Sunday, November 30, 2008

Resources on Strengths Based Approaches

Resources on Strengths Based Approaches compiled for Azenet and SLHI Consultant Community Meeting on November 18, 2008.

Our definition of Strengths Based Approaches: Strengths based approaches focus on the identification and development of the strengths of an individual, organization, community, and system. Strengths based approaches start with what is working, where you are strong, successful, and passionate. They are based on and align with the research on resiliency, positive psychology, asset based thinking, and whole system methods.

Our definition of Whole System Methods: Whole system methods such as Appreciative Inquiry and Open Space Technology engage people from all parts of a system in creating change. They help you initiate high leverage, sustainable, and transformational positive change in organizations, partnerships, communities, and systems by tapping into the collective intelligence.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Resources
• Power of Appreciative Inquiry by Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom
• Appreciative Coaching by Sara Orem, Jacqueline Binkert, Ann Clancy
• The Appreciative Inquiry Summit A Practitioner’s Guide for Leading Large-Group Change by James D. Ludema, Diana Whitney, Bernard J. Mohr, and Thomas J. Griffin

AI books with good appreciative questions
• Appreciative Teambuilding by Diana Whitney & Amanda Trosten-Bloom, Jay Cherney and Ron Fry
• The Encyclopedia of Positive Questions Diana Whitney, David Cooperrider, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Brian Kaplin

• Reframing Evaluation through Appreciative Inquiry by Hallie Preskill and Tessie Tzavaras Catsambas
• Information Gold Mine: Innovative Uses of Evaluation by Paul Mattessich

Other Resources on Strength Based Approaches
• Change the Way You See Everything Through Asset-Based Thinking by Kathryn D. Cramer Ph.D and Hank Wasiak
• Change the Way You See Yourself Through Asset-Based Thinking by Kathryn D. Cramer Ph.D and Hank Wasiak
• Open Space Technology A Users Manual by Harrison Owen
• The Soul of Money by Lynn Twist *
• Strengthsfinders 2.0 by Tom Rath
• The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts by Luther K. Snow
• The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter by Juanita Brown, David Isaacs and the World Cafe Community,
• Learned Optimism and Authentic Happiness by Martin E. P. Seligman PhD
• Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant
• Transitions and Transition Management by William Bridges
• The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt
• How The Way We Talk Can Change The Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
• Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in theWorld Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming by Paul Hawken
• The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and rod A. Beckstrom
• Health in a New Key and Weave the People – available at

Resources on the New Sciences
• The Biology of Belief by Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D.
• The Philosopher’s Stone by F. David Peat
• Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World by Margaret J. Wheatley
• Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi.
• The Neuroscience of Leadership by David Rock (article)
• Strategic Thinking and the New Science by T. Irene Sanders

Tools to Help Identify Strengths of Individuals
• Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 – one on-line assessment comes with the price of a copy of the book Strenghtsfinder 2.0.
• StrengthsExplorer for ages 10-14 –

Available at
• VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire Measures 24 Character Strengths
• VIA Strength Survey for Children Measures 24 Character Strengths for Children

Appreciative Inquiry Commons -
Asset Based Community Development
Asset-Based Thinking
Open Space Technology -
Positive Deviancy Initiative -
World Café -

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Reinventing Holiday Giving

An excerpt From Mrs. Green Goes Mainstream Newsletter of Friday November 14, 2008 about re-inventing holiday gift giving.

"Let's re-write the script and focus on embracing this holiday season with joy and a return to evaluating what really matters. Let's turn the recession into a revival! This is not about doing less but it is about doing things and giving things that have meaning, that matter most, that create lasting memories.

I have so many ideas as to what we can all do to bring true meaning back to our holiday season and truly manifest a debt free, waste free, stress free holiday experience that my mind is exploding - kind of! I will share some with you and extend an invitation to you to share your ideas with me. I would like the next two newsletters to be all about YOU! I want to hear your ideas, your childrens' ideas, your grandchildrens' ideas - get on the holiday imagination train and see where it takes you. When you catch your breath, write me an email! Forward this newsletter to family and friends and ask them to join the movement for a meaningful holiday and share their ideas with the rest of us.

