What kind of history shall we make? What grand mischief?
In this moment of scintillating uncertainty, we are called more than ever to build new ways of being and working together. Such a moment calls for a companion — a pocket guide— as we embrace the challenges of adjusting and transforming our worlds.
Dancing in the World is a pocket guide for you. This first of twelve volumes of my essays on listening and design is a treatise, a chronicle of adventure, and an invitation to join the bold work of designing new practices. The time is now.
I recently read an article by Scott Burns which I highly recommend. I classify it as a thorough yet succinct exploration of the human experience especially as we are experiencing it today. Burns delves into the dichotomy of risks we embrace and those we evade. I hope you all enjoy the read.
Thank you to all who have had me in your prayers and thoughts this past week or so since I had an “anterior total hip replacement”. The team led by my surgeon and anesthesiologist did their work masterfully. I was the third hip replacement by this team on 18 May, the first day after the corona virus shutdown was lifted for elective surgeries here in Seattle. In a marvel of modern allopathic medicine and medical technology, they mounted me on a human-sized “spit” that allowed them to manipulate the leg and thigh bone as they cut off the old damaged top, added and aligned new titanium, glass, and polyurethane components, and then stitched me back together. The whole procedure took about an hour from lights out to when I began chattering and asking questions in the theatre after they were done. No anaesthesia. A spinal block, and none of the druggy after-effects. Here is a picture of the spit on which they “roasted” me:
Missing from the picture are the operating theatre, perhaps 50 feet in diameter, the x-ray machinery integrated with the spit that allowed them to measure and make sure that old and new components were aligned properly and of the right dimensions, and the half-dozen or so physicians, nurses, and medical assistants who made the whole thing work. After the surgery they took me into recovery where over the next several hours my torso, chest-down, regained the capacity to communicate with my brain that had been interrupted by the spinal block. Later that day I took my first walk with the new hip. I spent the night in the hospital, was returned home the following morning and helped up 14 stairs to the second floor of our home. Since then I have been down and up those stairs pretty much every day, and Shirah has been attending to my care day by day.
By far the most interesting thing to me about what is happening right now in my life is the ebb and flow of moods through me. Getting ready for the surgery I thought that the “up” (very positive, all-but-giddy) mood I felt as the date approached might have been fueled by three things. First, I have been very proud of the way that Shirah and I have been spending time together as partners of nearly 40 years, enjoying each others’ company for the most part, listening and taking care of each others’ concerns, and generally navigating the corona virus time with kindness, care, and positive moods. Second, I guessed that my body was anticipating the coming era in which once again I would be able to take long leisurely walks, missing from my life for many years now. Third, I am terribly excited about the upcoming publication of some of the essays I have written over the last 40+ years, in which a team of colleagues and friends are helping me. (Lastly, of course, the fact that I knew that any encounter with a hospital is life-threatening, and so may invite a kind of lunatic emotion at encountering the possibility of dying.)
I woke from the surgery in a mood for which I don’t have adequate characterizing words or phrases. To speak of it with an analogy, think of your first experience as a parent with a new human being coming into the world. Like the cornucopia — the horn of plenty — the mood announced the opening of a whole new experience of life. A transformative mood, albeit that word today has for too long strained to carry more weight than it ought to be responsible for. The mood was not accompanied by sublime music or beautiful vistas, although I was experiencing waking dreams that were vivid. Rather, I felt more like a teenager, full of life and good questions, surrounded by adults pleased to be in my presence and happy to talk to me. I told them that in my work I am concerned with making sense of the way teams of people doing tight coordination with each other speak and listen to each other. In that background, I was fascinated by their work with each other.
The path of healing from the vast indignities of the replacement of the biological hip structures is not simple, free of pain, or straightforward. The night before last I think I began withdrawal from the opioids I was taking to address the pain, and the withdrawal (if it was that) produced a mood of intense panic, claustrophobia, terror, anything but a blessed mood. That night I got only two hours’ sleep, none of it deep or restful, and that all by itself invited a further kind of panic, because nothing is more critical for my health at this moment is my sleep. I have switched over completely from opioids to acetaminophen and pray that it will be enough to stave off the pain.
Meanwhile, I am guessing that this surgery will turn out to have been a transitional moment in my life, alongside the events of my marriages, births of my children, meeting the critical mentors of my life, my stroke of a year ago, and so forth. My intuition is that it may mark a transition from a life in which I have been a mostly private person, working intensely and intimately with smallish highly technical teams taking on large challenges, to a more public phase of my life. I don’t have more than that at this moment, except to notice that this is a moment in which so many things in life are changing rapidly as a consequence of our collective incompetence for navigating in and adjusting our behaviors for coordinating in the world in which the tiny corona virus beastie is busy hunting us. I send to each of you my love and appreciation, my affection for you and my gratitude for having you in this world with me.
