This is Karen's story.
In 2011 a colleague and I attended a presentation at a conference. The speaker had made a mistake but had not realized it. She had based her talk on some data that was no longer valid. As we left the auditorium my colleague began to criticize the speaker. I was tempted to join her in a moment of schadenfreude but instead suggested, ‘Let's go and talk with her about it.’
‘What's happened to the bitch in you?’ asked my friend.
‘The bitch is dead!’ I said. ‘Although that was fun I've found a new way that is much more interesting.’
PS. The presenter, after being initially stunned at the news, expressed sincere gratitude at Karen’s thoughtful intervention.
I have chosen to present Karen’s (not her real name) story for three reasons.
- First, it is a good example of the ‘leadership everywhere’ challenge that Gary Hamel and Polly LaBarre are seeking. Karen had no authority to intervene but did so in a way that opened up learning and relationship building possibilities for the speaker, her colleague and herself.
- Second, the story captures two approaches representing the two different mindsets demonstrated by the colleague and Karen. The colleague’s behavior was consistent with a judgemental disabling approach which was epitomized by the comments ‘We know and we are right. But we will keep this to ourselves.’ The dominant approach usually leads to inaction because to take action would likely end in confrontation and tears accompanied by loss of pride and status. The result is that most people remain isolated bystanders and their assumptions remain untested. On the other hand, Karen’s behavior was consistent with an enabling partnership approach epitomized by the statement, ‘We are all on a learning journey and together is better’. The partnership approach supported action because it encouraged Karen to, in her mind, stand alongside the speaker and create an opportunity to build a relationship and learn.
Third, the story is one part of a larger story in which, several months before the conference Karen and her fellow senior managers had undertaken a leadership development program commissioned by her boss, Dr Maddy McMaster. The program had a particular focus on replacing the traditional pyramidal structure and mindset with a parabolic partnership structure and mindset. And of course, this larger story is small part of an even larger story which is the development and the teaching of the concept that social structures shape mindsets.
(Instead of thinking of an organization as a series of pyramids of varying degrees of flatness, imagine instead a series of umbrellas lying on their sides with their stems oriented horizontally from left to right. The fabric of the umbrella lies to the left like an open parabolic satellite dish. The stem points to the right.Each umbrella represents a parabolic pod with a leader positioned at the apex and each member of the team is positioned on the spokes. Each team member positioned on a spoke can, in turn, become the leader of a new parabolic pod (new umbrella) and so on. I hope you can develop a picture that contrasts the flat two dimensional pyramidal, top down oriented structure, with that of a three dimensional structure with a transverse – left to right orientation. Essentially the parabolic pod represents a circular arrangement in transverse section with direction. The people attached to the spokes form a circle and the leader’s responsibility is to make the best use of people’s intelligence and creativity in the service of a purpose (represented by the umbrella’s trunk).
The above figures show a stylized umbrella. A parabolic pod and a series of parabolic pods which form a parabolic organization. The umbrella stem and the arrows represent clarity of purpose. Please accept my apologies for the inadequacies of these diagrams. If they have whetted your interest please consider looking at other examples in the referenced material.
You will be aware that there are several contexts to this story. I would like to focus on the main two contexts.
First, there is the context of Dr Maddy McMaster’s leadership.
In the months prior to the conference Karen, a senior manager with a large Australian university, had participated in a leadership development program "Leading from Within”. Karen’s boss, Dr Maddy McMaster the university’s academic registrar chose the program for her senior management group based on her own experience. The program was unique because it took a structural approach to leadership and organizational change. In McMaster’s words, ‘I am an experienced manager and have been exposed to a broad range of professional development programs. I learnt more from the “Leading from Within” program than the sum of my previous PD experience.’
