Generative Scribing

201606_USchoolEcology_rev

We trip and climb our way through the weeds of societal transformation, facing intertwining threads of sorrow and possibility, to ascend.

At a recent u.school ecology gathering outside Berlin – immersed in a community of global stewards of change – i faced an inner struggle to access true “will.” This was not caused by fear, but by despair; making a few inky marks over a small two-day span seemed like a futile effort to positively touch what was going on in the world.

I had landed with a heaviness from the current state of affairs in my country (the US) – mind-boggling inequality, a political circus, the Orlando massacre… among much else – to the morning news of Brexit and again-tumbling markets. A foggy, heated, 94°F landing.

Knowing these u-drawings have their own ripple effect, though, i also felt real responsibility to get out of my own way to open up, to be OF. i KNEW that the only way to honor the moment was to dive in, to scale down, to connect with the most internal and universal place i could access (a place some call Source) and from Source, make sense and draw.

Here’s the tale of the unfolding then… another drawing, another unravel. This will be in part about the actual content of the session, but more so about the drawing process itself, addressing the thinking that is behind/below the visual forms people receive as end results.

INSPIRATION – MAPPINGDIVING – LETTING GOGENERATIVE SCRIBING

INSPIRATION

Earlier this year, I had seen an exhibit of Aboriginal art at the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City, and was stunned into silence at the communally derived, cultural storytelling. Large expanse of sequential dots, lines, pure earth-pigment hues. Natural. Raw. Direct. Pure.

Aboriginal Art
Wolpa Wanambi painting Marrakulu Miny’tji, 1996

The marks pulsed with the integrity of nature, spirit straight through the application of paint, carefully applied shapes and patterns.

This prompted me to wonder: How abstract can we go with scribing? How far can we push the comprehensive limits of systems, and our own limits, to shift the place of understanding? Can scribing also generate a powerful vibrational field that transcends the literality of the words?

To date, i’ve aimed in my visual practice to synthesize threads of content into one, or a series of, encapsulating pictures. It’s been an integrative approach, to surface and reveal unnamed coherence, wholeness. In a way, it’s been the opposite of storytelling, which i have interpreted as the sharing of known, existing data, in linear flow. But what if scribing could embody, in straightforward terms, the dimensionality of past, present, and future into a larger timelessness, at once? 

Arriving in Berlin with such sadness, though, I lacked courage to attempt this kind of breadth. “Why bother?” Hot air sat on my skin like current events crushed at my heart. My gloom held back the spirit to create, reinforcing my bleakness. I genuinely wondered: How can I rise the self, to rise the tone of our times?

Cirlce_2

I sat in the empty space, the circle arranged and waiting, wall large – larger than I remembered – with black folded paper carried from Boston on the floor, unfolded, map like. And then something shifted…

MAPPING

I recalled a night sailing on the ocean with my dad and brother, with charts, but with no land in site – cold, rolling waters, impenetrable indigo through which the boat somehow cut. For a while we had no radio (or so i remember) and no clarity of a possible storm headed our way. But Dad could always navigate in fog (though that night skies were crisp) and he has always trusted his ability to accurately read conditions to guide the boat. Aside from a near-encounter with a fishing vessel, approached more out of curiosity than lost wandering, we were fine.

From my journal on that trip in August 2014:

Tack – alignment of a sailing vessel with respect to the currents below and wind above
On structures and mental models and on trends
we determine the most helpful facilitation TACK…

The role of a scribe is to craft maps that aid with tacking. Google defines the verb “tack” as to “change course by turning a boat’s head into and through the wind.” And further tack, the noun: “a small, sharp, broad-headed nail,” and “a long stitch used to fasten fabrics together temporarily, prior to permanent sewing.” All these meanings make sense!

So with this in mind, by leaving the creases of the paper intact, i sought to evoke a map. This would offer a reference to action (what to DO with information in a drawing) as informed by structure (the mental ordering and representation of things) derived from Source (deeper, natural dimensions like wind and currents.)

