Creating the Future is at a jumping off point – a point where the results of our work are poised to scale exponentially to accomplish our mission. To facilitate that leap forward, on November 5th our community began discussing the question of organizational structure. (Watch or download and listen to that meeting here.)
What form of organizational structure will scale the initial spark that allows the ideas of our mission to spread?
What sort of structure will it take to steward the scale and spread of the outcomes that will move the movement forward?
Using Catalytic Thinking to guide that conversation, our board members and community members spent that meeting defining success. If a structure were successful, what would that make possible? What would that success look like?
The Short Answer
Using Catalytic Listening to analyze the board’s conversation, what might otherwise appear to be a meandering exploration is, in actuality, a rich description of what the best possible organizational structure would help Creating the Future accomplish.
Before sharing that answer, it is important to put it in the context of our mission and vision, and our commitment to walk the talk of our values.
Creating the Future envisions a healthy, humane world where everyone is living well, individually and collectively. We know such a future is possible, simply because it is not impossible.
To turn that vision into reality, Creating the Future’s 10 year mission is to reach a tipping point, where people around the world, in all walks of life, know how to bring out the best in themselves and others through the questions they ask.
Because “individuals will go where systems lead them,” because “being the change we want to see means walking the talk of our values” (The Pollyanna Principles), and because “supporting a movement” is an action (vs an inert thing), the ultimate highest potential of Creating the Future’s organizational structure is that our systems would, in and of themselves, be active participants in furthering our mission – living structures, walking the talk of our vision, our values and our mission.
Towards that end, here is the short answer to the question, “At its best, what could our organizational structure make possible?”
At its highest potential, our organizational structure would be an active participant in scaling the spark that allows approaches that bring out the best in people to spread.
That living, breathing structure would steward, support, nurture and hold the space for the scale and spread of this organization’s outcomes, actively moving forward the global movement for a healthy, humane world.
Observations about the Discussion
Towards the end of our meeting, Alex Budak smiled as he listed the following analogies and metaphors he had heard during the discussion: Jazz musicians, Linux, libraries, USB sticks, a petri dish, Wikipedia, the search for aliens, the open source movement. In addition to that list of images, the language each person used to gather their thoughts was also peppered with metaphoric imagery – words such as “ripples in a pond” and “viral” and “carrot and stick.”
Metaphors and analogies are ways our brains make sense out of something we’ve not seen before, or have seen so rarely that we have no common language for it. We make sense of new things we encounter – whether an idea or a plate of food or a Lamborghini – by linking that new thing to images and constructs (and in the case of food, flavors) that we already know and understand.
In the coming months, as our community continues to define the shape of this new structure, this neurological phenomenon will bring a rich tapestry of images to the conversation. We invite you to share the images that strike you as you read / watch / listen to the board’s own image-rich discussions.
The following is not a transcript of the meeting. It is instead a summary of outcomes gleaned from the meeting through the filter of Catalytic Listening.*
What structure makes possible – and for whom:
For whom would structure create possibilities? The answers included individuals and groups at various points along their own journeys.
• For anyone seeking support in their own journey to create a more healthy, humane world – as an individual, a group, a community, an organization, a network of individuals / groups.
• For individuals and groups who want to catalyze change, specifically by using Catalytic Thinking frameworks.
• For actors already involved with Catalytic Thinking approaches, and for the people whose lives are touched by those individuals – the ripples in the pond.
