The Chaordic Path: The Dynamic Inter-relationship between Chaos and Order

One of the fundamental patterns used in Art of Hosting offerings – which for many of us includes our consulting practices or as practitioners in-house work environments – is the Chaordic Field or Chaordic Path. Like many of the patterns offered in AoH it is a helpful way to understand what is happening in the world, in our communities and organizations and within each of us individually. It gives us a lens through which to understand the increasing complexity in our environments and a pattern to work with to evoke collective learning and the real-time innovation necessary in a world and in times that are neither predictable nor stable and call for more flexibility as “more of the same” solutions are not addressing the challenges.

Originating with the work of Dee Hock in the development and evolution of Visa to an international network of financial institutions offering “one” credit card, Hock identified the patterns and forces of chaos, order and control that were at play in an animated process that came to the brink of failure at many points along the way.  It was clearly experienced that the greatest breakthroughs and emergent ideas came at the intersection of chaos and order, in a system that was more commonly situated in the realm of control.

Chaordic Path

Just when things seem the craziest is often when new ideas spark, bridges are built, aha’s become apparent and a way out of chaos naturally appears.  These patterns are evident in living systems, where a natural order exists, life cycles are vibrant and the greatest innovations happen at the edges.  While not static, living systems can be stable – or be in order – for long periods of time until disruption comes in some form of chaos – destructive weather patterns or fires – destabilizing the system for a time before new order emerges.

While the chaordic path is the story of our natural world – form arising out of nonlinear, complex, diverse systems – it can also be the story of how our teams, organizations and communities pay attention to human dynamics and function.   In our organizational systems, there is a tendency to want to meet chaos with control, to try to fix the situation or provide a ready made solution.  Many of us as leaders and managers have been educated, trained and promoted to do just this. But increasing complexity means control, particularly as it relates to the human dynamics of a situation, does not often enough lead to a resolution of the problem and may, in fact, exacerbate the situation. Solutions and ways forward are more likely to arise out of accessing the collective intelligence and collective wisdom of everyone, which can, at times, be a “messy” process until new insight and clarity emerges.

When facing new challenges that cannot be met with the same way we are currently working – cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them – new ways of leading and operating need to be learned and utilized to shift the shape of our experience with intentionality. It is during these times of uncertainty and increased complexity, where results cannot be predicted, that wise leaders invite others to share their collective and diverse knowledge to discover new purpose and strategy and decide a way forward.

It is in the phase of not knowing, before we reach new clarity, that the temptation to rush for certainty or grab for control is strongest. We are all called to walk this path with open minds and some confidence if we want to reach something wholly new.

“At the edge of chaos” is where life innovates — where things are not hard wired, but are flexible enough for new connections and solutions to occur.  To lead teams, organizations and communities on the chaordic path, leaders need “chaordic confidence,” to have the courage to stay in the dance of order and chaos long enough to support generative emergence that allows new, collective intelligence and wiser action to occur.

This can be a beautifully dynamic process.  To be in it with awareness and intentionality also means to take care of value judgments or beliefs often brought that one of these modes of being or operating – chaos, order or control – is  better or more valuable than the others. There is a place, a role and a time for each. A subsequent post will explore the upside and downside of each, recognizing that a flow and dynamic movement between each of these modes of being may be the leadership discernment needed for long term success.

Long Term Impasse at a Manufacturing Company Resolved With Two Hour World Cafe

Alanna Kennedy turned heads in our opening circle at the March 2014 Art of Hosting offering in St. Paul, Minnesota when she said she had recently hosted a World Café with welders at Emerson, the manufacturing company where she is a production manager. It was so successful she then did one with shippers.  A true life long learner (see about Alanna at the end of this post) and a third generation in manufacturing, she is not looking for what can’t be done, she is looking for how results can be achieved and success rates improved.  And in both of the Cafés she hosted, the outcome had immediate impact.

world cafe Fredericton 2013

In the case of the welders, there was a long term debate surrounding the criteria by which to measure and know if an individual welder was working within and meeting quality guidelines.  Everyone had a different idea.  In a way, the welders and the supervisors and engineers were speaking different languages with different worldviews. They were not able to hear each other across the worldviews and across assumptions of what they thought they knew about the other. The World Café method was an invitation into letting go of what they thought they knew and into becoming curious about what might be possible.

