Pollinators gets buzzing

May 13, 2010

There is an intense buzz of ideas, enterprises and investment around the world, for social good. Governments are rethinking how they deliver services, entrepreneurs are competing to solve homelesnesss and climate change, cross-sector collaborations are being used to re-invent the global food system, and corporate intrapreneurs are recreating their companies from the inside out. This is happening globally, but most importantly it is happening locally.

Our social challenges are no longer an afterthought that can be taken care of by annual donations from citizens and companies. Creating a more just and sustainable world is the mission of many organisations, and these meaningful aspirations are attracting money, talent and attention.

There is no reason why we shouldn’t experiment and see if the Mid-West’s, Australia’s or the planet’s social challenges can not be addressed with the same sort of thinking that has made Grameen Bank famous, or that Google are investing in. That is, social business and social innovation.

To share and engage with others who are excited about these trends and opportunities, I have kicked off a new venture in the form of the ‘Pollinators’ blog, network and resource hub. This blog, the Facebook and LinkedIn groups will be used to inform, connect, inspire those who want to see the social and ecological challenges of our time get as much attention as the logistical challenges of stock-prices, mining approvals and fluctuating fortunes of the rich and famous.

This blog is one way for me to learn, share, connect, be inspired…all in the service of generating real change. While the focus is on Australian and regional enterprises I also draw a lot of inspiration from many people and organisations around the world.

And, it’s not just talk – check out some of the projects here: http://wildpollinators.org/projects/

Community as Technology

December 30, 2009
This was originally published on the WorldChanging blog, here.

With new options for collaboration, telecommunications and social networking coming online at a furious pace, it’s worth pondering how society will continue to change as a result. Having the tools in place is, of course, only half the battle. The rest is learning to shift our ways of thinking and working away from models that favor segregated specialties and exclusivity to relationships that encourage and enhance co-creation.

I recently had an experience that underscored just how important our ability to work together will become. As a coordinator and participant in the Hållbarhet2009 Learning Journey and Conference in Australia, I saw firsthand what climate change looks like. As my group traveled for ten days through southern Australia, we came face-to-face with the frightening signs of a warming world: charred landscapes from the worst bushfires on record, resulting in hundreds of human fatalities from vaporized towns, and thousands of kangaroos, koalas and other fauna dead from heat and thirst. Mighty rivers like the Murray, Darling and Snowy were reduced to a trickle in the south while the whole landscape becomes one swollen river in the north. In the midst of raging fires, alerting, helping and being helped by your neighbours was the difference between life and death for many Australians.

I traveled with 24 fellow alumni of the Masters in Strategic Leadership Towards Sustainability program, and we brought with us our own tools and technologies for making a bright green future. We encountered many other tools along the way: new engineering technologies (e.g. biochar from pyrolysis, organic solar cells and biodiesel plants), new cognitive and conceptual ‘technologies’ and tools (e.g. The Natural Step, Resilience), new agricultural technologies (e.g. biodynamic agriculture, and permaculture community centres) and new social technologies (e.g. Open Space Technology, World Cafe, peer coaching, Presencing and Theory U). We also were fortunate to experience some ancient technologies from the local 40,000 year-old Aboriginal culture in the form of rituals for imparting both the knowledge and the reverent respect required to live in this harsh landscape.

The group discusses permaculture at CERES.

Throughout the trip, we met with a diverse group of sustainability luminaries, including global systems scientist Will Steffen, Australian Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts (and former Midnight Oil frontman) Peter Garrett, Aboriginal activist Isabelle Coe and sustainability guru Phillip Sutton. Though their areas of expertise varied, they expressed a common interest in finding new ways for individuals to think and collaborate for the sake of the ‘whole.’

Our geographically dispersed community was already well versed in the practices of collaboration and co-creation. We had self-organized the event using many of the online tools at our disposal: Skype, Basecamp, wikis, Google docs, Maratech, iCal shared calendars and email listservs.

