Thanks to Doug Nathan for pulling these experiences out before my eyes where I could see them, and thanks to my community for teaching me that no matter what I say as an individual, that I’ll be supported and loved.
Consciously studying my own and close others’ self-organizing groups has changed me and just keeps on changing me. One of the biggest, scary-to-say-out-loud changes for me is that now I consciously move in the world from three different places of self-recognition and can imagine a fourth place. I use metaphors here because the experience goes beyond what words can convey, and I use fish metaphors because I come from a family that loves fish.
Places of self-recognition:
- My individual self (fish)
- My self-organizing groups self (school of fish)
- My self-organizing community self (river)
- My self-organizing planet self (ocean) (Frankly, this one is still more imagination than reality for me, but I figure if Maya Angelou and His Holiness the Dali Lama can pull it off, then it’s within our grasp too.)
This summer, I learned that as I move through life, regardless of what happens in the moment, I always have a choice. I get to choose how to experience and see what’s happening. Will I opt for my individual perspective? Will I think from the effective-multi-perspective of my close, trusted and respected others (my self-org groups)? Will I recognize what my community as a whole would say and do? I didn’t use to have these options. I used to have just one perspective: my individual perspective.
I’ve learned that moving into, through, out, and back into these places doesn’t mean that I give up what I was at the previous place. One place isn’t better than the other. If it was, I figure, the less-useful-perspective would eventually disappear. But that doesn’t happen. So they aren’t stages. They aren’t steps in maturity from which a lucky few get to look down onto others. They are landing points. They are places where consciousness can sit, view itself and the universe, and make sense of itself. Each one is what I already am and awareness of myself at a new place just adds to the perspectives and options that I have available to me as I move through the world. Today I imagine that all human beings have landed their consciousness at these places, at least for a moment.
Through no insight or skill of my own as an individual, I stumbled into spending extended periods of time within self-organizing groups. These groups gave me the courage and time to finally notice that such a thing as self-organizing community exists. The more conscious I grow of my self-organizing community, the more I am able to simply float along within it, as it, releasing the burden of my individual worries, most days. The more individual worry I release, the easier it is to experience that these places—fish, school, river, ocean—are available to us all the time. I’m not an expert at this; I’m a learner. Everything I learn today, I learn from/within/as my community. I’m sharing what I know of these four perspectives now, because it’s never been more clear that my own life, work, freedom, and joy are directly connected to yours—to that of my community.
The Fish Place: Being an Individual
If you were raised to recognize yourself as an individual, I don’t need to tell you what moving through life as an individual can feel like these days, but here are a few of my own experiences:
- Experiencing wonder, surprise, and delight
- Making mistakes, being hurt by them, fearing making more mistakes, and pulling away from situations in which (and people with whom) I might make mistakes
- Living in my own head, in the past and in the future, to the point that I miss a good deal of what’s happening around me and also misconstrue what’s actually happening around me
- Struggling to make sense of the world around me and what’s happening
- Making snap, not-well-thought-through judgments and decisions
- Experiencing fear, disconnection, anger, destructive conflict, isolation, exhaustion, overwhelmed, depression, and frustration to the point that they seem to stop me from moving forward
The School of Fish Place: Being a Self-Organizing Group
As part of a self-organizing group, I get to practice—in a safe environment—moving in and out of my individual self and my group self. These groups demonstrate to us that we can be more and do more as collectives than as individuals. I get to practice becoming something more than my individual self and practice letting go of my individual self. The words in the following table describe the experience of moving in and moving out of an individual self and a self-organizing group self.
[table id=1 /]
The River Place: Being a Self-Organizing Community
With enough experience moving in and out of my self-organizing group selves and individual self, something new happened this year. I began to experience my “self” as a place within which my self-organizing groups and my individual self exist. I call this the self-organizing community self. This is something that I both experience within my own being and also that I experience as part of my actual communities (which I’m suddenly aware of in a much more concrete, real way than in the past when “community” was just a word and not a lived experience).
