David Sibbet | Blog
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inpersistence1Coming back to the United States from a month in Europe has my head spinning. Gisela and I were working in Germany, Austria, Italy and Poland, leading our Visual Consulting: Designing & Leading Change workshops with groups of consultants and managers interested in collaboration and change. They were all hyper aware of the confusions swirling in the U.S., and wondering about their own stability. Italy is closing its borders. Merkel in Germany is hanging onto a slender coalition. Young entrepreneurs in Poland know from experience that things can shift. And they were very excited about learning hopeful strategies for change.

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

“So, what is ours to do?” I ask myself, now back home. It’s clear the polarization and complexity of our current situations (not to mention the Supreme Court square-off) are pushing many into either a zealous supporter or resistance camp. Blaming abounds (see my previous post).

As I re-grounded myself—sweeping decks, going on walks, meditating, hosting brothers and visitors from Australia—it came to me. I’m not in “resistance.” I’m in PERSISTENCE.

 

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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…

geodesic

For years I’ve had an open geodesic sphere hanging in my studio with two quotes hanging in the middle. One is by Buckminster Fuller, inventor of geodesics. To paraphrase, he says you can’t reform humans where they are (I think he said “man,” dating him). The best you can do, he continues, is to go into the outlaw area and make it so attractive that people eventually copy you.

On the opposite side of the card is this quote by W. Warren Wagar, historian: “The ultimate function of prophecy is not so much to foretell the future as to shape it.”

As Gisela Wendling and I sit midway through co-creating the fourth book in the Wiley Visual Leadership series, called Visual Consulting: Designing & Leading Change, I find these quotes even more relevant. I know that people like tools and want practical things to do in these kinds of books. But Gisela and I also care about a future that can reclaim other elements that seem to be neglected in our increasingly high tech, maximization-oriented society—such as feelings, deep listening, trusting one’s trained intuition, and having a spiritual practice that keeps us grounded in a time of growing chaos.

So we are writing about a future we hope to shape, one where the utility and excitement of visual facilitation can integrate with what practitioners are learning about the importance of dialogue, as well as with the practices emerging from a growing field of change consultants.

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bobdentonI like to think of my life as a tapestry, with all the threads from people who have influenced me woven together with my own abilities and interests. One of the strongest threads is from my godfather, Dr. Robert Denton, or Dr. Bob as people in Bishop, California called him. He died October 28 at age 95. I gave this tribute at his memorial Saturday, November 18, 2017.


“I met Bob Denton at age four when his wife Betty along with other leaders of the First Presbyterian Church in Bishop asked my father, Laing Sibbet, to be their pastor. Dad was fresh from seminary in San Anselmo and a pastor in the Two Rock Presbyterian Church near Petaluma. Bob and Betty took it upon themselves to introduce Dad and our whole family to the East Side—fishing, hunting, its people, and its culture of independence and resilience in the high desert.

Our families were very close, and I learned from Bob what it meant to be an adult man in service to a community. His influence has been a warp thread in my weaving—the long threads on the loom that hold the others as the years create their patterns.

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