Theory U & Healing the Three Divides

3-dividesI recently attended a workshop with Otto Scharmer and Arawana Hayashi of the Presencing Institute at the Omega Institute. I had studied there with Otto in 2006 when he was with his colleagues and co-authors Peter Senge, Sue Flowers and Joseph Jaworski. His recent reports from the World Economic Forum intrigued me and I looked forward to learning about ways in which real world practice was advancing his theory.

At both workshops, Otto presented Theory U, a road map for becoming aware and sensing what is in order to cultivate innovation. It is a framework for acting consciously in complexity. With the addition of Arawana’s meditation and movement practices to the 2014 workshop it becomes more than theory; silently sourcing collective wisdom from our bodies and the space between us became a shared visceral experience.

Otto also offered his newest insight that the essence of the process is moving from ego- (I know this and that) to eco-consciousness (the whole wants this or that). As a meta frame for this insight he offered a broad view of economic evolution and what drives our collective perpetuation of contemporary human suffering: (1) Ecological Divide (self does not = nature); Social Divide (self does not = other); and, (3) Spiritual Divide (self does not = self). He goes on to suggest that we can heal these divides by journeying through the U together.

These new insights and framing help give a broader context to Theory U as a personal-societal transformation process. At the same time, a number of us found a shared discomfort with this leap from a socio-political framing of late capitalism to the personal-collective journey of the U.

After significant reflection, I believe that our small circle of participants (notably including the only young person of color as well as queer, youth and activist women at the workshop) found each other because of a shared sensibility. We stand on a bridge from the meta to the personal-societal that is not explicit in Otto’s representation of the Theory U journey. Most simply, what we offer to healing these great divides is our visceral knowing (or even fleeting glimpses of) nature = my community, other (than master) = my community, self = my community. 

Wondering what more would be possible if we could be present to and explore these dualisms (self/community, connected/not connected) together. Otherwise, the journey across the Three Divides feels a bit more treacherous, especially in the context of increasing socio-economic disparity in our America.

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Staying Merry Much Alive

Tim Merry has been blogging about that decision moment when we decide to respond to an invitation to bring ‘fringe’ practices and concepts into mainstream systems that we once  identified as ‘the problem’ or as the metaphor for what is wrong with this world.

His blog makes me wonder about the risk in this decision and what it takes to remain a steward of life in large systems that are elegantly designed to colonized life.

What does it really take to hold space for life, living systems, meaningful connection and (could it be an aspiration?) transformation in these spaces?

How do we discern the moments when our practices are about to be adapted by the machine rather than engage it?

Some might say that these questions don’t matter and that creating moments of visceral understanding in a few hearts and minds that there is a more life affirming way is enough. I agree with Tim that we are working for these moments and a lot more:

My experience of change leadership and participatory approaches is that it demands people shift their world view; the way they see their world. This means their beliefs about themselves, their work, their community, what results are etc. all has to change. Without the worldview shift none of the models and methodologies deliver.  Tim Merry

Tim explains that the play between his intuition, analysis and frameworks keeps him on course. This also works for me in real time or in a beginning-middle-end project. I also get very clear with myself and clients about what it is we are really trying to do here, especially when the invitation is more about getting unstuck or moving to the next level, than about ‘changing our system of operating’.

Even in the grand transformation invitations, the pattern continues where the institution adapts participatory practices and frameworks in ways that reinforce or alleviate resistance to business as usual. This is when ‘something doesn’t quite feel right’ is more about sensing the whole than the immediate (which can still feel really awesome) and feels like a reaction to collaborating with that old enemy ~ the institutions that are perfectly designed to extract potency from people, animals, plants and minerals and discard the rest (dramatic effect intended).

I guess the inquiry is about adaptation. Human beings are exceedingly good at it; it makes complete sense that the dominant organizational framework of our times is wildly adaptive. Mainstream institutions integrate new influences at a fairly rapid pace and grow stronger from the disturbance (think greenwashing or bank profits following the most recent crash and Occupy).

How can we discern the difference between adapting to and engaging with?

What does it really take to maintain our potency when swimming in the mainstream?

What more would be possible if hosting ourselves was as much about nourishing our potency as it is about maintaining our zen?

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Offer, Ask, K/notice

Also published on Art of Hosting Beyond the Basics

I am packing my bag and traveling to Ohio from NYC with my friend Allen for Beyond the Basics because it’s irresistible. When I heard that my friends were doing this series of trainings I said yes immediately and to the first one in Ohio.

The bottom line is that these four co-hosts are worldly practitioners and friends who have figured out how to get in the same room and learn and be of service together. Their field of strategic, conscious learning and connection is an invitation to join in the conversation because there’s important work that needs to be done well.

