David Sibbet | Mental Models
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I sustain a keen interest in metaphors and plausible narratives about where we are headed as a society, and frankly, I am worried. I was rocked recently by a close reading of sociobiologist and futurist Rebecca Costa’s0-watchmansrattle 2012 best seller, The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse. (She has a new book, also a best seller, called On the Verge, which I haven’t read.) Costa has a long history in Silicon Valley and a polymath’s appetite for large-scale thinking. My reading, in the context of seeing our country spiraling into policy chaos, is that her 2012 message is even more relevant in 2018.

Her “new theory” is that civilizations collapse when complexity outstrips human’s cognitive ability to grasp what is going on. More interestingly, she identifies the symptoms that suggest collapse is beginning. I’m not wanting to believe we are collapsing, as I am much more interested in growth and development and what our field of process consulting and visual practice can do in response. Yet her argument is persuasive.

Let me summarize what she is talking about. Drawing from both evolutionary biology and new findings in neuroscience, Costa describes in detail how the Mayans, Romans, Germans and others expanded and collapsed. Collapse begins with gridlock—simply too many conflicting forces and events compounding—and continues with the substitution of belief for facts.

In most civilizations, Costa observes, there is a balance between untethered beliefs and scientifically or experientially validated knowledge. We use beliefs to deal with the ineffable and non-objective, and we have (at least for the last many hundreds of years) looked to science for help with being objective, particularly regarding the physical world. Yet when complexity begins to overwhelm people’s cognitive abilities, beliefs take over and attention to facts disappears.

For the Mayans facing severe drought, their engineering of cisterns and other water strategies gave way to human sacrifice. For the Germans after World War I, the complexity of their post-war fractured economy gave way to fascism and blame and World War II.  Sound familiar?Read more…

I was saddened to hear that my friend and colleague Allan Drexler passed away recently. He was 88. In the 1980s, he and I co-developed the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model® (Model) and the facilitative methods and tools connected with it. Without Allan we would not have this model. The depth of his field experience with teams, coupled with his deep understanding of group dynamics developed in sensitivity training work at National Training Labs, kept the work grounded in the real world of working teams.

How the Work Beganteamperformancesketchtalk

I first met Allan in 1982, when I gave a workshop about facilitation that included Arthur M. Young’s Theory of Process. Allan shared a team-building model he had developed with Jack Gibb, an influential social science researcher, and Marv Weisbord, a thought leader in organizational development. It laid out predictable questions people ask when joining a group: Why are we here? Who are you? What are we doing? How will we work together? (The model is illustrated here in a Sketchtalk I did on the subject).

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Every so often an idea appears that won’t let my imagination be. Like an electromagnet, it keeps pulling in material.

electromagnetIt happened this week as I was returning from Decatur, Georgia and the 22nd International Forum of Visual Practitioners. Gisela Wendling and I led a three-hour interactive keynote on “Visual Consulting: Designing & Leading Change” for some 75 visual practitioners from all over the world. Poland, Brazil, Germany, Korea, Canada, Thailand, China, Netherlands, France, Russia, Belgium, India, and Australia were all represented, along with people from all over the United States.

The idea that set us off is that there is something in common in the wave of new methods in OD—things like World Café, Open Space, Appreciative Inquiry, Theory U, the Art of Convening, Presencing, Active Facilitation, the Circle Way, and Visual Facilitation, to name only some identified by Gervase Bushe and Robert Marshak in their new book Dialogic OD: The Theory and Practice of Organizational Change. Their assertion is that all embrace three core processes that are key to their effectiveness:

  • Disrupting the traditional narratives about what is important and has meaning
  • Providing a space and process where one or more core narratives can change
  • Finding or creating a “generative image” whose compelling nature invites new thinking and action.

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I’m writing to share about a wonderful collaboration with Alan Briskin and Amy Lenzo creating a new “gyrocompass” image for their on-line, six session series on Activating Collective Wisdom, launching this June. The Five Practices of Collective Wisdom is a distillation of work Alan Briskin has been doing over many years on the subject. How this image came to be is a wonderful story of emergent creativity.

Some Context

Gyrocompassv5The collaboration began in Germany last year at the Leading as Sacred Practice (LASP) Retreat held at the Beuerhof Farm in the Vulcan Eifel region of Germany East of Cologne. Alan presented about these five practices and led a rich inquiry into what is deep listening, as well as how to suspend certainty, welcome emergence, keep the whole system in mind and prepare for the extraordinary when working with groups. I graphically recorded the session. Read more…