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NeXtwork Partners

What's Next?

NeXtwork Partners, LLC is a michigan-based hybrid consulting company founded as a container for the next work of Lisa Connors, a bit of a hybrid herself. Lisa and her partner clients and colleagues create a culture of care wherever they work, and from this ground assess, design, facilitate, ideate, co-create the answers to what's next?

To explore Where You Are Now, What is Possible, and What's Next with Lisa or one of her partners, please connect with us by e-mail or phone. Or begin with the Get Clear Form

Activist of Hearts and Minds

What do you do? The question natters at us like a plague of mosquitos, the buzz in our ears, needling our skin. The mosquito trusts it will get what it needs without a pithy marketing blurb, a title or precise definition why can’t you? We gripe and lament. Get a group of “OD Consultants” together, with or without wine, and eventually the conversation will turn to that elusive creature, the short answer to what we do. Oh how we long for a second-grade-simple response: Fireman, nurse, lion tamer. Well I write to you today, dear blog and fellow colleagues (clients, friends, accidental web tourists), I have found mine. Eureka! And while tempting, I really don’t plan to take out a trademark, or research if you have already claimed it as your own.

 

Ask me again. “What do you do?” Why thank you for asking, curious because just this morning it came to me on my drive to facilitate a retreat for the fine board members of Detroit’s stellar publication B.L.A.C. Magazine. “I like to think of myself as an Activist of Hearts and Minds”, I say, cool as can be. Like I’ve had boxes of T-shirts printed up with this on the back, my face on the front, and have been passing them out for decades. They’ve become a hot ticket on E-bay, I muse.

 

“Ooooo I like that!” One says, and another writes it down. I laugh, “You can borrow it.” Proud for a minute. That I bagged the sleek creature of this few words wrangled together to describe exactly just what I do, or strive for at least, yes, but more so as I looked around the room at the six people arrayed, who have done so much more than I to bolster and build the Detroit region into a stronger version of itself every day, and was able to say “I am helping too.”

 

We had breakfast together and, while we ate fresh fruit and and tomatoes and turkey bacon from sturdy white plates, told the story in turns of the history of B.L.A.C., starting first with the most tenured member and inceptor of the magazine, welcoming each person’s contribution as they stepped into the timeline: Laughing and gasping as memories and people long-forgotten streamed into the room. We spent the better part of the day drawing the line forward, imagined what the entity, aged fifteen this year, would whisper in their ears at age twenty-five. What had B.L.A.C. grown into? Where had it been and how did it show up in the world? Proud parents telling tales. And having dreamed BIG for this brilliant child they shared, focused on the hard work to nurture and grow the company, and the board itself, from here to there.

 

I may never walk a picket line. May never protest on the capital steps, burn my bra, administer vaccines to children in off-road villages. I am not one to petition but I have visions of all of these: Some life I lead in a parallel world, acting, doing things loud hard and gritty, making my difference. I leave the board retreat and smile as I pull into the street and drive three easy miles home. My questions, my presence, my plan for the day were not loud, hard nor gritty, but make a difference it did, and will continue to do so as the hearts and minds of these folks are recharged and refocused on the work that they do. And I am off to light the next fire and start the next conversation that changes the world.

Conversation Doesn't Sell

The room was always dim when we arrived. Evening, but still it was the kind of room that was dim in the daytime and grew darker from there. The whole place wore shades of dark brown. I moved through the stew of heat and damp igniting the few cast-off lamps, lanky and crooked in the corners; cranked windows open inviting the slightly cooler air outside to squeeze through the old screens, clotted with decades of dust and a fine patina of rust, to join us. Please. The whine and rush of traffic rattled the frames; part of the bargain I cut with the air. Other than this buzzing intrusion we enjoyed the illusion of being at camp. Once a month. The last Tuesday, easy to remember and manage, though it excluded some who would be here. Other commitments. It was free to come. Optional. Volunteer.

 

The six or eight or nine others who made this conversation the one very most important thing they could choose on this last Tuesday of this month step over the threshold, push against the achy sprung doorframe with one hand, cradle a dish to pass with the other and let the space we have created start to strip off the sodden scratchy layers of worry and stress, task lists and rancorous bosses and sons, hanging them on the hooks on the walls. They watch us from their posts through the night, pissed-off to wait at the door. After some light chatting and eating from dishes to pass, we each choose a chair or part of a couch and locate our selves in this circle. One of us lights a candle or two on the low table in the middle, scattering the wet drops of darkness held at bay just behind us, instincts drawing us to the flames. With the last scraps of mundane day-to-day of our lives lying amongst the half-eaten dishes, we fall into silence and breathe. Deep. Some of us for the first time all week, all month, since we sat here last. We have been holding our breath and waiting for this night to come and invite us to be just ourselves, heard, respected, and un-judged, sitting with other humans in a conversation that matters. A happening so rare for each of us here, so rare and so nourishing, profound and renewing that we choose it over everything, everything, everything else on this Tuesday.

