The expert/theatre trap

At the outset of summer I found myself in the expert trap: I started talking and talking and talking, not leaving any room for anyone else.

Friend A was organizing a big lecture about community connection. Friend B, Friend C and I were talking about how ironic it was to have a bigwig speaker in town to tell us about community connection, with us all sitting there in passive listening mode in a theatre and that we would not make any new connections in our community. So Friend B got in touch with Friend A to see if she would like to circle up and see what could be done. (Friend A is of our tribe of people who see this kind of conundrum.)

The conundrum is that we don’t get to know each other when we sit like this:

theatre style

Deeply embedded in this shape is expertise and the assumption that she at the front of the room has it and we do not. It is an empty vessel approach, where we, as the audience, need to be filled with all the things we do not know. Moreover, even after we have listened for ages, we are given no opportunity to notice what we know and understand differently, to consolidate what we are learning. And we are not given this opportunity as an individual, or a small groups or large groups. We drink from the firehouse then leave with a few drops of nourishment.

It’s not that this mode of information exchange is not needed–it is, under the right circumstances (see last two posts: shapes of conversation and direction or discernment). My point is this: Friend A was caught in a swirling environment of assumption that the best way to talk about connection was to disconnect ourselves from ourselves, and each other, and assume that the expert outsider has more information on the matter than we do. The ‘machinery’ of the city is caught in the assumption that we need to be told what to do, that we are not capable of figuring this thing out. Embedded in this is the further assumption that if we are simply told, we will go and do it and the problem will be fixed.

Friend A pulled off a remarkable feat. She acknowledged the desire, and in fact the need, to hear what the expert had to say (in theatre mode), then created a new shape that allowed people to meet each other, connect with each other, and figure out what this new information meant for them, for our lives and for our city. She did this:

small circles

Instead of leaving with a only a few drops from the firehouse (as is what happens with a lecture), people left having met and connected with people new to them.  They met around topics of shared interest. They took some time to notice what the lecture meant to them in practical ways that will change their lives and the city around them; they began to integrate what they learned into their being as individuals and a loose collective. Friend A delivered on connection not just by inviting an expert in, but by creating the conditions for the audience–citizens–to truly hear the expert by connecting with themselves and each other.

I almost wrecked everything for Friend A it because when Friends B, C and I met with her I fell into the expert trap. We sat at an outdoor cafe table on a sunny early summer day and missed that we were sitting in a circle. I didn’t let others speak. I said what I see, much like is written above, and then said it again and again.

Passion, impatience and my own insecurity got the better of me.

One of the reasons I most appreciate the circle as a shape for conversation is that it helps me find my place with others in a way that allows others to also have their place in the conversation. It does not diminish me: it focuses me. And most importantly, it allows us–me and the people I am with–to better see what we need to see. It does not diminish my passion, but allows it to show up more appropriately.

And, of course, the irony is not lost on me. What I was most critical of out in the world was what I was doing myself.

What I was most critical of out in the world was what I was doing myself.

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What opportunities do you see in your city to shift from the one-way “expert lecture” to create the conditions for collective discernment? What is your role in this?

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Conversation: direction or discernment?

In my last post on the shapes of conversation, I made the distinction between forms of meeting that facilitate direction (the board table and the theatre) and those that facilitate listening and discernment of collective action.

These two options–direction and discernment–are quite distinct from each other in terms of their usual shape, their purpose, and the assumptions made by all involved in where the expertise and leadership resides and how information flows. Further, the role of the “host” also differs, from chairing the meeting to creating the space, or a container, in which the discernment can take place.

DIRECTION DISCERNMENT
SHAPE board table, theatreboard and theatre small circles, large circlecircles
PURPOSE tell, direct, instruct, set people up to go do something listen, share, integrate, figure things out together
EXPERTISE in one, select few in everyone
LEADERSHIP at the top shared, distributed
INFORMATION FLOW from one or few, down to others from everyone to everyone
HOST ROLE chair the meeting co-create the space, or a “container”

Both approaches are right–in the right circumstances. It is a matter of acknowledging the purpose of the gathering and designing for that purpose. (For more on these purposes, see the shapes of conversations.) But these two choices are not mutually exclusive; the circle can be at the board table and direction can be set in a circle.

These two choices are not mutually exclusive. The circle can be at the board table. Direction can be found in a circle.

