Peter Block Asks You to Bring Surprise into a World that Wants Control

Last week organizational consulting guru Peter Block spoke at my school.  Block, the author of numerous books (most famously, Flawless Consulting) has over the past decade turned his attention to creating communities "that work for all," most notably in his own community of Cincinnati, OH.  Block describes his work as "bring[ing] change into the world through consent and connectedness rather than through mandate and force." Block is someone who invites his audience to experience what he's preaching in real time- in this case it meant spending 10 minutes in a circle with two strangers ("knees no more than 9 inches apart") asking and answering compelling questions.

I am still absorbing/wrestling with some of the ideas Block put forward that night (particularly as they relate to social justice) but I wanted to share some of my key learnings.

What follows is directly from my notes, so while it is not a transcript, it should be considered a pretty close paraphrase of Block's words as I heard them.  These are the points that most resonated with me.

Organizations are patriarchal. Organizations/institutions are inherently patriarchal.  The essence of patriarchy is this: I know what's best for you.    The belief that The Boss = Cause of any given situation and Subordinate = Effect is a false one.  We give power to people above us because we think they are "cause" and that they set culture.  In reality, we re-produce patriarchy through our participation in it.  There is a collusion between patriarchy and our wish for safety.  Leaders must work with people in a way that makes them feel that they are the creators of their own experiences.

Relatedness is everything. Get obsessive about connecting people.  Our work is to create circles of possibility within the hierarchical structure of institutions.  The circle is the symbol of an alternative culture.  The circle says: we all matter.  Our eyes connect.  All voices are heard.  Group people together with strangers, because hierarchy is supported by like-mindedness.  I cannot be surprised if I am connecting with people I already know.  Bring surprise into a world that wants control.  In the circle, create a world that is an example of the larger world we want to inhabit.

Questions bring us together, answers drive us apart. Create a moratorium on doling out advice or help.  Working on problems isn't powerful - ask questions instead.  Get curious, be interested, pay attention.  Ask questions that have an edge to them.   Ask, "why does that matter?"  Other powerful questions:  "What is the question that is animating your life right now?" "What is the crossroads you're at at this stage of your life?"  "For the thing you're complaining about, what's your role in creating it?"

Slow down and connect with people. Building connections with one another takes time. People will say it takes too much time, that there are more important things to do.  Speed is the argument against love, against relatedness, against democracy.  Doing is a defense against being.

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