principles of emergent processes in facilitation

just spent several days facilitating the BOLD gathering with a team of brilliant people. i used emergent process to move us through the time together, and got great feedback. i have been identifying tools and principles for practicing emergent strategy in groups for some time. i am writing this to share the thinking, learning i am doing in my facilitation practice.

to reiterate from earlier posts, emergent strategy is strategy (a plan towards a goal) based in the science of emergence – the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. last year in a workshop at the allied media conference, we generated ideas with a working definition of emergent strategy as: intentional, fractal (the same at the largest scale as it is at the smallest scale, toxic, healthy, joyful, stressed, etc), strong because it is decentralized, adaptive, interdependent, and creating more possibilities.

rather than laying out big strategic plans for work, the invitation of emergent strategy is to come together in community, build authentic relationships, and see what emerges from the conversations, connections, visions and needs. it feels like more and more of my communities are growing comfortable experimenting with, testing, and learning emergent strategies.

i don’t see this as creating something from scratch, but rather innovating from need – lots of people have been doing this for a long time, calling it a variety of things. and of course nature has always been on it.

here are some of the principles i have identified in as clear a way as i can articulate them:

– lao tzu says ‘if you don’t trust the people, they become untrustworthy.’ the first principle is a positive flip of this statement – if you trust the people, they become trustworthy. trust is a seed that grows with attention and space. the facilitator can be a gardener, or the sun, the water.

– there is a conversation in the room that wants and needs to be had. don’t force it, don’t deny it. let it come forth.

– the connection between the individuals is what makes the whole group/community strong.

– passion is a more valuable force for action and accountability than obligation.

– develop a strategic direction based on the horizon you can see. move in it with awareness. develop strategic bodies and minds to adapt intelligently as the horizon changes.

i am also playing with fleshing these principles out into practice. for example:

in agenda development, look for places where you can open people to each other, and get their whole selves in the room. i am learning an immense amount about this opening, getting present, and connecting in my somatics studies. it changes what is possible when people take the time to acknowledge they are whole selves in the room. and changes what is possible when there is space for deepening one-on-one relationships as a way to build the strength of the whole room, early and often. even a one minute pairing exercise can increase the possibility of the room.

another tool i am working with, which i picked up from the very brilliant allen gunn at aspiration tech, is generating topics for necessary conversation individually, and then finding the priorities amongst those conversations together. this allows the work people are truly most passionate about to be articulated in their own words. it moves the group beyond obligatory conversations to what they really want to talk about and ultimately do.

good ideas become great movement growth strategies with the touch of passionate hands and work. ideas that emerge from obligation tend to go stagnate waiting for water.

so…work in progress. what do you think? what would you add?

Doing my best

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is my best.

When I was young it was clearly laid out for me what the best was, there were prizes and gold stars and north stars and ways to measure: grades, parental smiles, degrees, solos. I can count my not-best moments (when I saw the failure coming and did not change course) from birth through college on one hand. Generally, I was ambitious because I thought that was good.

Then began a dance, a crumbling of drive, a dusting off of something essential which appeared like an inner resistance. I would achieve some honor, title, position, or acknowledgement and feel erased by it, instead of seen. That I was conforming to other people’s idea of the best, in a society which measured things in ways that didn’t resonate with me.

This has been slow, and its ongoing. It has meant rejecting or sidestepping degrees, money, and certain spotlights. I am beginning to tease out what feels right after years of just being able to sense what didn’t resonate. There are two aspects which are emerging, which work in tandem as a compass towards doing my best: love and dignity.

These two aspects work in a couple of ways – as I follow them, when I feel them in myself or sense them in others, they are leading me to the best life I’ve known. And tasting these feelings, I want more of them – I want to let love grow through me, and guide me. I want to stand in my dignity against all the odds.

If I ask, ‘Is love here?’ and/or ‘Am I in my dignity here?’, I can feel answers that help me move towards my truth and back away from future regrets. I still do things that might be morally questionable, all the time. But with intention, with the consideration of love and dignity being present, I am learning to trust myself to do my best.

Last week my friend dream posted a mini rant about the ways people judge each other’s work and passions. She was responding to general local critiques of folks who aren’t in the streets over the emergency manager in Detroit, among other things.

I was really moved by her words, probably in part because I haven’t been in the streets. To a large extent I see the EM as a distraction, pulling people away from their work to create a future for this city rooted in abundance and community, to fight for a symbol of power instead of continuing to learn how we generate and hold power in community.

