I am off to Indianapolis, Indiana, this week to move a collaborative writing project into its final stages. Over the past five years, seven colleagues, including our much larger Socio-Technical Systems Roundtable community, conducted action research (STS-RT Discovery Process), which we are now culminating into a book. The contents of the action research and book relate to newly emerging theory and practice in designing humane organizations and communities.
Enough about the content. For now, I am more interested in discussing the process of researching (Austrom et al. 2012) and writing virtually and collaboratively. First off, it is not for the faint of heart or the impatient. Over the past three years, the co-authors and I met virtually (bi-weekly) and face-to-face (f2f) two or three times yearly. Because the RT is an international network ecosystem of theorists and practitioners, social networking tools like Google Drive & Chrome, Dropbox, iCloud, Skype and FreeConference are now our daily workhorses and saved us considerable development dollars in the process of conveying information. However, when a community commits to going global, it must still meet f2f to transform the conveyed information into usable knowledge and wise courses of action. In our f2f writing labs, the act is one of creating this convergence through dialogues, decisions and new designs. Beyond information sharing, any collaboration to create new theory, practice and experience requires face time to work through individual assumptions and experiences. The understandings and decisions surfacing from these dialogues can then be weaved into a shared sense of purpose and operating principles, which lay the foundation for generating new knowledge.
For those of you who co-facilitate research or co-author books in real time, that is f2f, you recognize the effort required to listen in order to appreciate the reward of integrated intelligences. Frankly, you must really love the synergy of bringing diverse perspectives into a unique and shared creation. Your relationship skills are fully taxed, no matter how expert you may be in this arena. Of course, it is always more challenging to let go of one’s own inspirational ideas as well as defensive habits than to encourage others to do so. The balancing act between effective relationship development and efficient content development is keenly obvious. As in any teamwork, when one (task) out weighs the other (relationship), balance must be regained. In essence, this balancing act is the true wisdom of collaborative transformational development. As Rumi so eloquently states below, our ability to put judgment aside and trust the arrival of ‘new guests’ into our experience, no matter what face they portray, will lead us to truth.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Rumi (1207–1273 C.E.)
What truth have you been ignoring because of its “dark face?” What one action can you take right here, right now to honour this truth?
Austrom, D., Barrett, B., Merck, B., Painter, B., Posey, P. & Tenkasi, R. 2012. How Virtual is Virtual: Designing for Distributed Work in Research & Development. Presentation by VOSS team at STS-RT Canterbury, September.