Susan Basterfield is a member and foundation director of Enspiral, a network of people and organizations at the forefront of the global self-organizing movement. Ventures within Enspiral are building companies in a very different way than any other network I’ve come across yet: as they build tools, products, and ventures, the global Enspiral ecosystem is reinventing how work gets done and continually open-sourcing the practices they invent as an expression of the underlying cultural DNA which is decentralization, openness, transparency, trust, autonomy, and love—all without traditional hierarchies.
This conversation is definitely one that expanded my conceptual horizons. Many people will find these ideas to be radically different than anything they’ve come across before. Once you grok them, I think you’ll find these ideas very exciting because it’ll suddenly hit you that, holy crap, this can actually work, I can see a path to making it work, and even though it might be hard it’s almost certainly worth it.
For the first half or so of this conversation, Susan and I attempt to establish a conceptual foundation and nail down what often feels like a moving target, and then we shift gears and focus on how you can start applying this. Some of the things we cover:
- how an organization can work without bosses through the practices of self management
- what consensus actually means — hint, it’s not what you probably think it is!
- and, how with a transparent and participatory governance system, how you can take everyone’s opinion into account and actually still make decisions and get things done
- the evolution of the Enspiral network and the principles that underlie all the practices involved
- how to approach product development in an organic, bottom-up
- some of the common criticisms to self-management and decentralized system of governance
- why the breakthrough of self-management and participatory governance are ideas whose time has come
Susan purpose is to end suffering in the workplace. She is a member and foundation director of Enspiral, a global network of people and organizations at the forefront of the self-organizing movement.
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES
- Susan Basterfield (@OpenToGrow)
- Loomio – tool for collective decision making
- CoBudget – tool for participatory budgeting
- Michael Schenker – UFO – Strangers in the Night (album)
- Susan’s interview on Team Human podcast with Douglas Rushkoff
- Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDO)
- Reinventing Organizations – Frederic Laloux
- Teal Organizations
- Evolutionary purpose
- Bryan Ungard – Operationalizing Love
- Seth Godin’s altMBA
- Liberating structures & app
- Pyxis agile consultancy (Montreal/Paris)
- Brené Brown
- Yash Papers (Chuk brand) in India – styrofoam & compostable tableware
- Cut the bullshit: organizations with no hierarchy don’t exist – Francesca Pick
- How Susan went bungee jumping… and met her husband [0:03:42]
- What is Enspiral? [0:08:39]
- What are the different types of roles and engagement within the Enspiral network? [0:10:45]
- “What we really are at Enspiral is healthy power relationships and practice” [0:17:41]
- How do things get done in Enspiral? [0:18:02]
- The greatest gift Enspiral gave itself: culture first, THEN tools [0:19:37]
- How their decentralized governance tools (Loomio & CoBudget) emerged [0:20:03]
- How should we think about consensus? [0:24:18]
- “The most important thing about decision making is deciding how you want to decide, making that transparent, and then also deciding what actually does a real block mean?” [0:25:11]
- Scaffolding vs frameworks [0:27:21]
- How does a new venture get set up in Enspiral? [0:29:41]
- Do ventures have to contribute X% of their profits to the foundation? [0:34:52]
- How is Enspiral building a deliberately developmental culture? [0:36:20]
- “If we want to change the possibility for the future, we need to be prepared to come together in configurations and groups of people we’ve maybe never met before, to do things we’ve never done before. Organizations provide all of the fodder for us to do our ongoing development, we just don’t frame it that way.” [0:38:46]
- How learning & development (L&D) thinking needs to evolve [0:43:28]
- “We need to create the conditions for us to experiment, to play, to fail, to notice, to reflect.” [0:48:46]
- Why is this an idea whose time has come? [0:50:02]
- The power of using a check-in to start meetings [0:53:59]
- Are these ideas that can be added to an existing organization? Or do you need a clean slate? [0:57:09]
- “Nobody leads all of the time, everybody leads some of the time. Followership is as important a gift as leadership.” [0:59:54]
- Why is it worth it to transition to this way of working? [1:01:53]
- “You might never change the system, but if you can change the experience for yourself and your comrades, that’s a great outcome too.” [1:03:58]
- How can product leaders start implementing this? [1:05:23]
- How do we make it safe to try practices like this, if it doesn’t feel that way? [1:13:51]
- Why is most feedback unhelpful? [1:20:52]
Transcripts may contain typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew 00:03:15 Susan, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for being here.
Susan 00:03:21 Thanks Andrew. This a absolute pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to this.
Andrew 00:03:24 Oh, I’m so excited that you’re here. So I wanted to start actually off with a random personal tidbit that, uh, turned off when I was getting ready for this conversation. And I know you had a phase in your life where you did a lot of bungee jumping and I was hoping you could tell us how that happened and, and what, what about that experience sticks with you?
Susan 00:03:41 So, yeah, I, I guess one of my, one of my claims to fame was I was the first woman to bungee jump off. What, at that time was the highest suspension bridge in the world, the world Gorge in Colorado and how this adventure started, like goes way back to the very nascent beginnings of the internet. So back in, Oh, about 1994, um, there probably when you were three or four, um, uh, there was a, uh, online platform called, uh, um, CompuServe, right? And CompuServe was a way of communicating with people all around the world, but not in real time. So it wasn’t synchronous. So there were bulletin boards, uh, that you could post up random kind of want ads. And what do you think about this? And you, you know, the whole waking up in the morning, turning on the computer and you’ve got mail.
Susan 00:04:34 So, uh, it was 1994, June of 1994. And, um, I was reading through some of the want ads on CompuServe. And there was a, there was a guy from the UK that was looking for an acoustic album by this obscure German guitar player. And I happened to love this obscure German guitar player. So I wrote back to him and told him where to send his, all of this stuff is so outdated now where to send his self addressed stamped envelope with a postal order to a PO box in Phoenix, Arizona to get this ticket, the CD. And, um, he wrote back and said, thanks. What other kind of music do you like? And that was the start of what is now coming up to my 25 years with the amount of my life. Um, and the way that it started was, um, I was going, I was living in LA, he was in the UK.
Susan 00:05:24 I was going on a girl’s weekend to Las Vegas. And he said, my friend J Hackett has just set up a bungee jump in Vegas. And in order to impress him, I said, Oh, cool, set me up and I’ll go jump. And, uh, that was kinda the start of it. Um, and so, yeah, after over many years, I’ve jumped out of helicopters, um, off the ju the, the, the dam and at the beginning of James Bond, Goldeneye, he jumps off a dam. I’ve jumped off of that. Uh, many, many bridges. Yeah, that’s a, that was, uh, that was a little bit of a diversion in my career. Uh, but one that really was super interesting. So AIJ is, um, a great guide and mentor for me that actually invented a whole new, um, sex segment of adventure sports. And, uh, when I first immigrated to New Zealand, when we first immigrated to New Zealand or the opportunity of, um, uh, partnering with him as his, uh, global managing director, looking after his international sites and the configurations of that business was so interesting.
Susan 00:06:33 There were some joint ventures, there were some, um, franchises, uh, there were some partnerships and you like the ridiculous to the sublime, right? Um, mafia in Acapulco to, um, you know, good old boy farmers in Australia to, uh, uh, billionaire assists and Macau. Um, and just really interesting, um, how that gave me a real, uh, glimpse into not only, uh, an international business, but, uh, the cultural differences of dealing with different, uh, configurations of business in something like bungee jumping. So you don’t want to thought of that. Um, and I really, really enjoyed my time there. And he’s still one of my best friends
Andrew 00:07:24 That is amazing. I love that. Like, what if, how much good, how many good things came out of just saying yes to a random invitation and who, who is the band by the way, who is the German?
Susan 00:07:34 So is that he’s a German car player called Michael Schenker. He was in a sort of a very under appreciated, um, uh, uh, seventies, uh, hard rock band called UFO
Andrew 00:07:48 UFO. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. That’s, that is definitely going in the show notes. This is fantastic. Yeah.
Susan 00:07:54 Straight strangers in the night, one of the best live albums ever recorded. So everybody go out and listen to strangers in the night.
