Archives for July 2012

Critical Thinking – Recognising Dodgy Arguments

stylised silhouette heads, upper head looking displeased listening to devil, lower head looking pleased listening to angel

Critical Thinking is a set of six short, animated videos by Australian foresight agency Bridge8, which created the series for technyou, an emerging technologies public information resource funded by the Australian Government.

Originally designed as a teaching resource for secondary school students, this visually appealing series will be useful to change agents both personally, and in any teaching, coaching or training they may do.

The animations explain key concepts in clear and easily understandable ways (‘logic is a way to combine ideas to come to a conclusion. It’s like maths only it can deal with more than numbers’), with affectionate touches of humour.

Associated transcripts are also available for each video, and a colourful Recognising Dodgy Arguments companion guide, available as postcard-sized or  as an extended version (both pdf) which can be downloaded.

Part 1: A Valuable Argument

Part 1 is about how the human brain takes shortcuts to help us deal with the complexity in our world. But there are times when we need to be careful of letting our ‘shortcuts’ and our biases substitute for deeper thinking. Logic is a tool for helping our thinking processes in order to identify ideas that may be helpful.

Logic is a useful way to combine established ideas to support the acceptance of a new idea. Looking for logic in an argument can help you decide whether you should agree with somebody, or wait for more information.

Transcript (pdf)

 

Part 2: Broken Logic

Part 2 is about the structure of a logical argument, and how to distinguish between a logical argument and a logical fallacy. It uses the structure of a maths equation to explain premises (something we already know or agree upon) and conclusions that can be drawn from combinations of premises.

It’s easy to mistake a logical fallacy for the real deal if you’re not careful. People do it all the time. Sometimes by accident and sometimes to fool you. Knowing the structure of a logical argument is important.

Transcript (pdf)

 

Part 3: The Man Who Was Made of Straw

Part 3 is about recognising a ‘straw-man’ – a misleading characterisation of an argument – created either by those opposing you, or even unwittingly made by yourself. Refuting a straw man argument means you have not, in fact, defended your argument, but been drawn into defeating something else altogether.

Logic is built up of ideas called premises. Even if they seem logical, it’s important to pay attention to those premises to make sure that they’re not made of straw.

Transcript (pdf)

 

Part 4: Getting Personal

Part 4 is about making the distinction between the ‘messenger’ and ‘the message, and not confusing how you feel about someone with whether you trust what they have to say.

It’s hard to listen to people we don’t like, and difficult to disagree with those that we trust and admire. But there’s a difference between who a person is and what they’re saying.

Transcript (pdf)

 

Part 5: The Gambler’s Fallacy

This part is about how we assume that the probability of something happening is conditioned by past results.

Just because one thing follows another, even if it happens a few times, does not necessarily mean that they’re linked. There could be other factors, or it could simply be coincidence.

Transcript (pdf)

 

Part 6: A Precautionary Tale

This part is about the precautionary principle, and how although avoiding action until aware of adverse consequences is sensible, it is impossible to remove all risks associated with every action.

…waiting for irrefutable data, which is logically impossible, is a bad way to make decisions…Asking about risks is sensible. But demanding one hundred percent safety stops technology from evolving.

Transcript (pdf)

 

Note: while I appreciates the point of the argument in the last clip – that irrefutable data and a 100% guarantee of safety is logically impossible – we owe it to ourselves and all life to take a ‘mission critical’ approach to our planet as we do with aircraft or any other technology. As ex-RAAF and Boeing engineer Andrew ‘Wilf’ Wilford put it:

If we consider our entire planet as a safety and mission critical system, how sophisticated should risk management approaches be for such important issues as accelerating climate instability, energy security, ecosystem vulnerability, and resource depletion, among other issues?  Wouldn’t it make sense to apply similar precautions?

At the core of effective risk management is the realization that just because something hasn’t happened before, it doesn’t mean that it won’t happen in the future. So, if the consequences of failure (i.e. in runaway climate change) are catastrophic, then it’s appropriate to rapidly and effectively intervene to reduce the likelihood of such an outcome.

Just as not being 100% certain of safety is not a reason to ground all aircraft, the lack of irrefutable data is not  a sufficient reason to abandon the precautionary principle – a central tenet of sustainability – which is about making decisions that do not pose a threat to people and nature, even if that means we forego some opportunities.

Have you ever been in the middle of a debate and realised that you’ve been sidetracked by faulty logic or a straw man? 

