The Pulse of Kingdom

The pulse of our kingdom is strong today as we cast our ballots to choose our federal government in the wake of the Royal wedding.

While the Monarchy that is such a huge part of Canadian history seems to have such a small role in our day to day lives, our attention to the marriage of William and Kate has connects us deeply to not simply the Monarchy, but to each other.  It was an event that expands our identity and belonging to the world.  We were invited to participate and we did –1.4-2 billion of us.  The world was watching, not just British subjects.

What strikes me as significant is that the power of the Monarchy lies not in governing its people, but in just being a family that we gather around.  We pull together for the big party and the celebration.  We pull together to remember the good times and the bad.  We pull together the old threads of the story and tease out the new threads that will pull us into the future.  And with William and Kate, they do this the way no elected politician ever can.  Rarely do politicians have the hardship of publicly losing her/his Mother to the very life s/he is stepping into (and when they do, we refer to them as royaly – the Ghandi family in India).  Our Monarchy pulls us together as a nation, as a commonwealth, and in this case even humanity, the way no politician can.

The role of this Monarchy in our day to day lives has evolved into one as a figurehead rather than ruler, but a figurehead that plays a critical role to our sense of identity.  For we are our own rulers and we choose our governments.

And today we exercise our fantastic power to choose who makes the decisions in our great land of Canada.

It is our opportunity to put our collective dream into action.

Please vote.

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?

Soccer isn’t really about soccer (the yellow card story)

I received my first yellow card this summer.  For some, that means I broke a rule, for others it means that I was playing the game as it ought to be played.  I am noticing that sometimes (but not always) I struggle with with breaking the rules – or even testing the rules.

The conundrum: I love rules and rules infuriate me.  In much of my world, I appreciate rules and the structure they offer. Ill-applied rules, or rules that have lost their sense of purpose, frustrate me.  In a soccer game, they provide the necessary level playing field for healthy and fair competition.  Since I appreciate healthy and fair competition, I appreciate the rules that are in place to ensure the game is fair competition.  We have an impartial official to do this for us, on the reasonable assumption that we are not equipped to do this ourselves in the heat of a game.

As I learn more about playing soccer, I notice that I am choosing more consciously when and where to be aggressive and when and where to let things happen. Whether playing a strong or a weak team, if we just let things happen, we will not hold our own.  Each of us needs a measure of urgency for the team to hold its own.  As is often the case with me, I go full tilt.  (Yellow cards do not come from letting things happen.)

Early in the yellow card game I collided with a player from the opposing team.  The official took me aside with a warning to take it easy.  Later in the game, as one of their stronger players (I will call her Number 5) had a breakaway toward our net.  I caught up with her, got a smidge ahead and kicked the ball out of play.  In the process, Number 5 fell.

It was fair play: I had a chance to kick the ball out of play and I took it.  The official confirmed this with me right away.  Number 5, however, was on the ground and sobbing.  She had hit her head on the ground. Her coach bellowed at the official, who, in return, gave me a yellow card for unnecessary rough play.  Even after he declared it to be fair play.

Since I didn’t get a yellow card right away, I was a bit surprised.  The official and I had a quick congenial chat about his call and we played on.  But I wasn’t feeling that good about hurting someone.  Then I noticed Number 5’s dramatic behaviour.  After her “concussion” she was pretty much immediately back on the field.  She slide-tackled one of my team mates and barks at the official, “Did you see that?  She just took me out!”  When the official calls her for being offside, she vehemently protests.  At every turn she quips about her concussion, yet she plays hard and well – even with her head.

Technically, Number 5 is a skilled player.  But instead of relying solely on her technical skill, she challenged us by challenging the rules – and the keeper of the rules – to see if she could gain advantage.  This is a whole different game with a different set of skills to play with and around the rules to find advantage.  With Number 5, it showed up in the sobbing and theatrics when she was knocked down (a common occurrence) or defeated.  Or even when she made a mistake herself.  By doing so, she may well get a call from the official that works in her favour – whether legitimate or not.

And here is where I struggle.  There are competing value systems at play here.  (In parentheses, I will refer to the Spiral Dynamics integral levels of consciousness.  The colours.  Please refer to this article for a primer, or just read along.)

The game is a competitive experience (RED).  To be healthy and fair, there are rules to provide some boundaries to the competition (BLUE).  My opponent choose to play the game in two ways – first technically within the rules, and second by playing with the rules.

My deliberation is whether or not the ‘playing’ with the rules is fair or not.  Fair is noticing how the rules are being called and playing accordingly (providing no harm is done to another).  If the official never notices when plays are offside, we notice this and play within the rules evident on the field in that situation. Usually, it works out evenly for both teams and there is no advantage.  (If the official favours a team, that is another discussion).

Manipulating the circumstances to alter how the official makes a call is another scenario.  This is a competitive drive to play a political power game (RED) outside of the rules.  It changes how the rules are seen by players and officials.  With weak officials, the ‘game’ becomes the game.  Brave (RED) officials use their authority (BLUE) to make the needed calls.  Players need to be mindful of which game is underway.  Everyone has choice in this.

