Just short of a year ago I interviewed Peggy Holman about her book, Engaging Emergence. I'd been looking forward to the conversation because the ideas in her book are very exciting.
Guest: Peggy Holman Date: December 21, 2011
Just short of a year ago I interviewed Peggy Holman about her book, Engaging Emergence. I'd been looking forward to the conversation because the ideas in her book are very exciting.
Rob: Welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township, reaching metro Philly and south Jersey. It's sponsored by OpEdnews.com and you can get podcast recordings of the radio show at iTunes, looking for Rob Kall, K-a-l-l or go to OpEdnews.com/podcasts.
My guest tonight is Peggy Holman. She's the author of Engaging Emergence, Turning Upheaval into Opportunity. She's the founder of Open Circle Company, and co-founder of Journalism That Matters, and she's the co-author of The Change Handbook. Wow. Welcome to the show, Peggy.
Peggy: Thank you Rob. It's great to be here.
Rob: I got to say when I first saw this book, I really got excited. It takes an approach to a phenomenon that I think a lot of people don't ever think of, and you've given so much really cool, smart thoughts to this. How did you ever get here? How did you get to this book?
Peggy: Well, it was a bit of a journey. I actually used to work in Information Technologies, and the company I was working for started a total quality effort, and we had this project on the rocks, and the company had, in this total quality movement, we had the expert who had been hired in, organize this meeting that brought together, at that time, a new term for me: "all of the stake holders." And in the process of doing that, over the course of two hours, about thirty  people came to a collective decision about where to go with this project. And, I'd never seen a professionally facilitated meeting before, and I didn't know that something like that was possible, and I got hooked. And in the process of learning about ways of bringing large groups of people together and have useful results come out, I ran into these group practices that let you bring not tens or dozens, but hundreds [100s] or even thousands [1000s] of people together around complex, important issues; and indeed where there's conflict or people with very different, diverse prospective perspective, that actually becomes the source of creativity and generativity in meetings. And early on, as I started exploring these different practices (and this is back in the mid 90s) I saw something in a meeting using a process called "Open Space Technology" that I'd never seen before, which was, that the needs of individuals and the needs of the whole, could both be served. And I always thought that one or the other had to sacrifice. And what I now know is, I would call that one of the signs that emergence order arising out of chaos has taken place--and that led me--that hooked me, because I figured if it's possible for both individual needs and collective needs to get met, I wanted to know more about that. And it really sent me on a journey, both to learn about practices and processes that enable that to happen, and what engaging emergence is about, which is, "What are the fundamental dynamics that enable that to happen?" and "How do we work with them consciously so that we can do more of it, and more of us can do it?"
Rob: Why don't you just give us a definition of emergence, engaging emergence. What's that mean?
Peggy: Sure. It's a funny word, because I think it has both a very precise scientific meaning, and its part of our everyday language. I mean, we talk about things emerging all the time. And a simple definition of it is: the notion of order arising out of chaos. And as you talk about the notion of "bottom up," that's really fairly fundamental to the way emergence happens.
It tends to be about the interaction of people or things coming together in a novel (and in a sense a more complex), yet more simply elegant, way. And probably the best example of it that most of us can relate to is a word that shares the same root, "emergency." So, we often see this happen. If there's some kind of emergency--think about some of the horrific storms we've been dealing with lately. And when that happen,s some people start organizing getting food, some tend to the injured, some put up a website so you can find your loved one. People, in a sense, self-organize to get stuff done, and out of the disorder of an emergency, a new order--a comprehensive order, arises. And of course I think we're seeing that going on with the Occupy Movement in a big way as well.
Rob: Say some more about that.
Peggy: So, one of the patterns that you can rely on when emergence (which is natural phenomenon) takes place, is that in a sense it's how change takes place, and all change begins with some kind of disruption. And if you stop and think about it, it makes sense, because if there were no disruption, there'd be no need for change. And what does that disruption do? It means that the assumptions about business as usual, how things work--our assumptions about how things work, no longer serve. And so things break apart and we move into this experimental stage, and ultimately, for something to emerge, something new rises arises, comes back together in a comprehensible form.
And so if you look at what Occupy has done, it was clearly a major disruption to ways we think about protest, and in bringing visibility to the issues of economic justice, in a sense, that have been growing not just in this country, but around the world. And as I've been watching (frankly mostly from the sidelines, I've just put a bit of a toe in the water around the Occupy Movement), as we see the movement itself being pushed out of being on the streets, in a sense the disruption itself is being disrupted, and in the process it's letting a thousand blossoms bloom as people are saying, "What's next? What does Occupy 2.0 looks like?" And it doesn't necessarily book like people on the streets, although that maybe part of it.
I think we're beginning to see a number of different experiments, whether it's people occupying ports, or houses, or some of the online kinds of gatherings like Occupy Café, where people are beginning to think about "where from here?" So, we're in that stage of lots of experimentation, and I think as people start listening for, "What are the differences that make a difference?"-- we'll begin to see some kind of coherent forms arise--none of which are predictable ahead of time.
