Joe Gerstandt asks: How do you change a community conversation?

On his blog, "Our time to act," Joe Gerstandt asks some great questions. Huge questions. Questions that interest me and that are topical to this blog, so I'll respond to them here.

Joe asks (at the end of his blog post titled "The Direction a Community Chooses"):

How do you change a community conversation?

How do you change what a community pays attention to?

How do you contribute to a community examining what it values?

What comes up for me in pondering these questions is:

  • first, the scale of the challenge and skill level required - that being big;
  • second, how groups will always be messy... as Joe points out in his "Cognitive Diversity" video, the element that produces the innovative and creative solutions in groups is the same element that creates the tension and division;
  • the idea that these communities may not *want* to have new or changed conversations.

Beyond those initial thoughts, places to look might be:
1) *Why* aren't these communities having these conversations?
2) And what is the *why* behind those reasons?

From there, you can apply exploration and efforts efficiently to create shifts. Best to seek people and places wanting change - that is, are exhibiting dissatisfaction - or else you risk 'going against the flow', which probably won't produce the results you seek.

As an example of these queries, I can imagine these among the possibilities:

a) A community is not having different conversations because they don't have the capacity for it (time and/or energy) at this point in time. Perhaps people are working too many hours, or don't have enough time with family and so have no time for community. Perhaps they can't meet with each other because of distance or barriers. Why is that the case? How can you work to directly create more hours and more capacity for your community members?

b) A community is not having different conversations because they don't have a model (an example or a story) of how or why to converse and interact differently. Why is that the case? Is another model is dominating and pushing out other models of community, or is it that other models simply aren't accessible to people? If so, how could you create more access to clearly expressed and positively exampled models of community for your peeps?

c) A community is not having different conversations because they naturally associate such conversations with discomfort, and their current lives are comfortable enough to not need change. Why is that the case? Here, the question may be, why do they perceive pain connected to different conversations, and/or why are they not seeing the pain/cost levels associated with not having better conversations? How can you supply that information in a way that blends with their concerns, values and world model?

d) A community is not having different conversations because they do not have the vocabulary or concepts to do so. It's difficult to be a thief in a society that doesn't have a word for "steal", and it's difficult to talk about things when you don't have words for them. If your community is missing the words, then why is that the case? How can you create easy, open and positive avenues for people to learn the concepts and the words?

I'm sure there are others. It'd be easy to make up that any or all of these are the problem in any given community; the work is in discovering what the problems actually are. This involves being simply curious, open, caring and connected (easier said than done). However, once you know the core issues at this level, you can really ask some simple, elegant and powerful questions in meetings. Such questions, asked from that caring, connected, curious place, tend to have large effects.

My inspirations and 'lego blocks' for these kinds of questions and approach include: NLP and the Meta Model; the works of Richard Strozzi Heckler; Integral Theory and the works of Ken Wilber; Spiral Dynamics and Don Beck; the structure of conversations & linguistics work of John Searle, Fernando Flores, Terry Winograd and Humberto Maturana; and conversations with Marsha Shenk, Alan Rosenblith, Scott Sheldon, Doug Carlson and Paula Love.

Thanks for your blog and such cool conversations, Joe!


thanks for adding some valuable new questions and perspectives to my thoughts on this katin, love your blog!