Organizational Design and free markets

February 18th, 2009

I would like the world and our organizations to realize that organizational development is closely aligned with human development. At the root of every management or leadership issue is the theme of two people unable to work together, resulting in conflict (Wheatley, 2006). One of the ideas that have stayed with me from Hesselbein & Goldsmith is the Handy essay on philosopher leaders. Handy frames philosophy not as an answer to life’s problems, but a framework to think about them (pg. 132). I agree with this belief that organizations should model the same beliefs and theories internally that they expect for themselves externally. “One cannot have one law for themselves, and another for the rest.” (Hesselbein & Goldsmith, Pg. 133). I’m not sure exactly what this is called – transference? Essentially it is the idea that we should do for others what we want/need for ourselves. Handy discusses the ways in which organizations that want to be treated as autonomous from government controls, with few regulations and a strong belief in the corrective power of the market should model that same philosophy in their organizational culture- giving their employees a great deal of autonomy, no regulations, and the faith that their intrinsic motivation to preserve themselves will ultimately result in the right decisions for the organization. What would the result of such an unregulated market be? Would it really self-correct?

While I believe in self-regulation and that employees function more efficiently and effectively within an organization when there are low controls, I can’t quite conceive of an organization with no controls, no management or supervision, a “freedom” that allows anyone to work from only their intrinsic motivation to do what’s best for them. In this scenario I can picture too many ways that “what’s good for the goose” won’t be good for the gander. I’d like the world to see this macro paradigm of how our economy functions and decide together what the right limits and controls really should be at the governmental level, and how those controls would filter down to the organizational level, and finally the personal level.

1. Hesselbein, Frances, and Marshall Goldsmith. The Leader of the Future 2 : Visions, Strategies, and Practices for the New Era. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006.

2. Kouzes, James M., and Barry Z. Posner. The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.

3. Wheatley, Margaret J. Leadership and the New Science : Discovering Order in a Chaotic World. New York: Berrett-Koehler, Incorporated, 2006.

Theories of Connection

November 15th, 2008

Over coffee with my friend Jason Wyman, an incredible visionary and leader in the field of youth work we discussed theories of connection- which has left me thinking and imagining and, well connecting. Jason talked about the phenomena that occurs when one person starts to connect with others, and when those connections lead to new connections, so that the original person’s connectiveness grows exponentially. There is an emerging body of language around this idea. As I clicked through the Wikipedia definitions in my geeky post-conversation web research, here are some of the interesting terms I found, with my own interpretations of meaning as related to connectivity theory of social networking.

Preferential attachment – where resources or opportunities are distributed among individuals according to how much they already have – think “ the rich get richer”.

power law, or Pareto effect – This is a polynomial function graph, an inverse relationship between two variables. Imagine power on the x axis and people on the y axis. According to the power law, the largest number of people would have the least amount of power, with the amount of power possessed increasing as you go down the scale. This is essentially the 80-20 rule. If you keep the number of people as the y axis, It works for money (80% of wealth is controlled by 20% of the people), resources, problems (80% of our problems are caused by 20% of the people in our lives), etc.

Scale-free network – this is a group of connections where some vertices have greater connections than others. Imagine each vertex Is a person. Some of us are connected to 2 or 3 people closely, while others are connected to hundreds. These major connectors often connect together and have greater access to resources through connections- they just happen to know what’s going on and how to access it.

Fault-tolerance- This is an engineering term that refers to the ability of a system to keep working even when one of it’s component parts aren’t. I thought of how the human body works when we get sick – with a mild headache we can still work and watch tv and go about our regular lives, even though some major component is malfunctioning. In a scale-free network, if the hyper-connected hubs are working well, the isolation or disconnection of the non-connected folks will keep a society or a project moving forward, with little impact.

self-stabilization – when a system or individual moves towards a balanced fault-free state. I think this can happen in many ways. One way is that the super connecters grow their power and resources in order to overcompensate for the lack of participation by the outliers of the system. Alternatively, the outliers may find ways to band together, connect, and replace the super connecters. Alternatively, preferential attachment theory may reorganize from “the rich get richer” to “the connected get more connected”, and find ways for all members of a system to connect to one another to find stabilization.

I see some incredible connections in this theory of connectedness to social justice movements, shared power and our ability to create harmonious community. I think I’m missing one key concept of attractiveness- that each person wants to be connected to other people. Through a reframing and re-shaping of how we view groups from family, community, society, or systems we may discover a better way to find self-stabilization that creates space for everyone to be connected and productive.

