What is Possible NOW?  


"If we're talking about true change, there's always this period of mystery--this period of not knowing."  Peggy Hollman, 12/19 Vital Conversation

Dig into this emergent space with us, as we consider what it is we want to create together that would make the difference and what we can create together that we cannot create alone. 

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This is our second conversation based on the model developed by Peter Block in Community: The Structure of Belonging, building on the "Dissent" conversation we hosted last month.  Once again, we are delighted to have co-hosts Eric and Elaine Hansen, who have worked extensively with Block and are masters of this form.

As always, we also invite you to begin the conversation right now on this forum, and to continue it here once our call is complete.  We can start with this: 

Think of a time when you had a really exciting conversation about what might be possible.  How did it feel? What is the distinction for you between talking about "possibility" and "problem solving?"

Image courtesy of Irish Arts Blog

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Hi, Ben, et al.

As I do more and more of the ASG possibility conversations in "real life" settings, one of the things I find is that possibility is a more energizing discussion and usually steers clear of blame and finger-pointing. I don't have a solid real life example coming up top of mind this morning to share, however. 

Eric Hansen

To consider what is possible we might begin by questioning our assumptions, asking why is something not possible.

By questioning our assumption that a given situation exists, that it necessarily has to exist.

We may seed a meme, an 'idea virus' which provokes some into vociferous denial, others to ask the same question.

An example is the existence of large numbers of parentless children in impoverished countries where we may argue that Every Child Deserves a Family.and that it doesn't have to be this way.

Similarly we can assume the because personal profit and greed is what has driven capitalism, that it necessarily must be the case.

We reason that it can be different:

"Enterprise is any organizational activity aimed at a specific output or outcome. Once the output or outcome – the primary objective – is clear, an organization operating to fulfill the objective is by definition an enterprise. Business is the most prominent example of enterprise. A business plan, or organizational map, provides a reference regarding how an organizational scheme will operate to produce a specific outcome: provision of products or services in a way to create profit. Profit in turn is measured numerically in terms of monetary gains, the “bottom line.”

This is the function of classic capitalism, which has proven to be the most powerful economic engine ever devised.

An inherent assumption about capitalism is that profit is defined only in terms of monetary gain. This assumption is virtually unquestioned in most of the world. However, it is not a valid assumption. Business enterprise, capitalism, must be measured in terms of monetary profit. That rule is not arguable. A business enterprise must make monetary profit, or it will merely cease to exist. That is an absolute requirement. But it does not follow that this must necessarily be the final bottom line and the sole aim of the enterprise. How this profit is used is another question. It is commonly assumed that profit will enrich enterprise owners and investors, which in turn gives them incentive to participate financially in the enterprise to start with.

That, however, is not the only possible outcome for use of profits. Profits can be directly applied to help resolve a broad range of social problems: poverty relief, improving childcare, seeding scientific research for nationwide economic advancement, improving communications infrastructure and accessibility, for examples – the target objectives of this particular project plan. The same financial discipline required of any conventional for-profit business can be applied to projects with the primary aim of improving socioeconomic conditions. Profitability provides money needed to be self-sustaining for the purpose of achieving social and economic objectives such as benefit of a nation’s poorest, neediest people. In which case, the enterprise is a social enterprise.

In this case, for the project now being proposed, it is constructed precisely along these lines. Childcare reform as outlined above will pay for itself in reduced costs to the state. It will need investment for about five years in order to cover the cost of running two programs in parallel: the existing, extremely problematic state childcare scheme, and the new program needed to replace it for the purpose of giving children a decent life. The old program will be phased out as the new program is phased in. After this phase transition is complete, the state will from that time forward pay out less money for state childcare. Children will have a better life, and will be more likely to become healthy, productive assets to the nation rather than liabilities with diminished human development, diminished education, and the message that they are not important – the basis for serious trouble. There is no need whatsoever to give these children less than a good quality of life as they grow and mature. The only problem is reorganization of existing resources. "





Thank you Jeff!  Indeed, uncovering assumptions is one of the most powerful ways to shift the context from "problem solving," which tends to place us within the bounds of those assumptions due to it's focus on what has not worked in the past, and possibility, which starts from the future we would like to create.

Your point about business and profit can be expanded.  Not only is it possible that the profits of a business can be used to enrich society and not simply corporate executives and shareholders, but the primary goal of a business can also be expanded to include the famous triple bottom line of financial, social and environmental benefits.  "B-corps" provide a legal model for such enterprises.  This means that "profit maximization" no longer has to be the main goal of the firm.  Thus not only can profit be invested to achieve non-monetary benefits, but the very core activity of the firm can be structured around maximizing social and environmental impact, with profit taking a back seat, or being a secondary effect.

Then of course, there's the possibility that we replace our current money with something else altogether, or at least develop other alternatives that can be used along side it.