Here's my start:

Give the gift of time - to your family, to your community, to yourself.

Start the tradition of family game or movie night (turn the phone ringer off) and make real popcorn in a popcorn popper - the healthy way!

Gift something special you own to someone who has admired it (recycle). I have already put my friend's diamond earrings on my wish list.

Start a family or neighborhood tradition like making Gingerbread Houses or Holiday cookies (one of my favorites to receive). The only request one of my daughter's had for her college winter break? Make Gingerbread Houses with the Murphys!

Give hand-made/home-made gift certificates offering to baby sit, clean house (okay - that might be a stretch), yard work, rearrange a pantry.

Give gift certificates that are practical like "This Certificate Good for One Home Cooked Meal on the Night of Your Choosing - Some Advance Notice Needed."

Reach out to your neighbors and friends and organize something like preparing a meal for the Ronald McDonald House.

Be joyous and excited about giving used gifts like books or jewelry.

Make a CD of someone's favorite music.

Buy a picture frame and put that special photograph of a happy memory in it that will bring a smile to someone's face.

Get creative about wrapping! My niece shared with me that she is going to cut up old bridesmaids' gowns with her children and use fun ribbon to wrap their presents this year. (Fun family time, great message to kids!)

Plan a road trip. It doesn't have to be around the holidays but part of the gift is planning and creating the trip as a family.

Offer to pay off something on another person's charge card (bold but beautiful!)

Donate an old sewing machine or computer or Ipod to someone who needs it and wants it.

Buy a Christmas tree that can be planted. If you are a desert dweller, find out which trees can survive.

And did I say give the gift of time and love and laughter?

Be a stand for something different and share it with the world. Help start a movement - turning back the hands of time to when people got together to sing, and laugh and share homemade goodies - things which come from the heart. Brace or embrace? You decide!"

Thanks Gina

A Model of Shared Leadership

This is a great article from Jeff Thoren's newsletter from Gifted Leaders. Thanks Jeff. I had heard about this and didn't know where to get more information on it and there it was in your last newsletter.

Today's leaders are seeking to adopt new ways of thinking and to apply new models of organization in the workplace. Sometimes new insights are found in unexpected places. One symphony orchestra -- New York City-based Orpheus Chamber Orchestra -- has become a model for a new kind of loose and flexible organization.

By removing the position of conductor from the organization, Orpheus has unleashed an incredible amount of leadership from its members. The highly acclaimed orchestra has achieved a level of excellence and success by explicitly honoring the ideals of democracy, personal involvement, and mutual respect.

"In a conducted orchestra, you play a more passive role. Not only is less expected of you, but less is expected from you. I don’t see that people in regular orchestras are emotionally involved in the same way. Everybody plays well, but the level of emotional involvement isn’t there."
- Orpheus cellist Eric Bartlett

Here's this month's feature ...

The Conductor-less Orchestra

By Harvey Seifter

Leader to Leader, No. 21, Summer 2001

Highlights from the article:

In most orchestras, the conductor not only decides what music will be played but how it will be played as well. There is little room for the opinions or suggestions of the musicians themselves. As a result, orchestral musicians are a notoriously unhappy class of employees.

By contrast, Orpheus has developed a unique system of collaborative leadership that invites every member of the orchestra to participate in a variety of formal and informal leadership positions. The system is extremely flexible -- musicians freely move in an out of positions of leadership -- allowing the orchestra to quickly adapt to changing conditions.

With no conductor to act as a filter to the what and the why behind the group's decisions, the members of Orpheus are uncommonly energized and responsive to the needs of the organization and to the desires of its leaders. Turnover is extremely low and employee loyalty is extremely high. The result is a better product, increased customer satisfaction, and a healthier bottom line.

While the Orpheus approach to collaborative leadership is not without its difficulties -- getting 27 talented and strong-willed people to agree to anything can often be a very real challenge -- it has served the group well over more than three decades. Here are eight guiding principles:

Put power in the hands of the people doing the work. Orpheus musicians actively participate in deciding who will lead, how a piece of music will be played, who will be invited to join their ranks, and who will represent them within management.

Encourage individual responsibility for product and quality.
Each member of the orchestra feels a very real and personal responsibility for the group's outcomes.

