I met Undine Whande at The Transformation Group- a peer-learning space in Cape Town where we share and experiment with promising approaches to social transformation. What follows is a letter she wrote to us after attending our recent Organization Unbound talk- Social Innovation From the Inside Out. It was so chock full of interesting reflections, and connections that we asked her if she’d be willing to share it with the wider Organization Unbound community.
The first thing that struck me from your talk and that had me celebrate inwardly was that these insights are now surfacing at various points through various people who have all been keenly and committedly observing their environments and coming to similar conclusions: That organisations are alive, living breathing organisms with their own internal experiential reality that is patterned so that you encounter a tiny bit of the Whole in each of the parts. That experience matters. That making meaning together from a place of deep connectedness to self in the present moment means connecting to others as well. That the core human needs of safety (sense of acceptance), autonomy (sense of space) and recognition (sense of being seen) are core to development and developing the faculties that we need to evolve now.
So I felt elated because about ten years ago, when I started discovering a similar path and what I felt were the masterful teachings of some who had walked it before me, that thinking was seen as ‘hippie’, ‘esoteric’, ‘airy fairy’ in most of the contexts I was working in.
In listening to your talk, I felt resonances with so many works that have inspired me over the years: Allan Kaplan’s Artists of the Invisible; the work of the CDRA, who incidentally published an amazing annual report some years ago titled ‘from the inside out’; John Paul Lederach in his Moral Imagination, which comes to a similar conclusion for the peacebuilding field based on decades of observing; Steiner’s ploughing of the anthroposophical field; and Goethe’s work that Kaplan and Otto Scharmer draw on.
Goethe for instance explores that our sense perceptions are in fact organs that can be grown in relation to our environs (every new object well contemplated opens up a new organ of perception in us). Hence I think that part of what you are describing in the organisations where you have experienced the vibrancy and sustainability of expressive change is that they have managed to cultivate a continuous practice of growing their own and each other’s sense perceptions. In fact, the experiential reality evolves as it is lived, through conscious attendance to it.
The other thought I had was on holding an intention – the main point from my experience is that an intention can work like an enveloping blanket that holds a space, across far distances and even death. This means that I suspect that in the organisations that you describe there are people who peopled the organisation in the past who are still holding the intention of its original spirit, beyond their departure from the organisation and even from material embodied life. Hence, an organisation is this large system, including the people no longer present but elsewhere, including its ancestry. Somewhere in the practice there must a gesture of honouring those that were, so that the beginnings and endings are conscious and the endings mean that the person goes out into the world with a fine thread of good intention intact, hence no energy leakages on the organisation but a flow of light towards it that continues to inspire and grow those now entering.
I loved the lightness of ‘go and experiment, you don’t have to get it right to start’, so permission seems to be very important, permission to self and to others to be perfect in the imperfection. In the sincere attempt one is always perfect. Also the idea that with a strong intention you will find your ‘little crack’ to enter the field you aim to transform (ex. the senior politician who does not listen).
I also really resonated with the practice and inner attitude of inquiry, the constant curiosity (ah and ohh and wow) at the miraculous nature of life and how it unfolds through us.
I am sitting with questions around how to work without intervening. I agree that intervening is not the route to go (intervenere in Latin means ‘going in between’, which is not what we need, since that is simply the re-enforcement of separation). Kaplan suggests ‘illuminate’ which I have tried to work with in my inquiries and found interesting results.
The small story of the importance of how to address the teachers is so significant for how each little action matters and how time can be a non-linear phenomenon- where 2 hours can contain an entire life span of an organisation. How do we more consciously attend to these foundational conversations that manifest and remain generative for a long long time? (rather than think that we can conjure them up by any other means than intent and attention)
In terms of the dynamic of some organisations getting all cozy and prioritising sharing about the self, while others prioritize the work and getting ahead over human connecting – I find that Adam Kahane’s book Power and Love speaks to this. Incidentally he also speaks of ‘stumbling’ and ‘falling’ as part of the process, words you used yesterday. I am currently embedded in an organisation that is focused on the work but has the idea of itself that it is all about connecting (but does not practice it). It is good at what it does at a high cost to itself and the people within.
In terms of the form vs. experience dynamic, what of the legacies of historical injustice in the post-colonies? How do they come into the domain of organising (not just organisations as a form)?
Finally, two things struck me still. Two little sentences Warren said:
1) Each person was taken as a gift.
2) I love organisations!
The thought on the ‘I love organisations’ is that exactly that passion and light is infectious, it really shines from you guys at the moment and so strongly, it is very beautiful to see. You are inspiring an entire context here and unsticking people through the way you authentically follow your life purpose and stand expressive and relaxed in trusting that that will take you places. All of which alleviates fear and entices courage in others. Something at the core is veiled and perhaps needs to remain so: We don’t really know how we are doing it. We don’t really know why suddenly hundreds of people want these insights when they have been around, actually, and published by others before in other words and other forms. None of that matters because you remain connected and attentive to that core that is an experience (of the divine energy?) more than anything one could put into words and very generative and hence radiates out.
The small interaction with the empirical question was affirming for me and fed my anthropologist’s soul. Thanks for that as I live in a very empirically driven environs at CSVR, yet also see a sense among the academically minded that it is somehow not working anymore the way it used to. All the formulaic is breaking up, structures dissolving, demanding surrender and active creation of something new.
I also thought that we need to be mindful that what is breaking free now has been in fact created for many decades and is now coming to a kind of fruition or seeding suddenly where what used to be the fringe (hippie, esoteric, etc.) is suddenly moving into the centre. Pockets, bubbles, little incubators like Kufunda Village have served to grow this seeding to a larger scale.
In fact what you seem to signify and represent with the talk yesterday and taking it into the space of the business school in a youthful fresh unassuming way (sandals…) is that something is coming to scale here. And yet the business school had its little incubators as well, for instance I remember one of my mentors Ampie Mueller who taught there and also engaged so strongly in peacebuilding in South Africa’s transitional negotiations in the early 1990s. His thinking resonates so strongly with your words: Democracy is a FEELING (!!) of participating and having a voice.