Navigating Decision Making Dilemmas

The increasing complexity of our environments – at work, in community and at home, time crunches and decision making pressures often leave us wanting for good decision making processes – especially when pressed for immediate action and results.  Key decisions taken by one individual – even one expected to make a decision – often fall short because one person does not always have the full picture or the decision meets resistance because people impacted were not involved in the decision making process. Collective decision making often misses the mark if dissension, debate or strong personalities dominate the process (meaning some people just give up or give in) and when it seems to take too much time we hit the panic button and believe any decision will do.  Yet how often are decisions revisited because not enough time was invested in the exploration of options or in creating the generative conditions for conversations that lead to eliciting the collective wisdom and intelligence inherent in any group? Or because leadership under the pressure of chaos or uncertainty turned into the heavier hand of trying to manage the situation?

There are some simple patterns and practices available through the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter that offer us windows into understanding the human dynamics alive in any group and particularly groups or teams seeking direction or guidance through decision making.

In May 2014, Shape Shift Strategies will be offering a one day workshop in Moncton (May 8) and in Charlottetown (May 15) to explore effective decision making practices.  The emphasis will be on the human dynamic conditions that lead more often to generative conversations and wiser decision making.  We will dive more deeply into the practical application of worldview, powerful questions and divergence/convergence in ways that support collective decision making in teams, organizations, communities and maybe even families.

WorldView hand drawn

Divergence-Convergence Diagram_000001

Information and registration details for both Moncton and Charlottetown are available through Eventbrite. Join us if you can.  Ask how you can bring this one day workshop to your team or organization.

Celebrating My Father at 80

My dad, Hector Jourdain, turned 80 on March 29, 2013. A milestone birthday we weren’t always sure he would reach. A year ago he was barely able to move, couldn’t navigate the stairs in his house and was sleeping on a chair in his family room because of that.  He was in the hospital for a month, fighting an infection, a back so bad he couldn’t stand and the after effects of radiation therapy for prostate cancer – one of the many times he’d been in hospital for extended stays for different reasons over the last few years.

When he was wheeled into a doctor’s appointment because his legs were too weak to support him, his family doctor was sure he was headed for long term care.  The doctor didn’t reckon on my dad’s will to live.  And not just to live, but to live a life that still feels like it has quality to it.

dad and the boys - Christmas 2012

His desire to live a life beyond mere existence prompted him to inquire about an advertised back belt, which prompted me to seek out more information, finding him a better belt.  He took himself to physiotherapy – despite his own scepticism and the scepticism of his doctor and he began a road to recovery that astonished his doctor.  It didn’t astonish me.  I knew once he made the decision to live life that anything was possible.  It is one of the things he teaches me – anything is possible.

There are many things I might not have imagined.  Chief among them was that my mother would experience dementia and that my dad would reverse the traditional husband/wife roles and become her dedicated care giver for so many years before he exhausted himself and her condition became so bad we had to place her in long term care.

My mom and dad in 2000

My mom and dad in 2000

Easter Saturday we celebrated this milestone birthday with friends and family at my dad’s home where he lives alone with his two cats and loads of projects that keep him occupied.  He is building a punt (row boat) in his basement – the second punt he’s built after refurbishing a canoe that had been in his family for years and had been used by his father decades before that to rescue two people off of ice flows in the St. Lawrence Seaway over a Christmas holiday.

dad and his handiwork

His garage is a workshop where he still putters away at rebuilding engines or creating parts when he feels in the mood to do so.  He has been called a “magician” when it comes to fixing engines and engine parts.  He is renowned for his skill and expertise.  The “hobbies” he has now give him choice. When he feels like it, he has things to keep him occupied, including housework, yard work and fixing meals for himself, continuing to experiment with new recipes. When he doesn’t feel like taking on one of his numerous projects, he can take it as easy as he wishes.

My dad and I have journeyed great distances together – not so much geographically, but spiritually and emotionally for sure.  I always knew we shared a strong connection.  We’ve had our issues over the years.  I know I’ve disappointed him a few times.  Despite those moments, he has always loved me unconditionally.  My friends have always been welcome in my father’s home or on his boat, when I was a child growing up and as an adult.

