I can clearly recall a phrase that I’ve heard years ago in Porto Alegre, city of the World Social Forum. It was in Portuguese by Leonardo Boff and translates as something like:
A point of view is only a view from a point.
Different points of view are abundant in this world. Many of these points of view are shared in order to help us live together in community: they are raw material to what we call culture.
There are also times were a collective point of view ceases to be at service to our society and becomes the opposite, it becomes something that locks us into a narrow view of the world.
Reminds me of a great question that I’ve learned from Sandra Janoff e Marvin Weisbord (originally from
Russell Ackoff Gregory Bateson) that helps me when looking at how we differentiate things:
Which are the differences that make a difference?
Differences that make a difference are the ones rich in diversity, differences that create unity by understanding and acknowledging what is different and allowing separation. Differences that don’t make a difference are only stereotypes. That also implies that when we “make a difference”, we are performing a contextual action.
I have seen that much of the work of a person who invites for learning is to pay attention to the context and ask this question of “which differences…” to himself.
Since my old friend Marge Schiller shared with me the video below, I’ve been using it when talking about conversational leadership and dialogic relations.
As learning hosts we can create and invite spaces where stereotypes, a result from us listening to the same old standard story, can be brought to perspective and new stories can be created. In the end, our collective is all about the stories we tell.
Back in April I had the chance to attend the most known conference on group relations – it was a 2-week residential training hosted by the Tavistock Institute and this week they released the brochure for the Leicester Brochure 2013 [pdf].
The text below is a section of my report of the experience.
Leading and Following at the Conference
My perception of leadership and followership at the conference had to do with people or groups of people who decided to take risks, either by making a declaration, a choice or performing a physical action.
Taking risks may link to the idea of leading through example: acting and inspiring action in others.
I witnessed examples of tentative leadership that worked and some that didn’t and I won’t be able to highlight the characteristics of the people or situation that made a leadership move ‘work’, but it was clear that some people had more authority than others and some risks were perceived as more powerful than others as well.
The two situations I was involved that could be linked to leadership in groups are below:
- During one of the open plenaries where an intense discussion was happening, I took the lead in leaving the room with a statement of support of other people’s work and an eagerness to start working.
This move seems to have spoken to the group as people who joined me in a smaller group started calling it ‘my’ group and declared they followed me because I seemed to be know what I was doing. The latter, as any ‘leader’ knows, wasn’t — and isn’t always — the case.
- Almost by the end of the whole conference, I left one of the sessions with other people to go back to a previous unfinished task and invite the conference staff to co-design the closing plenary on the day before last.
When I was presenting my idea as an opportunity of co-design and participation for my current group, the response was a strong opposition and critique that was beyond expected.
Later we reflected together and apparently there was a feeling of abandonement rather than a member of the group engaging in a task that could benefit the whole member’s community.
It took me some time to recover from the shock of being told off with such negative energy. My luck was that this reaction was exactly the same a colleague got when presenting to her group. Having someone else to share my outside-ness was key to support us in keep going.
Our intervention was later appreciated as an initiative to include conferene members in the overall design of the sessions.
Leadership from the Field
So here are the ‘leadership from the field’ tips 🙂
- Listen to what is happening to you and to others and take action at the time that appears appropriate. If the listening is accurate and the time is precise, it is your action that will inspire the action of others.
- Expect opposition and critique of your actions as much as adoration and respect. Being too focused in either is a mistake. Focus on the critique (that will always be there) and you stop listening to what is important; focus on the adoration and it becomes about you something that does not belong to you.
- There will be times of doubt. For those times you have to find the people, space, ritual, etc that will bring remembrance. Those are colleagues, friends, partners, God, etc. Listen to them.
One of the books I enjoyed reading as a kid was Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. It was because of the detective stories and his magic deduction powers, of course, but I do remember one thing about Holmes’ character that was oddly impressive: his ability to focus his attention in what he wanted to learn .
This might not be a guide for learning, but made me think in the advantages of thinking deeply on what matters to me and trust the ability of others and their learning on many other important things one can care about.
After I wrote about Paying Attention in Portuguese a couple of weeks ago, I’ve got the results of it: paying attention on paying attention I came across others reflecting on similar things.
Here is the article translated into English and at the bottom the few things I stumbled upon after that.
- Pay Attention, it’s important;
- Not everything that deserves attention can be measured;
- Expand our view can hinder our ability to see.
