The End and the Beginning

Seeing what's coming

What if our past experience instead of illuminating the future, obscures it? What if the way we have always approached a problem, or the conduct of a single day, or the organization of our work makes it more likely that we end up not accomplishing what we envision?

Working in planning processes over the years, I've concluded that people can see what they want, but fail to reach it because of how they go about it.  We can imagine the future, but not see the path that will take us there. This gap in our abilities is becoming more acute as the ways we have worked are becoming less effective.

From another perspective, we rarely see the end of something coming, or the beginning of the next thing. We tend to see in retrospect.  Our aversion to change, I believe, is largely because we don't like surprises. We defend the past hoping that it is sustainable into the future, even if we see a better, different one.The past, even less than ideal, at least seems known and more certain, more secure, more stable, more predictable, more comfortable, at one level.  It does not mean that it is satisfying or fulfilling, but it seems safer. 

As a result, instead of providing us a sound basis for change, the past can inhibit us from achieving the vision that we see. Instead, we live by a set of cultural forms that must be defended against change. In other words, the form of the way we live and work remains the same even after its vitality has gone. 

Change that has come

What impresses me about our time is how fast change is happening, and how quickly things we thought were normative seem less relevant.

Ten years ago, websites were the rage. You weren't on the cutting edge of business without one. Today, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a host of other social media platforms are the norm for a business. Twenty years ago, CDs were the norm. Now, digital I-Tunes downloads. Thirty years ago, the Soviet Union was the West's nemesis, now militant Islam. Forty years ago, Vietnam and racial equality were the dominant issues of our time. Now we have an African-American President, and Howard Schultz wants Starbucks in Vietnam. Fifty years ago, President Kennedy was challenging the nation to go to the Moon within the decade. Today, the government is putting space exploration on the back burner as space travel is becoming privatized.

Could we have imagined these changes?  Possibly. We'd probably not be able to see how they'd happen. That is the curious thing about visions and visioning. We can imagine the end, but not the means.  The pathway to the future goes through today and tomorrow. Yet, we are captives of our past thinking and experiences.  They are the measure of what is possible and what can be done.

The End and the Beginning

I have been reflecting, in particular, on these thoughts over the past several months.  I've tried to step back without prejudice and identify what I see without reducing it down to a few simple categories. What I do see are the markers of change in three broad areas.

For one it is the The Beginning of the End, for another The End of the Beginning, and for another, surprisingly, The Beginning of a long delayed Beginning.

Some of this reflection was prompted by a conversation about a project event to take place later this year. It was a discussion about how businesses function. The contrast was between a focus of work as a set of tasks to be done and the importance of human interaction in meeting organizational goals. I realized coming out of that conversation that this project, for me, represented a turning point in human and organizational development. It provided a picture of the past and the future. The past as the Industrial model of business organization and the future of organizations as communities of leaders. That last phrase was what I envisioned a decade and a half ago when I began my consulting business. Only now, after all these years, do I see that simple idea beginning to have relevance for the way we live, work, organize and lead organizations.

What I see is:

The Beginning of the End of the Progressive ideal.

The  Endof the Beginning of the Capitalist model.

The Emergence of freedom and democracy on a global scale.

The first two, Progressivism and Capitalism, along with modern Science, are the principal products of the age of Enlightenment.

The Progressive ideal believed, and still does by many of its advocates, that through government control of science and industry a free, equitable and peaceful world could be achieved. Conceived during the 19th century as a belief that society could be perfected, and as a counter-balance to the industrialization taking place in Europe and the United States, it was an utopian belief in a well-order, controlled, uniform world.

The Capitalist model was born in a belief that each individual should be free to pursue their own economic welfare, and not be forced by government rules or economic servitude to do that which they choose not to do. It was the ideology that provided the basis of the industrialization out which has come prosperity for more people in history and the rise of the modern middle class.

Both the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have brought great benefits and liabilities to society. They form the two sides of virtually every divisive issue confronting the world today. They are quite similar, yet in very different ways. Both are organized around the control of power and wealth. Both have been institutionalized in the large, hierarchical organizations in Washington and on Wall Street, and in similar institutions throughout the world.

Over the past decade, the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have begun to show their age. The assumptions that underlie these ideologies are being challenged by forces of change that are beyond their control. Because the control of global forces of change is problematic and less realistic.