Header_u.lab_x0_v6

DIVING

“We are growing together what belongs together,” said Otto (Scharmer) over our first dinner. He continued: “Matt Damon recently quoted Bill Clinton, ‘Turn towards the problem you see; you have to engage.’ This applies especially in moments of disruption. How do we engage with reality? We have to step in…” He proceeded through the arc of Absencing:

Absencing

“Why is fear such a thriving business? Three unaddressed structural problems: 1) Inequity – drives desperation 2) Lack of democracy paired with dialogue / public debate, and 3) Inspiring purpose and vision in deeper levels of humanity.”

This, the fog we now face. The call for all visual practitioners working in the territory of Presencing? Create visual structures to aid in navigating disconnects. This thinking set in motion the theme of the main drawing, which was scaling down, quieting, going inside…. to scale up, to reorient.

After dinner i finally hung the paper (procrastinating, or waiting for what felt right, all day…) realizing it had to be fixed from above, trailing down, free at the bottom to crinkle in a breeze. The sober, looming verticality draped as an unintentional ode to Mikus, Martin, Rothko, and even the Holocaust Memorial, tombstones, and death. And, with this, genuine ending and beginning. It was not an arbitrary choice of material or hanging. It was the first gesture of the drawing itself.

Another initial gesture, choosing to extract and highlight the tree from the final December 2015 u.lab image. Each drawing ends with a lead into the next…

Hanging_02

u.lab_SocialFields

Headlines from the following Saturday morning’s session, linking back to that previous picture:

“What is our plow? Cultivating the quality of relationship in the social field. Without this, nothing significant can be accomplished… We turn the camera, the mirror, back on planet self, including our relationships, and back on planet earth… u.school is an aspiration, a “flip”, and activation of connection of seeds…” – OS

More time together, more insights from the group. A sampling of themes (in no order):

  • Compassion “Nurture the great potential.”
  • Structure “Bottom up…”
  • Legacy “To transcend, connect internal journey to external work.”
  • Place “How do i step in?”
  • Impact “The impact is in the black space between the stars – in the space we cannot see.”
  • Truth “Which are the hard truths that need to be said?”
  • Despair “As if the sky is falling down…”
  • Self “Who am i, truly, and what do i want to grow into that is unique?”
  • Intergenerations “We become bigger together.”
  • Ecology “What are supportive infrastructures to grow?”
  • Seeing “Current reality from a different perspective…”

As the session continued, in gaps and from my notes, I fleshed things out from the earlier starting point of the rough tree and iceberg. I drew very little – almost nothing – live, while people were talking. At this point it was clarifying that the “more known” was on the left panel, the “less known” was in the center, and the “unknown” on the right panel. “Social field” on the bottom. The “call” in the middle. “Facing reality” on top.

Wall_1_Sections

Sunday morning we were guided in an awareness practice by Arawana Hayashi, set up with a quote from Gaylon Ferguson’s book Natural Bravery“Here sacredness is another word for the good quality of our experience.” Arawana continued, “Seeing the goodness…. Every person wants a good life. Every person aspires…”

And with that, ascension seeded.

Our work, in the midst of it all, the “activation of the intelligence of the heart, in service of social change” and awakening, strengthening the trunk, enlivening the increasingly vibrant eco-system. “The gold of knowing is already in the soil and takes listening… Practice the listening to mine the gold of what we have, to make it more accessible.” – OS

Additional gems that did not make it into the wall but seem too good not to note:

  • “Are we showing up for what we need to show up for, and how do we know?”
  • “How do we thicken our narrative? Start bringing in stories from the edges.”
  • “The minimal organizing structure is not yet clear.”
  • “The absence of structure is still a decision about structure.”
  • (As bells chimed in the distance) “So the fire can come in and it can come in with care.”
  • “We can trust the heart to set the priorities.”
  • “Look close in and expand outwards.”
  • “We are what we measure. We are what we attend to.”
  • “Help people bring about real change by making an interior journey towards a new understanding of who they are in this world.”
  • And below, notes of a shared physical sculpture representing taking in, communicating out, and receiving back – a sort of breathing through the lungs/circulatory system. (This made it’s way to the far upper right of the drawing, the very final gesture.)