The original debate was about one measurement only – quality errors.  Welders resisted, speaking also about the individual signature of each welder and in some instances unclear written processes. There was a limiting belief, common in many places with many different work groups, that the welders, if left to their own devices, might want to negotiate for the greatest flexibility possible.  Welders know, like many trades and professions, that the quality of work of any one individual reflects on the quality of the whole.  They want high standards.

Alanna, being on the lookout for what works, sees opportunity in many processes and programs intended to address improving quality and operational standards.  Some forecast the failure of rate of programs like Lean and Lean-Six Sigma to develop lasting cultures of continuous improvement to be as high as 60%.  She calls this “fake lean”.   Overall, she says these programs are great at addressing the structure and technology questions for continuous improvement. However, they are lacking in the methods and tools to support the cultural and social development, or people questions, required to develop and sustain, through time, cultures of continuous improvement.  Alanna believes all change starts with social interaction. Change happens and work gets done through people, through the social systems. Enter the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter, which she found through Action Learning, with an emphasis on working with human systems, recognizing that the wisdom is in the room with the group most directly affected by the proposed change and that there are a few processes specifically intended to elicit the collective intelligence.

After attending a World Café workshop offered by Jerry Nagel of the Meadowlark Institute in Minneapolis, Amy Lenzo of the World Cafe Community and others, Alanna brought fifteen welders from across the three shifts together for two hours in a world café process. They were paid for their time even if they were off duty during the World Café and they were invited into a series of conversations about criteria for assessing a welder’s work.  For this particular Café, managers were present but supervisors and engineers were not invited.  What emerged in two hours was a resolution to the long impasse and a structure that never would have emerged without this café conversation process.

The welders identified three distinct categories of standards: welding skills, manufacturing processes and the individual signature of the welder.  This is a more comprehensive structure than what was proposed by supervisors and engineers and a structure welders were willing to hold themselves and each other accountable to because they want their counterparts to uphold a certain level of professionalism on behalf of the whole.  The results were captured in a document that reflected the conversations and that document was approved by HR and executive managers.  The end result was the resolution of a long term impasse with a better quality of result than had been previously considered possible.

Alanna then did a World Café with shippers who needed new work stations.  Others in the organization had been trying to design a new work station for the shippers but many of the shippers hadn’t been included in the initial planning and they were obviously stalling.  They did not like the proposed design.  Alanna rounded up shippers from all three shifts for a two hour World Café process. There were three tables of five people. The shippers changed tables, circling around design ideas, sharing what would and would not work until three new work bench designs that they believed would support their needs were developed.  In the harvesting, the shippers were able to share their ideas and the reasoning behind their designs with the engineers.  The shippers had the opportunity to engage in a different type of dialogue.  Again, a resolution to an impasse was obtained within a couple of hours by using the world café process.

Was it worth paying the shippers and the welders for their time?  Was it worth a two hour investment of time to call upon the collective intelligence of the group most directly affected by the changes? Was it worth the risk of bringing social technologies to a manufacturing organization?  The results speak for themselves.

Many people who have attended an AoH training or are aware of the methodologies like world café, open space technology, circle practice, appreciative inquiry will often say, “That’s really great, but it will never fly where I work.”  That’s why Alanna turned heads when she said she worked in manufacturing.

When asked how she might respond to people who say, “It will never work here”, she offered, “You have to careful.  I used it where we were stuck and had been working on an issue. In preparation, I bought each of my colleagues a set of books – circle, open space, world café and action learning – and put them on their desks.  I talked to them.  I first gained the support of my peers.”

She was strategic in her approach. The need, purpose and intention for the café were clear.  She knew who she needed to have in the room, and who not to have. She knew the result she was after in each case – eye on the outcomes – and she understood the conditions that would lead to the generative conversations necessary for success.  She had the confidence to take, what for some people, is a risk.  “A critical piece to understand is that all change is facilitated and begins with human interaction.  If you don’t address that, you won’t get the desired results, no matter how good the plan or the technology.”

Why does AoH work? “Because it is not about mimicking what some other company or some other people did to achieve success.  It is about adaptive solutions generated from the people and systems most affected.”

About Alanna Kennedy

Alanna Kennedy

Alanna Kennedy

Alanna loves the manufacturing world.  She describes it as “a unique social laboratory” which is why she deliberately returned to this world after completing her PhD.  She is a “hands on” manufacturing professional formally trained and experienced in operations and materials management with an active interest in the research and development of social systems within organizations as they pertain to the development and sustainability of cultures of continuous improvement.

