Strategy that Begins with Friendship

A colleague and friend, Kinde Nebeker, came to my house earlier this week. We had arranged for two hours together. To say hello. To have a cup of tea. To plan a possible project together. Either at my kitchen table. Or as we took a walk along the Heritage trail that passes near my home. We met to be clear together. To be simple together, yet impactful — we both have significant history now of working at pretty deep levels with individuals and with groups.

Kinde comes from a background of ecopsychology and many years of skillful print design. She hosts rites of passage and wilderness rituals. She invites the depth of ceremony as part of the change process, which I have come to learn really matters. My background is organizational leadership and systems change through dialogue and participative leadership. I host leadership trainings, design large conferences, consult and lead strategic planning efforts. Together, we have lots of intersection, but also lots of difference. It’s a very attractive mix of similarities and distinctions for working in the complex environments of these times.

I learned something important with Kinde this week as we sipped our tea, which ended up being in the living room with my dog laying on the floor nearby. The learning has something to do with business model. It has something to do with the underlaying assumptions of how to best work together.

You see, I know that there is a part of me that feels like I should be very serious in the work. Stern brow. Highly focused. Tenacious. Proper. These are all stories that I carry with me from my youth. Many of us do.

I’m all of those things, but just in a different way. My seriousness, for example, is in giving very direct attention to purpose. Asking questions that have a playful tone — “What is the coolest and craziest thing that we could do here?” Asking other questions that have a very serious tone — “What do you really care about, and why?” My sternness is dedicated to a conviction that there is emergent potential between us that is different than what either one of us brings individually. Thus, how we work — what kind of container — matters. But sometimes it is a cup of tea that opens the right layer to get us started. Not a flipchart with bullet notes.

Here’s what I noticed as path forward with Kinde that is a kind of template I find myself using and recommending often with people trying to plan a way forward:

  • 1. Friendship First — Thanks Chris Corrigan for sparking this idea long ago. “Friendship is my business model,” he would say. Thinking this way welcomes spaciousness. Choices to do or not to do something together. It invites integration of self with project. It keeps attention on what’s not only useful, but personally interesting. It means looking deeply into the work, but also, purposefully looking away from it too.
  • 2. Start Somewhere — It doesn’t need to be a grand plan with every detail laid out. For Kinde and I, it is that we will host an evening gathering in October on the Inner and Outer of Evolutionary Leadership. Too often I’ve both experienced directly and seen in others a creative block that comes from trying to get too planned too soon. It’s a kindness to let ourselves be satisfied with a beginning. This doesn’t mean that we are not paying attention to a bigger picture or some possible next steps. It does however, point to making the path that is the bigger journey, by walking it rather than by detailing it.
  • 3. Welcome Emergence — This is actually embedded in number two, but it is worth saying again. Welcoming what arises, what wants to happen is different than planning it all out. Emergence — what comes from engagement, from intersection, from exchange — is the reason that you don’t plan it all in advance. It isn’t known yet, and some things can’t be known yet. Leave space for the right-timing, for the natural timing that doesn’t require us to manage / force / coerce into existance.
  • 4. Welcome Community — It is my experience that people show up, quite naturally, because they want to. They are drawn to want to offer some help from an open, honest, and transparent invitation. To learn together. We don’t go it alone, definitely. But, we welcome partners, companions, and so forth to grow naturally. The start might be people that are just simply being curious and wanting to experiment. From there it is natural that some will want a connection that looks more like a network and that could even grow into a deliberate group that wants to practice together. Don’t need to go it alone, despite the heroic impulse that might create.
  • 5. Write and Share — This is a way to harvest. Share with transparency the kind of learning that we are experiencing with the group and with the questions that we are asking. It helps clarify and invite a narrative, which, with some bias, I believe creates the possibility for scaled and significant change. To change the behavior requires changing the story. To change the projection long term requires changing the story. Writing is at least one form that helps embody the story and create invitation to join together.
  • 6. Welcome More — Here we are again, back to the emergence stuff. This would be the follow-up from number two. Welcoming more means growing from “start somewhere” to “follow it somewhere.” The “more” can’t be known before hand. It arrives as a next step. As a follow-your-nose option that comes from very deliberate paying attention together.

Kinde and I didn’t actually make it for the walk this week. The tea was enough to spark all of these ideas. A big picture that doesn’t need to be perfectly clear in it’s every little expression. The tea was enough to create energy, excitement, “what if” questions and proposals, and a working title. The todo of choosing a location for our October event and creating a draft invitation.

It was easy. It was clear. It was friends able to blink with a double take at the end of tea and say, “wait, did we just do that,” spoken with awe for the efficiency and the meaningfulness.


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