Realizing the relevance of community itself as a technology, we joined many local and international sustainability networks in exploring the possibilities for collaboration at a dialogue hosted by the Global Sustainability Programme at RMIT. As we talked through the barriers preventing us from scaling up our impact, I recognized that many of the inspiring forms of community-enabling technology we had encountered could be brought to bear in overcoming these barriers. For example:

Barrier: The desire to ‘get more done urgently, now’ rather than taking the time to really connect, listen and build the trust that underlies collaboration.

Community-Enabling Technology: Reestablishing rituals. For example, Aboriginal people inviting visitors to their traditional lands to participate in welcoming ceremonies, a kind of spiritual technology: circling a sacred fire and breathing in the smoke generates a visceral sense of respect and connection with each other, other species and creation.

Barrier: Being too identified with your own profession/network/clique, and its language, symbols, models, paradigms and habits can seriously inhibit inter-network collaboration, even within the sustainability movement.

Community-Enabling Technology: Encouraging information Cross-Pollination. Universities (e.g. BTH, UTS and RMIT) are encouraging transdisciplinary research to enable innovation across departmental, sectoral and epistemological boundaries.

Barrier: While democracy and consensus are always the best way to decide and collaboration always the best basis for action, total democracy and collaboration can be problematic. Knowing when and how to take a strong lead or stand within a group is a challenge.

Community-Enabling Technology: Taking a stand. Activists and NGOs are using new political tools to push elected representatives to respond appropriately to the climate emergency. As are scientists through forums like the Wentworth Group, IPCC and IGBP that aim to provide timely, consensus recommendations to inform national and international policy.

Barrier: While teamwork was important, critics can emerge if you appear to surrender your values and commitments in favour of group consensus. For example, take activist-turned-politician Peter Garrett and his struggles to uphold his values within the Labor party.

Community-Enabling Technologies: Using new collaborative tools. Community, business and all sides and levels of government are working together through institutions like the Murray Darling Basin Authority, and using new market mechanisms for trading water rights to protect the long-term health of the world’s third-largest river system.

Real-time display at CSIRO Energy Centre, Newcastle.

The barriers to collaboration for sustainability described above are so very real, and are at least as important as the engineering or technical barriers to sustainability. It seems the concept and practice of community: sharing, co-creating, and supporting is not just a warm fuzzy concept, but actually critical to our survival. This was a point so devastatingly demonstrated in Australian communities during the fires.

We are now a global village whether we like it or not, with no enemy except the momentum of our unsustainable culture and the forces of nature we have unleashed. Though individuals need to act strategically, authentically and boldly, acting in isolation is not enough to survive and realise our evolutionary potential. A shift in focus from individual heroes to mass collaborative leadership and action is required, and that shift will challenge our attachment to our primary identities as independent, autonomous actors.

It seems more important than ever to remember that sustainability is not the characteristic of one individual, organisation or nation; rather, it is the result of the whole system. The ultimate challenge for leaders in this space is to push the edges of what we can and must do together, as a community.

The significance of Identity for Sustainability

December 30, 2009

Beyond being one of the Max-Neef’s Fundamental Human Needs (see footnote) I think our identity is actually central to effectively working towards sustainability. Questions of identity have come up repeatdly during my personal journey since graduation, whilst traveling overland back to Australia, and most recently during the Hallbarhet2009 event.

Completing the MSLS program and having a shared sense of identity with 200 other alumni has been really important for my work. The shared terminology, concepts, values and worldviews create a sense of community, enable idea sharing and have given me extra confidence in challenging situations and new roles. Because I benefit from being part of that community, I also contribute to it’s development financially, and by supporting others through mentoring and advice.

So far, that all sounds like a win-win-win for me, the community and society right? Yes, and it’s not all positive. I have observed that if I am too attached to being a ‘MSLSer’ and to the particular way of viewing and doing things that entails, it can mean I stop thinking, stop addressing the particular needs in that moment and steer away from questioning my own assumptions. The same over-attachment can also create barriers to engaging with individuals or networks through using exclusive language or not empathising with their perspective e.g. ‘My definition of sustainability is science-based, globally-recognised and highly strategic, so I am not going to even engage in a conversation about the meaning of sustainability’.

