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.
While this began as a discussion of succession planning, after asking just the first few questions in Catalytic Thinking, the focus moved quickly to what succession planning makes possible. The answer: Continuity of Benefit – that benefit being a place to learn, practice, and experience Catalytic Thinking. To see summaries of those conversations, this post has links to all of them.
At our March meeting, Hildy began with a recap of our recent conversations
Early in this conversation about succession planning, it became clear that this was not actually about succession planning. Our conversations have become focused on what’s next for Creating the Future and not what’s next if Hildy and Dimitri aren’t at the helm. The most important question we could ask was: What would succession planning make possible? And the answer to that was Catalytic Thinking. We talked about the conditions that would need to be in place for that to happen.
One of the things that’s important for the “What’s next?” conversation is that we’ve always said Creating the Future’s mission was a 10 year mission. This does not mean we are sunsetting in 10 years, but that we would pause, learn, reassess, etc. That 10 year timeline becomes like the shot clock in basketball. In professional basketball, you have 24 seconds to have possession of the ball before you have to take a shot. In the old days, there was no demand that you shoot and games could go on forever because people just held on to the ball. The shot clock demands that people take their shot.
Our 10 year shot clock started on January 1, 2017. So we are at the halfway point. This is something to celebrate! We have 5 years of learning and so much to reflect on. Moving into the next 5 years, we don’t have anything to prove. We know that Catalytic Thinking works in every situation we have tested it, to bring out the best in people in whatever situation we find ourselves in.
We’ve always said that we’ll know we’re successful when people we’ve never met are asking questions of other people we’ve never met, that bring out the best in that situation.
That leads to the question we will work with today: Is our focus on continuity of the Catalytic Thinking Framework or is this about the continuity of catalytic questions? When we’ve said that we want people to ask questions of other people, we’ve never said that they are using the framework. Catalytic Thinking as a framework is just one tool to ask the questions. So, let’s revisit the question of benefit: What is the benefit that really needs to continue?
Is this about the Catalytic Thinking Framework? Or is this about catalytic questions?
- We say “Change the questions, change the world.” So the thing we are looking for is experiences where the questions lead to something different. The framework is just a way to provide scaffolding for the inquiry that creates beneficial change. We need to see people actually being able to engage in a line of inquiry that creates better outcomes for the people and world around them. There is also a strong connection to the idea of ubiquity – it’s not just that any one of us did this, it’s that any number of people are able to engage in the activity.
- Questions pierce through assumptions. Often, when we tell people we need to challenge our assumptions, it sets them on the defensive, but when we ask questions, they can come to a different way of thinking.
- Returning to the analogy of open-source software. The podcast Open Source recently took the stance that open-source software as a model that everyone uses is a failure; there is no Linux desktop that everyone uses. However, open-source development on the internet has been a game changer. There is a spectrum between philosophy and product where questions are on one end and a framework is on the other. We need to be clear about the beliefs that are shaping the things we are thinking.
- There have been recent conversations in the UK around tented donations; a lot of charities have accepted money from Russian oligarchs. This goes back to the things we talk about: it’s one thing to have the tools to fundraise, but who’s asking the questions about “Hey, is it right for us to be taking that money?” Giving people the tools, opportunity, and confidence to stand back and ask questions feels important because we are still not getting it right.
- In Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion work, justice acts as more of that philosophical, large-scale framework. However, many organizations that say they’re doing it aren’t doing it. Not all questions lead to creativity and possibility; there are bad questions out there. Having a framework that says there is one way to do something feels limiting and small. But how are we able to ensure there’s fidelity to the principles, that there are some guideposts or minimum operating standards. If the only guidance is to ask questions, is that enough to build people up in order to do the work?
- The questions and the framework are inherently connected. We cannot separate them out for the reasons already stated. There are some people who are going to be ready to work to figure it out, but there’s also going to be people who are resistant. The framework can be helpful to bring these people along.
- It is helpful to think about it as a framework, but that is only one way of thinking about it. We get a lot of feedback that someone tried that one question and it was amazing.
- Maybe our reason for being is to ask questions that are amazing and – oh, by the way – there’s a framework of what that can look like when you put a bunch together.
- A framework feels prescriptive, whereas questions are descriptive.
- Going back to the Linux analogy – The Catalytic Thinking Framework is the kernel and the questions are the applications, which can change for everyone based on their individual need.
- When you think about the whole approach and the question of why it works – the questions sidestep the defensive reaction and allows people to engage in honest inquiry. Catalytic Thinking and inquiry is framed in brain science.
- Curiosity is an important word. The language around asking questions sometimes feels like a very serious activity. Questioning someone can still be threatening. Curiosity is also about asking questions, but feels very different.
- There are different points of entry along this continuum. Some people need the entry of a framework and some people need the entry of a single question.
- Universal design for education asks the question how can we allow students different modalities for learning. If the goal is to test for comprehension, how can we create different ways into that goal?
- How do we hold space and create an opportunity to pause and reflect, to say “Ok, I have a decision to make, am I going to ask a question that is transformative?” When we think about this continuum between a framework and a question – what is in the middle? Once you’ve gotten a taste, what does it lead to?
- We’re saying that it’s about both, but is that a way to avoid the question? Would we prioritize having the questions right even over having the framework?
- The question itself doesn’t matter. The outcome and process of questioning is top priority. If the framework is the specific questions you ask, then no this is not as important. But if the framework describes questions that subscribe to particular principles, then maybe that is more important.
- If it is about asking powerful questions, then that’s very different from learning and practicing a framework.
- When we start to talk about people learning a behavior – whether it’s an internal thinking behavior or an interacting behavior – it is a combination of access to knowledge and the ability to practice.