Create clarity of roles. The organization's members have clear roles and all roles are communicated widely throughout the organization.

Foster horizontal teamwork. Orpheus operates with Peter Drucker’s words in mind, "No knowledge ranks higher than another; each is judged by its contribution to the common task rather than by any inherent superiority or inferiority. Therefore, the modern organization cannot be an organization of boss and subordinate. It must be organized as a team."

Share and rotate leadership. Fixing leadership in positions rather than people wastes the leadership potential within employees whose positions are not part of the organization's formal leadership hierarchy. Orpheus brings out the strengths and talents of each individual member of the group.

Learn to listen, learn to talk. The members of Orpheus know the power of communication, and it is the lifeblood of the organization. Two-way communication is expected, fostered, and reinforced almost constantly.

Seek consensus (and build creative systems that favor consensus). This requires a high level of participation and trust among the members of an organization. Everyone must be willing to listen to the views of others and to be flexible and willing to compromise on their own positions. In Orpheus, the more important the decision to the organization, the more people are involved in it.

Dedicate passionately to your mission.
Passion is the spark that can make an ordinary organization great -- and a great organization truly exceptional. In Orpheus, all the members of the orchestra are focused on one thing: producing the very best product possible.

For the full text article, go to ...

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Lifecycle of Emergence

Using Emergence to Take Social Innovations to Scale

Margaret Wheatley & Deborah Frieze, 2006

Despite current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible. This is good news for those of us intent on changing the world and creating a positive future. Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections. We don’t need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad-based change.

But networks aren’t the whole story. As networks grow and transform into active, working communities of practice, we discover how Life truly changes, which is through emergence. When separate, local efforts connect with each other as networks, then strengthen as communities of practice, suddenly and surprisingly a new system emerges at a greater level of scale. This system of influence possesses qualities and capacities that were unknown in the individuals. It isn’t that they were hidden; they simply don’t exist until the system emerges. They are properties of the system, not the individual, but once there, individuals possess them. And the system that emerges always possesses greater power and influence than is possible through planned, incremental change. Emergence is how Life creates radical change and takes things to scale.

Since its inception in 1992, The Berkana Institute has been experimenting with the lifecycle of emergence: how living systems begin as networks, shift to intentional communities of practice, and evolve into powerful systems capable of global influence. Through our work with communities in many different nations, we are learning what’s possible when we connect people across difference and distance. By applying the lessons of living systems and working intentionally with emergence and its lifecycle, we are demonstrating how local social innovation can be taken to scale and provide solutions to many of the world’s most intractable issues—such as community health, ecological sustainability and economic self-reliance.

Why we need to understand networks

Researchers and social activists are beginning to discover the power of networks and networking. And there is a growing recognition that networks are the new form of organizing. Evidence of self-organized networks is everywhere: social activists, terrorist groups, drug cartels, street gangs, web-based interest groups. While we now see these everywhere, it is not because they’re a new form of organizing. It’s because we’ve removed our old paradigm blinders that look for hierarchy and control mechanisms in the belief that organization only happens through human will and intervention.

Networks are the only form of organization used by living systems on this planet. These networks result from self-organization, where individuals or species recognize their interdependence and organize in ways that support the diversity and viability of all. Networks create the conditions for emergence, which is how Life changes. Because networks are the first stage in emergence, it is essential that we understand their dynamics and how they develop into communities and then systems.

Yet much of the current work on networks displays old paradigm bias. In social network analysis, physical representations of the network are created by mapping relationships. This is useful for convincing people that networks exist, and people are often fascinated to see the network made visible. Other network analysts name roles played by members of the network or make distinctions between different parts of the network, such as core and periphery. It may not be the intent of these researchers, but their work is often used by leaders to find ways to manipulate the network, to use it in a traditional and controlling way.

What’s missing in these analyses is an exploration of the dynamics of networks:

Why do networks form? What are the conditions that support their creation? What keeps a network alive and growing? What keeps members connected? What type of leadership is required? Why do people become leaders? What type of leadership interferes with or destroys the network? What happens after a healthy network forms? What’s next? If we understand these dynamics and the lifecycle of emergence, what can we do as leaders, activists and social entrepreneurs to intentionally foster emergence?