Another significant component of my identity is my nationality. Since leaving Australia in 2005, I’ve worked and met with people from diverse cultures and landscapes. Increasing my ability to empathise with different perspectives is an incredibly important area of learning for me. I believe I am now much more aware of different ways of building trust and community, new appropriate technologies for growing, making, organising and transporting, and new ways of perceiving situations that lead to more creative solutions. I don’t have to permanently let go of my Australian-ness to continue to learn more, but I must at least temporarily let go of excessive identification with my habitual ways of seeing, doing and being. For example, the temptation to be overly casual, cut down tall poppies, or pretend that our (current) negative or (potential) positive contribution to reducing global carbon emissions is insignificant.

A deeper manifestation of over-identification with a particular part of myself is being excessively attached to a ‘small’, independent and limited sense of my own identity. Identifying with that part of myself can mean I am plagued by fear and self-doubt in the face of  personal, or the enormous global challenges we face. This over-identification with a small sense of self is the primary challenge taken on by most ‘enlightenment’ teachings, but has special relevance in the case of sustainability practitioners if it means you choose to protect your ‘self’ rather than open up to collaborating or leading.

Recognising the limiting nature of that sense of identity, I have found two ways to get beyond my ‘small’ sense of identity. One is through personal practices meditation, contemplation, and deep dialogue where a common experience is that all of what and who I am is much bigger, and more than what ‘I’ alone simply think, feel and can see. The resulting expanded sense of self creates the mental space for me to face, respond to or ignore my own fears and insecurities e.g. ‘I am not just my emotions and thoughts, so the prospect of being embarrassed is less scary‘.

A second way to get beyond a limiting sense of identity has been learning more about the lives of those who I admire. This may be Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) or Gandhi, Vandana Shiva or Karl-Henrik Robert, or even close peers. Despite their super-natural achievements they are all human. Really (sometimes it’s hard to believe) they are made of flesh and bone, and prone to forgetting names or suffering from food poisoning (that’s what finished Siddhartha!) just as much as you or I. To me that realisation of their human-ness suggests there is every opportunity for me to make the same sort of commitments and efforts they did, and perhaps a similar positive contribution. That realisation really threatens the ‘small’ self’s fondness for hiding and making excuses,, which are perhaps the only limitations to showing the same clarity of  intention, dedication and creativity they show. For me, that realisation leads to a more liberating and energised engagement with life and sustainability challenges.

Through this selection of examples: MSLS, Australian and ‘small’ self, I have tried to articulate why asking ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What perspective am I identified with?’ are relevant to working itowards sustainability. Being flexible in your perspective, and questioning the value or overly identifying with one sense of self is, afterall, something we are also asking of those that we engage with in our  sustainability work. We are often challenging clients or colleagues to see themselves as a citizen rather than just consumer, as a grandmother as well as a CEO, creative generator of solutions in addition to a formal title such as ‘Procurement Officer’ or as a steward of the land rather than just farmer. So if I am asking others to loosen their attachment to a particular sense of identity, I think it can only help if I lead by example.

Perhaps you too might take some time to ask that question when engaging in your next sustainability project or initiative: Who am I, and which sense of self or perspective am I most identified with?

Footnote on Needs:

Our grandparents used to bump into each other and say hello while wandering through the village square and chat over a tea, while many of us now ‘bump’ into each other online and chat via instant messaging. However the fundamental needs that drive the desire to connect and be part of a community remain the same: like the needs for belonging, and participation. Through time and across cultures, these same underlying motivation have driven our actions. What has varied is how we satisfy them. Manfred Max-Neef’s model (view a version of this model here) describes these specific ten motivators as fundamental human needs.