But I care about a lot of the people impacted by, displaced by, and focused on resistance to the EM. I’ve been reflecting and writing and meditating and praying on the well-being of all the people I love here who are internalizing this period of Detroit’s history, taking it into their breaking hearts.

I also care about gender justice, which dream named as one of her core passions. And Assata. And the men in Guantanamo Bay. And the sexual health of black women and girls. And people impacted by terrorism and violence the world over. And Palestine. And the tar sands pipeline, environment, trans liberation, combating obesity and fat phobia, education and so many more things.

I want to do my best by these things.

I actually think most people want to do their best, to be good people and create a good society. But there are so many paths to do that good. Is it by being a body in the streets, or infiltrating the school system with radical content, or making new media, or creating more art, or opening cooperative businesses, or raising awareness on social media, or disrupting every city council meeting, or writing science fiction about new worlds, or, or, or?

How to choose? What is the best way?

What I have been exploring over the past few years is that the work I do best is that which I am most passionate about, work which encourages my health and well-being, affirms my power and the power of everyone else, and keeps me in a space of creativity and solutions.

I don’t think this is unique to me. In my heart I feel there are a thousand paths towards justice and liberation. Yes to all of those things, all of that work, all of those strategies. All of these issues need to evolve – which means they each need people who are most passionate about them, people who feel powerful in moving the work forward, who are healthy enough to do the work well, who are creating solutions.

This happens, for me, at the smallest scale. It has felt hard to explain, unimportant after some of the national and/or urgent work I have done in my life – where I felt special and smart and strategic and at the table. But I am beginning to really understand how political it is to do personal emergency management.

Detroit is one epicenter amongst many – we are in the midst of systems which are imploding. Systems which we – well I, and I suspect/hope many of you dear readers – know better than to want to save, because these are systems which rely on our oppression and inequality, on seeing each other as competition rather than family.

So we are working to remember and create new ways to manage our shared home together. And yet many of us are still in the elementary stage of learning how to manage our personal homes – our bodies and health, our relationships, our movement work, our hearts. Not to mention our actual homes and our finances.

I might be in pre-K.

In this chaotic state we try to create change in the world and find ourselves stretched, tired, demoralized, and unable to create the transformations we yearn for, though we feel the possibility within ourselves. But in the lack of knowing how to do things differently, too many of us still do our work from places of fear, obligation or anger. From no, instead of from yes.

I am sitting now with the question of what it means to do my best, as an adult in a world full of crisis and tragedy. I’ve written about cultivating joy as a weapon, as a frontline. And here I don’t mean a general upbeatness. I mean joy powerful enough to generate authentic resistance in the face of hopelessness. Joy that makes people want to create new worlds and new life together.

I think a first step in cultivating that joy is measuring my best based on how well I can manage my personal state. I was in an emergency state for a decade – my mental, emotional and physical health were deteriorating and I wasn’t even really aware of it except occasionally as a badge of honor to mark how dedicated I was to the work. I was, like many activists I love and respect, doing my best impression of eeyore-on-speed.

eeyore

+

I am on the journey now of getting my health, spirit, heart and finances together, with the belief that the more grounded, joyful and dignified I am, the better I can live and lead. The more clearly I can apply my gifts and energy towards work I am passionate about, making the most of my miraculous and limited human capacity. Then, the more inviting my futures become. And the stronger my emergent strategies can be.

Because when it is time for us to manage it all – whatever we call it, our neighborhoods, our cities, our sovereign collaborative tribes – I want to be capable of the task, I want to be experienced, I want to be trustworthy. I want it to feel like love and dignity are there.

I suspect we won’t even get a real chance to manage it all until we have generated so much love and dignity and joy that our future is the irresistible one.

I see everything I am doing now as learning, as preparation. Now, and then, I want to do my best.

wild seed (geek-out notes)

i recently got to hold space for an intimate conversation on octavia butler’s novel wild seed with a group of fans/geeks at solespace in oakland. i mostly didn’t document it because i was immersed in the full body thrill of being present. however i do have the list of framing questions and the closing thoughts. i share them here purely to titillate.

framing questions:

(from Octavia Butler Strategic Reader)

– Are you currently suppressing or hiding a skill/ability because it would make you stand out from others?

