Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Decisions, decisions...

What is the orientation you have toward decisions? Do you make them? Arrive at them?

There are subtle but important differences between them. In the former, one has to make up our mind. they have an empirical process to look as the situation with objectivity. This implies infallible knowledge, expertise and instinct. It is quite possible make decisions quite on your own. It is a what-are-we-doing-to-do-captain? matter.

In the latter, the process is democratic, there is a group of people setting out to solve a problem and so doing they are open to the emergence of new information. It provides the room for evaluation and feedback, space to amend operating assumptions. It provides a spirit of exploration and experimentation.

A wise man by the name of John Rooks recently said in a talk in Portland Maine, about culture, sustainability and authenticity, that solving problems well requires that the group solving them be working on the right scale. This sheds a light of  appropriateness on the difference between making and arriving at decisions; of groups arriving at decisions versus people making them.

In a culture of individualism and hero-worship we are wired for making rather than arriving at decisions, and this leads to all manner of wasted time and money in the problem solving world.

Often there is a tendency for people with resources to take roles in organizations or in coalitions that have a mission to address some social problem, only to find they are geared for making decisions only. They don't have the will to work with others. But because they can not make decisions for social issues, they end up maneuvering politically; focusing on internal power-struggles instead of solving anything. It appears to be more about the "helper" acting out a savior-complex, fulfilling a narrative of helper, at the end of the day.

Then there is the ones that make decisions independently for a group that is actively engaged in a collaborative process. These decision makers are also wired in the same culture. They are not accustomed to status and resources, nor are they tolerant of "process". They are passionate, intelligent and the sense of urgency that can not wait for the process to figure it out. They know what to do! Everyone should just follow them! They end up tyrannizing the group, hijacking the process, alienating people and trying to pushing a decision through.

The scale of some problems require wide participation. Engaging discussion and structured processes to arrive at decisions together are essential in adaptive solutions to large scale problems. Take food security, housing, joblessness, or any number of social ills. These can not be solved by making decisions. Expertise in this situations is an absolute liability. Status, a barrier to engagement. An accustomed decision maker, say a top-dog, is completely lost, and would rather hide, deny or bury evidence of the problem, then to engage with a process that navigates ambiguity and hold people in relationship so they may arrive together, at decision.

We need diversity, unknowns, committed people to engage in problem solving. So, given you have some greater discernment about the appropriate orientation toward decisions, what is can you do? The answer begins with partnership. From there the collective wisdom can begin to emerge.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


What increases engagement? What would our meetings look like if everyone was engaged? Would those meetings still be meetings at all?

Tonight at Portland Permaculture and The Resilience Hub, I taught a class on Participatory Event Design to answer some of these questions. We talked about the power of a good question to frame a conversation that matters for people, to focus their inquiry, to energize and capture their imaginations. Here is are some of the materials I used to talk about some of the most engaging methods that I know Open Space TechnologyWorld Cafe, Calling Circles, and Art of Hosting:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


That was the web address sending confirmation of my acceptance into the Community Consulting Project in It struck me then as the most basic level of group process for actual collaboration, creativity and change... Trustwork. 'What would that look like in the CCP program?', I thought. I was excited. I was not disappointed either. CCP gave practice to process work, getting people to engage in systems design work together, from goals, to planning, to implementing and celebrating, always tending to trust.

Six year later, I am working with a new group of people who are working together to start up a Transition Initiative in Portland Maine. The group are working as facilitators and I find myself reflecting on CCP a bunch. The group settled in three core values this week, Trust, Empowerment and Engagement. In this first  post in a series of three, I am exploring Trust and reflecting on the term with dive into my library.

Trust. The opposite is controlling, and what an interesting value for a group of facilitators to hold. Facilitators who shape an agenda and manage the time that a group has to interact around each item.

In the book the Four Fold Way (Arrien,1993) trust is
considered in both the Way of the Teacher and the Way of the Warrior chapters. In the way of the Teacher, Trust is explained from the perspective of Native Americans, as the being comfortable states of not knowing. In the time of not knowing it is considered unwise to act. Trying to control the uncontrollable, or being uncomfortable with surprises is a sign of a need for trust. When we trust we go with the flow and we wait.

Arrien suggests that the trickster in indigenous cultures is the mythic figure who "steps through the cracks and flaws of the ordered world or ordinary reality, bringing good luck and bad, profit and loss." This figure reminds us not to be attached to our expectations, not to become rigid and controlling. In short, the universal trickster teaches us to become more resilient and objective.

Symbols of the trickster are throughout world mythology; Native American, Germanic, Polynesian, Greek and mythologies of ancient India . Think Coyote, Ictinike and Rabbbit , Loki, Maui, Hermes and Krishna. each one a master of boundaries and transitions, and presenter of the miraculous and unexpected.