We don’t have two clear-cut choices. It’s not as though there will be no discernment for collective action at a board table, or that in working in circle there will be no direction established for the group or for individuals. What we do have to recognize is that regardless of the shape we feel the strong pull of expertise, and the assumption that expertise resides only in one or a few of us.

We have a deep-rooted tendency to feel either that “I am the expert”, or to feel that “they are the experts.” There are times when this is true, like my doctor friend with expertise in infectious diseases that I described last week, who has a clear role to inform and direct other physicians about what to do when unfamiliar diseases present themselves. There are many times when we find ourselves with other people and the expertise is shared, but we operate as though expertise–mine or others’–is what rules the day. When we believe this, it dictates the shape the conversation takes, regardless of our physical form. When we find ourselves in the expert trap, looking for direction, or giving direction, we are not stepping into the shared leadership that we are called to offer.

Circle square

With the intention of collective discernment the circle shape can find its way around a table. It depends entirely on how we put ourselves in the conversation. Here are a three principles and three practices my The Circle Way Colleagues and I use, developed by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea.

Three Principles 

  1. Leadership rotates among all circle members
  2. Responsibility is shared for the quality of experience
  3. Reliance is on wholeness rather than any person agenda

Three Practices

  1. Speak with intention: note what has relevance to the conversation in the moment
  2. Listen with attention: respect of the learning process for all members of the group
  3. Tend to the well-being of the circle: remain aware of the impact of our contributions

These principles and practices are a simple place to start, yet challenging to implement because they embody a significant cultural shift from our automatic expertise stance, to one that welcomes, invites and accommodates the diverse expertise within and around us.

Openness to vulnerability is leadership–and this kind of leadership is shared and easier to carry if we are brave enough to notice when it is needed. 

There is a cultural shift required of us to embody discernment, whether at the board table, or in a circle. We are each required, as citizens, to be self-aware in ways we are not well-practiced, and this self-awareness is a necessary precondition to collective awareness and discernment. At most board tables self-awareness is a scary proposition because it comes with vulnerability, but in this cultural shift vulnerability is not a liability, but a strength. Openness to vulnerability is leadership–and this kind of leadership is shared and easier to carry if we are brave enough to notice when it is needed.

Which principle or practice feels the most scary to you? 

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Resource:

The Circle Way Guidelines outline the components of circle, in addition to the principles and practices described above, that help create the conditions for collective discernment in a circle or even at a board table.

**Caveat** This form of conversation is not easily accommodated in a theatre setting for this simple reason: people can’t see each other.

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The purpose of the city: create conditions for conflict

This thought just struck me – what if the purpose of the cities/towns/villages is to bring people closer together?  And the closer we get to each other, the more conflict there is.  Is the purpose of the city then to generate conflict?  What is the purpose of generating conflict?

Conflict generates dissonance, a distinct or subtle sense that things are not right.  A city, just like a person, can sit quite a while with the feeling that things are not quite right before we decide to take action.  Smoking in restaurants, idle-free parking, deciding to support active transportation are all collective decisions that have come about as a result of conflict in a community.

There is a pull in us to be closer together, but we also push each other away, to not live too close to each other.  We resist being close, because we resist being in conflict.  As a city planner and community volunteer I regularly hear people – on the public record and off – say they do not want people close to them, especially more people close to them.  I wonder if we resist the pull to be closer to people because it brings conflict with it, and we tend to either avoid conflict wherever possible, or even stir it up, neither of which takes acknowledges of the wisdom within conflict.  What are we missing as a result?

I am left with a series of questions:

  1. What if I/we let conflict teach me/us?
  2. What would happen to cities if I/we welcomed and invited conflict for the purposes of generating new understanding?
  3. What if I/we viewed conflicts as opportunities?
  4. What if I/we found ways to work through and beyond conflicts?

In the end, I notice that when I work through conflict, I arrive a new understanding.  I change.  Is that what I/we am/are afraid of when avoiding conflict?

Circle Tale – Habitat for Humanity in St. Albert

Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea,wonderful leading spirits in Circle work, asked my mom, Margaret Sanders, to share our story of our work with the City of St. Albert.  A wonderful tale of how Circle can bring community together around much more than what the conflict is about.  As I think about it, it was a wonderful experience that deepened a design charrette experience for participants.