Andrew 00:08:00 All right, I’m going to go look that up immediately after this conversation, that’s going to be my, when I go for a jog later, I think that’s going to be my album. This is going to be sweet. Thank you so much. Well, how fun. So I think as a bit of a pivot, like one of the things that I think is so interesting is, you know, so we’re, we’re here in this conversation. We’re going to cover a lot of ground about the work you’ve been doing, which I am totally fascinated by now that I’ve sort of cracked the hood on it. And I’m starting to look beneath, beneath the India, how the engine works around Inspiral. Um, and I’m curious just for, for listeners who are not familiar with Inspiral, how would you, you know, w w Inspiral is a, is a many formed, evolving thing as, as I’ve learned in my research, but how would you describe it today?
Susan 00:08:41 So it’s a super interesting question, because if you ask anybody who’s involved in touched part of considers Inspiral their home, we’d, we’d each answer the question differently. Um, but if I think I had to do the elevator pitch on Inspiral and spiral is an entrepreneur’s collective of, uh, individuals and organizations that have come together to support one another in whatever, uh, business or endeavor, um, they’re quote unquote, stuff that matters is so we all know that the life of an entrepreneurial life of a freelancer, especially when you’re focused on purpose driven work, whatever that purpose is for you can be super lonely. Um, and so the idea that we could choose to come together and support each other, um, is something that really resonates, um, in certainly a New Zealand. And now we’ve, you know, been, been doing this for about best part of a decade. And now, um, increasingly around the world, uh, at first it was a freelancers collective. Now it’s really just a, a very rich, um, yeah. Just home for, um, for myriad entrepreneurs and, uh, humans that want to think about orienting to work differently.
Andrew 00:09:58 Yeah. I love that. I I’ve been as a, as I said, as I’ve been, um, drinking from the fire hose of all the different things that are out there about Inspiral and, and the way you all approach your work and not just what is it you’re doing, but especially how you’re doing it. Well, one of the, one of the words that sprung up a couple of times when I was exploring Inspiral, uh, was this word ecosystem. Um, and, and the idea that it’s not a network was the other word that showed up a lot, but this idea that it was a, an ecosystem of many players, of many people and organizations playing a variety of roles, but all working in a holistic sort of integrated way. Um, and so I was hoping you could, um, you could start off by explaining a bit about sort of the different, what is, what are the different roles and types of engagement with Inspiral within the network. And then we can maybe go into some more specific examples after that.
Susan 00:10:51 Hmm. Yeah. So, so Inspiral is, I think if you think of, think of it as, um, nested holes, um, and even that description makes me a little bit nervous because that, that assumes that something is in the center. And I guess that’s true. So at the center of Inspiral are 20 humans, um, called members, um, whose only role, only two roles are to steward the culture of the, of the, of the whole and to invite new contributors. Uh, we each have one nonfinancial share in the Inspiral foundation and how you become a member is one of the great mysteries of life. Uh, there there’s no, there’s no guidebook. There’s no. How to, how do you climb the ladder? There’s no ticking the boxes to getting to be a member, but after you’ve been hanging around in spiral as a contributor for some time, one of the members will notice, Oh yeah, like Andrew is like, really he’s all in.
Susan 00:11:53 He’s adding, he’s clearly getting a lot of value out of, um, his relationship here. And, um, you know, making value for that for the collective and really embodying what it means to be, um, a member of inspire let’s invite him to be a member. The easiest way to understand this is a contributor is somebody that one member trusts and a member is somebody that all members trust. So, so for example, after this, I’m loving that you’ve done all this research, and you’re getting really excited about this. The only way that you can enter into Inspiral officially and become a contributor is to literally take the leap yourself to build a relationship. So there’s no signup sheet on the website. There’s no kind of mysterious dark hole. You could get into tap somebody on the shoulder, you have to reach out and say, look, I’m Andrew.
Susan 00:12:48 I’m super interested in what you’re doing. Can you tell me more, you’d have a conversation with one person who might then find out what your specific kind of areas of interest are, introduce you to two or three or four other people have conversations, intentionally build that relationship. And at some magical point in time, it’s just like, Hmm. So, so what do you think you wanna, you want to try try us out for three months and if you say yes, um, then you instantly get onboarded onto everything. So our Loomio, which is our decision making platform, our coal budget, which is our, uh, collect participatory budgeting system, all of our Slack channels. Um, and you get from day one of a contributorship, the opportunity to participate fully as a full citizen of Inspiral. You have three months to play around. If it’s something that you kind of have found, wow.
Susan 00:13:43 You know, this is really, um, a place that I think is, um, adding, adding life and, uh, a place where I’m feeling energetically positive. Um, you might decide that you want to dive, dive in feet first. And the way that you dive in feet first is to decide and, um, you know, kind of figure out the value that Inspiral is giving to you. And the way that that looks like currently is it is Inspiral worth a coffee a week to you, a beer a week to you, or a pizza a week to you. If it’s a coffee, five bucks a week, if it’s a beer 10 bucks a week, if it’s a pizza, expensive pizza, 25 bucks a week, that’d be good pizza. Yeah. And, and that, and that contribution is what kind of keeps that engine running. It’s really important to know, and this is super, super confusing.
Susan 00:14:41 Inspiral doesn’t employ anybody. None of us are employed employees at Bowman spiral. We don’t get paid by Inspiral. It’s literally a foundation that has an infrastructure that allows us to on a global basis, um, do participatory budgeting and collective. And there are plenty of friends of Inspiral. There are likeminded collectives and collaborations all around the world that we definitely consider part of the ecosystem. And then, uh, you know, hundreds and hundreds of humans that have touched in spiral in some way, um, that are, you know, supporting us in a myriad ways, whether it’s financially, um, kind of holding the intention, making introductions, um, and talking about the, the mission that we’re on. And I think the book has been like a great example of that. I I’m, uh, like I see all the orders that come in and it’s amazing, like literally all over the world. I have no idea how that this is, this is happening, but it’s, it’s definitely touching a nerve.
Andrew 00:15:46 Yeah. In the book she’s referring to is a better work together, which we’re going to link to in the show notes. And I’ll just say for all the listeners, if you are at all interested in anything that comes up in this conversation, I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this book. Um, it is not only insightful, it will shake up your thinking and a lot of really great ways. And the top of that, it’s actually, it’s just beautifully honest. I have to say it’s just beautifully done. You know, now that we’ve, we’ve kind of laid a bit of a, or established a bit of a context here for what Inspiral is and kind of the way I have it framed in my head right now is that it’s, it’s this, um, as you said, there’s, there’s an ecosystem, which is broad and, and at this point it’s global.
Andrew 00:16:23 And then within that ecosystem in spiral, there’s the sort of the formal network of Inspiral, which is a network of individuals, of, of organizations, of companies, um, that are all supporting one another and then voluntarily contributing to a sort of underlying member owned foundation you were referring to earlier. And that, that foundation is really doing network level work, right? It’s working across the organizations at the network, trying to come up with tools, processes, systems that make everything better and then contribute those back out to not just that network, but actually the larger ecosystem. When I was looking into things, it seems like there’s a few underlying principles here that I want to just kind of get out on the table so that the listener, so that all of us can be clear about the principles themselves. And then we can look into how those show up. Um, and it seems like the principles are decentralization, openness, transparency, trust, and autonomy.
Susan 00:17:18 I would add love to that, but that maybe that’s a little bit too. Woof.
Andrew 00:17:22 Okay. So great. De-centralization openness, transparency, trust, autonomy, and love. It seems like it. Now we’ll start to, if that’s what’s underneath it all, and let’s talk now about how that actually shows up in practice. One of the biggest things that people who are probably encountering these ideas grapple with is basically power. At one point in the book, uh, you know, there’s a sentence that says what we, what we really are as Inspiral is healthy, power relationships and practice. I was hoping you could explain a little about, a little about what this actually looks like in practice. Cause I think one of the common critiques that people that I have actually heard people say is that, Oh, this just sounds like it’s just, just chaos. Right? You just throw it out there and there’s no hierarchy at all. And people do whatever the hell they want. And what is the reality of this actually look like? And how does, how do things actually get done? Yeah.
