Tag Archives: catalyst

Wheatley’s Latest on Social Innovation: Do we Regroup or Redouble Our Efforts?

Most of us can name our role models, including, if not especially, our favorite visionary thinkers. Their ideas resonate. They speak, and it all makes sense. So when Margaret Wheatley shared her doubts on our ability to influence social change and social innovation on a large scale, it was more than a wake-up call for me. It was more like a bucket of ice water.

Sure, it makes sense to hedge on our boldest forecasts. But should we conclude, as Wheatley has done, that there’s no evidence for lasting social change?

Let’s challenge that.

Listen to her 2013 interview or skim the transcript .. posted on i-Open courtesy Betsey Merkel, and shared on Twitter by my friend Bruce Watluck. Wheatley’s concern centers on the ubiquitous psychological resistance to change that she repeatedly encounters in her work. It’s a resistance fueled by powerful cultural forces that feed on self-interest and narcissistic thinking. We can see evidence of this everywhere, of course. We can see it in our ads, as she says, as well as in our sports and in our leaders. It’s a sobering message.

She’s left a door open. Some light still shines through, offering some hope. Wheatley acknowledges three fundamentals that remain in her work and her vision:

  • Strong relationships based on trust
  • Deeper thinking in teams, creating “islands of sanity”
  • A personal practice of reflection

So she hasn’t abandoned efforts to inspire, or to guide deeper meaning. She still talks of embracing and advancing the human spirit. But I’m afraid the elephant is still in the room.

Let’s not retreat on the scale of what’s possible. There’s too much at stake. Education. Healthcare. Energy. It’s a long list. So let’s ask this ..

How long should social innovation take? It’s certainly not overnight. And with extended timeframes, the critical element of resilience .. our ability to sustain visionary leadership .. comes into play. It’s interesting she has written on a parallel theme, perseverance.

From what I’ve read about culture and prevailing paradigms, I think it’s likely that social change would be best measured in decades, at a minimum. The larger the ecosystem, the longer change will take. The more entrenched the social conventions, the longer it will take to unwind them and to develop new ones. A few examples of decade-plus emergent innovation I’ll offer as evidence: the transformation of IBM from hardware to software (10-15 years), the American Revolution (50-60 years), and the global Human Rights movement (100 years plus). Each of these studies in social change took a long time to happen. Each was more fragile and difficult to achieve with scale.

Yet all these examples led to lasting ecosystem change. We can trace evolution from important initial conditions, strong and persistent local catalysts, environments that allowed new rule systems to emerge and to ultimately survive. These are features of a complex social system, one that learns and adapts.

I believe emergent innovation is possible. If I’m right, we’ll have to be patient. We’re wise to start small, and build slowly. Ultimately, as our innovation expands, we’ll have to lead with incredible resolve, operating within and among strongly connected, resilient, and well-aligned communities. And we’ll have to have the long term view.

For our #cdna chat at 8pm ET on MON 9/15, let’s take apart Meg Wheatley’s arguments and my own, to see what we might make of them.

  • Q1. Is social innovation dead? oversold? not fully baked? or misunderstood?
  • Q1(b.) [emergent] Are social change and social innovation interchangeable in the context of this frame?
  • Q2. What are your views on our ability to influence change in social settings (e.g., culture)?
  • Q3. [emergent] What is your sense of Wheatley’s concerns re: cultural resistance?
  • Q4. How does the time dimension factor into our chances? Can we accelerate our desired change?
  • Q5. What are the fundamental drivers in the discussion of social change?

I’ll bring an open mind to this, as always. But so far, I’m holding out for possibility. I have a deep conviction in our ability to make things better. Let’s discuss it.

Roughly once a month, a small but growing group of independent thinkers comes together around hashtag #cdna to unpack social learning and the nuances of intentional collaboration. It seems we always take a little something home. Given time, we may just come up with some new rules ..

Join the conversation using http://tweetchat.com/room/cdna .. simply sign-in with your Twitter account, and authorize the app ..

Hope to see you there !!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

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Related reading:

  • Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).
  • Margaret Wheatley, A Simpler Way (1996).
  • Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science (2006).
  • John Miller and Scott Page, Complex Adaptive Systems (2007).
  • Chris Jones, The DNA of Collaboration (2012).

Who’s Role is it Anyway? Dynamics of Effective Collaboration (Ch.14)

Promo image from "Whose Line is it Anyway?" courtesy ABC

Promo image from “Whose Line is it Anyway?” courtesy ABC

When we come together as a team, whether instinctively or out of habit, we tend to gravitate to natural roles that we find comfortable, whether as contributors or listeners, active participants or passive observers, leaders or supporting cast.  Depending on the group, there can be lots in play at once, but we tend to overlook the dynamics.

Consider an improv comedy troupe performing live, or a band working out tracks in a recording studio.  What’s really happening?  Can we tease out more explicit roles that influence our collaborative results?  I think we can.  Too often we don’t put thought into the kinds of participation we really need.  We discussed this last fall in our KM World W5 work session and explored the dynamics still further here in Charlotte at our QCF “New Thinking” workshop (slides).

Let’s keep the exploration going.

The #CDNA Crew has launched a new series MONDAYs at 8pET on Key Roles in Collaboration.  It’s the focus of Chapter 14 in The DNA of Collaboration (in softcover or Kindle on Amazon) and it’s almost always a conversation that strikes a chord.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll attack these roles, one by one, to see what we might learn:

  • Q1. Catalyst. In what ways can we spark new thinking in our discussions?
  • Q2. Connector. What happens when we connect ideas during a collaborative session or chat? And to make this happen more, what are:  (a.) key initial conditions? (b.) supporting behaviors? (c.) times they add most value? (d.) situations when their role is most important?
  • Q3. Aggregator/Curator. Often this means lots of work. How can we make the capture/takeaways of ideas more interesting?
  • Q4. Moderator/Planner. What skills make these leadership role effective?
  • Q5. Analyst. How do we make time for facts, data, and critical thinking?
  • Q6. Challenger. Can we take issue in constructive ways, without coming across as a naysayer?
  • Q7. Designer. What is the potential for truly creative thinking? Does a meeting afford enough “white space” for this?
  • Q8. Historian/Researcher. How can these important activities happen in real time?
  • Q9. Referee. Is there a place for (simple) rules, and how do we ensure healthy boundaries?
  • Q10. Practitioner. What’s the best way to engage the hands-on folks that practice what’s being discussed?
  • Q11. Expert/SME. These folks often kill collaboration with the weight of their knowledge; how can this be avoided?
  • Q12. Did we leave out any roles? If so, which ones, and why?

I’ll be posting takeaways as comments to this post, but I’d really appreciate it if you’d do the same.  The value is in our diverse perspectives ..

Again, hope to see you guys for the conversation MONDAYs 8pET using hash tag #cdna .. many folks use Tweetchat (link).  See you there.  What role will you play?

Chris aka @sourcepov