 In the Way of the Warrior, trust is built using "judicious communication". Trustworthyness is explained in terms of walking our talk. The warrior is an artful communicator, extending honor and respect to others by saying what they mean and doing what we say. Without alignment of words and actions we lose power. If we do what we say we will we become trustworthy. If we don't responsibility with discipline is the appropriate path.  This can be practiced, as the book suggests, simply by our use of the words Yes and No. Arrien explains that in Western cultures, we overlay these words with emotional intent. No becomes, "I am rejecting you or I disagree with you." Yes, "I like you and I agree with you."

If we peel back the layers of meaning, and speak Yes or No in terms of boundaries and limits, "No" becomes ' this is a limit of mine', and "Yes", 'this is something I will do'. The warrior invites us to honor and respect personal limits as well as the limits and boundaries of others.

What a perfect value to live by and co-create with in a budding Transition Initiative! Greater resilience through trusting the process and trusting the wisdom of the group.....Communicating with respect and honoring personal boundaries...These sentiments, at the heart of a start up have both a powerful resonance with the perennial wisdom of the ancients, and alignment with the idea that Transition suggests, that we can not solve the problems we face alone. We must learn to work together.

I am excited.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Social Innovation

"One never knows the power of an idea/vision until shared with others who have similar passions" Harrison Owen

In 2006, when I was in graduate school, I had an idea for a specific type of facilitated process for economic development. 

I envisioned a 30 day program to develop community, gather and align resources, and then offer incubation services for start ups. It would bring people together who were connected by either a thread of common experience, a need, or a shared interest into a workshop then launch as a viable business, or NGO. 

I called it "Mothership" for the design of it. The design was based on rapid cycle change methodology I was learning about at the time. Think Sequoia covered in fungi, (not aliens and spaceships). 

I am revisiting this again now with a lot more experience organizing, facilitating and educating people including a program called Community Conversation Project in which a group of collaborators facilitated groups of people in career/life transition after mass lay offs in a community in the Northeast Seattle area to do the following things together: 

- Joining others in the grieving process of letting go of the past job and identity
- explore what to do next for money / job / education
- create action plans for new work activities including starting one's own business.

My collaborators came from the rich professional community in the Seattle Metro area where I belonged at the time. The hubs of this community include LIOS, Antiock and OSR Alumni, University of Washington, ASTD, PNODN and Whidbey Institute

the methods we used drew from many practices: 

World Cafe
Conversation Cafe
Public Dialogue
Peer Spirit
Community Weaving
The Work that Reconnects
Four Fold Way

The link to the record for the May 2009 event is here: Bridges to the Future, Lake Forest Park.

All this great work was sparked after a presentation I gave with with Ernie Hughes in the fall of 2008. Washington Mutual had just fallen apart when he and I were collaborating on a program about Organizations in Turbulent Times. Transition in Turbulent Times (3T) was built on Open Space principals, a systems view of everyday life/operations and Hurst's work on organizational ecocycle.

In this project, I was reflecting on especially feed by Owen's idea about organizations consisting of spirit and structure. When spirit is high (entrepreneurial vision, founders essential mission) structure is low. As structure increases (politics, culture, expertise) the organization spirit diminishes  

"Hmmm," I thought, "When our non-sustainable systems break down then what of the spirit?"

At that time synchronicity coalesced into a plan of action. Now it's 2013 and I am actively seeking collaborators to design, convene groups and host conversations with. Lets call it social innovation this time, or social permaculture.

Can you think of a group that has shared a common experience, (like a profession or a natural disaster), a need (such as for safety, a livelihood, personal mastery, or community solution), or a shared interest (sustainability, alternative economics, architecture for humanity, urban agriculture) that would like to learn about what is emerging for them as whey share and create?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Water Heater, but its Compost

Whole Systems Research Farm in Vermont continue to be an inspiration. The latest is their work making soil and hot water at the same time.

Lots of good things happening here.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Seeds for Sowing in the Meeting Bed -- Great Yield!

There are a lot of ways to use this deck, Group Work, A Pattern Language for Bringing Life to Meetings and other Gatherings. The way I used it this week was in thinking about an upcoming meeting that my client had requested I facilitate. I was very pleased with both the depth of conversation we were able to have and the intention that we were able to set for the meeting.

We were in a car traveling for about 90 minutes at 65 mph. The client and two people from their organization were present. My client had some anxiety about the upcoming meeting stemming from concern for the groups lack of cohesion, and divergent points of view on the right direction moving forward. What they had was an opportunity and deadline.

There was no time to have a planning meeting outside of this trip, so we had to plan on the road. First I spent time listening to the context of the meeting, and making sure I understood the why, who and what parts of the story. Then, I took out this deck, fanned the cards and asked each person in the car to take one and I took one. While I reviewed the cards the conversation continued and I could already recognize the points where the story about this meeting intersected with the patterns on the cards. With this hand, if you will,  we commenced the what if part of the story. I read each card and we had a conversation about them all.

