"I started taking notes at the beginning of the course, and I think I hit Page 34 of single-space notes by our final session!  I had 4 major learnings:  

  1. Verbalize tensions in the room: In a large-scale collaboration, there will be people in the room who don't trust each other. Some may be sworn enemies! Instead of glossing over tensions and differences in values, talk openly about them. Write them down so everyone can see them. For example, some people put a lot of value in personal decision making … what we might call a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” value set. Others emphasize the need for systemic support, as not everyone has equal access to tools to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. By shedding light on differences in values, we can appreciate another point of view. They become values to create with (‘creative tensions’) as opposed to values in opposition of each other. 

  1. While setting goals, state what’s in the focus of your goal vs what’s in the frame: This is a great tool to help make an ambitious goal actionable; and helps to protect the goal setters from misaligned expectations. Because there’s always pressure to solve bigger issues, it’s possible that a goal can be too broad from the onset, which ends up crippling the team trying to wrangle a monster goal. By identifying the focus vs the frame, systems change groups can set impressive goals without trying to “boil the ocean.” This means we can still set audacious goals together without losing ‘focus’. 

  1. Introduce diverging thinking (brainstorming more ideas, iterating, creating permutations) and converging (evaluating ideas, narrowing down, deciding on a path)  as key intentional processes in collaboration and for facilitating groups through the ‘groan zone’ where you can feel the tension in the group between wanting to explore and understand in more depth while also wanting to focus, prioritize, and move to solutions and action. 

  1. Even though the course focuses on co-creation that supports transformational systems change, not every problem needs—or even should—be approached through co-creation. Sometimes, it’s okay that certain decision-makers make decisions on behalf of others. For example, my grocery store’s decision to enforce a mask-wearing policy during the pandemic is a decision that was not—and did not need to be—informed by gathering a diverse group of stakeholders, hosting empathy interviews, mapping systems, prototyping solutions, etc. Real systems change is a huge undertaking that is resource-intensive and requires collaboration. And while it sounds nice to label big decisions as resulting from true collaboration, you run the risk of discrediting your movement and coming off as disingenuous if you didn’t  use  truly co-creative approach.  

At the heart of all those learnings is, in my opinion, radical honesty. And that’s so different from the virtue signaling we see these days. Sometimes it takes asking really tough questions like “Am I really pursuing systems change, or do I want to say I’m pursuing systems change in order to make myself and my organization look good?”. We need to ultimately build trusting groups that can  pierce through the niceness and get to those honest conversations together.  

It takes courage to do that. I have a new level of respect for leaders who have the courage to bring together diverse stakeholders to have those honest conversations.