our society to acknowledge issues that are complex. This comes at a time when it’s visible that some problems impact our lives and won’t go away with a ‘quick fix’ approach.


To explore those issues and find new ways to interact among ourselves and with the world, we as society are in need of bringing a great deal of perceptions together. The act of creating spaces and opportunities for people to learn and act together is growing, and this is what is shown in the book I was recently reading: The Collaboratory.


The Collaboratory book cover

The book cover

The Collaboratory is an idea born from a vision for the future of management education, but one that reflects the moments of change in society as a whole. The capacity to co-create and collaborate are being experienced as the way to positively move forwards in acting change. The book draws his name from the initiative and finds many others sharing its principles.


It comes to consolidate the practice of stakeholder collaboration for change at a time when methodologies and processes for stakeholder engagement are more structured and widespread and many practitioners are reflecting and acting to create spaces to tackle complex issues in both organisations and society.


In the book I found stories of how initiatives are evolving around the world, together with different dimensions for collaboration and examples of spaces and processes that bring up societal change. I found old colleagues and teachers among the writers but also new colleagues and unheard initiatives. And I’m sure it is still a small collection, there is more out there worth another half dozen books.


In four different parts, the book encompasses a variety of authors coming from realms like the Society of Organisational Learning, a Swiss-based non-profit and the movement 50+20, initiative which inspired the name of the book.


Authors show their initiatives and insights on how to identify, invite, design and host a journey of collaboration to solve wicked problems. The book, rather than a collection of articles, is very well framed and feels like a co-created exploration of people working directly to re-shape change-making processes towards journeys of collaboration.


Called a DesignShop, SocialLab, Transformative Scenario Planning and working based on processes from Appreciative Inquiry, the Art of Hosting and Theory U, many authors share premises like:


  • the idea of a transformative journey that brings up the new by cooperation and tending to processes rather than competition and crafting products;
  • the importance of facilitating collaborative space that looks more like an engaging journey than a decision-making event;
  • it is about methods and patterns of creating space and inviting people into hands-on collaborative change;
  • there are requirements and conditions that make collaboratories work, based on practical experimentation, but no checklist to success;
  • gatherings work with emergent solutions from people engaged in the topic at hand rather than hoping to solve problems bringing in expert solutions;
  • transformation comes from prototyping solutions rather than pure analysis and brainstorming sessions.


The last parts of the book show examples of collaboratories around the world and applied to many sectors of society followed by an exploration on how to design a collaboratory and what changes in the role of a group facilitator to hold such a space.


The book is available through Greenleaf Publishing. More information at the book website.

by Joe Penniston

On Being at Service

Being at service to ourselves, to others or a cause is a personal offer that requires some attention and energy.

It is the energy placed in a constant relationship to re-discover the present moment and both our needs and the needs of others.

Those are context-dependant relationships. To exercise listen to ourselves and to the context is a fundamental competence of the ones who serve well. And exactly because all agreements between people are contextual ones, when changes happens, it is only natural we will need to put those agreements to the test.

Pin by Nicole Milburn

Bob at Service

No wonder it doesn’t seem possible to objectively point to someone how one can be at service.

Being at service might mean a closer look into ourselves in some cases, but to look closely to others at other times. It might mean get someone’s hand to help them cross the street, but also to only observe a child struggling to solve a challenge. It might mean to speak more or to speak less, to act more or less, to be on stage more or less.

Periodic Checks

What we declare and offer to one another does not have a clear expiration date, but does need periodic checks. And for that we are invited to live the discipline to check without being asked to, without necessarily waiting for the present to look old.

Being at service of what is new requires the action of reviewing our agreement with ourselves and with others on a regular basis.

If changes are constant and many aren’t even perceived by us, how can one know the right moment to stop and reflect about those agreements? What strategies can we create to get in touch with the actual context we are living?

Create spaces for yourself and for others and ask.

Later, just listen and pay attention.

Being at service comes with our capacity to live in the present context and to apply our purpose on it. It is also about our capacity to continuously look and reestablish the new.

Like the arts, we learn to be at service simply with the exercise of being and of reconnecting with this place.


Participatory Meetings with a Clear Purpose

Restlessness. When things tingle inside me asking to happen. Big restless moments can be a sign of change that can cause anxiety, sometimes anxiety based in a fantasy that what will change won’t go well. Curious that for me “going well” is not usually defined. Pure fantasy.

The same fantasy is present when I’m working with others to create and plan spaces of encounter. The person who calls it is usually restless and does not have a clear sense of purpose. On top of that it’s common that there are many wills to be included in one single space.

To ‘manage’ anxiety is a big part of the work. I believe weddings might work this way – whoever is helping to organize probably uses the energy like this: 70% [bride and groom’s anxiety]; 10% [suppliers’ anxiety]; 20% [logistics and preparations]


From Restlessness to Purpose

The first part of the work needs more care and usually more time than the others. To clarify purpose for ourselves and others we are working with is key because it generates the boundary conditions in which our creative journey will be based.

Many times we receive the call to help create something and realize the purpose is not clear, it’s ambiguous or, worse, there are multiple ones. Anxiety grows when we make this explicit – the feeling might be that we are back to start if we redefine why we are doing this.

To give in to that anxiety and assume it’s all ok is a major trap in which I had the chance to fall many times. Either at the beginning of during the conversation, identify this and hold to the trunk of a good purpose – it’s the basis of it all.

Conditions for Collective Creation

In order to give space for paths (ideas, principles, how tos) to be created collectively, it is essential that we define conditions that point to the direction we are aiming for. This definition and clarity of purpose allow us to float into many paths respecting what is emerging and yet go towards the direction we set for.

Initial clarity prevents interventions to give direction during the process, an action as result of an unclear purpose and that generates frustration: “what do you mean? you ask us to create, but I’m not allowed to go there?”

To make direction explicit is to create conditions so participants themselves are able to define which paths do or do not make sense.

The richness of participatory meetings includes this capacity to change course and adapt to what is emerging, allowing unknown paths to surface. The role of a host is to dance with those changes and eventually bring to consciousness the times when there is a possibility that direction might have changed.

Purpose in the Voice of Participants

After clarity arrives it will be time to receive participants for the journey. Here is again time to revisit how much the purpose is clear and understood.

When facing complex situations there are usually multiple stakeholders involved, each one carrying their own hopes and anxieties. It is more than natural that, even if you invite clearly and explore purpose with mastery, still many will arrive with a fantasized idea of what will happen.

Explain why we are all together at the beginning helps, but even better is to open a space where participants themselves can explore in their own voice the reason of being together – both individually and as a group. When purpose is articulated with the voice of the collective, it allows an alignment of horizons before the journey starts.

Checklist of a Clear Purpose

  • Transform restlessness into a single and clear purpose.
  • Attend to time so there is enough for the purpose defined.
  • When the time comes, just pay attention.