Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, July 18, 2013
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Empathy and generosity of spirit take a battering in the exigencies of medical training, physician Danielle Ofri writes, and doctors and nurses have to learn to face the hard realities of death, dying and dead bodies with skill, grace and compassion.
"Where do we gain the fortitude to step into the same space as death and negotiate the unnerving complexities that eddy between our breaths?" she asks in a Slate magazine essay. "It’s not the type of thing you can Google."
Dr. Ofri, who has researched the joys, fears, stresses and conflicting messages young doctors get when they enter the clinical world, is author of the book What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine. She is an associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, has cared for patients at Bellevue Hospital and is the editor-in-chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, which she says focuses on creative interpretations of medical challenges and vulnerabilities. Dr. Ofri believes patients and physicians need poetry and that in order to be wise caregivers, doctors and nurses need the creative skills people learn from studying the humanities. Sometimes, she observes, "it is the things we deem least practical that wield the most power."
Her Slate piece describes the work of Cuban American physician-poet Dr. Rafael Campo, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, who recently won the Hippocrates Open International Prize for Poetry and Medicine for his poem "Morbidity and Mortality Rounds." Accepting the prize, Dr. Campo wrote, "Through my poem - about a dying patient - I was able to address the power of empathy to combat the distance we almost reflexively adopt toward our patients and confront our own shortcomings." In his interview with Dr. Ofri, he said "A good poem engulfs us," and its brevity and urgency demand "full participation of another in order to achieve completeness, to attain full meaning. In this way, it is not so different from providing the best, most compassionate care to our patients."
Dr. Campo’s prize winning poem begins:
Forgive me, body before me, for this.
Forgive me for my bumbling hands, unschooled
in how to touch: I meant to understand
what fever was, not love. Forgive me...
Read the full poem here.
The poetry of medicine has been collected and taught at several schools. A University of Illinois School of Medicine page compares iambic pentameter to the heart beat.
William Carlos Williams is one famous physician-poet who wrote about life, love, joy, decline, death and his experiences in Paterson, New Jersey, where he lived and worked. Near the end of his lengthy poem Asphodel, That Greeny Flower, are lines compressing an urgent need for the ephemeral power of poetry:
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, July 11, 2013
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What’s the difference between ideas that bomb and ideas that go viral?
It may be that we’re hard wired for sharing, and the ideas we spread are the ones we think will be interesting and useful to others, not just the ones we like ourselves. This potential communal pleasure actually sparks a measurable response in our brains.
Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles have for the first time identified regions of the brain associated with the successful spread of ideas, a finding that could have broad implications for public health campaigns, advertising, and better ways for teachers to communicate with learners.
The UCLA News describes work by Matthew Lieberman, a professor of psychology, psychiatry and behavioral science, and colleagues, who say brain data shows we are always alert for ideas and stories we think will amuse and engage others. "At our first encounter with information we are already using the brain network involved in how this can be interesting to other people,” Lieberman told UCLA News writer Stuart Wolpert. "I think that is a profound statement about the social nature of our minds.”
Nineteen UCLA students had functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) brain scans while being presented with ideas for 24 fictitious TV pilots. They then made video taped evaluations of each pilot, and decided which ones they would recommend for production. Another group of 79 students played the role of producers, who watched the student assessment videos and came up with their own ratings. When students first saw the pilots they would later recommend, activity in the brain region known as the temporopareital junction, TPJ, markedly increased. Activity in the TPJ region was also higher in the brains of students who were most persuasive in pitching their favored pilots to the producers. The findings are reported in the online edition of the journal Psychological Science.
Lieberman explains that when we enter the minds of fictional characters in a book or a movie, or when we try to figure out what another real person is thinking or feeling, we’re activating the brain’s "mentalizing network." That network includes the TPJ, located on the outer surface of the brain, and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, located in the middle of the brain.
"Before this study, we didn’t know what brain regions were associated with ideas that become contagious, and we didn’t know what regions were associated with being an effective communicator of ideas,” said Emily Falk, lead author of the journal article who was a researcher in Lieberman’s lab and is now at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication. "Now we have mapped the brain regions associated with the ideas that are likely to be contagious and are associated with being a good idea salesperson. In the future we would like to be able to use these brain maps to forecast what ideas are likely to be successful and who is likely to be effective at spreading them.” Interestingly, predictions based on neuroimaging may provide faster and more accurate indications of real-world outcomes than self-reporting by individuals.
image source: marketingpilgrim.com
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, July 04, 2013
Updated: Monday, July 08, 2013
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traumatic experiences of our own past and even the adversities and
deprivations of ancestors can leave inheritable molecular scars that
negatively influence behavior, personality and physical health
later in life, many scientists believe.