In addition to answering the question directly, other “for whoms” arose as part of the conversation:
• For the day-to-day operations of the organization (people doing the work AND the work itself)
• For accomplishing Creating the Future’s mission
The organization’s structure could create and hold space for learning
• Spaces to learn alongside mentors, guides and leaders, to see that leaders are not superhuman, that we can all be leaders
• Spaces to learn from each other, building upon the wisdom in the room
The organization’s structure could create and hold space for sharing stories
• Spaces to celebrate what is working – share stories, results, data, lessons learned
• A repository to research the stories, results, data, lessons learned of others
• A source of institutional memory
The organization’s structure could create and hold space for people exploring new thinking
• Spaces for intellectual exploration
• Spaces to explore conceptual ideas by applying those concepts to day-to-day work (e.g. bylaws, policies)
• Spaces for pushing boundaries, questioning concepts, applying Catalytic Thinking to everyday stuff
The organization’s structure could create and hold space for practice and personal growth
• Support that unleashes individuals to reach their potential – brings out the best in them
• Spaces for finding one’s power
• Spaces for finding one’s voice
• Spaces for practice, where we support each other in our practice
• With mentors / guides / teachers
• Feedback for ongoing learning and growth
• Communities of practice
• Activating people’s gifts in ways that are meaningful to them
The organization’s structure could create and hold space for people coming together
• Spaces to connect with individuals and groups of similar passions, who are equally committed to seeing change in the world
– a place that welcomes people
– a place to re-energize
– a place to connect with others who are stepping forward to lead something / take action
– a place to find and provide support
– an on-ramp to new conversations, to support, to whatever people might seek
• Spaces for demonstrating more effective conversations for individuals and groups
– where those examples can help conversations rise to the level of what the group’s work makes possible.
– A structure can ensure that critical conversations keep moving forward
– A structure can provide shared language
• The organization’s structure itself could create connective tissue that facilitates relationships and connections
– facilitate and support the building and thriving of networks
– facilitate and support the weaving of networks
– encourage, support, facilitate the thriving of relationships that create conditions for good stuff to happen
The organization’s structure could create and hold space for people taking action individually or with others
• Spaces that encourage and support activism, nurturing conditions for taking action
• Platforms for operationalizing ideas and innovation
• Processes for strategy and decision-making towards taking action / making things happen
• Spaces that activates people’s gifts in ways that are meaningful to them
The organization’s structure could create and hold space for the success of the day-to-day work of individual activists / actors
• Spaces that facilitate and support actions towards successful outcomes.
• Spaces that support activities / programs
• Spaces for co-creating programs
• Structures for attracting and connecting resources in support of activities
– activities initiated by community members
– activities initiated by the “organization”
The organization’s structure could define relationships between individuals taking action, between individuals and the organization, between the organization and other organizations
• Relationships including financial relationships
• For both paid and unpaid staff, what are the structures that will bring out the best in them?
• The organization’s structure will help people know where they fit
• The structure could provide people with authority, encouragement, support with which to step into their power to create change
– Who partners with whom? In what ways? What does “partner” mean?
– Who gets to propose new relationships with other organizations / possible partnerships? Through what process?
The organization’s structure could create and hold the space for leadership and direction for activities in all realms of the organization
• Decision-making structures that model the world we want to see – collaborative, collective, participatory, democratic
• Structures could provide standards aimed at consistency between applications / actions
– standards rooted in our values
– standards from which to springboard, to create what those values make possible
What could that structure make possible for supporting the accomplishment of the mission?
The organization’s structure could create and hold the space for the viral spread of ideas and approaches
• A place for spreading of the mission, for fostering ideas, sharing approaches, exploring and supporting how people can do this kind of work.
• Ripples of outcomes – where people who have never heard of Creating the Future or Catalytic Thinking are being this way with others who have also never heard of us – where this is just how people be with each other.