This place is new in my awareness and experience, so forgive me if what I say here seems rough. As my self-organizing community, I am:
- Aware that community purpose is my individual and group purposes
- Able to deeply value the community—including the people I don’t know personally within it—demonstrated by:
- Showing up grateful and ready to learn
- Listening first and often
- Forgiving rapidly
- Not feeling the need to attack other perspectives or to defend my own, recognizing that multiple perspectives are needed, welcomed, encouraged, and accepted in the community—my own and others
- Able to trust all the individuals and groups within the community (whether I know them all personally or not) and many of the groups and people connected to the community
- Noticing remarkable flexibility, agility, resilience, and grace all around me as a common occurrence and one day noticing that I myself can move in the world the same way
- Allowing fear, disconnection, anger, negative conflict, isolation, exhaustion, overwhelm, depression, and frustration to be momentary flickers of their former selves, most days
- Staying in the current moment (being the current) most of the time
- Experiencing synchronicity as an everyday sort of thing and able to see more connections and opportunities than I could imagine
- Receiving absolutely everything I need from the people and groups around me and being fully aware of this and grateful for it
- Experiencing my old boundaries collapsing, regularly, and surprised by how little I’m worrying about it anymore
- Daily giving thanks for the wonder within our individual selves, the courage within our groups, and the wisdom within our communities
The Ocean Place: Being a Self-Organizing Planet
As an ocean self, I suspect that one:
- Feels free and at peace regardless of circumstance
- Spreads peace and freedom everywhere you go and with everyone you meet
- Recognizes everything experienced as an important, necessary part of your own wholeness
- Feels connected to everyone and everything
- Leads with complete trust
- Communicates with minimal or no words at all, for example through smiles, hugs, jokes, laughter, physical comedy, tears of gratitude, and stunning openness and honesty
I’m basing these bullets on the presence and actions of remarkable groups and people all over planet earth, not myself. I yelled at three people, two cats, and a dog last week long before I realized I had a choice in the matter. I appear to have quite a long way to go to be able to consciously move from this fourth place, but I’m starting to imagine it as a possibility, which I think is the most important part. Some may see this fourth place as an ideal, for example, as God or a god-like state that we humans should aspire to. My perspective is a little different. I see all four of these places as part of the wholeness that makes life work. After all, fish don’t just need rivers and oceans. Oceans and rivers need fish.
I have every reason to love this post. You added extra dimensions to my joint e-book with Bas de Baar on Fish Pond- The Management of Complexity. How about rewriting this book jointly? Or upgrading it?
“So they aren’t stages. They aren’t steps in maturity from which a lucky few get to look down onto others”. I loved this statement. It is true. Lori,I also liked your last sentence ” After all, fish don’t just need rivers and oceans. Oceans and rivers need fish.”
But mostly I liked the concept and the way you explained it in that as we enlarge our domain from individual, to groups, to community and so on we actually rid ourselves of negative attitudes, interests and replace them with positive thinking, trust and many soul-building changes. I think the real value of this post is expressing these changes in such an explicit and clear way. A great post, Lori
Thank you for calling this “clear.” It is real and true within my own experience but is emerging and far from clear to me!
I think it’d be great fun to write an eBook with you and Bas. Let’s do it! Or maybe a series of short eBooks? For me at the moment, eBooks are about fostering connection and building community far more than demonstrating understanding/expertise. This means that I’ll be partial to writing shorter documents that a person would read in one sitting and then be compelled to reach out to us to talk more about it.
It is clear these concepts are emerging. Clear in the absolute sense is unclear to me as well. Just being emerging means they are unexpected and have dependence on initial conditions.
It is clear to me what you want to say
Thanks Ali, you are such a good person and friend. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have you in my life and work. Thank you, thank you!
Thanks Lori, for your warm friendship
I can’t find better to describe emerging friendship better than this quote
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
– Anais Nin
superb! i’ve been working on this stuff for years! i mean working on as in prcticing with kids in school when i teach maths! this is the first time i have seen anything like what i do written so simply 🙂 well, it goes into a lot of detail actually, and lods of detil i haven’t thought of 🙂
here’s a question for you 🙂 which cycle is most of the emphasis on, in your experience of adults, organisations etc?
Nice to hear from you! That’s an “it depends” question, which means I can only answer for myself.
For me, recognizing myself as a self-organizing group, and seeing how amazing we could be as these groups, was very important, and was the most important thing for a number of years. This made me curious enough to study them all around me and learn to recognize them (and myself as them) as a way of being. I needed years of practice in this space. For example, I learned that larger self-org groups evolve out of 2 or 3 person self-org groups that have been moving in the world as one for quite some time (a year or more in my experience). I learned to recognize many of the groups I was already part of as self-org groups. I learned patience, generosity, and kindness as a way of being, not as things to do when everything goes my way. As an individual, I couldn’t rush this process. It’s like learning to ride a bike. Eventually your body can no longer imagine why or how it ever fell over on a bike. Today, for me, I’m practicing recognizing and moving in the world as my self-organizing communities, which means my focus is now on larger communities but also, interestingly, back onto myself as an individual and the importance of individuals.
I’m far more learner/researcher than teacher/consultant. Suppose my advice based on my own experience and the groups I’ve studied so far is to follow your energy and enthusiasm and then go where you lead you. And to prioritize getting personally closer to the people around you over the ideas of distant experts. 🙂
Hope you’re having a nice weekend! I’m off to a flash mob rehearsal in the sunshine!
