More on Possibility

seedlingHow do we make change happen?  Pathways to Possibility, a book by Rosamund Stone Zander, a family systems therapist and the wife of noted orchestral conductor Ben Zander, has some important reminders.  Transformation, in her view, involves systems or fields rather than CEOs or heroes. But behavior matters.

She focuses on being rather than doing.  While we try to do the right thing, no one has the full picture. Einstein noted that “As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness around it”.  How we act relates to our past experience. Zander describes us as walking stories.

We are affected by what happens to us as children and the strong positive or negative feelings these events evoke.  Both become internalized and part of how we cope.  We bring them into the relationships in our lives, Families and organizations of all sizes become a network of tangled pasts.  We sometimes compare organizations to families and use words like warmth, caring, loyalty and belonging.  But hidden in the family metaphor, says Zander, are control, hierarchy, competition, neglect, coercion and smothering.  Groups of any size may be a living collection of child stories.

As we mature, we may discover on our own that the stories are not valid or universal and no longer apply. Sometimes it takes therapy or life changing events to bring them to the surface.  Zander suggests two strategies to overcome the hurtful experiences – to recognize them as memories located in the past or look at them as stages in our personal development. We don’t have to be stuck in them and entrap others in the process.  We can tell our stories and move on.  She says:

We reconcile by facts and words, we restore through how we relate and how we grow; we inspire through what we build and the art we make; and we cure ourselves by how we care for others and what we give away. In these ways, we bring our hearts into collective resonance and that is where our power lies.

Having dealt with individuals, Zander moves on to larger groupings and the ways we try to change people.  Her list includes management, patience, do as I say, exclusion loving manipulation, bribery and ultimatums.  As a parent and grandparent, I’ve used all of them consciously, if not wisely. It might be less obvious how all of us use them to organizations – but we do.  At a recent meeting, I watched people offer suggestions of what we might do to fix people we thought were less effective in defined roles.  But we excluded ourselves from the picture.

Zander’s insight is no surprise.  If we wish to shift change in an organization, it has to start with ourselves. She calls the process walking into a new story.  It is our being – not our doing – that will make the difference.

Offering good advice is out.  What we need to look for in others is what she terms the infinite self – we know this possibility in ourselves and our task is to see it in someone else.  rather than just look through the lens of our own story.  The task is to see possibility. The result is more likely to be collaboration.

Disruption and Governance

Former Clerk of the Privy Council of the Government of Canada has written an interesting article published today in The Globe and Mail on the effect that the speed of technological change has on governance.  He focuses on government, but the changes and his recommendations have application to other enterprises of all sizes as well.

Technological Change Necessary Governance Responses
Speed up of pace of change Move from hindsight to foresight
Scope of change: vast and shifting Structures need flexibility
Disruptive change involves risk taking Become more innovative and tolerant of risk
Innovation crosses borders Crowd source public insights
Platform-based technologies with non-linear scalability and low marginal costs Think long term and anticipate the effects of the changes
Changes evolve through trial and error Look ahead to both benefits and costs to the wider society
Creation of virtual communities of interest with unfiltered commentary Use social media well;

When technologies disrupt and cause social problems, distrust of institutions follows.  Not only do we need to grow through innovation, Page says, but we must respond with new policies to meet the present and coming disruption.

Circles

I attended two meetings on the same day last week – one in the morning and another in the early evening.  There were some common participants – though most were not.  I was struck by how the space and configuration of both gatherings differed and affected how things went.  The key issue was how the space was used.

The first meeting is a regular gathering that assembles around a round table.  There are now so many attendees that we have to move back from the table in order to let everyone in and the circular table functions only as a place to hold coffee cups and refreshments. The meeting has a chair and a common discussion agenda known in advance. Participants can see one another well. The leader starts informally with a question and invites responses.  These are varied and certainly not unanimous, but what marks them is intelligent  speaking and deep listening.  We retain our own points of view but grow by learning from others.  There is high trust developed over years of regular meeting – but it is also possible to invite new members without appearing to be a closed shop.  In fact a newcomer joined us this week, participated, and remarked at the end, “I’ve been looking for a group like this for some time.”

The second meeting was in an a room resembling a rectangular parlor – filled with random furnishings – some sofas and wing chairs and a few dining chairs.  The meeting chair was at one end of the room. There was a small topic list on a display board.  Participants could not see each other well though hearing was not a problem. The dynamic was quite different, partly because it was a newer group, but also because the shape didn’t support the common purpose of moving forward and collaborating.  The shape of the room also didn’t allow participants to see others’ faces.

Others who attend  might have different observations than mine.  But circles go way back in how people gather.  First nations people meet in sacred circles and use symbols like a talking stick to signify respect for and attention to the speaker.  I’ve sat at many rectangular meeting tables through the years as well as being in many classrooms.  What these room shapes share is a different dynamic in the relationship between the leader and the participants. One year on the first day of teaching, I asked the back row of the high school class (all boys, naturally) to come up and take the front row while everyone else was to move one place back.  I then said – “Just, kidding, – but I’ve got your number”.  Similarly even on a small board, the not-so-loyal opposition sat as far away from the chair as possible and made her life difficult in every meeting by opposing pretty much everything  even when the all had a common purpose.

Space and setting matter.  Both are worth consideration before you convene your next meeting.  As a colleague observed recently,  when people say that meetings are a waste of time, they really mean Bad Meetings.