Proposition 8: A Failure of Imagination

November 5th, 2008

Californians have voted yes on 8 - confining the legal definition of marriage to the relationship between a man and a woman.  It is unprecendented for human rights to be stripped from the constitution.  A step backwards.

America takes a giant step forward today, while Californians suffer a failure of imagination and a contraction of the human spirit.  The fault is partly ours- those of us on the left of this issue.  Perhaps we have not yet learned to make our case.  Perhaps after years of living in fear of hate crimes and disguising identity we have not yet devised a marketing campaign that convinves the conservative veiwpoint. The fault is ours.  For having experienced intimacy and friendship outside of a traditional form.  Because once one has had the experience of the magnanimous, effusive, uncontained, all-encompassing nature of love it is hard to imagine wanting to confine it to something smaller than it is.  The fault is ours for living in a self-created world where values are led by the heart.  We forgot how to make a convincing case.

This conversation has been about values.  What are the values of Americans?  When has a lack of innovation ever served the world?  When has a limited perspective of justice- heaping rights on some while others are discriminated against- ever been looked back upon with pride?  We will come to regret this day.  Soon.

To my straight allies in America, this is a call.  A call to remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr. - “A threat to justice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”  In a community we share the impact of this decision.  It is our privilege to look at the other way, but our responsibility and opportunity to stand up and engage.

To my friends of traditional marriage, I urge you to expand your experience.  To focus on the value of love, and not on the practice of what form that love takes.  To believe in a generous, limitless god who wants nothing more than for us to chooses love over hate in every moment.  Connect with someone living a lifestyle you disagree with.  You will find there is nothing to fear.  Nothing that threatens your way of life.  Nothing that diminishes the world you have built for yourself.

To all my fellow Americans.  I urge us to practice compassion in this mixed moment in time.  One giant step forward and a failure of imagination in California.  This decision will be reversed.  Soon.  Becuase justice always prevails.  The only question is when, how, and what we gain or lose along the way.  The choice is always ours.

Evolving the Race Conversation

June 21st, 2008

From Judgement to Design

I planned a very cool evening for myself tonight. I was invited over to a friend’s house to watch a series of short films on political issues- race, gender, and sexuality. The room was mostly people of color, activists, organizational development consultants, and change agents –people who have dedicated their lives to bring equity and social justice to organizations and their systems.

But I found myself trapped in a room of angry and stuck folks who blamed white people for all their problems. More than once a person of color (POC) had no problem making a blanket statement putting down white people – “A white person wouldn’t understand…” or “I would only do that if it was an exclusive group of POCs”. I understand where these statements are coming from. In fact, I made statements like these just a few years ago. But I found myself thinking “Really?”

Really? Is this as far as the social justice movement has come – where the people who are willing and eager to engage with issues of social justice are just trying to create spaces where POCs get to feel empowered by putting down white people? Where blanket statements of discrimination go unchecked because a POC never has to check themselves on the race line? Because white people get so many privileges that if a POC wants to take some rage out on some poor granola-esque Berkeley white woman, she has to shoulder that blame and internalize that guilt?

Of course the world needs to heal from the long-stemming effects of race, class, and cultural imperialism. Of course each of us have internalized some messages of the privileges or limitations that our skin color allows or denies us, and these messages should be brought to our awareness. Of course we could all use a little healing from the past and present. But when are we going to transcend the stories of hate and hurt, blame and shame, guilt and repression to a space of love and compassion?

I am interested in moving the dialogue on race relations forward. I am interested in acknowledging that each person comes into the world with issues to work out. I am interested in creating space for each person to work through each issue with as much love and compassion for ourselves and those in our paths that we can muster. I am interested in acknowledging that circling around and around within our own stories of hurt keeps us in a stuck energy. I am interested in finding genuine ways to connect with all people, to celebrate the connections, and honor the spaces we each need to deepen our personal healing work around personal issues.

Of course people of color have undergone more injustice than anyone should ever have to deal with.  But the point is that we shouldn’t create more of it for other folks in an effort to heal.  That doesn’t help relieve any of our own suffering.  Until conversations around race, class, gender, and sexuality move to a more mature place we are not going to see long-term sustainable change.  And it starts with change-makers and activists adjusting this paradigm.

Easter Poems

June 12th, 2008

This easter Lynn, Allison, Kelly and I experienced the powerful feeling of creating our own rituals. We manifested an Easter holiday that combines our personal values: good food, incredible hostessing (By Kelly Riggio!), personalized gift-giving, fun activities, spending time in nature and enjoying each other’s company. Here are some poems we created in a beautiful shared process. We each contributed lines to each poem.

