Riding the Waves of Change with Harrison Owen

These videos were taken in May. They show some of Harrison Owen’s latest thinking about the phenomenon that started with him, or through him, after he dreamed up a simple way for groups to meet called “Open Space Technology“. Harrison Owen likes to tell the story of how this happened after two martinis. More important was that he’d put on a conference with a full year of planning, and the feedback he received were that the best part were the coffee breaks.

The intriguing part of this new thinking is how it related to death and dying. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is famous for showing us how people faced with their own mortality as in an incurable disease, tend to go through several phases in the transition before acceptance. The powerful recognition Harrison Owen has made is that the reason Open Space Technology is so powerful is that it rides the space between denial and acceptance. Change work for organizations is a lot like grief work.

Harrison Owen – Talk I – Leadership in a Self-Organizing World from Harold Shinsato on Vimeo.

Harrison Owen – Talk II – Leadership in a Self-Organizing World from Harold Shinsato on Vimeo.

Harrison Owen – Talk III – Leadership in a Self-Organizing World from Harold Shinsato on Vimeo.

Are you doing what you can for peace?

Betsy Mulligan-Dague, president of the Jeanette Rankin Peace Center, gave a short address to the attendees of the Festival of Peace in Arlee on September 6, 2009. I’ve admired Missoula’s Peace Center for numerous reasons. It has a huge presence in a small town in Montana. It runs a fair trade center in the “hip strip” across the Clark Fork from downtown. It hosts many events, from music to movies to various gatherings. It supports stands that might not be popular. And perhaps most of all, because of the person they honor with their name. Jeanette Rankin was the first female member of congress, right from Missoula. She voted against our entry into both World Wars. In fact, she was the only member of congress to vote against our entry into WWII. If we’d listened to her for WWI, most historians agree that WWII likely would not have been necessary. Betsy gives a strong speech in this video to the gathering in the beautiful Tibetan Buddhist Ewam center in Arlee for each of us to think of what we can do right where we to promote peace in the world. It might just even be practicing your own spiritual tradition more earnestly.

Technology Tribes

I’ve put off publishing this a while, but a friend reminded me of the value of Seth Godin’s book, Tribes, and I have to put out the word. Jeanette Russel, of Democracy in Action, interviewed me after a talk I gave to the NTen Club in Missoula earlier this year, and which she posted to YouTube. It was about adoption curves and the need to lead and develop tribes – communities of interest – around the mission of their non-profits. But being aware of this need to grow a tribe and the need to be a leader is valid for all endeavors and the landscape has changed dramatically making this need even more critical today.


Here is a quote from the book by G.K. Chesterton, Heretics.

Nothing more strangely indicates an enormous and silent evil of modern society than the extraordinary use which is made nowadays of the word ‘orthodox.’ In former days the heretic was proud of not being a heretic. It was the kingdoms of the world and the police and the judges who were heretics. He was orthodox. He had no pride in having rebelled against them; they had rebelled against him. The armies with their cruel security, the kings with their cold faces, the decorous processes of State, the reasonable processes of law — all these like sheep had gone astray. The man was proud of being orthodox, was proud of being right. If he stood alone in a howling wilderness he was more than a man; he was a church. He was the centre of the universe; it was round him that the stars swung. All the tortures torn out of forgotten hells could not make him admit that he was heretical. But a few modern phrases have made him boast of it. He says, with a conscious laugh, ‘I suppose I am very heretical,’ and looks round for applause. The word ‘heresy’ not only means no longer being wrong; it practically means being clear-headed and courageous. The word ‘orthodoxy’ not only no longer means being right; it practically means being wrong. All this can mean one thing, and one thing only. It means that people care less for whether they are philosophically right. For obviously a man ought to confess himself crazy before he confesses himself heretical. The Bohemian, with a red tie, ought to pique himself on his orthodoxy. The dynamiter, laying a bomb, ought to feel that, whatever else he is, at least he is orthodox.

Leadership and Followership

This past weekend I attended an unconference, Leadership in a Self-Organizing World, at the Sleeping Lady Resort in Leavensworth, Washinton.

I need to bring back, and pull out, the benefits from attending this conference to my co-workers, my community, and to myself. But the meal was so rich and intense, I am just wanting to take a big nap after the feast. But I also know I must share this feast, and keep sharing it, or it will not feed anyone.

There is lots to share. I took photographs incessantly while I was there. I invite you to take a peek. The one included in the post was part of a plenary session. I hope it conveys some of the spirit of our passion, playfulness, and reach.