Breath

Overarching themes: turning the mirror back, the readiness for a stronger trunk (enabling conditions), the activation of the intelligence of the human heart, the difficulty of inversion of identity as we come to find a more current, appropriate form for ourselves, organizations, larger institutions, and even governments.

Random scribble to self: To not draw – to reserve the hand and the visuals – encourages group listening. (Less reliance on the scribe capturing everything…)

LETTING GO

Room

Folded

Once we had ended, i quickly pulled the paper off the walls, back to the floor, and folded them carefully, deciding each part needed to go home to a different region. The body, dispersed: left section to China, center to Brazil, and right section to Scotland. The blank? To Cambridge MA, for the next round. There is great relief in the removal of images and resetting of an environment – a staging for what’s to come – a cleansing of the palette.

Dream state: (Voice to text into phone in the dark) Monday morning 4:30 AM, in bed, thick, after the heated flow-through of past two days. I cannot sleep. I think this is a consequence of being plugged into the social field, the energy of this dynamic place and the people with whom I’ve shared the past three days. Tapping in to extract, I am swollen. There is a part of me that cannot deeply rest, which comes from a hesitancy of unplugging? Of course rest is required. I can no longer find order in my mind…

I woke. The team reflected. I made it home, wondering along the way (over three movies) about the non-necessity of this exhaustion. There has to be another way. But for now, this is as far as i have gotten on the “way”. Balance is faintly on the horizon, and elusive.

GENERATIVE SCRIBING

More than a mapping of the drawing itself, and more than the context that led up to the map, I am actually compelled to speak to generative scribing – scribing of and for the social body. My experience of this kind of work, where we operate from Source, is that it’s a process of heart-sensing into. Into.

It’s not circling, hovering over or about. It’s not counting the minutes until the person stops speaking and we can go home. It’s not staying comfortable with me-them. It’s not not caring.

It IS piercing through to something essential. Seeing clearly without fear of result or consequence of what comes forward. It requires trust in the complete blankness of things. It only can happen when the social body (a handful or thousands of people and energies) are committed to being together in place and time – and across place and time – to a joining.

It’s groping in the dark to find threads of hope, and coming back to the land of sense to get that out and up on a wall for others to witness.

It’s believing that any witness of the drawing is an active participant in the creation of the drawing. There is no “other”. There is a hand that holds a marker that arcs forward from an extended arm of an upright, physical body acting purely on behalf of the whole. I draw because we are.

It’s drawing to ease the challenge of societal inversion, in service of human awakening. As we fall, we rise. As we cascade, we ascend.

Invert_close

Awaken

Listening Applied

Had the good fortune to join the Creative Thinking and Organizational Success class of Harvard’s Summer School, where in a brief 90 minutes we explored listening to inform project design. The increased sharing, in a small practice window of just 20 minutes, was felt and named by most of ~35 visiting college students and and professionals in the room. We had fun!

Harvard_Summer

ReferencesTheory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges, Otto Scharmer, Berrett-Koehler, 2009. More from Otto on listening:

Motion Graphics for Just Banking

An opportunity for pure play in the land of iPad ‘motion graphics’ came my way via Just Money: Banking As If Society Mattered – a free course offered through MIT and edX. A huge thank you to Katrin Kaeufer and Lily Steponaitis for providing the wealth of knowledge we see here, based on years of research into leading-edge values-based banking.

Find below: 1) a gallery of ‘still’ images, 2) a playlist of the original motion graphics, and 3) a sampling of the final narrated videos (produced by the amazing MIT ODL team) that layer the graphics in narration.

There is SOOO much farther to go here…….  It’s been a labor of love for the sake of experimentation: blending art, technology, and learning.

Still Images

Motion Graphics

Narrated Videos: A Sampling

Unleash

Unleash_Wall_web

Last week, I had the good fortune of joining the Unleash team in Toronto for an inaugural event exploring new business approaches to meet an evolutionary purpose. The inspiration of the session was in part based this call: “How would it feel to work in an environment where everyone is working with joy, dignity, and expanding creativity? What if we could tap into the intrinsic motivation and deep search for meaning we have while also being profitable and highly effective? And what if there were different ways of organizing that would allow us to be more agile and responsive to help maximize our impact in the world?”

