Donate The Wobble

When I work with groups, at the beginning I often give them a heads-up that what we do will likely have some wobbles in it. I try to free myself, and all of us, from the pressure (and fantasy) that it will all be “neat and tidy.” Or worse, though I realize I don’t always say it out loud, “cute, neat, and tidy.”

One of the ways that I offer that heads-up is by referencing Sam Kaner’s Diamond of Participation. It’s a model of divergence and convergence that many people use. Yes, in a super brief way, I reference it as a choice of how we will learn together. Yes, I typically will say something about taking time to breath, to share stories, to ask questions with each other. I invite them to consider options — not just jump straight to solutions (OK, sometimes it is exploring the choice of solutions and fleshing them out). In the middle of that good exploring together can come a “groan zone.” It’s a wobble. It’s the not neat and tidy part. Definitely not the cute part. It’s the time when people can be frustrated. Confused. Angry even. When nothing feels certain — which can be plain yucky. I have to remind myself, the job then is to hold the container so that a breakthrough can occur. My hope is that the breakthrough, the aha, the recommendation from the groan zone is one that couldn’t have happened without the wobble. It’s key learning. It’s the time to get real. It’s the time to interrupt patterns of surface thinking (which we all have, and all institutions have) to invite a new pattern that embraces complexity and uncertainty (which, I would say, all need, all institutions need).

Yesterday in conversation with three colleagues that I love and trust, we were talking a bit about this wobble. That, and an outfit from the same closet — shadow. I loved what one of my colleagues said. “Donate the wobble and then create a learning environment that will not harm.” This colleague was referencing many years of hosting workshops, over which she learned that she would wait for the wobble, knowing that it would give the group access to a much needed and helpful learning place. If it didn’t come, she’d “donate” it. Through her own words. Her own question. Her own story. Her own vulnerability. To be clear, with her, I didn’t take that as showmanship. I did take it as wisdom. Kindness too.

In the story I tell myself, people are thirsty, even parched, for realness together. For some of us, it’s still lurking underneath the  surface. We can’t see it. Find it. Hold it long enough. We fear harm if we dive into that water. Yet when we encounter it — the courage and honesty to be in the wobble — often with the encouragement of our friends or colleagues, it changes everything.