This may be the ultimate in synchronicity, but there is a global cooperative that uses the fishy metaphor. Dreamfish (and its founder, Tiffany von Emmel) have recently opened a work-stay space just out of Nairobi. http://dreamfish.com
The organization is a peer-to-peer global collaboration network, founded in 2007, distributed in 26 countries and legally incorporated as a co-operative in California, USA. Pioneering the future of work, this is the first global internet-based co-operative co-owned by hundreds of women and youth entrepreneurs in developing countries and professionals that want to change the world. To help each other get from one stage to the next in our development, we share with each other, hire and volunteer on each other’s projects, and share the costs of collaboration infrastructure via the cooperative. Many of us come from the streets and margins of global society. We are creative, diversely-abled and oriented. We have operated by the tenacity, generous sweat and faith of volunteers and donors across the world. We have worked for this dream: a world where people can work like humans, together with love and respect. A world where all people can flourish in livelihoods. We worked together by web and phone. In cafes and art studios. We worked late at night, after day jobs. Some of us have never met in person, yet we are close in our love for humanity. Our organization has a strong network of partners that include Fielding Graduate University, Stanford University, Collaborate 4 Africa, Craigslist Foundation and Nairobits. How our financial model works is when a co-operative member receives income from another member, they keep 90% and pay the co-op 10%.
Hello Judi, synchronicity indeed! Thank you so much for sharing about dreamfish here. Beautiful people and ideas! I love the humanifesto and the idea of getting to work within a co-op. 🙂 I intend to become a member myself and will tell all my communities about you!
I’ve recently transitioned from studying small, self-organizing groups to recognizing myself as self-organizing communities and paying attention at the community level. If you, or anyone at dreamfish, would like to give me insight into what the words “self-organizing community” mean to you, I’d really appreciate it. I’m still working on creating a working definition for myself. Just noticed the shift recently within myself–am now experiencing remarkable synchronicity on a daily basis, not just when with my self-org group members but with complete strangers within my communities! 🙂
Thanks again for sharing here!
I want to quote Judi ” this is the first global internet-based co-operative co-owned by hundreds of women and youth entrepreneurs in developing countries and professionals that want to change the world”.This is in agreement with my presentation on slideshare “Crafting thr raft- lessons for managers”, in which I stated that having a grand goal greater than any individual goal is the raft for rescuing the human kind.
I find that Lori’s response “I’ve recently transitioned from studying small, self-organizing groups to recognizing myself as self-organizing communities and paying attention at the community level” in line with my conclusion, even though I am not sure Lori would agree.
Great intellectual responses all the way
Think it’s a matter of what we each prioritize. Where you are and what you experience causes you to prioritize “having a grand goal greater than any individual goal” as most important.
Where I am and what I experience causes me to prioritize “recognizing my self as a self-org group until I become able to see myself as my community” (and therefore capable of consistently prioritizing larger goals) as most important.
I don’t experience disagreement between us. I experience us as a group capable of ensuring that BOTH these things are recognized and happening.
🙂 Or, when offering advice, perhaps even “this is what you want” (Ali’s community’s idea) and “this is one way to get there” (Lori’s community’s idea).
Best to you and hope your knees are recovering nicely!
Lori, here is a catch
I quote you “I didn’t used to have these options. I used to have just one perspective: my individual perspective”. In Arabic we say the mistake of a good writer counts 1000. I didn’t used!!!
I read this post many times and I keep pondering about it. Your magnetic lines (or loops) connect the self and the group with the environment (River and ocean).This is a subtle way of studying human”environment interactions.
I wrote a presentation on slideshare discussing your approach from a different angle. Self Vs. group and small (river or pond) Vs. large (ocean). The balancing of the opposites is really an interesting topic. You may refer to my presentation on Blue Ocean Strategy on slideshare
Hey Ali, I’ll check out your slide deck later this week when I’m back at work.
Regarding didn’t used to. I appreciate you taking the time to notice and care about this detail. I’m flattered that you think of me as a writer at all, let alone as a good one. I think of myself as a qualitative researcher. 🙂
What you said goes against my own training, so I dug around a bit. Believe it or not, American English grammar accepts both “didn’t use to” and “didn’t used to” See last paragraph of Grammar Exchange: http://www.pearsonlongman.com/ae/azar/grammar_ex/message_board/archive/articles/00074.htm
And Grammar Girl:
(She’s just an example of the extent to which many American grammarians care about this particular detail.)
There is disagreement across several of my grammar books. The emphasis of most is on using “used to” in all cases to indicate past tense and not on distinguishing differently for negatives and with did and didn’t.
It’s always good for me to know the impression my American-based writing training has on readers from elsewhere, so thank you again for the comment! I may tweak my own usage of this in the future, now that I know somebody out there thinks of me as a writer! Yea!
