Spaciousness of “Negative Capability”

John Keats, English Romantic Poet, wrote about “negative capability” in a letter to his brothers George and Thomas in 1871 when he was 22 years old. I read this letter nearly a century later when I was 22, an undergraduate majoring in English literature. I understand this oxymoronically-named ability today in ways I could not have then. As circumstances at work and in our lives become ever more complex, negative capability might be one of … Read more…

Shifting from Pieces and Parts to Wholes

When tackling a problem, it’s easier to analyze its pieces and parts and try to solve them one by one than it is to try and understand the whole situation or system. However, this approach rarely works because analyzing the parts does not help us understand how the system in which the problem is embedded works nor how it keeps the problem you want to solve in place. Systems thinking, on the other hand, seeks … Read more…

Systems Thinking for an Interconnected World

Are you trying to tackle a problem that, despite everyone’s best efforts, does not go away? Are you trying to optimize your part of an organization without considering the impact on the system as a whole because it seems too complicated or too effortful to do otherwise? Are you afraid your short-term efforts might undermine your intention to solve a problem in the long-term? Are a number of groups working on the same issue at … Read more…

Are We Stuck at a Cognitive Threshold?

The complexity of issues facing us is outstripping our ability to understand and solve them. Governmental institutions spin on gerbil wheels of outmoded, linear processes and procedures, attempting to tackle issues with multiple, inter-connected parts one part at a time. This is as true in the United States Congress as it is in state legislatures and city councils. In the world of business, economic considerations (i.e., profit), trumps all other criteria in determining whether or … Read more…

Change the Brain for Good: Pay Attention

This entry on attention is the fourth in a five-part series. The series describes what we know about the impact of contemplative practice on the human brain and the relevance of these findings to doing meaningful work in groups. The first entry introduces this series and describes the impact of meditation on whether we can respond effectively to disturbing events instead of reacting to them. The second entry investigates resilience and the third considers empathy and compassion. Attention is a limited … Read more…

Change the Brain for Good: Resilience 

This entry on resilience is the second in a five-part series. The series describes what we know about the impact of contemplative practice on the human brain and the relevance of these findings to doing meaningful work in groups. The first entry introduces this series and describes the impact of meditation on whether we can respond effectively to disturbing events instead of reacting to them. Over forty years ago, I started dabbling with meditation because I … Read more…

The Best Seat Is Often In The Balcony

In a recent conversation with a close friend I noticed I was getting angry and decided to “go to the balcony”* so I could avoid blurting out something I would later regret. This helped me take a broader view of what was actually going on and remember how important this friend is to me. “Going to the balcony”—as if you were looking down on an interaction from the distance of a balcony—can change your perspective … Read more…

I Get Scared When…

When do you get scared in conversations or meetings? You might call it “challenged,” “anxious,” or “threatened.” However, underneath our adult bravado, it remains what we called it as children: “scared.” Here’s how a few of the 50 consultants at a talk I gave last week at the Silicon Valley Organization Development Network completed this sentence: “I get scared when…” — “I think someone is angry with me and his or her voice escalates. I’m … Read more…

Good Conversation Is An Inside Job

A good friend and colleague told me recently how reading my book, Talk Matters!, inspired him to reflect on his inner workings and how he interacts with others in his various roles as an experienced manager and member of several boards. I, of course, appreciated his taking my words to heart. It also got me to thinking that the essence of good conversation might primarily be an inside job. Despite years of teaching communication and … Read more…

Returning to the Present Moment

This spring, the water in Murray Canyon* is higher and faster than I have ever seen it. Heavy rains have washed parts of the trail away. To reach Seven Sisters Waterfall you need to follow a trail that goes from one side of the creek to the other. This entails crossing the creek multiple times on rocks or forging through the cold water rushing down from snow capped mountains. Either way, over the rocks or … Read more…