Dad's pride and joy - Bluefin

In typical family dynamics, there were times as an adult he could make me feel like a chastised child or cause me to doubt or judge myself – not because he intended to but because of the activation of old patterns sparked by a word or tone.  In my own journey to myself, my journey to open heartedness and embracing the stranger in me, without working specifically on any issues I might have had with my dad, I resolved them to the point that there is no longer anything he says or does where I feel chastised or judged or even guilted.  Our relationship is mature, some give and take, a lot of love and support.  We don’t need to fill the space around us with words all the time.

My father was 45 when he underwent his first open heart surgery.  He has had more health issues than I can remember since that time, mostly in the last half dozen years or so.  And he is in pretty good health, all things considered – not the health of a young man but the reasonably good health of an 80 year old man who has experienced a lot in life.

In some ways, his turning 80 is a bit of a miracle – one I cherish.  He changed the course of my life without me knowing it until just a few years ago.  He and my mom were in the right place at the right time to find me.  It was my father’s friendship with my birth grandfather that created the opportunity for us to become a part of each other’s lives.  Without my father, my life path would have been very different.  Hard to know how different, or where I would be today – maybe somewhere close to where I am, maybe not.  Given that I’m happy with the path I’m on now that continues to unfold in the most delightful of ways, I’m grateful that our paths crossed when I was baby  and grateful to have him in my life now.

Art of Hosting – Universal or Not?

When people ask me if I do “this” for a living, the answer is, of course, yes. But they don’t really know what they are asking.  They are asking about what they are witnessing or experiencing in this given moment – a specific Art of Hosting training, a planning process, a team building session, a leadership development training, a community engagement process, a World Café or any other range of possibilities and possible places I might be invited to host or show up in.  And this is not just true for me.  It is true for many of my good friends and colleagues who are in this work.

It is a matter of what you see is what you get and what you get is far more than what you see. Going away from any of these singular events thinking this is it, that you know what it is, that you know it, is an easy assumption to make – and it misses the point.  It often seems so simple, often seeming to flow easily and effortlessly, even in groups or situations where tension or conflict has been evident.

Yet, when people get the “behind the scenes” invitation through being on a hosting team or a design and delivery team for a training or for client consulting work, they will often say that is where the real learning starts.  They begin to see what we mean when we say that 80% of the work happens before we ever get in the room.  It is also why some of us believe in being as transparent as possible in our process.

These days, when I describe the Art of Hosting to people, I’ve been borrowing from Jerry Nagel from the Meadowlark Institute because I love the clarity and simplicity with which he speaks it.  As a set of patterns and practices to work with complexity, that invites non-judgment or curiosity and generosity of spirit, of listening.  It invites us to be present, to stay in the place before the knowing until clarity, and knowing from a different place and quality, emerges – all of us and especially the hosting team.  We believe that conversations matter and good conversation leads to wise action and different results.

I am in deep reflection about the universality of art of hosting patterns and practices and the trap we set for ourselves if we believe universality equals one map, one path, one way to do it.  Overlay the successful work of one organization or one training on everything as if that was THE way to do it.  There is no one way to do it, no one practice or pattern that responds to everything.

It is the variety of hosting situations I’ve been in recently that have me in this deep reflection.   In Palo Alto in August 2012 for the first Art of Hosting training in California.  High tech, consultants to high tech, social innovators and a few pastors in the room.  Wanting to do business better.  In the Phillips Community of South Minneapolis in September 2012 with a remarkedly culturally diverse group of people, many of whom are community activists. Wanting to live in community together better. In Nova Scotia, also in September, working with a brand new charity Nourish NS responding to the need for a new structure for the delivery of breakfast programs in schools, birthed a year ago and still in it using the chaordic stepping stones, birthed out of need, chaos, confusion and pain.  In Fredericton in October 2012, a little AoH taster to sense into the need, opportunity and timing in that province for a second Art of Hosting training there, responding to themes of social change and community engagement.

Very different situations.  The “art of hosting” “worked” in each one.  I use quotations to remind myself that even what I’m writing about is nebulous and that the words evoke certain images, assumptions and expectations as I use them and you read them.

In California, knowing that getting people in the room required us to think very strategically about what would attract them, working with the calling team to find language that bridged Art of Hosting and business; finding that language that invites is a common practice and part of the invitation process no matter where we go.  Working with the concerns of the calling team about whether this group would sit still long enough to experience a deep circle, to dive into a three day process and stay present.  Yes, they wanted to get to action.  And they wanted to meet each other human to human, wondering how to do that in a world that does not always invite the human to human exchange.

