For the past several months, Creating the Future’s Integrity Body (aka our board) has been focusing on what’s next for Creating the Future’s mission.
This line of inquiry began last October, when we began applying the questions of Catalytic Thinking to the topic of succession planning. By the time we got to the question “What does succession planning make possible?” it became clear that succession is not just about switching one person for another, but continuing the benefit the organization provides to its community.
As we have been considering what it will take to ensure that benefit continues, we have also been mindful of Creating the Future’s 10 year mission, which began January 1, 2017. That date is important, as it is now 5 years into that time clock – the halfway point. In addition to considering what’s next, this is a time to celebrate what we have accomplished so far!
That celebration was the jumping off point of our conversation on April 21. (You can watch / listen to the meeting itself here.) The following are the questions we asked and answered at that meeting.
What have the last five years meant to you? What are you celebrating?
- We have been experimenting over the last 5 years, applying Catalytic Thinking in a variety of settings, to learn from the results of those experiments. With the success of all those efforts, the fact that we no longer really need to prove ourselves is immensely satisfying and exciting and something to celebrate!
- Having participated in an immersion course, I appreciated the integration of values. It helped me understand what it would mean to build a practice based on values for myself and gave me a genuine justification for it. It provided me with a real rationalization for why it was important and not only ok but necessary to build a practice around a set of values. I am also celebrating having a community that is willing to keep practicing with me.
- This work has been entwined in my life in so many different ways – work for sure, but also my personal life, my teaching, how I approach my research and the way I disseminate that research. I tend to approach things from a critical theory perspective of critiquing the current situation and its harder for me to say “OK, what are the alternatives?” Catalytic Thinking provides that framework to talk about how to actually create better situations.
- I always seem to find myself engaged in really rich conversations that make me think and spark ideas off and we start talking about things that I haven’t thought about before. It’s nice to spend time thinking and not feeling like you’re forced to have an outcome or output at the end of it. We’re all busy all the time and I’m celebrating the fact that this is a bit of me-time where I can sit back and talk about things where I’m not entirely sure where I’m going but am sure that by the end of it, I’ll have learned something.
- It’s remarkable what happens when we give ourselves time to slow down and think. We’ve heard the phrase “Go slow to go fast,” but going slow allows things to go smooth, and it’s the “smooth” that lets things go fast.
- I’m celebrating joining this community and this group! I have been very intentionally working on breaking through the capitalist churn of productivity. I’m finding more opportunities to think and be – to be in community and trust that it will lead to exciting things without needing to have that map all drawn out. I’m reflecting on my transition from wanting to break things down and get moving, to exploring in the same depth how to build things up.
- I can get into this mode of productivity and demands and quantity, not quality; it’s so hard to get out of that. We’ve been reactive for too long, reframing and getting people to ask these questions has been a gift.
- We need to make a list of all of the demonstration projects we’ve done – large and small – and celebrate what we’ve learned in each of them. We held a year-long demonstration project with a state Department of Education about reframing culture. We asked “What does it look like to use Catalytic Thinking to design a class?” We did several projects with Vantage Point in Vancouver. We crafted entire regional conferences in Delaware, Pennsylvania , and Vancouver using Catalytic Thinking to design the conference, training all the moderators so they could facilitate Catalytic Thinking in their own workshops. We have the stories that everyone here has shared. We have our personal demonstrations – such as using Catalytic Thinking to get my 88 year old mom to stop driving. Or planning for a trip: We used to spend so much energy trying to make the trip joyful that the prep leading up to the trip sucked! Now we’re asking “What would good look like as we prepare to leave? What would it make possible?” I’m also celebrating what this body has accomplished. I’m still not seeing other people sharing every decision-making process out in the public.
- I’m celebrating the fact that we have these conversations going back roughly a decade. I’m thinking about TED talks, but a TED talk is not a conversation, it’s a lecture. But because our conversations are so engaging, they call for participation, even when you’re watching after the fact. I’m not aware of other organizations doing it this way. I’m celebrating that we chose to do this and have marched to that tune with gusto.
- Someone will approach Creating the Future and say that they have been following this work for a long time. The seeds of ubiquity are out there. People are using this and occasionally we have a little window where they reveal themselves to us.
- The excitement that people get when they find it and are finally able to put language to the things they have been doing that works.
