We Had No Idea

Sitting by a fire this morning. The wind is howling. There is snow on the rooftops, crusting in the wind. Winter has arrived. 

I’m reflecting on several experiences during the last weeks. On people that have been involved in work that captures their hearts. It is what is common among many of us, that undeniable spark and trembling as we move into bigger versions of ourselves.

“We had no idea” is a theme common among these experiences. It is a statement about how far-reaching, purposeful, and enlivening our work or projects have become. These stories have my attention because it is typically so much easier to look back on a successful project with only admiration. Often there is an undertone of “we couldn’t do that here.” Yet, common in many is this sense of just getting started and growing into the bigness. From “we had no idea” to “wow, check this out.”

The Mid Ohio Foodbank is one example of this. I heard it through Matt Habash, a former political leader in Columbus. He has had some affiliation with the Foodbank for 35 years now. It has grown to become the 10th largest foodbank of 260 in the US. They redistribute excess food, now 33 million pounds of it, annually. When I was with Matt last week, the new Foodbank was opening. A Leeds certified green building with space to convene community groups in dialogue and learning. They have funding. They have support from the community. They have vision in action. The have “wow, check this out.”

The Flow Game is another example. It was created in 1997. Eight friends in Denmark new that they needed something new, a new way to work in deeper consciousness. They created the game. Questions to go with it. They used to draw the board on paper. Simple experiments. Simple resources. Now, this game is being used and practiced in several countries by many trained leaders. It is being welcomed as needed tool to accomplish mission and vision. The game is also being prepared for release in a broader way — not marketed — but as a tool for deepening consciousness and action learning. From eight friends to a global stewarding and network.

The Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter is another example. It began with simple ideas. Some from a group of friends gathered at Castle Borl in Croatia, gathered in an open space learning group about 10 years ago. It began with desires to deepen work. It began with awareness that more was possible working with participation, co-creation, living systems, emergence. Friends talking with friends. Sharing “what if” stories. Today there is an explosion of hosts throughout the world. AoH has become a recognized brand. A shared identity in a community of practice that is in the thousands of people. A way of working in large scale change. A movement. We had no idea.

Our Optimal Health grew out of several Art of Hosting connections. One beginning was an Art of Hosting in 2005. Phil Cass convened several leaders focussed on how to improve the level of civic dialogue in Columbus. He thought it would be one event. From that training, an open space group formed, asking how might we be able to create affordable and sustainable health care for all in Franklin County. A bold question for a group of people ready to be bold. Since then, several assemblies have been held. Hundreds of people have been trained and now practice participative leadership. Columbus has become a model for large scale change that inspires other health care systems and other communities to create learning filled organizations and leader filled capacity. We had no idea.

Lastly, The Berkana Institute is another example. One beginning was in 1990. Meg Wheatley had just written Leadership and the New Science. Myron Kellner-Rogers and her were offering new paradigm work of leadership. They and others created Berkana through a series of dialogues about possibility. Friends gathering to imagine together. That grew to more dialogues. Seminars. Global leadership initiatives and communities. Pioneering work with leaders of other networks. Today, Berkana has significant reach. Thanks to Meg with her big heart and founding energy. But thanks to hundreds of others that have found in Berkana connections and courage to be pioneers themselves. Friends to hundreds and thousands of friends.

When teaching, I often offer the principle of “start anywhere, follow it everywhere.” It is a way of working in a living system. It is a way of working in a network. It is a way of working with simple beginnings. Not complex, long term linear plans that become obsolete within months. Rather, deeply centered values that endure beyond time. In such, starting anywhere, is born the stories of “we had no idea” that can be shared with next generation leaders, ready to begin their dreams and wondering how to get started.

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