A story by Dan Hurley in Discover Magazine, describes research by Moshe Szyf, molecular biologist, pharmacologist and geneticist at McGill University and Michael Meaney, a McGill neurobiologist. Their new findings in behavioral epigenetics
not only hold promise for unraveling the impact of the past, but
suggest profound new possibilities for treatments to heal the damage
done by both recent and ancient suffering.
have found what seems to be evidence of a chain of connection from
experience to changes in gene expression in the brain to behavior. Behavioral epigenetics is a new but fast-growing field that has generated some skepticism. See a story by Lizzie Buchen in Nature.com
for a range of views. Szyf says a different mindset in neuroscience is
needed-a focus on molecular modification in the cell molecules rather
than on inter-neural circuitry and anatomy. While genes are inherited
and stay the same throughout life, Szyf explains, outside factors such
as diet, toxins, and social factors such as abuse, stress and extreme poverty
can set off chemical changes in the nucleus of cells that changes the
way genes are expressed. When stimulated, an arrangement of molecules
called a methyl group attaches itself to the control center of the
gene and turns it off. The gene function changes, but the DNA doesn't.
Szyf has spent years studying DNA methylation.
He and Meaney studied the brains of rats raised by attentive mother
rats who groomed them frequently, and neglectful rat mothers who didn't.
In the brains of badly-mothered rats, the genes regulating reaction to
stress were highly methylated, and the rats were nervous wrecks. And
when those pups grew up, they too were inattentive to their babies.
In the offspring of good mother rats, those genes were rarely
methylated, and the rats were calm. In a second experiment, to show the
changes were behaviorally induced, the rat pups born to bad mothers were
given to the good mother rats to raise, and those born to good mother
given to bad moms. The well raised rats with the biochemical capacity to
manage stress were calm and brave. The poorly raised rats were
behaviorally difficult. With no changes to their genetic code, the
neglected rats had gained inheritable changes-the addition of methyl
groups that alter brain function-solely because of their childhood
another extraordinary experiment, Szyf and Meaney infused the brains of
badly raised rats with a drug that removes methyl groups, and the
animals then showed none of the behavioral deficits typical of their
of living people can't be sampled, but blood samples are common. Szyf
looked for epigenetic markers of methylated genes in the blood of 40
male study participants who were either very rich or very poor. Szyf
studied the methylation state of some 20,000 human genes, and found
6,176 varied significantly based on poverty or wealth. He found
methylation changes were most likely when poverty had occurred in early
In an interview with the McGill Reporter,
Szyf says: "My work bridges the humanities and sciences by showing how
the nonphysical environment effects our genes. It also emphasizes we
cannot understand biology and medicine without taking into account the
social, economic and perhaps even the political environment. Is cancer
just a cellular disease? A problem with bad genes? Humans cannot be
reduced to a single cell, and we can't separate people from their
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, June 27, 2013
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Scientists are developing some new clues about how memes
spread. It seems applause spreads through an audience like a
communicable disease, and duration is not necessarily based on
enthusiasm for a performance.
team of mathematicians and biologists from Sweden and Germany studied
audience applause in order to quantify the role of social contagion in
the age-old practice of clapping-how it starts and stops, and how long it lasts. In a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, mathematician Richard P. Mann
of Uppsala University in Sweden, and colleagues explained that in an
audience of "susceptible” people each individual clap provides a time
point in which he or she remains "infected” by appreciation, and
cessation of clapping denotes "recovery.”
experiments took place at the University of Leeds. A total of 107
participants were divided into six groups of 20 or fewer. Each group was
randomly assigned to attend lectures by two different presenters who
each gave seven minute oral reports using PowerPoint. Participants were
told to applaud after each session, because the presenters were
volunteering. They were also told to observe and record presenters’ body
language so they would be less likely to think about their clapping.
Both the start and stop of clapping followed a sigmoidal growth and decay pattern.
Researchers reported that an initial slow uptake of new clapping
behavior was followed by a rapid phase of change, and eventual
cessation. They developed several mathematical models and equations that
might explain the clapping behavior. Are local neighbors or audiences
majorities most important in spreading memes? Is there a tipping point at which a phenomenon takes off after reaching critical mass?
