Ten Frames

I heard a beautiful story recently – a true story set at the height of World War II during the devastating Siege of Leningrad, when the Germans blockaded and bombed the city for over two years.  The story centers on the famed Hermitage Museum.  To protect the museum’s vast collection of paintings, the curators and docents took them all down from the walls.  But as a sign of their commitment to bring the paintings back, they left the frames in place.  During the siege, many of the staff lived in the museum’s basement.  And astonishingly, at least one continued to give tours to occasional visitors.  He would stand with people in front of the empty frames, describing the missing artwork in such vivid detail that it was as if the paintings were still in place. Read more

Smart Cities, Living Cities

I spoke last week at Webcom, a Montreal-based conference about “smart cities” – meaning, those that are connected, informed and creative thanks to digital technology.  The message I shared was that cities are “smartest” when they operate in alignment with Nature’s core operating pattern, and that creating the conditions for life to thrive needs to become the explicit objective of our technology initiatives. Here’s what I said in my five-minute talk. Read more

Organizational Hospicing

It’s funny how life works – or I should say: it’s funny how death works.  I had a conversation about organizational hospicing with a friend last week Thursday and then the next day I was presented with an opportunity to practice hospicing in my own life.  My sense in both of these experiences is that there’s something important, potent – and generally overlooked – in that concept. Read more


Lessons from the Jam

5 hosts.  6 teams.  35 other cities participating.  48 hours to “rock the public sector.”

Those were the key stats of GovJam Montreal, a global event in which local teams applied the tools of “service design” to conceive and develop viable projects that transform some aspect of public service (meaning: anything that our tax dollars pay for).

I was one of the hosts.  With me were four experts in service design, each as wonderful and generous as the next.  They guided participants in a process of rapid project development that revolved around prototyping and role-playing.  My role was to tend to the flow of the event, to sprinkle strategic bursts of applied improvisation in support of collaboration and creativity, and to help participants notice what they were learning along the way. Read more

It’s Alive!

I had a wonderfully stimulating lunch conversation with new acquaintance Lise Palmer of Spark Consulting recently.  She had the delightful ability to challenge everything I’m passionate about in a light, playful way so that we could both happily learn through the discussion.  Specifically, she was (and generally remains) skeptical about “the universal applicability of the living systems view of organizations.”  I’ve shared her three major objections below, along with my responses.   There’s more learning to be had, for sure, but I enjoyed the opportunity to articulate my current take on things. Read more

You Can’t Plant a Forest

“You can’t plant a forest,” a friend said to me recently.  He was speaking in general terms, saying: it’s a physical impossibility.  After mentally wrestling with the concept for a moment, the phrase struck me with its deep, practical wisdom – and its vital implications for organizational leaders.

But wait, you might be saying.  What about the story that’s been going around about the guy who single-handedly planted a 1,360 acre forest in India?  Read more

The Power of Place

Thrivability Montreal.  Thursday, February 21, 2013.  There are fifty of us gathered to explore what we’ve called The Power of Place.  More wanted to come, but the room couldn’t accommodate it.  We should’ve known it would be like this.  So many of us quietly hunger for something more than the anonymous, transactional relationships that make up our public lives.  We crave a sense of belonging and community, of rich expression and appreciation.  Just as much, we yearn to feel connection with the places we inhabit, to know that they shape us even as we shape them and that there is history, character and life woven into them.  We want to feel lovingly held by people and place. Read more

The Practice of Thrivability

Thrivability is a worldview, a global movement, and an active practice.  Guided by what we know about living systems, it is a continual and purposeful drive to create the fertile conditions for life to thrive at the levels of the individual, the organization, the community and the biosphere.  Profoundly practical, it is distinguished by a deep understanding of how life works – and by intentional participation in that pattern.  The thrivability movement recognizes that only by aligning with life in the spirit of learning, compassion, contribution and play can we find the motivation and the means to collaborate and innovate at the levels required. Read more

AoH Montreal: Post-Ecstatic Stress Disorder

This Art of Hosting stuff – it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, you know.  There are bumps and bruises along the way.  Some they tell you about up-front.  But some they don’t.

The AoH community will tell you about the “groan zone,” for example – the middle point in a group’s creative work together, when they’ve let go of the shores behind them but they haven’t yet arrived at their destination.  Neither place is visible anymore – only clear horizon – and the group starts to feel lost, disoriented, panicked.  Any good AoH practitioner knows that you just have to push through this place, and that it’s actually a good sign that the group is on the verge of a breakthrough.  But it’s always an uncomfortable place to be. Read more

AOH Montreal: The Lost Practice of Apprenticeship

January 15.  Months ago, we were thrilled when Toke Møller agreed to come to Montreal to lead our Art of Hosting event.  But then he announced his three conditions – each of which would challenge our mental comfort and our egos.  He alone would choose the other two international hosts.  Together, we would all design the agenda in the two days prior to the event (not sooner).  And each of us on the local team would be called “apprentices.”

I have to say: it was this last condition that challenged us the most.  And yet, that was probably the one that was most valuable to us in the end. Read more