The conference was organized using Open Space Technology, or OST. If you’re not familiar with it, OST is a meeting methodology that is more oriented around interactivity and participation, and which is sometimes called an unconference. There’s an interesting and compelling CNN article about it. Or you can read my own earlier article about it. It has been a passion for me, and something I see has the potential for saving the world. I initiated a wonderful unconference last month, the second annual Missoula BarCamp. We worked on the question of how technology and the arts can help make the world better through Missoula’s vibrant non-profit culture. The participants can’t wait for the next one.

What was compelling at Leadership in a Self-Organizing World? I find it so hard to fit my experience into words, but perhaps telling the stories of the leaders I discovered at the conference will help guide the way. Harrison Owen, the person who discovered Open Space and wrote the book about it, delivered two talks which I videotaped and I will post online. The talks themselves were excellent examples of public speaking which is a key leadership skill to learn, and there are plenty of courses that can help you like Ginger Public Speaking. Visit website to see if there are any happening near you soon. He made clear that the world is already self-organizing. There is only the illusion of control. He also drove home that the power of Open Space is addressing the point where our old answers fail us, and we reach for new ones. It’s a vital question for this current time, where structures are falling away so quickly. He referenced the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who described the phases someone goes through when they learn they have a fatal disease. These are phases people go through in any change. We deny, we grieve, we get angry, we get depressed. And eventually we accept.

St. Paul said he died daily. The universe is ever beyond our comprehension, so the healthy approach is always to be open to what is emerging. Perhaps that was the greatest lesson at the conference. Life is ever renewing and ever emergent. A good leader knows this, and helps foster leadership in everyone around us. It is this kind of ideology that’s used within the business world, with companies similar to Cavendish Wood helping smaller businesses get themselves on the right path to leadership within their companies.

In the Baha’i faith, the founder said that the sign of the maturity of mankind was when no one wanted to bear the burden of kingship. When we realize that the universe is self-organizing is perhaps the only point where a leader can truly be a leader. Just as Jesus taught that those who would be first among us would serve everyone else, and as he sacrificed his life to promote that message, maybe that’s the real lesson of being a good leader – learning to follow spirit.

Mush – Not a Healthy Team Diet

MushA book has fallen in my path again. If you’re not aware of it, I’m a big fan of Jim and Michele McCarthy’s “Core Protocols“. They have a great podcast on their website. They did pioneering work in software development at Microsoft, which is documented in Jim’s book, the Dynamics of Software Development. That work encouraged them to break away from Microsoft and build their own team work research laboratory, which led them to their book, Software For Your Head.

Jim and Michele uncovered great software for human teams, they called The Core Protocols. The software runs in the minds of the team members, not in a computer. I’ve taken a few of their Bootcamps. It’s not what you’d expect from computer gurus. We played drums, we painted, we made art work, and we talked about our FEELINGS. Run for the hills! But it worked. It was an experience I had only had rarely in my entire career, where people felt inspired, creative, and most importantly, cooperative and mutual support flowed in abundance.

What’s this have to do with mush? It’s been a challenge to get myself to follow the guidance from Jim and Michele. What’s worse, I thought I had to get everyone else in my teams to take on the Core Protocols before they could benefit from them. What did Ghandi say? “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I knew that, but still, it was a challenge. It just seemed way out in outerspace, that if people share their feelings and just talk to each other with a little hygene, that magic will happen.

This new book that’s fallen on my path is called Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe. I would not have read it and inspired a team of 8 people at SAP to read this book with me had it not been for Jim and Michele McCarthy. Part of their fantastic community of software developers, change managers, counselors, and managers, is a wonderful gentleman from Paris, Christophe Thibaut, who told me the book is fantastic.

The main theme of “Clear Leadership” seems so obvious on face value. What happens in most teams (and most groups of human beings) is what he calls “Interpersonal Mush”. We all make up stories in our heads about things. It’s what our brains are built to do. They do it constantly. Unfortunately, we make up fictions about each other without validating the stories directly. Trust is damaged, collaboration is impeded, and of course, productivity sinks. Bureaucracy has the saving grace of keeping people in line towards an objective despite this, but at a painful soul cost.

What I love about The Core Protocols and Jim and Michele McCarthy’s work is that it provides some very simple tools to get better at the four skills that Gervase Bushe identifies that we need to provide “Clear Leadership”. The four skills are self-awareness, descriptiveness, curiosity, and appreciation. When we practice these skills, it cuts down on interpersonal mush. And when we practice the Core Protocols, it does that too!