Lynn’s Poem

Giving it some thought, I no longer need to beat myself up

Instead, I need to celebrate my simple right to be.

The joy of that is seeing clearly who I am

I am peace. I am enough. I am.

Love and worthy of love.

This feeling is my gift to share with the love-starved world

I share this gift freely, knowing that I also give it to myself

Like any good actor, I am attempting to find my light

Put myself on stage where it suits me, not just my audience

The truest works that I can speak come from the deepest heart.

That quiet space where the voice I’m hearing sounds a lot like god

And the God I’m hearing sounds a lot like me.

Now that I think about it, God is me.

Allison’s Poem

Putting down punishment…

The need to judge myself and others

Instead I’m going to let go, and let God

Knowing that God is who I truly Am

Revealed in my details, dissonance and resonance becoming song

I’m singing in praise of a new way to BE.

Compassion and deep actual passionate love of me. Sensitivity. And Gratitude.

I’m reawakening the parts of me that aren’t afraid to hear what my mind and body and heart are telling me.

I’m saying “walk towards all of it. It’s okay. You have everything you need.”

Your feet will carry you, your hands will build.

The miracle of New Life.

Sangita’s Poem

This year I am letting go of so many things

My need to work without rest, disbelieving my intuition and working my body too hard

So hard that I pass out at the end of the day, broken.

Because, like a muscle, I have to tear down and rebuild for the next morning.

Rebuild. Rebirth. Renew. A different you. Today.

I am I love I grow I die I begin again.

I am actively, proactively, carefully and intentionally manifesting abundance.

The kind of abundance that never runs out, and lasts forever and ever and ever

All of this flows through me, my blood, my bones.

My back curved up to stretch the pulse, my rush of blood.

Flood of sexy lovely bliss.

In this sacred moment.

Cause let’s be honest,

I’m bringing sexy back.

Let my back be a bridge

March 28th, 2008

I did a training today for an incredible group of people. I was in a room filled with visionaries- people who get things done because it would never occur to them not to be vigilantly working to find solutions to every problem they see.

The issue in the non-profit community of high achieving visionaries, however, is that often they are working in systems or organizations that are so dysfunctional, mis-managed, under-resourced or inadequately staffed. There are an elite group of people in this world who just know how to get things done. And these people are often drawn to these failing systems because they know they can make an incredible difference and work towards a mission they believe in.

But I am recently beginning to question, what is the cost of working in this way. When we decide that we must stay in a job because we are afraid of what will happen to the organization or the kids in the programs or the people who have come to depend on us - what happens to the passion and vision that burns in us? My experience is that when you operate in crisis mode for too long the creative parts of us start to die, and when that happens we begin to lose the life force that fuels us forward. This is when people start to use words like burn-out.

I think that we should never become martyrs to a cause. Those creative, impassioned people in the world who know what they are doing and are forced to manage their boss and manage the programs and manage themselves would most definitely be able to achieve their life work in a more functional scenario. It may be time to start your own organization. It may be time to expand your horizons. It may be time to stop holding something up that doesn’t have the healthy structure to deserve holding up.

I think we need to have the courage and the passion to love ourselves enough, to never become a martyr in this way. To never do for someone or something else. To know that we do our best work, connected to source, when we are doing what feels right for us, not out of a sense of obligation or responsibility, but out of a sense of love, and longing to create and manifest- to see our visions come true.

My commitment issues

January 17th, 2008

I recently watched a Sex and the City Episode where Carrie and the girls talk about how each one of them have a dating pattern- a kind of guy they are attracted to or a sabotage pattern they follow as each relationship falls apart. And I realize I’m kind of the same way.

Luckily not with relationships- I was lucky enough to fall in love and get engaged all in the span of 6 weeks and never looked back - a fast decision made from my gut with full certainty, not the least bit of doubt.

But with my career I am much more fickle. I think I’m the opposite of many people- who settle into one steady job but have a hard time finding the right person to commit to forever and ever. I’m the person who had no trouble finding the right partner but can’t seem to commit to a career or a job or even a field.

Since I intend to crack this pattern right now, I will describe my behavior up to this point as past-tense. Essentially I have been attracted to fast-paced, high stress, creative and independent jobs. I always look for some form of intensity- with Americorps it was the challenge of living in poverty (who chooses that?), with CNYD it was the excitement of traveling all over and doing something brand new, with KSA it was the physical challenge of the crazy hours and the low-income families and the ground-breaking approach to education, with moving to India it was the personal challenge that I was going to successfully integrate into a new family and a new culture and language and make it all work out. In each case I put myself in a sink-or-swim situation- a set of circumstances so physically draining and constraining I could barely keep my head above water. And during every single moment I never shut off my mind, putting myself through a rigorous learning and self-reflection process when I probably could have better used the energy to just hold still and breathe.