How can we decide whether the precautionary principle should be invoked, given that it is logically impossible to have 100% certainty?

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The Story Of Change – Flexing The Citizen Muscle

The media has always been powerful in influencing opinion, awareness and creating change – and so one of the great assets of the internet age is that media can be produced and disseminated by participatory networks of people, who had previously been largely passive receivers and consumers of content in a one-way relationship, from newspaper to reader, from television broadcast to viewer.

One of the best examples of this new, social media is The Story of Stuff, released in 2007 by The Story of Stuff Project in conjunction with Free Range Studios.

The 20 minute animated/live action clip was groundbreaking in its clear, concise presentation of a range of consumption issues across the lifecycle of material use. The video went viral, and has been viewed millions of times. It became a teaching resource in schools, as well as the subject of intense debate.

Several clips followed, including The Story of Cap and Trade, The Story of Bottled Water, The Story of Cosmetics, The Story of ElectronicsThe Story of Broke (a call for a new economy), and The Story of Citizens United vs FEC (although US focused, a universally relevant story about the power of corporations in democracy).

The Project’s latest movie, The Story of Change, has just been been released:

In the 6 minute clip, Annie Leonard challenges ‘green guilt’, and also the ‘laundry lists’ of green tips published in umpteen books and articles back to the 1980s and before:

I’ve read a lot of these: 100 Ways to Save the Planet Without Leaving Your House50 SimpleThings You Can do to Save the EarthThe Little Green Book of Shopping.

I thought they might have the answers, but their tips all start here – with buying better stuff – and they all end here – with recycling all that stuff when I’m done with it.

But when it comes to making change, this story of “going green” – even though we see it everywhere – has some serious shortcomings.

One of the most maddening things about the environment/sustainability movement is the focus on personal responsibility at the expense of system-level social and political change.

Change at the personal level is important both for the impact itself and the social norms it contributes to, and a critical mass of individual consumption decisions can create some practical change, influencing supply chains to respond to their markets.

However to leave the scale of change-making needed to the purchasing power of the individual, who may have neither the time, the inclination or the ability to buy anything other than the cheapest product – let alone critically interpret marketing and media messages – is nothing short of negligent.

As UK journalist and commentator George Monbiot noted:

Green consumerism is a substitute for collective action. No political challenge can be met by shopping.

The onus cannot be on the individual alone, whose choices in everything from transportation to food are constrained or enabled by wider system design eg. how accessible, convenient and affordable public transport is.

One of the main barriers to change is that there is a major disconnect between the scale of the challenge communicated (climate upheaval, species loss) and the prescriptions of things individuals can do (change light bulbs, don’t buy products with palm oil) – while people may accept that ‘every bit counts’, they know in their gut that the response needed is bigger than what they can achieve as individuals.

The Story of Change is successful because it draws on previous cultural references of movements throughout history where great change was achieved – such as the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr., and the movement for independence in India led by Gandhi – and offers a powerful meme as its call to involvement: ‘Flexing the Citizen Muscle’.

cartoon image with left bicep labelled 'citizen muscle' (currently flabby and weak) and right bicep labelled 'consumer muscle' (currently big and strong)

Our consumer muscle, which is fed and exercised constantly, has grown strong. So strong that “consumer” has become our primary identity, our reason for being. We’re told so often that we’re a nation of consumers that we don’t blink when the media use “consumer” and “person” interchangeably.

Meanwhile, our citizen muscle has gotten flabby. There’s no marketing campaign reminding us to engage as citizens. On the contrary, we’re bombarded with lists of simple things we can buy or do to save the planet, without going out of our way or breaking a sweat.

Leonard identifies three things that were common to successful social change movements:

  • Have a Big Idea – they had a big idea, or story, of how things could be better
  • Commit to Work Together – millions of ordinary people who wanted to make these changes didn’t do it alone, they worked together
  • Take Action – they took their big idea, their commitment to work together and took action

It is pleasing to see that Story of Stuff have produced this clip, as it debunks the green shopping/onus on the individual story, and calls on people to activate their role as citizens, not consumers. It will reach a very large audience because of the initiative’s previous successes.

There’s one movie Crux would love to see The Story of Stuff Project and Free Range Studios collaborate on – not only is it a big taboo politically (although it has begun to be seriously questioned since the Global Financial Crisis), but its the story that underpins all the other stories:

The Story of Growth – or preferably, The Story of Post Growth.