Here it is:  PeerSpirit Circle Tale

The gift of receiving

I have missed and overlooked a lesson that my kids are offering me every year: the gift of receiving.  They are full of joy and trust and love.  They are thrilled knowing this Christmas season they will receive gifts destined just for them.  They are full of wonder and awe.

I realize I have been making an assumption my whole life that giving is hard to do.  It can be hard, particularly when I give something we are attached to.  It was hard as a kid, but as I have grown older, it gets easier to see that what I have to give is more precious to others than it is to me.  What has gotten harder is receiving gifts from others.

Back to my kids – full of joy and trust and love when it comes to asking for receiving gifts.  As an adult, I am noticing that it has become increasingly difficult to receive, let alone ask for, a gift. Receiving a gift – a compliment, a favour, a thank you, a gift – is  fraught with emotion.  A brush-off, suspicion, anxiety, fear, powerlessness, selfishness, vulnerability all take their turn.

Within me, receiving a gift feels like I am broadcasting weakness.  How dare I reveal that I don’t have everything I need, that I am all together.  I must put on a brave face no matter what.  If I am sick or hurt, it is easy to rationalize welcoming help.  But if I am physically well, then I had better not ask for anything.  But this does not serve me or others well, in the end.  Even the gifts I did not ask for, the ones that make be feel bad but are really in service to my own personal learning and growing. Those gifts that I realize much later that really were gifts, not torture.

At the bottom of all of this is my sense of self worth. The biggest gift I can give is to myself – the gift of receiving.  I will be honest and reveal when my soul feels bad and ask for what I need.  When I receive the gift of hard-to-hear feedback, I will receive it as a gift to be in better relationship with those around me.  When the world says “no” I will take that as a sign that I am not needed there yet.  When the world says “yes” I will take that as a sign to jump in the canoe and head down the stream.

Receiving gifts is tough, perhaps because it is closer to my heart and my sense of well-being.  Far more personal, even threatening.  But also far more rewarding.  And more giving.

A parting note to self (via my friend Chris Corrigan) – it is hard to give if the gift is not received.

Stirring Titles

I am cleaning my office and noticing the magazines sitting here before I put them away.  The titles, from Plan Canada and AACIP Planning Journals in the last several months, cause a stir in me…

  • Planners’ perspectives on art and culture
  • Rethinking infrastructure: going green
  • Planning for the homeless
  • Aging in place
  • Planning for changing demographics
  • Okotoks: staying within its limits
  • Welcoming communities: planning for diverse populations
  • Making it work: making it last; making it home
  • Food security: a growing concern
  • Planning without a net: the international experience
  • Looking to our past to plan our future

The stir?

Planners’ work covers a range of questions and matters that are deliberated widely in our communities – art, infrastructure, homeless, aging, sustainability, cultural diversity, food – and all of this on the home and international fronts.  And then there is the conversation about how to accomplish what we are aiming for.

But who is the “we”?  The perspectives offered are about how planners contribute to these questions, and these perspectives are offered to planners.  It is tempting to drift toward an assumption that it is the planners who are going to make the difference and that others get in the way.  What, however, if the “we” is planners along with the various stakeholders in our communities.  What if our technical expertise is not where our power of influence lies?

This spring I had an opportunity to run APPI’s Professional Practitioners Course with Gary Buchanan, an alternative written examination format for prospective professional planners where candidates demonstrate their mastery through conversation and writing.  The surprise at this particular gathering was the responses of planners in response to a question about the scope of planning today.  The candidates did not reveal technical aspects, but rather interpersonal.  To be able to do our jobs well these days, we need to be good communicators, negotiators, conflict resolvers, facilitators, coaches, and synthesizers.  All this with a bold courage to take leadership roles in unconventional ways.

Reflecting then on the titles above, I recognize the value of planners.  We offer technical skills to make contributions to our communities’ dreams.  Our value is no longer just  conventional technical skills.  Our value is in cultivating the conditions for all the players and stakeholders involved in these complex issues to clearly articulate where they are going, why and how they will get there.

From time to time we’ll employ our technical know-how, but these are not front-seat skills by default any longer.  Not if we want to make a difference.