What do you pay attention to?
Everyday millions of events happen around us and most of them we don’t even notice. Lucky us.
If we’ve already have lots of things processing in our minds everyday, imagine if all that was available would become conscious. Certainly stress at 10 in the morning.
To change new things we have to pay attention to new things.
It is only on the things that we pay attention to that we have conscious influence for change. If we want to make things differently, we have to start paying attention to them. In the same direction, if we want to change new things, we have to pay attention to new things.
Measure and Analyse
One of the interesting ways to change is to measure and analyse. Measure and analyse are gifts for us humans, but they rely on looking at the past and planning the future. They use your attention of the present to travel through time. Even though knowing how to measure and analyse is a fundamental learning for life in society, there is more on the horizon.
Not everything that deserves attention can be measured.
We just have to be careful not to be carried away. Analyse can highjack and monopolise all your attention. If practised all the time, they are practices that constantly take us away from the present. Measure and analyse less, pay more attention.
Do not expand your View
Change the focus of our attention is to change our view. Expand our view, in the sense of paying attention to more, is a pathway to undermine your ability to see.
Look at few things with great attention.
On the other hand it is essential to change our view. Not to expand it, but to change your view from time to time, expanding the number of views you experience. It is like knowing how to tell many versions of the same story, like inviting yourself to look again.
The best way to change your view is by truly being with the other. By looking at others we change our way of looking. It is in contact with other worlds, result of being with the other, that we look with other eyes and learn new stories.
Attention Requires Energy
Which does not mean people can’t pay attention to more than one thing at a time. I personally can’t, but I know aliens that have a fantastic parallel processing unit, all in one single brain!
But even for those crafty multi-taskers, in the end our attention requires energy and there is a limit for what we can take and give. If you deal with many things in parallel you will quickly cease to pay attention.
Paying Attention on Paying Attention
- Store energy to pay attention to what matters.
- In a world that information is abundant, learn how to ignore the ones that distract you.
- From time to time pay attention in the way you pay attention.
- Pay attention in a few things at a time.
- Always consider changing what you are paying attention to.
- Paying Attention Develops the Brain’s Plasticity in Rethinking Complexity
- The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time
- Chris Corrigan’s How to make a learning journey.
- I’m reading Adous Huxley’s last novel, Island. You will meet Pala, an idylic island where the birds will constantly call for Attention!
- Dadi Janki’s quote on “learning to live a very simple life”:
If you don’t have the power to pack up and the power to merge, then the whole of your life will be in a continuous state of expansion. You will then have to think a lot in order to manage everything.
Václav Havel passed away today. There is a great story I heard from a good friend who had the pleasure to meet and talk to him about his activism and work.
The story was told and retold and I remember sharing it with the delegates of the World Spirit Forum in Switzerland when we were talking about peaceful activism some years ago. Here it is, not sure how faithful, but definitely a great story:
There was a time during the Soviet influence on Czechoslovakia, in the land now split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, that dissidents of the regime existed but could only meet in the dungeons of the city where they would host their talks and publish their manifestos. Mr. Václav Havel was one of them.
The control of the regime was absolute, so Mr. Havel had no hope that it could be overthrown or that anything could possibly be changed by a group of unhappy citizens. Nevertheless, not seeking revolution but searching for what was truth for the time, great conversations happened and impressive written material was produced and published by underground presses.
As more people would get in contact with the words from the dissidents, more would join the conversations and read the publications.
One day somethings extraordinary happened. Someone working for the regime got in contact with the material and got puzzled and interested by its content. He managed to join some of the conversations and read some of the texts while still working for the same regime that was being criticised.
Personally, the man was comfortable working for the regime, but yet there was something calling him to explore what the dissidents were talking about. His motivation was not revolution, but the search for the truth at that time.
After this first man others came – they did not start a revolution themselves, but they did anonymously feed the new story emerging, the one that was closer to the reality of the time, the one that triggered the Charter 77 movement and the Velvet Revolution.
Read and Listen:
Meeting the New Parish Priest
I am lucky to have worked with communities that embed a spirit of service – they are spiritual and religious communities. I appreciate the fact that their existence and organisation are based on service. Some have become bureaucratic and relying on top-down decisions, excess controlling structures… not too different from many other organisations.