They found that hearing the overall volume of the applause
influenced participants more than whatever their nearby neighbors were
doing. As in the infectious disease model, and unlike models based on a
tipping point, observed clapping by participants increased in linear
fashion along with the proportion of people already clapping. Even
before everyone had started clapping, some had already stopped.
Cessation of clapping is "socially mediated,” the scientists said, but
is also influenced by a general reluctance of people to clap for too
long. Duration varied widely even among audiences that rated the same
believe their findings may help understand other cultural phenomena and
collective behavior, such as the rate at which people leave social
networks and online groups. Read their paper here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, June 20, 2013
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Freespace, inspired by Burning Man
and experimental civic hacking, is a grass roots effort designed to use
empty commercial spaces temporarily for the purpose of creating lasting
community change. Freespace co-founder Mike Zuckerman, the director of
sustainability for the Zen Compound,
which bills itself as the world’s greenest nightclub, got a $1 lease on
a 14,000 square foot warehouse in San Francisco for the month of June.
With help from a local real estate firm and the Mayor’s Office for Economic and Workforce Development, Zuckerman, fellow Freespace organizers and several hundred volunteers turned their imagination and energies loose. A FastCoExist story by Ariel Schwartz
explains everything at the warehouse property now-desks, couches,
paint, art supplies, gardening tools, sound systems, refrigerator and
food-has been donated or foraged.
So far, murals-some by well-known artists including Zio Ziegler and Ian Ross-have
beautified internal and external walls, plants from a former
agricultural education program have been transplanted into a community
garden behind the warehouse and people have repaired bicycles and
started a bicycle library where bikes can be signed out for as long as
two days. Participants have also started a book club and yoga classes
and created space where people gather for lectures, speeches, panel
discussions, open mike sessions, and concerts. And they have conducted
neighborhood tours and a clothing drive.
"We put a weekend hackathon into a 30 day window,” Zuckerman told FastCoExist. "It’s up to people inside to decide what happens.”
Many of the Freespace organizers are veterans of Burning Man, an annual gathering in Nevada where people experiment with shared innovations then honor the environment by leaving no trace. Many also took part in the National Day of Civic Hacking,
held the weekend of June 1-2, in which 11,000 participants in 83 cities
organized to help governments, computing enthusiasts and ordinary
citizens collaborate in using technology to connect people and address
local problems. While hacking has conventionally had negative
associations, the hackforchange blog explains, "We like to think of a hacker as someone who uses what’s available to improve or enhance our homes, workplaces and lives.”
that Fortune 500 companies, including Deloitte’s Center for the Edge
and Orange Telecom labs in San Francisco, are looking at Freespace with
an eye to bringing more creativity and innovation into their own
businesses and work spaces.
Zuckerman thinks the experimental nature of Freespace
appeals to business. He says it’s interesting to corporate America
because it’s emergent and free and has "massively distributed creativity
only because there is a container and a context,” A design firm
executive tells her corporate clients about Freespace to "get them
excited about the idea of experiencing design in a space as a social
While Freespacers recognize their experiment is temporary, they are trying to extend it another month with an Indiegogo campaign
to raise $25,000 to pay July’s rent. Gentrification in San Francisco
and elsewhere often means high paid tech workers displace other
residents, and many fear that’s a loss for the community. Freespacers
hope many of the new projects will continue to improve neighborhoods and
bolster the city’s arts and creative spirit. They also hope Freespace
will be replicated in other cities.
Francisco warehouse, before and after, from the Freespace Indiegogo campaign
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, June 13, 2013
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More of a good thing isn’t always better. In fact, it may not be good at all. One of those counter-intuitive examples has been identified by researchers as the antioxidant paradox.
We’ve all heard that antioxidants are good. Our bodies use oxygen to convert food to energy, and in the process produce free radicals, those atomic and molecular enemies that are linked to aging, cancer and heart disease. To neutralize free radicals, our bodies generate antioxidants, and advertisers offer us a host of products that promise to boost antioxidant power. Paul A. Offit, MD, chief of the infectious diseases division of Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, explains in a New York Times piece "Don't Take Your Vitamins" that anti-oxidant rich diets and supplements don’t necessarily make us healthier and may even have a negative impact. That’s probably because antioxidants are part of elaborate networks in our bodies that interact in intricate ways. And free radicals aren't always bad. It turns out people need free radicals to kill bacteria and eliminate new cancer cells, Dr. Offit writes, and antioxidant overload can throw our immune systems out of whack. Tufts University scientists say more research is needed to explore the function and promise of antioxidants.