Needs are relevant to sustainability,  because many of our current modes of satisfying those needs are dependent on large-scale consumption of material goods made from non-renewable resources. As an example, one way to satisfy the need for idleness (relaxation) may be to buy a cheap flight from London to a Greek Island, lie on the beach, and drink expensive champagne after a frantic week at work. A substitute may with a smaller ‘ecological footprint’ be to cycle to a nearby village with your friends, paddle in the river for the day, and sample some locally-brewed beer.

A version of this piece was originally published in the Winter 2009 edition of the BTH Sustainability Master’s Alumni Newsletter – ‘Trunk and Branches’, available here.

You can read more about how this concept of needs can be used with business in another post here or also in the June 2008 edition of Trunk and Branches, here.


January 13, 2009

Backcastingfirst, get clear on your vision of success…

Backcasting is a process of starting from a vision of success, then looking back to today to identify the most strategic steps to get achieve success. The process is described here, compared against forecasting or use of scenarios in planning processes, and examples of applications provided.


Many individuals, organistions and teams will start work with no clear, shared purpose. In every situation there is a way to get clear on an agreed vision of success to which all efforts can be directed. In fact, the more uncertain the future, the more likely your action are likely to influence or create that future, the more important if is to ‘backcast’.

Backcasting is used in this context to meaning “looking at the current situation from a future perspective”. After envisioning a successful result in this future scenario, you can then ask “what can we do today to reach that result”. This allows you to ensure that your actions and strategy are taking you in the direction you want to head. This may seem simple and obvious, but many people do not do it. It complements other perspectives used in business planning: scenario planning, forecasting, and action planning of next steps. The figure below is one representation of how these different concepts relate:



Backcasting is used to describe the future scenario you would like to head towards, and assess its feasibility. This is usually a long-term exercise, in terms of business planning – setting 1, 5 and 10 year goals. Because there is often greater uncertainty and less control over what may happen in longer time frames, the future vision may usefully be defined using principles rather than specifics. Backcasting is an opportunity to let go of the current reality for a moment and freely imagine what might be possible. A typical backcasting question is “How would you describe ‘wild success’ for yourself in 2012?“.

The description of ‘wild success’ may be in the form of principles, felt emotions, ‘SMART’ or ‘Well-designed’ goals or outcomes, a narrative story (download a pdf on these approaches to a vision well-designed-outcomes_updated), or even an image (e.g. visual facilitation, like this or this).

Scenario planning

Scenario planning is used to explore alternative futures. These scenarios usually have more specific detail than backcasting. You can characterize multiple scenarios, then explore the implications of these scenarios for enterprise profitability, personal satisfaction etc. This can commonly be seen when presenting ‘high, low and medium’ scenarios for sales, resources or the political and consumer context. A typical scenario planning trigger questions might be “What would happen to our business model if our sales were half, double or ten times what they are now?


Forecasting is used to predict the most likely future. This is usually projected forward over coming weeks or months based on the past or present trends in things like performance and profitability. A typical forecasting question might be “Based on last year’s sales growth of 10%, what will our total sales be at the end of next year?

Next Steps

Sometimes the only planning you want or need to do are figure out the ‘next steps’. Next steps are quite literally the next concrete actions to undertake. They are usually based on intuition, reacting to present circumstances, but also (hopefully) are still aligned with the future vision and direction. A normal next step question is “To make progress towards achieving our goal of helping 100 extra beneficiaries by 2008, what is the very next thing we have to do?

Which to use for your circumstances?

Distinguishing between, and consciously engaging ALL these perspectives through any planning process is VERY important. Often individuals, organisations (or even society) can mistake one for the other. This can, for example, mean people artificially restrict what they imagine is possible in the future, forgetting the future is yet to be co-created! Or, it can mean people get obsessed with next actions without considering how aligned they are with what they ultimately want to achieve.

In the specific case of sustainability, many organisations undertake the first steps but lose motivation because there is no explicit, shared vision of success. Similarly, some organisations have lofty visions, but are unable to use that to guide their next steps.