McMaster took over the Academic Registrar’s Department (ARD) in 2006 when it was at a low ebb. ‘The ARD was characterized by staff without a focus, by teams who operated in isolation to each other and by a group that looked only inwards’ By 2008 McMaster had won a Vice Chancellor’s award for new initiatives. In 2012 she won the ‘L H Martin Award for Excellence in Leadership’. But it didn’t stop there. Other members of her team e.g., Merryn Jackson won the Excellence in IT Management award and Terrie Healy was runner-up for the Excellence in Student Administration award. These are the top awards for University Administrators in Australia and New Zealand. See link below for story.
At this stage I feel the need to say that our consulting work with Maddy McMaster’s department played a part in her success as a leader and in the success of her people. Our role was important but it was only one piece in the larger system. Maddy is one of the best managers I have ever consulted with. She is intelligent, has high emotional intelligence, has a passion for professional development, learns quickly, models behavior . . . in other words she is every competent OD consultant’s dream. Oh and one more thing, by supporting the concepts that I will elaborate on shortly she provided us with a laboratory in which we could test and refine the new paradigm ideas, tools and frameworks.
Awards for top administrators – RMIT University
(If link does not work try googling maddy mcmaster rmit l h martin award)
Second, is the context of the development of the concept that social structures shape mindsets and that this plays a much greater role in the dynamics of organizations than most people realize.
The structural approach is based on the idea that structures exist not only in the charts on the walls of the Directors of HR but also in the minds of the organization’s people. Structures act as über organizers of people’s mindsets. Within her mind Karen had replaced the traditional pyramidal (hierarchical) structure and its associated command and control mindset with a new parabolic (non hierarchical) structure partnership mindset. Fundamental paradigmal change that encourages ‘leaders everywhere’ is more likely if there is a change in both the external structure and the corresponding internal mindset.
In the marketplace of ideas the availability of a new way of doing things is a ‘trigger’ for change. Change is more likely once people become aware that they have a choice and are given the support and encouragement to make that choice.
Let’s quickly return to Karen’s story.
‘Recently a colleague and I attended a presentation at a conference. The speaker had made a mistake but had not realized it. She had based her talk on some data that was no longer valid. As we left the auditorium my colleague began to criticize the speaker. I was tempted to join her in a moment of schadenfreude but instead suggested, "Let's go and talk with her about it!"
"What's happened to the bitch in you?" asked my friend.
"The bitch is dead!" I said. "Although that was fun I've found a new way that is much more interesting."'
Karen demonstrated a willingness to move from being an opinionated bystander to being a builder of relationships and an active seeker of learning. But as she freely admits had the incident occurred six months previously she would have been stuck in the opinionated ‘I’m right’ bystander mode. Over the intervening period Karen had chosen to replace a pyramidal structure and mindset with a parabolic structure and mindset.
To understand how she made the transition we need to examine the theory behind this new approach.
There are three innovations that we need to examine.
First, the role of structure as a shaper of mindsets.
Second, how people construct reality
Three, new frameworks, concepts and tools
We shall consider the first innovation as the main ‘trigger’ in this section and the other two innovations in the following section.
The role of structure as a shaper of mindsets.
Let’s examine the proposition that if structure is the über organizer (the ultimate commander) of mindsets in what ways do mindsets serve structures?
A useful way to answer this is to look at the ‘I’m right’ mindset from a sociological perspective and ask what possible purpose could righteousness and prejudice serve? In other words, what happens when a high proportion of people within any group display their righteousness and prejudice?
Answer they become rule bound, fearful and isolated.
I know these are extreme cases but they are indicative. If you ever saw the gripping film ‘The Name of the Rose’ the grim ‘Magdalene Sisters’ or the delightful ‘As it is in Heaven’ you will experience its impact at a visceral level. In the end the good wins out but it’s a struggle and only just get over the line. You get the sense that without the creativity of the heroes who challenged the authorities most of the characters would remain suppressed and repressed. And that gives a clue as to the purpose of righteousness and prejudice. The purpose, at the social level is to keep people isolated with their heads down. Over time this ultimately leads to an entrenched hierarchy and entrenched inequality.