- What do we want to be ubiquitous – people asking questions that bring out the best in each other or the seven questions from the Catalytic Thinking Framework in that specific order?
- There’s a really important thing about being disruptive, but in a way that’s positive and that’s what this is.
- The bridge between the framework and the questions is the actual asking of the questions. So the questions themselves don’t necessarily lead to the asking of the questions and the framework is one tool that can help the question get asked.
- What are the conditions that really support someone being able to ask the question? Maybe a framework is one of the conditions to asking the question, not the goal.
- There are levels of assumptions here. There are ways to ask questions that are not curious. However, these questions honor the people that you are asking and the nature of the questions changes how people respond. We’re not expecting a particular answer when we ask these questions; we’re expecting curiosity. These questions honor a way of being that is very humane and future focused.
- The principles undergirding the questions and the framework are possibility, solutions, etc.
- The vision of an organization doesn’t change, but your mission will change a million times because your mission is about what you do to get there. And Creating the Future is at that juncture. we no longer need to experiment; we know that this is powerful. In the “What next?” conversation, the most crucial question we can ask is: Is this work in service of asking powerful questions? Or is it in service to the Catalytic Thinking Framework?
- The framework is the most powerful tool we currently have to help people ask transformative questions.
- The questions in the framework are what make it powerful.
If the future of Creating the Future is encouraging people to ask a single question differently to bring out the best in the situation – what does that make possible for whomever is asking the question wherever they’re asking it?
- World peace?
- A shift in policy questions at governmental level; shift in dinnertime conversations;
- It would democratize responsibility for asking and answering questions. It would make every space where people gather a potential space for practicing this.
- The important thing that needs to continue is encouraging people to ask powerful questions and the framework is one way to do that.
- Is the other piece of this the community aspect? All of the stories are not about people finding and deploying this on their own. If there is no Creating the Future, how does this adapt and move as the world changes? This doesn’t have to mean that any organization owns it, but – from a caretaking standpoint – it takes labor to help things grow.
- All of us have a humility around the framework – it’s not new, but it’s pulling things together in a way that is practical and accessible. This speaks to it not being about the framework. Is there something about this driving energy that has to be present for this to thrive and grow? Embedded in this driving energy is desire for change and curiosity.
- The Hidden Brain podcast recently hosted Abhijit Banerjee and his whole philosophy is asking questions. The basis of his research and work has been: “Is that true? Is the way you see the world how the world really is?”
If asking questions that bring out the best is ubiquitous – what needs to be in place?
- Everything we’ve talked about already – practice spaces, etc.
- Remembering our conversation about onboarding – people need to feel safe, included, valued. There’s no point in asking questions and becoming an expert questioner if your environment isn’t open to that. So maybe our role is also about creating those environments. We’ve also got to help people think about how to answer these questions.
- Who is inclined to ask the questions? Questions are so embedded in our lives and we don’t even realize it. Questions are asked in grant applications, budgets, performance evaluations, etc. And this isn’t even talking about informal interpersonal questions.
- People need to know what questions are powerful and why. It’s not about good questions / bad questions, it’s about effective questions / ineffective questions
- They need to know that they’re not alone, that there is community.
- How it applies to them in their lives
- It has to be people who are inclined for change. We don’t ask these questions to maintain the status quo. People need to feel comfortable and confident in asking and be able to pick up on other people’s desire for change.
The people who are not ready are not going to knock on our door no matter what we do. So let’s talk about those people who are ready to at least just put a toe in. What would it take for them to do so? What would need to be in place?
- Examples of questions
- A set of questions that people don’t usually ask – people often don’t ask for fear of feeling stupid
- These feel like very different questions. The question “What does someone need to feel comfortable?” is about hooking them in and shifting comfort zones. However, “What do they need?” acknowledges that they might be uncomfortable doing it. For the latter, they just need a belief that transformation and systemic change is the way to go; they need something different, something intriguing, something that is new – not necessarily something that is comfortable
- Suze Casey’s Belief Re-Patterning framework talks about three stages: 1) to see what’s possible, 2) to step into what’s possible, and 3) to embrace what’s possible. Depending on where people are on the Continuum of Potential, they may only be ready for what they are comfortable with before they can even see what’s possible. Other stages along that continuum might be more willing to step into something that doesn’t feel comfortable.
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?
- We took two hours to be able to ask the questions in a way that we already know and value. Space for practice really resonates as a critical condition. When you do this, you may open up big things you’re not prepared to deal with and there could be some big roadblocks. And it’s important to know that.
- Being able to ask more effective questions is of itself not enough. We very clearly talked about the environment for asking questions – there are also intrinsic factors about ourselves – such as curiosity – and extrinsic factors about environment or organization. We’ve had some good conversations lately.
- Language – curious to go translate some of these questions into other languages
- Structure changes within a context, so the framework we’re talking about may be very different in different cultures. We may all want the vision and there needs to be different ways to get there. Like African elephants and Asian elephants – the framework is the same, they are both elephants, but the structure changed based on the environment.
- Thinking about how to bring along people who are not so prone to asking questions
- At the beginning of our sessions, we talk about who’s lands we’re all on. There was just a news report that based on footprints found in New Mexico, experts estimate that indigenous peoples have been in what we now call the USA for 24,000 years.
- Curiosity allows you to overcome discomfort
- Feeling gratitude and excitement. We are at a wonderful halfway point. It is so easy to forget to celebrate. This is amazing! It’s not “proof of concept” anymore. Catalytic Thinking works, and it works everywhere.
Our next conversation will be Monday, April 11th. We hope you will join in!