The organization’s structure could create and hold the space for supporting activities and the people taking action
• The structure can create spaces where people who are taking action can find a team to support them
• Structure can hold the space for the potential outcome of the idea / project – keeping the flame of the vision burning bright
• Spaces that facilitate leadership and decision-making that ensures activities are embedded with our values
– Set the vision for what is possible
– Create consistency between applications, rooted in our values and our vision
• Systems for vetting ideas, advancing ideas, taking action and leading, to create ripples to spread catalytic approaches
• Structure can provide processes for strategy and decision-making towards taking action / making things happen
• Structure can provide spaces that encourage and support activism, nurturing conditions for taking action
– Platforms for operationalizing ideas and innovation
– Spaces that activates people’s gifts in ways that are meaningful to them
The organization’s structure could model our values in action
• Demonstrating what a values-centric organizational structure looks like in action
• Creating and holding the space for leadership and decision-making aimed at ensuring that all our actions are embedded with our values and vision
• Showing what is possible, for others who want to walk their own talk in their own work
The organization’s structure could create and hold the space for accountability to wider publics.
• accountability in all aspects of the word (mission, engagement, resources)
What would it take? What would the structure need to look like / feel like?
While this initial conversation was not about conditions for success but first about defining success, those conditions began to bubble to the surface as well. The following are some of the broad strokes of conditions that our board members and community members identified as pre-conditions for success. (Conditions will be addressed more intentionally at our December 14th meeting).
A structure that is consistently ensuring the scaling and spreading of Creating the Future’s mission – supporting the global movement for a healthy, humane world by ensuring that everyone, everywhere, knows how to bring out the best in themselves and others by the questions they ask.
Pre-conditions for success:
Reliable yet flexible, so we’re not always having to reinvent it (too rigid) but strong enough to support all those outcomes.
• Shared language also as a metaphor for the structure (the structure is the language, the individuals write the stories however they wish)
• Freedom and flexibility to work and invite others in
• Adaptive, Improvisational
• Just enough structure that it doesn’t get in the way and become about the structure
• Led by function and process vs. hierarchy, authority, centralized power
Built upon a foundation of shared responsibility
• Structure that is not sitting on the shoulders of a few people, but on the foundation that many people bring
– shared responsibility
– everyone is essential but no one is required
• Accessible – on ramps / ability to plug in
• Open – ability to come in and out
People-centric and Action-centric (vs organization-centric)
Per Stacy Ashton: “You create the structure; we create the future!”
• A space designed with clear intent to empower people to take action vs controlling the people in the space
– Structure that gives people power / builds upon their existing power vs serving as a control on their power
– activating people’s gifts in ways that are meaningful to them
• Goal: Sustain and support people and their activities (vs sustain and support the structures / organization). It’s always about the people; never about the thing.
• Acknowledging that organizations don’t initiate things; people do.
Seeing the structure as a dynamic space, a place, a living container where activities happen.
Per Kent Schell: “Perhaps Creating the Future’s ripples and spaces of influence may be conceived as ‘dynamic ongoing circles of exchange.’ “
Summary and What’s Next
As noted at the onset of this summary, the structure described in our community’s initial discussion will not be a static skeleton but an active participant in moving our mission forward.
To that end, on Monday, December 14th, board members and members of Creating the Future’s community at large will gather to continue this conversation, using Catalytic Thinking to focus on the question, “What would people need to have in order to be supported in taking action? What would they need to know? What would they need to be assured of?”
And then looking inward, what would the structure need to be? What would it need to have?
And what might that look like?
For now, the questions that remain are these:
- What does this discussion – and this summary – bring up for you? What stands out for you? What are you noticing?
- What have you experienced in creating a living, active, dynamic space – what Kent Schell called “dynamic circles of exchange”?
- And very important to our own exploration, who else is having these conversations, from whom we might learn?
* Catalytic Listening is part of the Catalytic Thinking framework, bringing out the best in people and situations by listening for their desired outcomes, their strengths and their core values.
The historical images in this post are c/o Wikimedia commons:
Image 1 – Working life – hoisting a beam – New South Wales 1934
Image 2 – building the New Scots Church 1928 in Sydney, AU
Image 3 – 1956 from the German Federal archives
Image 4 – 1960 from the German Federal archives
Image 5 – The construction of the curved canopy at Bristol Temple Meads railway station in 1876
Image 6 – Hostel construction, Bihar, India, 1958