– How do we learn to apply our skills/abilities in positive ways?

– For Doro and his children, death is not really seen as a consequence for their actions – how does immortality or longevity relate to morality?

– What is the relationship between immortality and privilege? (Longevity as privilege at the expense of other peoples’ lives)

– In Wildseed specifically there’s a reliance on a gender-based binary set-up. How does this impact the story? Are there moments of gender subversion?

– This series can be read as a new Adam and Eve narrative, with Africa as an Eden. What is similar and different about this from other creation myths?

– How does this series relate to Darwinism with it’s presentation of the struggles between human vs. superhuman vs. subhuman?

(from Mkali Hashiki, conversation starter)

The piece about power. Why is it that she can only “get power” by planning suicide?
And is that power?
What is Butler saying about power dynamics in relationships here?

—-

closing thoughts from the group – the feelings and brilliances were very much a group effort:

about the experience

i feel gratitude that an artist could be so playful and imaginative and lay stuff out that can get us so engaged. and then to come together and engage with it, to get really excited.

just reveling in embodied geek bliss

grateful for this space to rebound and geek out. i can geek out on the web and mental orgasm as i am talking virtually, but sitting together like this is awesome.

this conversation restores me.

about the book

i am aware of the relationships between art making, different communication styles, somatics, ritual and magic. of all it takes to create a pattern of decentralized networks of coordination.
*
i am interested in having a discussion of men on this content/book, exploring what it says about masculinity.
*
doro is the ultimate disassociation character. he jumps out of body as a traumatic response and continues to do so, as so many of us do, he can never stop, he can never ground and get back into himself. the question i have is: can doro be healed, is he healable?…i’m sitting with the idea that nobody ever tried, i have the feeling (anyanwu) couldn’t – but i don’t think she ever tried.
*
that’s the reality of so many young men of color in our communities. that is our responsibility, for young men, for everybody. i’m left thinking about survival strategies, self-preservation and agency.
*
it’s intriguing to talk about when to quit (and how). somatics has good practices around that.
*
i’m thinking about the creation myths and stories i grew up with, and the world we are in, the glittering world – what it really takes for bigger entities to quit, to give up.
*
neither anyanwu nor doro has much humility. why should they, they’re immortal, that’s their downfall, their inability to seek out help, change or healing. stuff is coming up for me about organizations and leaders not being able to change – we default to hierarchical structures. there are organizations that should die and don’t, there’s a lack of humility and vulnerability.
*
and what does it mean to quit, give up, let go, pick up…it’s deep to see her commitment as positive, her commitment to suicide…how do we do this in our movements, and personally – how do we make transitions constructive?
*
there are no accidents. I’m one of those people who left the movement, committed political suicide, im done, im tired, going to go do something where i am not tired. moved across country and changed my name. now in my wellness work (not healing, as i think of that as something done to someone else) its leading me back to organizing work. not an accident that my favorite author is sparking this conversation as i need it.
*
powerful for me as a filmmaker. i came up organizing. i remember being on the phone saying I have to step back. i was crying, cause we have been doing this so long, it takes a toll on me. it was a moment of self-reflection. i was crying out, and said i want to use my art to create change.
*
it is important to examine whether anyanwu was surrendering to something inevitable when she decided to die, or whether it was her commitment, her power. power or powerlessness – which was it? does it matter out beyond exhaustion? what is the distinction between these two? which had the most influence over doro? her surrender or commitment? which do we need to do – commit or surrender? fully let go of the world which can only exist in violence? or is it that we must commit to surrender – surrender our hold on the old, surrender to the unknown?

the next reading is the next book in the patternist series, mind of my mind. let me know if you want to be looped into hearing about octavia butler and emergent strategy events 🙂

octavia + oakland

last week i got to geek out on octavia butler and emergent strategy at solespace in oakland.

about the space – if you are in oakland, ever, this is a place to go and be in movement with others and buy sweet shoes to support the brilliant vision of community and cooperation that owner/innovator jeff perlstein is building there. jeff reached out to me about an event when he heard i’d be in town, and i thought a small talk about octavia butler with some of my homies would be fun. dani mcclain and malkia cyril, both immensely humble and brilliant leaders living in the bay, were game to come play.

about the event…it was pretty magical.