Rob: So you say you just put your toe in the water?
Peggy: Yeah, I got an invitation,oh, I'd say about a month ago from one of the organizers of this occupycafe.org, which has seen itself as a place for conversations that begin to shift the conversation from "what we don't want" to "what do we want", and in the process, creating spaces for people who are looking for a way to get involved but aren't necessarily interested in camping on the streets; to find a place to see how they might step in and get involved in some way. And one aspect of that is really beginning to think about, "So what is this movement about, in terms of what do we want to create more of?"
Rob: That's been interesting, because in the beginning, the first couple of months, I think it was a very conscious decision not to make clear statements about demands or goals. That the Movement was just forming, and there were no specific leaders, and what has come out of it, I think Horizontal Democracy that uses the General Assembly to get Democratic consensus, or if there is any. And that's a really different thing, that I think particularly old people over 30 are having a very hard time with this idea that the movement can evolve in a general sense, perhaps, of what is wanted, without specific defined goals or demands, and without any particular readers. How does that match with your model?
Peggy: It actually makes a great deal of sense. As a matter of fact, one of the things that we've been talking about is, "What does leadership look like in a leaderless movement?" And, one of the places I go with that is, when you look at it through the lens of self-organization or this idea of emergence. The principle that probably the scientists talk about the most when they talk about emergence--the way they put it is, "No one's in charge," which looks an awful lot like what's going on with the Occupy Movement.
Rob: When you say that about the scientists, and you mentioned that earlier, that there's a popular definition of emergence, then there's a scientific version of emergence. Where does science talk about emergence, and how does it appear within science?
Peggy: The whole movement to understand the nature of complexity and self-organization and, in a sense, evolution itself, is an emergent process. And so whether it's chaos theory, which has been helpful in understanding weather patterns, or complexity theory, which is getting use from everything from software writing software, to robots making decisions to understanding the social life of bees and ants, and how those kinds of collective animals work. Those are some of the--So, the applications of the sciences around complexity, of which emergence is one, are telling us things: of everything from biology to evolution to social sciences to physics. So, our capabilities with computers are enabling us to see more complex patterns, which is part of the reason that that shift is happening and it actually--the way it shows up, because my interest in it has to do with what it means for how we as human beings organize to get stuff done. So when you look at it through the lens of society, of our culture and social systems, I come back to this prevailing notion of the idea that "no one is in charge," and the scientists will point [to] everything from how bees or ants or traffic flows work. And for me, the language of it is really telling, because it comes from essentially a hierarchical thinking mindset, because as you say, "No one is in charge," you can just as easily say, "Everyone is in charge." That's more along the model of thinking in terms of how things get done horizontally. I think that one of the major transitions that we're in, and Occupy again is a great model of this--is we're moving from our principle organizing metaphor as hierarchy, and think in terms of pack animals, to an organizing metaphor around networks, and there you can think more in terms of flocks of birds, or ants or bees, or animals that work in the collective.
And interestingly enough for me the notion of no one in charge or everyone in charge, are both a little off the mark. Because in truth, what happens is, we don't know exactly what interactions amongst people are going to make the biggest difference. And as a result of that, what I think is actually the most useful take on this idea of network as an organizing principle for how leadership emerges, I think of it more as situational leadership. and so a great activating insight out of that. is the idea of inviting people to take responsibility for what they love as an act of service. And for me that is kind of the heart of a shift that I think we're undergoing, and that people, particularly those under 30, understand a lot better. And our technology, because it enables us to connect so well, supports us in doing in a way that a generation ago it wasn't possible to even consider, because we didn't have the means to connect so easily.
Rob: Why do the under 30s understand this idea of dealing with love as an act of service better than people over 30?
Peggy: I think because the technologies of connection affirm and support that notion of individual expression in a way that, perhaps those of us over 30, didn't necessarily get the same kinds of messages. I think it tends to be a more cooperative--in a way it almost sounds like a contradiction to say, that taking responsibility for what you love leads to more cooperation, because on the surface it sounds like it would lead to more selfishness. You know, if each of us is off doing our own thing, don't you end up with more chaos?
And the interesting thing that happens, is when people get that invitation, and particularly those of us that who may have been raised more in a follow-instructions-kind-of-world--when we actually start paying attention to that invitation and ask ourselves, "So, what do I care about? What matters to me?" One, that in and of itself can be profound and liberating act; that in the process when people do that, what I've observed over and over is that they dive deeper than their ego to the deeper parts of themselves. And in the process of doing that, because when we're operating out of that place of deep connection to ourselves, interestingly enough, what I found is that it means that we're drawing from the deeper stream of our common humanity. And as such, we tend to zero in on ways of being and things that we do, that do connect with others in a profoundly powerful way. And as a result, as people pursue what matters to them, and discover the others that care about similar things, we feel left alone, we found our partners, and we begin to be connected not just more to ourselves and others, but to our sense of a larger social body. And in that spirit of connection, our differences become a source of creative tension for breakthrough ideas that nobody could have come up with on their own.