In the Phillips Community, when we asked the people who came where they are from, beyond where they live, you could feel the ripples out into the world and then even more ripples when we asked them where their ancestors are from, circling the globe. Coming together to address tensions and violence in the community, their community, to imagine the kind of community they want to create, they want to live in, together.  Finding their way past commonality and past difference.  Human to human.  Getting to action that has the potential to shift the dynamic of their community, co-creating through new quality of relationship and understanding.  Practicing generosity with each other.

For Nourish NS, deep in a question of how to shift their shape from the “kitchen table” to the “board room”, grow their board, grow their capacity as an organization, adhere to Revenue Canada charitable guidelines and maintain the culture they have been intentionally cultivating over the last year or more that is creating an organization that looks different, feels different and invites people into a different experience.  Living their mandate.  Living their principles.  Prototyping how to be and work together and knowing they are in an experiment with clear deliverables, creating decision trees and governance structures to bring clarity and still allow emergence and nimbleness of response.

In Fredericton, a beautifully diverse group of people from the Department of Health, Renaissance College, students, city councilors, the provincial government, university professors, community activists.  Just three hours to dive into what might be possible with Art of Hosting and feeling like we had just begun a three day training but now everyone needed to go home percolating the vast array of questions we invited into the room about social change and community engagement.  Not leaving it nice and tidy, wrapped up in a bow with all the answers. Leaving it in the messiness that invites curiosity, invites exploration, invites a deeper dive together to discover what some of the answers might be.

AoH is only “universal” because it is adaptable, responsive, tuned into who’s coming, what their questions are, who and what shows up in the space, guided by a deep sense of purpose.  Tuning into the ebb and flow of patterns, energy in the room or field in which we are operating, cultivating emergence, leaning into what is wanting to show up in the space – not a set agenda, not a beautiful power point presentation, not all the answers or solutions but a living, breathing individual and collective experience.

In November, I’m invited back to Minnesota to go into another community experiencing many of the same challenges as the Phillips Community.  The core hosting team of four of us will be together again with some of the members of our apprenticing team and more people from the local community.  Our biggest mistake would be to assume that because we did it once well in the Phillips community that now we know what to do.  Of course, we have some beautiful learning from the Phillips community and from our individual and collective experiences from all the places we go.  But the only way we will really know what is needed the next time is to sense into the need and opportunity, the people who are coming, where they are from, the questions they bring, the hopes we are discerning and allow a purpose that is relevant to that work to emerge, let it guide the pattern we identify for the work of the days we are together and then be prepared to let it all go as people show up, we meet them where they are, see more deeply the questions, experiences and aspirations and let that guide what wants and needs to happen there.

I know from where I travel in the world, from the conversations I have, that AoH is universally applicable. But if we stop at that statement then we truly miss how this is so.  It is not the practices, frameworks, methodologies or even the patterns.  It is our ability as a hosting team to continuously sense into what is there, be prepared to let go of any of our own notions of what needs to happen, co-design on the fly from our individual and collective experience, wisdom and knowledge and to be responsive to all that shows up – the tension, the beauty, the joy, the humanness, the messiness and then work with the patterns, practices frameworks and methodologies to co-create the conditions to allow us to go deeply and well into the places waiting to be called forth.  There is a reason why it is called the Art of ….

Anyone who’s ever been to more than one well hosted gathering will tell you, it’s different every time.  And if that hasn’t been your experience, maybe you need to become curious about why that was so, challenge your own knowing and prepare to dive deeper into your own learning – or co-learning – because we are in it together.

The Field Beyond Difference

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,

there is a field.
I will meet you there.

Rumi

Rumi’s words, with a slight variation, encapsulate the experience of an amazingly culturally and age diverse group of participants, apprentices and hosts who gathered September 11-14, 2012 in the middle of the Phillips Community of South Minneapolis where all of us discovered there is a field beyond difference and we are willing to meet each other there.

Image

There was a tremble in our fourteen member hosting team as we prepared to welcome over seventy Somalis, Native Americans, African Americans, Anglo Americans, Latinos, people from Liberia, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia and more, together with two translators: one for Somali and one for Spanish.  We were not sure how many would come, how many would stay or how many would come back the next day.