Far from being undesirable, inequality is highly desirable by those who have the most to benefit by it. Think about it. The more people remain disconnected and isolated from each other, and the more people misunderstand or mistrust each other, the easier it is for those at the top to exercise control and maintain their position in the hierarchy. Now place women (who as a generalization are more capable of building relationships) under the control of men and you have a system that for the most part maintains the status quo. And if you reflect on it . . . isn’t this the hidden agenda of the shock jocks who promote righteousness, prejudice, sexism and dependency? Isn’t this the deep underlying motive for the continuous outflow of misinformation that Ruppert Murdoch’s US Fox cable network broadcasts? Truth is of secondary importance – staying on top is the number one goal. Many media bosses would much prefer the listeners to be fearful, isolated, misinformed and anxious. Besides, happy people make lousy consumers. By the way, most of this is happening at an unconscious level. It’s in our culture and culture operates largely outside of our awareness. Could it be that we are all unwitting participants in what Paul Cesare recently called a ‘pyramidal scam’?
I am not expecting that you will say, ‘Yes you are right!’ based solely on the sociological perspective. We need several other perspectives to show the concept has merit. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677) found the problem never ending. He wrote: ‘All my life I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to mourn, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.’ . . Now if this man, who was a genius, found it difficult, what hope is there for the rest of us? That raises an evolutionary question, has it always been so difficult? Did prehistoric man or woman find it so difficult to understand his or her fellow tribe’s people? The evidence suggests the answer is no.
If members of tribe A found each other difficult to understand then presumably they would have been vulnerable to elimination by another tribe, tribe C, which found understanding each other easy. When tribal members find understanding each other easy the tribe as a whole can quickly make the best use of the collective intelligence and creativity. This offers a huge selective advantage. In other words, early man was faced with the stark reality, understand each other and work well with each other or . . . die. With this perspective it is likely that there would have been selective pressure to eliminate righteousness, prejudice and sexism for most of humanity’s existence - yet it is common now. From an evolutionary perspective whenever a trait persists or is widespread there will be a reason and it will serve an important function as I’ve suggested. Something happened in the developmental history of Homo sapiens that created the conditions for the perpetuation of misunderstanding and the finger points to the development of the hierarchical (pyramidal) structure.
There is a story in Genesis, from the Old Testament, which deals with the building of the Tower of Babel. The story has perplexed biblical scholars from the outset. It tells of how people collaborated together to build a tower that was so high it nearly reached heaven. God stopped by to see what they had done and said: ‘”They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withheld from them which they purpose to do. Come, let us go down and confound their speech.” And so God scattered them upon the face of the Earth, and confused their languages, so that they would not be able to return to each other, and they left off building the city, which was called Babel because God there confounded the language of all the Earth’
The story now makes sense to me. Having people readily misunderstand each other serves the pyramidal paradigm (and a pyramidal god) by making it harder for people to take control of their destiny.
Writers have struggled with the problems of the hierarchical paradigm for over two thousand years but anthropologists are confident that 'man' has struggled with the problems posed by hierarchy for much longer - perhaps for as long as human beings have walked the earth. In most cases hunter gatherer groups eliminated the problem by ostracizing those individuals who wanted to create hierarchies. To the hunter gatherer the concept of 'first above everyone else' threatened their very existence by undermining the unity held by the ethos of what they call ‘primus inter pares’ or 'first amongst equals'. There is growing acceptance for the idea that for most of Homo sapiens' existence our social and organizational structures were based on circles.
Early man met in circles often around a campfire. Their tents and houses were circular and life was understood in terms of circles. They buried their dead without monuments and worshipped non hierarchical gods. Have you ever wondered where the symbols for woman and man came from? In a very real sense Homo sapiens was Homo circularis or circular man.