Rob: This reminds me a little bit of Jungian psychology, with the collective consciousness and archetypal characteristics, what have you. Reconnecting at the source, almost.
Peggy: Interesting. That's not a lens that I have looked at it through, but as you say that, I can certainly see that kind of a connection with it.
Rob: And I find that a lot of the ideas that are emerged have been looked at before from different perspectives in the past too, and it makes sense. What you're talking about is a way for people to connect with each other at a deeper level, and why shouldn't that have been described? And it's probably been described mythically too. *(inaudible) 19:16 ...that whole world, how ancient cultures and even primitive cultures have understood, because let's face it, if you get an indigenous cultures there's a connection there that I think is also very powerful where people, perhaps much more reflectively, go to the place you're describing that our new technology have brought young people to today. What do you think?
Peggy: I think you're onto something and I want to actually take it--part of the reason I got into this, was that it struck me as a birthright to be able to interact with people who are different than ourselves, and actually have that be creative and productive. And so I really started exploring this, looking for how to make it as accessible as possible for people to reach out, whether it's family members who have a gone a different way or are more conservative.
I talked to many people who have come to the city, and have left brothers and sisters and parents behind, who live a more conservative lifestyle, and long to connect or reconnect. And I look at Occupy in terms of one of the phrases that of course has resonated, is this idea of "we're the 99%," and in truth and practice, what I've observed is that it seems to be principally a progressive movement at this point, and one of my hopes is, because I see people inventing, like the general assembly and mic check--they're inventing really useful process for convening and being in conversation, and I hope to see more reaching out to people with different points of view, because I think there is potential to not just be 99%, but to find room for all as an ultimate destination. And in the process of doing that, that we actually begin to development capacity to interact with people that we disagree with, and recognize that deeper human connection and need for some of the basic human things, like the desire to contribute, and all wanting a good education for our children, and a healthy productive life.
Rob: That's interesting, because a Pew poll just came out that had a directly inverse relationship whether a person is democrat or republican. Sixty percent are democrats, support OWS, Occupy Wall Street overall and 21% oppose, whereas for republicans 59% oppose and 21% support. So, it's a challenge, but I would certainly hope that there could be a way to bridge that chasm.
Peggy: And for me, one of the ways of doing that is to ask questions that are large enough that they make room for people with different points of view, and are attractive enough that, that they're questions people care enough about, that it brings different people to the table who don't usually interact. And part of what goes along with that, as I've been looking for simpler ways of talking about these ideas, one of the things I've come to are the kinds of actions that make a difference. One is what I was just saying: ask possibility oriented questions. So, given what's going on, "What's possible in these circumstances," or "How do we create an economy that works for all?" Questions that you can't possibly know the answers to, but have implicit in them an aspiration towards what we want, and then invite a second action: invite people different from yourself, people with different perspectives, people who are a part of the larger system ,and bring something different then you do, which tends to run counter to what we usually do. But it becomes the source of creative opportunity to bring different perspectives together, and then the third of this "setting up triumvirate," is be welcoming. Who and what shows up, know that what they bring, even if it shows up in a form of disruption, because it looks different than you were expecting, or different than what you believe, find a way to welcome it, and often that looks like, rather than getting into a debate, seek to understand what's the deeper human value underneath whatever it is. And you can do that.
I find myself all the time in situations where, I'll be listening to people with a conservative prospective for example, talking about what they care about, whether it's individual freedoms or gun control or issues that I have very different views on and yet, if I'm willing to stay with it--I don't have to agree with them--but if I'm willing to understand what's underneath their story, to have brought them to the beliefs and attitudes that they have, what I consistently find is, there is ultimately some human value I can relate to underneath it. And when that begins to happen, when I can see myself in them, some aspect, then there's the beginning of an opportunity to find some common ground and move forward together.
Rob: This is the process that you used, in engaging in emergence to work with.
Rob: Now, you have put together in this book, literally an almost step-by-step approach to engaging with emergence, that is really interesting. Can you walk us through some of the different elements of that?
Rob: Like what you've done in the chapters of the book.
Peggy: So, I've organized--again, I set out to understand "what is it that can enable more of us to work with the complexities of the kinds of disruption and change and differences that we're facing more and more today," because the basic assumptions of how things work aren't necessarily serving us as well as they did even a generation ago. And so the book is split into three views, and the first one--
Rob: Well, wait before you start, let me just do a station ID and then we'll continue, okay?
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I'm interviewing, Peggy Holman. She's the author of Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity. This is an extraordinary, fascinating book that looks at how to create something that makes sense; how to create order out of chaos. How to take new challenging systems, new problems that our new technologies, our new worlds bring to us and deal with them, even with people with very, very different ways of seeing things. And Peggy is just about to go through the stages in this process that are described in the book. Shoot, go ahead.