first i read the piece on octavia butler and emergent strategy from the transformative justice sci-fi reader which was unveiled at the allied media conference last year. here’s a few excerpts:

emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. rather than laying out big strategic plans for our work, many of us have been coming together in community, in authentic relationships, and seeing what emerges from our conversations, visions and needs.

we knew that we were seeing deeper commitment and radical transformation in this community work, but how could we articulate it as being strategic?

we were reminded that strategy is a word of military origin, and refers to a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. the fact that many of us were using a military definition in order to achieve an evolution in humanity was both ridiculous and illuminating. that alone was a driver for some redefining. it was also a little funny that we have been saying strategic like its a subjective thing, a sign of good. it simply means planned towards a goal. it can be an inflexible outdated hierarchical colonial imperial urgent haphazard plan towards a goal and still be strategic, technically…

we needed to be able to get more specific in what we meant, what we wanted, and how we could measure our progress.

(input lots of examples from octavia’s work which serve as case studies of emergent strategy)

…we can define emergent strategy as intentional, strong because it is decentralized, adaptive, interdependent, and creating more possibilities. bringing emergent strategy to our organizing means we become creators of our future together.

we are not limited to how things have been done in the past in terms of how we share leadership, how we manage interpersonal justice, how we make decisions, how we grow our work. even our smallest acts of integrity grow our collective capacity to live our visions into reality.

after this reading, we moved into a conversation, first with dani and malkia and myself, and then opened our seats so that anyone in the room could come up and speak. so many powerful ideas were shared. i asked participants to share what impacted them most afterwards, on the facebook event page.

this is no transcript, but here’s some of what folks remembered:

– be careful of charisma (glamouring) in leadership
– it is important to win campaigns, but always know that only gets us from a to b. maybe to j. not to z.
– we need both emergent strategy and more traditional campaign based work. (this is evidenced by the smashing of the Acorn community in parables series after ignoring the radical right wing.)
– “Live from a place of passion.” YES!
– we are made to fear our divinity
– being reminded of the limitations of the noun-centered language we speak, that keeps us from seeing ourselves always as beings becoming.
– the importance of ritual and acknowledgement of ancestors and the native land that we stand on.
– the words of the close-out meditation: “if you are (living your passion) doing what you love, and do it day in, day out… celebrate inside from your head down to your toes. And if you are not doing what you love, lean more towards it.”
– where and how do creative/cultural workers find their place in movement work? so much creative practice happens in isolation. how does that figure into collectivity/collective liberation/emergent strategy?
– (free schools) kids deciding their curriculum year to year, making it work for their needs/desires.
– see everyone as a potential ally.
– creativity comes from making room, rather than pushing.
– honor the erotic as the tie-in to our creativity and play.
– “the arrogance of our opposable thumbs.”
– Even an awkward black girl can lead, even when she doesn’t mean to.
– Play and being curious.
– We are all artists.
– Find a place in movement for what you want to do.
– evoked Dagara ritual of elders council asking child in womb what they are coming here to do, what is their gift. For example, if they say an artist, then artists materials are gathered by community and gifted to the parents for the child. And from a young age they apprentice with and shadow artists so education is based on who they are coming here to be for the community, their calling. While we as a society are a long way from being open to something like this, it would be fascinating to get more curious with children about where their passions lie, and fostering that rather than standardized schooling and testing we now have.
– there are resources available to us in dreaming this new existence into being that we are not tapping as deeply into as we can. Ancestors, Sacred Plants, Madre Tierra, etc are cheering us on and just waiting for us to humbly ask for their assistance. Been waiting for us to do so, and excited to see us awakening on a more collective level.
– always do embodied organizing.
– nowadays my visioning conversations are limited to an organization’s aspirations three or five years hence.
– I need to commit to doing personal work that connects my brain, my heart and my body.
– I need reread all of Octavia Butler’s writings.
– I so needed to be encouraged to lean into my passion. Since I fear it could lead me to create a beautiful reality in relative isolation, I heard everyone saying, “go ahead and build it, there’s a place for your vision within the movement.” everyone has a role to play and we find it by being true to ourselves.
– if we don’t start imagining and creating whole new systems, we will never get past the oppressive hierarchical patriarchal systems we are in.
– through it all, the awareness that climate change will make science fiction a reality in all of our lifetimes. This is real, and we have a great opportunity for transformation amidst the upheaval to come.

hopefully this gives you a sense of the magic that was moving through the room. more events coming soon to a city near you 🙂