The Core Protocols helps you connect with your passion, wisdom, integrity, faith, the kind of nutrition a team needs to do great things. So let’s change the team diet, cut down on the interpersonal mush, and get some healthy virtue-vitamins into our teams.

Pets, The Unified Field Theory, and BSG

A Missoula Resident, Kathy “Keek” Mensing is an animal communicator. She’s a psychic and speaks to pets. She was the cover story in a recent newspaper article in Missoula. Read it for yourself if you want to know her story in detail. When she spoke at Fact or Fiction bookstore in Missoula last Thursday, it was to a standing room only crowd. She’s suddenly received a large amount of attention from her work helping people communicate with their pets, enough that she’s taking her show on the road. She also re-published a book she had written earlier as a loosely bound set of pages, The Way I Hear Them – Stories of an Animal Communicator.

If you browse to that article in the Missoula Independent, you’ll find quite a few vitriolic comments about her work. The very fact of her existence is offensive to many, both in the scientific world and in the church world. She’s either a charlatan or a spokesman for the devil. Missoula is not a big city, and there are many dog lovers here that would know each other. Kathy Mensing clearly has had some positive results with her animal communications, no matter whether you consider it anecdotal or real. But she does her work mostly remotely. She gets a picture of the pet. She sits at her computer and meditates until she gets a feeling for the pet and then she proceeds to ask the pet questions and types out the answers, in grammatically perfect english. She often gives information from the pet owners to the pets, and frequently the pets behaviors actually change.

If one is willing to entertain a reality to this, there is clearly an inherent challenge to the fundamental model of the universe by which our physics text books have operated. In Kathy Mensing’s talk, she said a German man reported after seeing what happened that he had to revise his whole world view.

Books of PythiaWhat is presence? By what medium is it possible for thought to travel? What is time? Perhaps a Unified Field Theory, the Holy Grail that Einstein and modern physics has been seeking, can not succeed without addressing some of these questions.

A very popular and award winning television series, the remake of Battle Star Galactica, they show a civilization struggling with a transition between God belief systems. Ancient holy texts are used to find the way to earth as a new home and an escape from the mechanized monsters they unleashed that are bent on their destruction. Are we on the verge of requiring a fundamental revision of our God-model? Is that perhaps the real meaning of Armaggeddon and the Alpha/Omega creation/destruction myths of our human culture

Kathy Mensing raised a very interesting issue about her success as an animal communicator. Though she has psychic abilities that she has been able to use with human beings, her success with animals somehow is so much less threatening, which is why we humans would be better checking out the database on HeraldNet to see which sites we should look into if we want to get our own psychic readings. It may be better to do this than visiting someone who performs much better with pets. But on saying that, perhaps our pets can provide a way for us to bridge that gap between the way we think things are and the way they really are. If we listen to them.

Agility in mind, spirit, and mission

This is a post about software. And it’s about flexibility, adaptability, and world peace.

The Agile 2008 conference is officially over yet I find myself experiencing multiple a series of post-conference sessions, if you will, that have occupied my time while wondering how to report on the impact and import of this event.

I know you’re not all creating software, at least not the kind that is run by microprocessors. Many businesses prefer outsourced software development for their software development needs. Furthermore, in today’s world it seems that intelligent software can help businesses at various levels of operation. For instance, some companies are able to provide services such as human resource management to help businesses become more streamlined and operate more quickly. Additionally, cloud computing solutions are becoming increasingly popular with companies looking to widen their global reach. For instance, if a business needs to be sending or receiving large digital files from China, then the company needs cloud capabilities and access to file transfer services such as Digital Pigeon in order to be able to fulfill this task. There are other technological tools that are fascinating to me too. For instance, it is no secret that we are currently living in an era of digital transformation, and as a result, we are seeing an unprecedented rise in the popularity of Event-Driven systems. Nonetheless, I am hopeful this blog will still be interesting, because geeky topics like algorithms and programs took up such a small part of this event for me. Above all, my revelations attending this computer software conference were about leadership, rhythm, and making the world a better place.

First of all, my first real experience of the conference after seeing multiple people with conference badges come up to each other and hug, was the opening ice-breaker party at the hotel in Toronto. It was packed full of programmers, scientists, and leaders in this small but quickly growing movement in the software industry. And at the event, they had some entertainment that surprised me. There were Tarot readers and handwriting analysts. One of them, Tara Greene , had a microphone attached to a small speaker box to amplify her voice on the small table in the large hotel ballroom full of people chatting so her voice would not run out. Now some scientists and advocates of rationality might not see much value in reading chicken trails or random cards, but I actually found her intuitions about my situation accurate and her advice very helpful in making my experience of the conference successful. If you’ve ever been to a business conference or trade show, you might know how challenging it is to successfully pick and choose from the huge set of opportunities presented at a conference. I was quite grateful. And it also set the tone – there is a different mindset in these innovative thinkers and doers in the Agile software development community.