The session took place in the brand new Unleash space within Evergreen Brickworks, a “community environmental centre that inspires and equips visitors to live, work and play more sustainably.” We heard live drumming out the window, watched the trees of the Don Valley burst their first chartreuse leafy hellos, and gathered from far and wide into a circle of aspirational curiosity. It’s a rough and ready, high tech, light-filled room built for adaptive stretching of mind and soul, an arena for balanced play and care.

In being with such enthusiasm, exploring a ‘work & be’ future, i was acutely reminded of the span of my own career and the original ASE (Accelerated Solution Environments) network i was a small part of cultivating in the late 90’s – early 00’s. The original network of management centers, conceived and developed by MG Taylor in the 70’s, was eventually licensed as a series of nodes to Cap Gemini. Many of the centers around the world still thrive today; the processes and people that sprung forth and rooted – from and within these highly collaborative places – continue to transform ways of work within institutional, organizational and business contexts.

Back then, our small team had a seemingly endless, unbounded amount of energy to help something burst through, to shepherd in a new way of work, to release inner creativity of the individual in an applied context. Those ways hold up. The Value Web, among many other groups and individuals, carry the practice forward.

With an extremely similar spirit of ‘yes!’ Unleash takes it all further. Addressing the full HUMAN BEING, Unleash seeks to uncork possibility of applying true Self – in all it’s beaming and fault-line glory – in an increasingly conscious, evolving ‘eco-work’ landscape.

Connor Turland eloquently writes about Integrating Work and Wholeness, offering double dip into the very paradox we face when aiming to go deep within AND stretch far into the potential of a shared future. “A lesson I am taking away from today is that every moment in this collective process is a moment of sense-making. What makes sense for the group right now? What makes sense for the event right now? What makes sense for me right now?”

I am still making sense of the week. The drawing above is just one particle – an attempt to reflect a myriad of inputs in one place… a far from a complete representation of the spirit of the time we inhabited together.

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CiB5YVNVEAEW6yv

ChdgwQXU8AAbS9X

Some additional quick pics, taken by Robbie Ruuskanen, and one of the inspiring team itself. Rock on Unleash! May all goodness in the universe be your guide.

Steady, to Scale

Bird_SteadyToScale

 

Artists reflect their times through lenses that influence insight and action, in themselves and in others. In the face of truly great art, we find our spirits lifted, our views challenged, and sometimes our very foundation of understanding tectonically shifted. Art moves us, and our species evolves with this kind of internal stirring.

As visual practitioners, as artists, we aim with care and responsibility to reach people, to expand the boundaries of the assumed known. Any reach requires steadiness, and to ensure a stable core, we rely on support for our essential, creative selves.

Take the example of an apple tree: Weak branches yield little fruit. The stronger the trunk, the stronger the branch. The stronger the roots, the stronger the trunk. The richer the soil, the more nourishment for the roots and the fruit. And so on.

Scribing with an eye towards the orchard and the village beyond – with an intent to facilitate systems-level seeing – I experience a direct correlation between the steadiness of one’s being and the range of insight that visuals can summon.

This works in a reciprocal way, where we are both held in by others to experience integrity and wholeness, and because of this, we generate visuals as a holding device for learning within systems.

This kind of support is what I’ll refer to as “containers”, which we can consciously form by considering how we hold ourselves, how we help others energetically through the use of images, and also how we let ourselves be held.

More attention, stronger tree, healthier orchard. Less attention, the field goes fallow.

To inhabit this kind of reciprocal zone of tending / flourishing / nourishing, I’ll map out my thinking in three main parts:

  1. An explanation of containers,
  2. Thoughts on quality of presence and inner cultivation
  3. Two specific examples of practice where container intentionality directly influenced a scale of reach for the drawings and the content they carried.