Peggy: Thank you. So, I'll start at a 50,000 foot level, which is with a pattern of change that I was actually talking about earlier in the call. This notion that all change begins with a disruption, and what that disruption does is it tends to cause things as we know them to break apart. And that's why a change can be, and particularly the bigger the change the more emotional and experience it is, because experiencing emergence, experiencing change is not necessarily an easy thing to do, it can be quite the emotional roller coaster ride ,and that's in part because not everything makes it through to the other side. Which means that for some, I do a lot of work with journalists, and it's interesting working with mainstream media people, many of whom are mourning the loss of the kind of journalistic values that have guided their work for many, many years and they wonder if there's still a place for it.
So, as this kind of doorway from disruption into what is called differentiation, it's basically what I was talking about earlier. Things break apart, so we're in this place of experimentation of what differences make a difference, and we don't know without trying, and so two useful questions I find in that kind of state of experimentation as many different aspects are tested is,
What do we want to conserve that still has value, and what do we want to embrace that wasn't possible before?" And frankly, I see Occupy going through that right now as the form of physical occupation, is one of the things that we may want to conserve or we may want to let it go, to embrace other ways of dealing with that deeper message, and I think that question remains to be answered with journalists. A similar kind of thing, as things break apart, what of journalistic values are still relevant and what do we let go of?
So for example, things like transparency, is not only, I think being more recognized as a key value, it becomes almost essential and it's certainly easier to do in an internet world. And as the clarity begins to emerge, begins to show up through different kinds of experimentation, a new coherence arises in which we begin to understand the rules of the road, how things operate.
So that's a 50,000 foot level disruption from coherence, being disrupted to differentiation, back into coherence. From there I drop to ground level, and talk about a set of practices for engaging, and I've got them organized in four basic areas. One is "how do I prepare myself to engage with this area of mystery and not knowing as we go into this open divergent chaotic kind of space."
So, how do I ensure as somebody consciously stepping into that, that I am equipped as possible? And I see that as embracing the mystery of it, knowing that I don't necessarily know the answers, nor is it a good idea to know going in, because if I do, then by definition there's nothing emerging, nothing novel emerging. I find an attitude of possibility, looking towards what's possible, and following the energy which generally shows up Where things get lively--it's where the emotional roller coaster is most alive, and that can look like anger or fear or joy even.
Rob: I've had a couple of times where I've had encounters with opportunities for success. Chances to make a lot of money, to have a big business happen or something, and I called it "riding the roller coaster," and it makes you feel incredibly alive. I mean, for me it meant flying in weird jets, and doing million dollar deals and things like that, and you never know, you never know when you can the light a cigar and take a puff and it will blow up in your face, or you can just trip and fall, or you can move forward and big things can happen, and I think that's the kind of stuff you're talking about here, really. It's very disruptive and it changes everything, and you have to embrace it and love wherever it takes you. Right?
Peggy: I think you've got the idea, and the notion "that's where life is, That's where we're most alive" I think is a really valuable insight around that. I think of it a lot as jazz. The more I practice my scales, the more discipline I have in my life, the more equipped I am when the moment comes to let go and jump in, and trust that I am equipped to deal with what shows up.
So that's that element of preparing oneself. And by the way, these aren't linear. I think they interact and feed each other, because the next layer in terms of the practice of engaging is preparing myself to host.
So, what does it mean to host others? And the practices of that I find most useful there are, first off, the notion of focusing on some intention. that's the role of clear purpose. And it doesn't have to be definitive. I just need a sense of direction, and from that sense of direction to be willing to invite others, particularly those who have a stake, but don't necessarily see things the way I do and then as I mentioned earlier, to be welcoming to who and what shows up.
So, I think those are the roles of a good host, and I remember years ago I was talking to this Sufi master, and one of Rumi's poems is about the guesthouse, and all of life as a guesthouse, and welcome whomever and whatever shows up. And he made the comment to me, "If we were all good hosts, we would have a world of peace." And I found that such a profound notion, that our attitude of being a host to who and what shows up, creates the set of conditions in which we can be present to each other in a more authentic, profound way, such that, again, our differences become the source of creative response rather than a reason to fight with each other.
Rob: And we see in Washington so much the opposite of that, this unwillingness to be a host of anything, except for our next door neighbors.
Peggy: I find it crazy making. I just find it crazy making. I sometimes think--I grew up outside Washington D.C.--and the arrangement of of the floor of Congress is a semi-circle and I've often wondered, because I know that through Benjamin Franklin, who is Ambassador to the Iroquois, that much of how the Iroquois nation worked was influenced to thinking about the design of our government. And I often wondered when I see that semi-circle, if he missed the part about being in a circle, which is both a metaphorical sense and physically, as I get into this next stage, which is engaging.
The form of sitting in a circle with each other changes the quality and the nature of conversation. And it's like we got it half right and the layout of Congress. I just shake my head, because there's so much opportunity to take--actually I saw a Venn diagram that was comparing the beliefs of the Tea Party to the beliefs of the Occupiers (and, in a sense, you could save the left and the right), and on one end of the Venn diagram is distrust in big government, which of course is your Tea Party end of the spectrum, and on a Progressive end it tends to be distrust of big business. The interesting thing is there's this huge territory of overlap between those two circles, which is the distrust of the interaction between big government and big business, and isn't that interesting common ground on which we could focus together? I see that as one of the big missed opportunities, and whether it's ordinary people getting active, or whether it's our Congress, in understanding where the answers lie in terms of the appropriate role of government and the appropriate connections between business and government.
