Where can we find our collective memory?

I’ve heard it said that intelligence is our ability to learn from our experience. If this is true, then our collective intelligence depends upon our ability to learn from all our experience. It also seems common-sense to me to suggest that, since we all have a different and unique experience, we all have an equal amount to offer and that we have most to learn from those whose voice has been heard the least? The intelligent question we need to ask ourselves is: ’how can we learn from all our experience?’

Our ability to learn from our experience is crucial for both our individual and collective development. As individuals we all need to be able to express ourselves and have a sense of agency in our own lives – as a society we all need to listen and learn from each other.

Unfortunately, modern society has a very limited attention span. Somewhere along the way we have lost our collective memory and with it our collective ability to learn from our experience. Even though we know that all meaningful development is long-term and incremental we seem obsessed with seeking the new and shiny at the expense of the tried and trusted. We are constantly developing new projects that we assess in terms of short-term outcomes. We even celebrate our lack of memory by rewarding projects that are innovative and expecting experienced organisations to continually re-invent themselves!

Actually, I do think there are times when it makes sense to fund someone new to tread a well-beaten path – reinventing the wheel is essential if we are to apply learning to new and unique situations – and I like projects! They are a vital learning tool. However, we can hardly think of ourselves as intelligent if we cannot understand our learning in the context of our long-term development and insist on making the same mistakes again and again.

We all need to find our own context. Discovering our own creative voice can be one of the most transforming experiences of our lives. Besides, making sense of our personal journey is becoming increasingly important to our individual and collective development. Now, more than at any time in our history, who we are matters, this is a time for specialisation,  to find out who  we want to be and to make our own unique contribution to our collective community.

The intelligent response to our changing times is to stop trying to be something we are not and to find out who we are and how we can be better at being that person. We also need to find ways to learn from each other, or there can be no collective learning.

It is time to stop asking the same people to come up with new ideas, to keep relying on the same experience, asking people to do what they are not good at. It is time instead to recognise that we are all experts in our own lives and that we all have an unique contribution to make.

When, for example, an organisation excels at producing high quality art, should we really expect those same people to also excel at making the most of that art for diverse communities? Of course, the better the art the more important it is that we can all access it but is it realistic to expect the same people to be experts in such different fields? Surely, the expertise for that lies elsewhere – with the people themselves and those that know and understand our diverse communities.

Right now I’m not sure many of us have the tools for effective community development but we can learn, we need translators that can build bridges between communities and can help us all to learn from and with each other.

How can we do it? How can we access our collective learning and rediscover our collective memory? I’ve suggested that we might need an organisation to help us but I’m also very aware of how very easy it is for organisations to institutionalise the very dependency they set out to tackle. So, I don’t know.

Fortunately, being able to say I don’t know is a strength. It means I am getting ready to learn. I want to find people who can learn with me so that together we explore the things we don’t know. After all, it’s only what we don’t know that is really interesting, it’s only we we are open to uncertainty that we are open to creativity, and only when we are open to each other that we are able to learn from our experience.

Do get in touch if you’d like to learn together, or better still, come along to one of our events.

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What is a development organisation?

How could we go about implementing a social justice approach within an organisation?

I think there are two things to say at the outset. Firstly, I don’t think we should adopt a social justice approach as an afterthought or even because we feel we ought to. I think we should adopt a social justice approach because we genuinely believe it will help us fulfil our potential.

Fulfilling our potential requires a strategic approach, one that makes the best use of our resources to achieve our goals. A social justice approach sees our best resources as our people, and suggests the best way to achieve our goals is by actively supporting other people to achieve theirs too.

Secondly, I think it helps to remember that if social justice is our goal it is also a journey. Although the process is the same for all of us, the journey will be different for every individual and group. There is no way of knowing what we will learn before we start but we can only build social justice if we are open to finding out what we don’t know and are able to learn from each other.

We have to be prepared to venture into the unknown because social justice is something that can only be created together. We can’t do it for other people and we can’t do it without other people. Just as, any single individual or organisation can only fully realise their potential as part of an ecology of creative collaboration, neither can we know what social justice will look like for other people, we can only invite people to explore it with us.

Our role then is to make that invitation attractive, to make it easier for people to fulfil their potential. Two key things I recommend we can focus on are building enabling environments; and offering opportunities for capability development.

Building enabling environments is about creating the conditions that allow people to flourish. It involves consideration of all the physical, environments, social and psychological factors that help or hinder our development. It’s about helping to produce the conditions, offer the support and provide the tools for people to ‘Create Your Own’ development.

Offering opportunities for capability development is based on the understanding that it is by building our capabilities that we all fulfil our potential. This process of capability development is creative, collaborative and universal.

The universality of capability development has tremendous potential. It can break us free of the hierarchical, didactic process of banking education, of teacher/student, service-provider/service-user relations and replace it with an open conversation which respects, values and nurtures the unique creative potential in each and every one of us.