This Art of Hosting training, supported by the Bush Foundation’s InCommons in partnership with the Meadowlark Institute, was called by Amina Saleh a co-founder of the Native American Somali Friendship Committee, in the hopes that bridges could be formed across the  multiplicity of cultures that have come to reside in the Phillips residential area of South Minneapolis.  The original residents of this community were primarily African Americans, Native Americans and Anglo Americans.  In the 1990s immigrants and refugees began moving into the area in search of affordable housing.  Over the years, the cultures clashed, tensions rose and violence across the cultures, particularly between the Native Americans and Somali communities, occurred.

Amina found herself at an Art of Hosting training in March 2012 and became curious about what might be possible if a training was hosted right in the middle of her community, in the community centre, where the children congregate after school.  Well, we found out!

We started with a beautiful Lakota sage ceremony offered by Lemoine Lapointe from our hosting team, to open the space, to cleanse ourselves, open our minds and, even more so, our hearts.  An offering from one of the cultures present in the room, inviting others to also offer in a right moment or opportunity.

Lemoine Lapointe

Each one of us was then invited to bring our voices into the circle by responding to: my name is…, I live…, I’m from…, my ancestors are from… and I speak …. languages. As we listened, we became aware, beyond the diversity of skin colour already visible in the room, of the richness and multiplicity of cultures and languages represented in the space, the richness that showed up sometimes in a single individual as well as in our field.  It took our breath away and opened our curiosity.

The purpose that emerged for the four day training was: Hosting meaningful conversations as a way of giving life, (1) inviting in our full selves and each other, (2) sharing language and frameworks, (3) staying in it – together and (4) building “whole” community. The phrases in the purpose statement framed each of our four days; scheduled to begin around 9:00 with a hard stop at 3:00, because this is when the children arrived in the community centre we were in and when some of the single moms in attendance also needed to be home to greet their children.

Beautiful visual depiction of our 4 day flow by Nou Ka Yang

Our first afternoon was a caféWhat is in your heart that brought you here today? What is in your heart for your community? What would you like to give life to here for your neighbourhood?  Powerful, surprising questions, giving pause like unexpected questions do.  Silence at the first café round while people let the question sink in, then decided how fully they wanted to bring themselves into the room, into the conversation, into the others also at their table. Cautiously, at first. What is in your heart? Not, why are you here? Not, what’s in you mind?  What is in your heart? Are you willing to go there yourself, let alone speak it into the centre of the table?

By the third round there was a beautiful buzz in the room as people began to relax into the invitation to bring their full selves.   In the harvest, one man offered, “Unlike Vegas where what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happens in this room should not stay in this room. We all need to take it back out into our communities.”  This became a mantra for participants for our full time together.

People were ready and willing to offer their rituals, ceremonies and stories into our collective space.  In addition to the opening sage ceremony, we experienced a Somali coffee ceremony, an Aztek ceremony and a Hmong ritual and an African American dramatic story telling: Sojourner Truth, in addition to Native American ceremony, song and round dance from the Dakota and Lakota cultures. We gifted each other with prayers and blessings.

Sometimes it was a bit uncomfortable with the varying perspectives and cultural norms around touch, song, dance and partaking in another culture’s ceremony; but only just in that moment before understanding blossomed and more ease entered with the witnessing of things precious.  Graciousness, curiosity and respect filled the space and the conversations. Deepening our individual and collective listening skills invited us all to show up even more fully.

The realization that issues, concerns and passions arc across cultures invited people into bridge building. Education, children, community housing, racism, racial profiling, relationship with police, healing, well being.  Learning to navigate the dominant culture and stand up, both for what is right and for rights of an individual no matter each person’s roots or ancestral history.  Awareness of commonality in the diversity. People care about many of the same things even if their way of approaching them or their cultural norms may be different.

Invitation to Open Space

As we gathered in our check out team: Amina Saleh, Kadra Ahdi, Lemoine Lapointe, Molly Matheson Gruen, Susan Phillips, Bob-e Epps, Anne Gomez, Lori Lindgren Voit, Nou Ka Yang, Marcela Sotela, Jerry Nagel, Tuesday Ryan-Hart, Ginny Belden Charles and me, there were tears.  Tears of hopes realized, connections made, community strengthened, deep sense of belonging.

Our work began in the hosting team itself on our prep day.  It was the first time many of us had met in person as is common in these trainings.  There was a great variety of experience and understanding of the Art of Hosting in the team, from lots to little to almost none, with people eager to deepen their skill, grow their capacity.  The team quickly became strong and cohesive with each person stepping in, contributing, supporting as one fluid movement, offering what we each could, asking for what we needed. We formed community.

