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Our model for Generative Engagement

One of the first issues Mary and I talked about is our shared desire to understand human relationships and the patterns that characterize those relationships.  It seemed to us that if we could talk about those patterns we wanted to generate, we could then talk about what might contribute to creating them. 

We came to define “generative engagement” as relationships that create a space for openness and honesty.  They create space where each individual is present and whole. In each instant we choose to respond in ways that create generative patterns or in ways that limit possibility.  In any exchange, we have a choice to create possibility by relating to others in generative ways or to close a situation by perpetuating past patterns of bias and privilege.

We took the Eoyang CDE theory that the path, speed, and direction of self-organization is influenced by three conditions.  We began to think about conditions in relationships that would most likely influence patterns to be more generative. 

First, an emergent pattern requires a container to hold the system for the pattern to form.  For generative relationships to emerge, the necessary container is shared identity.  We can remain individuals in our relationships, and we stand in shared space.  We identify together around ideas and principles.  We share geographical location.  We share affinities.  To be in a relationship requires that we share something.  The more strongly we share a common identity, the stronger our relationship is.

The second condition to influence emergent patterns is difference in the system.  In generative relationships the difference that matters most is shared 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.

The third condition is exchange—how information and other resources are shared.  In generative engagement, we believe the critical nature of these exchanges is how they 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 vigilent to grant and generate voice simultaneously.

This is our current thinking about how to influence patterns of discourse and interaction toward more generative outcomes.  This can be applied at the organizational level—establishing a culture of respect and equity, and it can be used to influence patterns in communities, families, and in personal relationships. 

This is an untested theory, except through personal experience and observation.  We look forward to continuing generative conversations as we explore and learn more. Our generative engagement model is shown here.

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