Elect a President

There is an election for my professional association, the Alberta Association of the Canadian Institute of Planners.  I have put my name forward as candidate for the position of president-elect. The successful candidate will serve one year as president elect, 2 years as president, and 2 years as past president serving as AACIP’s representative to the Canadian Institute of Planners.  This is a significant commitment to the profession, one that asks me to consider completely why I would wish to take this role on for the profession.

As I look back at what really interests me about the planning profession, it is about how we as a collective are in a position to support our communities as they strive to thrive.  We are in service to something far larger than our individual jobs, or even the planning profession.  Collectively, we work in service to the fullness of community.  To best do that, we need to continue the evolution of our professional association while holding two distinct priorities: the development of our profession as technicians and effective practitioners, and the development of the health of our communities.  This involves a new era of professional practice where we acknowledge that we offer so much more than technical services to communities, or technical learning opportunities for ourselves.

The October 2010 AACIP conference is focusing on 2 questions:  What if we are not planning to survive? And who is planning our future anyway?  These questions can relate to both our professional membership, as well as our communities.  As a profession, we need to explore these questions – among ourselves and with our communities – in order to fully respond to what we are called to do.  It is time for us to notice what we, ourselves, are planning for and what we need to do to get there.

As I reflect about why I put myself forward in this way, the answer I keep coming back to is about my passion for the development of our professional practice that is in tune with what our communities need from us.  I see I have a role to play in this.  So, for your consideration:

The skills I offer for my colleagues’ consideration:

  • Executive leadership – senior leader in municipal/regional government, University Board of Governors, numerous community boards
  • Effective resource management – $17 M operating and $250M capital budgets
  • Strategic leadership focus amidst competing demands
  • Strategic alliances and relationships with government, stakeholders, and other professions
  • Appropriate balance between confrontation, cooperation, and collaboration
  • Meaningful processes for conversation – between ourselves, our professional colleagues and our communities

The platform I offer for my colleagues’ consideration:

A leader these days needs to be a host – one who convenes diversity; who convenes all viewpoints in creative processes where our mutual intelligence can come forth. ~ Margaret Wheatley

Without collective intelligence and wise, effective action, the future of our organizations, our communities, and our planet remain imperiled. ~ Thomas J. Hurley and Juanita Brown

After 50 years, AACIP is transitioning into something new: the Alberta Professional Planners Institute (APPI). Along with the name, the planning landscape has changed as well: now over 800 members, a diverse collective practice, and communities facing complex economic, social, ecological and governance challenges. Under the legislation creating APPI, the profession now has an explicit relationship with the public interest.

For the next 50 years, the world will continue to change.  To be effectively in service to our communities, it is time to engage with each other and the larger community to ponder the following questions:

  1. What is the public interest?  What is APPI’s relationship with the public?  What could it be?
  2. How can the collective voice of APPI serve the public interest?
  3. What skills do APPI members need to support the communities we serve?
  4. How can APPI collaborate with other organizations to serve both its members and the public?
  5. What values are at the core of our work?
  6. What is our unique service to the public?
  7. What are the emerging qualities of a new standard of professional practice?

Please cast your ballot.

Brake a Leg [sic]

 

Our Celebratory CakeLast night was the last night of my acting class, so it was “performance night.”  We put our scenes on stage at the Citadel.  Four things jump out at me as I reflect on the evening:

  1. “You look like you want to do something with the gloves.  Follow your impulse.” These were our instructor’s words to one of my mates as we were going through our scenes one last time before we hit the stage.  It can be a big leap to trust our instincts in this rational world, but it is our instincts that take us to a creative place where new possibilities arise.  We have a choice to make about where and when we let our impulse out.

I’ve got a hunger

Twisting my stomach into knots

That my tongue has tied off


My brain’s repeating

‘If you’ve got an impulse let it out’

But they never make it past my mouth.

“The Sound of Settling,” Death Cab for Cutie

Perhaps it isn’t my brain that keeps me back – it may well know I should let my impulse out, but there is something deeper within that I need to pay attention to.  As I contemplate my work in conversational leadership, I will ponder these questions for a while:

  • What am I hungry for?
  • If I truly notice that, what is my impulse about how to let it out?
  • What keeps me back from what I truly offer our craft and the world?