We became a field to welcome the larger field of community activists and organizers from across cultures who showed up.  And came back. Day after day.  For four days. They sensed something different. Became engaged in possibility in new ways. They made plans for next steps on very specific projects. Co-creating a new hope for the future. Giving life to community from a different place.  Stepping into courage, transcending fear, reaching out, seeing the human face of diversity and knowing that shifting the shape of the communities they live in and touch is possible to ever greater degrees.  Humbled, touched, delighted to be in this work that matters so deeply.

Hosting Lessons from the Field – Presence

It is the last morning of our 3 day Art of Hosting training in St. Paul Minnesota in mid April 2012.  We have 40 participants plus our 6 person hosting team which includes 3 apprentices. The hosting team is starting our day by checking in. Day 2 was a good example of a groan zone kind of day.  The field felt a bit disconnected from itself.  There were little rumblings here and there that had been showing up since our opening circle on Day 1 that had our attention a bit and certainly our curiosity.  At the end of Day 2 during our check out as a hosting team, we noticed some of the dynamics that seemed to be in play, felt we didn’t have enough information to make informed determinations of what may or may not be in the field and let it go as we left for the day. On this last morning, the person hosting our check-in asks, “What are you anticipating in this day?”  The question gives me pause, although I’m not sure why — until I begin to answer it.  I start with, “Well, I’m anticipating a few good conversations with individuals – some of whom have already been identified.”  I hesitate.  What else am I anticipating in this day?  What do I want to anticipate?  Ah.  That is a good question.  My clarity begins to emerge. I continue, “I don’t think I want to anticipate anything else.  We know there are some dynamics in this field.  It is not fully clear what they are so I think I don’t want to anticipate anything.  What I do want to do, is be fully present and attentive, ready to tune into whatever emerges that needs tending, but without anticipating now what that might be.” This sentiment seems to resonate for all of us on the hosting team.  An invitation into being fully present, to not speculating, to not imagining how carefully we need to tend the field for certain things.  The first of the four fold practices – being present. The Four Fold Practice is a core pattern and practice in Art of Hosting and it has been receiving renewed attention lately in our teaches and our conversations. Self hosting. Not just being nice to self by going to the spa or eating dark chocolate.  Depth. Practice.  Discipline. The discipline of practice. Meeting oneself, sometimes in places one would prefer not to meet oneself. Being present is fundamental to good hosting.  This I knew.  What happens next for us as a hosting team is what has me reflecting still on the power of presence and what it means to hosting and, more than that, for me anyway, what it means in my life. As a team we decided not to try to figure out what may or may not be going on in the room, or who was holding the threads of what dynamics, but to let it go to sense into what was alive in the moment allowing us to more powerfully engage the next two folds in the practice – participating fully in those one-to-one conversations and contributing to the larger hosting process. Following our check in, I was coaching the proaction café team.  It was a large team, a bit chaotic to start, but everyone managed to find a role that worked for them with several teams of two hosting different sections.  I went off to find the members of the team to check in with them about their role and what, if anything, they needed from me. In entering the room, I began to encounter some of the people who seemed to be holding some of the threads of discontent and disconnect that had been popping up over the previous two days.  Spontaneously.  I didn’t seek them out.  I’m not even sure they sought me out.  We just bumped into each other. In this spontaneous connection in even just five to ten minutes, a depth of human to human connection happens on the level of story, being able to see and witness some extraordinary part of an individual’s journey.  What is even more surprising is that this spontaneous connection happens for many of our host team members. What we notice alive in our field now is that the threads of discontent and disconnect seem to dissipate and disappear.  They don’t go underground as often happens when not addressed, but they seem to disparate in the depth of human connection.  People feel seen, heard and acknowledged in their journeys in unanticipated and beautiful ways. Then, the proaction café weaves people, their stories and their gifts together in a beautiful way.  Nine projects/ideas expand in delightful ways.  The conversation hosts feel gifted.  The participants also feel gifted and honoured with holding and exploring other people’s dreams, realizing the power of contribution even when not directly connected to someone else’s project. One of the roles taken on in the proaction café is the deliberate and intentional holding of space – or the energetics in the room.  Two women stand on either side of the room, visibly and silently witnessing the room and hosting space.  When we debrief, they are asked to share what they have been doing and what their experience has been.  They describe the honour of it, of seeing the weave in the room, of deliberately fueling it with positive intention and love.  Participants describe their experience of it, what they feel corresponded to what they heard from the hosts of the energetic space.  It was one of the most deliberate explorations of what are we hosting really that I have been part of. When we do our closing, as often happens, we become aware of how powerful the three days have been for many who are there.  We are reminded of the power of the groan zone and how our assessment of where we are in our process influences our interpretation of whether we are successful or not.  On a day that ends in a groan zone it doesn’t always feel on track or successful.  Seeing the convergence in the next day reinforces the beauty and possibility of the groan zone. I’ve been through enough groan zones that I should know this but it is always a renewed awareness. As we close our hosting team circle at the end of the day, we bring curiousity about what has happened and a fresh wondering about the Four Fold Practice and the power of presence to shift the shape of the field and the possibility it can shake out some dynamics without needing to dive into them.  Is that what happened?  I don’t know with absolute certainty.  That’s my continued reflection.  Will full presence always be enough to dissipate shadow on its own?  Happy to experiment more to discover – rather than anticipate the answer to that. This experience has me reflecting on hosting self, specifically myself, my life and my relationships.  How often have I said about a situation, relationship or person, “I’m optimistic that…” or “I’m not optimistic that…” What is the anticipation that gets built into those kinds of statements?  What if I just met that situation, relationship, person, myself, in the moment of the experience and not as a precursor to what might or might not be but attentive to what, if anything, needs to be tended to in this moment?  How would this ongoing presence shift the shape of my experience now, shifting the shape of my relationships and my situation? I am deeply appreciative for the question, “What am I anticipating?”  It has made me aware of how much I do anticipate and how a lot of that does not serve.  The only journey I really need to pay attention to is mine.  Another person’s journey is not really my business and is certainly not my journey. My journey intersects with others, but they don’t define mine unless I let them.  I don’t define theirs unless they let that happen. Letting go of analysis and simply tuning in at the moment supports what wants to happen rather than fuels my own anticipation of what might or might not happen, possibly feeding something that didn’t need to be fed, creating something where it might not have existed except that my/our anticipation brings it into being.  Still ruminating on this one. Powerful lessons from the field on being present.

