April and May Gatherings

Normally, I love to travel, but last year tested that love. I was out of town almost twice a month for work. It was exhilarating, exhausting, and ultimately, too much. I resolved not to travel for the first four months of 2007. It’s now April 2007, and I’ve successfully fulfilled my resolution (depending on how you count), wonderfully refreshed and ready to travel again.    (M5D)

As I noted earlier, I’ll be in Baltimore next week for Creating Space VIII, the Leadership Learning Community‘s (LLC) annual gathering. The theme is Collective Leadership. They’ve already got record attendance, and I believe registrations are still open, so if you’re in the area and want to attend, I encourage you to register. I joined LLC’s board late last year, participated in some of their gatherings, and was blown away by what I saw. Can you tell I’m excited?    (M5E)

Next month, May 2-3, I’m co-chairing the Compendium Institute‘s 2007 workshop at the NASA Ames Conference Center in Mountain View, California. It’s going to be awesome — highly practitioner-oriented, with lots of close interaction with some of the most experienced folks in our community. If you’re already a Compendium user, or if you’re interested in learning more, I strongly encourage you to register and attend.    (M5F)

May 14-16 is Internet Identity Workshop 2007a, once again at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. There will be some major Identity Commons announcements there, as well as cool demonstrations of the latest advancements in interoperable Digital Identity systems. If you’re at all interested in the identity space, I strongly urge you to register.    (M7H)

I get a day to recover, then it’s off to Montreal May 18-20 for RoCoCo (RecentChangesCamp Montreal), hanging out with my fellow Wiki compatriots and other community builders. I’ll be releasing a vision paper on Wiki interoperability that same week. I’ve had tremendous fun researching and writing it, and I can’t wait to hear my community’s reaction to it.    (M5G)

Finally, I just joined the advisory board of Tiffany Von Emmel‘s Dream Fish. They’ll be holding a workshop on Leadership for Sustainability on May 30 in San Francisco. It will feature four outstanding teachers, including Alexander Laszlo and Kathia Laszlo, two of the smartest and most decent people I’ve ever met. Register before the end of this month for a discount.    (M5H)

Otto Scharmer’s Theory U

Last July, I spent a few days in Staunton, Virginia co-leading a strategic gathering with Kellee Sikes for the Imergence project. I had been burning the midnight oil in the days leading up to gathering, meeting with potential partners and funders during the day, and working on my other projects late into the evening. When we arrived in Staunton in the early evening, I was already exhausted, but we had dinner scheduled with the participants, and I couldn’t resist having a few beers and spending some quality time with the rest of the gang.    (M4L)

People didn’t start dispersing until 11pm, and Kellee and I still needed to finalize details on the next day’s design. I was in a weird zone — physically and mentally exhausted, but also on an alcohol-and-adrenaline-induced high resulting from both the social stimulation of the night’s activities and anticipation for the next day’s events. When I go through these phases, my guard goes down, and I am simultaneously at my most generative and receptive. I also get very punchy.    (M4M)

While Kellee and I worked, Mark Szpakowski came downstairs and started listening in on our conversations. Typically, when I design a workshop, I hide the agenda from participants. However, this was not a typical situation. Mark was one of the creators of the legendary Community Memory Project in the 1970s, someone whom I had interacted with off-and-on over email for several years, and someone I was anxious to learn from. Besides, anyone who’s willing to listen to me babble after midnight deserves to participate in the conversation.    (M4N)

I started explaining to Mark what Kellee and I were grappling with, which led to an ad-hoc discourse on the underlying philosophy behind designing emergent face-to-face events. Mark listened thoughtfully, then observed that some of the things I was saying reminded him of Otto Scharmer. I had not heard of Scharmer before, so Mark drew a big “U” on a pad of paper and started describing Scharmer’s Theory U. I was fascinated and made a mental note to follow up on his work. I later blogged this wonderful Scharmer quote, which Mark sent me later:    (M4O)