Anyway, the heart of these practices is engaging and the activities that I think any and all of us can do, and this is in this notion of, as I mentioned earlier, taking responsibility for what you love as an act of service. How do you do that? One of the things that I find very useful is to ask possibility oriented questions as a doorway in, because they clarify intention, and they have a spirit of invitation in them. And then, as you were talking about earlier, that edge work where life is, open up. There's the leap of faith. There's a stepping in to the not knowing to act. And out of that then, to reflect, and particularly to reflect with others on, "What are we learning? What do we now know that we didn't know before?" Out of which a new coherence, we begin to get glimmers, of where we're going. So, for example, the testing of this idea for Occupy 2.0, that is one of it's threads, about creating an economy that works for all, as a thread of coherence that provides direction. And of course, because we're human, there will be disruptions. Nothing will ever be perfect and so the last stage is do it again.
And one of the lessons about that is that any great shift is actually many, many, many increments happening over time. Generally, the first time we try something, we don't necessarily get it right, and if it's intent is really important to us, we'll learn from that, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try it again, hopefully, having learned something from the last time through. So that notion of "do it again and do it again," there is an image out of my early days of the "total quality" work that I referred to that had this great image that said, making change is a lot like growing bamboo. You water it every day for 90 days and nothing happens. I'm sorry, you water it for four years every day and nothing happens, and then it grows 90 feet in 60 days. aAnd change often feels like that. There's an awful lot of ground work by the time things, "suddenly blossom." So, just knowing that certainly has kept me going when I'm attempting to do something that feels ambitious.
Rob: I think that something that activists really need to think about--the whole idea that beneath the surface things are happening, that growth is occurring--preparing for a sudden burst of growth that doesn't happen, sometimes, until much later. I really like that metaphor: growing bamboo. I love it actually.
Peggy: I know that has been helpful to me, particularly when you're working on something as ambitious as, "What does it take to change a social system?" That's not something that happens overnight. You can look back to any great movement and see an occasional burst of radical shift, followed by years of incremental changes in course corrections.
And then, I think the next section of the book sits in the middle ground at about a 10,000 foot level, and it's a set of principles that say, "Okay, if this pattern of change, this disruption, differentiation coherence, is something that you can predict, what are some principles that help up work effectively with that, as we think about going about our daily lives, or if we're planning some kind of interaction?" And so these principles for me, grew out of the work I've been doing in organizations and communities, bringing diverse large groups of people together and the science of emergence like this idea that "no one is in charge," have taught us. And there are five of those principles and the first one is the notion of "welcoming disturbance," and this goes back to what I was saying earlier. Since disturbance is the doorway to change, rather than fighting it, resisting it, etc, the more capable we become at being present to what shows up, getting curious about, "Okay, what does it have to offer and what can we do with it?" It becomes an entryway into possibility, and curiosity becomes a tool, and actually feedback that I've gotten from folks as they've run into the book is, just that idea of welcoming disturbance can be life changing.
Rob: It's interesting. I mentioned to you in our email exchange, back in the late 80s, I came up with this anatomy of positive experience, which was a series of stages and steps to go through and one thing a friend Gary Schwartz, the professor of the University of Arizona has talked about, is this idea of being prepared for the unexpected.
Rob: And I think that's what we're talking about here. Generally, what I've written about is if you want to be prepared for moments when you encounter situations that you didn't plan for. And you want to have in your mind a way to deal with it--a set of instructions for yourself. I've given myself permission when I encounter something I wasn't planning on to break out of the ordinary, to break my routine, to stop where I was going, to readjust my schedule, and to just stop and interact.
Peggy: I think that's a terrific example, because that disruption becomes the doorway not to resistance, but the doorway to creativity and we get there by doing exactly what you're saying: break a habit, do something different. And so one of the notions that I think of, one of these principles is based on the idea, "Be a Pioneer." And it's partially because [of], in all of the experimentation, it accelerates the feedback. So, where we find out, "Well, that didn't work," or "that did!" we want to do more of that.
So, the lots of experimentation, lots of breaking old habits, trying things new, and coupled with what we do, who we do it with. So, back to the notion of "No One in Charge," one of the ideas is to encourage random encounters. Go talk to people you don't usually interact with. Show up in their world and do some listening and observing and learning as part of that experimentation. Invite them to play with you. And there's a notion in one of the processes that I've worked with: appreciative inquiry of improbable partners, because it's very often at the intersection of unexpected partnerships that breakthroughs occur.
Van Jones tells a story. Van Jones coined the term "green jobs" and he tells the story of how that came about, because he was traveling between Oakland and Berkeley, and in being around these two very different cultures: the granola eating upper class, Prius driving middle class, and then this advocacy, pretty hard charging economically distressed area in Oakland, and he started putting together the environmental sensibilities of his friends in Berkeley with the need for jobs in Oakland, and came up with this idea of "green jobs" at this improbable intersection between these two worlds.