Deep Sensing Interviews

Deep sensing interviews are a powerful tool.  In the times I’ve used them I’ve seen them help deepen relationships, deepen a field of inquiry, shift the shape of  a team, organization or system.

Deep sensing interviews are one of the tools highlighted in the Sensing phase of Theory U,  where we begin to see how we see the world.  Once we become aware of our seeing, then we have the opportunity to focus our attention in more intentional ways.

The beauty of a deep sensing interview, when it is designed well, is that it takes the interviewee on a tangential or divergent journey to where you want to go which is usually the current situation you are wanting to inquire into.  When we take the direct route to where we want to go, we often get the first off-the-top of the head responses which also often are the responses aligned with role or positon in the team, organization or system.  It can be a good, helpful reflection and, often so much more is possible.

Deep sensing interviews take people out of their heads and invite them to embody the conversation or enquiry which takes them to a different place, allowing them to see their own experience and their own questions in new light.  They also help to build trust which is advantageous if you are embarking on any initiative requiring trust, openness and alignment.

It was through the four year Collaborative Care initiative, championed by the College of Registered Nurse of NS that I was first introduced to deep sensing interviews.  Phil Cass, who was on the hosting team with us, spoke about the impact in Columbus, Ohio. In health care work there designed to shift the system, they discovered, through sensing interviews, that the people interviewed seemed to have a public voice and a private voice.  The public voice was the one that came from their role or position and provided ideas or suggestions from that official voice. It was often also the voice looking to someone else to “fix” the problems.  The private voice was the one that tapped into both despair and hope, the embodiment of the conversation, the knowing that if change is really going to happen, it is going to happen through people and relationships first, then systems and that they just might have a role to play.

Phil’s experience with deep sensing interviews inspired us to use them too, but not without some trepidation at the start.  The structure of these interviews is a bit different and they take time – a good hour and sometimes more – which feels like a lot of time to ask of someone – especially someone busy, especially someone “high up” in a system or organization, especially since it doesn’t dive right into the information you’re after but takes the time to build the field of inquiry.  Now, however, having seen the impact and quality of response, it is an intentional strategy to draw upon when, of course,  it serves the purpose of the work underway.