Her 2011 doctorate in Organizational Development with an emphasis on successful cultures of continuous improvement with a focus on the facilitation and implementation of Lean, Six Sigma, and SEAM (Socio-Economic Assessment of Management) methods is from the University of St. Thomas, MN, where she also completed her MBA in 1990 with a concentration in operations and systems excellence including the use of lean methods.  Her undergrad BA is from the Indiana University Bloomington in Cultural Anthropology and Psychology (1980) with a concentration in social systems and the application of macro economic theory in non-western societies.

She is certified in lean methods by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.  She is CPIM certified by the APICS organization in production scheduling and inventory management, and is a licenced instructor for the global quality standards of electronics with the IPC Association.  She is also a licenced Brain Gym instructor, a kinesiology based program which uses physical movement to improve focus, learning and over all performance, combining it with Action Learning and Brain Gym and observing amazing, accelerated results for people working with stress and goal setting.

She will continue to pursue her curiosity about the integration of AoH practices and patterns with continuous improvement philosophies by doing a deeper dive into some of the individual methods and identifying opportunities for application in industrial environments.

Virtual Circle Check-In as an Entry Way to Practice

In the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter Training where Jerry Nagel and I are part of the hosting team, after we experience circle practice, usually as a form of check-in on our first day, we offer a little teach on check-in and check-out practices as a routine part of a meeting structure and flow, as a way to help people arrive into the purpose of the meeting and to wrap up the meeting before everyone departs.  We share how we, like many of our colleagues, also do this with our calls or virtual meetings as we are part of many hosting teams where members are drawn from many locations.

A participant at a November 2013 training in Grand Rapids shared her experience with how using circle with a virtual work group shifted the shape of their experience.

hands shaking through computers

“I work pretty much 100% via phone. Today, I was bringing a group together after a few weeks unconnected during the holidays. Wondering how to loop everyone back into the groove, I recalled  one of the things we learned at AoH in Grand Rapids, about how a “circle” acts as a form of check in and grounding.  I explained briefly what we did at our AoH workshop with the circle and a structure. I asked them, if we actually had a physical circle, what structure would they place in it and what about it would they like to share.

“Wow!  It was amazing how their “structure” actually related to the previously stated goals of the group and their own stated goals.  This set the course for the rest of the meeting. What could easily have been a painful meeting listening to how busy everyone has been, blah, blah, blah – turned into an awesome meeting. Picking their “structure” back up set action in place for our next meeting too.

“Just wanted to let you know this stuff actually works – if we use it;)”

Love that last line – this stuff actually works – if we use it! Where is your entry point? How do you invite people so they feel invited, thoughtful about it and engaged?

WISE Women Using the Chaordic Stepping Stones

We love to invite the stories of how people use what they learn after attending an Art of Hosting gathering.  It sometimes seems daunting to bring new patterns and practices alive at work, in community or at home.  And sometimes it is hard to recognize yourself in some of the stories shared by the hosting team during the gathering, especially the larger, more high profile or long term stories.  So sharing where participants are stepping into practice in large and small ways helps illuminate many different entry points into shifting the shape of teams, organizations, communities and ways of being in the world – including in the first practice of the four fold practice of hosting self. This is the first such sharing of how Art of Hosting works for new and seasoned practitioners.  Perhaps you will see yourself or your starting point through these stories.

A team from the WISE Women organization in Newfoundland attended an Art of Hosting training in Fredericton in January of 2013.  They wanted to understand how to better support some of their clients in community engagement.  When asked a couple of months later how they were incorporating what they learned, this is what they shared.

“We definitely are using the practices and methods of the Chaordic Stepping Stones for our strategic planning sessions for the WISE/WEC Custer Project on Bell Island.   Currently working on the ‘Limiting Beliefs’.   Of course the awareness is helpful and making some of the beliefs conscious and shared has been bonding.”

Chaordic Path

She further shared, “Personally, I am using the World Café format for an upcoming ‘RED HAT Society’ Event I am hosting for 100 seniors in the community.  This format is working wonderfully for sharing of health related issues and information.”  – Linda Hickey

 

Navigating Decision Making Dilemmas

The increasing complexity of our environments – at work, in community and at home, time crunches and decision making pressures often leave us wanting for good decision making processes – especially when pressed for immediate action and results.  Key decisions taken by one individual – even one expected to make a decision – often fall short because one person does not always have the full picture or the decision meets resistance because people impacted were not involved in the decision making process. Collective decision making often misses the mark if dissension, debate or strong personalities dominate the process (meaning some people just give up or give in) and when it seems to take too much time we hit the panic button and believe any decision will do.  Yet how often are decisions revisited because not enough time was invested in the exploration of options or in creating the generative conditions for conversations that lead to eliciting the collective wisdom and intelligence inherent in any group? Or because leadership under the pressure of chaos or uncertainty turned into the heavier hand of trying to manage the situation?