Possibility revisited

When I started this blog – which followed one created many years earlier – the tagline was suggested by a book by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander – entitled The Art of Possibility.  I first met Ben Zander on a TedTalk, where he introduced a bunch of techies to classical music.  The Talk has still maintained one of the highest ratings ever – over two million views. Their earlier book showed how both he and his wife have inspired many to bring out the best possibilities latent within themselves.

The new book, Pathways to Possibility, is even more explicit. Written by Rosamund Stone Zander, a family systems therapist, it resonates with another of my favorites in the field – Ed Friedman.  She unpacks the reality that most of our negative aspects arises from our own experiences as children, and unless we recognize and re-frame such experiences, they play into everything that we do as adults.  We can either recast them as memories – things in our past that no longer have control over us – or see them as part of our continuing story and growing maturity.  Her message is simple but profound.  I have seen this in action when another practitioner in the field helped a woman re-write a negative story and it changed her whole attitude in an instant.

Reading this book – and watching Ben Zander coach his music students on YouTube are excellent lessons for anyone who wants to initiate change – as another wise colleague has said – we have to be the change that we want to see happen.  Try these!

PPT and Zerox

Remember when photocopying was referred to as Zeroxing – because of my advanced years, I can even remember when photocopying machines entered schools – and suddenly we were freed from the dreaded purple Ditto copies which faded almost as soon as they were run.  The new copiers were so popular that every classroom teacher was reproducing documents at such a fast pace we were all put on a paper diet.  The name of the first photocopying machine became a verb or the process – in the same way that Kleenex now means paper tissue – and everyone knows how to ask for one from toddlerhood.

So it’s interesting that one – but only one Microsoft software program – has reached the same iconic status.  I’ve just received an invitation to a meeting where I am told there will be a PowerPoint presentation.  That is more than enough to keep me away – but do you notice that a presentation still must be preceded by PowerPoint.  At the same meeting there may be some documents or spreadsheets distributed but they don’t need the imprimatur of Word or Excel as prefixes to give them credence.  There is still some reverence for PPT in spite of the fact that it nearly always displays a canned document – not an engaging screen.  So even if you like the software – which I actually do – for heaven sake start with a blank page, an image and a maximum of about six words. Otherwise Death by PowerPoint will still hold sway.

 

 

LENGTHS TO GO TO

I’m probably violating the rules above, but this is worth thinking about when you are writing.  Hats off to Kevan Lee for providing it.

 

 

FIVE FUNERALS

That’s how many I have already attended – so far – in 2017.  It’s characteristic of my time of life when friends or their spouses pass away.  All these so far have been males. In some cases, I knew the wives better as classmates or volunteer colleagues. In my own family, it has meant a lot when people turn up for a visitation or a funeral so I try to return the kindness.

Of course for most,  funerals are passé these days.  Instead people gather at the golf club or a bar, have a few rounds of drinks and share memories and stories.  There is validity in this – but I wonder if that marking of a death glves the kind of closure that a traditional funeral does –  with its words of comfort, words of inspiration for those left behind, challenges to carry forward the best qualities of the beloved people we have lost.

The most recent funeral yesterday was the most inspiring of the five. The setting was a cathedral dating back to 1833.  People were lining up to get in an hour and a half before the service started and they were smart to do so because every seat was taken.  Among the guests of honour were a former governor General of Canada, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and its Premier.  There were dignitaries from other denominations, an endless procession of robed bishops and clergy. And what they all had in common was love for a man named Terence Finlay – but who always said on meeting anyone new, “Just call me Terry”.  In his life of nearly 80 years he had many titles – husband, father, grandfather, uncle, aunt, Anglican priest, parish rector, Bishop, Archbishop – and after retirement,  interim priest while parishes looked for a new one, chaplain to other bishops, and a member of a commission designed to heal the hurts and injustices of one of the most worst violations of his Anglican church – the role in its residential schools.

Terry was working up to Christmas of 2016 and told everyone that being back in parishes was something he loved.  I saw him in early January when he was giving a final blessing at the first funeral I attended in the year.  Soon after came the news of a serious diagnosis – and messages of decline, but always coupled with “He’s still cheerful”.  The timing of his death, while expected still came as a surprise.

We were told he had planned his own funeral.  At the visitation the night before, his widow told me, “It won’t be like anything that you are used to.”  She was right.  The long entry procession took place to the sound of a drum and a smudging ceremony with the singing of a mournful loud chant sung by a woman with a stunning voice.  Before that we had heard a jazz pianist play “It’s a Wonderful World”.  While the funeral liturgy followed a traditional pattern, the choices of hymns and readings were Terry’s own favorites – all inspiring and positive.  It was poignant to hear something that contrary to the prediction was totally familiar – arrangements by a musician who was a dear friend and whose funeral was number three in my 2017 attendance – among those arrangements, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelluia. We all joined in its chorus as the long procession departed.

Terry had time for everyone.  One woman summed it well when she simply said – “He was so kind and he always had time for everybody”. At one time he visited a social centre dealing with sex workers.  One of the ladies loved his purple ecclesiastical shirt and wanted one just like it.  He named the store and said, Just tell them Terry sent you”.  He was funny,  remarkably humble and not afraid to admit his mistakes and say how sorry he was.

When he asked the Primate (Senior Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada) to preach the homily several weeks before, he said, “Everything is all arranged.  It will be lovely and I won’t have to do anything but just lie there and enjoy it.”

He did – and we did too. A fitting end to a long life well lived.  Rest in peace.