After signing up on Eventbrite and booking my flight I finally took a look at the invitation and web page, which is alive and generous. Among all of the many gems, the question that intrigues me most introduces the concept of friendship as a critical strategic pillar for societal transformation. These are the folks to ask and offer some signs of what is emerging here.

This question also creates an opening for something that has been bumping around in my head regarding our ‘ask for what you need and offer what you can.’ In my hosting experience, this simple invitation to practice a way of being in conversations and work together has, possibly, been the single most generative… intervention or transition point from old school facilitation and strategy processes to participatory, engaged communities. And lately, it has not felt like enough as it is and I think this has something to do with our growth as a community that learns from one another.

Lately, I have wanted to say ‘ask for what you need, offer what you can and k/notice who you are talking to.’  There is something about connecting this invitation to host yourself to include seeing, hearing and sensing the other. There is something about the self practice being continuously linked to the group that feels like what is needed now. It’s possible because we have evolved a little bit and are pretty good at making friends.

Looking forward to thinking and learning together with all of you and your edgy inquiries…

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Art of Hosting Conversations that Invite Innovation and Wise Action

Innovation: What more is possible when we invite the collective wisdom of diverse experience, skills and world views?
Sustainability: What does it really take to move forward wisely?
Impact: What would it look like to design for transformation instead of small change?

Join me and my colleagues Nancy Fritsche Eagan and Rich Rivera for a 2-day Art of Hosting practicum focused on inviting collective wisdom and innovation and moving seamlessly to implementation and prototyping.

Go to for more information and links to registration.

Click here to view the flyer: Art of Hosting January 2014-2

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Eat Your Teacher

I am coming out of a Permaculture intensive with Adriana and Andrew at their Center for BioRegional Living in Ellenville, NY, on the Shawangunk Ridge.

The correlations between the ethics and principles of Art of Hosting and Permaculture are striking. A  favorite is the permaculture motto ‘No Guru, No Method, No Teacher.’

Andrew was as generous as the natural springs on his 14-acre homestead with permaculture strategies, techniques, and direct learning. All of the teachings were both historically — naming the who and when that came before our current understanding of sustainable living — and regionally based. He told origin stories so that we could see our own evolution as Westerners finding our way back to seeing, learning and working with — rather than against — nature in our homesteading and harvesting efforts.

When I first studied Art of Hosting, I experienced a similar tension around teacher-as-guru when the trainers told me that we were the same, that they learned more from me, their eager student. I didn’t agree completely. Yes, we are equal as humans, but not as practitioners in this way of thinking, living and working.

Permaculture’s  ‘No Guru, No Method, No Teacher’ motto helps hold that tension for reluctant gurus. It recognizes that attachment to Guru leaders and idealizing Methods are limiting. At the same time, simply by naming the motto, it acknowledges what happens when we sit at the feet of a wise person.

When someone shares the wisdom that comes from a lifetime at the intersection of theory and practice, we are experiencing the guru. It can be beautiful, inspiring and transcendent to receive tradition and application directly from an enlightened practitioner. As the saying goes in the Art of Hosting Community, it makes you want to Eat Your Teacher.

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Art of Working Together…

Check out the photo albums, videos and other harvests from our Art of Working Together with Open Hearts and Open Minds training/gatherings at the historic Riverside Church in February and May 2013 and join our FaceBook Page for more!

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Join us for the 2nd Art of Working Together Training

I am happy to announce that the second Art of Working Together with Open Hearts and Open Minds will be at Riverside Church in NYC on Thursday, May 30 & Friday, May 31, 2013.

The training is for everyone who is thinking about questions like:

♦ What would it take to work with our many differences instead of in spite of them?

♦ What might it look like to work for transformation instead of small change?

♦ What more is possible when we come out of our silos, let go of labels and discover new ways to move forward together?

Training participants will explore frameworks and practices to: 

♦ Design and lead conversations as shared leadership and governance practices.

♦ Host powerful conversations to address complex issues and lead strategic change.

♦ Generate fresh thinking, restore trust and create shared commitment to wise action.

♦ Apply participatory tools in organizational, community and movement settings.

Create “harvests” that capture collective clarity and support shared work going forward.

Go here for more information about the training, trainers and registration.

Click here to download a PDF flyer for the event.

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Join us for an Art of Participatory Leadership Training in NYC!

I am happy to announce that we still have openings for the Art of Participatory Leadership Training at Riverside Church in NYC on February 7 & 8, 2013.

