For the past few months, Creating the Future has embarked on one of our biggest experiments yet – engaging our community in a global Catalytic Thinking process, to determine what’s next for our mission.
As we prepared for our December Integrity Body meeting, we realized that the only ones who haven’t had a chance to weigh in on those questions were the members of our Integrity Body and our Engagement Team – the ones who were facilitating the conversations with our community! And so that is what happened at the December meeting – our team members dove in to ANSWER the questions they have been ASKING of others. The following is a recap of that conversation.
Coming Up to Speed
To make sure everyone is on the same page, Hildy did a short recap of what has brought us to this discussion.
Creating the Future has spent the first five years of our 10-year mission “clock” focused on experimenting, applying Catalytic Thinking in a variety of settings to see what results. Those results have been so consistently powerful, and have so consistently brought people together, that we don’t really need to experiment anymore. We don’t have to prove anything.
Now we’re ready to share what we’ve learned about Catalytic Thinking. So the question has become – in what ways should we share that? In alignment with our values, we know that decision is not up to us. So we have asked our community. We asked the first few questions in writing, with about 70 people sharing written responses. And those responses are so thoughtful! If what our work makes possible is about shifting how we be with each other through the questions that we ask – and therefore shifting the results that we get – what do folks need to know? What do they need to have?
That is where we began conversations we facilitated with our community. And those are the questions our Integrity Team contemplated during our December meeting.
Reflections from the facilitated sessions so far. What are people saying that they need to know or have?
- Some of the key things – a space that is held for people to be vulnerable and share authentically, the people who are affected are actually taking part in the work towards solutions. There was also discussion around an element of pain before you get to the good side of the freedom and the new future – people have to go through that. The people leading the process need support from other people who are future oriented and wanting change. Being alone doing this is difficult.
- There were conversations about the idea of peer pressure and normalizing. Even not specific to Catalytic Thinking, people don’t always feel comfortable being on the cutting edge. The distinction between people who readily jump in and are willing to try something and those who need to feel like a new thing is being normalized around them.
- I’m thinking about Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore about what it takes for things to become common. How do you move things from just the innovators and early adopters to a broad market?
- There was some strong emphasis and critique on language. The language also has to be normalized and accessible and cautious of intellectualizing. Thinking more about the early point around pain – one participant said that pain led to “a glimpse of freedom where they could explore possibility.” We obviously don’t want people to go through pain, so what is it that pain opens up? What does pain make possible? Is there another pathway there?
- We are all in pain. The norms we buck up against create pain.
- Patience came up. This isn’t a quick fix. It takes time and is really layered.
- Trust with the tenets of safety, hope, stories, and time. A lot of folks shared the idea that thinking a different way or imagining a new future is not always a thing that is safe for people to do because of all the racist, sexist, etc. systems in place. Even finding something to be hopeful for can be challenging. The idea of thinking big thoughts about the future can be very scary and overwhelming. Stories and time are the things that can help create that safety
- I’m reminded of a story of someone working within Palestine and they really needed to redefine what good looked like for them. Sometimes “good” is – my family is safe tonight, my home won’t get bombed. Sometimes even “zero” is way too big to start with.
If we are about sharing a different way of asking questions, so that folks are aiming at what is possible, meeting each other where they are, trusting each other – what do folks need to know? What do they need to have in order to step into that?
- Which questions do I ask? If it’s “change the questions, change the world,” change them from what to what?
- It goes back to normalizing. Does the notion of authentic inquiry even exist in a lot of settings? People aren’t encouraged to ask questions. They are encouraged to give an answer. It can be very challenging for people to feel like they have permission to ask a question. There’s some norming around valuing inquiry, valuing the idea that we can ask questions.
- What needs to be in place?
- Perhaps this is a different way of taking forward the earlier point of safety. People need to be allowed to fail and we need to encourage the idea that it’s ok to look odd or look like you don’t know what you’re doing. I’m thinking about a recent article I read about the death of humility in academia. We’ve got to keep repeating that no one knows the answer.
- I would also need to see people like me using it in settings that make sense to me. I may not use it in a big organizational setting, but maybe I can use it the next time my best friend calls for advice.
- To me, it’s a question of privilege. Who has the privilege to ask questions and to change the thinking in organizations?
- Building on the idea of psychological safety – There are times I don’t ask because I don’t want to look foolish and there are also times when it’s not just about my safety, but the safety of the other people in the room. Questions are not necessarily neutral. Questions have been used to cause harm and I would need to know that it is safe for others around me, as well. This comes down to – what are these questions for and where are they coming from?
