There are professionals, peaceful warriors, with a passion and fervent belief in the power of collaboration. You will find them practicing one or more interactive processes, methods, approaches, or technologies used around the world (see brief descriptions at www.TheChangeHandbook.com). You might have heard about, or practiced, some of these methods such as Open Space Technology, Future Search, Truth & Reconciliation, Appreciative Inquiry, Drum Cafe, Charrettes, Graphic Facilitation, etc. The core ingredient among these methods is they provide a framework for bringing people together, from diverse perspectives to co-create solutions for which they take action. It may be easy to say, yet the power of these processes can very subtle and elusive – therefore not easy to bottle for broad consumption. In order to transfer the learning and support each other, the leading practitioners of the more established methods have convened communities of practice. Interestingly, there is not much cross pollination of the wisdom and expertise embedded in these methods. It’s as if they spend most of their time doing the collaborative work and little on capacity building for this emerging field of practice.
What would be possible if these various communities connected for the common good of our whole planet – locally and globally? In the previous post, I shared a story of this challenge and opportunity. These various communities can be like a spinning flywheel. In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes a large disk about 30 feet in diameter, weighing 5,000 pounds, and mounted on an axle like a “spinning plate.” Each push on the flywheel moves it forward an inch, then another inch, and finally a full rotation. Over time, the flywheel spins faster and faster until a breakthrough is reached. Momentum takes over. Collins states:
Now suppose someone came along and asked, “what was the one big push that caused this thing to go so fast?” You wouldn’t be able to answer; it’s just a nonsensical question. Was it the first push? The second? The fifth? The hundredth? No! It was all of them added together in an overall accumulation of effort applied in a consistent direction. Some pushes may have been bigger than others, but any single heave—no matter how large—reflects a small fraction of the entire cumulative effect upon the flywheel. 
Each of the communities of practice has their own flywheel, and they can bring their momentum . . . their passion to the community of communities. Advances in whole system methods and cutting-edge technology make such an assembly viable in a new way not possible just a few years ago. Today, practitioners are leveraging their methods by coming together with distance (online) and in-person (face-to-face) tools that facilitate synchronous and asynchronous collaboration (see table 1) . Consider, for example, Spirited Work at the Whidbey Institute. Corporate folks, educators, artists, writers, musicians, computer wizards, architects, chefs, builders, consultants, students, and pre-schoolers have been able to stay connected over a significant period of time. They meet in-person four times a year and incorporate online tools to support their work together on projects, research, or long-term conversations and learning . This example demonstrates an important opportunity reminiscent of candle makers of yore: Once the light bulb was created in 1879, things would never be the same again. The candle makers had a choice, whether they realized it or not . . . and so do we.
The collective flywheel can be spun; converging and diverging, adding to the momentum, creating sustainable follow-through. It is through the blending of on-line and in-person technologies that “follow-through” transforms into “flow.” Change becomes a constant source of positive energy supporting the natural rhythm of collaboration .
In addition, we can use our expertise to advance the methods as we do our work. Yes, shape our future with our own tools, and in the process invent whole new ways to support system-wide change. How much further might we go? What might we as users uncover that will inform practice, research, and education? What is our common ground? Let’s embrace the possibilities and spin the flywheel with two initiatives:
1. initiate a distance conversation supported with on-line tools, and
2. create a space for an in-person gathering (e.g., a conference).
As The Change Handbook took shape, the notion of coming together emerged. In fall 2006, a group of people brought the various communities of practice together with online tools. This virtual conversation was designed to flow into an in-person conference at Bowling Green State University in Ohio in March 2007, and to continue from there. We had over 300 people in that conversation and the it continues to this day. Perhaps even as you read this post a year or so from now the networked community of practice will be making a bigger difference as we convene www.NEXUS4change.org for a fifth time. In the next few blog posts, we will post questions and ideas to consider in our work.
- Ralph and Terry Kovel, “Light Bulb Set Lamp Designers Free,” The News & Observer [Raleigh-Durham, NC], July 29, 2006, 12E.
- Jon Kennedy and Brian King provided valuable insight for the table to ensure it represented the various tools and technologies available, July 2006.
- See The Change Handbook chapter 9 (Open Space Technology) for more on the Spirited Work example. See also chapter 59 (Online Environments for Supporting Change) for more information on the possibilities for blending online with in-person approaches. www.thechangehandbook.com.
- Marie Miyashiro, e-mail exchange with Steven Cady, July 2006. (Integrated Clarity).