Almost every issue The Story of Stuff Project has covered – planned obsolescence of e-waste, carbon and climate change, the take-make-waste of consumer culture, the power of corporations, the call for a new economy – all have at their root an economic system dependent on ever more growth:

Our culture has placed economic growth, as measured by increasing GDP, as a central goal. We have come to equate economic growth, as measured by GDP, with growth in well-being while ignoring the concurrent growth in environmental destruction, stress, alienation, pollution.

Inconveniently, growth is closely linked with the way that today’s economy is structured. We have an economy that needs to increase at an exponential rate of growth to stay afloat (and avoid crashes, job loss, defaults). Yet, in order to grow, the economy needs to grow its use of energy and resources and will increase its impact on the physical environment.

However, maintaining this trajectory is ultimately impossible because the physical and biological capacity of the earth is finite – the planet, it turns out, is not growing any bigger. We’re seeing the effects of the clash between the drive for economic growth with nature’s limits and the environment manifesting as a myriad of ways, such as peak oil and climate change.

The adverse impacts of exponential growth past a certain point are not just environmental.

In a 1999 paper, Clive Hamilton, author of Growth Fetish, also drew a connection between growth past an optimum point, and social decline:

The problem is unemployment; only growth can create the jobs. Schools and hospitals are underfunded; the answer is faster growth. We can’t afford to protect the environment; the solution is more growth. Poverty is entrenched; growth will rescue the poor. Income distribution is unequal; the answer is more growth.

If the answer to the problem is always more growth then who dares ask the question:

What if the problems are caused by economic growth?

The most powerful way to ‘Flex the Citizen Muscle’ would be to go to the source of the symptoms.

In The Story of Change, Leonard rightly points out that ‘Living our values in small ways is a great place to start, but a terrible place to stop’ and that successful social change movements did not ‘tinker around the edges, they went to the heart of the problem – even when it means changing systems that don’t want to be changed.’

So while ‘The Story of’ movies have been a great start in stimulating debate and engaging people, it would be truly groundbreaking to see a movie about ‘The Story of Growth’ – to tackle the issue that goes right into the DNA of the political economy which delivers us the things the Story of Stuff Project has documented so far.

What ‘Story of’ movie would you like to see next? Is there a particular issue you think would lend itself to the format?

In what kinds of ways can people ‘flex their citizen muscle’?

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Surviving Personal Attacks – A Guide for Change Agents

Bugs and Daffy from 'Rabbit Season/Duck Season' skit, with sign on tree altered to read 'Messenger Season'

Image credit: Up The Hammers/Warner Bros

By definition, change agents are ‘the messenger’ – and one thing change agents can be certain of is that as messengers, shots will be fired at them.

‘Shooting the messenger’ is considered a subdivision of an ad hominem attack, which is:

…insulting or belittling one’s opponent in order to attack his claim or invalidate his argument, but can also involve pointing out true character flaws or actions that are irrelevant to the opponent’s argument. This is logically fallacious because it relates to the opponent’s personal character, which has nothing to do with the logical merit of the opponent’s argument.

A lay term for ‘ad hominem‘ is ‘playing the man and not the ball’, an expression from various codes of football, where a player targets the body of the player with no intention of attempting to tackle to take possession of the ball.

It’s against the rules because players are supposed to be focused on the ball (the issue or debate in question), not taking out an opposing player (engaging in character assassination or ridicule intended to undermine an opponent’s position).

How should a change agent manage their response to messenger-shooting and/or an ad hominem attack?

Firstly, be aware of the nature of the response you receive. Even if you have become the target of hostility, be aware that it is your message, not you personally, that the person or group is reacting to. When people attack the person delivering the message instead of debating the issue raised by their message, they are reacting to someone placing them in a state of cognitive dissonance – or where their view of the world is suddenly interrupted and made uncomfortable by new information or ideas that conflicts with their established understanding and belief system. The reaction is because your message has clashed with an individual or group’s ‘belief grid’, or challenged values they hold dear.

Secondly, manage your own response. Like most human beings, your initial reaction to hostility is unlikely to be rational, as such an attack triggers ‘survival’ mode, bypassing the conscious mind and going straight to the ‘older’ parts of the brain. Physical reactions may include a racing heart, a surge of adrenaline, a flushed face, perhaps even shaking hands or voice. You may feel your temper rising, the need to defend yourself and your argument, or the overwhelming desire to sting the person who has stung you (how dare they!).

STOP.