- Oftentimes, the questions we’re pushing aren’t safe; they are challenging and I think there is something around the fear component. Particularly the “what does it take” question opens up the idea that there’s an answer out there I don’t actually know yet and I might not like the answer. If we’re talking about real change, the answer is going to be different than anything I’ve ever thought of before. It would take humility and openness to even be able to ask. What barriers are there before the question is even asked into the space?
- The instinct for most people when they are presented with things they don’t want to hear is pushback. It’s not just a discomfort or a challenge; it can also be “I don’t want to be in this space and I will use my power to harm the people I perceive as having created it.” It’s more than discomfort and can also be about real harm being caused.
- What does it take to know that I’m not causing harm with the questions that I’m asking?
- It’s tricky because I can certainly do things to minimize the risk of harm, but there’s never a guarantee that the things I do and say won’t cause harm to someone else. So maybe it’s also about how do I repair harm when it is done?
- Maybe it’s that the people who study Catalytic Thinking need to know that questions can cause harm. Or that people need guidance on how to talk about the idea that questions aren’t neutral and “here’s my bias.” There’s something powerful in naming it. There’s something powerful in – if you are sharing catalytic thinking, naming some of the things people might encounter when they are sharing it.
- When I’ve seen outsiders ask questions to a ‘pack’ or group who know each other, if that question gets at the core of the group or their values, it won’t go well. But if an insider asked the same question, the result may be very different.
- This brings up the whole issue of getting to know people and trust. The power of getting to know people and the dynamics and who they listen to and who they respect.
- I don’t know if this is the right conversation. People find a lot of value in Creating the Future, that much is obvious. There are the content questions and then there’s this other existential question about “who will carry this work forward?” People are tired.
- People need content. They need to be able to learn stuff. I’m thinking about the Continuum of Potential. People are at different stages of being able to step into their own potential. People who just want a how-to tip are not in the same place as the people who want a whole new way of approaching the big questions they are struggling with. A lot of people are facing that more existential question by themselves. The content is the easy part. The other question is really what we’re considering here.
- Something that came out in facilitated sessions – and this is perhaps why the idea of normalizing resonated so much for me – being in this space where there is a proliferation of ideas, you have to get your head around this construct of how to engage with the world. Alcoholics Anonymous is a beautiful example of a decentralized construct and they figured out how to replicate it.
- One of the threads of Alcoholics Anonymous is that it is life or death. Are there examples of that kind of organizational being without that intensity of need?
- What does it take to sustain something when it ISN’T life or death?
- Ongoing regularity
- What does it take to sustain something when it ISN’T life or death?
- There’s real power in being local and being near people who are doing this work
- It’s becoming very clear that we need to provide content and we need to provide a way for people to get together and share their experiences
- A good model might be the Collective Impact Forum. This would still require a lot of management to handle the structure
- The World Café is another example of an approach to facilitated conversations. We do keep coming back to this common thread of pain and crisis – Alcoholics Anonymous, Black Lives Matter, etc. these are life and death. It is distressing to think how much pain is a trigger for change. We don’t want this to be just a life or death approach to the world. We also have trains of thought that have become ingrained in our society, such as neoliberal economics, that have somehow found a way to stick. The other piece – I can attest to the fact that sometimes the only place people have to come is this meeting. This is it. There aren’t places where this is happening and there aren’t places where this is happening in the context of Creating the Future.
- In their written comment, someone wrote that the benefit they got from Creating the Future was that “we muddle through out loud and that encouraged them to muddle through, too.” That feels like the third piece – there’s the content, the connecting, and the sharing examples. That’s the third piece.
- The Consultant Facebook group didn’t have a lot of that modeling and that sort of came up in the facilitated conversation, too. If people saw other people actually going through it, that might prime the pump so to speak.
- That feels like some of the connecting threads of some of the movement works – I don’t need to know everything, there are people in those spaces who can teach me. Thinking about the idea that crisis creates opportunity, it doesn’t need to be a crisis or life or death, but the kinds of things that lead me to change are when my current way isn’t working.
- I also really like the “muddling through.” When you do start talking to people about what they’re doing at work – it always comes back “I’m so glad someone else is dealing with what I’m dealing with.” Practice is always emergent. The only way you can get through a lot of these things is talking it out. The conversations are almost as important as any product or thing that we put out. The products are just the starting point that trigger off the conversations. I’m thinking about social determination theory – people need autonomy, a sense of belonging, and that they are mastering what they do. People need these things and they are trying to satisfy those needs in terms of how they do things.