Good Faith Assumptions. Assuming others’ good intent increases trust and effectiveness. Instead of interpreting “negative” actions as attempts at manipulation, insult, or power-play, we choose to believe people are doing the best they can and look for underlying values or needs in common. Searching for a better story, we find or create one. Related:  Appreciation  ~  Common Ground  ~  Not About You  ~  Witness with Compassion  ~  Tend Relationships  ~  Setting Intention  ~  Taking Responsibility

Power of Constraints. Embrace limitations and boundaries as a source of inspiration. Appreciating the obstacles helps you see more fully how to overcome or adapt to them. Accepting constraints, they can morph into useful forms that open up new possibilities, spurring creativity. Related:  All Grist for the Mill  ~  Generate Possibilities  ~  Improvise  ~  Inquiry  ~  Letting Go  ~  Taking Responsibility  ~  Viewpoint Shift

Ritual. Ceremony is primal; it grounds, connects, and deeply nourishes group spirit. Use it to mark opening, transition, cycles, milestones, or closing. Ritual is also the formal or habitual repetition of intentional practices that have proven their value. Related:  Breaking Bread Together  ~  Gaia  ~  Celebrate  ~  Closing  ~  Mode Choice  ~  Opening and Welcome  ~  Spirit

Common Ground. Consciously decide to give more attention to where we agree than where we don’t. By tuning in to what we share, we find the way to make progress together. Related: Breaking Bread Together ~ Commitment ~ Embrace Dissonance and Difference ~ Good Faith Assumptions ~ Moving Toward Alignment ~ Not About You ~ Unity and Diversity

After we talked about the cards, I proposed the following course of action. In the opening of the meeting, we draw attention to Common Ground and Good Faith Assumptions of the group. Then, in order to focus and energize the group, we highlight Constraints of time and influence on the groups work.

The Ritual card spoke to the dynamic of in the context of the story that was very useful in articulating a purpose of the groups work.

All in all, this was very productive time spent preparing. All that was left to do was outline an agenda. The meeting was a great success as well.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Pondering on Managing a Vermiculture Enterprise

Worms digest their own weight of food a day. That means a worm farm reaches homeostasis when the rate of digestion matches the flow of food.

What would it mean to a local economy to have the waste stream channeled into a vermiculture ecosystem?Could it be a stabilizing factor  in local economic systems?

The rate of digestion of the worms determines scale of a vermiculture operation. The systems model of a verimculture operation is simple. Organic biomass, (kitchen waste) is the input, which is converted into castings (fertile soil) to become the worms environmen, and if conditions are right in that environment, the worms multiply gradually. Soil is easily exchanged to another ecosystem as well and as it is removed to use in gardens and potted plants, more organic matter can be introduced. The scale of the operation would do little to complicate the process.

So what if a neighborhood block were to collectively operate a worm farm? It would be useful to measure the waste stream of biomass to determine the amount of worms need to digest it. With production yields so stable, it seems it would.Would there be gains in addition to the rich soil and worm yields?

A cost savings in reducing the waste transported out of a community? A cost savings in packaging that waste for transport?

Vermiculture has exponential value outside the ecosystem loop. Collections would establish community exchange pathways, where communication and surpluses may also travel. A neighborhood vermiculture collective paired with a system of plot gardens, for instance, would channel both the flow of a portion of the household waste stream, and provide a network for crop sharing. A cooperative worm farm would create a social network that maps to the loop of the worms ecosystem, and because the rate of digestion is a biological constant.

While the size of the worm farm cooperative would map to the ecology of the vermiculture system, the residual (non-market) economic benefits would scale up from the ecological activity.

Theoretically a soil development project in the form of a vermiculture operation could have real measurable economic impact, including but not limited to an increase in the trade of goods and services outside the vermiculture ecosystem. Scaled up to the civic level the measures could be in waste management savings, in the material surplus generated for input back into local food production, creation of jobs, reduction of the cost of living through shortened supply chains.

Scaling up to global systems, still more value can be internalized. The social institutions of both State and Economy are failing institutions, yet they control business enterprise through taxation and capitalization. As both the market economy and the rhythm of tax system control small businesses, emerging enterprise is stifled and innovation is suppressed. While conventional finance determines social and economic development though the consistent demanding for profit, the mechanisms of finance seek global-sized supply chains that they can wager their bets on. All ventures must profit, so they push to privatize any and all social activity for profit.

Governments collude in these schemes by shifting public funds to finance more and more private ventures. They hand over state-owned resources and sometimes funds their feasibility studies. As the supply chains lengthen, resilience of our local economic systems lessen. As the global markets spin with futures trading, the ecosystem are forsaken.

If collecting a pile of kitchen scraps and feeding it to a worm farm is anything, it is ecosystem design. It is building economic and ecological resilience. It is not profitable like trading futures is for a few, but it might be entrusting a future for the many.

Here is the an example of a large scale operation.