(Diagrams showing early symbols of man and women. They are based on a circle with and arrow for men and a plus sign for women)
Michel Desfayes in his Origin of Male and Female Symbols wrote ‘. . these symbols can be traced back to the prehistoric rock engravings of the Mediterranean region.’ Desfayes quotes Andre Leroi-Gourham “One can wonder if the realistic groups of human subjects are not the key to an evolution towards the abstract signs”.’ Leroi-Gourhan is suggesting that the components of these symbols are deeply imbedded in our psyche and it is the link with “realistic groups” i.e., not the abstractions that are likely to hold the key. We relate to these signs because the circle has been integral to our evolution as a species.
The foregoing supports two conclusions.
First that hierarchies are not innate. (Over the last decade work by primatologists and neuroscientists have also supported this proposition.)
Second, that social structures are deeply imbedded in man’s psyche. In a very real sense structures are the über organizers of our paradigms.
Hierarchies first appeared about 10,000 - 7000 years ago which is a relatively (in evolutionary terms) recent phenomenon. Enter Homo pyramidalis (pyramidal man). Over time Homo circularis was eclipsed by Homo pyramidalis. Why? Because circles have problems when groups get too big. With some notable exceptions circles lack direction and a mechanism to coordinate a number of circles. In other words circles are not easily scalable - unlike pyramids which are. This makes them vulnerable to take over and that’s what happened. (By the way the Sociocratic structure is a good attempt to marry hierarchy and circle and in a hybrid structure)
Please pardon me for introducing the seemingly pretentious latinized terms, Homo circularis and Homo pyramidalis. There is a reason and it is important. Structures are not only 'out there' in the world as organizers of the relationships between people and they are inside us. The pyramid and the circle are über organizers of our cognitive processes. Daniel Goleman pointed out, 'Threats to our standing in the eyes of others are remarkably potent biologically almost as powerful as those to our very survival.' In our pyramidal world, threats to our standing in the pecking order are really important. We don’t have to go back far in our own Western history to a time when they were literally life and death issues and in many countries to this day they still are. As Kwame Appiah in his book, The Honor Code points out we only have to go back 200 years or so to find people fighting duels in order to maintain their honor. And even now in undeveloped countries 5000 women are killed each year in what are called honor killings.
Again the pyramidal mindset is complementing the pyramidal structure. Threats to our standing in the eyes of Homo pyramidalis is focused on ‘position’. Whereas threats to our standing in the eyes of Homo circularis is focused on ‘purpose’.
Think of the time and energy that people put into maintaining or bettering their position in the organizational or social hierarchy. We even have a term for it - status anxiety. And it causes great dysfunction, beautifully captured by Theodore Zeldin, 'In most meetings pride or caution forbids one from saying what one feels most deeply.' Think of the billions of poor decisions that were made whilst most remained silent. Or the billions of ideas that have never surfaced because people were too fearful of being criticized. . .
The biggest problem of the hierarchical organization is not the visible organizational structure that graces the wall of the HR Director’s office. The biggest problem is what is invisible. It’s in our head. Homo pyramidalis has a pyramidal mindset. And that pyramidal mindset serves the pyramidal structure. Think of it this way if the mindset is the puppet, the structure is the puppeteer.
With this perspective we can see that in order to overcome the problems of hierarchy which are seen in our every day behaviors of righteousness, prejudice, racism and sexism we need to find replacements for;
First, the organizational (and social) structure and
Second, the organizing structure that exists within our heads.
Two solutions worth considering are the sociocratic structure (mentioned above) and the parabolic structure. The parabolic structure overcomes the problems of both the hierarchical and circular structures. The parabolic mindset helps people to move from being an organizational bystander to becoming a thoughtful participant. One who can form true partnerships across not only with people within an organization but with people outside an organization as well. And because of its scalability the parabolic mindset enables people to build partnership with everyone on the planet. A parabolic mindset allows people to overcome the in group out group mentality that has been the core driver for warfare for much of our existence. Enter parabolic man a.k.a. partnership man a.k.a. Homo parabolicus.