There are four key phases to a deep sensing interview.  They are:

  • what was your path to here
  • why here, why now
  • what is here – issues and challenges that have led to this inquiry
  • imagining the future

Path to Here

I will tell people before we begin that this interview will start in a very different place, because I want to get to know them, because I want us to see connections across a journey.  The questions will be about where they grew up, what it was like to grow up there, what they wanted to be when they grew up, what did they do after high school, how they found their way there, what excited them, what they were passionate about.  These are not diversionary questions.  They are questions that help people reconnect with themselves, their dreams, their essence.

Why Here, Why Now?

What is their job now?  How did they get to this job? What did they aspire to when they began this job? What keeps them going on the difficult days or in the challenging times?  Why here, why now?

What’s Here Now?

This series of questions is intended to get at the issues and challenges – in the team, organization or system – that sparked the inquiry or the work. Why are we here?  What is the need?  What is their role in this? What could it be?  What are the barriers? What else gets in the way?  What conversations are not happening?  What are the costs – financial, human, other? What is the trajectory if nothing changes – how much worse could it get?  What would that cost?

Imagining the Future

Imagining the future – these are the questions to inspire what’s possible.  What one conversation, that’s not happening now, that if it did happen, could change everything?  Who would be in that conversation? What/who are your systems of influence?  What are we not seeing, that if we could see it, would allow us shift the shape of our experience?  What would an ideal future look like?  What would it take to move us in that direction?

The questions floated here are not the “right” questions, or the “exact” questions.  To be powerful, the questions need to be crafted to the purpose and intention of the work. Testing them improves them.  Leading people through a deep sensing interview invites them into a mindful reflection where just the asking of the questions begins to open up new possibilities.

Sometimes in the interview it is tempting to assume someone has already answered a question.  I will often say to someone, you may have already answered this, but I’m going to ask it anyway.  It is amazing what more turns up when you ask the question – something completely different sometimes, often a new level of reflection and depth.

I have used deep sensing interviews in systems work, in organizational work and with teams – particularly teams that are experiencing challenges in the moment.  Looking for themes and patterns across the interviews is a powerful tool for building momentum in the work.  We have, at times, reflected back the “voices” with direct quotes.  At other times, especially for teams, the themes and patterns have been mind mapped.  It is extraordinary how people begin to see things they could not see before, how illuminating themes and patterns provides a base for shifting to more of what’s working.  How people begin to recognize that their themes and patterns are collective – my story is also your story.  What a surprise it is to individuals when they begin to see this.

Deep sensing interviews.  A powerful tool when well crafted and clearly intended.

Ode to My Dad – Raoul Hector Jourdain – on his 79th Birthday

March 29 is my dad’s birthday.  This year he will be 79.  I’m sure when he came into this world, and as the beginning days of his life unfolded, had he looked ahead, he would not have imagined where his journey would take him – the good and the bad.  I would not have imagined the shifting shape of it either.

Hector Jourdain and his youngest grandson on bridge of the Bluefin

I didn’t meet my dad when I was born.  It was some weeks or months later when he came into my life – or I came into his.  And then, for him, it was love at first sight.  Maybe for me too but I don’t remember.  What I became aware of later is the connection I’ve always had with my dad.

He was not always an easy man to live with.  There was a lot of tension in my house growing up and even after I left.  He and mom had their share of battles and I had some of my own with him, though few.

Having said that, people were always welcome in our home – from the earliest days of my memory.  No one was ever turned away – visitors, from near or far.  My friends from school came to play and often stayed for supper. Always room for more.  It fostered a sense of hospitality in me that only grew over the years.  That, and friends could be like family – experienced over and over again during Christmas holidays in particular for quite a few years as a large group of friends gathered for a traditional Gaspe meal after midnight on Christmas Eve.

The sea has always been in my dad’s blood.  He has owned a few boats over the years but his pride and joy was a beautiful wooden boat, the Bluefin, which he owned for thirty years.  With care and craftsmanship, he rebuilt that boat from stem to stern over the time he owned it.  If that boat could talk, many a story would it have to tell.

I already lived in Halifax when the Bluefin came to dad.  He and my mom always enjoyed having guests aboard – and that remained true to the final summers we went out on it.  In the early years, it was much more of a party boat.  I and my friends were always welcome.  Most of the time, anyway.

Dad's pride and joy - Bluefin

There was one time, during Chester race week in August, that a fairly large group of my university friends arrived for the weekend.  We boarded the boat, loading up with supplies we brought – food and beer… and a bit more beer.  My father watched as we brought two-four, after two-four, after two-four on the boat until he finally said to me, “How much is enough?”