First, make sure you listen to what the other person is saying – really listen, as the words they are speaking might not be exactly what they are reacting against, there may be a deeper issue. Reflect back to the person what you have heard for two reasons – to make sure you’ve understood them, and so that they know they have been heard, and that you’ve not been preparing a counter-argument while they’ve been speaking.

Often, a few moments of silence can work wonders to cool an inflamed situation. Pause before answering. Take a slow, deep breath.

Visualise a white light around yourself – allow yourself to be present, and respond, but without internalising hostile energy.

Ask strategic questions. Create effective conversations by being curious without being judgmental. Practice empathy.

small vial with a green potion labelled 'empathy'

Bottle label reads: ‘Empathy is the ability of blurring the line between self and other’

Image credit: Viralmente

Most of all, realise and accept that your role is to take the heat for being the bearer of change. It’s hard – hard when people arc up, hard when they’re attacking positions you yourself hold to be true, very hard when you’re being attacked personally and/or dismissively ‘shot down’, especially when someone has misinterpreted something you said. The most unbelievably frustrating scenario is when people are attacking something you didn’t even say!

Remember – amazing leaders would be found everywhere if it was easy!

Helpful resources Crux has discovered and recommends include:

Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through The Dangers of Leading by Harvard University’s Ronald A Heifetz and Marty Linsky includes guidance on ‘Anchoring Yourself’, ‘Holding Steady’/’Taking the Heat’ and ‘Controlling the Temperature’; some excerpts below:

When you take ‘personal’ attacks personally, you unwittingly conspire in one of the common ways you can be taken out of action – you make yourself the issue.

Adaptive work generates ‘heat’ and resistance, which present forms of danger to leaders…Learning to take the heat and receive people’s anger in a way that does not undermine your initiative is one of the toughest tasks of leadership.

Leadership takes the capacity to stomach hostility so that you can stay connected to people…Receiving anger is a sacred task, because it tests us in our most sensitive places. It demands that we remain true to a purpose beyond ourselves, and stand by people compassionately, even when they unleash demons. Taking the heat with grace communicates respect for the pains of change.

It’s a deep and natural human impulse to seek order and calm, and organizations and communities can only tolerate so much distress before recoiling. Raise the heat enough to that people sit up, pay attention and deal with threats/challenges – no distress means no incentive for change. But lower the temperature when necessary to reduce counterproductive tension.

The book also makes the point that you may also be facing resistance from friends and allies, as well as those opposing you – people who want you to calm things down, not stir them up, because the upheaval has become uncomfortable for them. It also provides useful insights into other tactics often used to neutralise or marginalise those undertaking change work.

A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle – Tolle experienced a profound transformation aged 29 when he was on the verge of suicide, and heard himself saying ‘I can no longer live with myself’. This very statement enabled him to wonder ‘who is this self I cannot live with?’ and to begin to separate his egoic self from his true being. A New Earth examines the current collective and individual egoic state of humanity, and how a shift in consciousness is the evolutionary leap we need to make to survive. Here are some selected quotes from Tolle’s chapters on ego, which are highly relevant for the change agent:

Most people are so completely identified with the voice in the head – the incessant stream of involuntary and compulsive thinking and the emotions that accompany it – that we may describe them as being possessed by their mind. As long as you are completely unaware of this, you take the thinker to be who you are. This is the egoic mind…

The ego isn’t wrong; its just unconscious. When you observe the ego in yourself, you are beginning to go beyond it. Don’t take the ego too seriously. When you detect egoic behavior in yourself, smile…

Nonreaction to the ego in others is one of the most effective ways…of going beyond ego in yourself…but you can only be in a state of nonreaction if you can recognize someone’s behavior as coming from the ego…when you realize its not personal, there is no longer a compulsion to react as if it were…somebody becomes an enemy if you personalize the unconsciousness that is the ego. Non reaction is not weakness but strength…

All that is require to become free of the ego is to be aware of it, since awareness and ego are incompatible. Awareness is the power that is concealed within the present moment. This is why we may also call it Presence.

Please note, this is very much about the role of your own ego in any kind of exchange, as well as that of anyone you are engaging with. In the moment you become the target of an attack, the kind of reaction you may begin to feel manifesting is the ego in ‘damage repair mode’ – Tolle uses the example of road rage, the abuse of other drivers with language and gesture. By definition, the attacks cannot be personal, as you do not know the others involved, but if you are on the receiving end of aggression, you are likely to have an emotional/instinctual reaction before your rational brain has even engaged.