Dr. Offit also reminds readers that while vitamin deficiencies can cause dreadful diseases, the quantity needed is not always certain, and experts disagree about whether we should take supplements or get the vitamins we need from a good diet. But aren’t supplements harmless? Dr. Offit says don’t count on it. He cites several studies in which people who took vitamin E and vitamin A supplements had greater risk of disease and shorter lives than people in the same studies who took placebos. In one study, he writes, 18,000 people at risk for lung cancer because of smoking or asbestos exposure were given vitamin A and beta carotene or a placebo. Investigators halted that study, he writes, upon learning that those who took the vitamins had a 46% higher risk of death from cancer.
For another example of both/and in bodily matters, consider the gut bacterium Helicobacter pylori. In 1982 scientists discovered H.pylori, not stress, caused gastritis and ulcers, and it has since been linked to stomach cancer. Regarded as a dangerous pathogen, the bacterium was targeted for extinction with antibiotics.
Martin Blaser, MD, chairman of the Department of Medicine and a professor of microbiology at New York University School of Medicine, wondered how an organism that has been with us for 200,000 years could survive if it did nothing but harm. A New Yorker story by Michael Specter describes Dr. Blaser’s research. He has studied H. pylori extensively, and now considers it endangered-ubiquitous at one time, it now inhabits only half the world’s population, and fewer than half of the people in Western countries have gut H. pylori. Dr. Blaser and colleagues found it does have an important role in human health. They discovered people who had H. pylori in their guts were far less likely to have had asthma as children than those who did not. They also found a strong relationship between absence of H. pylori and risk for obesity. The New Yorker story explains two stomach hormones, ghrelin, which triggers hunger, and leptin, which suppresses hunger when we are full, work together to regulate appetite. H. pylori lowers ghrelin level after a meal. Those who lack H. pylori may have a harder time managing their weight because the message to stop eating may not reach the brain. Dr. Blaser suspects the lack of H. pylori is a factor in increasing obesity and other modern ills.
Dr. Blaser stresses that whether H. pylori causes or protects against disease depends on context. The organism plays a part in healthy development and functioning from infancy through early adulthood, but by mid-life and later-when we become increasingly prone to such woes as stomach trouble and cancer-we’re better off without it.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, June 06, 2013
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technological change, huge financial crises, political turbulence and
natural disasters in the last two decades have made disruptive events
virtually inevitable in business and industry. Yet some companies manage
better than others and some even come out ahead.
"Captains in Disruption," a Strategy + Business article by Ken Favaro, Per-Ola Karisson, and Gary L. Neilson,
reports on the experiences and actions of CEOs who not only guided
their organizations to survival but were able to shift trouble and
turbulence to organizational advantage. To lead effectively in such
times, these authors say, CEOs have to anticipate the kinds of
disruptions their companies may face, including natural disasters in
remote locations that could disrupt their supply chains. Then they have
to prepare an adequate response, and find a way to implement it
effectively. And of course, none of that is easy.
They quote Clayton M. Christensen, professor and management professor who first examined the dynamics of disruption in his book The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail.
"How can you make sense of the future, Christensen asks, "when you
only have data about the past? That’s the role of theory, to look into
the future.” That means being able to analyze data to spot changes and
figure out what they mean, which is especially hard when analysis
depends on the strength of the limited data and risk models. Further,
Christensen says, leaders often lack candid insights from people at all
levels of the organization, which they need plan effectively.
to disruption may need organizational redesign and culture change, the
authors write, and if top executives have become isolated, they need to
begin interacting informally with people throughout the organization who
understand first hand what works and what doesn’t. Cross-organizational
interaction, the authors write, is by far the biggest accelerator of
is an executive who took on a tough job during a time of disruption. In
mid-2012, Jenkins was head of the retail and business banking division
of Barclays, then the U.K.’s second largest bank. Then the LIBOR rate rigging scandal broke, exposing a series of fraudulent actions connected to the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR),
a primary benchmark for short term interest rates around the world. The
bank’s chairman and CEO resigned, and Jenkins took over as CEO. The
article explains Jenkins immediately informed the bank’s 140,000
employees that the focus on short term goals and immediate profits were
out and a new long term strategy for transformation was in. Jenkins says
the "cataclysmic experience” made people ready to listen. Jenkins
emphasized involving all stakeholders in asking the right questions to
move forward. In addition to bank employees, he met with politicians,
media, consumer groups and regulators and listened to their criticisms.