There are some simple patterns and practices available through the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter that offer us windows into understanding the human dynamics alive in any group and particularly groups or teams seeking direction or guidance through decision making.

In May 2014, Shape Shift Strategies will be offering a one day workshop in Moncton (May 8) and in Charlottetown (May 15) to explore effective decision making practices.  The emphasis will be on the human dynamic conditions that lead more often to generative conversations and wiser decision making.  We will dive more deeply into the practical application of worldview, powerful questions and divergence/convergence in ways that support collective decision making in teams, organizations, communities and maybe even families.

WorldView hand drawn

Divergence-Convergence Diagram_000001

Information and registration details for both Moncton and Charlottetown are available through Eventbrite. Join us if you can.  Ask how you can bring this one day workshop to your team or organization.

The Importance of Resilience and How to Cultivate It – 10 Principles Overview

resilience

A favourite keynote of mine (and larger body of work too) is on resilience – why it’s important and how to cultivate greater resiliency. When I went looking for a formula or guide for resilience, I didn’t find any that spoke to me about my experience and the experience of my clients with resilience. Inquiring into what I was learning about resilience through my own experiences of shifting the shape of my life and through that of my resilient clients shifting the shape of their culture, team or organization, generated a definition and 10 lovely principles of resilience.

Resilience is the ability to find the inner strength to bounce back from a set back or challenge, to recover quickly from illness, change or misfortune and it is your sense of knowing that you have the resources and abilities to handle anything that comes your way. For many of us, this does not come easy. It comes with having survived and navigated many different curves in the road – some when we imagined we must have been through enough already.

Ten principles for cultivating resilience are listed below and each of these will become a little post on its own that you can look for over the next few weeks.

Principles of resilience:

1. Inquire into what works, especially what works for you – since we all have good stories about when we have rebounded or recovered from a set back. When you know what has worked for you and why, it helps you generate more and more of what works – principles from Appreciative Inquiry.

2. Notice your self talk – don’t believe everything you think. Your mind is a powerful tool and it often seems to have a mind of its own. Not really. You can program it. You can wrest back control and use it for your advantage rather than be at the whimsy of unintentional thoughts or stories.

3. Networks of support. We all have people who are our champions and biggest fans, who will catch us when we fall. Of course, you have to let them and that often means you also have to let them in.  Those walls you’ve created are meant to keep others out but what they really do is keep you in or insulated and, in the long run, that doesn’t work.

4. Be present. Lao Tzu offers this: if you are depressed you are living in the past; if you are anxious you are living in the future; if you are at peace, you are living in the present. It takes some conscious effort to keep yourself present in the moment and too often we allow ourselves, our minds, to wander to the past or the future. You will know where you let your mind go by how you feel.

5. Lean in – be aware of and still the voice of your inner judge. Running away from any problem only increases the distance from the solution. The easiest way to escape from a problem is to solve it.  Counter intuitive perhaps but true.

Jim Morrison - into fear

6. The Miracle of Story. You are always, always expressing yourself in story in one way or another. Usually you – most of us – are unintentional about how you do that. I love Charles Eisenstein’s reflection on story and miracles: “We have to create miracles. A miracle is not the intersession of an external divine agency in violation of the laws of physics. A miracle is simply something that is impossible from an old story but possible from within a new one. It is an expansion of what is possible.”

Not how the story will end

7. Intention. Develop clarity of intention, then let go of attachment to it. Hold it with lightness and see what shows up. Know it is an iterative process – you don’t just do this just once. Sorry. Or not. Depending on what’s showing up in the iterative process for you.

8. Act. Take steps. Look for openings, invitations and ease and also examine your limiting beliefs.

9. Life Throws Curve Balls. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out. Everything is running smoothly and life begs to differ. As you welcome it all in, you sit with it in a different way. A more accepting way. Then those curve balls lose their power to completely throw you off course.

Soul knows how to heal

10. Nourish Yourself. In the Art of Hosting world, we often call this hosting self – the first of the four fold practices. Embrace it all.