I make worse mistakes. I typed last week a response saying that I shift interest. Only later I found out that I dropped the F letter from shift. But amazingly, how a passing comment generated a rich response from your end. Thanks for the references and for making me realize again how little things may generate a Butterfly Effect.
Ha! That’s a great mistake, Ali! I believe it’s our flaws that connect us. Certainly where much humor and laughter lives. 🙂 I forgot to say that I decided that your way (didn’t use to) sounds better to my ear, so I changed it in the blog post. 🙂
Lori, changing to didn’t use makes my previous comments obsolete on the subject matter. That is fun again.
Yes, and our exchange demonstrates self-organizing group members learning from/teaching each other and improving their work, which never gets obsolete from my perspective.
Seeing how your work continues to evolve in such a positive way, and by attracting the many great comments it is clear that your research is very resonating.
What you describe is steeped deeply in our history. A time when village elders would have told us stories around a communal camp fire. Stories were told to help us understand ourselves better as a people and as part of this blessing we call life (I think this touches what you describe as “Ocean Self”).
At this moment we are all staring up at the stars listening to you describe how we just might fit in. And we are all ears!
Hi Bob, how are you enjoying your new state, neighborhood, and work? Hope your family’s well! The beautiful imagery you used in your comment left me speechless for a moment. Thanks for demonstrating that lean/six sigma and being a poet and having a generous, kind heart all go hand in hand very nicely. 🙂
I stopped thinking of this research as mine a few months ago. I belong to it now, not the other way around. The more time I spend as self-organizing groups and communities, the more clear that becomes. One example from this weekend…
The surprise location where our flash mob showed up to dance Saturday morning was at the end of an Alzheimer’s disease fundraising walk. I didn’t know where I was going until 2 hours beforehand. My mom has Alzheimer’s. I didn’t know this walk to raise research funds was even happening. The dance was so beautiful that many people within and watching the mob actually cried. And now that I know about it I can participate in the walk itself next year! Within my self-organizing communities I can’t tell where Lori the friend and daughter and wife ends and where Lori the researcher begins. As an individual, I’m as surprised as anyone that this is happening. Lord knows my individual self loves that “Lori the researcher” title! 😉
I’m right there with you staring up at the stars and listening to what these groups and communities are telling us about how we might fit in. I’m all ears too. Thanks for showing up here and giving us another experience to listen to.
I also experienced “speechlessness” after reading your reply. This is helping me learn to see, and I continue to be in awe.
Last weekend was wonderful; it was a hiking trip into the mountains in North Carolina. We entered a lush and beautiful rain-forest with tropical vines with flowers and colors like I have never seen. About 15 new friends gathered to share food and stories. We even had a campfire, and it was great to see community just happen. Interestingly, when dinner was over, it took about five minutes for everything to be packed, cleaned, and put away including the kitchen work.
I was happy to hear about the beautiful flashmob. I enjoyed watching video’s that were posted earlier this year. How fortunate to now have the opportunity to participate in next year’s Alzheimer’s disease fundraising walk.
14 responses, but I can see 11 only
Hey Ali, the system counts my responses in that number. It also appears to count all comments as they come in, whether they’ve been approved to appear yet or not.
Once I’ve approved someone (like you), your comments appear automatically from that day forward. Other people, like Judi above, are new here. The blog software asks me to approve their first comment before it gets posted. So if you see a count that is higher than the number of comments, it means I’ve been offline and haven’t had time to approve all comments yet. I don’t work Saturday, Sunday, and Monday typically, so those are the days most likely to have a backlog of comments sitting in my inbox for me to approve.
All messages that come from real human beings I approve. Every once in a while a spam message gets by the spam filters (a bunch of not-readable gobbledy gook or an advertisement for something) and those I disapprove so you never have to see them.
It also apparently counts if I start a response but haven’t finished it/submitted it yet. 🙂
Wonderful work, Lori. Your diagrams beautifully capture the flow of the experiences you describe. It might be interesting to see what happens to the flow when it encounters obstacles. Some of the most interesting places in streams are the eddies and swirls resulting from the flow bumping into boulders. Just a thought. Great work!
Wow, Anthony, thank you. Feels like Luciano Pavarotti stopping to tell the scruffy, singing kid in the subway that she has a nice voice. I’m a researcher who loves faces and voices and a writer who loves words. Drawing feels like jumping, blindfolded and on fire, out of an airplane to me, so I rarely do it. These images came through me, though, and represent the groups and community I study and am part of. A heart-felt and happily imperfect tribute to their amazingness.
Will start to think about what the flow between these places feels and looks like when it encounters obstacles. Agree that transitions are often the most interesting places. What you casually suggest may well be what I’m to spend the rest of my life learning about. Think I’m going to buy myself your book for the holidays!