It is the parabolic mindset that Karen took with her when she entered the conference room.
In the preceding section we suggested that a new way of doing things can be seen as a trigger for change. We presented the main ‘big idea’ that social structures shape mindsets. In this section we want to present the second main innovation which helps people understand the dynamic of reality creation. We present the idea that reality is created by the interaction of a series of mental processes which we have called the Reality Creating Committee.
How we create reality and why this is important to our story.
I am writing this part of my submission on Sunday 14th July. I have followed the Trayvon Martin killing trial since it began five weeks ago. Last night George Zimmerman was found not guilty. The New York Times carried the story on its front page. Within a few hours of publishing the digital edition of July 13 readers had posted over 600 comments. Approximately 95% of the comments that I viewed were critical of the outcome. And only 5% had supported the outcome. I have selected some very short comments. (As you know NYT comments are often lengthy)
Wendi from Chico California; George Zimmerman lied lied to the police on tape. He also told Sean Hannity that it was God's plan that Trayvon Martin die. When would it ever be God's plan for teenage boy to die? I'm disgusted by the outcome of this trial and have no faith in the judicial process.
Pat Gill from Minneapolis, Minnesota; I am so surprised and thankful that the jury reached the right verdict. Mr. Zimmerman was ambushed and attacked. Self defense was the proper verdict.
A visit to the Miami Herald’s website gives a different perspective. About 70% supported the not guilty finding. It is clear that the comments had a less sophisticated flavor to them.
Ward Randolf Kendall, I'm ecstatic. Now go ahead and riot, black boys. I'm armed. To the teeth. So are my white friends. We're ready. Go for it.
Kathie Melton Robinson-Stovall · Georgia Perimeter College; Justice has been served. Both parties were guilty of judging the other, but when you put your hands on another human being you have to be prepared to accept the consequences. Too bad some people tried to make this a racial thing when it clearly was not.
How is it that people who have access to the same information can take such strong passionate stands that are so diametrically opposed? Why do people make judgments based on what Daniel Kahneman describes as ‘what you see is all there is’ WYSIATI. . . Well the answer is obvious isn’t it? Everyone has a different version of reality. Everyone has biases and heuristics that filter information to confirm what they already believe . . . Yes that’s true. But how is reality formed?
We want to show how the concept of the Reality Creating Committee deepens people’s understanding about this issue. It provides another key concept on which new paradigm behaviors are generated.
Making sense of the world starts with perception. Nearly everything you and I know about the outside world has come to us through our ‘five senses’, sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. The outside world that we experience is to a very large extent invented within our brains and this invention is necessarily imperfect. For example it is not our eyes that see - let me repeat that . . . it is not our eyes that see . . . it is our brain. Yes the eyes are very important and we couldn’t see with out them but the eyes, the retinas and the optic nerves act more as transmitters rather than interpreters of that information.
I invite you to take a look at these pictures. They look like Arab men wearing traditional dress. They were painted by Eric Kennington in the early 1920’s to illustrate T. E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. After publishing his book Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia) went back to the Middle East and met with the men who had posed for the original paintings. He showed them black and white photographs of the portraits. Colin Wilson in The Outsider takes up the story . . . ‘most of them completely failed to recognize that they were pictures of men; they stared at them, turned them upside-down and sideways, and finally hazarded a guess that one of them represented a camel, because the line of the jaw was shaped like a hump! This seems incomprehensible to us because we have been looking at pictures all our lives. But we must remember that a picture is actually an abstraction of lines and colors . . . ‘
Lawrence's observation 'seemed incomprehensible' to anyone in the digital age. I didn't want to believe it because it didn't fit with my understanding of reality. A picture may not be the real thing but still a picture is a picture . . . isn't it? But then as I reflected on the period when Lawrence actually made that observation (we are talking in the mid 1920's) it is highly probable that many if not most Bedouin Arabs had actually never ever seen a photograph. What use did a nomadic desert dweller have for books or newspapers?
