The Challenges of Changing the World

ANP-5605840112Visions of what needs to happen on this planet to make it more of a home to the ever growing human population while at the same time taking care that all the other species can flourish as well abound. The United Nations have identified the 8 most pressing ones and on one of them, “Environmental Sustainability”, the political world is going to decide in Copenhagen what it will do, or wants to do.

There is a lot of leadership on climate issues, and if the information I get on what happens in the USA and Canada as a European residing in Berlin is correct, the competition between this leadership is amazing – everybody struggling for the best pole-position in the race to what is seen by many to be the new gold-mine: Green (Social) Economy. In Europe the competition is not as fierce but the call for leadership is strong. And I must confess that I don’t know much about what happens in South-America. Africa, Asia and Australia. I do know, though, there are at least 1.000.000 (1 Mio) NGO’s and other social responsibility organizations world-wide trying to lead the way. There doesn’t seem to be a lack of leadership…

Moreover there are countless experts and innumerable plans and [full disclosure here] I’m working with wonderful and brilliant people at creating “meshworks” that will help align people, plans and resources. We are well on our way in this endeavor, as soon as we’re ready to open up to the general public you’ll be hearing more from me here, and I expect it to raise our collective intelligence a few notches.

OLY-2008-CHINA-SAILING-ENVIRONMENT-POLLUTION-ALGAEAnd yet, when working on my recent blogs on Resonance & the Living Field, Leadership, Community and Transforming the Whole and How to be? What to do? and this last weekend on a mindmap (a work in progress) The Community as a Whole is More than the Sum of its Parts an insight keeps nagging me that I could maybe sum up like this, “While visions, plans, meshworks and a highly committed leadership are absolutely essential, no clearly stated or compelling vision, no plan, as brilliant as it may be, no sophisticated meshwork aligning everyone and everything and no committed group of leaders are going to make the much needed brighter future a reality unless it is embodied by highly coherent communities that involve innumerable engaged citizens of all color and creed.”

In Leadership, Community and Transforming the Whole I’ve made a strong case, I think, why recruiting or aggregating large numbers of people to world change-movements doesn’t work, no matter how wonderful, powerful, idealistic and committed these people may be. No matter how many people we can recruit for “the cause”, the transformation will not result from ever growing sums of individuals working for change because “A whole is more than the sum of its part(icipant)s.”

a-root-rtt-01-keyThe world is not made up of individuals, as we might be tempted to think, but it’s made up of groups, organizations, parties etc., in short: the world is a community of communities. These are the “wholes” that can foster, embed and realize the transformation that we wish for Earth.
According to Wikipedia, for community there “were ninety-four discrete definitions of the term by the mid-1950s” (here), so it might help to discern between what we will in this blog call “real communities” and “conventional communities.” Conventional communities, even if their goals are aligned with the world change we seek to implement, can at best be fertile ground for highly coherent “real communities”. And because transformative action is always local, customized and unfolding (emergent) and needs to be embodied by those that act the real community already lives the future it wishes to realize for all.

The following is just a preliminary list, that – with your help – will be updated continually to more accurately reflect what we’re learning.

Real communities Conventional communities
Look for possibilities and how to implement them Work on solving problems, cater to needs of its members
Stimulate generosity and hospitality Try to eliminate the causes of what we fear
Continually look to deepen connections and relations, value belonging Need to grow, scale fast; value numbers
Empower and invest in its participants/members and their growth Invests in (and sets out to improve) leadership
Participants/members find areas which they want to be accountable for Set clear(er) goals by using clear processes with measurable milestones
Create space for regenerative conversations Create more controls, measures of effectiveness
Love questions and what they generate Seek the right answers and try to implement them
Thrive through ‘mutual apprenticeship’, trust in self-organization, coordinate action ‘chaordically Hierarchical organisation; depend on leaders, authorities, experts, specialists to “make the plan and show the way”
Encourages authority and responsibility of every participant/member by honoring everyone’s contribution Celebrates it’s leaders and icons, encourages competition
Brings people from the margin to the center to learn, connect more deeply and
regenerate communal strength
Marginalizes people who are not in line with the community’s culture/rules

(With this list I do not in any way wish to show that conventional communities are not needed or at fault, not so! It simply points out that they are not adequate to foster, create or embody the transformation that so many of us feel is absolutely needed if we are to survive in any meaningful way both as human species and as ecologically rich planet.
And what is listed under real community doesn’t make this kind of community right, perfect or “the best.” These are simply some of the characteristics that a resilient, vibrant and deeply meaningful community has, and I believe they’re indispensable for any transformation that deserves to be called such.)


The world I wantProbably the most important characteristics of all communities are its conversations and “vibrancy.”
In a conventional community I cannot reveal much of who I am, and it can therefor not be very coherent, simply because feeling alignment between people depends very much on how much they feel safe to show of themselves and their ‘brokenness’. If ever you were in a group of people where someone opened up and showed some of what keeps her or him awake at night – and others were mature enough to allow that without immediately comforting or fixing or giving good advise etc. – then you know that the depth of a community is directly related to its openness to self-disclosure.

There is much more to say about real community, and I’m sure we will come to that in the next weeks and months, but for now I think we’re looking for a strategy to build the kind of communities that can carry and contain the world change that we all know is at hand – and it’s not clear if we’re going to come out wiser, healthier and thriving or not. My guess is, if we build real communities, we have better chances to come through wonderfully transformed.

Part of this strategy is certainly:

  • Build regenerative social fabric with hospitality, generosity, deep conversations, felt alignment
  • Reframe the crisis as breakdown of community and its restoration/healing
  • Co-creation and enrichment of the “common good”
  • Create time to simply be together and celebrate
  • Understand that community is never a means to an end (even if that is transformation or world change); community is always its own end.

It is my deep conviction that not only do some of these communities already exist but that with just a little nudge many more will spring into being everywhere. So, for now, I’ll leave with this question, How can we/I serve those communities that interconnect and seed “real communities”?

The Community as a Whole is More than the Sum of its Parts – Work in Progress

I’ve been working on this mind map this whole weekend and will be working on it some more. You can, if you like also work on it (best to enlarge it before you do that – and even if you want to see it in more detail)… or comment. (More work from 1 & 2. Sept below)


This is the “Community” part of a larger whole that will incorporate “The Internet of Things”. It seems to me that I need to have this part straight before I can go to the next one…

2. Sept.

Have added an important branch to the above map that can be closer (and probably easier) studied on this map:

Collaboration versus Institutions

In this prescient 2005 talk, Clay Shirky shows how closed groups and companies will give way to looser networks where small contributors have big roles and fluid cooperation replaces rigid planning.