What is Emergence?

Emergence violates so many of our Western assumptions of how change happens that it often takes quite a while to understand it. In nature, change never happens as a result of top-down, pre-conceived strategic plans, or from the mandate of any single individual or boss. Change begins as local actions spring up simultaneously in many different areas. If these changes remain disconnected, nothing happens beyond each locale. However, when they become connected, local actions can emerge as a powerful system with influence at a more global or comprehensive level. (Global here means a larger scale, not necessarily the entire planet.)

These powerful emergent phenomena appear suddenly and surprisingly. Think about how the Berlin Wall suddenly came down, how the Soviet Union ended, how corporate power quickly came to dominate globally. In each case, there were many local actions and decisions, most of which were invisible and unknown to each other, and none of which was powerful enough by itself to create change. But when these local changes coalesced, new power emerged. What could not be accomplished by diplomacy, politics, protests, or strategy suddenly happened. And when each materialized, most were surprised. Emergent phenomena always have these characteristics: They exert much more power than the sum of their parts; they always possess new capacities different from the local actions that engendered them; they always surprise us by their appearance.

It is important to note that emergence always results in a powerful system that has many more capacities than could ever be predicted by analyzing the individual parts. We see this in the behavior of hive insects such as bees and termites. Individual ants possess none of the intelligence or skills that are in the hive. No matter how intently scientists study the behavior of individual ants, they can never see the behavior of the hive. Yet once the hive forms, each ant acts with the intelligence and skillfulness of the whole.

This aspect of emergence has profound implications for social entrepreneurs. Instead of developing them individually as leaders and skillful practitioners, we would do better to connect them to like-minded others and create the conditions for emergence. The skills and capacities needed by them will be found in the system that emerges, not in better training programs.

Because emergence only happens through connections, Berkana has developed a four stage model that catalyzes connections as the means to achieve global level change: Name, Connect, Nourish, Illuminate (see Appendix). We focus on discovering pioneering efforts and naming them as such. We then connect these efforts to other similar work globally. We nourish this network in many ways, but most essentially through creating opportunities for learning and sharing experiences and shifting into communities of practice. We also illuminate these pioneering efforts so that many more people will learn from them. We are attempting to work intentionally with emergence so that small, local efforts can become a global force for change.

The Lifecycle of Emergence

Stage One: Networks. We live in a time when coalitions, alliances and networks are forming as the means to create societal change. There are ever more networks and now, networks of networks. These networks are essential for people finding likeminded others, the first stage in the lifecycle of emergence. It’s important to note that networks are only the beginning. They are based on self-interest--people usually network together for their own benefit and to develop their own work. Networks tend to have fluid membership; people move in and out of them based on how much they personally benefit from participating.

Stage Two: Communities of Practice. Networks make it possible for people to find others engaged in similar work. The second stage of emergence is the development of communities of practice (CoPs). Many such smaller, individuated communities can spring from a robust network. CoPs are also self-organized. People share a common work and realize there is great benefit to being in relationship. They use this community to share what they know, to support one another, and to intentionally create new knowledge for their field of practice. These CoPs differ from networks in significant ways. They are communities, which means that people make a commitment to be there for each other; they participate not only for their own needs, but to serve the needs of others.

In a community of practice, the focus extends beyond the needs of the group. There is an intentional commitment to advance the field of practice, and to share those discoveries with a wider audience. They make their resources and knowledge available to anyone, especially those doing related work.

The speed with which people learn and grow in a community of practice is noteworthy. Good ideas move rapidly amongst members. New knowledge and practices are implemented quickly. The speed at which knowledge development and exchange happens is crucial, because local regions and the world need this knowledge and wisdom now.

Stage Three: Systems of Influence. The third stage in emergence can never be predicted. It is the sudden appearance of a system that has real power and influence. Pioneering efforts that hovered at the periphery suddenly become the norm. The practices developed by courageous communities become the accepted standard. People no longer hesitate about adopting these approaches and methods and they learn them easily. Policy and funding debates now include the perspectives and experiences of these pioneers. They become leaders in the field and are acknowledged as the wisdom keepers for their particular issue. And critics who said it could never be done suddenly become chief supporters (often saying they knew it all along.)