Now I invite you to look at this photograph.
To 95% of readers the picture above will appear to be a picture of modern art and make little sense. But to the 5% to whom this photograph does make sense this is one of the most beautiful photographs they have ever seen. It shows the tracks made by subatomic particles as they pass through a bubble of hydrogen whilst subjected to an intense magnetic field.
Having described the photograph it will now make a little more sense to readers. I would now like to add some more comments from the presentation address of the 1980 Nobel prize. It was awarded to Donald A. Glaser for his invention of the Bubble Chamber which made the photograph possible . . . ‘Surely we all have often admired the beautiful white streaks which are left against the blue heaven by a highflying jet airplane. These streaks are made up of very small, finely divided water drops which have been condensed into a cloud track behind the plane. Long after the plane has vanished in the distance, one may in detail, with the help of these cloud tracks, trace every movement made by the plane. . . ‘
I invite you to have another look at the photograph. You might look at the spirals. The photograph has caught many of them at different stages in a particle’s journey. In some the track begins in a larger orbit and then spirals inward. The camera has caught some of these spirals in a vertical plane. Other spirals look like stretched springs indicating that we have caught their trajectories at an angle. There are many other tracks with gentle curves suggesting that these particles were repelled by the magnetic field and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. There are two tracks (one easy to see and the other a little more difficult) that show a particle bouncing back after a collision rather like a billiard ball bouncing off a cushion. It’s likely that these particles were travelling from the right side of the picture to the left. Other tracks pass straight from one side to another unaffected by the magnetic field. . .
As I add more information does the photograph become more meaningful to you? If so, it is not because your eyes have been looking at it. It is because different parts of your brain have been interacting with each other and playing an active role in creating that meaning. It’s the same with everything we see. Your brain creates meaning. For Lawrence’s Arabs the pictures had little meaning. For most of us the bubble chamber photograph had little meaning until we engaged those different parts of our brains to make it meaningful.
What we have shown with our eyes, is also true of our ears and our nose etc. In all cases it is not the sense organs that do the sensing it is our brain that does the sensing. In other words our brains create our reality. And because your brain is different to my brain your reality is different to my reality. In other words everybody’s reality is different. And there is no single reality. There is no objective reality. What we call reality is what most of us decide is reality.
At this stage you may say, ‘I know that. I know that my brain creates my reality. This is nothing new. All intelligent people know there is no objective reality. . . ’ And that may be so but most of the world believes there is an objective reality and most of the people still act as though the reality that they see is the reality.
F Scott Fitgerald’s observation has a nice twist. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one...just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.’
Once we can accept that reality is constantly being created we can begin to consider just what is doing the creating. Neurophysiologists using fMRI and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) are now able to show the awake mind in action. Modules within the brain are constantly communicating with each other. This complex interchange can be likened to an interactive discussion that occurs whilst a committee deliberates on a decision. Each, moment to moment, sense of reality that we become conscious of, can be likened to a single decision in a series of decisions that have been made by the Reality Creating Committee. This committee is constantly working although all of the discussion involved of the formulation of the decision (reality) is hidden from our consciousness. We only become aware of the final decision when it is announced. Let’s continue with the metaphor. This committee is filled with colourful and opinionated characters and depending on the situation, some of the voices are loud and will dominate the others. Others are softer and might hold back until three o clock in the morning. It is not a consensus oriented committee. For example when the committee member ‘Emotion’ (that’s the E in the anagram below) expresses either intense love or fear most other voices fall silent.
It needs to be said that this is still a work in progress and by its very nature imperfect. Nevertheless the model has been constantly refined and tested over a six year period. Key members of the “Reality Creating Committee” are represented by the following two anagrams.
Each committee member represents a mental process or a recognisable pattern of neuronal activity. Each has a name beginning with a letter held in the anagram SCUMBAG TINKLE P. (Think of a SCUMBAG committee member taking a bathroom break and listening to the TINKLE as they P.)