The training is for everyone who is thinking about questions like:

♦ What would it take to work with our many differences instead of in spite of them?

♦ What might it look like to work for transformation instead of small change?

♦ What more is possible when we come out of our silos, let go of labels and discover new ways to move forward together?

Training participants will explore frameworks and practices to: 

♦ Design and lead conversations as shared leadership and governance practices.

♦ Host powerful conversations to address complex issues and lead strategic change.

♦ Generate fresh thinking, restore trust and create shared commitment to wise action.

♦ Apply participatory tools in organizational, community and movement settings.

♦ Create “harvests” that capture collective clarity and support shared work going forward.

Go here for more information about the training, trainers and registration.


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What if we just started by talking to each other?

I posted the following blog on another site exactly one year ago when Occupy Wall Street was still holding strong to its original intention of creating a space for broad-based democracy. Much has changed since then…

Oct 24, 2011: What more is possible when racial and economic equity are fundamental to all of our movement building?

This question puts the focus on racial and economic equity, without naming other oppressions. It has been in the center of my work for many years and it still resonates for me as an essential and focusing question for transformative social change and movement building.

The Occupy Wall Street folks have not been willing to prioritize oppressions and are holding the intention that 99% of us will be able to see ourselves, our families and communities represented in the movement.

The Safer Spaces Working Group has begun to facilitate people of color, queer and women’s working groups, among others, in the development of a community agreement that will invite occupiers, in fact, the entire 99%, to try harder and be better at inclusiveness and base building.

I joined this working group because, while attending the General Assemblies (GA) — the cutting edge of large group participatory leadership in this country — I noticed and met folks who were literally standing in the margins discussing how they were not being heard or were experiencing hurtful oppressive behaviors from other occupiers. As a self-professed survivor of many movements, I knew where this was going and decided to support efforts to transform (or perhaps, usurp my own projections of) the ‘inevitable’ continuation of the most eloquent, available and, subsequently, educated and resourced people creaming to the top. This can and does happen in leaderless movements! [My all time favorite and earliest reference to this is Jo Freeman’s 1970 piece on the Tyranny of Structurelessness.]

By joining this working group, I became part of the networking and community building that is not visible on the surface when visiting the occupied park, attending the GA or scanning most news, whether mainstream or progressive.

The slow, thoughtful conversations about expanding accessibility and the working groups that are insisting that adopting anti-oppression values are central to the success of the movement aren’t exciting copy, but they are fueling the development of this movement. Last Wednesday night, when I attended the Safer Spaces working group in the Atrium at 60 Wall St. at 9 pm, about 30+ people of color were seated nearby deeply engaged in the POC Working Group, which started at 6 pm. Therefore, they were not visible en masse at the GA that night, which always starts at 7 pm, but they are co-creating this movement.

Joining this emerging, self proclaimed leaderless movement, I can now see that my favorite movement question, the title of this blog, comes from my experience of being in issue or population based peoples movements (i.e., drug policy, AIDS, LGBTQ) in the US that quickly formed not-for-profit organizations where the most educated and resourced people soon progressed to leadership and resource controlling positions. With this progression, the base or the originators — who were more diverse in race and class background — lost influence, specifically decision-making power around allocation of resources.

This fledging movement is dealing with the same struggles around power and access and there is a fundamental difference. First of all, the intention is systemic change, rather than advancing an issue, and the invitation is to do so by engaging a very broad base. Issue-based (environmental, education, union, etc.) and identity-based (transgender, people of color, women, etc.) activists and organizations are showing up saying ‘this is our movement’.  Most important, there is absolutely no traction for forming another not-for-profit corporation.

Oct 24, 2012: After a year of participating and witnessing the evolution of the Occupy and Decolonize movements, I offer a new question:

What more could be possible if our movement work started with our most educated and highly resourced and our most disenfranchised citizens  finding each other? What if this was the most radical action possible?

I am interested in your reflections and thoughts on this question, one year after the launch of the Occupy and Decolonize Movements.

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What will it really take to work together in these times?

I have been talking with some new friends who I met last fall and winter as the Occupy and Decolonize movements dominated the news and changed the conversation.

We left the movement-building conversations that were happening downtown in the Occupy Wall Street organization because we became frustrated by the way that they limited our ability to find agreement and get to work.

The possibility of a global movement got us talking about what it would take to actually be the 99% working together and with our varied analysis, faiths, affiliations, identities and politics instead of in spite of them.

Please join a dialogue on Saturday, October 20th, 2012, at the A.M.E. Zion Church on the Hill in Washington Heights, NYC, where we will explore this question together!

Power & Love, Kelly

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