Having spent much of our careers collaborating with people to expand what’s possible through their relationships with others, my friend and colleague Ann Van Eron and I have worked with leaders and others to create the conversations that generate transformational outcomes - as well as greater well-being. We’ve become concerned lately about all the important conversations that are not happening in so many organizations and, actually across society.
We see clients needing to mobilize others to creatively address complex issues across stakeholder groups. We see public outcry about political leaders unwilling or unable to address profound challenges that require fundamental rethinking, new approaches, new behaviors. Yet, often the authentic, generative conversations that are needed don’t seem to be happening at the level of addressing the magnitude of the issues with those who have the power to act.
We have been reflecting on this for awhile, and recently did some work with a team of colleagues, and believe we have come up with something that can be used in communities and across organizations as a way to begin, More on this later in this article.
First some context, and background on an exciting initiative we participated in with colleagues. Otto Scharmer, transformation expert and founder of MIT’s Presencing Institute, who has studied individual, organizational and societal transformation for decades, has called attention to columnist David Brooks’ view that many problems across the world are less a matter of right versus left polarization and more about being about being open versus closed. As in, people either open to new ways of doing and seeing things, or being closed. Ann and I find this way of looking at challenges to be useful, since most of us are open and closed to various things in our lives, and this actually is some common ground we can work with.
We created the Open Conversation project to explore these ideas, and became part of The Presencing Institute’s Societal Transformation Lab earlier this year – an initiative that included 350 projects across the world. We and our team of colleagues interviewed over 100 people about what makes them open and what makes them closed, and asked them to provide examples. We also asked what conditions or situations would encourage more open conversations, and what issues they are concerned about.
In this process, we learned many things, including how deeply many people care about these issues and yet feel stymied to address them. We also noticed something that we experience as profoundly useful. When we model openness, it often provokes openness in others. Openness is contagious. We believe that many situations would benefit from simple awareness of this very concept. We can choose openness versus reaction. This awareness can open possibility in our relationships with others, and create a foundation for authentic conversation and community building to address challenges.
Drawing from the work of our team members, our Societal Transformation Lab cohort colleagues from other teams who listened to our prototypes and gave thoughtful feedback, and based on our experiences and past work with leaders and their organizations of all sizes and across industries and sectors, we are excited to offer two new programs.
For an introductory exploration of what makes us open and closed, and how that impacts us and others, we offer The Introduction to the Open Conversation Project. A brief web-based overview of 45 minutes is complimentary.
A longer, more interactive version, just under two hours, offers deeper reflection, discussion on levels of listening and what supports openness, and experiential work around modeling openness. The program concludes with possible next steps for participants to empower themselves, and an opportunity to take on projects in their communities or organizations and participate in ongoing Open Conversation Project Circles. This is also available utilizing the Zoom platform, although a limited number of in-person programs may be available.
Who do you know who might be interested in this? We welcome your suggestions of leaders, groups and organizations who’d like to participate in this, and invite their members to participate. Please contact us if you are interested in bringing this to your organization or group.
This program is also available as part of a larger strategic initiative designed to enhance more openness to achieve greater organizational flourishing, authentic communication and transformational outcomes. Selected next steps may include targeted skill-building sessions, and Open Conversation Project Circles, in which groups take on projects designed to forward a desired organizational outcome. This is ideal for leaders seeking to establish greater openness in their cultures as a part of a journey to greater shared leadership, productivity, engagement, effectiveness, commitment, vibrancy and robust, creative conversations that foster community, well-being and sustainable achievement of desired outcomes.
Interested? Contact us to explore how this might work and if either of these are a fit for you.