Susan 00:18:06 So reality is that it’s it’s complex, but it’s not chaotic. It can feel chaotic. Um, but I think, I think the difference is if you, if you, if one thinks about it in the context of emerging systems and, and, and humans coming to a opportunity where there isn’t a cookie cutter or a framework or a model that, um, it can instantly slide into, um, like, like, like, like most organizations try to do, um, there is, I guess two reactions. One is trying to, trying to like find a form to put it into. And the other one is that chaotic running around like, Oh my God, like everything’s on fire. What do we, what do we do? And I think that, that Inspiral, maybe, you know, thinking about those pillars that you name it, maybe another pillar to that is, is a sense of a bit of reflective calmness.
Susan 00:19:05 So we can, we can sit in this space together until we see what patterns are emerging, right. And we know that that patterns will emerge that then we can start to make sense of and can help us to create the, the practices that can give this a morphous thing some shape. And I think the difference between Inspiral and maybe some other organizations, and when we’re talking about culture building and what culture is, I think that the greatest gift that Inspiral ever gave itself, if you can, if you can call it, that is not trying to find tools that would force a particular culture, but to first understand what the culture was and then invent and create tools that could make a shape of that. And so if I think of Loomio in that context and Kobe budget, and that context they’ll take both of those examples.
Susan 00:19:56 So we like to call Loomio the, uh, the, the love child of the occupy movement and inspire all. So during occupy wall street, occupy Wellington, um, that the, the, the problem that was noticed was that very well, meaning people sitting around in circles trying to make collective decisions, uh, all of the same old hierarchical and patriarchal patterns turned up, right? So normally the Perth, uh, the man in the circle with the most context and the loudest voice, um, spent all the time or a disproportionate amount of the time, um, talking and really aiming at getting consensus, right. Trying to argue the point until everybody agrees or gives up because we just need to move forward and more, and as many times as not, there was just that paralysis of not being able to make a decision, because the sense of coherence in a circle where it’s all coming at you at once, not honoring the different, um, uh, ways of being of the people in, in, in the, in the organism, those that might want to be more reflective or need to take time to go in and process when everything’s happening in the moment in the intensity, you’re not getting the gifts of everybody that that could be participating.
Susan 00:21:26 So the idea was, is what if we noticed this pattern and try to use technology to create a, uh, a platform or our decision making opportunity where, uh, everybody has equal access and can like start to embody this practice of aiming for consent rather than consensus. So the idea of creating a pre proposal led culture, where anybody in the system can offer anything for discussion, um, feedback, uh, difference of opinion. And when the, when, when the proposal becomes ripe enough, then you open it up for a, uh, a vote, I guess, is what you call it. So is this safe enough to try, give it a thumbs up, right. If it’s not safe enough to try, we’ve got to block it and try again, but using literally understanding our practice allowed us to build a tool that was a reflection of the culture, not the other way around co budget is a very similar story.
Susan 00:22:34 So, um, in, in, in the early days, and, and til now there’s always surplus in the system, right? So how do we spend the surplus? How do, how do we make decisions collectively about how best to spend this? And in the early days it was a spreadsheet. So I might need to do a website refresh, or you might want to go on a particular training, or we might want to invite somebody, um, um, who has needs to come to an event that, um, that is subsidized, uh, anybody again, because it’s a proposal led culture. Anybody can make our proposal for funding this, but then the collective needs to decide how they want to spend their money. So, co budget has moved us from a spreadsheet to really an almost we can think of it as an internal crowdsourcing process where people decide on the basis of their own abundance, what projects they want to, they want to fulfill super excited. We just did our quarterly co budget round. And I think we allocated about $17,000 worth of, um, abundant funds to about five projects. And it works. And I’m just so excited to see what happens out of, um, these are just initiatives that we’ve been able to give a little bit of a kickstart to, um, with our, with our generosity.
Andrew 00:23:53 Yeah. I love that. I think one of the things I want to just go back to and reinforce really quick before we move forward, because it’s, um, it seems to be so foundational to the way everything in the Inspiral ecosystem works that I want to make sure people really understand it. And it was this idea of a consensus. And I think one thing that became very clear to me in, in my research was that we’ve pretty much all got the wrong idea about what consensus is. So starting from there, what would you, how would you correct that? What, what, how should we think about the idea of consensus? What does that actually mean?
Susan 00:24:25 Yeah, so, so for me, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s critical that consensus doesn’t mean that everybody has to absolutely agree on everything. And we need to sit around in the circle until everybody says, this is the best idea since sliced bread. And I’m in a a hundred percent, it’s really about consent. It’s really about the idea that anybody with the energy to bring a proposal forward and, um, and, and, and propose a way for actually enacting it, um, has the absolute sovereignty to do that within the, um, within the constraints of the system, right. And each system is going to have a different, um, definition for what is safe enough to try. Um, and what, uh, what does or does not, um, either inhibit or bring us backwards. So, so for me, the most important thing about decision making is deciding how you want to decide, um, making that transparent, and then also deciding what, what actually does a, a real block, um, mean, right.
Susan 00:25:32 And what, what, what is that, what is the meaning behind that? I think that decision making and Inspiral isn’t just done by consensus and Lumio, it’s also done through the advice process. It’s also done through acts of autonomy. It’s also done, um, through, through the occasional active delegation. Um, but the point is, and it goes to the first pillar that you mentioned, and it’s transparency, you know, in, in, in organizations, I’m not precious about how you decide to decide, but what is important is that everybody in the organization needs to know who the decision maker is, uh, what areas they have decision making authority over, and to make that utterly transparent. Um, if we could just do that in the system, I think that everything would change.
Andrew 00:26:22 I was trying to almost as practice for this, for this conversation, I was trying to explain this stuff to somebody else. And I was looking for analogies that would help me communicate this idea. And I’ll tell you the, what I came up with. And I’m curious to see how it lands with you. And if you think it’s actually a good representation of the reality. And I was like, you know, I said this to my friend. I, you know, I think Inspiral is trying to do for the future of organizations the way they work, what the constitution of the United States did for governments. And that is to make, make precious and sacrosanct not the, what you do, but the, how you do it. And it’s sort of the sense of transparent and transparency and fairness of process where it’s extremely clear about what the process is today and also the methods by which a person can go about adjusting that process or trying to adjust that process if they, if they seek, if they seek to.
Susan 00:27:15 Yeah. I love that analogy. Um, uh, an another analogy I often use is the analogy of scaffolding. So in spiral is not, it’s not a framework, it’s not a dogma. Uh, it’s just basically a scaffolding, um, that is strong enough for people to climb up on with their ladders and their hammers and their, their bits of wood. Um, but everything that’s created within that scaffolding is going to be absolutely unique to the people that are building it. Um, but that the, the, the, I guess the principles of the practice of Inspiral hopefully can be, um, inspiring to others, um, to think about how to do participatory organizing well, um, and developmentally. So this is another huge part of what I think makes that is not named about Inspiral. Um, but it’s very, very clear to me now, is that almost everything we do, we’ve never done before, almost everything that we do, um, coming together with the sense of trust and love and different configurations to, uh, create an event or run a training, or, uh, create a conflict resolution process or, um, a stewarding agreement, or how do we do livelihood pods, almost, almost everything that we do.
Susan 00:28:41 Um, there’s no playbook for. So I think one of the other underlying principles of why somebody would be, uh, why somebody would find the Inspiral way of thinking about organizing work, uh, generative is if you, if you are open to and excited by, uh, creating the road as you’re walking on it.
Andrew 00:29:14 Yep. Building the plane on the way down, so to speak,
Susan 00:29:17 Hopefully you don’t on the way down, hopefully all the way down. Yeah.
Andrew 00:29:20 Sorry. Wrong. We need to modify that analogy. Building the plane after you’ve taken off, it would be, that’s a different way to say it. So Inspiral as a, as a network in the formal sense has ventures within it. And I was, you spoke a bit about how it happens in a very organic bottom up sort of emergent sense, right? Like there’s something emerging and says, Oh, wow, okay. Let’s, let’s build a tool to make that better, but could, could you walk us through the process sort of starting from that point of, okay, we see a need within our ecosystem within our, um, our membership for this thing, how does it, how’s it go from there? Like how does a new venture gets set up?