Body-mind-spirit healing

Worldview, Practice and Action – Taking Whole – Guest Blogger Jerry Nagel

Authored by Jerry Nagel (originally published at Growing Hosting Artistry on January 12, 2014)

 In Art of Hosting trainings, several of my colleagues and I have been offering a short teaching on worldviews and the importance for each of us to understand what our own worldview is. I often link it to elements in the Art of Hosting workbooks that I feel are an expression of an AoH worldview such as seeing the world as a complex living system and not a machine.

The simple teaching has two components – an explanation of worldview impact using the Ladder of Inference from systems thinking and an explanation of worldviews in The Rules of Victory: How to Transform Chaos and Conflict – Strategies from the “Art of War”. (Gimian & Boyce, 2008) The text known as the Sun Tzu and more popularly as The Art of War offers a framework for action that contains three components – View, Practice and Action. Central to view is the idea that the world is an interconnected whole. Seeing the world this way informs one’s Actions in the world and the Practices used to manifest (act) the View of interconnectedness. In the Sun Tzu this idea is referred to as ‘taking whole’.

The diagrams below show how our worldviews impact the actions we take in the world and, that as we act in the world, our worldviews are impacted and potentially changed; that patterns and practices like those offered by the Art of Hosting are the tools or methods we use to bring our worldviews to action; and that as we act in the world what we learn impacts the methods we choose to manifest our worldview. If the methods we choose to manifest our worldview are not congruent with that worldview, then our actions will not ring true with people. They will see us as not acting in a way that reflects the worldviews we claim to hold. This simple explanation has proved quite thought provoking for AoH participants.

Worldview Influences Action

Our Actions Influence our Worldview

A worldview can also limit us, because it could close us off to new knowledge if we only see the world through our existing knowledge and assumptions. (Jenkins, 1999) Importantly for many of us, our worldview offers us a way to understand the world that gives us “a feeling of being home” and that reassures us that our interpretations of reality are right. (Heibert, 1997)

Ladder of Influence

One tool from systems thinking that helps visualize how easy it is to get trapped in one (world) view and close off the possibility of seeing other perspectives is the Ladder of Inference. The process depicted follows a flow from the bottom of the ladder up to the top. We ‘see’ data in the world and go through a process of sense-making that then informs the actions we take. What the Ladder of Inference shows us is that the beliefs (worldviews) we adopt can influence what data we see. The result is that we begin “seeing only what we want to see.”

If we are in a time in the Western world of co-creating a new narrative of wholeness, then as hosts it becomes important for us to not only clearly know what our worldview is, but to understand that within our own contexts and within other contexts there could be greatly different worldviews. (Shire, 2009) In other words, given the depth of invitation to step into dialogue (discourse) that we are asking of people, we should remember that our worldview could be much different than someone else’s within our community or local cultural context. And, that people we are working with that are from other local contexts may have differing worldviews within that shared construct.

In thinking about our world today it is fair to say that, “The presence of a multitude of alternative worldviews is a defining characteristic of contemporary culture. Ours is, indeed, a multicultural, pluralistic age.” (Naugle, 2002) Thus, as we practice dialogue in our world in order to find ways forward, we must develop the capabilities to work in the multi-varied and rich system of many worldviews. To do so, however, requires skill and practice and the capacity to hold paradoxes or multiple truths all at the same time.

Learning to effectively communicate (host/facilitate) in a different or new cultural milieu is a deep-level process.  It involves connecting at more than an intellectual level with the ‘host’ culture. It involves connecting at a heart and spiritual level. If worldviews are a matter of the heart, then to enter into effective communications within a different or new culture means opening up one’s heart as a host/facilitator to a space/place that connects heart to heart. This involves capacities to be vulnerable, to respect difference, to be curious and to sit in the space of the unknown or unknowing (i.e. nonjudgment), and to be self reflexive regarding one’s own thoughts, reactions, and carried in thinking about another culture. It also involves recognizing the limiting role our language can play when hosting, which will help each of us as hosts to hold our own and invite others to hold their opinions about another’s worldview much more lightly. This is a core part of the artistry of hosting.

References

Hiebert, P. (1997) Conversion and Worldview Transformation. International Journal of Frontier Missions. 14(2)

Jenkins, O.B. (1999) Worldview Perspectiveshttp://orvillejenkins.com

Shire, J. (2009) The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity Press.