organizational change needed to respond to this cataclysm, Jenkins told
S+B, "is about being continually dissatisfied with that you are
doing...It’s about constantly challenging and creating an organization
that is never satisfied.” What makes that kind of thinking hard,
Christensen told the authors, is the human tendency to be complacent and
forget to ask good questions. As an antidote, Christensen points to
the famous phrase of former Intel CEO Andy Grove: (and the title of his book) "Only the Paranoid Survive." Read the S+B story here.
Posted By Kristen Barney, MA, MSOD,
Monday, June 03, 2013
Updated: Thursday, May 30, 2013
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Guest post by Kristen Barney, MA, MSOD originally posted on her blog Leading with Nature.
We sometimes hear about an organization that came through grave difficulties and became a success story. Even after hearing the story, we may not really understand how the transformation took place. There is no single way change happens, and it can feel nebulous or mysterious. Without deeper understanding leaders may hesitate to try new leadership styles or begin processes to renew a flagging organization. Today, to give you confidence and inspiration, I share with you a concrete example of how transformation happens… in the soil.
The soil, you see, can transform and nourish itself, with the help of several companions and help-mates. By looking at the different roles and forces that are needed to fix nitrogen in the soil – the biological equivalent of organizational renewal – we can understand how we already play these transformative roles, and how we can play them more intentionally. Supplying nitrogen to plants is a sort of "holy grail” of gardening and agriculture, just as creating a thriving, productive work culture can be the holy grail of organizations. Plants must find nitrogen in the soil to thrive, but not just any nitrogen. It must be nitrogen whose potential has been harnessed. Plants need the form of nitrogen called ammonium, which can be readily absorbed and used by plants. The process of making ammonium is called nitrogen fixing, and gardeners can set up the conditions so that it happens naturally while they sit home in the winter drinking chocolate. Pretty cool!
In the same way, organizational members need certain things from the culture to thrive, such as safety, respect, structure, trust, freedom, boundaries, clarity, and openness to creativity. You can name many more! As in nitrogen fixing, many players and forces come together in organizations to make these things possible so that members are nourished, inspired, supported, and productive. Let us look at how this works in the soil.
Transformation in the Soil: The Nitrogen Fixation Process
Nature’s ability to renew itself is remarkable. Here is a quick summary of how certain plants, like barley, can actually build the nutrients in the soil, just by existing!
- First, barley grows roots. These roots form a loose chamber where transformation can happen. A species of bacteria calledazospirillumjust loves to hang out underneath barley plants because of the organic matter the roots release.
- Next, theazospirillumknow how to activate an enzyme system called nitrogenase. This happens to be the only enzyme system known to humankind which can fix nitrogen into ammonium, thereby making the nutrient easy for plants to absorb and use.
- All of this happens in the soil which surrounds and interacts with the roots. This little clump of soil is called the rhizosphere. This space, embraced loosely by barley roots, is where a few key players come together to change grainy, packed dirt into dark, loamy, nutrient-rich soil. The roots hold together a space where transformation can happen.
What is the result? Well, one warmish February morning I went to the garden and pulled up the barley so I could dig it into the soil, and let it compost so that the nutrients would be available in my onion patch in the spring. When I saw how lush the soil was where the barley had grown, and how sterile the soil was elsewhere, I became a cover crop convert. And, by some accounts, my onion plants were the most vibrant in the community garden. Another gardener had given me half of her onion plants in the spring, so we had a semi-controlled scientific experiment. I planted my onions where the barley had been, with leaf mulch mixed in. She planted hers in soil enriched only with leaf mulch. By June she was astonished at how tall and healthy my onions were. Hers had wilted in the heat.
If you have ever heard leaders, facilitators, or consultants talking shop, you may have heard the phrase "holding the space.” Just as the roots hold together a clump of soil where transformation can happen, one of the key roles in organizational transformation is holding together a process or an intention so that a group can complete its work despite distractions, upheavals, or straying attention. Commonly this role is played by jointly an external consultant and/or a leader. This is a powerful way to proceed, especially if the leader sees him/herself as an integral part of the system andwilling to reflect on his/herimpactin the organization.