Becoming aware of your reaction – ‘oh, it’s just the ego, going into damage repair mode’ – and being aware that ‘you’ are not your ego, can help you take a step back at a critical time and enable you to offer a considered, compassionate response instead of a kneejerk reaction.

The Lotus Leadership Guide provides a succinct summary of nine essential leadership capacities. They are all important, but perhaps the most critical ones for when the heat is on are:

Being Present means being fully aware and awake in the present moment – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This includes connecting to others, the environment around you and current reality.

Suspension and Letting Go is the ability to actively experience and observe a thought, assumption, judgment, habitual pattern, emotion or sensation like fear, confusion, conflict or desire, and then refraining from immediately reacting or responding to the situation.

Compassion is having unconditional acceptance and kindness toward all the dimensions of oneself and others, regardless of circumstance. Compassion involves the ability to reflect upon oneself and others without judgment, but with recognition and trust that others are doing the best they can in any given situation.

If you have practiced yoga, or if you meditate, you might already be aware of ‘becoming the witness’ – consciously becoming a detached observer of your own thoughts, letting them come, noticing them, letting them go, without judgment or attachment. It is this technique that both Tolle and the Lotus guide are referring to when separating from one’s ego (being aware of one’s own thoughts), and practicing suspension and letting go.

Leadership and change involves being prepared to take some heat. While nothing replaces the baptism of fire of a real situation, investing some effort into creating an ’emotional hazmat suit’ is well worth the time and an effective way of developing your leadership skills.

And with practice, you won’t merely survive ad hominem attacks, you’ll be able to turn a conversation around from what could have been a potentially destructive situation, and instead create a positive, empowering space for everyone involved.

Have you ever been attacked personally and publicly for breaching a taboo, or saying something that went against what appeared to be the general consensus of a group? How did it feel? How did you handle it?

What tactics have you developed to allow yourself to speak out, without internalising or reacting to others’ anger, frustration or fear? 

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Cultivating Story Fields

Have you ever tried to plant a seed, and not managed to get your fruit, flower, tree or vegetable to grow?

Now, there may be nothing at all wrong with that seed – but perhaps the soil conditions weren’t right.

So it is with creating change.

Your idea, your seed of change, may be designed to bear fruit that will benefit the world, but if you can’t get it to ‘stick’ long enough for it to take root and grow, it will die.

cracked, dry earth

Image Credit: Texas A&M University

Before attempting to sow seeds of change, you might want to consider whether the receiving environment has the right ‘soil conditions’.

If the situation you are entering or operating in is affected by the cultural equivalent of poor soil structure or a prolonged drought, its going to be a lot harder to get uptake of your initiative, or for it to ‘stick’ without you being around.

The notion that people, if given good information, will draw the ‘correct’ conclusions AND make the logical, rational decision, AND then change their behaviour accordingly is largely misplaced, and often results in a massive waste of time and money – yet it continues to be the basis of many efforts by organisations, particularly public campaigns of governments. It is akin to throwing paint at a teflon-coated wall and wondering why the colour doesn’t change.

Fortunately, we’re now more aware than ever that, although our logic, our science and our data is critical, it is stories that have the power of emotional transformation, and which are enduring means of cultural transmission.

Text image: 'there are two ways to share knowledge: you can PUSH information out or you can PULL them in with story'

Image Credit: Landor Unleash

‘Stories’ in this sense means the stories we tell ourselves, our cultural myths, which reflect our assumptions about the world. These stories are underlying and often unconscious forces that profoundly influence identity, shaping collective and individual behaviour.

The concept of the ‘noosphere’ – from the Greek nous ‘mind’ and  sphaira ‘sphere’, or the sphere of human thought – has been around nearly 100 years. It suggests that just as the Earth has a hydrosphere (the mass of water found on, over and under the planet), an atmosphere (dynamic system of gases, including nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide that envelope the planet) and a lithosphere (the outer crust of the planet and tectonic plates), there may be a collective planetary ‘thought field’:

…the noosphere is the third in a succession of phases of development of the Earth, after the geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (biological life). Just as the emergence of life fundamentally transformed the geosphere, the emergence of human cognition fundamentally transforms the biosphere.

Other theories are that there is a ‘psi bank’, ‘a magnetic memory field around the Earth that is influencing biological evolution’.

If this ‘noosphere’ is a kind of soup of our collective conscious and unconscious thoughts, could changing the stories in that thought field help to create the right ‘soil conditions’ for change?