A few years ago my brother and I went white-water rafting in Costa Rica and just when I was feeling comfortable a huge wave knocked me out of the raft (There was an 8 year old in the raft who managed to stay in just fine but that’s another story). I was knocked under the water and smashed into rocks over and over again. Every time I felt like I was about to get control of myself and hold my head above the water long enough to take a deep breath another wave came crashing over my head knocking me off balance and swallowing water. If you’ve ever been in this situation you would know that the best thing to do is to lean back, hold onto the straps of your safety vest and float. Once I stopped panicking and thrashing around I remembered this handy piece of advice from our safety video, and relaxed onto my back. The second I stopped resisting the water I felt myself floating - sure amidst huge rapids and bouncing off of rocks, but a calm fell over me as I watched the sky, took deep breaths and waited for the guy in the safety kayak to come get me. (He did come, just as a large wave took me under and ended up paddling right over my head, smacking me with his paddle, then back-tracking to pull me into the kayak, but that, again, is another story.)

I have thought about that incident a lot while I have been here in India these 6 months, and I feel like it applies to my whole approach to life. I think that I am drawn to stress and tension, and that I actually thrive on that energy- where I feel like it is up to my sharp wits to figure out survival. (This may sound extreme, but you try battling simultaneous vomiting, diarhea and sneezing fits- a literal full body evacuation of some sort of parasite - while trying to squat and maintain balance over the little hole in the ground that you are trying to aim all of this into while also trying not to gag from the sheer disgustingness of the odors you are emitting because your face is so uncomfortably close to all of whatever is coming out of your body, and we’ll see if you don’t think that takes survival instinct). And so in these many situations where I’m battling anxiety and stress and discomfort my tendency is to move faster- to think of 5 possible solutions, to analyze where the problem is coming from, to start talking really fast and moving around or frantically running 5 google searches on my laptop, or freaking out that Akbar isn’t moving as fast as me… and of course what I really need to do is lay back, look at the sky and breathe.

I guess my fear is that no safety kayak will come for me. But certainly my anxious reaction to a non-ideal situation is not helping either.

So for the first time ever I am turning down a really cool and interesting job purely because I think it’s going to demand too much of my time to maintain the logistics of it. I feel I am worth more money. I feel my time is worth a lot and I can’t spend hours and hours in a commute. I am confident that I can attract another job that will push me to learn but in a balanced way, that doesn’t place huge demands on my personal life and family. And I am freakin proud of myself. I don’t know what the future holds, and while I am not crazy about this kind of indecision, I think it’s going to be okay.

Maybe I’m my own safety kayak, and I’ve been waiting for me to show up all this time. So I ran over myself a few times- big deal. I’ll be able to get myself to a nice dry place soon.

India is a Hair Salon

January 17th, 2008

Yesterday as I was choosing how to get my hairs cut- there are only two styles here- feather cut and step cut- I came to the realization that all of Indian conversation functions like conversations in a stereotypical beauty parlor in the US.

I’m talking about a parlor in a neighborhood, not one of those ritzy spas (that I long for…) where everyone wears black and talks in a falsely soothing voice. You know the scene- people come in and out of the beauty parlor, some are regulars, some are walk-ins, and some are friends of friends. They all know the same people cause they’re from the same neighborhood. So they talk about eachother, it’s loud and busy and gossippy and full of that energy where work combines with chit chat and bits of information about other peoples’ lives are traded like valuable jewels. Whoever has the most juicy information is suddenly the most popular and the same stories get told over and over again.

This is a lot like the conversations that happen in households here. People from the neighborhood may just drop in at any time and trade secrets and stories, updates about who just had a love marriage, who failed out of college, who is trying to go abroad and who burned their chapatis. The best story-tellers are loud, talk with their hands and eyes, and make the subject of the story as dramatic as possible. There is no penalty for exaggeration or harsh treatment of someone else’s delicate tale. Bring it on sister is the motto.

Ever since I got here I’ve been fascinated by the way people talk here- not physically how they talk but what they’re talking about. It all seems so inconsequential- who often the people next door eat meat? - but that’s how they talk. And the same stories get repeated over and over and over again.