And, does it have to be a leader, facilitator, or consultant who plays the role of the barley roots, holding together the process for the good of the organization as a whole? You have almost certainly played this role for someone in the course of your life by being present for, listening to, and believing in someone. Today many leaders are increasingly open to receiving help from all quarters. By simply changing how we think of ourselves and how we relate to others, we can have subtle,real, and positiveimpacts on a system.
As we look at organizational equivalents for the biological roles of barley roots,azospirillum, nitrogenase, and the rhizosphere in creating self-nourishment, let us take a page from the book of Carl Jung, the renowned psychoanalyst who revolutionized the interpretation of dreams. Jung encouraged people to examine their dreams multiple times, eventually seeing that each actor or force or element of the dream could represent part of the individual’s psyche. If there was a child, consider the dream as though you were the child, he encouraged. If there was a dangerous intruder, think of that intruder representing an archetype within yourself. If there was a doorway, think of yourself as the doorway as you interpret the dream.
Since anyone can play these transformational roles, we can use Jung’s approach to thinking of ourselves as playing each of these roles.
As organizations learn to be adaptive and innovative, there is increasing latitude for any person to instigate or support transformation. I will focus on just four remarkable roles:
- Barley Roots – The Space Holder– You may have played the role of barley roots, which”hold the space.” If you have listened deeply to a friend in need, you have created a chamber for renewal or transformation. Consultants and leaders use their attention, guidance,and skill to maintain a "chamber” when working with people. The chamber is a loosely held space, like thebarley roots you see above, that containsand supportsa transformational process. You may have done this byguiding the proceedings of a meeting and protecting progress from disruptions or distractions so that a group’s important work can flow and develop. Or you may have realized that there is another step or direction that the group needs to follow if the results are truly going to be of benefit, and you share your insights and help the group reshape its goals and process to yield a more durable, relevant result.
- Azospirillum– The Activator- You may have played the role of this species of bacteria whichactivates the enzyme system which does the actual fixing ofnitrogen. If you have ever challenged someone toexamine anassumption or asked where someone got the numbers to back up an opinion, you may have played the activating role. Or perhaps you askedthe "grail question,” which is traditionally, "what ails you?” In organizational life the grail question might be something invitingsuch as, "tell me more about that” or "I can see youare passionate about that and I’d like to hear more.” You may have stayed calm and not gotten hooked into a conflict, and instead probed deeper tolearn what was really underneath a concern or hard-to-name feeling.
- Nitrogenase – The Transformer– You have probably already played this role too. Nitrogenasetransforms theinert potential of nitrogen into useable ammonium, creating fuel and nourishment for life and growth. You may have revealed a truth that everyone kind of knew but could not put into words. Or chosen to be the first to let go of something that everyone knew was not working anymore, but to which everyone was attached. You may have released a belief thatwas no longer serving anyone and thereby freed up a group of people to collaborate and createmore freely. You may have told a story that shifted how people viewed you or saw a situation, and thereby helped others give themselves permission to tell their own story or open to a new possibilities for your team.
- Rhizosphere – The Creative Space– You may have played this role with someone else. It can only be lived by two or more people together. It is a collective space. The rhizosphere is something that builds up through shared interactions. It is a collective suspending of judgment so that the true issues can be explored. It is the developing of trust over time, so that you know you can take risks, or others can take risks, without having the new idea or action being chopped down instantly. It is recognizing that creative tension is healthy for organizations, so that there is room for freedom and structure, accountability and creativity, and flexibility and control.
You may think of other transformationalroles – what about the sun and rain?Birds and insects? Or you may define the roles differently that I have done. How would you play with these concepts to make them useful and in alignment with your life experience?
Putting Transformational Roles to Work: A Real Life Example
As a consultant, I know I am having a useful impact when an organizational member is willing to confront me, playing theazospirillumrole of activator. This happened I was working with an organization to helpthe members prepare for a new leader. The leader had not yet been chosen, and the organization was somewhat in a state of shock. Their beloved leader had let the organization down, and had to leave rather suddenly. People were disoriented. Some were relieved, some were grieving.
