¡Viva la Revolución!

If you are reading these words, welcome to my Revolution. Or Evolution. This is a post about Authority. The slides below were from the talk I presented in Cambridge, Massachusetts at Agile CultureCon this past June. The question of authority has been a passion for some time. The bumper on my first car sported a sticker commanding people to “Question Authority”, which seems oddly authoritarian to me now. And though I liked my own presentation at Agile CultureCon, I’m also questioning it. Uncomfortable as it may be, I love to outgrow and shed paradigms and grow into new ones. Maybe like the caterpillar from MarSea’s poem.

So please, I invite you to enjoy my slides, included here for your convenience. At the SlideShare site, there are notes for most of the slides if you view notes instead of comments. The notes will be easier to see if you click the “Show Less” button.

Many moons have passed since my last post, many moons cocooned from engaging with you here. This post surfaces after a deep period of reflection, activity, and change. From studying coaching to becoming an Associate Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation; from being a student coach in the SAP Coaching Pool, to becoming an official SAP Internal Coach; and from being an employee to becoming independent and my own boss. This period has certainly felt like a rather tumultuous revolution. And I hope that my revolution will continue.

Revolution means a change in who holds the reigns of authority, whether that be a government or a ruling scientific paradigm. Yet just changing bosses alone won’t make for true change. There’s a clue in a song from The Who, Won’t Get Fooled Again. In the song, it seems to start out nicely. “Take a bow for the new revolution, smiling free with the change all around…”, but the punch line of the song is “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

So, if you viewed my slides, you may have noticed the Dr. Sapolsky reference to a revolution in a tribe of baboons where the alpha males were all killed off due to them eating from a stash of poisoned meat they found that they didn’t share with the betas or any of the females. See my slides for the reference, or do your own research. But I conveniently ran out of time after that slide. It was a grand punch line. Down with all the alpha males! And not the message I (consciously) wanted to convey. I had hoped to show how the use of Open Space Technology and other participatory leadership methods like Sociocracy could help us make the shifts we need in a gentler less wasteful way than through bloody revolutions and grand catastrophic crises.

Since my talk in Cambridge this June, I participated as a staff consultant in training for a Group Relations conference, The Merit of the Other. Group Relations conferences come from the Tavistock tradition which does an experiential deep dive into authority in organizational life by creating a temporary institution where the participants can explore and experiment. The work in a Group Relations conference focuses deeply on the roles we take up. The Merit of the Other was a creative mash up of Group Relations work with Family Constellations. Dr. Kate Regan directed the conference, and the Family Constellations portion was led and facilitated by the talented Lisa Iversen who also spoke at the first Montana Agile Culture House conference, MACH One, in Missoula this past April. Family Constellations, conceived by Bert Hellinger decades ago, enables exploration, understanding, and healing of deeply held ancestral trauma. I’ve participated in more constellations than I can count and have found them more effective than I could possibly express in words.

Perhaps you’ll be inspired to investigate both Group Relations and Family Constellations. With respect to authority they’ve taught the following:

  • From Group Relations I can see how much authority we already hold in ourselves to both help and to harm, often times without conscious awareness, as we both audition and are auditioned for roles in dramas. We play victim, perpetrator, and rescuer, and many other roles. It can happen as quickly as a “funny look” when we pass a stranger on the street or someone gives us less clearance room than we feel appropriate on the freeway when they shift into our lane.
  • From Family Constellations, the power and authority role of the parent naturally transmits traumatic patterns that children almost invariably pick up, and they pick the patterns up out of love. Surfacing the traumas so we can love more intelligently is possible, but it requires deep awareness, mindfulness, intention, and usually assistance.

Right now, I am listening to Gabor Maté’s brilliant book, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction“. This eye opening book speaks of Dr. Maté’s work with addicts in Vancouver’s skid row, and follows with deep insights about the nature of addiction based on the latest brain science as well as his own experience. The drug addicts all have had traumatic childhoods, sadly lacking in love and full of abuse. The child’s sensitive nervous system can not process the trauma, and their nervous system uses the addictive chemicals to shut out the pain.

When thinking about a revolution of authority, if don’t want to “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, it will demand that each of us individually and collectively face the places where we shut down to the truth of our own experience. Of course, starting right here, with me. Long Live my own Revolution!

4 thoughts on “¡Viva la Revolución!

  1. This is a nice blog post!
    I see your slides.
    I see the definition of authority in the slides.
    I do not like the definition.
    I prefer these two definitions for authority and power, respectively:

    1. authority: the right to do specific work, including the act of making decisions for self and others.

    2. power: the exercise of authority.

    Here’s some musing on these definitions:


    Learning is stressful. I’m stressed…in a good way.

    See also:


  2. Hi Daniel – thanks for visiting my blog and for your comments! The four definitions of authority in the slides are not my own. Two are from an online dictionary, 1 from Hobbes, and 1 from the BART paper and the Tavistock tradition.

    Your own definition of authority seems to fit the Tavistock and Hobbes definitions well. My challenge to the Tavistock definition of authority is less around the validity of the definition as its silence about the question of what is a Right? That question probably fills several shelves in the Library of Congress, yet perhaps a useful question for a future blog. Though in a sense, the question of Rights are touched upon in my slides connected to the concepts around Intrinsic value (think of Jefferson and Unalienable Rights).

    As to Power – I’m not sure it resonates for me that it is *only* the exercise of Authority if you accept Authority as the right to do specific work – as it seems to me that Power can also be wielded outside the realm of Rights and without Authorization.

  3. Hey, Harold (been a long time!)

    Just curious: did the beta males and females have anything to do with planting that stash of poisoned meat?

    I will have to read through this more thoughtfully when I have time.

  4. Hey Antonio, thanks for visiting! The beta’s didn’t poison the meat. It was tuberculosis tainted meat tossed in the trash by humans at a tourist shelter the baboon troop had been consuming from. If you don’t want to watch the whole National Geographic 2008 Documentary – Stress the Portrait of a Killer, which I highly recommend, this blog post points to just the Sapolsky baboon troop episode with poisoned meat.

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