It enables us to see all our activities as part of an on-going journey in which each incremental step opens up new possibilities and in which all our activities can be understood in the context of our long-term development as individuals, groups and communities.

It also has the potential to change the way we experience our public space. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of assuming a passive, empty public that need to be filled with the information, we all assumed an engaged, inquisitive public that are interested in exploring, developing, creating and sharing? Surely then we would be able to develop all our activities as opportunities for mutual creative capability development and creative exploration?

Also, If we recognised that the best way to achieve our goals is by supporting others to achieve theirs we would constantly seek out opportunities for creative collaboration; develop an active interest in finding out what each of us was looking for; and be keen to learn from each other’s experience.

OK, maybe I am getting a bit carried away! Let’s see if we can put some of this into practice. What might be some of the features of a developmental organisation that sought to foster social justice?

Here’s the start of a list – I’d be delighted if you would add to it…

A developmental organisation could:
– Seek to maximise the social benefit from all activities.
– Identify the people that can benefit most from what you do, work with them to develop creative collaborations and see how you can learn from their experience to help others.
– Encourage people to participate as people, not just in job roles etc., but as part of their own long-term development strategies.
– Develop practices that build capability and reduce dependence within the organisation.
– Devise a capability framework for the organisation and use it to identify development needs and opportunities.
– Carry out a capability/aspirations audit of key staff and team.
– Devise clear and relevant work packages for staff, freelance contractors, trustees or volunteers.
– Ensure good documentation of process so that every activity contributes towards both individual, organisational and community development.
– Design programmes as opportunities to acquire capabilities.
– Arrange peer support forums to help people identify and tackle constraints, and barriers to creative development.
– Create tool kits and resources to enable others to learn from experience
– Be flexible about the staff review process and employ people in roles that change depending on a regular review of the development needs of both the organisation and its people
– Establish closer links with similar organisations to help foster an an ecology of creative collaboration.
– Consider different measures of monitoring and evaluation. Perhaps, as Kofi Annan has suggested: ‘Development should be not be measured by income but by freedom’
– …

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What’s the best job in the world?

Imagine someone said to you that they would pay you to do whatever you want and that if instead of having to play a role they would pay you to be yourself. Imagine if they said you could do anything at all and that the more you did what you want the better you would be doing your job. 

Imagine if you could work with anyone you want and help those people do anything they want. Imagine if everything they did helped you do your job better. Wouldn’t that be the best job in the world? 

I have the best job in the world. I work with some truly remarkable people and I get paid to support them to be themselves. What’s more they get paid to support other people to do whatever they want. We can work with anyone in the world and everything every one of us does helps others. 

There are no wrong answers when it comes to social justice. None of us are not good enough. Every one of us has something unique to contribute. None of us has to pretend to be something we’re not. We can fail and fail again because our weakness is also our strength. We help each other best by being ourselves and we help ourselves best by supporting each other. 

Everything we do is an opportunity for social justice and creative collaboration. The only thing we can do wrong is not to try. 

Imagine you had the best job in the world too – what will you do? 
I look forward to hearing from you.

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Sounds like a plan

If we want to build social justice we need to find out what will help people to actively engage with their own unique creative potential. What is it that makes the difference between allowing life to happen to us or being active agents in our lives?

I suggest the first thing is to be active and start to do something about it. One of the reasons we recommend creative challenges is because you can be active straight away and every action you take opens up new possibilities for you, helping you to find out what you want to do and find ways to make things happen.

Secondly, I think it really helps to be working towards something. Even the most difficult situations feel a little better if you have a plan. A plan can help us see beyond a difficult situation that may threaten to overwhelm us and help us take a long term view – after all no matter how long you’ve been in the same position you haven’t always been there and you won’t always be there in the future.

What ever you are doing now it will feel better if you have a plan. But it must be your plan, for your own development, not just to please anyone else (an employer, relative etc), and it must be realistic. There’s nothing to be gained by kidding yourself. It important to start with an honest reflection of what your are doing now.

I’m not suggesting that you can miraculously change the circumstances you are in but a plan can help make the best of them and, if you know you are doing the best you can in the circumstances, it may not feel so overwhelming.

Your plan does not have to be particularly cunning or complicated  in fact the best plans are usually quite simple affairs. See if you can put it onto one page, even the most complex plan can be summarised on one page. Here’s a powerful tool that proves this point: The Business Canvas.

Your plan should not be something set in stone but something you take with you, and frequently revisit and revise as you start collecting capabilities. We’ll be exploring some challenges that will help with this but, in the meantime here’s a final thought: there is always room for improvement. Few of us are lucky enough to have your dream job already. However, you can have the ‘best job in the world’ right now if you decide to make it your job to be the best you can be.

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