- The framework gives people something they can point to and put a repeatable science-based framework around it. They come to us and say “This is how I’ve been operating; I didn’t know it was a thing.”
From that celebration, we began considering what’s next, starting with the very first question in Catalytic Thinking:
“Who will be affected by whatever we decide?
And importantly, what will it take to center them in the conversation,
so that the people most affected are actually leading the charge?”
During our initial discussion back in October, we had already listed all the various individuals and groups who will be impacted by whatever Creating the Future does next. What would it take to engage all those individuals in making the decisions about what’s next? That was what we explored for the remainder of our time together.
What would including the people who will be affected by our work make possible for those individuals and groups?
- A feeling of ownership for what they want and having space to see their role in it.
- A sense that they aren’t passive consumers of what we do, but they are contributors. They are part of us, not “our audience.” For us, this would mean that what we do is relevant.
- An opportunity to practice Catalytic Thinking and processes.
- It would give them access to the insights and reflection points that we all get and benefit from being a part of this process. Thinking of people as leaders in their own lives helps make everything else possible.
- Being part of Creating the Future, as opposed to receiving it
- There is an old adage that people join membership organizations for what they can get, but they stay for what they can give. Involving people gives people a chance to be mutual, to be altruistic, and this makes people feel good.
- There’s a Robert Thurman quote that goes something like: Taking makes us feel scarcity and, when we give, we feel strength because we feel we have something to give.
- People feeling and experiencing the difference Catalytic Thinking makes. One of the demonstration projects was coaching folks at a local food bank through a very inclusive planning process where the community were the ones being facilitated through the questions and the food bank saw themselves as the implementers of that vision. This completely switched the power dynamic. The community was in a position of giving and contributing, not receiving. The more people experience it, the more they might come to expect it – expect to have power.
- It removes the belief that this is proprietary or has an owner and originator of it all. We’re all practitioners of it and can contribute to its growth and evolution.
- Eliminating the black box of leadership decisions. Our practice is a clear box, people can see it and experience it. It’s the difference between transparency and openness. So often transparency is like a window that you can see through, but there is still a barrier there vs. a window that is open – no barrier. What we do is open.
- It would provide language and context, creating relevance for an increasingly large population. This allows space to start practicing and experiencing the process, which helps start to contextualize it for the different communities we engage with.
- People feel honored in who they are by being part of the conversation
We then turned to the benefits Creating the Future would receive from all that involvement.
What does inclusion make possible for our work?
- Better outcomes
- We’re going to be able to learn more. We’ll have more joy and fun by engaging with more people.
- I often hear from people “I didn’t realize this conversation was actually going to be fun.”
- The additional perspectives, lived experiences, insights, etc. are invaluable.
- There’s a values thing here. There’s something in this decision that feels right. It feels right to make decisions not for people but with people
- Inclusion expands our collective brain. It gives access to more capacity, new ideas, new possibilities beyond those that this small group can come up with.
- It’s the process that decides. We have people that execute, but making the decision – Catalytic Thinking makes the decision apparent.
That led to considering what needs to be in place for such engagement to happen.
What would it take for people to be able to engage in this process?
- We’re all feeling this “we’re not moving fast enough.” But holding that weight and guilt limits us. How do we reach out to communities in a way that doesn’t trigger that guilt?
- Insights come at different points for different people. This is because learning happens when it happens, so it has to be relevant. People need to have the opportunity to go back to their lives and have that epiphany moment and be able to come back and share it.
- Several people shared reflections at the end of the Succession Planning Cohort regarding what it made possible for them. One person was not able to join any of the meetings, but listened to them all after the fact. This person shared how the cohort had made a huge difference because it was timely. It changed how they talked about succession planning in their own organization, it changed how they moved through the conversation. It was joyful. It changed the entire approach from succession planning (that they began to consider as ego-based) to asking what continuity looks like for everyone.
- Gratitude for their participation. People need that sense of appreciation, a sense that they are welcomed and that we actually want their participation. People are often asked to be present, but aren’t actually wanted to participate.
- An invitation that acknowledges their existing expertise
- A connection to whatever work they are doing
- Different ways of participating. We need to meet them where they’re at. They need ways to have their voice heard and acknowledged and invited.
- They need to know that there’s no predetermined outcome and that their participation isn’t just a numbers game.