 

We begin. The question we pass from hand to hand, turning it over, feeling its weight and shape in this moment: What does it mean, what does it take to be a life-affirming leader, now, today? Everyday? There are so many ways to ask this question, so many ways we do and don’t live into the potential we each have for this role it takes two years of last Tuesdays for our conversation to wind down. With a ritual bonfire and more dishes to pass we celebrate the experience and thank one another. Saying goodbye for now. Some people couldn’t be here. Over the years many have come and gone. A week or so after the bonfire, I got an e-mail from one. She had moved across the country not so long ago, alerting one of us to her absence from then on. I don’t remember, maybe it was me that she told. I wouldn’t miss her, most of us wouldn’t if we were truth-telling, but we held ourselves from this kind of talk. Practiced non-judgment as best we could in the space we had created together. She irritated me. Challenged me mightily to listen and take her in. I was relieved on the nights she didn’t come with her too-sharp comments, questions that left me accused of something I couldn’t name and potluck dishes laced with pessimism that sat in my stomach and roiled. I told myself she was in my life, this circle for a reason, but I couldn’t see it and didn’t try very hard.

 

Reading her e-mail I remembered how she sometimes complained while we ate that the group didn’t get together other than the Tuesday nights. Didn’t call one another, or come to be friends. She was clearly perturbed and I kept to myself what must not have been obvious to her. Most of us were friends outside. Called and cared about the day-to-day, the rancorous bosses and sons. Shame tasted like bile as I read. She thanked me. Thanked the group for her life. During our period together, she wrote, she had been deeply depressed. Suicidal. Only the Tuesday night group, the looking forward to it, the space, the conversation kept her alive. She thanked me. She thanked us and I cried.

 

Being with her, holding the rim and holding my tongue had been the hardest work as a leader I had ever done. But I did it. We all did. And it mattered. In the end, she saved her own life. Made the choices she needed to make, walked toward the life she could have. In the end, a group I led in a retreat - the staff of a small family owned business in transition - said what needed to be said to face down meanness among them and grief for a past that they loved. In the end, a gang of hot-headed young engineers way into blaming their behemoth-procedure-skinned-employer for all of their troubles, declared themselves the problem, not the procedures, and made a list of things they could do. In the end, visions of the future have arisen like castles out of the mist, radical innovations dropped from the sky like a gift, confessions of offenses long held secret inspired long afternoons of reciprocation and repair. All of it in circles of conversation.

 

Our hypothesis to test, the heart of this experiment in virtual conversation between Rox and me, is “Conversation Doesn’t Sell.” You can’t build a business with conversation at its core, you have to hide it behind doors with clever names, trademarked models and phrases, and results guarantees. Why? Because clients don’t care about the method we use to get them what they need in the end, I profess. They don’t want TALK. They just want the new product, the better team, the strategy that wins every game. But you see, the method is everything.  Conversation IS the thing which, in the end, coaxes us, oysters, to run our wet tongues over one grain of sand, building layers of rough and sheen in the passing to produce the pearl we offer on the last Tuesday of the month. And together, we string the pearls in a circle we wear out in the world to help us be responsible, creative, courageous and kind. Helps us save our own lives. Conversations that matter, in the end, aren’t easy. They are rare because we as a people are way out of practice, perhaps never learned to make pearls out of sand.

 

Conversation doesn’t sell. I stand firm in my oath, spat in frustration at a world that needs conversations that matter more than lean manufacturing or value-stream management or ICD-10 coding training for which they paid billions last year. I stand here and ask you to prove me wrong. Accept this invitation to stop traffic, walk up the grassy rise and break through the rust-clotted screen to the circle of conversations just waiting for the chitchat and potluck to be done.

Re-authoring the World...

Chene and I met yesterday. A lesson in delayed gratification, no coincidences, letting things unfold as they will. Our web of acquaintances converged in several spots, all at once..."have you met Chene?", "have you met Lisa?". You really need to meet one another. This all last Fall. Spring for her. We live on opposite ends of the world. North America. South Africa. And so finally, just in time, thanks to the modern wonders of Skype, we met. 

In less than an hour we had shared enough of our stories to know we had not only been chosen for one another by others, but now chose each other. Common vision for the world and the work, common language and practices to build with, and enough different to make it really interesting, new and exciting. You can read more about what we are up to together - re-authoring the world, re-storying Womanity, if you are inclined.

And here is the other thing. We got to choose, and it was easy. This is rare. Christina Baldwin describes this notion in The Seven Whispers... We live in neighborhoods and in nations, and work in departments and teams and organizations with people not of our choosing. They are not 'our people'. Meaning we didn't grow up with them necessarily, in that "you'd better be good because I know your mother" kind of way. Part of the hard work we must do then is to make an effort to get to know one another, and let others know us in deep enough ways to matter and connect across all of that difference and unknowing. To be willing and able to call one another to 'be good', to be our better selves because we are in this together and we are sharing resources vital to our living and livelihoods. A paycheck. Clean air and water. We might not be family, but we must be a tribe.

So here is the 're-authoring the world' challenge of the day. Choose someone you share life/workspace with, who you see as 'other', and have some story going about - "...so and so is insensitive, an idiot, weird, scary, lazy, too loud..." - now set that story down. Write it on paper, then tear it up or burn it in a little fire. Now start a conversation from a place of curiosity with that 'other' person. What's their story? What will you share about yours? What do each of you need and contribute to the tribe? Be ready to be surprised, and if it isn't easy, so be it. Things worth having rarely are.

copyright 2015 | NeXtwork Partners, LLC