When Irene experienced Pro-Action Café as part of YALI program in the United States, she sensed immediately that it would be a useful, accessible and scalable tool for social entrepreneurs at home. Within days of returning to Harare, Zimbabwe, she launched a three-country Social Entrepreneur training program for young entrepreneurs in collaboration with the US State Department and local embassies. She also began a search for a trainer who could help African entrepreneurs use Art of Hosting practices in their work and this is how we began.
Our final training design was prototyped in Zimbabwe, tweaked slightly and perfected in Zambia and Namibia. The entrepreneurs learned Art of Hosting theory (Theory U and Systems of Influence), methodologies (Circle, World Café and Pro-Action Café) and practices (listening to understand and harvesting conversations).
At the end of each two-day session, the entrepreneurs expressed similar impact across all three countries:
- The powerful difference between listening to understand vs. to debate
- The necessity in innovation of harvesting emergent thinking and collective wisdom (vs. depending on what is already proven and known)
- Ideas for how they will use the methodologies immediately in their work (to engage stakeholder and cross discipline wisdom in ideation and design)
- The importance of building the local/regional entrepreneurship field (Systems of Influence) in order for their individual projects to advance
For example, the Namibian entrepreneurs formed a policy group following the training to pursue a new business filing that would allow social enterprises to compete in the business market without relying on traditional donor funding.
I look forward to following the more than sixty entrepreneurs who brought their questions and passion to the training and the impact that they will have on their communities and home countries.
Tuesday Ryan-Hart (live) and Tim Merry (via Skype) joined Allen Frimpong, Nancy Fritsche Eagan and me at the Center for Social Innovation on a November 20 & 21 in NYC for Creating Impact through Engagement: a deep dive into effective participatory practices for stakeholder engagement featuring inspirational, real world examples.
Tuesday brought us the story of Columbus Ohio’s city officials, business community and service providers deciding to work together to ensure that no citizen spends the night un-domiciled in their city and taking action to make it real.
Among many gems that emerged from this story, the photo above illustrates one that caught my attention. Tuesday described how her practice of inviting grace creates an environment were difficult conversations can become meaningful, even transformational and help move diverse groups to action.
Her practice of inviting grace into highly successful outcome-oriented processes challenges the paradigm that creating safe spaces (by prohibiting certain language and behaviors, etc.) is a necessary condition for working together across difference and power.
What if we focused on inviting grace into our relationships and conversations instead of focusing on prohibition? It would certainly encourage learning and growth rather than control.
See yourself as responsible for creating a shift as significant as the shift from hunter-gatherer to agriculture. See yourself as significant enough to create that shift. Grace Lee Boggs
I am wrapping up a beautiful collaboration with Juanita Brown of The World Cafe and the genius women of Active Voice around a three city viewing of and community conversations about the film American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.
Staff from PBS POV posted a great piece about their first experience of a World Cafe-inspired conversation at the The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center event in NYC.
I was quoted in the POV piece this way “We have to evolve ourselves [together], not ‘I have to evolve myself’.” At the time, I was trying to express the difference between what I heard Grace saying about evolution (ourselves together) as opposed to what I heard the film often reflecting (myself first).
At this moment in our evolution, we are struggling with our bias toward the individual ~ i.e., speak from an I perspective, change yourself in order to change the world ~ and our desire to move toward collective wisdom.
I don’t doubt our truisms about the self, it’s just that they do not exist without social context: personal development does not happen without noticing, listening to and acting with each other. It’s not that we can move forward without personal growth, it’s that as social beings, we must evolve in relationship. There is no ‘comes first’ here.
She offered her buddhist teacher’s framework for artists on four stages of creativity:
1. Pacify ~ create a calm hospitable mind/environment/sacred space that welcomes and invites creativity, muses, creative partnership….
2. Enrich ~ get it out, allow the flow, fill the page, play with colors, jam, play, improv, sketch, open the flow…
3. Magnify ~ amplify what has resonance, expand on juicy points, add shading and light, enter the tensions, deepen the drama…
4. Act (Destroy) ~ cut out what is not needed, boldly offer what is.
The group studied the Cynefin Framework and then discussed what it takes to stay in inquiry rather than depending on what we already know.
The key harvest was the importance of personal resolve and healthy relationships as a foundation for staying with ‘not knowing’ until emergence can happen.
Their reflections surfaced the importance of personal practice (re-framing personal discomfort with not knowing, letting go of ego, dedication and persistence, seeing value in your own position) and group practice (building trust and safety, honest communication and commitment to learning in our teams).
Two themes surfaced across the group: (1) noticing that it takes conscious effort to balance inquiry and acting/solving and (2) the desire to be able to work in environments that invite ‘failing forward’, which Cynefin frames as ‘safe-fail experiments’ because, when given proper controls and attention, failed experiments/prototypes may provide a better route forward than successes.
There was also an aha for when power dynamics show up as barriers in our teams and organizations. One strategy ~ repeating and returning to a wicked question ~ was offered as a practice that one with less power can use to expand the possibility of inquiry even when the team or higher ups are moving on or solving.
Here are a couple of blogs from the originator David Snowden that explore these themes:
- Thinking Simply in Context: The originators most accessible summary of applying the model that includes brain expanding terms like ‘premature coherence’ and ‘pattern entrainment’
- 7 Principle of Intervention in Complex Systems: Another blog from Snowden that frames his principles for useful ‘safe-fail’ interventions.