So again, the bringing of diversity. And then two last principles: one is the idea of "Seek Meaning," because the red thread, I think that guides us throughout this "wandering in the desert" and experimentation is what matters here. What is the intention that sparked in the first place? Because in truth, one of the things about disruptions, is they wouldn't be disrupting if we didn't care. So, there is some deeper meaning that may be implicitly or unconsciously guiding us. And so, the more we can seek meaning we will find the kindred spirits, and find the experimentations that help us emphasize that. And then the last principle is the idea of "Simplify." So, one of the insights from the scientist is, it's fascinating how a few simple principles, a few simple rules that any individual can do, like take responsibility of what you love as an act of service.
If we're all doing that, it yields very complex social behavior. And so how can we articulate, and frankly this set of principles is a set of simple rules that provide guidance and engaging with this chaotic sense that we seem to be in, as the assumptions of how our world works seems to be changing. And that is part of the way in which order arises again, as we come into a coherent system that is more complex, generally in a sense of having more diverse elements as part of it.
Rob: Let's just take a step back. What are the five different ones? The first is "Welcoming Disturbance." What's the second one?
Rob: Say it again.
Peggy: Pioneer. Be a pioneer.
Peggy: Yep, so that speaks to the "What" as "Encourage Random Encounters" speaks to the "Who," and then "Seek Meaning," of course, speaks to "Why," and "Simplify" is ultimately guidance about "How."
Rob: Okay. So, how do you use this? Can you give me an example of how you would use this in working with a group?
Peggy: I use it as a guide for design if I'm working with a group. Or... These different elements work together in different ways for me. So, for example, if a disruption happens when I'm working with a group, at this point it's a reminder to me, "Okay, be welcoming. Get curious about it. Ask a possibility-orientated question." And where our natural tendency is to want to shut down and pull in, it's a reminder to try something different and open, in a way that can invite different perspectives to be present. But again, with that underlying ethic of welcome, and the clarity of intention of coming back to the sense of purpose. So it's a dance of these different elements.
And, post-book, as I've been continuing to seek, "What's a simpler way to talk about it?" There's that little triumvirate that I think is a doorway in, of welcoming, inviting diversity, and asking possibility-orientated questions. And frankly, if you're in the moment and facing disruption and you're not sure what to do, ask a question that points to possibility. It's like my hip pocket idea. [It] is the most compassionate and creative act that I know to do, and actually I'll share a story around that one that was kind of an extreme.
I have a colleague, an African American colleague, who was doing some work in New Orleans over a number of months, and he would go place his guitar in this park across from where he was working. And this one day out of the corner of his eye, he saw these three young men, lots of tattoos, shaved heads, and they seemed to be sneaking up on him. And so he put his guitar down, and he stood up and very softly said, "Stop where you are," and they stopped, and then started telling him in not very pretty language that he didn't belong in this park. It wasn't for people like him, and that they were going to make an object lesson of him. And he, at that point, whipped out a possibility-orientated question of, "Okay, before you do that, can I ask you a question and said, "What is it in your life experience that led you to wanting to do this?" And 45 minutes later the four of them were deeply in conversation about their worlds and experiences and life. And needless to say, it was a pretty profound shift for all of four of them actually. So, I guess that's one simple example of how I would work with this.
Rob: So, he talked them out of beating the crap out of him.
Peggy: And frankly, moved well beyond that, to a deeper consciousness about their own sense of selves, and their worldview, and where it came from, and why they might have gotten to a place where beating the crap out of him sounded like it would be a good thing to do, and let go of it.
Rob: So, maybe even went from him saving himself to saving them.
Rob: You know, it's rare that I don't in my radio show bring up Paulo Freire and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And here you add oppressors and a guy they were going to oppress, and Freire says it takes the oppressed to free the oppressors, and it looks like that's what he was doing there: waking them up, creating a dialogue and helping them to free themselves.
Rob: Nice simple story that tells that too. So, we're running near the end of the interview, but I wanted to cover one more thing with you and that is, you've worked a lot with the transition journalism, and I'd like to hear a little bit about what you do with that, where it's going, and what you're seeing in that realm, because frankly, the other thing that I'd do is I run OpEdnews.com, which I started as a blog, and which has emerged as one of the top 100 blogs overall in the world according to Technorati. And so I'm very interested in where journalism is heading, and have had my own unique experience where I have over 50 volunteer editors and have, since 2005, published over almost 140,000 articles. It's going to pass one hundred forty thousand [ 140,000] this weekend.
Rob: Thank you.
Peggy: It's such a profoundly powerful and strong conundrum. I got involved with journalists because my experience in working organizations is that communication systems--the stories that we tell--shape our worldview, and that shapes our behavior, and journalists are cultural storytellers. My feeling was, that the stories that we were being told, this was back in about '99; there was a shooting at a Jewish community center that was racially motivated and--
Rob: The L.A. area if I recall.
