Generative Engagement is about co-creating patterns of authenticity, reciprocity, and justice 

How can we work well across differences, towards productive and peaceful outcomes, regardless of differences that divide us in any given moment?

How do we find fit together to bring our best to each interaction?

How can people who bring diverse experiences, beliefs, and dispositions together to generate new and shared perspectives and interests?

How can people co-evolve across the differences that divide them to move into generative, sustainable relationships?

These questions brought Royce and me together several years ago. Royce has an extensive background in education and peace work; I’ve been immersed in organization development and diversity/inclusion work. We realized we were both frustrated by similar recurring complex issues:

  • Organizations that don’t make effective use of the talent their members bring.
  • Groups that exclude others (internally and externally) from influencing their perspectives or actions.
  • Individuals who cannot fully participate–who do not feel heard or included—at work, in their communities, within their families

We realized these, and other, complex issues emerge from the presence of differences at varying scales across the system. Some examples of patterns that show up in different settings:

We asked questions about these persistent patterns, exploring reasons for failure of the myriad approaches we had been trained to use. They simply did not appear to be up to the task of helping improve engagement across all levels without fail. Sometimes approaches worked in one locale, but not in another. Some effectively set organizational expectations, without really changing interpersonal interactions.

We sought new answers in our studies of Human Systems Dynamics (HSD), a discipline built on the exploration of patterns of human engagement. HSD offers a collection of models and methods that help make sense of the patterns that emerge from the chaos when people interact.  We worked together to learn how HSD could help us approach this complex issue differently.

A turning point was when we arrived at a new question: what patterns of behavior show up when people are dealing well with differences? Specifically, what patterns would lead to creating and enabling sustainable relationships? By considering a broad range of settings, we named three patterns as essential no matter the scale or circumstance:

  • Authenticity - being authentic, genuine, real and true to self
  • Reciprocity - exchanging time, energy, talent and other resources with others for mutual benefit
  • Justice - providing fair, reasonable, and equal access to resources and each other

If we can successfully set the conditions for these patterns to form, we can create generative engagements – patterns of behavior that promote co-evolution for the system at all scales.

The Eoyang CDE model, a cornerstone of the HSD field, asks three big questions to identify the conditions that shape patterns of human interaction:

To create key patterns of generative engagements, we fine-tuned these questions to consider:

  • Who are we? - What is our shared identity among our multiple, fluid individual identities?
  • What matters to us? - How do we share power to enable mutual influence in the system?
  • How do we connect? - How do we grant and generate voice by reaching out to others and by allowing them to influence us?

These questions inform us that shared identity, shared power, and shared voice are key elements for forming generative engagements moment by moment:

Identity: We can retain our individuality in our relationships, and we stand in shared space.  We identify together around ideas and principles, share geographical location, or share affinities.  To be in a productive relationship requires that we share direction and goals.  The more strongly we share a common identity, the stronger our relationship is. This is scalable to any level - Individual/group/organizational/system/global.

Power: We define power as “the ability to influence."  Who has power to influence and who doesn’t?  How is power assigned or earned?  Is power balanced across time or space? The issue in relationships is about how easily we influence each other.  Do I listen to you with a willingness to be informed?  Do you hold bias and prejudices that prevent you from taking me seriously?  Do my decisions consider your wants, needs, and/or opinions?  Do your decisions consider mine?  That’s what we are talking about when we say that power is balanced.  We each come to a relationship with as much willingness to be influenced as to influence. We share power to bring about change without giving up responsibility or accountability.

Voice: The critical factor in sharing information and other resources lies in how we grant and generate voice.  We engage each other as we speak and listen, act and observe, give and receive.  When we grant voice to others, we listen for meaning, observe without bias, and receive graciously.  When we generate voice, we speak so others can understand, act in ways they can perceive our meaning, and give in ways that are timely and considerate. Generative engagements require that participants are constantly vigilant to grant and generate voice simultaneously.

We can look at a vast array of culture formation, culture change, and diversity and inclusion issues with these three conditions.

Identity, power, and voice are interdependent and massively entangled - you cannot ever ignore the impact of one condition on the interaction of the other two. Consider the patterns that emerge between the questions asked in the Eoyang CDE Model:

  • Who are we, and what matters to us? This is about sharing reciprocity in relationship
  • Who are we and how do we connect? This is about sharing authenticity in relationship
  • What matters to us, and how do we connect? This is about sharing justice—each having voice to influence the relationship and access to use that voice.

This model is applicable to all types of relationships in all sorts of settings - organizational or governmental level, global level, classrooms, customer service lines, associations, and families. Grounded deeply in HSD, this new approach to diversity work creates more generative relationships, allowing greater adaptability and sustainability in any system where humans live, work and play together.


Sustainability at the Whole, the Part, and the Greater Whole

In looking at some writing I had done about sustainability in a human system, I found this statement that relates to sustainability at all levels of a system--the whole, the part, and the greater whole.  It speaks to me of why generative engagements are so critical, whether I am doing personal work, reaching out interpersonally, or working with a team or larger community.  What do you think?