Emergence is the fundamental scientific explanation for how local changes can materialize as global systems of influence. As a change theory, it offers methods and practices to accomplish the systems-wide changes that are so needed at this time. As leaders and communities of concerned people, we need to intentionally work with emergence so that our efforts will result in a truly hopeful future. No matter what other change strategies we have learned or favored, emergence is the only way change really happens on this planet. And that is very good news.


Berkana’s Four Stages for Developing Leadership-in-Community
Berkana works with pioneering leaders and communities using a four-stage approach. This has evolved out of our understanding of how living systems grow and change, and years of practice and experimentation.

I. Name
Pioneering leaders act in isolation, unaware that their work has broader value. They are too busy to think about extending their work, and too humble to think that others would benefit. Berkana’s first act is to recognize them as pioneers with experiences that are of value to others.

II. Connect
Life grows and changes through the strength of its connections and relationships. (In nature, if a system lacks health, the solution is to connect it to more of itself.) Berkana creates connections in many different ways. We design and facilitate
community gatherings. We host networks where people can exchange ideas and resources. Our collaborative technology supports communities of practice through dedicated websites, online conferences, asynchronous conversations and cocreated knowledge products.

III. Nourish
Communities of practice need many different resources: ideas, mentors, processes, technology, equipment, money. Each is important, but foremost among these is learning and knowledge: knowing what techniques and processes work well, and
learning from experience as people do the work.

Berkana provides many of these sources of nourishment but, increasingly, we find that the most significant nourishment comes from the interactions and exchanges among pioneering leaders themselves. They need and want to share their
practices, experiences and dreams. Creating opportunities for people to learn together has become our primary way of nourishing their efforts.

IV. Illuminate
It is difficult for anybody to see work based on a different paradigm. If people do notice such work, it is often characterized as inspiring deviations from the norm. It takes time and attention for people to see different approaches for what they are:
examples of what the new world could be. The Berkana community publishes articles, tells our stories at conferences, and host learning journeys where people visit pioneering efforts, learn from them directly, and develop lasting relationships.

click here for their version on line which has some great graphics

Thursday, November 6, 2008

We are the ones we've been waiting for..

We have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour
And there are things to be considered

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in the right relation?
Where is your water?

Know your garden.

It is time to speak your truth
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold onto the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart and they will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.

The elders say we must let go of the shore, and push off and into the river, keep our eyes open, and our head above the water.

See who is in there with you and Celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally.
Least of all ourselves.
For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over,
Gather yourselves!

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that you do now must be done in a sacred manner
And in celebration.

"We are the ones we've been waiting for..."

The Elders, Hopi Nation, Oraibi, Arizona

This was posted on the Open Space Listserv

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Is the Concept of Competitive Advantage Obsolete?

I read this quote the other day.

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - Buckminster Fuller

I started wondering, what are we doing that has become obsolete?

I started wondering about the concept of competitive advantage. People frequently talk about competitive advantage in both the business and social sectors as if this is the highest goal, motivator, or possible expression of accomplishment. One thing that we know from working with people in the social sector is this -- they are motivated by their passion for making a difference - and not by being "better" or "more competitive" than others.

Is the idea that you should focus on being better than someone else really missing the point? Does this focus cause an organization to miss opportunities to be the best that they can be - given what Angeles Arriens calls your original medicine. What is original medicine? This is the unique strengths, talents, skills, resources, and ideas that you or your organization has to offer to the world. What if the focus on competitive advantage actually distracts from what is possible if you develop the potential of your original medicine?

What do you think?


Playing for Change: Peace Through Music

A friend of ours shared this incredible clip about a documentary called Playing for Change: Peace Through Music. Here is a link to a clip on Bill Moyer's program about the transformative power of music to connect us. There are actually two parts to the program, both important and interconnected. The part about music starts at about 3:45 minutes into the program. There is a button to watch it in full screen; it's in between the timer and the volume control at the bottom of the video.

Thanks Mark!


Monday, November 3, 2008

In Times of Change, Wild Magic is Afoot by Tama J. Kieves

Tama's Musings

(Note: This article originally appeared as the lead article in the Fall Catalog for the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health)

Change, in all shapes and sizes, can definitely bring out our deepest fears--but it also offers us vital encounters with the bountiful magic of life...