Last week I’ve got hold of an informal publication made by a catholic priest from Australia, Father Brian Bainbridge, who passed away recently. As one of the elders of the Open Space¹ community, Fr Brian taught and inspired many². I’ve never met him and hardly follow my subscription to the Open Space online list serve, but was genuinely interested in what he wrote – he brought together service and collective learning. So this is what I’ve learned with the new parish priest.
Spirit of Service and Collective Learning
The beginning of Fr Brian’s document already show this beautiful connection:
The transformation I saw as so seriously needed in parish life was a movement from ‘control’ to ‘service’.
This is very true for faith organisations I’ve been in touch with. I must admit I don’t think that control opposes service though – I imagine that perhaps at some time in the history of an organisation (in this case more than 1500 years old), control might have been a huge part of service. Even if that is true, that was past, not present: we live in a culture where processes control too much, kill innovation, do not invite capable people to participate.
We are in an era of complexity where being at service means relying more on collective learning and action. It is more and more about inviting people to and through service.
Real Change-Makers do ‘Boring’ things without Getting Bored
If you read the document, Fr Brian talks about a lot of structural and processual changes that happened at the time. Real changes mean to let things die, to be attentive to details, to be careful about the community and to go sometimes for the slow and
boring patient rather than the quick and fun. As for me, someone who like to see big things moving fast, I took a deep breathe to go through the descriptive change of the Church A/V System, something that must have made a contribution I’d never understand from my little chair.
Change that involves people are analogical and has inertia – should have. A real change-maker can both deeply care about the change and also detach and trust that with space things will come to being. Both were present in Fr Brian’s story: the ones that need radical change – e.g. when it was decided that financial advisors should be chosen among young people only – or to retreat until the collective feels ready to act – e.g. a case of the Catholic School’s management and its principal.
But “letting-go” doesn’t mean there is no structure and no process or just a free-for-all.
Open Space Structuring a Hosting Attitude
Methods and models are good support so you can focus on what really matters – good methods and models can structure helpful attitudes for both host and participants. Structure is a constant invitation for human behaviour, so it’s good to keep an eye on them to see how it is serving you.
It was interesting to read that one of the changes in attitude towards the new Parish Priest came by his constant invitation, and therefore constant faith, in the wisdom and power of others in relationship with him and with a higher purpose.
People started moving from “What do you want us to do?” to “This needs attention“.
if it is God’s work, it will prosper. If not, we will find out. So, go for it.
He called his choices being ‘consistent with Open Space modelling’ and ‘in the spirit of self-organising‘. I would put it the other way around – Open Space modelling and self-organisation are consistent with this attitude, part of what makes it a great ‘operating system‘. Either way, we should go for it.
Hosting 2.0: I’m Never Busy
This is a gem shared by Fr Brian, a wisdom from someone who hosted with grace.
Any priest or minister who does this [“holding the space of the parish”] knows how important is this “just being around” at a time when people can connect. One Parish Priest described this as the “Sacrament of being seen”[…]
The advantage of being around is the avoidance of the sense or perception of “being too busy”. People often preface their conversation with “I know you are very busy, but…” To which my answer is always “I’m never busy – how can I help?”
In a spirit of service, we should never be busy. This is hosting 2.0
Picture from Lawrence OP
Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to have your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermo-dynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
Martin Luther King
Check this wonderful post from Marco Valente — a soul generated by love.
When your boat arrives at the sacred island of Miyajima, the first thing you will notice is a big gate in the middle of the sea, a floating gate that seems to be the entrance to a sacred and different world. As you feel the wind in your face, you may also notice the colours of the island: the green of the trees mixed with an impressive red that also covers the main gate. This red would be explained to me later as no ordinary red. Because of its uniqueness and importance it is baptized under a different name.
Miyajima, a land of the gods, was a place that man would not step into, but carefully tend to and worship as a divine place. Today this sacredness remains on the air, but tourists can visit, stay at its incredible ryokan, meet deers on the streets wandering like domesticated dogs, and perhaps most relevant of it all, walk up the mountain to see the buddhist temples and shinto shrines, one of the sacred highlights of the nation.
Walking up the path and ropeways to the top of the mountain probably takes you every time closer to its divine vibrations. Wisdom and beauty are clearly around, ready to be noticed through the many senses. The opportunity to walk this path together with a soul friend makes you see them and feel them even more, as we walk up both mountain and consciousness.
