The world is roiling from stress on many fronts, felt deeply by public servants. Prompted by a friend's question, "What are we all about anymore," I was inspired by a recent article to put democratic principles into a venn diagram. The challenge of "government of the people and by the people" to create a government for the people is coaxed along through important institutional supports. Public servants are a huge part of this dynamic relationship and I am honored to support them. Creating this helped me, and I hope it can be helpful for others, as well (with apologies to the graphic artists of the world).
As articulated so well by Podger, a comprehensive list of democratic principles might comprise the following:
Government of the people, by the people:
Heading into July 4th, this is time for civic mindfulness. Wishing all a peaceful long weekend.
My grandma used to say "it's not what happens to you, it's how you happen back." Wise words in an easy to remember catch phrase. But right now, we are really experiencing pressure on our ability to "happen back."
The stress of the global pandemic, the tension of the current political climate, the overdue reckoning on race and America --it can all feel overwhelming. These are serious and challenging realities. To respond, I'd like to make the serious case for optimism.
How can optimism help? Lets start with what optimism isn't. Optimism isn't all pep talks and cheerfulness. And it is not the same as confidence. Optimism is also not the absence of criticism. In fact, criticism is, in its own way, an expression of optimism.
While optimism can be expressed with an upbeat attitude, confidence, and even criticism, what it comes down to is more than way of behaving. It is a way of being. A personal belief in better days to come. Ultimately that belief is grounded in an internal dialog, not an external expression. What are you saying to yourself about how you respond, adjust, adapt and make a difference?
In coaching, that dialog is facilitated. I like to put it this way: this partnership approach looks like a conversation between you, the coach, and you again. That's not the same as talking to yourself or even your friends. It is instead an intentional and creative process to expand possibilities.
We're going to get through these tough times, but not out of tough times. To forge a better future, we commit to doing the work. Optimism can fuel the work. I think grandma would approve.
Happy Pi Day ! Pi. 3.14159265359. And so on. The number representing the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is fondly celebrated by math lovers every year on March 14 has come again. Seemingly infinite and also constant, pi inspires lots of math-y fun and the baking of pies.
A few years ago a local leader suggested the formation of a regional committee to produce ideas for intergovernmental cooperation projects (we will get to Pi here in a moment). While discussing it, the concept of ideation was landed upon as the description of what the committee will do .
What separates ideation from brainstorming is that it is structured process. There are likely a lot of definitions, and the one we landed on was project ideation, and that project ideation is
Being government and all it was time for an acronym. Project Ideation became PI, and the PI Team was formed. And then a non-governmental type read the letters P and I sandwiched next to each other and saw, oh my goodness, an actual word! Then it all clicked. The "Pi Team" was born.
I love this story. Pi as a metaphor is so relevant to the creative process and creative shared in ideation. Like Pi, creativity is infinite and ideation is a structured and known process--a constant. The story also tells about perspective--I saw an acronym, someone else saw a word, and not just any word. The perfect word for what the acronym was trying to embody-a testament to the intelligence of teams. This came about not just because of an additional person being added to the discussion but the inclusion of the outsider's voice (nongovernmental in this case). And then there was the circle. The very shape of the ideal committee. And let none of this overshadow the purpose of the team -- intergovernmental cooperation which requires all of these things: creativity, structure, diversity of perspective, and the circle way.
So Happy Pi Day. May you celebrate it as a science and an art. As the infinite and the constant. As the user of the circle and the consumer of pie. Please contact me if I may help your ideation and team intelligence to flourish.
Recently, in supportive conversations, colleagues and I have related about situations in which we feel like ”Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney.” In the comedy classic from Saturday Night Live, McCartney is a guest on The Chris Farley Show, a skit portraying Farley as a talk show host.
Chris asks Sir Paul a variety of questions that inspire basically one-word answers. Throughout the interview Chris fidgets, plays with his notes, runs on with his thoughts and seems to squander the opportunity, and then beats himself up about it. His anxiety is visible and the performance is an outward display of his character’s, and maybe Farley's own, inner tumult. Who of us hasn’t been Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney at least once in our life? This sketch captures the experience of self-doubt through Farley’s comedic genius and McCartney’s good humor.
What is the consequence of listening to our doubts? One of them is to think more about what we are putting out than what we are taking in. To focus more on what we are saying than what is being said to us. We miss the chance to connect, even to our dreams and those we adore. Then we doubt ourselves even more when we later realize what we have have lost.
How do we listen to our internal dialog without letting it take over? How do we hang with our conscience and not be self-conscious? It is not so much about shutting those voices out, but clarifying and appreciating what they express to us and being able to project our full, conscious, selves.