We live in crackling times. Change seems to electrify the air, in our individual lives and in the world. The media reports sad stories, dark messages, dire predictions and warnings. Hope is rarely broadcasted from the channels of the mainstream. Rowdy angels rattle our cubicles and turn our retirement accounts upside down—and they will get our attention. But the challenges of our time will spur new and remarkable solutions. The oyster produces its jewels in response to sand. Agitation gives birth to transformation.

I invite you to consider that in times of change, wild magic is afoot.

For most of us going through change, fear pounds on our door. Yet, this discomfort brings an invitation to awaken our passion and aliveness like never before. Something larger wants to express itself in our lives. Pain often nudges our growth or illuminates where we have been holding back on our true selves. Most of us seem to need a pinch of desperation to awaken our honesty and inspiration. As poet David Whyte says, "Absent the edge, we drown in numbness."

Still, when you hit your edge, numbness looks like Shangri-la. When it happened to me, I remember feeling as though I couldn't breathe. My whole world felt like one of those Salvador Dali paintings, where normal reality begins to drip and arc in unnatural ways. I had been a rising star in the litigation department of an elite, big-city law firm. I had graduated from Harvard Law School with honors and with grand expectations about my future security. I had consciously avoided the flimsy foot bridge of risk, but deep down, I knew I wanted to become a writer. I chose law instead because I wanted financial free dom, baubles, and safety—but I hadn't counted on the ruthless mercy of the soul. I didn't know that you can only avoid yourself for so long before the truth hits the fan.

I never imagined that my life could get so out of control (and I certainly never imagined that I'd eventually bless the day it did). But I found myself sitting at a beach in California, watching the waves and realizing I didn't want to live anymore. I couldn't bear to practice law in that office one more day. But I also refused to leave my job, my identity, my income, and everything I knew. Of course, I was fighting the inevitable. The soul's true desire has infinite strength. The creative part of me, the one I had always considered weak, frivolous, and negligible, had the power to bring about depression, rage, and even the willingness to die. I felt helpless and stripped of all my previous powers to function. In the end it was my vulnerability that gave rise to my greatest freedom and joy. I stopped defending the life that was caving in. I let the last precious scraps fall from my hands. Now I was available to spirit. Just a few weeks later, without a viable plan or income, I walked out of my safe career and into the next phase of my life.

I found it absolutely terrifying to walk into the unknown. I didn't care how many spiritual books said peace would come from letting go of control. I read every one of them with clenched white knuckles. "You will find your way," said my therapist. She clearly had me confused with someone lucid and resourceful. Still I came for more sessions. It felt important to hear these reassuring messages.

Gradually I found my way, or more accurately "the way" found me, breath by breath, as it always does. I wrote about this journey in my first book, This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love. The alchemy of change had tempered my fear into absolute wonder, and I wrote: "I've become someone who trusts that though I feel as fragile as a flaming leaf in autumn, I house the capacity of a tidal wave, a meteor shower, a white tornado of inspiration. I've become someone who believes that every human being has a tornado just beneath the skin and that we are meant to live our dreams so that we can discover that natural force within us that blows constriction away."

For years now, I've taught personal-growth seminars, stirred audiences, led retreats, and coached thousands. I have often witnessed this astounding alchemy in others. In unsettling periods, courageous individuals begin to discover that there is more to life than what they think they're losing. They turn to new ways of seeing, being, and relating to their experience. Uncertainty gives them permission and motivation to examine their present life and delve deeper into their own extraordinary mystical and creative reserves. In This Time I Dance!, I explained, "Because I had to search for a sense of safety beyond dollar, privilege, and approval, I inherited the ultimate trust fund. I learned to trust in my own resources and the startling generosity of life. You will, too. And, there is no other security."