Susan 00:29:54 Yeah. And I think it’s easy for me because I can speak to my current venture in Inspiral, which is greater than so, so great. Greater than is a, uh, co owned by four Inspiral members, myself, Kate B Croft, Francesca pik, and Anthony Caroll. So ants was also the co-producing author of better work together. And Kate and Francesca both contributed contributed to the book, but that’s, that’s an aside. Um, we have, uh, so we’re partnerships and we are, uh, on, we have a, it’s a purpose health organization. So we’ve got, um, an organization called the purpose fund that holds one of the, the, the non, uh, voting shares, um, in, in the organization, uh, how this all got started was I can remember very well the day, um, maybe three years ago. Uh, I was in Paris doing some things with Francesca who is a, um, Inspiral member based in Barcelona, uh, and another Inspiral member who has since kind of retired her Inspiral membership, but still continues to participating in the earth in the ecosystem by the name of Jesse, Kate Shingler and, uh, Fran and Jesse were talking about Cobra jet.
Susan 00:31:12 So the, the tool, the app for, uh, participatory budgeting, it had been lingering, um, and not ha not really having a home for a little while. Um, the person that was stewarding it, um, had kind of left to do some other things, and they were thinking, okay, what if, what if we made a proposal to inspire Inspiral to take on the stewardship of Kobe as a product? So it started from there. So the idea that these two members saw an opportunity, uh, for, uh, COVID is a participatory budgeting tool outside of just the Inspiral context, thought about how to, uh, how they’d identified a potential market, um, how they could propose to the, to the, to the, to the network that they would take that forward. So they did that and they did that right. And for about a year, um, greater than was focused on, um, bringing coal budget to market as a, um, as a tool, uh, after about a year for one reason or another.
Susan 00:32:20 And I, you know, you can’t call, call it a failure. You just call it maybe too early to market, or, um, just a little bit of less than, or maybe it wasn’t actually what needed to happen. Um, Kate B Croft joined the organization and they started to, uh, bootstrap some of coal budgeting, um, I guess, economic model by doing some consulting with organizations that wanted to do more participatory governance. And this is the work that I had been doing on my own for a couple of years, without a particular home. It was, I was just as a, kind of a freelancer in Inspiral doing it off the back of my own organization. Um, and aunts equally had been, had been, uh, working with, uh, an Inspiral venture called exp. And we started flirting together, the possibility of Anthony and I joining maybe a year ago.
Susan 00:33:17 And we officially in New Zealand, this March decided that we were all in and that we were going to build this organization together and kind of decided that we’re going to do this as an Inspiral venture. And that’s how greater than was created. And today greater than has some amazing clients, including consensus the largest blockchain company in the world, Dow stack a decentralized, um, uh, Dow, uh, climate kick, um, in Europe, uh, doing work with SHEEO, which is an organization that’s reinventing funding for female led ventures, uh, the value web, which is a collective of a very high level, um, uh, facilitators that work with the world bank amongst other, um, very large organizations and we are proudly and Inspiral venture. And that’s just one example of how ventures get started from my personal experience.
Andrew 00:34:21 I, one of the things I want to make sure we address here are some of the common critiques or concerns that people might have about working this way. Cause it is so different than what most people are just used to. Um, and one of the things that I have, I could imagine a, another entrepreneur having as a concern is, you know, this idea of like, wait a minute. So I start this whole company and I build it up from nothing. And I have to like share all my profits with this whole collective, like I can’t actually benefit from my own work. Is, is that, is that a, um, an unfounded or misleading concern or, or what’s, what’s the reality look like there
Susan 00:34:55 Because you can contribute back as much or little as you want, right? There are some ventures that are not contributing back anything they’re contributing back their energy and other ways, but not financially. So I guess that’s the misnomer is there is no rule. There’s no sort of like you must contribute back 20% to the center. Absolutely not. You can do as much or as little as you want. And even in the, um, in the, the, the generic organization of, uh, other, um, forms of, uh, what we call livelihood pods, it’s all completely up to the people that are creating it. There are no hard and fast rules other than that, the impulse and the impetus is to do this in a way that is, um, supporting one another, um, looking after the, each other’s wellbeing and creating opportunities for each of us to develop in, in the ways that we’re trying to do that.
Andrew 00:35:51 One of the things that I, you just mentioned in there was this idea of development, which is something that I know is very important to you. And also important to me is this idea that, uh, and this, I think comes, it goes back to one of the things we first connected on, which is the, the, um, the book that I found deeply inspiring called in everyone culture, which is sort of establishes the idea of, uh, what is it deliberately developmental organization. So w what are some of the core ideas from that line of that, that body of work that, um, have made an impact with you with Inspiral and how you’re pursuing that?
Susan 00:36:24 I mean, I think just like in anything else, it’s, it’s, um, serendipity and it’s timing. So, um, Inspiral had been going from many, many years until before I got my hands on that book. Right. So, um, my introduction to that work came from reading a, uh, a medium article by Brian , who’s the chief purpose officer to cure InCorp, which is one of the books that’s featured in an everyone culture. And the title of that particular blog blog post was operationalizing love. And I read, I read, I read that blog post, I got completely swept off my feet, um, uh, as, as any good alt MBA or would do I stalked him on, on LinkedIn. I sent him a note of gratitude and I never heard back from him. Uh, three months later, um, I got an invitation through another organization. That’s part of the Inspiral ecosystem, but not officially called Pyxis.
Susan 00:37:23 So they are a Montreal and, um, Paris based agile can add agile software consultancy firm. And, uh, I found myself on an invitation to one of their, um, offsite retreats, uh, in Iceland, and guess who else was on the invitation list, but Brian on guard from Decurion. So Brian and I rocked up to Iceland, we met and we kind of like metaphorically fell in love and we’ve been working together ever since love it. Um, and so, so one of the things that was really nascent at that time, and I promise I’ll get to the point in a second, was that, um, after the book had come out, um, Brian had noticed that there were many, many people interested in what does mean what does being a deliberately developmental practitioner look like? How can I do that as an intrepreneur within my organization? How can I do that as an accompany twang or somebody that is a coach or a facilitator, and how can we, um, create a, create a community where we can understand what that means together.
Susan 00:38:27 And again, from a developmental perspective, actually build that community together. So I’ve been working with him on that project for about three, um, and it’s just, it’s just bang, bang, bang. It’s, it’s all the same thing, right? If we want to change the possibility for the future, we need to be prepared to come together in configurations and with groups of people that we’ve, we’ve maybe never met before to do something that we’ve never done before. And the idea is that most organizations provide all of the fodder that’s necessary for us to do our ongoing psychosocial development, but we just don’t frame it that way. Um, we organizations are organized that there are people with the title of manager or boss who hold all the context, um, act in a very parental way to either protect their people from all of the noise of the organization, so that people on the ground doing the work never get to experience either the context or the complexity so that they can figure out how they might, um, orient their development around solving problems for the business because of the way that it’s all architected in this, in this hierarchy.
Susan 00:39:44 And we assume that there is not this psychosocial stuff going on in our organizations. It’s just, I was always blown my mind to think that, you know, at school, in the playground it’s expected yeah. That we go to school to learn stuff, but it’s also expected at school that we learn how to be in relationship with each other, how to choose a team, how, what it feels like not to be picked, what it feels like to win and lose what it feels like to fall in love, what it feels like to be bullied. All of these things are present in any construct where there’s people, it happens in every single I guarantee you all of those things I just described having in every workplace in the world, but we don’t look at it that we don’t, we choose to ignore that, that it, all of that amazing grist is right there in front of our faces every day.
Susan 00:40:34 And we focus on, on being extracted to develop, to deliver a particular kind of value that doesn’t serve us when if the organization decided, or if we decided to lean into that potential. Um, we can not only transform what’s possible in the workplace in terms of value, but I th I firmly believe that our wellbeing and our camp, the caring for the whole self in the context of where we spend most of our lives would incrementally change our wellbeing. Um, start to really make a crack at eliminating the suffering that’s caused by the systems that we choose not to challenge. And, uh, you know, just like absolutely, um, explode the idea of where innovation comes from, uh, where and where development comes from.
Andrew 00:41:29 No, absolutely. That’s, that’s one of the things that I think too, as you, as you called out, I think people find most surprising perhaps about the idea of being a, did that deliberately developmental organization. I love what that stands for, but dang, that’s a hard thing to say every time there’s a mouthful, a DDO. So I use that acronym. That’s what I mean. So one of the things about being a DDO is, as you said, that, you know, we have everything we need in the work itself. Like you, don’t the, one of the biggest fallacies about that concept, as I understand it, is that being a, that tending to the development, the ongoing development of everybody in the organization, it doesn’t require actually all these extra special programs. I mean, everything we need is just baked in as part of doing stuff together.