Not all can be shared in only words or pictures. From what can, I remember vividly a place just outside one of the buddhist temples where a little booth was selling commemorative writings for people who have reached their 60’s, 70’s, etc — and showing how many days the person had lived so far. Although very obvious after a quick math, I was surprised to realise that we live about 30,000 days only.
Some pictures at
That related a lot to Miyajima, the country and the traditions held by it — an individual dreams of finding the truth, act upon it and make changes in a world that currently bows to innovation and the new. Despite all our knowledge and information access of today, how can one experience the wisdom that have been around for many years in some thousand days? How do people imagine they had all figured out and worse, have a sense of urgency around it?
I walked down thinking to myself: don’t use your days to change what is truth, use them to experience it — experienced people might be all the change that is needed.
Hiroshima today is a beautiful city. You don’t need to be an ace in history to know that this was the city where the first atomic bomb was ever dropped – and I’ve recently learned that the citizens of the city remembered it to the minute – August 6th 1945, 8:15AM. When and how that happened they will never forget, and we shouldn’t also. A great museum and peace park now exists in the city and it is a great visit to learn about the events.
Generations pass and our society re-invent social behaviours, discover some technical gadgets and mostly forget about everything else – not because we are not clever enough, but it’s just the way it is – we have short memory: we individually live a relatively short life and it’s what stays is histories that can be brought back, but not fully and experientially, and surely we can always decide the ones to propagate and the ones to bury.
Happily many has been done so we don’t forget what an atomic attack means for a city, a country, and specially for the individuals and families there. But there is much more in Hiroshima than the bomb and the violence propagated by it — there’s much more we can learn, other stories that should be propagated so we live peace not only because we want to avoid violence.
I had the opportunity to talk with Yumiko, a citizen of Hiroshima who is bringing those stories up to the next generations, showing the side of peace education that goes beyond the remembrance of violence.
HEROES OF HIROSHIMA (07′ 42”)
July 11th 2010 – Interview by Augusto Cuginotti
Yumiko Sasaki is a citizen of Hiroshima. In this interview she shares her experience of peace education for children in the city and her vision in which Hiroshima can be an inspiration to the world from more than only the history of the atomic bomb. Yumiko’s peace education for children is inspired by the heroes of Hiroshima, the people who survived and became models for peace.
For more stories from Hiroshima please check: the Spirit of Hiroshima.
I recently received a gift of being able to join the Art of Hosting happening for the first time in Japan. Every meaningful conversation is of course fantastic, but this one in particular connected my passion for hosting learning with my deep curiosity about Japan and Japanese culture. Talking to the participants I could understand that both things are more connected than I thought.
The conversations around the arts are full of patterns (or perhaps we are full of patterns), but also full of newness. In a conversation about the art of hosting this is no different, but obviously more become available to you when you dive into a different culture. Two were the things that stayed with me after the 3 days together.
① The excitement and impeccability that I saw running around during all the event is a sign that you are in Japan, but what amazed me the most was the subtleness of actions and the attention for detail and beauty.
I was coaching a team in charge to bring beauty to our space. I told them that visiting Japan before I could not help but to notice that things were made very well AND there was always something else, usually small and perhaps undetectable, that would walk the extra mile. Like a cherry on the top of a beautiful cake, this attention was for me an expression of care and service.
No need to say anything else – they decided to explore the five senses of beauty and to be beautiful themselves! Hisae-san, for example, came out with a fun and energetic way to keep us on time during the OST presentations – the videos will tell.
② I never get tired of asking questions about asking questions, so I joined one of the groups working on that topic during OST. Most of it was in Japanese, but they gently shared with me some of their insights. One great question was around: where do questions come from? From a logical and mental individual process the conversation expanded to a process of listening to collective HARA (the physical center of gravity located in the abdomen… and more). Yes, good and powerful questions would come from the relationship of our centers, our energies.
The AoH in Japan was and will be a great support for the wonderful conversations and communities already placed around the country. I left feeling that people are ready and eager for movement and are making more and more sense of the kind of action that is needed and how the Japanese at this time can get together to answer this call.
From the other hand, the art of hosting (as in art and in community of practice) will definitely be inspired by the deep wisdom and energetic knowledge that was present in Kiyosato – May 7-9, 2010. I was inspired to be more conscious of collective hara and also to look at the invisible as something that makes being at service a place of elegance and beauty.