A principal assumption of the Enlightenment is that we can know what we need to know by analytical decision making. In other words, by identifying the parts of a situation, we understand it, and therefore can design a strategic mechanism for controling the outcome.  This analytical process works very well in the realm of the natural sciences, less so in the realm of the social sciences. To paraphrase novelist Walker Percy, "Science can tell us how the brain functions, but not about the functioning of the mind."

At the beginning of this essay, I wrote of what I was seeing The Beginning of The  End of the Progressive ideal and The End of the Beginning of the Capitalist model. Neither of these observations are political statements. I am not a Democrat, nor a Republican. I am not a Progressive nor a Libertarian. I find none of the current choices of political affiliation representative of my own perspective and values. I speak as an outlier, not an antagonist. 

I see these ideological movements as products of a different time in history. The assumptions and the way of thinking that brought these ideologies into prominence are now receding in appropriateness. The conditions that gave rise to these ideas over the past three hundred years are now giving way to new conditions.  If progressivism and capitalism are to survive, then their proponents must change.

Emergent connection

These ideologies born in the age of Enlightenment share a reductive approach to knowledge. In other words, we gain knowledge and understanding by breaking things into parts. The assumption is that things are collections of discrete parts.  Yet, we know that in the natural sciences, the mixing of different chemical elements creates something new and different that cannot exist in any other way. Water being the most obvious example.

However, in the social realm, there is a shift toward emergent knowledge as the basis for understanding what is.  The emergent perspective sees connections and wholes rather than just parts. In a network of relationships, the value isn't one person, but rather the connections that one person has to other persons. 

List-NetworkThink of it as the difference between those radio ads selling lists of sales leads, and knowing the person who has a relationship with 100 of those buyers. The former is a list of contacts, of names and addresses. It is a parts list.  The other is a picture of a network of connections that one person has. This second picture is the picture of the future, for it is a picture of relationships.

We see emerging forces all around us. Again, this is not a political statement, but an observation. One difference between the Tea Party demonstrations and the Union demonstrations of the past year is the difference between an emergent organization and a traditional hierarchical one. The Tea Party organization is intentionally decentralized in local communities. Unions are designed as centralized concentrations of power.  One body speaking for a host of organizations.

 The difference here is between a centralized and decentralized organizational structure, like that described in Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom's book, The Starfish and The Spider. The centralized structure (the spider) is vulnerable at the top. Take down the leader, and the organization suffers significant loss of prestige and power. The decentralized system (the starfish) is not vulnerable at the top, because there is none. In a decentralized system, no one expression controls the fortunes of the whole. The centralized is the industrialized model, and the decentralized, an emergent one. The system that the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model share is one of centralization. Operating separate from both are independents and small business entrepreneurs. The difference is between a hierarchy of control and a network of collaborative relationships.

The recent rebellions in the Middle East are also examples of this emergent model. The use of cell phone and internet technology to connect people in agile, less structured ways make these rebellions possible, not necessarily successful, but possible.Their desire is for a freedom that they see provided and secured by democracy. When thousands of demonstrators fill the streets of Cairo seeking the end of a repressive regime, their impact is far greater than their numbers. We see a visual counterpoint of the difference between being a nation of free people and one living under an authoritarian government.

Even as the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model decline, the impetus towards freedom and democracy grows. I heard recently that there are now more nations with democratic governments than at any time in history.  Democracy that grows from a grassroots base is an emergent model. The impact is greater than the sum of its individual parts. In an emergent context, one person's actions can serve as a catalyst for thousands more. For example, the recent uprising in Tunisia was started  when a street merchant Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the abusive treatment by police of his vegetable cart business.

The Network is Emergent

In business, the emergent model has relevance. When a business perceives itself to be a structure of parts, processes and outcomes, following upon the centralized industrial model, then it has a much more difficult time seeing the value that exists in the relational connections that exist both between people and within the structure itself. It is why so many businesses become siloed and turf battles insue.

Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy

However, when a business sees itself as a network of interactive individuals, then the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The result is higher levels of communication, collaboration and coordination.

While the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model are products of the age of Enlightenment, emergence, freedom and democracy are even older ideas finding new ground and relevance.  In the traditional business organization, their relevance can be seen in two ways.