The essence of leading profound change is about shifting the inner place from which a system operates: the source and structure of the social field — that is, the source from which our actions come into being.  T    (M4P)

Of course, I never got around to reading anything by Scharmer until he unexpectedly popped back into my life today. Next week, I’m flying to Baltimore to participate in the Leadership Learning Community‘s Creating Space VIII conference. I’ll be on a panel with Allison Fine and moderated by Elissa Perry. In preparation, Elissa sent us links to several background papers on Collective Leadership.    (M4Q)

To my surprise, one of the links was to an excerpt from Scharmer’s latest book, Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges, The Social Technology of Presencing. It was absolutely wonderful. My reading list is already too long, but this book has jumped up to the top of my list.    (M4R)

Here’s an excerpt describing the underlying motivation behind Theory U:    (M4S)

Across the board, we collectively create outcomes (and side effects) that nobody wants. And yet, the key decision-makers do not feel capable of redirecting this course of events in any significant way. They feel just as trapped as the rest of us in what often seems to be a race to the bottom. The same problem affects our massive institutional failure: we haven’t learned to mold, bend, and transform our centuries-old collective patterns of thinking, conversing, and institutionalizing to fit the realities of today.    (M4T)

…    (M4U)

The rise of fundamentalist movements in both Western and non-Western countries is a symptom of this disintegration and deeper transformation process. Fundamentalists say: “Look, this modern Western materialism doesn’t work. It takes away our dignity, our livelihood, and our soul. So let’s go back to the old order.”    (M4V)

This reaction is understandable as it relates to two key defining characteristics of today’s social decay that peace researcher Johan Galtung calls anomie, the loss of norms and values, and atomie, the breakdown of social structures. The resulting loss of culture and structure leads to eruptions of violence, hate, terrorism and civil war, along with partly self-inflicted natural catastrophes in both southern and northern hemispheres. It is, as Vaclav Havel put it, as if something is decaying and exhausting itself.    (M4W)

What then is arising from the rubble? How can we cope with these shifts? What I see rising is a new form of presence and power that starts to grow spontaneously from small groups and networks of people. It’s a different quality of connection, a different way of being present with one another that moves us beyond the patterns of the past. When groups learn to operate from a real future possibility that is seeking to emerge, they begin to tap into a different social field that manifests through an altered quality of thinking, conversing, and collective action. When that shift happens, people can connect with a deeper source of creativity and knowing. One they don’t normally experience. They step into their real power, the power of their authentic self. I call this change a shift in the social field because that term designates the totality and type of connections through which the participants of a given system relate, converse, think, and act.    (M4X)

When a group succeeds in operating in this zone once, it is easier to do so a second time. It is as if an unseen, but permanent, communal connection or bond has been created. It even tends to stay on when new members are added to the group.    (M4Y)

The crux of his theory stems from his thoughts on organizational learning:    (M4Z)

Having spent the last ten years of my professional career in the field of organizational learning, my most important insight has been that there are two different sources of learning: learning from the experiences of the past and learning from the future as it emerges. The first type of learning, learning from the past, is well known and well developed. It underlies all our major learning methodologies, best practices and approaches to organizational learning. By contrast, the second type of learning, learning from the future as it emerges, is still by and large unknown.    (M50)

A number of people to whom I proposed the idea of a second source of learning considered it wrongheaded. The only way to learn, they argued, is from the past. “Otto, learning from the future is not possible. Don’t waste your time!” But in working with leadership teams across many sectors and industries, I realized that leaders could not meet their existing challenges by operating only on the basis of past experiences. Sometimes, the experiences of the past aren’t exactly that helpful in dealing with the current issues. Sometimes, you work with teams in which the experiences of the past are actually the biggest problem and obstacle for coming up with a creative response to the challenge at hand.    (M51)

When I started realizing that the most impressive leaders and master practitioners seem to operate from a different core process, one that pulls us into future possibilities, I asked myself: How can we learn to better sense and connect with a future possibility that is seeking to emerge?    (M52)

I began to call this operating from the future as it emerges, presencing. Presencing is a blending of the two words “presence” and “sensing.” It means to sense, tune in and act from one’s highest future potential — the future that depends on us to bring it into being.    (M53)

Beautiful stuff. Can’t wait to read the book.    (M54)

What is Collective Leadership?