Susan 00:42:17 Absolutely. I mean, anytime a new, a new client and new EV everything is just ripe for us to lean into that way.
Andrew 00:42:26 So what gets in the way, like, I love this, I love the DDO idea so much, but I, I find myself, um, wondering why every organization isn’t one and what gets in the way of it happening. What do you see?
Susan 00:42:40 Yeah, I mean, so my, my perception is what we were talking about earlier is, um, I think we were talking about this before we, before we went live. But thinking about the organization as an, as a complex organism is not something that many people are comfortable with. We’d like to think of organization as a machine or something that’s fixed. If we hire a McKinsey or PWC or another, um, consulting company that can tell us exactly what we, we need to do to get this exact outcome. This is what we’ve been oriented around in business since the industrial revolution, right. If you can measure it, you can improve it and you can control it. And so if you think about all of the instantiated positional power or positions, generally in organizations, so head of HR, head of learning and development, you know, an L and D a great L and D person, you know, and please L and D people.
Susan 00:43:32 I love you. And I think, I think that the future is absolutely absolutely yours. Um, uh, if, if you can think beyond your KPIs, being, creating a great, um, portfolio of training opportunities that the manager can take their people through at their end of the year performance review and decide what course they can go on next year. Right. It’s, it’s trying to order these things in a way that, and I don’t, and it’s beyond, it’s not just ticking boxes, right? Because they come, I think they come from a good place, right? So everybody knows that if, if you know, in the, in the organization, you need to provide development opportunities for your people to keep them around. But my, my hypothesis is that that’s not a list of courses that you send people away to do and expect them to be able to come back and integrate that into their work.
Susan 00:44:28 Um, if we could think about, you know, uh, constructing ongoing, you know, take taking this idea away from peak experience, um, training for particular, um, you know, streams of work and started to orient a facilitative work workplace around ongoing practices of how can we learn together? How can we take this problem and do a little bit of reflection? Even things like, like simple things like retrospecting, like what happened? What did we learn? What do we want to keep? What do we want to throw out? What do we want to adjust? The practice of reflection in the workplace is I think a really simple way to start to start to notice what people actually need and want and what the business actually needs more to the point.
Andrew 00:45:26 No, that’s so interesting because one of the things, um, you know, I, I, one of the big, ah, I’ll say DNA inputs, I think too, I’m not sure if it was before Inspiral or it’s channeling Inspiral, but it’s certainly there in the, in the mix is Frederick Lou’s work around reinventing organizations and, and he describes sort of, you know, it’s, it’s, um, if you’re not familiar with that model, I know you are Susan, but if for the listener, if you’re not familiar with, um, his work in that model, he sort of describes what he calls a teal organization, which is the latest stage of, of, of, of evolution, uh, for, for our organization. And, and this stage has three big breakthroughs. It has, the big breakthroughs are our self management, uh, as he describes them, our labels, them, our self management, wholeness and evolutionary purpose. And with what you were just saying, Susan, I really I’m hearing a lot of that evolutionary purpose, this idea that it’s, um, it’s emergent, uh, to, to go back to that word that it’s, it’s evolving on an ongoing basis,
Susan 00:46:24 Organizations are complex systems, right? And their needs are changing all the time. Right. Um, and, and, and needs come from, from every dimension. We can imagine it comes from the market. It comes from our customers. It comes from the people that are participating in the organization. It comes from what they, what each individual is saying. It’s, it comes from the lessons that the, the organism is learning itself. You know, if, if the, if the ecosystem and the, and the organization can see itself or not, if the organization is reflecting, if it’s learning from what gives it life and what takes life away, we just, we can’t imagine that that a company, you know, a company is a, is a fixed rote controllable thing. It’s kind of folly. Um,
Andrew 00:47:16 But that’s what we still choose to believe. Yeah.
Susan 00:47:19 I mean, if I think about like the evolving, evolving, evolutionary purpose, or the evolving purpose of Inspiral, I mean, it started with Joshua vial, um, being lonely in wa and wanting to work with other likeminded people, um, to try to figure out how he could spend more than 20% of his time on the stuff that mattered to him and create the conditions for his work to actually reflect, um, his, his, his purpose for, for work in the world. And then, uh, you know, that attracting a whole load of freelancers who also had that same impulse that decided to collectivize their money to make that more possible for them as they started their own businesses, or, um, figuring out what the next step in their career was. And then the noticing that, you know, freelancers really weren’t going to be the, that the end state of Inspiral, and now it’s pods and livelihood, pods and ventures.
Susan 00:48:16 Things don’t stand still, but if we don’t pay attention to and be able to sense and respond, um, we’re going to miss the boat and we’re going to miss out on our potential, but it’s hard. It’s hard, man. It’s hard. It’s hard to think of where, I mean, you know, the saddest thing, I think of, you know, friends of mine that live in New York or San Francisco, like the way that the system is set up, you can’t spend more than two hours a week doing anything but earning money. Right. We need to create the conditions for us to be able to, to experiment, to, to play, to, to fail, to notice, to reflect. And, you know, that’s one of the reasons I’m so grateful for New Zealand as a place, right? We, we have the, the, the social infrastructure and the mindset that allows us to do that in a way, um, that I’m not sure in spiral could have happened anywhere else. And I don’t know if that’s a, that’s a barrier. Um, but that’s definitely something that, um, I think is, is that I’ve noticed.
Andrew 00:49:18 Yeah, no, that’s, that’s really interesting talking about that, how that cultural context shapes what’s frankly, available for people to, you know, it shapes the conditions and the, the space in which, what shapes everything that they’re able to do, or at least what’s easy to do, um, on that note. Cause I think one of the things that I’m very excited about is the spread of these ideas. And before we, in a second here, I want to shift and shift gears and kind of really spend the remainder of the conversation, focusing in on how we pathways forward for people listening. Right. We spend a lot of time talking about the, the ideas, the concepts, which I think by now, people are really starting to get a sense for that. Um, but before we shift gears into that, one thing I wanted to, to ask you is, um, I have a sense listening to you. It seems like this is an idea whose time has come. Why do you think that is, why is this so relevant? Now?
Susan 00:50:12 I think that, like the words that are coming into my head are urgency and ness and desperation. Um, I mean, that’s kind of, that’s kind of on that like apocalyptic side. Um, but I also think that technology and, uh, uh, level of awareness, um, we said we do have a choice. Um, and I think maybe the, the, the abundance that has created the opportunity for that is allowing more people to be exposed to these ideas possibly. I mean, Frederick’s book was like such a game changer. I think it’s soul, it’s now almost sold a half a million copies, which isn’t a lot from a, like a populist business book perspective, but it’s in, in, in, you know, like something like 20 languages, like people are real. I can remember when the first time I, you know, when I picked up, picked up that book and I, and I, and I started reading and I was like, Oh my God, I’m not crazy.
Susan 00:51:16 Like, like finally, somebody was putting into words, what I’d always sensed in my whole, you know, 25 year career as a senior leader in big multinationals. I couldn’t understand why the system was artificially limiting the potential of its people for some weird reason of control and power. Right. Um, and I think that, that, that the, the, the possibility for something different and I think, and I think that, you know, whatever you think about the entrepreneurs craze and people like Tim Ferriss, or, um, uh, you know, other people, even Seth, right. You know, the work that, that these humans are able to do from a populist lens to maybe kind of crack crack the shell a little bit. So that, that, that these ideas can get in. Um, but I don’t think it’s going fast enough. I was talking, I was just in Austin over the weekend at a wedding and talking about, um, South by.
Susan 00:52:15 So, uh, three years ago we had a, a S a spot at South by talking about, um, these ideas, these teal ideas, uh, it was the first time any kind of progressive management topic like this at all was there. And there hasn’t been anything since really. Wow. I feel, yeah. Yeah, it’s crazy. Right. So I feel like the TA I feel like the energy is right. I mean, and, and I think that we’re seeing different, uh, uh, books in the, in the fray as well. Like, I don’t know if you’re aware of my friend, Samantha Slade has got a brilliant book called going horizontal, which focuses on the personal practices, um, that we see that we can do to, to ready ourselves for this way of working my friend, Aaron Dignan from the, from the ready and his, uh, book, brave new work, which is really capturing.