 

  1. No matter how well you know your lines, you need to grasp the plot or you’re sunk.And your mate with you. There was a moment in my scene last night when I lost my line.  Stuck. I drew a blank.  It didn’t matter that my mate and I had nailed them many times before.  Somehow I just lost track, and when I look back I can’t quite explain why.  It just happened.  We tossed a few lines in that “went with the plot” for a bit.  It was shakey for a bit, for both of us sitting there in the bright lights, but my mate didn’t panic, neither did I, and we trusted we would find our way.  We did.  He threw me a word that got me back on track and all was good.Even when you know something well, you know it works, the recipe is never the same every time.  Everytime the circumstances are different.  In conversation or theatre, there is no silver bullet/cookie cutter. 
  2. There are people rooting for you, even if you can’t see them.Often on the theatre stage, the lights are in your eyes and you can’t see the audience.  You can’t tell if they are legion or few – except for the sounds they make.  Even if you could see them, by and large to don’t know who they are.In the case of last night, it was a modest audience: our class mates, our instructor/director, the lighting guy, Citadel staff and a few people class mates brought to the event.Out front, I have a choice to make about how to proceed: trust that everyone is critically watching your every move, or trust that they want you to play a part in something wonderful happening.  My choice about what I trust has an impact on what I will do and how I go about doing it.  Do I believe in the worst or do I believe in the best?  If I lose my lines, which plot do I want to draw on to carry me through? 
  3. Brake a leg. Even the Safeway cake writer can’t get everything right.  Nobody can.  And the cake tastes just fine. How much of what I worry about is just icing on the cake? (Like the numbering in this blog…)

 

Mayday

 

One of my son’s favourite television shows is Mayday, chronicling the events leading to and resulting in airplane disasters – or in the case of a recent episode, what should have been a disaster.We found big lessons for the pilots of our communities, cities and towns.

In “Panic Over the Pacific” (Episode 6, Season 4), ChinaAirlines Flight 006 is bound for San Francisco.After an engine failure (one of four engines on a Boeing 747) that should cause no significant issues, the plane plunges 10 km in just 2 minutes.The undercarriage doors and horizontal stabilizers are ripped off the plane under the force of the plunge, yet the crew land the plane safely.By many accounts, they should not have been able to save the plane, then we find out that the plunge need not have happened in the first place.

The conclusion: the pilot caused the plunge by focusing on the one instrument that was telling him the plunge was starting and choosing not to believe it.Due to massive fatigue and jet lag, he was spatially disoriented and unable to simply adjust as needed to the engine failure.The investigators confirmed all instruments were in working order.All the pilot needed to do was look at the other instruments to see that the plunge was indeed beginning, disengage autopilot, and put his foot on a pedal.The corroborating evidence was on hand – as well as a simple solution.

The investigators offered two significant observations about this event that relate to the survival of humans on an airplane:

1.Focus on the “dashboard”, not one instrument. Attention to only one instrument – whether we believe it is right or wrong – provides us with only a sliver of information.A dashboard of instruments will send us more complete information and tell us if we are on the right track or not.Nothing is fully dependent on one instrument.

2.There is a reason why there is a human at the front of the plane. Autopilot is designed to solve the problems that we have come up with so far, but the creative human mind is needed when new problems arise that Autopilot can’t handle.In the case of our pilot over the Pacific Ocean, the pilot needed to intervene – just put a foot on a pedal.He didn’t, and they plunged to earth.

Compared to a human community, an airplane is a simple system.There is a chain of command and it is clear who is in charge.If we take a town, city, region, province, country, continent or even the planet, we can see that it is less clear who the pilot is – there are many.There are many destinations and modes of travel, but the investigators lessons still resonate and raise the following questions for a community of any scale in any setting:

1.What brings us together?What is important to us?

2.Who are we? Who has the power to get us to our destination?

3.What is our destination?What will it look like when we get there?

4.What are the wise ways to get to our destination?

5.What are diversity of skills and gifts we bring to get us there?

6.How do we knit all of the above together through the messy process of community?

In exploring the above, we find that there are many things that catch our attention; homelessness,residential densities, economic development opportunities, transportation and education systems, health care delivery, ecological impacts, parks and open spaces, opportunities for recreation, community development, energy generation, clean technologies, telecommunications, food security, urban design, emergency services, etc.There are many systems in place currently that monitor each of these.The question then is, are we watching all of them, or just one instrument like our pilot.Perhaps we do not all need to watch all of them, but we need to find ways and places to still do so.A collective sense of piloting is crucial to our survival.