Through the conversation, it became clear that there are three key conditions for success that our work needs to create for the people in our community:
• People need to have content / curriculum for learning Catalytic Thinking – content that meets people where they are.
• People need to have safe spaces for conversation, to practice Catalytic Thinking together and share what they’re learning / having problems with.
• People need to see examples of our experimenting out loud.
We’ve talked about the conditions that need to be in place for people to connect in safe environments – an opportunity to express their pain, to focus on what good might look like in context of their pain, the need for us to meet people where they are both in terms of language and just in life and being.
What becomes clear is that the next step is FIRST to prioritize and SECOND to start asking the questions: What are the various ways to implement this? And which make the most sense?
● I think we made some progress. When we ask “Do we have a reason to justify our continued existence?” The answer has been a resounding yes. I think we still need to figure out who will move this work forward, who has the time and energy to continue on.
● I’m reflecting on that exact question – what do we have the energy for? To me that comes down to assuming we have the same organizational model as everyone else. “What would it take?” is very different than “How will we?” I don’t want to be intimidated by the “How will we?” – which is a very intimidating question.
● I appreciate us.
● Our conversations always ebb and flow. There are days where you can’t get us to shut up and there are quieter days. Today felt like a quieter day and I am wondering if we’re feeling a bit intimidated. It has never been our way to rush to practical planning. I think maybe just because it’s getting to the end of the year, it’s resonating that everyone is a bit tired at the minute.
● I really found it meaningful and helpful to hear from other people who are in practice. That’s where the rubber meets the road, really paying attention to and centering those voices feels really important.
● I’m reflecting on the fact that in some ways it feels like I’ve been in this moment before. This year a colleague and I launched a new program. It took a long time to get it off the ground and we were really really excited about the content and materials and we would meet and not let ourselves talk about those things because we felt like we needed to be practical – how are we going to incorporate, and market ourselves, etc. There’s a continuing question of how we better meld that energy.
● There are folks who thrive on the doing. I love these conversations and the exploration and the ideation and I love all of it… until it gets to the doing. That’s not where I thrive. That’s why I keep coming back to – it doesn’t have to be “we” who do it.
● I’m reflecting on what it takes. The two roles that stand out are the people who want to practice and the proselytizer. Something is going on in these movements – there’s a proselytizing that’s going on that is, in and of itself, a role. That’s a piece that I’m drawing a connection to. We’re really talking about scaled uptake and this role is critical to that.
● Having spent many years in church organizing, one of the intake models of almost every church is – how do you treat your newcomers all the way through the welcome at the front door to getting them involved? And there’s a very well-thought out process for doing that. Which kind of speaks to the energy portion. Everyone has something that they are energetic about and the trick is to find the thing that gets people turned on and connect them to that before they can get turned off. If this thing I’m asking you to do doesn’t light you up, you shouldn’t be there. It’s actually a detriment for us all that you’re not doing that thing. I also think in terms of actions. The question came up – are we ready for action? And this is an iterative process, so it’s good to get to that point, it’s good to just pick something and get at it. If you look at Alcoholics Anonymous or any of these other groups – that is an excellent lesson in modeling. You can go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting anywhere and feel a part of it because it’s the same everywhere.
● I’m still thinking about – is it safe for everyone else in the room for me to ask questions? We do a lot to teach and guide each other on how to use the questions and not as much on what we do to prepare everyone else to receive some of those questions. What are the pieces we need to give Catalytic Thinking? And what do we need to do to receive it?
● I’m reflecting on a class facilitation tool of putting up possible actions around the room and having everyone put a sticker on which one they think we should prioritize. It was a very important lesson to me that this activity always needs to be followed up with “And who wants to lead it?” Because if someone got the most stickers but no one is ready to volunteer, then that’s clearly not where the energy is.
● I’m thinking about the comments on neoliberalism. It’s been bite-sized. There’s no class that everyone took. I’m also thinking about – is the question safe for the person you’re asking. That’s really powerful and I’m not sure what the answer is.
● I’m thinking about the ideas of pain and trauma from the beginning of this conversation. Even though these models are life/death, many of us have experienced things that may feel like life or death.
● I really think we’re ready to start diving into what we can do. I love that it’s not just up to us. Like many people, I’m exhausted and this is still so energizing. This is such a gift.
Stay tuned via our newsletter for our next steps, as we seek to put into action what our community told us is important to them.