Naugle, D. (2002) Worldview: The History of the Concept. Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Understanding Worldview and How It Impacts Us As Hosts – guest blogger Jerry Nagel

authored by Jerry Nagel (originally published at Growing Hosting Artistry on January 6, 2014)

Each of us has a worldview and a personal story about how we perceive reality. Our worldview combines the cultural and personal beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, values, and ideas we hold to form maps or models of reality. Our worldviews come from our collective experiences in society – from our parents and friends, the books we read and movies we watch, the music we listen to, our schools and churches. We then interpret these experiences into an individual worldview.  (Jenkins, 2006; Schlitz et al, 2011)

World view eye

In practice, we use our worldviews, without necessarily being conscious of it, to construct complex conceptual frameworks in order to organize our beliefs about who we are and about the world we live in. (Schlitz et al, 2011) These maps or models help us explain how we view the world and why we act as we do in it.

Our experiences within the contexts we live in, be they religious, geographic, or cultural, all contribute to how we interpret reality.  Often this vision of reality is not fully articulated in our conscious awareness. In fact it could be so deeply internalized that we don’t question where it comes from. As practitioners and hosts of the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter this is an invitation into personal inquiry.  Understanding our own worldview grows our capacity to host others better.  Especially because our worldviews influence every aspect of our lives – what we think about, how we act, what assumptions we make about others, what motivates us, what we consider to be the good, the moral and the true. It gives coherence to our lives. It is the channel through which we interpret reality as we see it.

Worldviews are an individual phenomenon and a group phenomenon. (Jenkins, 2006) Everything we hold to be true is found in community. A community is not just a geographic or placed-based clustering of people living together as a village, town, city or nation. A community can also be a discipline in science, a faith community, a community of practitioners of a type of music, art or sport or a community of practitioners of the Art of Hosting; and these communities are part of a world of “multiple simultaneously existing local realities” (Hosking, 2011). These local constructs or realities are primarily constructed through language based processes such as the written word, art, music, dance, speaking, symbols, sign, etc. (Hosking, 2011). Thus, it is through ‘language’ that we represent our worldviews and it might be through language that we will begin to understand another’s worldview.

Worldviews are not necessarily or always fixed. Individual and community/cultural worldviews often shift or change. These changes can be quite small and hardly noticed at first, but eventually have a transformative impact.

Worldviews can also change quite significantly as evidenced by many changes in the past century resulting from scientific advances (flight, Internet, space travel, atomic energy, etc.). Some shifts can be so transformative (or converting) that people change religions or physical characteristics. So, while worldviews are locally constructed, they can shift based upon changes in local or global constructs as well as individual or collective experiences. On a personal level, these types of changes often manifest in some form of spiritual experience that impacts a person’s view of self in the world (Schlitz, Vieten, & Amorok, 2007).  In effect, we have the ability to change our worldviews with awareness, consciousness and intentionality.

If our worldviews are mainly locally constructed, then we could ask, “What consequences do these local, cultural worldviews have for our ability to work together?” – an inquiry relevant to Growing Hosting Artistry. One answer is that they can create barriers to understanding and finding common ground for working together. Which raises questions of “What to do about it?” and “How can we avoid collisions of worldviews and instead come together in ways that build understanding and respect and allow each of us to hold on to that which is most important?”

The invitation, individually and in our hosting work, is to be in inquiry, to be curious; to be nonjudgmental; to approach hosting from a stance of not knowing; to practice generosity; to value good conversations and recognize that good conversations can lead to wise action; to remember that the practice is the work and to remember that many world views can exist in the same place when we step out of either-or thinking into the welcoming of many different perspectives in the same space and time, celebrating difference rather than insisting on sameness. Growing our hosting artistry on the individual and collective levels creates more invitational space for ourselves and for others to show up in the fullness of who we each and all are.

Jenkins, O.B. (2006) Worldview Perspectiveshttp://orvillejenkins.com

Schlitz, M., Vieten, C., & Amorok, T. (2007) Living Deeply: The Art & Science of Transformation in Everyday Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Schlitz, M., Vieten, C., Miller, E., Homer, K., Peterson, K., & Erickson-Freeman, K. (2011) The Worldview Literacy Project: Exploring New capacities for the 21st Century Student. Institute of Noetic Sciences, Petaluma, California.

Hosking, D. M. (2011) Telling Tales of Relations: Appreciating Relational Constructionism, Utrecht School of Governance, Utrecht, Netherlands.

Blinded by White Privilege

“We need an advisory committee to advise the steering committee on how to involve the communities that are not here.”

 “We just need to empower…”

 “We could provide mentors or buddies for people so they don’t feel uncomfortable coming into the room.”