Peggy: That's right. Yes, it was. And such shootings were a pretty rare event at that point, and it got me thinking about this notion of storytelling, and knowing that "You change the story, you change our world." And so that's where my commitment to working with journalists came from, and what I discovered was I was stepping into it just as journalism as we know it, was really beginning to--you know, it's been declining. Newspaper readership has been declining for at least more than a generation, but it was really beginning to accelerate. And I found myself asking the question, "What does it take to change a social system?" and managed to hook-up, having decided to work with them--with an editor who, at that point, was the incoming president of a news organization Who asked the question, "What would it take to have a conversation about the future of journalism?"
And what we have done--journalismthatmatters.org is our website. What we've done over the last ten years has been convening conversations amongst the people who are re-imagining news and information around questions that matter to them. And the feedback that we've gotten through the years is that this is the only place where conversations were taking place that were forward focused, that were about new possibilities, rather than the " Woe is me," or "the industry is falling apart," that has been taking place in most places. And the things that I'd say that we're learning are things like, journalism is still about the public good and it is now entrepreneurial. And we did a series these last two years called "Create or Die," that was really focused principally on journalists' color, because mainstream journalism is about 85% Caucasian. And personally, I think part of the reason that people have fallen away--generally, journalists blame it on the changes and technology, and certainly that's been a factor. I personally think it has more to do with content that doesn't relate to ordinary people and their needs.
And when you look at the mismatch between the racial makeup of mainstream journalism and the population at large, I think that kind of "out of touch-ness" is part of it. So one of the "Ahas!" out of these "Create or Die" gatherings has been the notion that communities need to take responsibility for their own story, and one way of doing that is embedding journalists in community.
I do think that the forms of journalism are going to be ultimately as unrecognizable today--that we don't know what they are yet. They'll look as different from TV and radio and even online news as those looked to the way news was delivered before the printing press; that the changes are that radical. And I say that in part, because of my metaphor was something that we actually saw being explored at this "Create or Die" gathering, which is the idea of investigative journalism being delivered through hip hop, video games and comedy.
I mean, we know the new forms are going to be very social, highly interactive. A colleague of mine was part of creating or led the creation of something called wellcommons.com, which is in Lawrence, Kansas. And this is a site about health and well being in the community. And their goal was that at least 50% of the content be generated by people in the community, and she, Jane Stevens, is the person who is the thought leader behind creating this, and she's like this convert--very clear that the interactions between the journalists and the community on the site are what bring it to life, and that it is inherently a solutions-orientated site the moment you have those kinds of interactions going on.
For me the big questions that I sit with around it is, "How do we decide what stories get told," which oddly enough is not something that seems to be a very explicit part of the training for a journalist, and I think it's one of the crucial questions we can ask: "What are the stories that are important to us? How do we decide?"
Rob: I've got to say a couple of things. I started OpEdnews as a blog, and its evolved into a very powerful complex content management system that I basically designed with a programmer and the help of the whole team of editors and a bottom up approach from the readers and contributors to this site. And of course, the 60,000 registered members on the site now. And one of the things that always been a question is, "What do you headline? What do you put at the top?" And so what we've done is we've had different ways of letting people look at it. So, we have one view where I do it and some of the other editors make decisions about what to headline. But another way to look at it is people can just go buy what is the most viewed stuff and there's a whole page that let's people see what other people are seeing, so they can look at it based on what's the most popular. Or they can look at it based on ratings of different aspects of the writing or which ones have the most comments, where the most discussion is taking place, and that way we give the opportunity for people to look at a curated version by people, but we also give them the opportunity--we certainly do this by ourselves--New York Times has the favorites as well--But we let people look at it based on crowd sourcing, how the crowd decided what was most interesting or most important and I think--
Peggy: I think you're onto something really important. And it's like that story about the guy looking for his keys and he's looking under the light, because it's easy to see there.
Peggy: When perhaps the stories are most important are somewhere out in the dark, but they're a little harder to get to. So, asking the public through crowd sourcing kinds of approaches is I think is part of the answer, and curation and so I think multi-threaded approaches, which is what I hear you're doing, is where the answers rest on that kind of question.
Rob: The other thing I have to tell you, is about nine years ago or more, I got interested in what I saw as an emergence of a "Science of Story." Robert McKee was doing workshops on story structure and I found a lot of other people who were writing about it. The screen writing and novelist world, were having all these books coming out describing different approaches like, The Heroes Journey, from Joseph Campbell. It was adapted by Chris Vogler who wrote The Writer's Journey and *(inaudible) 105:48 were adapted by James Bonnet, and then there were a whole collection of these things happening, so I took a look and I started looking at story as a business, and I literally went and did research on how much was the annual spending for different aspects of story: the book business, the TV business, the movie business, the game business, marketing, psychotherapy, politics, religion. They all use story and what concluded was, after energy and transportation story is the biggest business in the world.
Peggy: That's fascinating. That's fascinating. I want to add another element, if I may real quick, / about story.
Rob: / Sure.