It is fun to imagine how, if we were in Chris’s shoes, we would rephrase his interview. Of course, it wouldn’t be a comedy classic, but it would be a good exercise. It might also be a nice tribute to a talent lost too soon. So you know how Chris Farley gave us a funny, emotional, pop-culture touchstone that promotes self-awareness? Is that true?
Innovation in the public sector is not an oxymoron! In fact, government is a fertile environment for innovation because of the dedication to service, deep reserves of expertise, and competition for resources found there. Traditionally, bureaucratic thinking constrains innovation because of its general nature to be rule-oriented with an emphasis on equality towards all actors.
A 2015 article from Stanford Social Innovation Review gives the idea of co-creation in government, a popular method of organizational change and innovation in the private sector, a thorough exploration. One of its authors, Francis Gouillart, is also an author of the seminal work on the topic, The Power of Co-Creation (2010). Co-Creation was also a topic for 2018 webinar by Alliance for Innovation, and featured a case study from Hennepin County, MI.
I took some time to compare the steps of Co-Creation with the Arc of Coaching as developed by Duquesne University Professional Coach Certification Program. The table below explains the alignment in a simplified way. Within each step resides many tools deployed by the professional coach. If your organization is adopting a Co-Creation approach to change, professional coaching techniques and practices can help. Please contact me for further info or assistance.
'In coaching we often ask for a "mindful moment" for the individual client or group, and the coach as well, to center themselves and be present. It seems that many folks are introduced to the concept of mindfulness through images or narratives evoking eastern religious traditions. Where to start in such vast and rich expanse of tradition, information and experience can be overwhelming. I often wonder if that this is the reason I have gotten a few side-eyes upon the suggestion for a mindful moment. It is fascinating, then, to share what has been learned by the work of Ellen Langer who approached her study of mindfulness from a western researchers perspective. Originally looking at "mindlessness...a state of mind characterized by an over reliance on categories and distinctions drawn in the past and in which the individual is context-dependent and, as such, is oblivious to novel (or simply alternative) aspects of the situation," Langer's research honed in on mindfulness as the simple act of noticing. In doing so, she uncovers why mindfulness contributes so powerfully to creativity and problem solving. "Less is More," the saying goes. So less mindlessness is more mindfulness! May we all tap into this deep wellspring of capability, and be confident in our potential for mindfulness.
For a generation, one of the most influential ideas to impact public service has been the landmark publication Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector, by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler. A rallying cry to "revolt against bureaucratic malaise" and "build something better," it has inspired many public officials seeking to promote initiative and a sense of ownership in public organizations. Costs have been reduced and programs have been reformed because of the performance management programs inspired by Reinventing Government. However, a recent column in Governing magazine outlined the unintended consequence of performance management: some public officials felt diminished by the performance management process, which shut down creativity needed to solve problems. For reinvention to deliver its high ideal, how can the technical changes such as performance management programs be built upon to allow people and groups to adapt and improve? We offer our help with this through an approach of peace and accountability. This is particularly useful when elected officials struggle with the efficiency and effectiveness of the organizations they have been tasked to lead or when staff feels politicized. This matrix shows the top level "action words" used to describe our assistance:
An approach imbued with peace and accountability doesn't avoid tough issues or assure certain outcome. It does, however, add integrity to an improvement process by building support across the spectrum of opinions on how effective workers and organizations perform. The result: increased creativity, critical thinking, and shared responsibility.
Spring cleaning brings about an opportunity to re-familiarize yourself with your items and make some decisions. Books are especially challenging. Do I keep this or pass along for someone else's learning? My process is to randomly open the book and read a passage. If it still resonates, keep. So it was that I came across the Pocket Pema Chodron in my collection. My random selection produced the following story/passage:
I was once invited to teach with the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, my teacher's eldest son, in a situation where it wasn't exactly clear what my status was. Sometimes I was treated as a big deal who should come in though a special door and sit in a special seat. Then I'd think, "Okay, I 'm a big deal." I'd start running with that idea and come up with big-deal notions about how things should be.
Then, I'd get the message, "Oh, no, no, no. You should just sit on the floor and mix with everybody and be one of the crowd." Okay. So now the message was that I should just be ordinary, not set myself up or be the teacher. But as soon as I was getting comfortable with being humble, I would be asked to do something special that only big deals did.
This was a painful experience because I was always being insulted and humiliated by my own expectations. As soon as I was sure how it should be, so I could feel secure, I would get the message that it should be the other way. Finally, I said to the Sakyong, "This is really hurting. I just don't know who I am supposed to be," and he said, "Well, you have to learn to be big and small at the same time."
Big and small at the same time. This helped me to reflect the challenge facing community leaders, and on my coaching role as they draw on their abilities from within. Inspires me! And I am keeping this book, as well as passing it along here.
Susan Hockenberry's blog of suggestions for info and updates.