What does Agile mean? It’s largely about two methodologies that have taken hold, Scrum and eXtreme Programming or XP. Although XP is strictly for writing software, and was my first exposure to Agile, Scrum is about how to organize a team, any team. But this conference was about so much more than these two methodologies

The open, democratic, free, and participation encouraging conference methodology called Open Space was represented. They had a relaxing space that invited smaller conversations where they held the Open Space part of the conference. And I learned that the Agile Alliance conferences, when smaller, were completely run as Open Space. I’ve written about Open Space in other entries like this one. It’s exciting, inviting, and it’s changing the world.

Jim McCarthy delivered a rousing speech at the conference, about the “Core Protocols” he and his wife uncovered through running their team work laboratory. I’ve attended a few of their bootcamps. Though they came out of software and my first event was with programmers, managers, and software authors, we learned what we learned mostly through creating art and performances. It turns out that the architecture of a team and how people work together well can actually be thought of as software. And we can improve it. And it can be fun and deeply self-expressive as are all of the arts. Not just the art of software.

The most inspiring aspect of the conference for me was learning about the book Fearless Change. One of the authors, Linda Rising, gave a few presentations and was one of the Agile 2008 conference organizers. She’s been to one of Jim McCarthy’s software development bootcamps. She and Mary Lynn Manns gave a wonderful interactive workshop to help people introduce new ideas, and because of the conference, they talked about the Agile ideas, but their methods could apply to anything new. It’s about being a leader, even if you don’t hold the official reigns of power. You can make a difference, and so can everyone else. What else could bring about a beautiful enlightened world civilization.

Finally I have to mention something I’ll be doing later this evening. Which is drumming in a full moon drum circle in Missoula. A software developer who facilitates groups in Agile software technology, Eiichi Hayashi, lead a drum circle at Agile 2008. I’d been to a drumming class at JavaOne before the dot com bubble exploded, and found it could be a very valuable team development tool. Eiichi and I drummed together briefly at the closing party for the conference, and it was inspiring to see how music and rhythm can bring people together. How can we make good products without getting aligned. Music and drumming can do it.

Agility in mind, spirit, and mission is all about being able to adapt to the changes in the world and to have access to the gifts available all around us, especially those in our fellow human beings. The computer has evolved at a very rapid pace as have many of our technological advances. What would it mean if the field of “Agile” as they call it in the software industry, were to provide teamwork and organizational advances at a similar pace? Maybe some of our intractable social issues would not be so intractable? Maybe Agility is really just a different word for Love. Maybe it’s time.

Do it Gung Ho!

Gung Ho!Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles wrote a page turner with their book Gung Ho! A book about leadership, the lesson was delivered in the form of a story where a manager is tasked with turning around a failing plant and instead her own ideas of leadership are turned around by a maverick manager of one of the teams at this plant.

It’s a great book. I hope many people read it and take it to heart. It lays a very realistic plan for optimum performance through the honoring of the individual as more than a resource, as people with real lives, concerns, hopes, and dreams. And that when we embrace the full humanity only then will the team come together to provide high performance for the company’s objectives.

There are so many business books on leadership, yet there seems to be such a lack of it most of the time. Perhaps leadership has much more to do with every one of us than it does the people at the “top”.

The World War II term, Gung Ho!, actually came from the Chinese word Gōnghé which is short for a longer phrase meaning “industrial workers cooperative”. It’s interesting that an über-capitalist book would adopt a Chinese Communist term, but perhaps it is indeed only in the collective that we’ll ever get to participate in truly enthusiastic collaborative – and fulfilling – work.

Ben Zander – One buttocks leadership

Thank you to Phil Gerbyshak for pointing out this talk by Ben Zander at TED. I don’t know if I can introduce it better than Phil, as Phil saw the full 75 minute lecture live. Ben Zander shows the difference between playing a piece with short phrasing and playing it with the full vision in mind and rocking from one buttocks to another slowly with long phrasing.  Seeing the full vision is the difference between getting distracted with what we’re going to have for lunch and a Nelson Mandela who spends 25 years in prison. Please watch this!