Containers

As my grandmother was aging, at a point when she could really only go outside with a walker and physical assistance, I recall visits where we would lunch at a local NYC diner. She would ask me things about my life, about school, about my friends, about my studies, and she would marvel at the complexity of the world in which I lived. (This was 1984, so we can only imagine what she would say about our world today!)

What I recall most poignantly is the way she would pay attention, seeming to hang on every word, and the way she made me feel safe, and loved, loved no matter what I would say, no matter what I had to share. I never felt judged. No matter what she thought about the details of my escapades, she would listen closely, look me in the eye, and continue to pursue an understanding of my life.

She provided a container, a space where I could see myself more clearly and grow as direct result of how she was holding me.

When my grandmother, somewhat hard of hearing and surely with many of her own personal concerns, was completely able to show up for me, I was completely able to show up for her. I could be more vulnerable, because I felt safe. She brought out the purest part of me by how gracefully she held me in her own heart.

Drawing with Container Awareness

There exist depths, or phases, to containers that directly correlate with attention.

By listening with the following levels in mind, we can participate in a shift of awareness and possibility. Otto Scharmer[i] has described “Four Levels of Listening” that I apply here to the visual practice of scribing.

Bird_Four_Levels

At Level One, quoting Otto, we Download and listen to reconfirm what we already know. What we see is limited to our own projections, reflecting the past.”

In scribing, we draw what we hear, and it’s literal. Someone says “bird” and we draw a bird. I also refer to this as “object-oriented” scribing, where a focus on individual, named parts is the primary approach.

Level Two represents Factual Listening. We notice difference, and we notice disconfirming data.”

We see what is being spoken from a broader vantage point, and still draw what we hear, but our lens expands to make sense of what is being spoken within a context, which we can map. “The bird is flying, then it reaches the coast and joins a flock,” and we enter the domain of storytelling.

Level Three shifts to Empathic Listening, seeing the situation through the eyes of another, leading to emotional connection. Listening begins to happen from the Field, or from the other person with whom you are connecting.”

This is where containers start to really activate, where our own heart comes online as we step into the shoes of another–like my grandmother opened space to witness and feel out my shoes. We start to care, genuinely care, and we shift. What comes through us shifts. Our drawing shifts. (How can it not?!)

We realize the story in the room is coming from a cultural frame of reference beyond the room; the facts coming out have causal underpinning. No bird, no story, exists as an island. Something came before the lone bird flying, and something will come after. To get at the structural dynamic, we must activate our attunement to the negative space, what is going on between the notes or objects, the subtler envelope within which the parts form a whole. We shift from noticing moments in time to sensing movements over time. As we inquire, we start to inhabit the story and make sense of it with the company.

And Level Four, Generative Listening, “requires us to connect with a capacity to let go and let come, to connect with an emerging future possibility that helps us to connect more fully with who we are and who we want to be.”

This can be said also for Level Four scribing; we sense into and help surface the highest potentiality for the systems we serve. To do this requires a sensitivity with the energy of what is wanting to come through, an energy or vibe that has started to become tangible in Level Three. What is drawn is secondary to meeting the tone accurately and crafting gestures that evoke essential meaning.

I find here that time slows, the air quiets, and a kind of creative rupture takes place in the midst of sublime stillness, where something very fine and as-yet-unnamable is coming alive, and we, as scribes, witness it; in a way we are midwives facilitating, through our being and our hands, an emergence of some communal shift and knowing.

This could be described as Flow, or the Zone, and is rare. It takes a well-tended container–at tiers of the self, room and system–to reach this place, whether it be between two people or 70,000, in a window of an hour or decade. Numbers don’t even really matter.

What does matter is the qualitative listening behind the act of drawing, the listening that comes online by orienting within the context of a social body, with a core intent to join an invisible place and make manifest that which wants to be seen and witnessed.

Waking to Container Relativity

Our range of attention is ours to define, and the relative properties of containers give us choice: stay within the accepted known or expand to meet a not-yet-named-reality.

An old Hindu parable, first heard in a year-long program called Leadership for Collective Intelligence[ii] and paraphrased here, further explains the value of perspective in regards to holding capacity:

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt.