I won’t go through them all (perhaps at another time) But let me go through the key committee members.
U stands for the Über organizer (Ultimate Commander) i.e., structure. If a person is a member of the Homo pyramidalis community their structure will be pyramidal. If they are in a superior position with reference to other people the other members of their internal Reality Creating Committee (RCC) will orient their inputs to create a sense of entitlement. The RCC as a whole will make sense of the world in terms of ‘approach’. People in superior positions believe that they make better decisions. Their thinking will tend to follow ‘I know, you don’t, my call!’ Their memories of making the best decisions will be more easily accessed than the memories of making poor decisions etc. There will be a hidden agenda which can be described as ‘Stay on top whatever it takes.’
But if a member of Homo pyramidalis community perceives of themselves as in an inferior position the other members of their internal RCC will orient their inputs to be consistent with ‘inhibition’. People in the inferior position will find a whole lot of reasons, emotions, memories, behaviors oriented to playing it safe and deferring to more senior people.
The superior and inferior roles and mindsets are well developed in most of us. And various behaviors get switched on and off unconsciously. People with seniority in the structure are treated differently across a range of situations.
When people have replaced their internal structures with a parabolic structure, they become members of the Homo parabolicus community. In this case other members of their internal RCC will orient their inputs so that the person’s behavior shows greater respect and a willingness to take responsibility for the predictable outcomes of their actions. There is a belief in ‘Whatever you do together is better.’ There is a greater openness and desire to support learning.
Once leaders understand the nature of parabolic structures and behaviors as expressed by the anagram SCUMBAG TINKLE P it behooves them to model parabolic behaviors. This means finding genuine ways to share power (that’s the P by the way) demonstrate a desire to learn from their clients (related to M for maturity). It means showing leadership and supporting spontaneous leadership from group members (that’s the L) and building a culture (that’s the C) of respect. It means acknowledging their own flawed selves.
In our work with Karen and her colleagues we physically created parabolic structures by using U shaped seating arrangements. We built sculptures of parabolic pods using people and objects.
T is for tribe. Many of the authors in the ‘comment sections’ of the on-line versions of the New York Times above know each other, at least on line. It’s clear that they read each other’s comments and often show warmth to each other. They have become fellow members of the ‘NYT comment tribe’ although they probably wouldn’t say that. People who identify with a political party will adopt other members as fellow tribal members. Once you become a member of a tribe your thinking and behavior changes a little. The RCC is a system that falls into line. (In some cases the change can be very significant. For example the radicalization of the Boston Bombers when they joined a radical Muslim group) If you are a Republican or member of the NRA you are more likely to watch Fox News and be a vocal supporter of the tribe’s policies. It also means that you are more like to turn a blind eye to inconvenient truths.
For example, David Brooks a NYT conservative columnist set out to write a column on food stamps but as of today has not yet done so. He admitted to the ‘News Hour’ on July 11 ‘I was going to do a column, because the Republican critics are correct that the number of people on food stamps has exploded . . I was going to say this is wasteful and that it’s probably going up the income streams to people who don’t really need the food stamps. And this would be a great column, would get my readers really mad at me, I would love it. It would be fun. But then I did some research and found out who was actually getting the food stamps. And the people who deserve to get them are getting them. That’s the basic conclusion I came to. So it has expanded but that’s because the structure of poverty has expanded in the country.’
So far Brooks hasn’t written the article. He might, but I suspect he won’t because to do so would express an inconvenient truth - one which his real tribe, the one he has the greatest affinity to, doesn’t want to hear. (As an aside this story does suggest that Brooks was, for a short time, open to something new. This opening has probably closed over by now because he hasn’t written the column.)