A simple example of using these for a restaurant business may be:

The desired future is to be a sustainable business with three outlets by 2012, which will mean the owners can be taking a less hands-on role in the business. One scenario of how they might grow is to focus on  sales to a nearby suburb with a growing percentage of  wealthy, young professionals. The current business financial forecast is based on past trends in profitability, and  shows that their may even be the resources to expand  into a second store next year. The owners decide on the next action of visiting that suburb on the weekend, as the first step of market research.

So, that’s backcasting presented in the context of other methods. I like this quote, which I think communicates some of the relevance of this idea:

“A vision without a ask is but a dream, a task without a vision is drudgery, a vision and a task is the hope of the world” [From a church in Sussex, UK,1730 A.D.]

I have used these techniques consistently with established organisations, teams, entrepreneurs, and individuals in coaching sessions. There are a range or associated tools and techniques that can make the ‘backcasting’ experience and application very powerful, including  experiential workshops like the ‘Future Room’.

Backcasting from principles is the primary context in which The Natural Step Framework, and Strategic Approach to Sustainable Development  becomes so powerful.

Backcasting and creating a vision sets the conditions for creative tension that motivates – the gap between the current reality (holding you where you are) and future potential (drawing you forward). Like this figure illustrates:


(thanks to LearningHouse’s adaptation of Peter Senge’s concept)

Business Model Innovation and Design

January 9, 2009

Whether you are an entrepreneur or CEO of a listed company, there is nothing more crucial to strategy and success than understanding your business model. In fact, the last two IBM surveys of Global CEO have put business model innovation at the top of their priorities. Similarly, for social activists, understanding business models can be a major hurdle to starting a social business or enterprise with real potential to catalyse systemic change.

It was exactly these challenges that prompted me to work with Beyond Zero to bring Alex Osterwalder to London for a one day workshop on visual business model design. The audience included Carbon Trust, Pants to Poverty, BT, SustainAbility, Mars, and a number of other dynamic start-up and established companies.

The content presented on the day included:

  • Business model cases studies from private and social sectors around the world.
  • Analysis and discussion of innovative and disruptive models that have had a powerful impact on society, economic development and the environment.
  • A team business model design competition on a sustainability theme chosen by the group.
  • Information on business modelling links to management, marketing and finance.

Participants learning included:

  • Understanding how business model thinking can help their social enterprise, NGO or business develop innovative strategies.
  • Applying a simple but powerful approach to understanding, designing, prototyping and changing business models.
  • Innovating and communicating their business model faster and more effectively than with spreadsheets or written business plans.
  • Insights into new business models being developed by social innovators in fashion, finance, telecoms, and homelessness.

This event built on my previous work:

  • with start-up social businesses and social entrepreneurs
  • using different methods of visual facilitation to tap into the collective intelligence of groups and communities
  • with large numbers of enterprises involved in competitions, to innovate and refine their business model, but also showing the potential for competition judges to use this as a template for comparing and analysing the business models on offer, and
  • on visually representing how sustainability integrates into existing commercial business models.

Alex lead most of the day, but I supported him with a presentation on the specific applicability of this tool to social and ecological challenges and sustainable business. This short slideshow includes three cases that illustrate how the tool can be used for analysis of social business models. This analysis may give you some feel for how this can be used for a design tool, which is it’s greatest power, for generating new business model

I have lead the way in customising Alex’s tool for use with social businesses, and have a sound understanding and large number of case studies to support work on business models with clients and collaborators. This tool is the perfect complement to other facilitation and idea-generation methods, and can be used to quickly test good ideas for the suitability as a business. For example, rather than brainstorming on social and ecological challenges and solutions ending with a call for more grants, donations or volunteers, the conversation can easily be extended to test which ideas may have potential as a social business.

Below you can view part of the presentation from the day here.

An earlier evolution of these ideas is here.

Can social innovation competitions move beyond hype and deliver change?

January 9, 2009

Integrating the best of business (they trade, and make a profit) and charity (they have a social mission, and re-invest all profits into achieving their social mission), social businesses (also ‘social enterprise’ or ‘community enterprises’) are growing as a means for individuals and existing organisations to create positive social change. Whether these social businesses are start-ups, or spinning out of existing charities or businesses, they often need support to develop and grow.