Peggy: And it has to do with this notion of a Possibility Orientation. When journalism, and journalism is notorious for this, takes us into who to blame, and what's bad, and why things are broken and all of that, and what they leave behind is a sense of despair, victimhood, no hope, etc., and I'm beginning to see a shift. And and asking myself in terms of our next step with Journalism That Matters, "How do we raise into consciousness of not just journalists--but we are all storytellers--this notion of telling stories that bring a lens of possibility? And I don't mean shy away from difficult stuff, by any stretch of the imagination. But how do we tell the story in a way that takes us into the heart of what's broken or not working, in a way that asks those questions of "What's a possibility given what's taking place?" Because when we do that, it activates, it inspires, it engages, and it supports us in taking charge of our world. I personally think that journalism is a form of activists [activism], which is like anathema to say to mainstream journalists where this ethic, this silly ethic of objectivity, which actually had its roots in being objective about looking at many sources to come to your conclusions. Now, it was never, ever supposed to be about "a" verses "b," which is what it's been reduced to.
Rob: And it's hypocrisy too, because it really comes out in such a fake way, where they'll take one side and the other and say they're equal in value and truth when so often they're not. / And one side--
Peggy: / That's correct.
Rob: --What they're giving equal voice to is just a side that is paying for the advertising.
Peggy: And it skews the story. So, this notion of a possibility-orientationed storytelling, I think it could be profound. And then the very last thing I'll say about the journalism work is the Holy Grail of most the people I know who are looking at, "So, what will the new w orld look like?"--is what's the business model. How, what are the sources of revenue for doing journalism," And frankly it will be the last thing we find, and I say that because the moment somebody figures that one out, we'll stop looking.
The amazing experimentation, and there are wonderful experiments going on: An example comes to mind is Spot.us, which is a form of crowd funding investigative journalism. One of my favorite experiments that grew out of these gatherings that we do that bring the diversity of the people who are thinking about these questions together, and becomes a generator of innovative ideas.
Rob: I'll throw some thoughts at you. I, in my writing on my political website, have started a war against Big. I've been inspired partly by Bernie Sanders and his attempts to legislate against Too Big to Fail corporations. I've written a series of articles about the "de-billionaire-izing" the United States and the world--to make it illegal to have so much money. And I think that if you think about journalism as too big--let's face it, one of the reasons I think it's in trouble is because it lost its diversity. Now what you're talking about in bringing it back to the community is almost the reversal of what's been happening, where big chains have been acquiring local newspapers, and then dumping the same garbage into every newspaper with a very small budget for local coverage.
In my theory of a Bottom-up World, humans had a bottom-up world before civilization. Indigenous cultures are bottom up, tribal culture is bottom up. Civilization brought us the ability to produce large amounts of food through mass farming. It gave us the ability to specialize in jobs, but it's taken away from us too, and I think journalism, when you're looking at a new model, the model is already there. It's the blog. It's the small focused site and Twitter ! Twitter, for an awful lot of people now, is the place people go for the latest news. And it's not like there is this one newspaper that does it, it's all these people who are looking and seeing and sharing the information from all the different places, and it's distributed non-centralized approach, that is also a key part of a bottom up revolution--is going from centralized, which is what the big newspaper does, to decentralized, which is what Twitter does.
Peggy: Well, there's an interesting mix in it, because I think it is about both big and small. And there's a term I sometimes use: "Differentiated Wholeness," because the benefit of big is that we have a coherent narrative that ties us together in some way, and yet, how we get to big is radically different in Twitter, which in a sense, I mean that's big. But we're getting there in an abrogated kind of way. The coherence arises from, as opposed to, in the old model of that you were describing, of the same content that somebody is dictating from on high--is getting dumped in lots of different places. So, / I think there is a big and a small.
Rob: / I like that.
Rob: Big exactly arrived at from a very different journey, or route, or process.
Peggy: Exactly and that's one of the things about Emergent Solutions, where the simplicity on the other side of complexity to use a phrase from Einstein, lives in that seeming paradox, resolving. So, we have the distinctions of lots of the local, lots of the small, but in some way, yet curated, into a way that we can collectively make meaning, which gives us the Big.
Rob: That's great. I think it's a good place for us to wrap this too. It's been really fun and I'd love to continue the conversation with you further, but let's keep it here for now.
END OF TRANSCRIPT
Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind. Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big) to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project.
Rob Kall Wikipedia Page
Over 200 podcasts are archived for downloading here, or can be accessed from iTunes. Rob is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com
Rob is, with Opednews.com the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.
To learn more about Rob and OpEdNews.com, check out A Voice For Truth - ROB KALL | OM Times Magazine and this article. For Rob's work in non-political realms mostly before 2000, see his C.V.. and here's an article on the Storycon Summit Meeting he founded and organized for eight years. Press coverage in the Wall Street Journal: Party's Left Pushes for a Seat at the Table
Here is a one hour radio interview where Rob was a guest- on Envision This, and here is the transcript. .
To watch Rob having a lively conversation with John Conyers, then Chair of the House Judiciary committee, click here. Watch Rob speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.
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Rob's articles express his personal opinion, not the opinion of this website.