This is ultimately about integrating pieces of information throughout a community system.It is about creating the time and places to connect the silos in our communities that look after the well-being of so much that makes our communities complete.A high school principal comes to mind who recently had a significant first experience: he was in the same room as people working for municipal and provincial government that were not in education.He pointed out immediately the value of this – they share interests, insights and information.How could this go further?What are the ways and places where we can attend to collectively noticing what the silos that serve us are noticing, so that we can share a common sense of direction?I offer the following:

1.Create the conditions for conversations that cross silos with the express purpose of noticing a larger picture and shared intention

2.Cultivate a common destination

3.Create a dashboard of instruments that monitor our progress to reach the destination

4.Create a culture of resilience and adaptability where change is welcome

In the case of our pilot above, his misjudgment was attributed to fatigue.I am curious about the frantic nature of work that seems so predominant these days.What are we missing by moving so fast?Are we noticing our instruments?Are we misreading them?Are we afraid of them?Are we mistakenly on autopilot? Do we have the right instruments?

How and when will we know if a Mayday call is legitimate or not?

The value shapes of conversation

 

As I am getting ready to host, with fellow Albertans, a conversation about how to unleash Albertans’ collective ingenuity, I enter into an experience with diverse people interested in a collective learning opportunity.As part of this process, I will enjoy exploring the value of conversation in our communities and the role values and conversation play in our communities’ well-being.

A recent conversation with a fellow learner rekindled a curiosity:How do values shape conversation?

Value systems – whether in a person, family, organization, community, nation or even in the human species – evolve from egocentric, to ethnocentric and worldcentric.These value systems themselves change as the conditions of our lives change.A person who places great emphasis on the health of the entire planet (world centric) may find a distinct shift in focus to self (egocentric) when grappling with the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquate, for example.While this is simplistic, knowing, or simpliy noticing, where myself and others are coming from in terms of our value systems is useful when I enter into conversation – with myself or with others.(For an example of the kind of value systems contemplated here, please refer to http://www.enlightennext.org/magazine/j22/beck.asp.)

On February10-12, 2010 I am gathering with other Albertans to explore the art of hosting and harvesting conversations that lead to renewed and sustained communities.Such a conversation can not take place without consideration of the values in play – the values within the conversation, as well as the values that shape the decisions we make about how to design for conversation.

Generally, the physical shape of an “Art of Hosting” conversation is the circle. We sit in circle of various sizes, we seek to collaborate as equals, we seek to unearth the collective wisdom that sits with us: we make the assumption that the information we need to know to tackle the changes we are facing resides is readily available.We each bring a piece of the puzzle, and only in deep conversation – that may or may not even be with traditional words and language – will the pieces we bring begin to emerge, and the picture we create together begin to emerge.We are fellow travelers in inquiry.

In this vein, I am curious about how to create the conditions for people to fully engage with each other – at our gathering, but also out in the world.Not in a shallow, skirting converation, but in a way that reaches deep into the soul. Values come in when we meet the challenge to meet people where and how we find them, recognizing the values in play, each with expectations of conversation.I imagine these values in the form of shapes and texture of conversation, a critical piece in designing for conversation.I explore these below, first with egocentric value systems, then ethnocentric and worldcentric.

Value shapes of conversation concept

Value shapes of conversation concept

Survival– Staying Alive  There are times when sitting in circle to contemplate and inquire is not the right thing to do. Drawing on the example of the Haiti earthquake, for the individual fighting for survival, the shape is a dot – the survival self. A point that focuses on the self and what it needs to survive. There is no conversation. (There is no reason this is bold – I can’t stop it.)

Tribe – Safety and Security For the family or a collection of people supporting themselves as they survive together, the dot simply becomes larger in to a solid circle.It is a solid shape with afocus on the group as the self – the well-being of everyone ensures the well-being of each member.A solid circle, as opposed to the dot, takes into account a sense of collective, of looking after each other and a sense of belonging and connection.This is a tight-knit, solid group with a clear sense of leadership in the group (sage/elder/chief).Conversation takes place in circle form with an intense sense of belonging.There is clear protocol and deference to a leader and the spirits.