First, in the freedom of the individual to take responsibility through their own initiative. This perspective harkens back to the ancient Greek democracies where Greek farmers and small business owners participated in the governance and protection of their city-state. For businesses to replicate such an ethos requires a shift in perspective from employees as functionaries of the tasks of the company to a recognition of the potential contribution that each person offers. It is in this sense that each person leads out of their own personal initiative to give their best to the company.

Second, in the emergence of businesses as human communities of shared responsibility. The traditional approach has been to break down the organizational structures into discrete parts of tasks and responsibilities, and to staff to that conception of the organization. This traditional hierarchical approach worked in simpler times when businesses were less global, more homogeneous, and employees less well trained, and had the technology to advance their contributions beyond their individual position in the company.

Today, the environment of business has changed, as the context becomes more complex and change accelerates. Agility and responsiveness are not embedded in structure, but in human choice and in relationships that amplify those shared choices to make a difference. It is the freedom to take initiative to act in concert with others that creates the conditions of successfully managing the challenging environment of business today. The result of a greater emphasis on relationship, interaction and personal initiative is a shift in culture. One only has to select any page in the Zappos.com Culture Book to see the influence of genuine community upon the attitudes and behaviors of the company's workforce.

The Keys to Change

I began this post by saying that we rarely see the end of something coming or the beginning of something new. What I offer here has been germinating in my mind for the past three years. It is still not yet fully formed, and may never be. Yet, I am convinced that the changes that I see happening mean that there is no going back to the halcyon days of the 1990's or even the 1950's.  Business organizations will not long succeed as mechanistic structures of human parts. Rather they must emerge into being communities of leaders, where individual initiative, community and freedom are fundamental aspects of the company's culture

The keys to the future, in my mind, are fairly simple.

1. Leadership starts with individual employees' own personal initiative to make a difference. Create space and grant permission for individual employees to take initiative to create new ways of working, new collaborative partnerships and solve problems before that reach a crisis level.

2. Relationships are central to every organizational endeavor. Create space for relationships to grow, and the fruit will be better communication, more collaboration between people and groups, and a more efficient coordination of the work of the organization.

 3. Open the organization to new ideas about its mission. Identify the values that give purpose and meaning to the company's mission.  Organize around those values that unite people around a common purpose, that give them the motivation to want to communicate better, collaborate more, and coordinate their work with others.  Openness is a form of freedom that releases the hidden and constrained potential that exists within every company.

We are now at the End of an era that is unprecedented in human history. The next era is Beginning, and each of us has the privilege and the opportunity to share in its development. It requires adapting to new ideas, new ways of thinking, living and working. I welcome the change that is emerging, because I find hope that a better world can be gained through its development.


Circle of Impact Leadership: Circle of Impact Conversation Guides

This is one of a series of posts describing the intent and use of the Circle of Impact Guides.

Circle of Impact - Life-Work Coaching The Circle of Impact is a picture of the dynamic that every leader addresses. There are three dimensions to leading.

There is the Ideas dimension which incorporates the activities of visioning, planning, decision-making and communication.

There is the Relationship dimension that functions as a focal point of networking and collaboration.

There are the Social and Organizational Structure dimensions. They are similar in that they are the context for people to work together. I divide this dimension in two, recognizing that the social environment of an organization is different than the organizational structure. I'm also distinguishing between the relationships that people have with one another, and the social setting or culture of the organization. That social setting doesn't require everyone to be in relationship, though it is formed by people's ideas functioning in their relationship within the structure of the organization. To keep this picture simple, I define the components of the Organizational Structure as Governance, Program, Operations and Resources. Working with these four broad areas will provide more than enough opportunities for conversation.

There are four types of ideas that are important for the functioning of the organization. I called these concepts the Connecting Ideas.

The first is the Purpose or Mission that a person or organization has.  The words are basically interchangeable. However, I distinguish them in the following way. Purpose is used more often to refer to the inner motivation that a person has toward their life. Mission is more focused on the outside world. That said, I find no difficulty is using either one in any circumstance to mean the same thing.

A second Connecting Idea is Values that guide the organization. These are ideas that speak to a certain quality of the work and relationship that exists in a group or organization. For example, values like respect, trust, integrity, openness, transparency, resilience, and creativity speak more to the quality of the individuals and their relationships to one another than it does to a product or service.  From my perspective, Values serve the organization by providing an ideological platform for relationships to be unified in their shared effort to give their best to the organization.

The third Connecting Idea is Vision. This is a picture that illustrates what it looks like for the people of the organization to function within the Social and Organization setting to achieve their Purpose.

