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Communities Of Permission


“Our challenge is not bringing order to successful chaos but creating successful chaos within a well-ordered failure.” ~ Charles Marohn, ‘Strong Towns’

In my blog post Giving Permission, I did a deep dive into what I believe it means to be a community of inclusion, and in my experience in Billings, Montana — one of indifference. Permission implies giving its residents permission to be and do what drives them. While it can be, we cannot assume that this permission is implied. Permission requires engagement. It is the antithesis of indifference, which is too often commonplace. It's taking the time and exerting the mental energy to acknowledge that your fellow residents, whether or not they hold the same demographic characteristics or social standing you may (for better or worse) ... still warrant your attention and respect. Without this your community has little chance of equitably moving forward in a sustainable way. Through this acknowledgement we build healthy communities founded on neighborly engagement that can act as an ad hoc social safety net; one to compensate for the one too often left to fray by our decaying institutions.


Raise The Collective Tide

"A rising tide lifts all boats." ~ John F. Kennedy

The first step to achieving this model of embrace is for us to individually reach out and actively make it a point to include - to give permission, to our neighbors and fellow community members. Every encounter is an opportunity to "raise the collective tide". And the more we engage, the easier it becomes. A simple compliment to what one is working on is permission. And then turn this acknowledgement and benevolent engagement into new community norms and expectations. Make others to feel comfortable in being who they are and pursuing what they may dream. We are making engagement and permission contagious. We're creating an ecosystem of strength and support under the assumption that engaged diversity will benefit us all. Repeating what John Kennedy famously said: "A rising tide lifts all boats."

The higher our levels of engagement are individually and collectively, the more well; physically, mentally and socially we will become. Engagement creates agency and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as the extent or strength one believes in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. The more a person believes their actions will help their situation, the more likely they are to try. The more a person does, the more they’re likely to do. And the more they do, the more they feel what they’re doing is helping … creating a cascade of positive results and well-being.

Our community focus should be to “get the ball rolling” by nudging activity – personally, socially and civically through behaviors that benefit us physically, mentally and socially. 

The question is ... how do we create this ecosystem that nudges people towards this positive activity? Forcing people to be benevolent and kind will probably only produce the opposite effect. Our efforts must be rooted in action, not just conversation; physical engagement that organically grows from the individual and collective needs and desires of the people. We need to create a journey where all citizens will travel together ... all pursuing our own dreams in parallel - but also in collaboration for the good of the community.


"On The Road" ... Embracing The Journey

“The difficulty we face is that the ecology of the biosphere is at odds with the ecology of our institutions.” ~ Nora Bateson

About twenty years ago while building my recruiting firm, I coined a term, “On the Road to Your Perfect World.” In a nutshell it means; in life and all its nuances (including work), it’s the journey that matters not the destination. It’s our experiences that create the human beings we are. But maybe more than that – it’s how we think about those experiences and ... how we react to them.

Not being tied to the destination through an overly rigid life plan can provide a sense of relief; a freedom to assess, act, adjust and act again; a going with the flow. All the best laid plans will eventually go awry. Being unnecessarily shackled to an arbitrary figment of personal utopia creates a detachment from what's happening around us. As community leaders and change instigators we too often relentlessly pursue control; trying to stay meticulously on task in pursuit of this utopia we project on others. Regrettably this "utopia" was probably conceived under circumstances far different what we are confronting today - bringing a disaffected approach to the issues of current relevance.

Decision makers and the researchers they depend on have an overwhelming habit of thinking in terms of functioning parts (especially those in the academic, scientific and medical communities). Our human tendency is to deconstruct our complex world into smaller, digestible, independent parts. These "parts" are much easier to understand in isolation rather than in their entangled, chaotic whole. This is misleading for our future inquiry of living co-evolving systems though.

We must evolve to a modus operandi that can appreciate the messiness of uncertainty and contextual interconnectedness. Our mission can't be control - but rather the management of ever-changing relationships. Nora Bateson has led pioneering work in the world of this "messiness". Like with my “On the Road to Your Perfect World," Bateson looks at the world as journey of relationships - and the actions and reactions needed to respond to the volatility and unpredictable nature of them. All we can do is prepare best we can and adapt accordingly. By no means should we trash our goals and objectives, but see them in more nebulous terms; more of a guiding force than GPS coordinates. Our visualization of the destination we've plugged in may not be anything like what we'll see when we arrive there, assuming there's even a place to arrive to. We must collectively be observing, learning and readjusting as we go. Batesom calls this phenomenon, Symmathesy: learning together. It's imperative we understand that all parts are connected and the learning opportunities due from changes in circumstances are available to all parties.

Just as a virus is constantly adapting as the immune system is trying to defeat it, the change movement must learn to evolve. Being wedded to the form that leads to early success is a sure route to failure. Unless the change effort mutates to fight the organisational anti-bodies, its legacy will be nothing more than a sense of what might have been. You may not be able to plan in advance just when or how you will need to change the way you change, but you need to be very aware that at some point you will have to. What you end up with may not be what you first envisioned, but it will be real and lasting.

The key is to see change as not simply about moving from A to B. The key is to see it as a much more fluid and organic process. You never really know where it might end up. As the organisational identity acts to re-assert itself, the rebels and radicals need to morph their efforts into something else. The approaches and energy that provoke the response are not the same as the approaches and energy that overcome that response. The leadership that manages the status quo is not the leadership the moves into a radically new space. (How the Organization Subverts its Subsersives - John Atkinson) 

A primary obstruction to the "fluid and organic process" Atkinson described above is silos. Traditional institutions and conventional organizations are built on hierarchy and silos to support them. Communication, let alone collaboration is seldom fluid in these situations. Their structures are built for preservation and the illusion of certainty. What we need is the antithesis of this - a phenomenon constructed to accommodate uncertainty and a flow that optimizes resources, taking advantage of the situational skills and abilities of those in our community.

The flow arising from our appreciation for situational awareness and adjustment will be the cornerstone of our community's inclusive success. The narrative of our community’s story must be intentional and directed toward this new societal fluidity. We can’t prepare for everything, nor should we want to. Life is a flow.

  • Journey of Engagements: It's about the incremental journey of permission and engagements that specifically benefit the individual and collective health and well-being of the community ... not the plan and destination.

  • Snapshot solutions: There are no "best case" solutions (since there is no one context); only engagements specific to one of multiple contexts and delivered in a decentralized manner. The specifics of the engagements that prove most beneficial are the ones most applicable to the parties involved and the situation at the time — a snapshot.

  • Engagement-driven context: Proper context is best arrived at through stories and anecdotes of our engagements as they depict unique situational alternatives that are woven into our community’s tapestry. And it's with these stories we can manage the relationships that will make up our community's every-changing future intermezzo.

Now that we’ve determined what we to do, we have to figure out how to do it. We’ve visualized what our community can be. What will be the infrastructure to support this vision. Following the natural overtones of nature, why not look there for a metaphor. In fact let’s look underground at those obnoxious tree saplings that always pop up in our yards, rhizomes.

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