I got an email from Joe today: “I’m personally asking you, Chauncey:”
He said to me, “It could not be more clear that Donald Trump is unfit to be our president. Right now, our country is in the midst of a public health emergency that has profoundly impacted how we live our lives today and what things will look like in the future. This crisis has illuminated how important the next 201 days are for our country. Our health, our safety, and our economy are on the line, and this president simply isn’t up to the task….”
…blah, blah, blah, plus a request for money. So I replied:
Just in case someone is listening here …
For the first time in 50 years in 2016 I ended financial support of the party when Hilary could not resist the temptation to argue with DT in every moment, rather than talking about the country and where we need to go. I pray you don’t make the same mistake, but this is a good example of a ferociously bad start.The problem of this country and the world in this moment is NOT DT. Yes, he is a fool, shallow, a narcissist, childish, and a buffoon, but he is bloody good at playing certain games in the media. When you speak the way you are speaking here, you play directly into his game, and draw our attention away from what matters at this moment in time.
If you want my support, talk about the situation in the country and what you are going to do about this, not DT. I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one with that kind of opinion, and I suspect that you are not organized in a way that will allow you to listen to me speaking here.
Bloomberg March 20, 2020: US Strategic Stockpile Deliveries Delayed; Face Masks Run Short, Showing Snags in U.S. Medical Stockpile
N95 masks are critically important for doctors, nurses, and medical professionals in the line of fire all over the world with the coronavirus pandemic. Under the best of circumstances, we will not have anywhere near enough of them. A vast number of N95 masks that could be decontaminated are effectively hiding in plain sight.
Around the middle of March, my colleague Dana Conklin noticed something strange. She discovered that three respected hospitals in the US had developed protocols for decontamination of N95 masks. She then discovered that the protocols were not widely disseminated. She contacted friends at six major hospitals across the country. None of the six had any idea that the masks could be decontaminated. Five of the six were already out of or rationing N95 masks.
Realizing that the people who should be wearing N95 masks did not have them available, Dana forwarded links for the protocols developed by three hospitals for N95 decontamination to several hundred hospitals in the US and put up a website (click here for Dana’s website) that included links to the protocols. (Dana is a finance professional; this mask situation is not her line of work. She noticed the word was not getting out about decontaminating masks. She watched the deaths of doctors and nurses in Italy and committed that she would not simply stand by and watch it happen here.)
On March 30, a consortium of 60 academics and researchers put up a website that promised to research the same three methods and to publish scientifically valid reports about the efficacy of the methods that had been developed. (N95decon.org) So far these researchers and academics have avoided speaking directly on their website about the actual protocols that hospitals have been using, citing their concerns for releasing scientifically imperfect information or for appearing to endorse one protocol over another. On their website they cite pros and cons of the three protocols, important issues with the protocols, and have referenced their existence, but have not actually published the protocols as used by the hospitals using them. The house is on fire. While there are risks that the protocols could be imperfect (and certainly they will be found to be so), they offer far better protection than no masks at all, and the N95 masks have proven to be critical PPE for this virus. Dana got the protocols from the hospitals that are using them and put them on her website, but she does not have nearly as large an audience as should be hearing about these protocols.
Using these decontamination protocols would effectively increase the number of N95 masks. The hospitals using them estimate that they have 10-20 times more usable masks than without the protocols. Further, knowing that there are ways to decontaminate masks means, ‘don’t throw out your old masks; hold them for decontamination.’
This is critically important to medical professionals all over the world. Can you help by forwarding this and Dana’s website with (click here for Dana’s website) the protocols to friends and colleagues who are medical professionals?
After six years of absence, I’m coming back to blogging. I’ll explain my absence in more detail later. To hit a few high points, my wife was desperately ill and is recovering well, I was blinded by a surgical accident and a brilliant retinal surgeon brought my eyesight back, and this last year I had a neurological incident from which I am recovering. And, after a year of preparing a new venture, I found that I had to cancel it just a month ago.
I invite you to follow me as I return to a new version of my traditional work as a provocateur, designer, and collaborator with teams as they build new practices in enterprises. I’m starting by offering a series of workshops, starting in Seattle on the 13th and 14th of November.
I will be gathering executives, managers, consultants, and coaches interested in learning more about designing and building new practices in established enterprises. In the workshops I’ll lay out the practices involved, show how they work, and invite the participants to work with me and others in my network to build new capabilities in their own and client enterprises.
If it makes sense to you, please register in the workshop. If you have questions or comments, the website is a good place to talk to me about that. I will appreciate your comments, and I ask that you pass this announcement on to people in your own network who you think would or should be interested in what I am offering.
As those of you who have worked with me in the past know, the path to building new worlds starts with diagnoses of current messes, which lead to projects to create new practices, that in turn shift the way that people think, talk, listen, act, and work together.
I’ll be limiting enrollment in the first workshop to 20 people. That probably means that the Seattle workshop will fill pretty quickly.