While social businesses can access support through government agencies or consultants, and funding through grants or loans, entering competitions is another option. Government, investors and private companies are running competitions to identify and support the ideas and organisations with the most potential to deliver the desired change. Examples include competitions focused on the best way to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, how to prevent homelessness, how to better manage water resources in developing countries, or the best way to spend a grant.

Arising and Eastside Consulting have experience in designing and running these competitions, and recently completed some research on the range of competitions, and what makes them most effective. This research will be relevant for practitioners around the globe, and both Arising and Eastside have been involved in national and international forms of these investment and support initiatives.

We think competitions can be a powerful driver for real systemic change IF well-designed, efficiently delivered, and linked to a program of support for participants. Good design can ensure the competitive element adds a sense of urgency to dealing with social challenges, that a high public profile attracts new types of funders and supports change in public awareness and behaviour, and including opportunities for participants and supporters to collaborate can result in some of the most significant, but unexpected outcomes.

The result of our research is a three-page paper that:

  • Identifies trends and perspectives from practitioners and Nobel prize winners.

  • Reviews and links to the diverse range of competitions, from UK, Germany, and worldwide.

  • Highlights the most important characteristics of successful competitions

  • Considers if these competitions are worth their sometimes high costs

You can download and read the paper here: social-innovation-competition-arising.

You can review the competitions we have designed and managed here:

You can contact us to learn more about how these new style of competitions can support your organisation to deliver social change on the local, regional or global scale.

Developing as a Leader, through Action Inquiry

January 9, 2009

Awakening to action and inquiry in different territories of awareness

One way to FRAME the concept of leadership is that being a leader is about leading yourself with integrity by staying in alignment with your values. As you engage with others, a leader’s concern becomes mutuality. This is about your interaction with others, reciprocation, and interdependence. And, as you engage with the world, you may be compelled to lead in a way that contributes to sustainability. These three different goals of leadership (underlined) may be framed as different perspectives on the same practice of leadership.

The specific practice of leadership that can integrate these three goals of leadership is Action Inquiry. Action refers to doing something (e.g. physically, verbally) and inquiry refers to reflecting and questioning (e.g. in your own mind, or in conversation with others).

According to Bill Torbert, Action Inquiry is about discovering the interaction between personal passion, compassion and dispassionate objectivity. These qualities can be developed simultaneously:

  • 1st person (‘I’) integrity and passion can be developed through understanding and acting in alignment with your values,
  • 2nd person (‘We’) mutuality and compassion can be developed by creating a shared vision and acting in collaboration with your team,
  • 3rd person (‘It’) dispassionate objective and sustainability and can be developed by taking a very broad perspective and seeking to influence culture towards maximising happiness within ecological constraints.

To develop your capacity to contribute to these three goals and work from these three perspectives, the Action Inquiry model makes distinctions between four ‘territories’ of an individual’s experience. These territories are always present, but we are not always conscious of their influence on our behaviour. They are:

1. Context (including Intent, purpose, and awareness)

2. Frames (including Strategies, plans, ploys, and tactics)

3. Actions (including Behaviours, skills and performance)

4. Results (including Outcomes, assessments, and consequences)

An ILLUSTRATION of the territories of Action Inquiry in practice could be while you are working to reduce your carbon footprint by making less single-occupant car trips and reducing home energy consumption. At any point in this Your attention might be on:

  • Measurement of the Results of your actions, and positive consequences of emission reductions,
  • Your new Behaviours e.g. Increased skill at recruiting people to share rides, and your management of home energy usage relative to your desired performance
  • The Framing of those actions e.g. Your strategy for how your individual actions reduce your feelings of guilt, positively influence others, and contribute to national targets for carbon reduction.
  • The Context e.g. Your new awareness of global issues, the changing economics that make energy reduction more attractive to you, and your emerging desire to leave a positive legacy for your children.

