Exploring possible patterns and patterns of possibility

What patterns might be generated if conditions for generative engagements mentioned in the previous post are established? We add our thinking about possible patterns to the model here:

Reciprocity – When power is shared, each participant can influence others, even as he/she is open to being influenced.  Power has nothing to do with authority or position or accountability.  The “boss” can be influenced by employee input; children can influence their parents.

When power is shared inside a common identity, people work toward shared goals or outcomes.  They give each other support, feedback, and energy as they contribute skills and knowledge for the good of the whole.  Simultaneously they receive support, feedback, and energy as they accept others’ contributions of skills and knowledge.

Authenticity – When people grant and generate voice inside a shared identity, they bring their whole selves.  They can be honest about who they are and what they need.  They give fully of themselves, creating space for others to be authentic. 

This doesn’t grant license to be tyrannical, demanding one’s needs be met.  Balance must exist between granting and generating voice inside shared identity.  If I demand my needs be met at the expense of others, I am neither generating voice others can hear, nor am I granting voice to their needs.  If I demand my needs be met at the expense of others, I’m counting my goals and identity as separate from others’.

Justice – When people allow themselves to be influenced by others and grant and generate voice, they generate patterns of justice in their relationship. If my needs influence your decisions, and if you acknowledge me when I express myself, you’re being fair with me.  If I allow your needs to influence me and I acknowledge you, justice is the pattern. 

We think of justice as mutual fairness—people get what they need and are allowed to contribute as they can. 


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.


Pattern formation and the space between

I love when links from my twitter stream coalesce in a thought-provoking way. Three tweets stood out this morning:

The first linked to Shoshana Zuboff’s perspective as a former Harvard Business School professor in a column entitled The Old Solutions Have Become the New Problems. Zuboff talks frankly about what she thinks has gone wrong in MBA programs in recent times, stating

We weren't stupid and we weren't evil. Nevertheless we managed to produce a generation of managers and business professionals that is deeply mistrusted and despised by a majority of people in our society and around the world. This is a terrible failure.

The short article is worth reading in full. What caught my eye was her mention of old rules “invented a century ago for supplying mass consumers with affordable goods and services” and that now it is time “…to salvage what is valuable from the old and put our energies into constructing a new model based on new rules.”

Zuboff mentions some potential new rules better suited to today’s needs and ends with

…the questions start to feel more important than the answers. You're in a new place. The bad news: There are no maps. The good news? You are the mapmaker.

Later in my twitter stream, a favorite tweeter and blogger Joe Gerstandt shared this quote from Viktor Frankl:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.

This was closely followed by a tweet linking to an article about President Obama’s recent Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.  Cliff Albright wanted more about peace from the President:

… a speech that began with justifying war and ended with humanity’s search for peace could have had a meaningful sweet spot in the middle. President Obama could have more adequately acknowledged that in between his concept of a just war and the concept of world peace, there’s a whole lot of space for some very real, very pragmatic alternatives to war.

The concept of the space between is the common thread that got my attention across these links. Frankl is clear about the opportunity for growth and freedom in the choices we make day to day – during his time in the concentration camp, it was about patterns of survival. Albright sees significant alternatives to be explored rather than continuing down a path that has brought war and destruction – hoping to see a shift to patterns of peace-making. And Zuboff points out that questions are very much needed when trying to find our way in this space, when we know change is needed but we are not sure which way to go. She is seeing the opportunity to create new patterns for a thriving economy.

I don’t have a map, but have lots of interesting questions…


What guides our work? Part 2

Continued from the previous post...

Reinforce strengths in self and other.  As you could see in reading about the two of us, we are different in many ways.  Even though we are both passionately interested in this work, our approaches are different.  Mary is studied and reflective; I am impulsive and reactive.  Mary is patient; I am impatient.  Mary loves to explore and connect to what is; I like to push the envelope and connect with what could be.  Both approaches are critical to the work we do, and I value what Mary brings to the partnership.  We reinforce the value that each brings to our shared goals.

Search for the true and the useful.  Sometimes we encounter ideas that are true—but useless to us in the real world.  Sometimes we encounter ideas that may seem useful—but in reality they are found to be untrue when applied across time or situations.  What Mary and I aim for is to be sure that what we write about can be grounded in theory and practice.  We borrow models and metaphors from other fields, we use principles of Human Systems Dynamics, and we look for ways to make them useful in understanding human interactions.  Our goal is to be transparent about our ideas—where they come from, how we use them, and what we see as “truth.”  If that ever seems unclear – just ask us.

Engage in joyful practice.  We both believe that if we cannot have fun, there is no point in doing this work.  We seek fun in our work and in how we work together, and we seek fun in how we share our work. 

These simple rules influence each other as they create the patterns in our work.  It’s difficult to seek true and useful without understanding how an idea plays out in the part and greater whole or without being open to learning.  Giving and getting value depends on what we each bring to the work and on knowing what is useful to others.  As we make decisions about our work together, we constantly go back to these simple rules to inform those decisions to build the open patterns of learning and growth we want in our work.


What guides our work? Part 1

In 2002, as Glenda Eoyang, Ph.D., was establishing the field of Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) and launching the HSD Institute, she articulated a set of simple rules to guide the work of the field—and the Institute.  She and those with whom she worked used these simple rules in their decision making and planning to influence patterns of inquiry and interaction to be coherent between the field and the Institute.  Mary and I have adopted those simple rules for our work, and we want to be explicit about what that means to us.

Teach and learn in every interaction. – Learning is key to who we are and how we work together.  Our conversations are exchanges of insights, shared explorations, and questions.  Even the act of teaching is based in inquiry…anything we “know” is subject to further exploration.  We teach best when we are attuned to what we can learn from questions.  As we work with clients and as we write and share ideas, our underlying goal is to remain open to new insights and find our own next questions.

Give and get value for value.  In our interactions, Mary and I try to “share the load” as we build a model of thinking, as we establish this blog, or as we move toward deeper thinking in the field. The same is true of our relationships with clients, customers, and readers.  Our goal is to offer you information and insights that make it worth your investment to come here to spend your time.  And our requests for your feedback, input, and comments are not rhetorical.  We want to hear what you have to say—we want to know your reactions to the ideas we post here.

Attend to the whole, the part, and the greater whole.  We recognize and appreciate the separateness and completeness each of us brings to the work.  Mary’s experiences and learning are separate from mine, and yet when we work together, our work forms a relatively coherent whole, which, in turn, contributes to the greater whole of the field of HSD.  Our work considers those interdependent systems, and we are committed to attending to all those levels as we move our own work forward.  We consider each other’s needs and consequences as we work together—and we are mindful about the impact our work—both individually and shared—has on the field of HSD.