Empire – Power and Action The solid circles in isolation realize that there are others competing for the same resources to meet their groups’ needs.Power and action are critical elements to meet the needs of a group – those who have proven trustworthy, are respected and revered (or even feared) rise to power.Agression, anger and shame keep individuals in check. The shape I imagine here is a solid, tall triangle.A clear hierarchy of power with power at the top.Status (power) will determine where you fit, and there is clamoring to reach the top.The conversation is “top-down” messages within the triangle. The tall solid triangle, the climax of ego-centered perspective does not contemplate the needs of others.Between triangles there is minimal conversation per se, but rather comptetive positioning, war, agreession.There is great pride and identity (of self and the group) invested in this shape.This shape snaps into place when there is an emergency.

Authority Structure – Stability and Salvation  The intense comptetion and fueding within and between the Power God triangles is an existence of aggression, assertion of independence and control to respond to danger.A shift from this focus on self to the collective results in order and dignity, stability and a sense of right and wrong that is established by an authority – there is “One True Way”.

The shape of the tirangle again, but now with authority – there is protocol in place for the purposes of efficiency.With a purpose in mind, the pieces of the system know just what to do to respond in a timely fashion.Everyone has their place and role, and when the boss says it is time to go, it is time to.This is the shape of agencies stepping in to help in Haiti.This is the shape of the Red Cross.This is the shape of our food banks, soup kitchens and our police forces.Authority and control for the purposes of some greater public service.

This triangle is less solid in texture in that it opens itself up to a broader collective purpose, but the power and hierarchy are still needed to deliver on that purpose.Communication is still “top-down”, but it is more from authority, than power.Communication between triangles, when it occurs, is filled with protocol.Other Authority Structure triangles with a different purpose/method are not tolerated. These triangles appear in isolation – or in silos as we describe our institutions.

Strategic Enterprise – Success and Material Gain  Eventually, the urge to connect silos and solitudes leads to strategic thinking, and a shift is made to think strategically.The need to allow for more flow around an organization is noticed.The need for less authority to let an entrepreneurial spirit emerge is also present.There is still hierarchy and protocol, but is is relaxed and purposefully allows, and expects, the interconnection of interests without the traditional rules and protocols.Ideas flow from top to bottom and bottom to top as the power is dissipated and the self reemerges – as a creative, competitive, rule-breaking self.

The triangles are more stout again and no longer in isolation.They are also more porous, denoting a decrease in power and authority and the movement of information around the organization.The focus of conversation is getting problems solved creatively through the effective use of networking – people are connecting with each other in cooperation but not as equals.

Social Network – Inclusive Community  When the desire for material goods and gain wanes and the need to address social gaps surfaces, the shape of conversation shifts to reflect a new sense of equal human rights.Sensitivity to others is heightened. A deeper spirit of cooperation emerges and displaces entrepreneurial desire.A sense of responsibility to look after the needs of others in addition to the needs of me is noticeable.

As equals, the shape is a circle, one that elicits and supports the gifts that everyone offers for the collective good.The circle is less solid than the triangles, denoting more inclusivity.This circle is also less solid than the Tribe values, again because of its inclusivity.It welcomes all, seeking peaceful resolution of conflict in support of the whole. The circle supports the full development of each individual as well as the whole.Hierarchy is not present and may be vilified.

In the End it is Flex and Flow – Shifting Shapes

In the first collection of ego-centred shapes, I see them existing simultaneously, ultimately as self centered entities. As solid shapes, there is little room for identities beyond the identity of the entity itself.They must be so to meet their needs in the world as they experience it.As life conditions change, with more security and room for creativity, the shapes become less solid and more inclusive.

In considering the above, there are some questions that surface for me:

  • What is the impact of these value shapes on hosting and designing for conversation?
  • Under what circumstances is it appropriate to sit in circle?
  • Are well hosted conversations always in circle?
  • As the purpose of conversation changes, does the shape of conversation change?

In the Art of Hosting community, we make the assumption that there is great wisdom among us – we just need to release it.We must recognize that from a values perspective, this is a Social Network question that will not resonate too well with the Fire Department in the middle of putting out a fire.

There is a time and place for each shape.The questions I find myself reglarly exploring are:

  • What values are surfacing in me?
  • What values are surfacing in others?
  • Is the shape for conversation I envision coming from me, or the field?