- Context around what it is that they can influence
- They need to know that we don’t see ourselves as experts. They have just as much expertise as us, whether that’s through experience or formal learning. I’m thinking of the Einstein quote, “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research.”
- Honesty about the weight of the next steps without guilt. The weight of carrying on and moving things forward is very significant, but not in the state of “If you don’t step up, we’re going to fail.” People don’t have to participate out of guilt or obligation.
What successful ways have we seen real inclusion happen?
- Creating options for people. Creating enough interest and enthusiasm that people will come and offer their skills, rather than requesting specific skills or tasks from people (i.e. asking for a volunteer to do a specific task). It should be organic. It’s about building relationships, not about forcing your business card on people over cocktails. Real inclusion is not about a request for help, but the creation of opportunities.
- Asking the question “What do you love doing that you wish people would ask you to do?”
- Real inclusion happens when real power is given, not when we force people to work within our rules or structures.
- Ask people for their thoughts, as opposed to asking them to speak on behalf of their stakeholder group. Not requiring people to back up everything with citations and research.
- This is a great question to ask our community!
- There’s a lot of trying to involve people at scale and to mechanize that involvement. I’m thinking about distributed autonomous organizations. But that relies on a transactional engagement. I would be satisfied with a lower rate of engagement, if that engagement was relational and not transactional. If that means we have fewer conversations, then that’s ok.
- What hasn’t worked is raising people’s expectations that they will have a voice and then nothing changes. We have to make sure that we’ll do something with what we learn. How do we ensure we’ve got the capacity that we can actually do something with it?
- There’s a construct shift from “We’re doing it with your input” to “Your input is the doing of it.” As we’re engaging people, we’re looking at how to share that power. We have to be very authentic in that the ideas are important, as well as what it would take. Part of the invitation must be honesty – that this is a collaborative, co-created future.
- Multiple ways of being able to participate and a clear place to go when someone is ready to participate
- The importance of spaces not just for people to talk, but also to be heard and to be listened to.
- It has to be easy – especially in the beginning with a clear when/where/how to participate. We also have to be clear on where it might lead.
The depth of this conversation led to a practical question about next steps for this planning work. We discussed taking the whole summer to devise a community engagement plan, and to begin working that plan.
- What is the invitation? We talked about the nature and feel of the invitation that helps people engage, but I’m wondering if we need to re-gather around that. We need to be clear about the important things we want to communicate. Maybe it’s less about the tactics of it, but coming to more clarity around the invitation itself.
- What are we inviting people to? What are we asking of people? What are we asking of ourselves?
- I’m interested in having further discussion about how to execute this in a way that is feasible and doable, but still meets the needs of everything we’ve discussed.
- We must have a way to model what it looks like to meaningfully engage our community in a way that is human and possible. We need to come up with ways that make sense and we need to create a plan for doing this. We already know what we need to accomplish.
As we do at the close of every meeting, we asked each participant in the conversation to share their reflections. What stood out to each of us from the conversation?
- This is refreshing. I’m thinking about the comment of asking people about their perspective, not to represent their identity group. We need to meet people where they’re coming from first. It all goes back to the whole thing of asking the right questions.
- We have a good plan. I’d like to get things on the calendar to create accountability for myself.
- Today has been a good mix of thought provoking conversation mixed with some practical steps. I’ve really enjoyed the last few meetings with new people joining us.
- The resonance is around being really thoughtful of the invitation. We need to craft that open invitation in a way that entices people to come into the space in a variety of ways.
- I’m thinking about relationships. I’m feeling some excitement around the possibility of new relationships and a selfish uncertainty around the impact it will have on the existing relationship.
- I feel like we are striving to create a collective beginners mind, striving to create new ways of being. I love the history of science, which is full of stories where people say “This is the way we do this thing” until a new thought pops up and suddenly it’s not the way we do it any more. How do we make this fresh and new each time?
- There’s something really exciting about what’s next and not having to be a handful of people who have to decide what’s next for others. I’m very excited to live out that first question of Catalytic Thinking: What does it take to center the people impacted?
- This is about creating a Big Us, rather than an “us inside here and you all outside there.”
This conversation will continue on Monday, June 13. Info about that meeting, including how you can participate, is at this link. Please let us know if you can join us!