"Sustainability at any one level is not possible unless there is some level of sustainability at all three levels.  We are too interdependent in human systems to believe that we can ignore  sustainability and health at any level.  If individuals are not healthy, the family is not.  If families are not healthy, the community cannot be fully healthy.  If the communities are blighted, the nation cannot sustain over time."

It looks like a pretty bold statement that may overreach, but I don't think so. For instance when you think about the work of Soros and others who talk about a nation's health and peace as they relate to the existence of "public goods." The idea is that those nations that don't have healthy systems of public goods cannot establish a peaceful or healthy society.  Public goods are used in slightly different ways, but they generally refer to societal systems that accomplish the following functions.

  • provide equitable access to education
  • assure justice and equal access to opportunity
  • establish an economic system
  • address issues related to health
  • create adequate infrastructures - such as highways, utilities, regulations, etc.

Consider the challenges our country is currently experiencing in any and all of these areas, and it becomes abundantly clear that we must engage with each other in generative dialogue and action to begin to address sustainability issues at all levels of our society. 




Links to things I am interested in!

The past few months have flown by without regular posting...so to step back in, I'm sharing a few links to  others that have stimulated my thinking recently regarding diversity, management, change, and self-organization:

Theory U and Theory T Building on Douglas McGregor's notion of Theory X and Theory Y, consider what the orthogonal Theories U and T add to the picture:

Theory U assures us that our problems can be solved by changing our view of the world. Theory T says that the solutions may require actually changing the world. U tells us that we can bring everyone together with the right words. T replies that we’ll probably have to make some compromises, too. U rests its case on the fairness of its schemes. T emphasizes the fairness of its processes.

Paradoxical thinking  - Nothing endures but change - Heraclitus & what might trigger cultural change and behavioural change and therefore system change?

Who are we and what might we do together?

Innovation is about solving problems.

Do you hate being stuck in a crowd? Crowds are self-organized systems, so when you don't cooperate, the system breaks and you slow everyone down.

Ok - this last one is just a little bit of writing wrapped around a video. But the writing is from Joe Gerstandt who deserves special mention because he is such a link-meister. Seriously. He finds the best reading for things I am interested in and shares it on twitter everyday. Plus he writes wonderful essays on his blog. Anytime I am away from my computer for an extended period, I go right to Joe's feed and get caught up on great thinking.

I had the pleasure of meeting Joe in person in March, and can confirm that he is just as engaging as you might think from reading him. So read him often, and meet him when you can. And now, the link to Joe linking to Tom Peters talking about a book of great importance: Scott Page's The Difference - How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Society - here's the video.



Generative Engagement and Racial Tensions

Mary and I will be presenting at the Transforming Race conference in Columbus, OH, next week.  The theme of the conference is "Crisis and Opportunity in the Age of Obama."  We are excited about the prospect of sharing our model in such a powerful milieu.  I am so looking forward to hearing from and learning from people who come together to consider the the questions implied by the theme.  I am also looking forward to sharing the Generative Engagement model and hearing its impact on others' thinking.  It will be a good weekend.

The idea that each one of us, in every moment, is capable of creating generative engagements is an amazing thought to me. Oppression and bias have been held in place over years of fighting for freedom and equity because individuals, in their moment-by-moment interactions, have maintained patterns of interaction that did not allow for reciprocity, authenticity, or justice.  In individual moment-by-moment interactions, they reinforced and amplified patterns of bias, hate, and separation.  Is it possible billions of biased interactions over the years enabled legislation, laws, policies and practices that separate people; identify one group as more important or valuable than another, simply based on characteristics that, in their own rights, are neutral?

Skin color, age, sexual preference, ability, physical attributes, fiinancial or social status--none of these has actual meaning beyond the individual's own experience.  Has it happened that groups of people, through their own individual moment-by-moment interactions, have assigned meaning to these characteristics?  As long as those moment-by-moment interactions continue to allow bias and prejudice to continue, we will not eliminate racism--or any of the "isms" related to human ability or condition.

If that's the case, can we, by pushing for generative engagements, change the world?  Can we change our local connections by intentionally engaging with each other in generative ways?  Can we change the larger world, not just by our collective small actions, but also by pushing for changes that bring about a culture of generative engagements?

These are the questions I will be asking as we learn and share at the conference next week.  We'll let you know what we find.


Seeing patterns form in a community model

Speaking of culture and paradigms, consider the model of engagement shown in the video below. This is a short documentary film about the Community Model in Corrections® at the Southside Regional Jail in Emporia, VA. To learn more, go to www.communitymodel.org. There is a longer version of the video on that site which is well worth visiting.

As you watch the video, consider our definition for generative engagements - relationships that create space for openness, honesty, wholeness, and presence. As the story unfolds, what do you see as shared identities? What are the differences that make a difference? How is voice generated? How is voice granted? What patterns of interactions are formed? What difference does this community make in the greater community?