Susan 00:53:05 Um, I know that he liked was speaking at NASA a couple of weeks ago, like really capturing that other kind of level of consciousness. Um, I think that these breakthroughs and I, and I think whatever you feel about, again, like somebody like Bernay Brown, like talking about courage and vulnerability, I think that most leaders and I even hate to use that word leaders because that is pejorative. Right. Cause when I say leaders, most people that are listening are going to think of managers or, or leadership in the, in the hierarchical organizations they’re in now. But these concepts of bravery and courage and vulnerability, um, I think are what, what, what is going to create like that little opening, um, for more and more humans to be willing to at least see what it feels like to maybe start their meeting with a check-in instead of jumping right into it, like, uh, going from meeting to meeting, right.
Susan 00:54:02 What’s on the agenda. It’s bang, bang, bang. Let’s get through it. Maybe you consider, consider coming in, sitting in taking a couple breaths together and just saying, yeah, how’s it going? What’s on top and taking five minutes to go around the room to hear, uh, I’ve just come out of a really intense meeting. So I’m not like completely in the space yet. Just give me a few minutes. Just know that I’m a little bit distracted or, you know, my, my four year old is sick. She was up all night. So I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep or yeah. I’ve been waiting for this meeting for the last two weeks. I’m super excited. I’m all the way here. And I’m all the way present. So people would say, you know, the critique of that is I don’t want to, I don’t, you know, I don’t want to know about your personal life, but all of that information that I just, those examples are signals their data to know what’s possible in this particular time and space to get through who might, you know, who might be, who might have the energy for it, who doesn’t, um, who’s distracted, who’s working on this.
Susan 00:55:03 What maybe, maybe the person that’s distracted. Maybe the reason for everybody being together is not to do the meeting that was happening there, but to help that person make sense of what they need to do to bring the company forward. But if we’re not actually taking the time to sense into the, all of the other signals and all of the other data around us, this comes to the breakthrough of wholeness and bringing your whole self. If we just start to practice something, as simple as that, I think we can train, we could transform everything. I can’t remember the name, the founder of Ikea who passed recently in his book. He said that the one fundamental thing that changed everything about his organization about his leadership team was the process of check-in. So a little thing like that is one thing that any, any team can try to start to practice to see what more data it can give us if we’re not just rushing from thing to think thing to thing without checking in with our humanness.
Andrew 00:55:58 Yeah, no, I really love that. So in that I want to ask one question and I’m sort of asking this as a transition into how people listening to this can actually go apply these ideas, because I think these are, as we’ve spent a good chunk of time talking about these are powerful ideas, they have a huge impact on not just, um, not just people’s experience of work and the relationships with everybody and everything they work with, but also like the what’s even possible in terms what they can produce. Um, and it actually has an impact on the results of the organization, which is, you know, sort of for that very practically minded person, like yes, that at the end of the day, we are trying to ultimately produce, uh, being an extraordinary organization. Doesn’t just mean everybody feels good. It means also that it does great work as reflected in its results.
Andrew 00:56:41 It’s actual hard business results. Um, so my question is, and this is sort of me putting on my skeptic hat for a second here. And you, you you’ve spoken and I’ve heard you talk elsewhere about, you know, your own frustrations with, you know, kind of getting your heart broken one too many times in an organization, and eventually saying like, screw it, I’m going to go, just figure it out somewhere else, basically. And I’m curious, you know, for people who are listening to this and are these ideas, things that can actually be added into an existing organization or these really things that can only be implemented from a clean slate,
Susan 00:57:15 So they can absolutely be implemented in an existing organization if the person sitting at the top of the pyramid wants it to happen. Right. So, so I have had the privilege of working with leaders who have come to me and said, Susan, I, I, I read Fred’s book or I read your book or I heard you speaking. And I want this for my organization. And I’m willing to, uh, put my title. I put my title on the table and figure out how we do this collectively. So if the person sitting at the top wants it to happen and is, uh, is, uh, uh, wa uh, an active participant in the process, absolutely organizations can transform. I worked with an organization in Perth, Western Australia, 1200 person organization. That’s been on this path for about three years now that has completely reoriented re reoriented its organization.
Susan 00:58:11 I work with, um, an, an amazing, um, organization out of India called the Ash papers, who is, um, trying to rid India of styrofoam by creating a compostable table where there, um, the, the, the son of the founder is, uh, we’re in this together for 20 years, right? This is, we know it’s going to take that long, but we’re in it for it. It’s a long game. Right. Um, so yes, but you, you can’t transform. My belief is, and I’d love to be proven wrong. The system can’t transform unless the source or the current source in that system wants to tap.
Andrew 00:58:52 Yeah, no, it’s, it’s a really, I, it’s something I think a lot about, and I’ve been discussing with a lot of guests on the show and, and other people as I’m exploring these ideas, because I, on some of, I agree with you that, you know, there is, and I think this is one of the reasons why, um, our, I assume this is one of the reasons why you are, or Inspiral has, is sort of directly, I don’t know if it’s fair to say anti hierarchy, um, but much more focused on a nonhierarchical approach. Um, and, and my assumption there is because generally speaking, the hierarchy ends up getting in the way because of power games. Um, is that fair?
Susan 00:59:30 I mean, I, I think, I think that’s, that’s true. I think that, uh, you know, my, my partner Francesca, um, she wrote a great article on medium that you should put in the, in the show notes, which is called cuts of bullshit. There is no such thing as no hierarchy, so that’s kind of one framing for it. But in spiral that like one of our, one of our phrases that we keep on repeating is that nobody leads all of the time. Everybody leads some of the time and followership is, is, is as important a gift as leadership. So, so cut the bullshit. There’s always going to be hierarchy. There’s always going to be social capital. There’s always going to be the power of context or the power of influence or the power of age and the power of youth or the power of whatever. Right.
Susan 01:00:19 Um, and in any configuration, those hierarchies are going to exist. But back to the point, when we were talking about decision making, if we can name these things, what’s right in front of her face. Like if this is what’s happening here, if we can name it and see it for what it is, then we can be with it and not pretend that it doesn’t exist and not be like fall into this, into this victim position of being a victim to the power. Um, cause it’s all around us all the time. Our job is to be aware of it and to have the discernment, to be able to name it and to be able to work with it.
Andrew 01:00:57 Yeah. So that makes sense. And I want to talk now about, um, how we do this, because it’s obviously it’s possible, uh, as you said, it’s hard, this is a long game. It’s a tough game. You know, the, the, I don’t remember. I think it might’ve been your, uh, your conversation with Douglas Rushkoff, but one of the things that came out of that conversation, at least that I took from that conversation when I was listening to you and Anthony was that, you know, these concepts, they’re not that complicated. These are relatively simple concepts. It’s the doing of it. You know, there’s simple, it’s just not easy, right? It’s like a, it’s like a health it’s like, um, you know, a healthy lifestyle basically, right? Everybody, all the concepts are pretty straightforward. It’s just the doing of it. That’s the tough part. So before we get into the specifics, but like, it’s going to be hard. Every anyone embarking on this journey should know that. Could you, you know, so that’s sort of the, the, the, the stick what’s the carrot. Like, could you paint a picture of what’s on the other side of this struggle that makes it worth it for somebody so that they can say, okay, this is going to be really hard, but it’s worth it. And I’m going to do it because
Susan 01:02:02 Was for maybe the first time in your life, you will feel like you don’t have to create a separation between what meaningful and significant work is and what the rest of your life is. Um, you know, we, we, we always need to have boundaries. We always need to, uh, make sure that we are not, um, you know, carrying on this however well intentioned attachment to success or, um, production or productivity or work is. But if, if you, if you can find the people who can have your back and just, it’s just like a great relationship, right. A great relationship is, you know, for me, with somebody who is, is your biggest fan and your biggest supporter, and if by a stroke of luck, genius, or intentionality, you can find a group of humans who, you know, are in it for the long run with you and are not going to, uh, eject you from the tribe for failing.