When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and drink it. “How does it taste?” the master asked. “Bitter!” spit the apprentice. The master chuckled.

The two walked in silence to a nearby lake, where the master again asked the young man to put a handful of salt in the water.

“Now drink from the lake. How does it taste?” “Fresh!” remarked the apprentice. “Do you taste the salt?” asked the master. “No,” said the young man.

At this, the master sat beside the young man and offered:

“The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container into which we put the pain.

So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things… Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”

We are both lake-makers and salt, depending on the context. At times, we are held in by a person or group, and that enables us to show up more securely. At other times, we expand to help a group in need meet their challenge. It works both ways. And we expand or contract depending on the need of the moment.

Inner Cultivation

Towards forming these types of enlarging holding spaces for others, and before even making a mark on any wall, we must first learn to cultivate a container for ourselves, opening our stance, to stay clear for what wants to ‘move through.’

We start by locating our best self – the self that accepts, that chooses possibility over fear – the self that welcomes the new, and actually carves a path for it. In orienting with this self, we serve as a microcosm of reorientation for every part of a system that our drawings might touch.

This can be a conscious, enlightened, spiritual choice. It’s also simply a matter of relaxing into the fact that–through every gesture, every word, every silence even–we exist in a cascading ripple of touch. Our presence allows us to show up for others, joining individuals and groups precisely where they are in their process, poised in a receptive and steadying way.

A rigid stance blocks, separates, reinforces a dualistic mentality: you|them; you|content; imagined you|true you – the “you” with the most to actually offer any given situation. As we steel up we stand guarded, sectioned off. As we soften, we are inevitably moved. Moved, additional senses come online. Attunement amplifies. Range increases. Listening cascades down those Four Levels.

In this place we meet a “knowing” beyond literal understanding of words, concepts, and impressions. An intuitive muscle comes online, and it’s an absorbent place, where – because of our open stance – we can facilitate a group from monologic to dialogic interaction.

The range of our attention relates to that which is taken in, received, and then that which is turned outward, revealed, through the hand. It’s a mutual relation; the more open the scribe, the more received. The more received, the more revealed.

We are reflective aids and, as such, our attention to personal containers helps stabilize that of the room and systems we address. If the room feels rattled and we collapse into that, we echo rattledness. Yet if we are able to stabilize internally, we’re more likely to reveal cohesion.

Draw with crystal clear intention. To make a mark before a mark wants to be made risks destabilizing the container through misrepresentation or by being out-of-sync with the true tone of the room.

Scribing is a participatory art. There are consequences to over-stacking, to overdrawing – that the image indulges the artist’s needs to express and shifts away from the marks actually called for by the container.

Examples of Practice

To land these concepts in very real application, I can speak to two engagements that each fully tested the limits of my practice. The data might sound extreme; I include it as an objective reference point in regards to the tides of container-building and scale. The stories evolved between 2013-2015 and continue as this book goes to print (NOTE: see end of post for information on an upcoming Visual Anthology).

u.lab

One example is of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called “u.lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self” offered jointly through Edx and the Presencing Institute. The gist of u.lab is that, after seven years of ramp up with experiments in online broadcasts and community-building, our team live-streamed eight times in 2015, reaching 70,000 registered participants from 185 countries, a social body made of individuals, small teams, and over 500 self-organized hubs alike.

I am such a shy person, and the notion of thousands of people watching my back made me want to crawl in a hole until the next ice age was over. To prepare, I wore soothing blackboard-matching grey, extracted chalk ink from pens to paint large-arching arrows, imagined myself one trunk in the orchard, tuned into the notion of water – extending the lake metaphor – and drew. My approach over the year, across dozens of images generated live and staged across multiple web platforms, shifted from a logical representation of frameworks to a heated extraction of some intuited field essence, which seemed most appropriate to the container that had matured globally over time.

