Shifting Power with Curiosity: Michael Bungay Stanier on Decentering Ourselves and Elevating Others

Jennifer Brown | |

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Author, speaker, and entrepreneur Michael Bungay Stanier joins the program to discuss the importance of curiosity and why leaders should decenter themselves. Discover how to embrace power in an authentic way, and what trees can teach us about decision making.

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

Jennifer: Michael, welcome to The Will To Change.

Michael: It is great to be here. Thanks for having me, Jennifer. It’s nice to talk to you again.

Jennifer: I know, it’s nice to talk to you too. I feel like I’ve said this several times on the podcast because her network is my network, but we share the wonderful Erin Weed in common.

Michael: We do.

Jennifer: Yes we do, and we both experienced The Dig with Erin, right?

Michael: Which was fantastic.

Jennifer: Did you do a solo Dig or a group Dig there?

Michael: [crosstalk 00:00:26] I did a solo Dig.

Jennifer: Okay.

Michael: And I was highly skeptical about it because I’m a really good facilitator. And most of the time I’m being facilitated by other people I’m very resistant to it.

Jennifer: [inaudible 00:00:36] too.

Michael: Because I’m like, “All right, your content might be good, but you’re doing this so badly. Just let me facilitate myself through this, you’re driving me nuts.” But Erin took me through this process in a really interesting way, and really surprised me by the outcome. So it was well facilitated with a great outcome, which was a double win for me.

Jennifer: Oh, that’s so excellent. And you know what question I’m going to ask next, which is part of The Dig for those that have not been through one. And we really recommend you do go out to Boulder when we’re all sorted with the pandemic and stuff.

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: But Erin goes back through your life and you unpack. She does a bunch of sticky notes on the wall, to the point where the entire wall is covered with sticky notes.

Michael: [inaudible 00:01:15].

Jennifer: And she has her little Sharpie and her sticky notes, and she’s just painting the wall with powerful things in your life. Little details that you may think don’t matter, and putting them together. And also as you go creating a hierarchy. Because she’s also this incredibly talented messaging person, and has worked with speakers for a really long time.

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: So what she’s listening for is the arc and the narrative. And I think I learned through that process so many things, but that nothing in our lives is wasted.

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: That there are so many gifts along the way, even in those moments, and especially in those moments when we feel blocked, or thwarted. Or in the bottom of a deep, dark well, and with no idea how to get out.

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: It is all so beautiful, and there’s so much to share that actually could make a connection and create an aha moment for others, particularly as speakers. So yeah. Anyway, but Michael, without saying more, I would love to hear A, about your personal story, we say everyone has a diversity story. I’m sure that’s a theme through your life, it is for everybody. And then if you want to talk about The Dig and what you resisted in that, perhaps as it pertains to some pieces of who you are, I’d love to hear.

Michael: Sure. So when you ask for a diversity story, the moment that comes to mind for me was in university. My second year of university, I’m sitting round in a little tutorial talking about an English book, because I’m doing a literature degree. And there was me, my friend Michael, also called Michael, and I think eight or nine women. And the two Michaels just took up the entire oxygen in the room, it’s just us yapping away. And I’d gone to an all boys school at a high school. And I just remember going, “This doesn’t totally feel right. There’s a little bit too much.” The word mansplaining wasn’t in extant then, but it was mansplaining. And it was just not even mansplaining, it’s just two guys who were enthusiastic about the books. But just going and plowing on and on, and a bit oblivious to the fact that we’re doing that.

Michael: And I would say that both he and I, we had both done crisis telephone counseling. So we’d actually been trained to ask questions and listen, but we just forgot that in the moment. And in some ways that was a kind of awakening around a commitment to feminism in particular. I’m very proud to call myself a feminist, and in my academic lives, my master’s degree was around a feminist perspective of a book. And my law degree thesis was about the language of law, and how that flattens out power, and removes voices, and removes other perspectives. And as I’ve gone on in my life, I mean, I tick lots of the privileged boxes, right. I’m a straight, tall, white, English speaking, overeducated Rhodes scholar dude. I mean, I’ve pretty much got it all. But I’ve been very, just invested in particular around feminism, and helping, and being, I guess the language now would be being an ally to women. And helping women step into the limelight, and helping me get out of the limelight.

Michael: All of which to say, and then I’ll stop the monologue is what I’ve become best known for is coaching, and making coaching an everyday skill for people. And the reason I do that, when you think about it, is I think curiosity is an act that shifts the power dynamic. Because it moves from, “I’m telling you what to do.” to, “I’m inviting you to own the problem and find the answer.” And it was through The Dig and other things that have helped me figure out, “Oh, that’s part of why coaching called me so strongly, to teaching coaching as a skill, was because of that shift in power.”

Jennifer: And so just to let people know, Erin at the end of The Dig assigns, or I wouldn’t even assign, maybe the word is elucidates our one word.

Michael: Mm-hmm (affirmative), that’s right.

Jennifer: It comes to her after two days of many Post-its and lots of deep… And tears in my case, I don’t know about you, Michael.

Michael: Not me, no. I just pretended I was okay. I stared into the middle distance in a manly way, that’s how we do it round here.

Jennifer: Oh my [inaudible 00:05:58]. Oh my goodness, but so Michael, you and I share, our word is power.

Michael: Yeah, [inaudible 00:06:04].