The point is that once you know what tribe(s) a person belongs to you will have a greater sense of what they are likely to think and do. Of course it’s not set in stone but it is a tendency that is worth being aware of. And there is another aspect to this. If we want to bring about a change in people it’s worthwhile thinking about which tribe will be most useful to help with that change. That’s what we did with Karen. She and her colleagues were asked to first form mini partnerships to help foster each other’s learning. And then to be strategic about seeking people in new tribes that would help them to develop.
I is for Introject Reference Group. The word introject is a psychoanalytic term. It means the bits of people who have been important to us that have been incorporated into our thinking. They might take the form of a kind word from a loving parent or an angry outburst from an abusive partner. They can have negative as well as positive effects. Introjects can be objects or pieces of music etc. Can I share a story?
Just after the outbreak of the second World War the British Government wanted to protect city based children from impending Nazi bombing raids. Hundreds of thousands of children were packed off to the countryside and many thousands were sent overseas to Canada. Tragically the Nazi U boat submarines viewed any convoy ship as a target whatever their cargo. It may carry precious cargo on its outward voyage but it would bring back supplies and munitions on its return trip. Such is the reality of war. Tragically tens of thousands of children perished and as I write tears are welling up in my eyes. One of the survivors of a U boat attack told her story in the documentary series ‘Convoy’. She and her hundreds of fellow evacuees left Liverpool bound for Canada with only a small suit-case each. They had to entertain themselves for there were no toys - except for one treasure. A rocking horse had been set up in a room and girls and boys could have five minutes riding the horse. You had to queue for hours but it made the five minutes on that beautiful horse all the more a treat. Two days later the ship was torpedoed and the girl and a friend found themselves in the water with only an upturned lifeboat to cling on to. It was night time. She and her friend clung on to that life boat as it rocked backwards and forwards for nine hours until daybreak when they were eventually rescued. She kept imagining herself on the rocking horse.
‘That rocking horse saved my life,’ she said.
Of the hundreds of children who had been on that ship only eleven survived.
The rocking horse was an introject.
Karen and other colleagues were asked to think of key people in their lives, past and present who had been helpful to them. They were asked to articulate the words or actions those people used when they were being helpful. Even people who have no physical contact can become introjects. Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, or grandma. These key people can be brought to ‘life’ through concretizing psychodramatic techniques including role play and sculpturing techniques. At other times parabolic pods of these introjects would be created using objects for example, bottle tops. . . .
I hope that I have given you a sense of the functionality of the RCC. Charles Darwin once said, ‘The mind is a citadel that can not be taken by force.’ And he is right. But the mind can be taken by taken by a committee especially if several of them are on your side at the same time.
Paradoxically it is tremendously freeing to understand that our own realities are created by the constant interchange between the various internal RCC members. It enables us to understand how we can bring about change in ourselves and to understand how to become more strategic in helping others to change. For instance have you ever marveled at the rapid change in people’s acceptance of gay and lesbian marriages. Once tribal leaders deemed it okay, in this case key Republican figures, other members of the tribe gave up protesting.
Part Three New tools concepts and frameworks.
Now is not the time nor place to go into detail about these tools except to say that new paradigm behaviors need new tools to sustain and develop them. Karen and her colleagues were introduced to and given the opportunity to experiment with a range of new paradigm tools.
We have mentioned two biggies already.
The parabolic structure and the concept of the Reality Creating Committee.
Other tools included
Developing mini partnership pods
Action Learning Methods
The Question Generator
FIBS ROCK model
The Forced ranking accountability model
The bottle tops protocol for understanding systems
A range of thinking tools, Six Hats, Concept Fan
Conflict resolution frameworks
And so on.
Please download the article 'A Practical Theory to Help You Change Society One Organization at a Time,' Peter C Rennie Journal Spirituality, Leadership and Management 2010 vol 4 no 1 http://www.slam.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/JSLaMvol4-2010.pdf
View a video at www.nobystanding.net
Visit our website which contains further papers . . . www.leadershipaustralia.com.au
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Thank you for the opportunity to talk about our work.