Christina Baldwin on Collective Urgency

My friend Christina Baldwin writes recently about flocking Starlings, murmurations, and what she suggests we humans can learn from them regarding our human organizing and participation in society. She writes about collective urgency.

Individual birds synchronize their flight by spatially tracking with the six or seven birds closest around them;


So first gather six or seven folks and empower one another: read and watch and talk together, practice taking actions, communicate outwardly. Hold onto one another.


Each small flock joins the larger collective, by slipping into activity already in motion;


Then with your small group join the next larger thing happening around you: where do you stand and with whom do you stand?


The great size and constantly shifting shape of the flock confuses predators: a hawk, for instance, cannot figure out how to get its talons around this mirage of energies;


This is the power of great marches: a sense of safety when moving in tens, or hundreds, of thousands in peaceful demonstration; occupying space, linking arms, singing the revolution into being. Is danger present? May someone get hurt? Even killed? Yes. It is always so. AND YET—the collective survives.


It is also believed that there is an exchange of information going on about good feeding grounds for the next day.


By acting in coordination, we leave messages, stories, maps,–evidence of our flight and fight, in these times when we rise together—a murmeration of starlings becomes an urgency of citizens.

The pictures and videos linked in Christina’s post are well worth following. They filled me with wonder.

For times such as these, I need the reminder, the simplicity, and the encouragement to have courage.

Thanks Christina and all who are murmering.

On Design Calls that Aren’t Design Calls

This weekend I enjoyed a phone call with pal and colleague, Kevin Hiebert. Kevin and I met five or six year ago and have been connected ever since. He’s a fellow Edmonton guy, which means we can even talk hockey together. Kevin invited some thinking about the framework, Two Loops, and about living systems in general. He and I are part of a team hosting this event — May 31 – June 2, 2017 in Portland, Oregon. 

I love calls like this one with Kevin where we are not obligating ourselves to a particular outcome. We are just thinking together. Wondering out loud together. Sharing insights, questions, and stories together. Sure, they apply to the upcoming event. But Kevin  and I are pretty skilled at letting the conversation get bigger first, and drawing insight from that bigger place, and then being able to shape that into something very usable and portable. It’s good to work ourselves with the qualities of a living and breathing system.

Living systems is what inspired us Saturday, which then lead me into a few more distinctions that are part of this teaching in the Art of Hosting community of practitioners. Distinctions like this show difference, not either-or rigidity. They invite nuance and seeing experience from a different lens. I’m looking forward to continuing this learning and teaching — with implications for everything from “what to do on Tuesday morning” to “that is a different way of seeing the world.”

Come join us! Transforming The Way We Way We Gather and Lead. There are a few spots.


Bowen Island Art of Hosting, Day 3


One of the things that I love about the art of hosting is the mix of teachings, practice (as in developing ones’ craft), experiencing community, application, and just plain fun.

Above, this is Caitlin Frost adding to a teach, the model of which, Two Loops, is taped out on the floor. It’s a teach on living systems being birthed, and eventually dying. It’s a model on working with emergence and how it can scale. It’s a challenge to all of us to be in the dynamic reality of creating and letting go.




Margaret Wheatley

One of the people I have been fortunate to meet in my life is Margaret Wheatley. Our first meeting was 20+ years ago. I was a graduate student. She was a professor and had just published Leadership and the New Science. She was just beginning to transition from being professor to consultant, speaker, and author. I worked with Meg and others through The Berkana Institute for the better part of ten years. Many of the friends that I met through Berkana during that time have continued through to today, another ten plus years. They are often the people I work with in my consulting practice. I know Meg well enough to know that she would claim being fortunate to meet me, too, which makes me smile.

One of the things that I appreciate most about Meg is that way back in to the early 1990s, she was speaking a new narrative about organizations. “Organizations are living systems (not mechanical). Living systems have a way of organizing themselves. If we knew more about how living systems organize themselves, how would that change the way we organize human endeavor?” Meg was rogue. She was not alone. But she was far from majority. She was daring to tell a different story, which was accompanied by a different set of questions, and a different way of seeing. It wasn’t metaphorical ingratiation that Meg was up to. She was genuine. She wasn’t advocating a thought exercise. This was real, and she committed her writing, her consulting, her facilitating, and her speaking to this reality.

I was schooled in that context. It happened in tiny bits in my official graduate schooling. It happened massively in the 20+ years since then. That’s fortunate.

I found myself thinking about this history this morning. A friend asked if I knew much about John Kotter’s work and change model. I’d read some along the way, but hadn’t followed details. So I got a bit snoopy to see how his work had evolved. What I noticed, now nearly 25 years since rogue Meg published Leadership and the New Science, is that many big names in the field of organizational change have evolved into more of a living systems perspective. With Kotter, it is embedded in his call for not just hierarchical efficiencies, but also nimble experimenters. Rogue experimenters, that are as essential to any organization as the best of program managers. Lois Kelly, another colleague that I’ve met along the way calls these rogue experimenters  “Badass, Good-Hearted Change Agents” in her invocation to get real about leading change.

I smile to think of how many people have adopted more of a living systems approach over the years. It’s far less rogue now. It is far more common. And fortunately, many of these people are advocating good participative process to get real about change. I smile to be among the people with this orientation — for me, more than the outcome of reading a book, but from the 20+ years of practice and habit and instinct. Yup, thank you Meg for encouraging the rogue in me and the many essential bridge-builders that further translate the cultural organizational narrative that changes everything.