The last Connecting Idea is Impact. This a larger concept that results or measures. It intended to describe the difference that the company makes that matters. Difference is a way of speaking about the change that should result from the shared actions of the people. To measure change in this way is more than measuring numbers. It is a qualitative people of difference. This difference is defined the Purpose and Values of the organization. This is why it is a difference that matters, and not just a difference that can be measured.

How To Use This Guide:

The guide is a picture. Ask questions about how the organization corresponds to each part of the guide.  Talk about what your purpose, mission, values and vision are. Ask about what are the guiding ideas that most people in your organization share. Identify the different types of relationships that exist within the environment of your organization. 

You can use this picture as a problem solving tool. Identify an issue that seems difficult to resolve. Ask: Is this an Idea, a Relationship or a Structure problem?  Ask each person to identify which dimension that they see as the focal point of the problem.  The solution is not with that one dimension, but utilizing each dimension's strengths to resolve the problem.

For example, a communication problem may be a lack of clarity. But the lack of clarity may not be an idea, but rather a poor relationship issue made worse by a poor delivering system for communicating ideas.

Practice with the guide and fairly quickly, you will see all three dimensions in dynamic relationship with one another. You'll get it.

The next few posts will explore other aspects of this picture.


Circle of Impact Consultation & Coaching debuts

There is “… a thinning line between life and work …” that is forcing us to step back and reorient ourselves to the future relationship of the work we do and the life we want to lead.

Until our life purpose is aligned with the work we do, and our values are aligned with the relationships we have, our vision for impact is just an idea waiting for fulfillment.

Everyone wants their life and work …

    To be personally meaningful …

            To be socially fulfilling, and …

                    To make a difference that matters.


Circle of Impact Consultation & Coaching is here to be a trusted guide toward a future that is meaningful, fulfilling and that creates the impact that makes a difference that matters.

We create an Action Plan that aligns your purpose, your relationships and the social and organizational structures where you are involved that positions you to achieve the impact that you want in your life and work.

How We Plan is How We Implement

We don’t just plan, plan some more, and once we are done planning, then act. We do Active Planning where you begin to act on your plan as soon as it is clear and practical. As you do, we review and adapt to what we learn as we go along. As a result, we are always in a planning - implementing mindset. The benefit is that this keeps us alert to changes taking place that provides us opportunities to strengthen the effect of the active planning process.

What does an Active Planning Process Look Like?

Everything is built around Conversation. When we talk, we learn and discover hidden wisdom and insight.

I ask Questions that help us discover what we need to know. My questions are focused on revealing to us the action steps that we need to make. See my 2010 Planning Guide for a list of questions that we can use.

We use the Circle of Impact as a guide to be complete, comprehensive and strategic.

Complete means we cover all the bases.

Comprehensive means we look at the whole of your life and work.

Strategic means we create a plan that integrates your goals, values, relationships and social and organizational settings.

We look at your Network of Relationships, who you know, who knows you, and who you need to know in the future. We link them together into a socially fulfilling network of relationships that enables your network to be an asset in fulfilling your purpose in making a difference.

Our Analysis of your situation, by using the Circle of Impact model, provides you a basis for a clear perspective on where you are right now, and where you’d like to be in the future.

From this perspective, we create an Action Plan that guides your decisions and actions to achieve the impact that you desire.

Your greatest leverage for achieving your desired impact is through the Social and Organizational Structures where you are involved. The action plan we create addresses how to work within these structures. The key is aligning your purpose, values and vision for impact through these structures.

The Client – Consultant/Coach relationship

My relationship with clients is modeled after the Circle of Impact. I work to make sure that our communication is clear, that our relationship is based on trust and respect; and that the structure of our work together is organized to meet your needs and within a financial framework that makes sense to you. I am honest, yet discrete, respecting the boundaries that define our relationship. I care for my clients, and believe in their potential to make a difference that matters. Our relationship begins with a conversation to clarify your needs and goals, and to see how we can work together.

This new program is the product of over six months of intense redesign of the work that I've been doing for 15 years.

Circle of Impact 2010 Planning Guide http://edbrenegar.typepad.com/CircleofImpact2010PlanningGuide.pdf

Circle of Impact 2010 Planning Guide Questions http://edbrenegar.typepad.com/CircleofImpact2010PlanningGuideQuestions.pdf