Idea Dancing & Pebbles from Heaven:

Reflections on Tamarack’s 2010 CCI Conference

This article is published in the current edition of Engage. Lots of good stuff there.

I assess the success of a conference in terms of how it challenges my ideas and practices; fosters the exchange of questions and perspectives; and, as John Ott would say, “welcomes all that arises.” Reflecting on the 2010 Communities Collaborating Institute I would say, “Bravo Tamarack and all of us who participated in creating success.”

All of the keynote speakers shared ideas that did not stand alone but rather danced together. In the short time since, I have used Thomas Homer-Dixon’s ideas about how biases create resistance to change and had them dancing with John Ott’s ideas about creating collective wisdom, in particular John’s call to suspend certainty and welcome diversity.

I am sure those two gentleman can see their ideas dancing with Brenda Zimmerman’s clear and helpful ideas about how to work with simple, complicated, and complex challenges or problems. Most of us work with complexity and she reminded me to ward off my natural tendency to seek simple answer-recipes or think that I can discern solutions by simply breaking things into their parts. It was Thomas who said “complex problems require complex solutions.”

Anne Kubisch and Mark Chamberlain reminded us of progress but also to be real about the work ahead and how sitting on our laurels won’t move us to further innovations and transformations. Mark asked us a “wicked question” (a term offered up by Brenda). He asked us how much more information do we need to know that a hungry child will not do well in school? His message: stop admiring the problem and get on with the work!

“Pebbles from heaven” is a Zen phrase that speaks of small gems that come at us. Small insights, a piece of an idea, a fragment of a question, a phrase someone said, and so on. The Zen notion is that by themselves these pebbles have limited impact, but collectively over time, they move our minds to new places. Hmm, sounds like collective wisdom.

I have to admit my head was a bit sore from all the pebbles. I have to say there were a few very big pebbles – I think they may have been rocks – that caused more than a little discomfort. Not because they represented something bad or wrong, but because I experienced new ideas and voices that would have me face who I am, what I believe, and what I aspire to do and challenge myself to change far more than I can all by myself. Many thanks for that.

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