Like many, I am still tempted to contract with fear during times of distress within our world, and within my personal circumstances. I find my mind whirring away with "What if this happens?" or "What if that happens?" I search for wisdom and strategy through the lens of limitation. But I know better. As Albert Einstein said, "One cannot solve a problem at the level of the problem." I know my distraught identity will recede into the night sky. To embody new answers and perspectives, I will grow new muscles, read new books, mend wounds and memories, ignite new fires, and take bold steps. Nietzsche says, "It takes chaos to give birth to a rising star." A different self will walk into that different life. Ultimately, that's the service provided by the challenge.

Here's what you need to know: There will be stepping stones, places of safety and clarity on which to stand. More than that, it's actually all solid ground, consistent safety appearing as terror in your imagination. It's solid ground upheld by a net. The net is woven with velvet, roses, and diamonds and governed by a band of mighty angels. The angels have support teams. And the support teams have backups and tech support in India. Love is always with you. Love helped you create that job or marriage or bank account in the first place. It will help you create whatever you need this time, too.

Yes, there is wild abundant magic afoot. The woods stir with howls. The world is restless. Part of me is now eager to witness the genius and healing that is evolving on the planet. Change will bring new responses. More of us will now give birth to the divine qualities within us that we ignored while answering e-mails. We are resourceful and beautiful beyond our imagination.

In her book The Gift of Change, Marianne Williamson says, "I think we stand between two historic ages, when a critical mass of the human race is trying to detach from its obedience to fear-based thought systems. We want to cross over to someplace new." Later, she writes, "As we cross the bridge to a more loving orientation, as we learn the lessons of spiritual transformation and apply them in our personal lives, we will become agents of change on a tremendous scale."

This is what I know: You have barely scratched the surface of your true strength. Your love is your light in shadow times. You have tremendous and unique gifts to offer us. Fear whispers to you about scarcity and guarding your limited resources. But you don't have limited resources. There are only finite assets in the known world. But now we are walking into the unknown. We have new abundance to discover and explore. It's not about clinging to the old sources of power that once sustained us. It's about launching into the inspired capacities, passions, and vitality we have always longed to express.

I'd like to offer you three helpful touchstones when facing the unknown:

Stay in the present moment: Your mind may torture you about choices you made in the past. The present moment can heal the past. Your mind may fly into agitations about the future. This present moment creates your future. Focus on this moment only. You are safe right now.

Do something you love: Write a song, work in the garden, or talk to a good friend. You activate different brain chemistry when having fun or expressing creativity. A loving and inspired mind bubbles with new perspectives and possibilities.

Strengthen your connection to the Divine: You are not alone on this journey. Remember a time when you felt loved, safe, or at peace in any way. That loving force that surrounded you then surrounds you now. Step up your commitment to meditate, pray, walk in nature, visit a spiritual mentor, or anything that feeds your experience of connection and guidance.

Finally, know that when you feel insecure and inadequate, all is well. You're right on track. Transformation defies your imagination. A mother doesn't have to understand or even trust the birth process to give birth. Your next expression wants to be born. Great and mighty forces marshal their strength around you. It's your time. You're one of the brave encountering the new frontier. Change may wear a wolf suit. Still, don't be fooled. It's wild, abundant magic knocking on your door.

With my love and blessings,


©Copyright 2008 Tama J. Kieves. All rights reserved.

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What neuroscience reveals about how to come up with new ideas

Neuroscience Sheds New Light on Creativity
By: Gregory Berns

Close your eyes and visualize the sun setting over a beach.
How detailed was your image? Did you envision a bland orb sinking below calm waters, or did you call up an image filled with activity -- palm trees swaying gently, waves lapping at your feet, perhaps a loved one holding your hand?

Now imagine you're standing on the surface of Pluto. What would a sunset look like from there? Notice how hard you had to work to imagine this

Did you picture a featureless ball of ice with the sun a speck of light barely brighter than a star along the horizon? Did you envision frozen lakes of exotic chemicals or icy fjords glimmering in the starlight?

What you conjured illuminates how our brains work, why it can be so hard to come up with new ideas -- and how you can rewire your mind to open up the holy grail of creativity. Recent advances in neuroscience, driven by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that lets scientists watch brain activity as never before, have changed what we know about key attributes of creativity. These advances, for example, have swept away the idea that there is a pleasure center in the brain that somehow acts as an accelerator to the engine of human behavior. Rather, chemicals such as dopamine shuttle between neurons in ways that look remarkably like the calculations modern robots perform.