Then there was one spring when we offered to help him paint the inside of the boat to get it ready for summer launch.  It all started off well enough… until the beer came out.  And then… well, let’s just say dad found yellow paint in places it wasn’t supposed to be for years afterwards.  I still can’t figure out why he never really responded to future offers of assistance!

When his first grandchild came along, he beamed.  It was probably the only time he stopped by the house unexpectedly on his way to and from the airport.  It was an unexpected delight – maybe for him too.

When my first marriage was ending, I knew I needed to tell my parents.  I took that journey alone.  Fear was in my belly and my mouth was all gummed up.  I was disappointed about disappointing, along with all my own disappointment about my marriage ending.  I thought when I shared the news – saying to my dad, “We are living under the same roof but it was like we are living very different lives,” that he would fall off his chair.  Instead, I almost fell off of mine when he said, “I kind of noticed that.”

No questions asked, he and my mom helped me move.  No judgement – not to me anyway.  A lot of love and caring.  I saw that love and caring demonstrated over and over again in obvious and less obvious ways.  In particular, I saw the love and caring my dad demonstrated towards my mother in the final decade or more of their marriage – more and more consistently than I had seen it at any other time.

If someone would have asked me years ago (and maybe they did), I would have imagined that my father would have died comparatively early in life (he did have his first triple bi-pass surgery when he was 45 – thankfully his health status leading up to that also triggered his decision to stop smoking) and my mother would still be living in the full vibrancy of who she was well into her 90s.

Instead, it was a different path that unfolded.  My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 20o1, again in 2005.  Somewhere in that period of time was the onset of dementia that ultimately took her into long term care in 2008 until her death a few weeks ago.

My father became my mother’s care giver.  At first it was in little ways.  Noticing the little things that were not quite right.  There were a few conversations about my mother forgetting this or that… like forgetting to turn off the oven, or turn on the washer.  Then it became more obvious, like mom put the banana bread in the oven, went to take it out five minutes later and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t cooked.

This eventually evolved into my father watching out for my mother 24 hours a day.  He watched over her day in and day out, night in and night out – including taking care of her hygiene – at home and sometimes in public places.

When my mother died, my parents had been married for 54 years.  On their 50th wedding anniversary in January of 2008, my brother and I had planned a celebration for them.  We had hoped for a big celebration. It ended up being a small celebration in their home.  I spoke a few words.  I had already planned to speak about the two things I felt I integrated into my life from my experience with my parents – that sense of hospitality or everyone being welcome and unconditional love and support.

This took on whole new layers of meaning in the week before the 50th anniversary when I learned that I had been adopted and had never known or suspected it at all.  The feelings of unconditional love and acceptance were magnified as that story unfolded and I had a conversation with my father about aspects of my life I had known nothing about.

As the story emerged, I was asked if I was angry.  I pondered the question and then responded, “If I looked at this from the perspective of people have been lying to me all my life, maybe I would be angry.  But I look at it from the perspective that people made the best choices they knew how to make.  They wanted to do the right thing and choices were made out of love.

My father is a man who wants to do the right thing.  This was most evident in the latter years of his marriage to my mother.  He loved my mother.  He wanted to do well by her.  He exhausted himself as he watched over her, tended her and took care of her until the very last minute when we admitted her into long term care.  Then, every day, he went to visit her for over a year.  It was hard for him seeing mom in her diminishing world while he still lived in the house that had been their home for over 3o years.

There are many stories in this man’s life.  I only know some of them.  They are not all pretty but they are all representative of a man who has lived a complexity he might never have imagined, who has given a lot, cares about craftsmanship and doing things well.  He has traveled many roads and still has a few to go.

Dad is in hospital, yet again, as I write this.  This too has been a pattern of our relationship over the last decade.  He has an amazing will to live and is incredibly resilient despite health problems that have been challenging him over the years.  We live into and learn together – through thick and thin.

There are things I know about him and things I don’t.  We have a pretty dynamic relationship and a few patterns that have been showing up.  One thing I do know about him is that he loves me.  On the rare occasions when I tell him I love him he always says to me, “I love you more.”

I wish him a happy 79th birthday knowing he would be much happier if he was home for it.  I also wish there will be many more for him with a quality of life that allows him to pursue, in ever more gentle ways, the things he loves to do and do well.