In the end, the drama is a distraction from the real game at hand – on and off the field.  It may be appropriate at times, but it mostly keeps us from what we really wish to be doing.  That said, the drama is not something I can avoid.

I wonder if I need to let myself get super competitive (RED) to battle in the manipulative realm.  I am quite competitive, but from a place to improve my performance relative to me, not to others.  I do not need to win.  I need to do well.  My measuring stick is internal; I do not need to win over someone.  My purpose (BLUE) in this situation is to learn more and more about the game of soccer and how to play it. In my life and work, I aim to learn more and more about life and communities and how we work.  This purpose (BLUE) tempers quite dramatically my competitive spirit (RED).

At the end of the day, I seek to understand. I need not react. I stand my ground.  I am honest.  I will not fake a fall.  I will make the ‘game’ explicit when it needs to be.  Number 5 was looking for ways to use the rules to her favour – a win at all costs.  I don’t play from this mindset, on or off the field.  I’ll pour my energy into intention – with an organization, a community, or a couple of teams learning and developing and practicing their soccer skills.

From time to time I deliberate about whether I should make a scene when I fall on the field.  Whether fouled or not, I could choose to stay down on the ground (and maybe sob).  I could exaggerate a shove or fall.  Maybe get a free kick or penalty shot.  It’s just not in me to do that.  I am too transparent.  But I recognize that I need not  ignore the ‘game’.  On and off the field there is more than one game in play and I need to recognize which one is underway.  In the end it isn’t about whether I am breaking the rules – it is about which set of rules is being broken.

They can keep charging. I’ll stand my ground.



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

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?

Here’s Jessica


Last week I joined a decade-long conversation about values, culture and leadership in Dallas, Texas.We were 35 people from Canada, South Africa, Mexico, Iceland, the United Kingdom and across the United States.With the sweltering weather outside, we found ourselves creating some cool experiences. Top of mind is Jessica Roemischer’s contribution: prior to gathering, she asked us what music is most meaningful to us.Once gathered, she sat down at a piano to describe what she has been exploring – the connection music has in culture, using us as examples. (For more on Jessica, see or

Below is the meaning I made of the experience…

Here’s Jessica

Heeeeeeerrrrrrrrre’s Jessica

with culture

from who we are

from where we are

Enlightened epiphany

personal and universal

as one

Musical meme spirit

intangible power


to divinity


Music reveals

dynamic human nature


forged to future

Old Joe in the room

in the world

in the garden

in a house like I have


Improvising voice

and crawling skin

crazy love

in lineage

an unchained melody

loving loch lomand

This is called trust

new consciousness

without fear

makes possible

single notes

in twinkling melody

played perfectly

flying free

Improving life conditions

makes music possible

frees deep spirit

catalyzing beauty

I’m Jewish by birth

don’t know What by life

What women are we talking about?

You can watch anything on YouTube

Nonlinear blend


Palestinian purple sparks

my dear beloved


How are we doing for time?


I’ll add something

then let it be


We will all be

as one

Wherever I go

I feel at home

in transition

in harmonic exodus

A Time and Place for Ego

Last week I was invited to join a friend at a University of Alberta Athletics breakfast gathering.  As a last-minute invite, I was surprised to find myself sitting at the front of the room with the guest speakers – the director of Athletics, Georgette Reed, athletes Lauren Gillespie and Tyler Metcalfe – and in the middle of a healthy dose of feel-good ego fanning. 

We often think the ego is a bad thing, that it leads only to selfish acts and violence.  But the stories of our speakers revealed something different.  They revealed how sport has provided them the opportunity to develop as a person, to achieve things they never dreamed possible.  How there is room for anyone to achieve more than they think they can – especially with the support of others.  And these very same people continue to give back, endlessly. 

The ego tells us that we can get people into a room and tell them stories to gather the funds to create more stories. (the Athletics program needs more more money from people like you to keep and produce athletes and people like these!)  I assume most people in the room are/were involved in sport in some way – athletes, former athletes, coaches etc – and now in a position to give back.  Our egos compel us to be in the room and feel that familiar competitive camaraderie.  In a healthy way, our ego feeds our desire to ensure that others have the same opportunities.  It feeds our purpose.  It helps stabilize the purpose: funds for ongoing excellence in athletics. 

The irony – I did not attend U of A, let alone their athletics program, but I could not escape feeling great about the program and intensely feeling that I was part of the family.  I resisted the urge to pull out my wallet on the spot, but the envelope is sitting on my desk waiting for my next round of community giving in August.  It certainly fits my criteria of giving to the things that feed the heart and soul of a community.  


NOTE – A Spiral Dynamics integral reading of this event:  by design, a very well organized BLUE event that generated intense, healthy egocentric RED to support the BLUE desire to find meaning and purpose and provide stability.