I was working with a team of five members to design a workshop in which each member would facilitate an activity. We had worked together for about three weeks. The date of the workshop was getting close, andsuddenly in a planning meeting,one of the team members challenged me. I will call her Tamara. I delighted in this because it was a sign of increased empowerment on the team. I”leaned into” the conflict by trying to learn more about Tamara’s concern and the passion underneath her challenge. That day we did not reach a resolution point,nor did wefinalize Tamara’s part in the workshop. But she and I did agree to meet for luncha few days later. She needed to tell me her story. I listened. We worked throughthe tensions.
At the time of the workshop, we still did not know what Tamara’s contribution would be. But she and I had developed mutual respect and trust. And when Tamara’s time to facilitate arrived, shehad been closely following the development of the workshop, and knew what she wanted to do. She led a process that wasappropriate to the group and contributed greatly to the healing of the organizational grief and shock. Tamara’s activity laid a foundation for the final activity, which wasa cathartic conversation in which people forgave each other for long-held grudges, expressed the knowledge that they needed to work togetherif the organization was to have a future, released some fearsabout receiving a new leader, and even opened to a sense of excitement about new possibilities.
In the above story, all of the transformative roles are present. At different times, both Tamara and I held the space for our workshop design and execution, playing the role of the barley roots. Tamara played the role ofazospirillum, challenging me and activating some conversation that allowed me to ask the grail question – what ails you? By telling her story, Tamara made herself vulnerable in a way that built trust between us. That is the role of nitrogenase – the transformer. The team and I together played the rhizosphere – the creative space – by not insisting that Tamara define her role in the workshop. She chose at first to play a barley root role – monitoring and following the development of the workshop, which gave her the intuitive information she needed to let her activity for the group crystalize, just moments before she was to facilitate.
The potential for leadership often lays dormant inside our organizationalsystems. By combining these four roles – the space holder, the activator, the transformer, and the creative space – potential can become active leadership. This helps theorganization transform and nourish itself, just as in the nitrogen fixing process. What additional transformative roles do you see in the above story? How would you interpret what happened?
When I sit on the ground, breaking up clumps of soil with my hands, and mixing mulch or expired barley plants into the soil, I think about these roles. They seem the perfect analogy to help an organization rekindle its ability to overcome, grow, and thrive. We often wait for someone else to initiate change. Sometimes just by taking more time to listen, or to accept someone just as they are, or to challenge someone to see things differently, or to acknowledge something we have learned, we can open up possibilities for ourselves and others to change. We might not see the result immediately, yet when organizational members experiment consciously with these roles,an entire system might gradually shift and transform.
Please share your stories, experiments, and inspirations about roles you have played or seen others play in supporting transformation. Thank you!
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, May 30, 2013
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number of the world’s weather related disasters has tripled in the last
30 years. The number of people exposed to flooding has doubled since
1970. The cost of health care brings financial catastrophe to 150
million people every year. And food prices are more volatile than ever.
Citing those sobering conditions, Oxfam,
an international confederation of 17 organizations working to provide
humanitarian and development aid in 90 countries, asserts that
governments, aid organizations and the international community must
collaborate to reduce risks that now fall disproportionately on the
world’s most vulnerable populations. The Oxfam report, "No Accident: Resilience and the Inequality of Risk,"
emphasizes that vulnerability to all natural and politically induced
hazards is higher in countries with greater income inequality.
praising a growing focus on building resilience, authors of the report
worry that progress will be limited by an excessively technical
approach. They write that humanitarian and development programs have
traditionally been "designed in linear fashion, whereby specific inputs
are expected to lead to a predicted output, but this does not reflect
the complexity of dynamic and interconnected risks and uncertainty.”
They suggest flexible programs that allow planning and adaptation along
with careful monitoring and learning. They stress the need for a common
way to measure resilience.
defines resilience as "the ability of women, men and children to
realize their rights and improve their well-being despite shocks,
stresses and uncertainty.”
report also quotes Dante Dalabajan, Oxfam Program Manager in the
Philippines: "There is neither a cookie cutter nor a cookbook for
reach beyond technical fixes, the report says, "Building skills and
capacity must go alongside tackling the inequality and injustice that
make poor women and men more vulnerable in the first place. This means
challenging the social, economic and political institutions that lock in security for some and vulnerability for many...”
richest 11 percent of the world’s population generates half of all
carbon emissions, but suffers least from consequences of climate change,
for example, while Southeast Asia suffers from flood losses 15 times
greater than the wealthiest, most developed countries.