Action Inquiry ADVOCATES a goal of becoming fully and simultaneously aware of all these territories, at all times, and across all time-frames. This way of always learning and adapting, based on the outcomes of your action and inquiry is defined as triple-loop learning:


These three ‘loops’ show the different extents to which you can be aware of, act on, and inquire into the different aspects of your experience. Single-loop learning means you act, and able to reflect on whether that action achieves the result you wanted. Double-loop learning means you may act, and use what outcomes result to not only reflect on your actions, but also on the logic and plan that made you choose that action over other possibilities. Triple-loop learning may mean that, in the case of the carbon footprint example, you additionally reflect on how your beliefs, assumptions may be challenged or reinforced by what you observed were the consequences and outcomes of your actions in the world.

As a leader, you don’t only want to just learn new behaviours or evolve how you frame challenges and develop strategies. You also want to be consciously aware of the context for those strategies and, and how that affects strategy, performance and outcomes in the real world. Stephen Covey, in his book ‘The 8th Habit’ suggests this can take you from effectiveness to greatness: “If you want to make minor, incremental changes and improvement, work on practices, behaviour or attitude. But if you want to make significant, quantum improvement, work on paradigms… perception, assumption, theory, frame of reference or lens through which you view the world.”

These are four very different territories of attention, and each is a critical area of development for a leader. But increasing your awareness of them, ability to switch between them in-the-moment is something that requires practice.

You might already think of things that would increase your capacity for consciously shifting your attention, becoming more aware of your frames of reference and intentions, and of the consequences of your actions for others. These might include articulating your professional goals, seeking peer feedback on your communication style, or even meditating.

Your own ideas and practices may be complemented by some simple practices recommended by Torbert and his colleagues. Try doing each activity for a week or two to support your own INQUIRY:

  1. Set your watch to chime every hour. When it beeps, notice what your attention has been on e.g. Your body, behaviour, past or future interactions with others.

  2. Increase consciousness of your energy, mood, and attention by noticing what happens as you transition from one activity to another e.g. bed to the kitchen, class to home.

  3. Keep a regular journal that explores these different territories of your own experience, your attention, and what you learn.

  4. Practice being explicit in your conversations about your Framing (your intent behind this conversation), Advocating (what your theory of change is, or what strategy you recommending), Illustrating (What you think the implications of this conversation are for action – verbal or physical) and Inquiring (asking questions of others and listening for the impact of your conversation)

In the case of this last example, two contrasting conversations may help illustrate what is advocated for. Sticking with the carbon example, imagine the scenario of talking to your spouse about your new commitment, specifically about their behaviour. Compare these two conversations:

  • “You’re setting a bad example for the kids by driving to work everyday and leaving the lights on all night”.
  • “I am more and more aware of how our everyday actions influence the climate, and affect our kids. I want to reduce our emissions, mainly through sharing car trips wherever possible, and doing things at home like turning lights off when not needed. Is that something you are interested in too?”

You can play out in your own mind how the rest of the conversation would unfold. My suggestion is that the latter dialogue would be one that proceeded in a more open, and transformative way that facilitated mutual understanding, and was more likely to result in collaborative action.

I believe

– making distinctions between these territories of experience,

– developing your attention and awareness, and

– practicing Action Inquiry

can enhance your moment-to-moment experience and development as a leader.

As the model says, Action Inquiry improves your integrity (alignment and awareness of your values and intentions), mutuality (teamwork, collaboration, communication) and ultimately your impact on the world – towards sustainability!

If you are interested in how this form of conversation can be applied within organisations (e.g. as part of leadership development programs) or you want to know how it relates to other ways of frameworks for conversation and action (e.g. Non-violent communication, ORID / SAID, U process, Ladder of Inference etc.) then feel free to get in touch.


Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership, Bill Torbert with Associates. San Francisco CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 2004.

Seven Transformations of Leadership, Rooke and Torbert. Harvard Business Review, Apr 05 http://www.newperspectives.com.au/downloads/seven%20transformations%20of%20leadership.pdf


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