Creativity and imagination begin with perception. Neuroscientists have come to realize that how you perceive something isn't simply a product of what your eyes and ears transmit to your brain. It's a product of your brain itself. And iconoclasts, a class of people I define as those who do something that others say can't be done -- think Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, or Florence Nightingale -- see things differently. Literally. Some iconoclasts are born that way, but we all can learn how to see things not for what they are, but for what they might be.

Perception and imagination are linked because the brain uses the same neural circuits for both functions. Imagination is like running perception in reverse. The reason it's so difficult to imagine truly novel ideas has to do with how the brain interprets signals from your eyes. The images that strike your retina do not, by themselves, tell you with certainty what you are seeing. Visual perception is largely a result of statistical expectations, the brain's way of explaining ambiguous visual signals in the most likely way. And the likelihood of these explanations is a direct result of past experience.

Entire books have been written about learning, but the important elements for creative thinkers can be boiled down to this: Experience modifies the connections between neurons so that they become more efficient at processing information. Neuroscientists have observed that while an entire network of neurons might process a stimulus initially, by about the sixth presentation, the heavy lifting is performed by only a subset of neurons. Because fewer neurons are being used, the network becomes more efficient in carrying out its function.

The brain is fundamentally a lazy piece of meat. It doesn't want to waste energy. That's why there is a striking lack of imagination in most people's visualization of a beach sunset. It's an iconic image, so your brain simply takes the path of least resistance and reactivates neurons that have been optimized to process this sort of scene. If you imagine something that you have never actually seen, like a Pluto sunset, the possibilities for creative thinking become much greater because the brain can no longer rely on connections shaped by past experience.

In order to think creatively, you must develop new neural pathways and break out of the cycle of experience-dependent categorization. As Mark Twain said, "Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned." For most people, this does not come naturally. Often, the harder you try to think differently, the more rigid the categories become.

Most corporate off-sites, for example, are ineffective idea generators, because they're scheduled rather than organic; the brain has time to predict the future, which means the potential novelty will be diminished. Transplanting the same mix of people to a different location, even an exotic one, then dropping them into a conference room much like the one back home doesn't create an environment that leads to new insights. No, new insights come from new people and new environments -- any circumstance in which the brain has a hard time predicting what will happen next.

Fortunately, the networks that govern both perception and imagination can be reprogrammed. By deploying your attention differently, the frontal cortex, which contains rules for decision making, can reconfigure neural networks so that you can see things that you didn't see before. You need a novel stimulus -- either a new piece of information or an unfamiliar environment -- to jolt attentional systems awake. The more radical the change, the greater the likelihood of fresh insights.

Some of the most startling breakthroughs have had their origins in exactly these types of novel circumstances. Chemist Kary Mullis came up with the basic principle of the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR -- the fundamental technology that makes genetic tests possible -- not hunched over his lab bench, but on a spring evening while he was driving up the northern California coast. Walt Disney was a decent illustrator, but he didn't imagine the possibilities of animation until he saw his advertising illustrations projected onto the screen in a movie theater. In an extreme example, the preeminent glass artist Dale Chihuly didn't discover his sculptural genius until a car accident led to the loss of an eye and literally forced him to see the world differently. Only when the brain is confronted with stimuli that it has not encountered before does it start to reorganize perception. The surest way to provoke the imagination, then, is to seek out environments you have no experience with. They may have nothing to do with your area of expertise. It doesn't matter. Because the same systems in the brain carry out both perception and imagination, there will be cross talk.

Novel experiences are so effective at unleashing the imagination because they force the perceptual system out of categorization, the tendency of the brain to take shortcuts. You have to confront these categories directly. Try this: When your brain is categorizing a person or an idea, just jot down the categories that come to mind. Use analogies. You will find that you naturally fall back on the things you are familiar with. Then allow yourself the freedom to write down gut feelings, even if they're vague or visceral, such as "stupid" or "hot." Only when you consciously confront your brain's shortcuts will you be able to imagine outside of its boundaries.

Adapted from the book Iconoclast, by Gregory Berns, by permission of Harvard Business Press. Copyright 2008 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. All Rights Reserved.