Susan 01:03:20 Um, knowing that if you’re doing it with the right intention and a, uh, an attitude of wonder and humility, um, I can’t think of anything better. And, you know, for me to even think about going back into a traditional system, it’s just not, it’s just not a possibility, but I say that with all love for humans that are in and serving and happy and fulfilled in, in those type of organizations, because you could still make an D you can still make a difference. You might not ever change the system, but if you can change the experience for yourself and your comrades. So that’s a great outcome, too.
Andrew 01:04:07 Thank you. Yeah. It’s one of the things you were mentioning a few minutes ago about the idea of like the pyramid, right? If maybe you, maybe you don’t have the, maybe the person at the top of the pyramid isn’t is not in, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the alternate theory I have heard that gives me hope about that, about what, what do you do if that’s, if that is the case, is that you can have, I cannot remember how it was described, but it was basically you can have pockets. You can create pockets where things are different and over a long enough timeline, if those pockets, if it’s really working in those pockets, it will start to spread. As people leave that little team, leave that one starter team, and then they go start a new team and so on and so forth, and eventually over a long enough timeline, it can spread that way.
Andrew 01:04:50 And in some ways the tail can wag the dog. That’s definitely not the easiest path, but it seems like a path, um, which gives me some hope. So to that end, let’s, let’s, uh, let’s switch gears now. And I want to talk, I want to spend the rest of our conversation talking about if people have been listening to this and they love these ideas, or, or want to start to take this on and bring this into their life, let’s assume for the purposes of this bit of the conversation that they are in an existing organization. And, um, maybe they’ve the buy in from the top, maybe they don’t, but how, how can someone listening to this, which is mostly product leaders, um, entrepreneurs, culture leaders, uh, people who have some degree of influence in their organization, whether or not they have full on authority over the whole thing, how can they, how would you recommend that they start what’s the path
Susan 01:05:36 Set of open source tools that I know to help, um, you know, product teams or leaders of any Stripe start to feel the experience of, um, uh, a more participatory organization is a set of tools called liberating structures. So liberating structures.com. Um, there’s a great app, liberating structures app, which is a set of about 40, um, practices that, uh, from very lightweight, to very complicated, that you can, um, start to practice with your teams. So that, that would be one place. I would definitely start. Um, if I could, if I could suggest one, when one kind of regular practice to do or to two practices check in which I described in some detail earlier, and then the practice of retrospective. So this is retrospective is a practice that’s very common in, in agile environments. So, um, after, I don’t know, a, a set period of time working on a particular project just to get together as a team and just ask yourself three simple questions, what worked, what didn’t work and what we, what would we, what would you change for next time and doing that very simple practice of reflecting to learn, instead of just going on to the next thing can be game changing.
Susan 01:07:02 And then I think of a principal that is not maybe as scary as full transparency or making all the decisions together would just be this idea of having a regular cadence of something, right. So once a month we get together and just maybe reflect on a question together or, or, uh, share what we’ve learned this past month, or, uh, suggest maybe an article or something that we can talk about together, but setting regular times in your, in your, in your workplace or in your work schedule for coming together with, with no particular agenda to make sense of the world together. Um, and, and a little bonus that could be interesting. There’s, um, some, uh, I guess there’s some precedent in some increasing, um, uh, energy around the idea of peer coaching or peer support and organizations. Very simple process that I’ve been using to, to, to that has been transformative for myself.
Susan 01:08:14 And the people have been doing it with this very simple half an hour, a week, get together with two other people do around of what are you noticing what’s going on around here? What are you noticing? Just what are you noticing in the system with no judgment with no, uh, trying to fix it just, yes, I’ve noticed that like, the energy has been really high this week, but, you know, when we, when we found out that we weren’t going to get that other contract, you know, I think that that kind of maybe was a blessing in disguise and that kind of switched our thinking. And yeah, I’m just feeling like, I don’t know. It feels like, like we’re, re-energized like that’s one example of what a noticing in the system might be. Everybody gets a chance to just say what they’re noticing. Um, and then the second round is for each individual to say what their current what’s, their current development edges, what they’re working on.
Susan 01:09:02 Um, so for example, me, then you probably maybe have noticed it in this. So I, my current, my current and ongoing development, edges, clarity and conciseness. So in my written word, and in my spoken word, I do tend to maybe use too many words or fancy words. And so I’m trying really hard to, um, yeah, make some adjustments around that. And one of the things I’m trying is to take breaths and slow down, and then, and then you open up the, um, that to the other two saying any, any other advice, any, anything else that you can think of that I could be trying? And so this really hits a couple of things in one quick process. It allows us to start noticing the system together and allows me to take responsibility for, for what I’m seeing in myself, without saying, without waiting for feedback or judgment from somebody else, we could have a whole other conversation about feedback. And then it’s giving a chance for my peers who may or may not be at my, you know, in my, my, and my same pay grade, or like even in my same division to be able to, from there, you know, from their own particular world worldview, maybe offer me something that I can’t see for myself. So check in retrospective, some kind of cadence of reflecting together or a development circle. Those are four things that you could start with or try.
Andrew 01:10:39 I love it. And I just want to clarify one or two things about that. So, um, checking, we talked a lot about, and that, that sounds like it’s a practice someone would take on at the beginning of really any meeting of, is there like a limit to this? Like, does that at what size of meeting does that fall apart? Like, I can imagine
Susan 01:10:55 Andrew, Andrew, I sometimes check in eight times a day, um, at a bigger meeting. It could so in, so this is where one of the liberating structures could come in. So one of the most popular and easy to use and access liberating structure is called one two for all. So let’s say you have a meeting of 20 people. Um, you just ask, ask, ask, ask a question. So checking question could be anything a check in question could be, um, what would be the best outcome for you from this meeting, for example, rather than just a standard check-in, which is, you know, how you’re doing. So give everybody a minute to just reflect on the answer for themselves. Um, then a minute to share with the person sitting next to them, and then one pair of joins another pair to hear from each other. Are there commonalities?
Susan 01:11:44 Are there differences? Like, are we like on the same page? Are we not on the same page? And then one person from each of those four is sharing back. So if there’s 20 people, you get kind of five voices back into the room instead of, instead of 20. And you can do that process in, I dunno, five or six minutes. So just touching on the, the other real value of these kinds of practices. Um, I talked a little bit earlier about the, um, the sitting around in the circle with the loudest voice in the room. Think about that from a meeting perspective, as well as not, not everybody is comfortable, like just being fully out there in a meeting and like being the one that’s always speaking.
Andrew 01:12:21 Yeah. So people want to process offline, come back.
Susan 01:12:24 Exactly. So using liberating structure like this, like really does take all of that into account. So you have a minute with yourself to think about it before jumping in and you have like an intimate one-on-one with somebody where you’re not sharing to the whole group then in like just adding another two to that gives a little bit more context, a little bit more, um, pattern recognition, and then sharing back to the, to the broader group. So this starts to bring in the practices of actually honoring people’s differences in the workplace, um, creating the conditions for everybody to participate, um, equally, um, even if that doesn’t mean, you know, speaking and around, right. Um, so all of these little techniques and methods and practices, it’s not complicated. You set up before, you know, what I’m describing is not complicated, but it needs to be intentional.
Andrew 01:13:14 Yeah. So I, I love what you’re saying and what’s coming up for me as I’m imagining myself applying some of these practices, and I’m both excited about that. And I also have fear that’s coming up around certain practices in, you know, not in, and of course it’s environment dependent, right. Certain environments I’m like, yeah, no problem. Other ones. I’m like, Oh man, I don’t know. And so I’m like, I imagine I’m not the only person people listening to this. Some of them are going to be having that similar experience of holding, you know, going, Oh boy, if I, so I guess my I’m trying to think phrase this as a question. So we have these simple practices. We know they work. If we, if we do them, how do we create the conditions by which it’s safe to do them? If that is not the norm right now,
Susan 01:14:01 I mean, what’s coming up for me. Is that like thinking? So in my world, it’s completely safe all the time. It’s, it’s not, it’s not like an and safe is a word that makes me nervous as well, because it doesn’t, it can’t be too safe. Right? Like you don’t want it to be so safe that nobody’s taking risks ever. So, you know, it needs to be like this balance of safe and open. But if I think about this on the other hand of doing this in, um, uh, in a situation with a boss or a peer who I might be in, you know, it, you know, you’ve got that kind of, kind of vertical power thing, but you’ve also in many organizations, got this whore horizontal competition thing going on. Um, and I guess this is a long way of saying, I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t know. Um, you know, and, and, and also I need to recognize that I’m not a therapist and this isn’t about therapy. This is about like, how do we, how do we intentionally come into a space where we’re wanting to be open and respectful? Um, and knowing that those two things mean different things for different people. Um, and knowing that in many, many workplaces it’s simply not safe. I don’t know how to answer that question. I’m sorry. I wish I did.