One of the reasons I joined the board of the Leadership Learning Community (LLC) is that leadership and collaboration are closely related. But what exactly is the nature of this relationship? That is a question I’ve dutifully ignored for the past four years. Thankfully, the good folks at the LLC have unwittingly encouraged me to get off my lazy butt and think a little bit deeper about this question. Much of our discussion at the Evaluation Learning Circle last month was about Collective Leadership, which is also the theme for the upcoming Creating Space gathering. What the heck is “Collective Leadership“? I’ll try my hand at that one too, but first things first.    (LTZ)

On Leadership    (LU0)

What does it mean to lead? When I think about the word, I envision movement in some direction. It could be shared movement among a group of people, or it could be individual movement (e.g. how you lead your life”). If it’s shared movement towards a bounded goal, then by definition, it’s collaboration.    (LU1)

There are many ways you can create shared movement. You could describe a vision, and encourage people to get there anyway they can. You could start moving in that direction yourself, and hope that others follow your example. Or you could pull people along, kicking and screaming. All of these are forms of leadership.    (LU2)

The word, “leader,” implies the existence of a “follower,” which suggests a power relationship. However, leadership is a role, not a title. Roles can be shared, and they can be reversed, depending on the context. They can be pre-assigned, and they can emerge.    (LU3)

People often assume that collaboration implies shared leadership. This is incorrect. Take dancing. Dancing almost always necessitates a single leader. The only exception I know of is contact improvisation (first explained to me by Brad Neuberg), although I welcome other counterexamples from people who actually know how to dance.    (LU4)

The single leader is a pattern in many fields. In cooking, for example, there is almost always one executive chef. The word “chef” is French for “chief.” In music, there is almost always a single leader. Orchestras have conductors, string quartets have first violinists. Even in jazz ensembles, someone always leads, and everyone else riffs off that person.    (LU5)

In rowing, you have the coxswain, who is responsible for navigating the boat and keeping the rowers in sync. Even though the coxswain does not physically contribute to the movement of the boat, the coxswain always trains with the rest of the rowers. Why? Trust and respect. If the coxswain did not participate in the training, the rest of the crew would not accept him or her as a member of the team, much less the leader.    (LU6)

On Collective Leadership    (LU7)

What about driving? Would you want multiple people driving a car at the same time? I sure as heck wouldn’t.    (LU8)

Is the driver a leader? To the extent that he or she is moving the passengers in some shared direction, absolutely. But the driver is not necessarily the only person determining where to go. Who decided on the destination? Who is telling the driver how to get there?    (LU9)

All of these roles are legitimate leadership roles, and some of these could very well be shared among multiple people. Are they better when shared? That depends.    (LUA)

There are two factors that help us think through this question. The first is the boundedness of the goal. When you must achieve your goal very quickly, you don’t necessarily have time to gain consensus on an issue. In these situations, having a single leader can be more efficient.    (LUB)

The second factor is the wickedness of the problem. When Jeff Conklin describes Wicked Problems, he often shows people this chart:    (LUC)

https://i1.wp.com/www.cognexus.org/4660c8d0.gif?w=700    (LUD)

In the collaborative design process, there are people who ponder the problem first, and there are people who immediately dive into the solution. Neither is wrong. In fact, when problems are so complex (wicked), you don’t even know what the exact problem is, then you need to attack the problem both ways. Our traditional notion of efficiency is no longer an option. Because we need to attack these kinds of problems in multiple ways, there are multiple opportunities for leadership. More importantly, there must be a shared vision for the end state, even if the path for reaching that end state is not universally shared.    (LUE)

For more thoughts on Collective Leadership, see my post, “Dumbells and Collective Intelligence.”    (LUF)