 “Maybe we need someone to come and help us get comfortable with having the conversations.”

All seemingly innocuous comments that are meant to be helpful in addressing a lack of diversity in a room full of forty or so almost all white, highly educated, corporate like people for a conversation about the next steps of a voluntary organization whose mission is dedicated to creating an inclusive society.  Innocuous because, as white people, we do not even know what we are saying.  We are saying, “How do we make it possible or more comfortable for others – the other – to come into our world?”  (And it was a diversity discussion that also included seniors, disabled and very young people as well as people of colour.)

There is no consideration or thought that maybe others don’t want to come into our world or that there are other worlds and world views that exist that maybe we should be more curious about. That we should meet at some point other than in our own world view.  That the invitation to “come and join us and we’ll figure out ways to make it easier for you” might not be all that inviting.

It is the difference between being in your own home and being a cautious guest in the home of another.  Sometimes as guests, we are on our best behaviour. We try to fit into the context of the environment we are in but maybe we never fully relax, never really feel invited to show up fully.  It might even look like we are fitting in but when we go back to our own home, our own environment, we are finally able to relax, knowing someone is not going to judge us or patronize us because of assumptions they are carrying they cannot even see – even when it might be right in front of them in full living colour.  Cannot see because white privilege is blinding.  It blinds us to the things we take for granted without knowing we take them for granted.  In 1988, Peggy Wellesley wrote a thoughtful and eye opening piece on White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.  Twenty-five years later what she writes is just as relevant and real as it was then.

I never have to wonder if I will be followed by store staff or security guards when I go shopping.  I never have to worry about being arrested at night while locking up my place of employment (and certainly not more than once), keys in hand, police parked in the parking lot. I will never be mistaken for the janitor as I move furniture prior to an Art of Hosting training to get the room ready.  But these things have all happened to friends of mine whose skin is not white.

And it is simple but powerful things that often get overlooked, partly because we are not even aware and partly because we don’t understand how important these things are.  Language is one of those things.  I am paying attention to the language and invitation in a way I never did before and it is taking me on a deep journey.  The opening sentences of this post are a beautiful example of how I am listening with new ears and hearing through the lenses of some of my friends who keep challenging, in loving, gentle but fierce ways, my world view.

Carolann and new friends

Ursula Hillbrand, Dave Ellis, Renee Hayne, Carolann Wright-Parks and Barbara (Bob-e) Epps-Simpson – a few of these people (Dave, Carolann and Bob-e in particular) have been instrumental in helping me expand my world view.

Pictures are another thing.  When I asked my good friend Carolann Wright-Parks, with whom I have had the privilege of co-hosting with in service of the African Nova Scotian Faciltiators Guild, if she knew of any African New Brunswickers who might be interested in attending the Art of Hosting training there this past November, she said to me, “Kathy, I looked at that invitation but I didn’t see myself there.”  She wasn’t meaning herself – she was meaning there were no people of colour in the pictures.  The pictures were from the previous AoH training in New Brunswick.  There were no people of colour at that training.

World Cafe with Diversity

Now I have pictures I use of my friends that illuminate the greater diversity that is showing up.

Not too long ago, in my own naivety, I would have shaken my head, wondering why it mattered.  Wondering why we were not attracting people of colour into our trainings.  Wondering why, even though we keep trying to invite it, we cannot achieve greater diversity.  But now I know why it matters.  It matters because I don’t see it when I look at pictures. Blinded by the white, I do not even realize I identify with the people in the pictures.  I am already there.  Many of my friends haven’t been able to identify with the people in the pictures in the same way.  I am much more aware now of the pictures I use in invitations.

In Minnesota, there are a few good friends in an exploratory conversation – Dave Ellis, Barbara (Bob-e) Simpson-Epps, LeMoine LaPointe, Nancy Bordeaux, Jerry Nagel and myself about what it takes to generate transformative conversations on power, privilege, race and racism – because the ones we’ve been in aren’t yet creating the kind of shift we believe could be possible.  The language of social justice, restorative justice and racial justice has only taken us so far.  What is the language that is needed to take us – all of us – to a different conversation, to a different reflection, to a different perspective, where equality is based on diversity, not on sameness?  What is the language that is a door opener and invitation to shifting the shape of the conversation as we’ve known it?  We don’t know it yet.  We don’t presume to know it.  We know it is needed and we feel now is a time of greater receptivity.  We are excited and hopeful to be in the exploration.  Just like we are in the exploration of Growing Hosting Artistry at the end of January 2014 in Minnesota where we will explore world view, creating safe containers, working with shadow and a few other themes that seem central to growing our depth and capacity as hosts.