So for those of you who can’t experience this first hand, hang out at a neighborhood parlor and see if you can get a feel for that, then add in bright clothing and the smells of a curry simmering away in the background, and what you’ve got is pretty darn close to the real thing.

10 Reasons It’s Time to Come Home From India

January 16th, 2008
  1. The heels of your feet are so dry and cracked that you are afraid that no amount of pedicures will ever heal them
  2. Your thighs are like muscular beams from squatting over the Indian toilet with bout after bout of explosive diarrhea
  3. You have learned to successfully haggle down prices from street venders in Hindi
  4. When people say something is spicy you wonder which item they are talking about, because everything tastes pretty bland to you
  5. After 5 months of taking a bucket bath with a plastic stool you realize there is a working shower in the bathroom that Akbar has known about all along
  6. You dream of crackers, cheese and your blue sweat pants
  7. You have shopped so much that you feel you already have something very similar to every piece of jewelry you come across
  8. You are fed up with your job and boss
  9. You have struggled to adjust to the heat, and then realize that summer is just starting, and what you have experienced so far cannot compare to what will happen over the next 5 months
  10. You have a ticket to return in 14 days!!!


January 16th, 2008

About 5 months ago when I was struggling to find some sanity here in India I came across an amazing article in a book about the Reticular Activating System, or RAS.

Our RAS is the part of our brain that acts as a filtering system for what attracts our attention- the example that sticks out for me is that when we are walking down a crowded street we are bombarded by thousands of stimuli- from the traffic passing, people walking past us, store windows, bill boards and signs… but if someone calls our name (or even says a word that sounds like our name) we are more likely than not to turn our heads. Our RAS acts as a filter that lets some stimuli in so that we can respond to it, and filters other stimuli out, deeming it unimportant.

But what’s interesting is how does the RAS know what stimuli is important and what isn’t? Well, it’s kind of working on what we feed it. We can consciously feed it messages through meditation or visualization, and if we aren’t engaging in this type of activity the RAS will work with whatever dominant thoughts are bouncing around our heads.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience where once you start thinking about one thing you seem to notice it everywhere. Like if we are planning a wedding we may see bridal magazines and invitations and wedding dresses wherever we look. And if we are worried about gaining weight we will notice fat people and skinny people on the streets, books about diets or weight loss plans wherever we look.

The RAS is controlling this- our brain will attract whatever we program our RAS to notice. The book that I was reading talked about how we can consciously program our RAS through detailed visualizations. The clearer the images we feed in, the harder the RAS works to find those exact stimuli in the real world.

I’ve had 2 amazing experiences with this exercise. When I first came here I was coming off of my fourth major career change in about 4 years. I’ve definitely been flip flopping all over the place for a while, which I don’t mind- I think it’s been a healthy part of my life-exploration and curiosity to see what’s out there. But I was without any clue of what direction to head in now. And so through a series of visualizations I imagined my dream job- what it would look like, what I would wear to work, who I would work with, how I would get there… I imagined how it would feel during different parts of my day, how I would look, conversations I might have. .. I imagined it all in an Indian context, willing myself to see this ideal work environment here in India. I imagined all the time- in the morning when I first woke up, while we drove to the coffee shop, while I had my coffee, before I went to bed- anytime my mind was unengaged.

And it totally came true. Out of the blue I got a call from the one person I had spoken to about a job when I first got here, who had an opening in his own company. I pretty much walked into the exact job description I was imagining. (Of course the company wasn’t quite as amazing as I imagined in my dreams, but most elements were pretty spot on.)

Boosted by the success of this incident I went to work on my comfort levels staying in my in-laws’ house. I was determined that we could make this situation work and keep everyone happy. I imagined every possible detail I could think of, in bright techni-color clarity, and finally it was done. Suddenly I woke up one morning and found I had acquired enough of a grasp on Urdu to communicate with my mother in law in small sentences. I stopped feeling like a fumbling foreign idiot and moved with confidence. And the people around me changed too. Everything went according to the script I had written and reviewed in my head.

So now I’m moving to the next project. I’m imagining another dream job, correcting for the flaws in this one and incorporating my living environment. I can’t decide if I want to live in India or the US for the next year, so I’m imagining two scenarios (but I think I’m working harder on the India one), and they are both manifesting right in front of my face. It is so unbelievable it is shocking. I’m actually feeling a little scared by it. If we have so much power within us to control the reality around us, imagine what we can do if we really believe in ourselves.

After the first job offer I got a little nervous about this process and stopped using. Then I felt foolish and started it up again, and once again felt nervous about the speed of results. If this next job manifests I think I will be a true convert- three time’s a charm!