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Featured Catalyst Awards Proposal: Complex Adaptive Action Network

NCDD’s Catalyst Awards process is in full swing, with 10 projects posted so far at ncdd.civicevolution.org (and more on their way) for your consideration for the two $10,000 prizes. It’s time for NCDD members to engage in the projects that interest them, so we’re featuring the projects one by one here on the blog. Feel free to engage here as well as at CivicEvolution!

Complex Adaptive Action Network

Proposed by: Ben Kadel
Project home: http://ncdd.civicevolution.org/proposal/10102

Q. Ben — tell us a little about yourself.

Like many of us in NCDD, I find it challenging to describe what I do in a nutshell. My work focuses mostly on the emotional dynamics of bringing people together to do challenging work. I found my way to this work by following a simple question for the last 20 years: what does it really take to effectively bring people together around our common goals? The actual path involves a lot of twists and turns that I’ll share with anyone who buys me a glass of wine. You can read more about my work at www.emotusoperandi.com. I’m based in beautiful Vancouver, BC.

Q. What project are you proposing, in a nutshell?

The basic idea is what would happen if “complex adaptive systems thinking” and “action research” had a baby. The goal would be to create a community where groups and individuals use an action-reflection process to continually test and improve the effectiveness of their individual practices, combined with a mechanism that helps fit the pieces together in an integrated action-oriented system.

Q. Can you provide any background info that might help people understand what you’re proposing?

I love mysteries – both the Miss Marple kind and the everyday mysteries that make life at turns fascinating and frustrating. The main mystery that has captivated me for decades is why does it seem to be so hard to get human beings – a species designed from the bottom up to be social – to work well together.

Given the sheer volume of books, blogs, workshops, and various “flavour of the month” solutions offered to things like leadership, values, teamwork, collaboration, etc. I suspect I’m not the only one. But like a good detective, I don’t necessarily believe everything people say. I watch and look for clues.

Over the years, I’ve come to believe that we’ve all be looking in the wrong direction. It’s like a hand has been pointing us in a particular direction, but we all keep staring at the hand instead of at what it’s pointing to.

I think the real barriers that limit our effectiveness have less to do with particular skills, techniques or technologies (where it seems the vast majority of time and effort are spent) and more to do with karma. Specifically, the “three poisons” – the illusion of separation, resistance to the world as it is, and slavish attachment to one particular way of doing things or outcome – are, when you get down to it, the real problems. They pop-up again and again in different guises, trumping “best practices” at every turn.

So, if isolation, resistance, and attachment are the problems, what would it take to grow connection/integration, awareness/acceptance, and responsiveness/learning? And would there be any tangible (measurable) improvement to our collective effectiveness?

I certainly can’t make any promises the CAAN project will yield fruit, but I wanted to see what might be possible if we shift the lens a bit and take a fresh stab at an old problem (or, depending on you time scale, use a very old solution for a relatively new problem).

Q. Is there anything you’d like NCDD members’ help with or involvement on in particular?

I am looking for co-conspirators. I am more interested in attitude than particular skills. I want to bring together a group of hard-headed dreamers and idealistic pragmatists – people who are equally interested in talking about big ideas and actually doing something to make them happen. And I’m looking for people who are interested in finding the place where their work fits into the bigger picture. If you think you’ve found THE answer to all the world’s problems, this probably isn’t the project for you. But if you are convinced you hold a vital piece to the puzzle if only you could find where it fits, give me a call.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. Sagehugger says:

    some lovely analogies, but I’m not getting a very concrete idea here.

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