Now when I am in a meeting like the one I described above, I find myself stirred up and agitated, sometimes even outraged whereas I know a couple of years ago I would not have seen it.  I would only have seen how progressive the people and the thinking are – which is also true.  And that makes me curious. More and more I am aware of bringing expanded listening and awareness and a willingness to speak up from gained experience and exposure to questions and friends who will not let me rest in naivety or white blindness. And I am grateful to my friends for their boldness, courage and willingness to be in the openness of challenging our limiting beliefs so we can host ourselves into what will hopefully be the transformative space, individually and collectively, that will show us the way into the transformative conversations we are yearning for.

Sit by the River or Engage?

“If you sit by the river long enough you can watch the bodies of your enemies float by.”  - The Art of War

This is an expression offered often by my good friend and colleague Jerry Nagel, particularly when conflict surfaces, and it comes from The Art of War. It is a provocative and intriguing statement and I have been viewing it as invitation.  An invitation to pause.  An invitation to host self. An invitation to sense whether to engage a conversation or situation with someone else or let it be.

Mississipi river

Not every conversation is worthy of engaging.  Not every conversation will produce results or take you to a clearer place. Not every conversation will do what you think or hope you want it to do. Coming from an Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter perspective, you might wonder if that is almost a sacrilegious thing to say; but perhaps part of the discernment is in whether ultimately the conversation will matter – and to whom?

To truly invite a conversation that might be powerful, it is helpful to discern your own desire and motivation in wanting the conversation.  This is part of the inquiry in the pause, in hosting self.  What is the reason for the conversation? Are you really wanting a conversation or do you just want to make your point or download on the other person and not care about or hear their point of view?

This is where a second bit of advice is useful:  “Feedback should be given from the part of you that wants to grow and learn to the part of them that wants to grow and learn.”  I’m not sure where it is from but I heard it in an Open Space session that Juanita Brown initiated on World Café at the Art of Hosting Stewards Gathering in October 2013 in Minnesota.  It gave me pause and invited me to reflect about some situations requiring my discernment – whether to invite a conversation or not – or a few.

When you ask yourself if you want to give feedback from the part of you that wants to learn and grow, it becomes pretty clear.  If you are willing to be in conversation, if you can do it without attachment to how the other person takes it in, you might be ready to invite the conversation.  If you are only wanting to download and don’t want to hear the other person’s perspective then it might not be wise to engage the conversation – because it is not a conversation you are wanting, only an opportunity to express yourself, your frustration or your hurt.  An opportunity to blame someone or point out where they are not hosting themselves – from your perspective of course – because how do you know they are not hosting themselves in whatever way they relate to that practice of presence?  It is your assumption, your lens, your perspective, your judgment and it might not be true. And, in all likelihood, it is not true in their experience of themselves – as hard you might find that to believe.

And it also quite likely the other person’s actions have nothing to do with you and more to do with them, what they need, what they hope for.  You just happen to seem to be in the way.  Sitting by the river will help you discern that.  If it has nothing to do with you, and the other person is either intentionally or unintentionally trying to cause harm, eventually it will catch up to them and they will, metaphorically of course, float down the river. We see or feel lack of alignment in others, even when it is not clear, even when we cannot put a name to things.  Simply waiting may reveal far more than engaging – in some situations, since we are our own worst enemies and motivation and intention eventually reveal themselves.

Sometimes when you are being challenged it has nothing to do with you. By hosting yourself you might be able to sort that out.  If you engage something in a defensive or challenging way you are more likely to fuel the situation than turn it into a powerful conversation. And you can ask yourself questions like: What is the point of engaging?  Will it be a learning field?  Is there an ongoing relationship that needs to be tended to? Can it be left alone?

When you do engage, engage the conversation, not the person. Invite the conversation with as much clarity as you can and bring the level of fierceness to it that will make it powerful.   Sometimes that is a light touch and sometimes it is very fierce and it can be more fierce when it comes from a place of clarity and compassion.

And sometimes the conversations “just” happen on their own – ready or not. Right timing. Right moment. Right circumstance. And if you’ve been in an exploration of your own motivations, intent and clarity, you will be ready, even if you don’t feel ready. And it is always a choice – even in the times you might feel it is not. Sit by the river or engage?