It would have been easy to consider the u.lab “we” as a body of “users” rather than as an alive eco-system, since my voice-to-voice or email communication had only been with ~.003% of the participants, and it was hard to tune into the reality of those I might never know. But without attentional inclusion, I would reinforce the very pattern of societal disconnect we were seeking to address and dissolve. The stance I chose to occupy, then, was one of unbounded connection, where rather than an “out there” viewership, I was surrounded by a sea of individuals helping to hold me to the wall. I was contained by the very eco-system for which I drew.

Left: u.lab Netherlands Hub during live session. Photo by Maurice van Rooijen, TheoryUlab.nl.
Middle: A screenshot posted in Twitter, taken by a participant during the live broadcast.
Right: Sao Paulo Hub during the same live session. Photo by Adam Yukelson.

Executive Education

The other practical example of container application is of a custom leadership program offered through MIT’s Executive Education (of the Sloan School of Management) that offered an experiment in endurance and sense-making over long blocks of time and numerous sessions.

A highly skilled MIT team, working closely with top-level executives, customized a transformational program for senior managers from a global organization with 23,000 employees.

There have been five cohorts to date – I worked with the last three – each going through a 9-month program that included an 8-day section of intensive classes, followed by a few months of applied project work, concluding with another 8-day section.

Most of the 8-day sections involved 4-6 hours of faculty presentation per day, with each section leading to ~45 total hours of scribing onto ~100+ linear feet of dry-erase walls and sometimes extra boards. This yielded 118 unique images over the 3 full cycles, including topics on: Systems Thinking, Leadership and Organizational Change, Strategy, Finance and Macro-Economics, and Operations–most of which I did not initially know well or at all.

What was unique here was not the volume of time or images, but was the necessary weaving of content over the educational arc. One approach could have been “one topic, one picture”. The more expansive value, though, was in the wrapping of heavily-related drawings around the group, stitched nest-like, providing a solid visual container for extended cultural learning.

MIT_Envelope_01 MIT_Envelope_02

Two classrooms at MIT, where drawings offered visual and content containment through Executive Education customized programs

As initially indicated, the extension of new experience directly relates to the depth and steadiness of the soil in which it grows.

Visual practice, as a key “seeing” and anchoring device within the containers we support, serves a foundational role in our understanding of, and the evolution of, social fields. Thus, a visual practitioner’s grasp of the correlation – between our role as scribes and the fields in which we draw – cannot be underrated; as artists participating in societal transformation, we are implicate[iii] in both making apparent, and the expansion of, discovery.

Our times are riddled with disconnects, ideological entrenchment, crisis, fear. It is a time then, with open eyes,[iv] to see. It is a time to expand, to scale, to facilitate societal sight. All inner preparation – and all holding spaces we reinforce – enable the very act of making that meets this call.

Each crooked nook, fault line, gorgeous arc, blotch of color, textured application in our drawing can offer some structural integrity and some sense.

As artists, as visual practitioners of any kind, it is up to us to stretch “larger than the largest disturbance in the room.”[v]

Increasing our ability to embrace current discomfort, and simultaneously represent the possible, we participate in the engagement and ushering in of tentative, emergent, realities.

 


[i] Otto Scharmer, Levels of Listening, as found in Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges, first edition, Society for Organizational Learning, 2007 and a video clip from u.lab here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLfXpRkVZaI

[ii] The Hindu Story and much of my understanding of containers comes from working with Dialogos (www.dialogos.com) and the Circle of Seven (www.ashlandinstitute.org)

[iii] Here lies a subtle reference, honoring physicist David Bohm’s theory of the “Implicate Order” and undivided wholeness. Any interested reader can start to lean more via: http://www.david-bohm.net

[iv] Months after the official Bauhaus closing, Josef Albers was invited to teach at the newly-formed Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina. Despite knowing little English, he knew enough words to convey his purpose for teaching: “To open eyes.” Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933–1957, Exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston MA, Oct 2015 – Jan 2016.

[v] William Isaacs


This text represents Draft v6, for the anthology Drawn Together through Visual Practice. In writing this piece, I received an enormous amount of guidance from Brandy AgerbeckSam Bradd, and Jennifer Shepherd – and thank each of them with deep gratitude for their patience and steadiness in helping to hold my container intact!