Tom Atlee, director of the Co-Intelligence Institute and an organiser of the 2007 ‘Story Fields’ conference held in Colorado, USA, describes stories and their role in cultural change:

Stories (and even individual parts of stories) have a resonant, alchemical relationship with the way we experience life. A narrative or a role-model, for example, can act as a magnet aligning our awareness, beliefs or lives into congruence with its pattern.

A story field is:

a particularly powerful field of influence
generated by a story or,
more often, by a coherent battery
of mutually-reinforcing stories
— myths, news, soap operas, lives, memories, games —
and story elements
— roles, plots, themes, metaphors, goals, images, events, archetypes —
that co-habit and resonate
within our individual and/or collective psyches.

A story field ubiquitously frames what is real, acceptable, and possible,
and directly shapes our lives and our world,
often without our even being aware of its influence.

A story field paints a particular picture of how life is or should be, and shapes the life within its range into its image.

Psychological, organizational or social transformation is usually preceded or accompanied by a change in the story field governing that system. It is therefore usually non-productive to try to change forms and habits without changing the story fields that hold them in place. Once the story field is changed, subsidiary patterns tend to realign rapidly.

Atlee gives the example of Gandhi as someone who effected change by changing the ‘story field’:

For several decades Gandhi inspired millions of poor Indians to step out of their story field of victimhood into a new story field that cast them as heroic nonviolent architects of their own fate – a story field that was reinforced with new stories generated by each victory in their unique campaign for independence.

What is missing for sustainability, and why it may be difficult for people to see disparate ‘bits’ of sustainability in context, is the lack of an overarching narrative, the story of the ‘project’ of our era.

In relation to sustainability, thinkers, writers and activists such as David Korten and Joanna Macy speak of ‘The Great Turning’ which Macy defines as follows:

The Great Turning is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. The ecological and social crises we face are inflamed by an economic system dependent on accelerating growth…A revolution is underway because people are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world.

This might all seem a bit ‘meta’ to folks working at the coalface of day to day life, trying to manage upward in an organisation, or ‘herding cats’ in trying to effect behaviour change, but consider this: what impact does, for example, a cultural myth of limitless growth and limitless resources have, from macro economic and political policy making and investment risk assessments all the way down to whether people consider it important to recycle cans, bottles and cardboard?

So how does one cultivate a story field, exactly?

Atlee’s suggested strategies for how to cultivate positive story fields capable of shaping a new culture include:

– networking like-minded people, organizations, activities, and resources to deepen and spread the emerging worldview.

– engaging ordinary people and targeted populations in telling their stories and visions in an effort to understand how their individual experiences and dreams reflect larger social issues, dynamics and possibilities – in ways that empower them to actively engage with those issues, dynamics and possibilities.

– Imagineering which uses imaginative narrative to realize, create, or catalyze in real life the potentials we are imagining – especially applying it as a networking and organizing tool.

– Possibility Journalism that explores the creative edge of society where experiments and visionaries abound, reporting on people’s active inquiries and possibilities and the energies and motivations that exist on the ever-emerging verge.

In terms of specific the skills and abilities that comprise ‘narrative intelligence’ – ‘the ability (or tendency) to perceive, know, think, feel, explain one’s experience and influence reality through the use of stories and narrative forms’ – Atlee includes:

– the ability and tendency to organize experience and ideas using stories and narrative patterns (an excellent example of this is the use of myth, which defines and discusses concepts – such as archetypes – in narrative form)

– the tendency to understand things better when they are presented in the form of a story (and sometimes to have trouble understanding things when they aren’t presented as stories

– curiosity about the stories behind things, and an ability to investigate such stories

– a tendency to make up stories, plausible or fantastic, to illustrate a point

– the ability to maintain a repertoire of stories (real and imaginary) to convey meanings; the ability to access that repertoire

– resonance with the stories of others; the ability to see another’s viewpoint when presented with the stories which underlie or embody that viewpoint

– the ability to discover themes in the events of a life or story

– the ability to recognize (or select) certain elements as significant, as embodying certain meanings that ‘make sense of things’

There’s no point throwing sustainability seeds on fallow ground. The right ‘soil conditions’ need to be present.

As David Korten says: ‘To change the human course, change the stories that define the culture.’

Cultivating story fields – through Atlee’s approaches, through conversation, through visual stories, through asking strategic questions – can help create a good soil structure with the right nutrients.

What ‘story fields’ are you aware of where you are trying to create change?

What stories are we telling? Which ones should we challenge? How should we reframe them?

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