I was introduced to the work of Joanna Macy during a memorable exercise facilitated by Chris Seeley at one of the Narrative Leadership gatherings I attended in Stroud.

I bought the book, full title ‘Coming Back to Life – The updated guide to the work that reconnects’ and discovered an amazing parallel world of explaining complex systems, emergence, attractors but without any of the ‘difficult language’. It also includes dozens of practical exercise for workshops that can be used separately or as a longer sequence.

Given my recent interest and connections with Robin Lincoln Wood who has written an entire book called ‘Synergise’ (more on that in a later post) I was most interested in her definition of ‘synergy’ very early on in the book.

Synergy – The first property of living systems. As parts self organise into a larger whole, capacities emerge that could never have been predicted and that the individual parts did not possess. The weaving of new connections brings new responses and new possibilities into play. In the process, we can feel sustained – and are sustained – by currents of power arising from our solidarity.

In her 12 guidelines, on page 60, for a ‘good’ workshop I particularly empathise with the following four, and will reference these in later posts as I describe a few of my workshops.

1. Attune to common intention

2. Welcome diversity

7. Believe no-one who claims to have the final answer

11. You do not need to see the results of your work

My last quote from this amazing book is directly about a ‘good workshop’.

A good workshop is a highly participative venture. One of the greatest gifts that a guide (facilitator) can offer to participants is the opportunity to listen to themselves and others.

Always take the pulse of the group to find out what is happening. This act of checking in helps people feel more engaged and responsible.

convincement book

I have to admit to not really knowing much about the Quaker movement apart from the porridge and the numerous meeting rooms I have visited around the country.

I managed to pick up (in a charity shop in Whitby for £1) an interesting book called ‘ A great Convincement’ by Monica Ventress who chronicles the story of the Quakers in North East Yorkshire (a place I do know a lot about).

Apart from discovering that I was unknowingly an Anabaptist, I just love this description of the emergence of the Gurteen knowledge cafe (the thought that David Gurteen might be a time-lord and had gone back to the 1600s as an experiment did cross my mind):

An essential of the sectarian position was that the sermon should be followed by discussion: that worship was not a matter of passively hearing the Word preached by a learned minister, but in participation by the congregation after a gifted member had opened up a subject for discussion. As time went on the practice of interrupting the parson in his pulpit, became a common occurrence. Disrupting services had been made a secular offence by an Act of Parliament in Mary’s reign (1553-1558). The Quakers always claimed a legal right to speak after the sermon was over.

The book goes on to detail the numerous penalties and imprisonments of people who interrupted services, held or attended Quaker gatherings and is genuinely shocking that these practices were seen as so threatening at the time.

I was then reminded of a Quaker based method called the Clearness Committee’ and is described in Joanna Macy’s wonderful book “Coming back to life” which explains how to seek clarity in important decisions, especially around marriage.

After the focus person summarizes the issue, members of the committee (ideally five or six trusted individuals) assist her by asking questions rather than giving advice or problem solving. Honest, caring queries, arising out of prayerful silence, help the focus person see herself and her situation in a new light and unblock her inner wisdom and authority.

A more complete and detailed explanation of the method can be found here where they explain that:

Behind the Clearness Committee is a simple but crucial conviction: each of us has an inner teacher, a voice of truth, that offers the guidance and power we need to deal with our problems. But that inner voice is often garbled by various kinds of inward and outward interference.

I am really looking forward to giving this approach a try at my next problem solving workshop and/or community building masterclass.

Finally in looking to see what was on the internet about this method I came across this really interesting and very relevant slide pack on the use of dialogue by the Quakers on Slideshare by Thomas J Neuville in the U.S.

I am particularly interested to discover the origins of slide 12 and its relationship to cynefin and theory U.

When people are organised in groups, and their knowledge is sought, incorporated and built upon during planning and implementation, then they are more likely to sustain activities after project completion

…long term sustainability was only guaranteed when local institutions were strong…

…projects failed when there had been no focus on institutional development and local participation”

Jules Pretty as quoted from Agri-Culture – Reconnecting People, Land and Nature

We use stories to:

  • build maps of the world we experience so we can make decisions about how to act.

  • make decisions about what to believe in what we see and hear.

  • playfully simulate possible outcomes before we commit to a course of action.

  • condense experience into packages that re-expand in the minds of listeners.

Cynthia Kurtz – Working with Stories