Oxfam calls recent crises a wakeup call. In Pakistan's floods in 2010 and 2011, thousands died and hundreds of thousands fled their homes. In recurring droughts in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region
in West Africa on the edges of the Sahara Desert, the report says more
people could have been saved from death and malnutrition but for delayed
or inefficient government and private response. While humanitarian aid
will always be needed in times of crisis, the report says, more focus
is needed on prevention and preparedness-categories that get only 2.6
percent of aid spending now.
In conflict-affected areas, the report says resilience requires "bottom-up empowerment.” For example, in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Agriculture
is trying to build trust through establishment of agricultural
committees that are part civil society and part government. In Colombia,
despite peace negotiations after 50 years of armed conflict, rural population displacement is high and actually increased in
2012. Access to farm fields and markets is still limited because of
land mines placed by illegal armed groups, so Oxfam and local partners
strengthened community organizations and networks as they cooperated to
identify mine sites and find routes for safe passage. They also helped
villagers develop kitchen gardens.
such efforts alone won’t create resilience, the report says, they can
start to "build stronger governance with community voices at the center,
which is a prerequisite for resilience building.” Read the report.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, May 23, 2013
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is always worth reading, and if he wants to tend the wild microbial
garden in his gut, it’s worthwhile to explore the why and the how. In
his New York Times Magazine article "Some of My Best Friends Are Bacteria." Pollan explains how he came to view himself as a superorganism rather than just one ordinary human being.
He quotes the suggestion of Stanford microbiologist Justin Sonnenburg
that we should view the human body as "an elaborate vessel optimized
for the growth and spread of our microbial inhabitants.” We’re only 10
percent human anyway, Pollan writes, adding "For every human cell that
is intrinsic to our bodies, there are about 10 resident microbes.” Some
of these organisms are harmless, some help our systems function, and a
few that are pathogens. Some scientists call this microbial community
our "second genome,” and recent research is beginning to change what we
think about bacteria and its role in health and illness.
believe gut microbiota may play an important role in chronic illnesses,
obesity, our immune systems and metabolism, as well as our moods and
temperament. Even the term immune system may become passé- future
scientists may call it the microbial interaction system. Pollan writes
that gut bacteria may have a part in the manufacture of
neurotransmitters, including serotonin, a hormone that helps regulate growth, moods and multiple functions in the brain and other systems. Several experiments with mice are
illustrative. When the microbiome of thin mice is transplanted into fat
mice, the fat mice lose weight, independent of calorie intake. Pollan
writes that when gut microbes of easy-going, adventurous mice are
transplanted into timid, nervous mice, the anxious mice become more
relaxed and adventurous. He says lab mice experiments by Jeffrey I. Gordon
at Washington University, St. Louis, indicate if metabolism has been
disordered by malnutrition, repair may need more than nutrients. It may
require changing the gut’s microbial community.
Pollan participated in the American Gut, an open access citizen science project located at the Bio Frontiers Institute at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The project is a chance for people to work with scientists and researchers in labs throughout the U.S. It builds on previous efforts, including the NIH-funded Human Microbiome Project,
to learn about the microbes living in and on our bodies. For a fee,
volunteers can learn about the trillions of microbes they carry, and
contribute to newer understandings of how diet, life style and
environment impact our inner microbial worlds. Pollan notes that
scientists aren’t yet sure what a gut community should look like, except
that just as in other ecological systems, robust biodiversity is healthiest. Click here to sign up.
Some strange paradoxical microbial characters lurk in our guts. Pollan writes that Helicobacter pylori,
long vilified for an association with ulcers and stomach cancer, may
also have an anti-inflammatory function that helps calm the immune
system and as well as helping with appetite regulation that inhibits
obesity. Inflammation is believed to have a part in many chronic
illnesses. Pollan says microbiologist Martin Blaser, who has studied H pylori for years, thinks it is an endangered species and we may one day regret its loss. Oligosaccharides are
another curiosity. An ingredient in human breast milk, they don’t feed a
baby but do nurture a gut bacterium that helps the intestines develop a
asked several scientists how their research findings had changed their
own eating habits. Several reported avoiding processed foods with little
fiber and many additives, carefully monitoring antibiotic intake, and
adding fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi
and sauerkraut. Few used commercial probiotics, which Pollan notes are
largely unregulated so you don’t now exactly what you get when you buy
them. Read Pollan’s piece here.