I am noticing that simply writing about these possibilities makes me feel excited and energized.  Whereas focusing on problems often leaves me feeling overwhelmed.  Some might dismiss that as the effects of unrealistic "happy talk."  I think it's more.  When we unleash our full (co)creative potential, WHO KNOWS what is possible?  We've never tried to do that on a planetary scale before, because we haven't had the collective consciousness of the capacity for it.  Now, suddenly, we have both for the first time in the history of this planet.

Yes indee Ben. As you'll see we've been presenting on the triple bottom line for the Economics for Ecologyconferences. This is another way a business invests in social objectives, in this case education. I'd approached B-Labs in 2007, suggesting collaboration with us in the UK but they said it wasn't workable.

We started in 1996with a paper describing the concept which was delivered to Bill Clinton and then posted online, in synopsis, free to use for social purpose.. 

Another aspect of this which may be of interest is in peace building. In the paper which made the case for multiple social investments aside from childcare, it had been reasoned that these social objectives could be achieved at the same cost, over 5 years, as the [then] current spending each week in Iraq.  This unrelated proposal for turning a weapons research lab into an ..., was forwarded to US  diplomatic channels and as we were informed later had been picked up, by a little known senator by the name of Obama. He was at the time on the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations, chaired by Joe Biden.    .     

So, Jeff... Given all this experience with JUICY possibility conversations that you've had, can you say a bit about how they feel?  Do you see a distinction between these conversations and those that begin from a "problem solving" perspective?

I have a perception that what starts as conversation remains conversation.

Something I'm noticing is that it is often difficult to get into a possibility conversation and stay there.  Once they get cooking, they feel GREAT!  But if things aren't well aligned with the group beforehand, resistance emerges.  The problems get raised instinctively.   I hear arguments about whether or not a given possibility that has been declared is really possible, or will solve our problems, or will be derailed by our problems.

It makes me wonder if it's possible (hehe) that we are AFRAID of possibility.  Why might that be?  Because it is so powerful when expressed, as Peter Block puts it, with "resonance and passion?"  Because if we let that feeling into our hearts and our guts, our minds will want to follow and then we might have to do some things we don't want to, or give up some things we are clinging to, or feel bad about ourselves if we resist acting?

Would it help if the declaration was understood as NOT being a "call to action?"  

Yes, we faced enormous resistance,  a campaign of anonymous defamation which goes on after my colleague died on mission. There will always be someone telling you that what you doing is wrong, it should be done their way. Some will go to extremes to make their point.  .

As Martin Luther King said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"

As you may read, from my colleagues notes -    

"Opening up the reality of that situation resulted in threats against me and anyone else interfering with that system.  I came under direct assault by tax police, government's primary enforcement arm if anyone steps out of line.  This is not a research activity where many, if any, other people dared to participate.  UNICEF was willfully blind to the matter because it was just too dangerous to bother to intercede  Powerful interests remained entrenched with enforcers to make it dangerous.  Jurists were correct, in my view.  It was more a mafia operation than anything else, aimed at misappropriation and laundering of large money.  That was perfectly congruent with how Ukraine operated before the revolution.  USAID wanted nothing to do with it, nor would they fund any organizations or activists who might try.  Some things could be done and some things could not be done.  Helping these children was something that could not be done.  So, I exposed it and made it the central focus and metric of Ukraine's microeconomic development blueprint.  In that context, it was far more difficult to ignore, dismiss, or argue about.  For about six months, I really did not expect to survive."

Atticus Finch offers some inspiration.

Yes, there is resistance to change out in the world, and as Occupy has also seen, it can be violent. I'm wondering about the resistance we find within ourselves and among the community of "change agents.". Maybe part of the fear is in knowing that, if a possibility really grabs hold of us, we will act on it, and that can be dangerous.


I have been making a habit of pulling a GroupWorks card at random for inspiration on these calls.  Transparency at first seemed like an odd one, but actually is (surpise!) perfect for this post, which is also about one aspect of our purpose(s) on today's call.  The final lines seem particularly spot on to me: "Handled well, openness nurtures trust, collaboration, and authentic community."

The web page for this card has even more detail that speaks to one of our intentions with this call, which is to have it be an invitation to expand the circle of "ownership" of the Cafe and to collaboratively create a new iteration of it, with a greater focus on Community:

To the extent that we can be open with each other about our feelings, desires, concerns and experiences, we build trust and get closer to fulfilling our purpose. Openness about power, organizational structure, and finances puts everyone on the same page. How a group is structured at the beginning influences dynamics around being open. It's easier to build in Transparency from the start than to change the culture later. Part of this is what gets talked about, and when and by who--do conversations take place in the full group or in small groups, during scheduled time or outside of official sessions? Another part of it is about the group's ongoing arrangements, like whether access to minutes and financial information is open or restricted. Transparency can only take place where trust is present, and the sharing of information builds trust.


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