Andrew 01:15:16 Yeah. You know, me too. And I think it’s an open quote and they’re probably similar to the idea that there isn’t a framework here. There’s just, um, a jumping off point for example, or some examples to build from, I doubt there is one answer to that question. There’s probably many answers to that question, whether it be gaining agreement to, you know, that we’re going to continually work on the way we work, I think is a foundational agreement that I don’t, that I see missing in many places.
Susan 01:15:41 And if I could just, if I could just interject there, like one, one thing that, that, that, that you could try before jumping into this is, is actually surfacing a social contract, like K um, you know, I can imagine your, a leader of a small team. You come into work on Monday, and you say like, I, I, I’ve been really inspired by some, some of the things I’ve been hearing about what could be possible if we decided to maybe start to practice some more participation or some more progressive ways to do, um, development or problem solving. Um, but in order for us to start that, um, we first need to make some agreements. So, so are you in, you know, w and what does it look like? Um, what are the agreements that we might put in place to, uh, creating conditions for us to feel okay, starting this and just allowing, allowing that group of people to say, right.
Susan 01:16:41 I mean, it could be as simple as, um, nobody will talk all of the time, uh, what happens in the room will stay in the room. Um, we will endeavor not to pass judgment. If somebody notices, somebody speaking from their ego will have a hand signal. And, uh, if I ever feel uncomfortable, I reserve the right to leave the room, something like that. Right. So creating that agree like consciously and explicitly that agreement, um, could be a first start, but, but, you know, like how, how many layers out can you go, like, okay. Even offering that could be too scary for some, for some people. Right. But I mean, that is a possible way in,
Andrew 01:17:23 Yeah, for sure. I think another one is, um, extending the idea of kind of the noticing group, right. Where you grab a couple of people and you, you just have that very, you know, it was the talk, we were talking about peer coaching and peer feedback, right. So maybe it’s, it starts with just like one or two other people in your organization. Right. And I think that’s, that’s one, one solution that seems, uh, attractable for anybody in any organization is like, if, you know, if you can find one other person suddenly you’re not alone, and you’ve got a beachhead and you can start to over time expand that, you know, land and expand it basically where you can. Um, I mean, that’s honestly, that’s what social engineering is, right? You, you, you sort of have private conversations and S and you build it up. And then when you’ve got a sufficient, uh, uh, you got enough people, suddenly, you, you, you might jump, make the jump from a private conversation to a, uh, public within the team conversation. Um, is, it seems like one possible path as well.
Susan 01:18:21 Yeah, I agree. That’s a, that’s starts with one, right. One your first follower, right. Your first fan.
Andrew 01:18:29 Exactly. Exactly. Um, well, perfect. So I wanna, uh, go ahead and start to wrap up with a couple of rapid fire questions here. There are short questions, your answers don’t have to be short. That can be as long as you prefer. Um, although I know you’re practicing, uh, being concise, but however, however, suits you, basically, if you could go back to the start of whatever you consider to be the current chapter of your life that you’re in and start then knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently?
Susan 01:18:56 I probably not spend as much time worrying about being rejected.
Andrew 01:19:01 Okay. The next question is, so we’ve talked a little bit about the idea of enlivening, um, and creating an alive in the organization and enlivening space. What does creating an enlivening product and culture mean to you?
Susan 01:19:14 I mean, I think it’s, uh, I can’t, I wish I could re I, cause I always liked to, um, acknowledge the source of things that have inspired me and, and motivated me. And I can’t remember the name of the person who said this, but they said to me, Sue, Susan, just ask when you’re trying to make a decision or like assess a situation, simply ask your question, ask yourself the question. Is it life giving or not? And life giving and enlivening is kind of the same thing for me. And I mean, that, that would, that would be how I would ask that question is like every move that you’re making, everything that you’re trying, just ask yourself that simple, simple question is, is this, is this next move life giving? And I just go from there
Andrew 01:20:01 Sounds like a pretty useful, um, compass basically, it’s a good way to navigate through uncertainty. Um, and then is there, I’m curious in terms of the ideas, I know you’re always exploring new ideas and having amazing conversations with people and seeing interesting situations all over the globe, what ideas or concepts have made a real impact on you lately? And what’s like, what’s impacting you right now and shifting the way, like, where’s your edge right now in terms of your thinking on all this, or, or just in general in your life, like what’s impacted you?
Susan 01:20:33 I mean, I think, I think that the big thing over the course of the last year or so has been this idea of feedback, right? And I think that it’s, it’s clear that systems need to be able to see themselves in order to, um, change and grow and learn. And I think that people are the same, but I think that that most feedback is unhelpful because it comes from the perspective of what the person who’s giving you. The feedback thinks is good and right, right. It has nothing to do with you. It’s a projection on your behavior based on another person’s beliefs. And even if it comes from a place of, um, of love, um, it still is, you know, Andrew, I think that if I think that if you had just had asked a few more insightful questions and you might’ve kept the audience a little bit longer, that’s just what I’m noticing.
Susan 01:21:36 And you can take it for what it’s worth has nothing to do with you. Right. It has everything to do with me. And if we can shift our ownership of the systems for the signal back into what I’m seeing and what I’m doing, and what are you noticing about the specific things that I am working on for myself, I think that we could shift the whole dynamic of being afraid of feedback. I’m bristling. Every time somebody comes up and says, do you mind if I give you some feedback I’m taking on fame for a long time, for me, as a woman in business, everybody feedback was a critique or criticism or something else that I needed to learn how to do better, but these things have nothing very, very little to do with, with me and everything to do with you. So that’s, what’s holding my interest now, how do we navigate this, need this, this, the systems need and, and our need as humans for signal signaling back in a way that’s not that that again is really reflecting what’s happening in is, is not a projection of the other person.
Andrew 01:22:50 Hmm. Wow. Um, and then sort of my there’s so much there, uh, I think we’ve, we’re planting a lot of seeds for around two in the future here. Um, so sort of last question is, um, is there anything that you wanted to cover or express that we didn’t get to?
Susan 01:23:08 Uh, I think, you know, a little bit of, uh, you asked about how people could start to learn these practices, um, and experience them both you and I had the privilege of doing the ultra MBA. So the idea that, um, you know, committing to, uh, to a, to an adventure or an immersive experience, um, with people that you don’t know all around the world to step into a week and do something that you’ve never done before, um, in a way that you’ve never done it before, um, we’ve taken, um, that kind of conceptual framing of what, uh, numbers of learning experience could look like and created a better work together Academy. So, uh, we have three courses currently that are underway. So the practical self management intensive, which I’ve been running for about four years now, um, a great, um, uh, um, immersive on Alana Irving’s chapter in the book around full circle leadership and, uh, another, uh, another concept based on consensus consent based in decision making general generally called better decisions. So, um, if anybody is interested, please put better work together Academy and the show show notes. And, um, that’s another way that you can, you can have that experience with others, uh, and not feeling like the freak sitting in the corner.
Andrew 01:24:33 Absolutely. That is, that is definitely going in the show notes. Fantastic. Um, so just in wrapping up, where can people find you online? And do you have any requests of the listeners if they want to reach out to you or somehow otherwise engage or get involved with you in spiral, what you’re up to? Yeah,
Susan 01:24:49 Absolutely. So inspiral.com, um, but our work together.co better work, better work together, academy.academy, um, greater than.works. Um, Susan Atkins, pharrell.com or open to grow on Twitter, um, reach out, share love to know what you’re thinking. Um, Lincoln with me, and I’m sure all I’ll have the opportunity to see many of you in person as I travel the globe, trying to yeah. Emancipate the workplace of the future.
Andrew 01:25:20 I love it. I love it. Well with that, Susan again, thank you so much for your time and for sharing all this, this has been absolutely fascinating and I look forward to more, more conversations in the future. So thanks again.
Susan 01:25:30 Yeah. Appreciate you, Andrew. I think you’re doing great work and keep it up.