If you are reading this in other parts of the world, I will be defining dates for workshops in the UK, Latin America, Australia, and Canada in the near future. I will lead the initial workshops myself, but will be convening them in collaboration with other people who are in the business of guiding and preparing many different kinds of enterprises as they develop new practices. You can let me know now if you are interested in attending (or helping convene) another workshop. Some people from other parts of the world will be coming to Seattle to get started as soon as possible.
I am not aiming to build a workshop-delivery business. Rather I am looking to start working in a more networked fashion than I have in the past. I will be collaborating with people who are managing projects with their own clients in their locales, supported by me and my team, and by others in my network.
These workshops will be the point of entry to a rich international networked program of learning, collaboration, and the execution of projects and programs for bringing value in existing businesses and organizations.
I am deeply interested in what you have to say about what you see here, and what you think about what I am preparing to do.
I’ve been bad. Busy with work with clients and friends on projects I like, I have not paid attention to my blog. But there is more. When I started blogging, and subtitled my blog “Exploring social, commercial, and technological innovation,” I promised myself to stay away from political commentary.
To put the point baldly, I was (and remain) deeply dissatisfied with the political discourse in this country, and in the West. Good people vilifying each other in whining, complaining voices, like contending junkyard dogs do not give us room to learn or grow. (I don’t have enough experience with the discourse in the East to have an opinion there, but I suspect I wouldn’t like it there either.) I thought that anything I might say would be wood on the fire, merely adding to an already bad situation.
Recently, however, I concluded that if I begin to comment on the difficult situation of the country and what might be done about it, and explore the question of how to prepare our children to act in and take responsibility for the world that we are leaving them, then I might be able say some things that would be acceptable to me.
So this is the first next posting on my blog, headed in much the same direction as before, but with some new opportunities, and explorations.
Sometime in the next weeks I will have an important announcement for those who have followed the work that I and my colleagues of many years have done in designing new practices, .
I first encountered the word “work” in the way that Russell addresses and plays with it in his book when my father gave it as his excuse for not being available to play with me when I was a child. He said, “I’m sorry, son, but I have to work.”
That caught my attention. What was this mysterious thing that was taking my father away from me? “Work” has been interesting to me ever since, at first as an enemy of my relationship with my father, and later as a central issue in all of our lives.
In the middle of this era of vilifying theory and worshiping practice*, it is inevitable that this book must be positioned as a book about practice and emphatically not about theory, but really I think that positioning hides some of the most important things that the book is about.
Russell is a wise and experienced man who has started several companies that have made huge contributions to very large numbers of people. He is also an editor and regular blogger at the widely-read Huffington Post. He knows well the substance of the old and oft-quoted adage, ‘…to practice without theory is to sail an uncharted sea; to work with theory without practice is not to set sail at all.’
In his book, to make it a happy one for a modern reader, Russell puts the practice in the foreground and the theory in the background and the spaces between the words.
A better way of talking about this book, at least for me, might go something like the following.
In Workarounds that Work, Russell models – in his way of speaking, in the way he reveals himself, in the examples he brings, and in his recommendations – a way of being that revels in the challenge and joy of work, and does not flinch nor whine about the myriad roadblocks that inevitably confront anyone trying to do anything serious in life. He is a joyful warrior in the middle of the mess of modern working life. Russell shows clearly the power of humility, gratitude, an indomitable spirit, a commitment to find alternatives and not remain stuck in ruts, and the soft underbellies of the enemies we face in everyday working life.
I often say that the fifth of my story about five great generators of waste in our modern working world – the interpretation that we are doomed to a kind of indentured servitude called ‘work’ – is the nastiest and most destructive. ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ – the announcement that we toil away five days of every week just waiting for a brief respite of freedom and meaning each weekend – is our declaration that we consider 5/7ths of our lives wasted. A tragedy.
Russell’s book is an antidote to work as toil, and full of good things.
*(My aside: Vilifying bad theory is may sometimes be worthwhile, and can be satisfying, and the fields of management and leadership are particularly full of bad theory.)
My friend Fran Quittel has the background, the discipline, and the diligence to do the homework about what it will take to be responsible for your money in the world that is coming to us. By “be responsible” I am talking about the basics – finding out about the rules of the road at your local financial institution. What can you count on your bank (or credit card issuer, or insurance company, or …) to tell you, and what do you need to plan to dig to find out. The situation is getting hairier and hairier.
What do you need to do to exercise minimal, prudent vigilance over your money? Rest assured that you cannot trust today’s financial institutions, as a general rule, to exercise good judgment in your behalf, to act on intentions that are built around your concerns, or, to put it succinctly, to treat you as a customer. The bad joke of the recent election – capitalism for the masses, socialism for the financial elites – describes our current situation, not one that is in our past.
Read Fran’s essay in a recent issue of the California Progress Report, here.