Jennifer: And there have only been three Digs in Erin’s entire time of doing hundreds, I don’t even know how many she’s up to.

Michael: [inaudible 00:06:12] thousand, I think.

Jennifer: Yeah, but power, when I heard that word for me, it was so fascinating. As a woman, number one it’s an interesting thing to breathe into that. And think about, “Well, where am I powerful? And am I perceived as powerful?”

Michael: [inaudible 00:06:30].

Jennifer: “And who has the power? And do I have unused power that I could be inhabiting more?” right. It kind of was a fire that was lit in me, and almost a permission. And this is what is gendered about it, it was permission, I think, to live into that. And it’s crazy to say, but some of us need permission because we aren’t acculturated to that.

Michael: Absolutely.

Jennifer: We don’t know what it feels like to be in our power. It’s such a struggle when you lack role models, and you’re socialized in the way that we are.

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: So when I heard that I felt, “Okay, I can actually own this.”

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: And Erin saw it in me before I saw it in myself.

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: I wanted to hear from you, how did you take that word when she gave it to you?

Michael: Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the quote, “Inspiration is when your past suddenly makes sense.” So it was a surprise to get that offered up as my word, but I can point to all sorts of minor skirmishes where I’ve held the tension of being in power, centered in power. And also trying to disrupt power at the same time. So I go to a private school, and I end up being banned from my high school graduation, because of the way we tried to celebrate the final day at high school. I go to law school, but finished law school both as a Rhodes scholar, but also being sued by one of my law school professors. Because I stood up to protest about how he taught a point of law involving a case example of a woman being raped. A gratuitous [inaudible 00:08:16] example for the point of law.

Michael: So I left being sued for 50 grand or something from him. I’m a Rhodes scholar, so I’m sitting in the Rhodes photo surrounded by, there’s at least two of the US governors in my class. There was a candidate in the US democratic presidential run in my class. But I’ve got really long hair, I’ve got a little peace sign around my neck. And I’ve made my own clothes, and they’re all a bit raggedy because I’m not a great seamstress, so they’re all falling apart. And everybody else is in power suits, and white shirts, and red ties. So for me there’s this constant sitting in power and I’m trying to disrupt power. And it manifests in part through my training company, which is called Box of Crayons, which is already a slightly unusual name. But it’s teaching these skills to say, “Look, curiosity is a superpower, in part because it plays with power structures.”

Jennifer: Really what you’re talking about is influencing the powerful as an insider. But you’re also identifying yourself as an outsider insider, right, within the system.

Michael: Yeah. I mean, that’s right. I mean, I am in many ways an insider, I can’t deny that I’m not part of the 1%. And that means I get access, and I have credibility in a way that I don’t need permission for. [inaudible 00:09:54] you were saying before it’s like hearing that word granted you permission? I don’t need that permission, I just have it. I can [inaudible 00:10:02]. But that sense of climbing a hierarchy is very uninteresting to me, and I buck under control. I’ve got a weird freedom [crosstalk 00:10:17].

Jennifer: So do I.

Michael: Yeah, it’s like every time I’ve worked for an organization, my boss has been driven nuts by me. Because I’m like, “I know you’re technically my boss, but that in no way gives you any power, or control, or influence over me. Or makes you morally or intellectually better than I am.” I don’t see what the problem with that is, and apparently they all had problems with that.

Jennifer: Apparently.

Michael: So I couldn’t call myself an activist. You look at some of the people who hold that label and claim that label. And they’re much more going, “This is how I actively am disrupting the system and changing things.” [inaudible 00:10:56] Stacey Abrams or something. I’m like, she’s amazing, but I’m not an activist like that. But that idea of trying to offer people ways that they can empower themselves and empower others. And I think if you’re one of those people who have power, learn how to give up power. That’s a really interesting conversation for me, which is like, how do you help… Just to pick a subgroup, because I’m one of them. How do you [inaudible 00:11:27] straight, white, successful men who are senior executives give up power. Because when you do diversity and inclusion work, it’s not like anybody is going to explicitly go, “I’m against that. I quite like the white patriarchy, thanks very much.” Or that’s my guess anyway.

Jennifer: Just a guess.

Michael: There’s probably a few people who think that, but there’s a much bigger group of people who go, “In theory I am all for this.” But in practice they’re like, “I’m also enrobed in authority, and status, and privilege, and comfort, and control.” That’s hard to disentangle yourself from, as it would be for anybody when they’re in [inaudible 00:12:09] role. So how do you, if you’re in that role, find ways of giving up power? That’s a really interesting, juicy, difficult question for me.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Can you tell me about the conscious choices you have learned how to make? The opportunities that you have found to, we might also say share power, right?

Michael: Mm-hmm (affirmative), right.

Jennifer: It’s not that zero sum of give up and somebody else gets it, right? It’s a sharing also.

Michael: Yeah.

Jennifer: And it’s almost an energy of standing alongside, and so referred power, also proximity power, right? So there’s a energetic aspect to it as well, in the old days when we used to be able to be sharing space with each other. But so did you train yourself to look for every single opportunity, which I’m sure you do now, to say, “How can I turn something external that I have an abundance of?” Because I might argue those that describe themselves the way you do and identify the way you do, they’re scared of giving up. But the thing is, there’s such an abundance.

Michael: [inaudible 00:13:15].

Jennifer: If you give some, there’s still so much.

Michael: Yeah, I agree.

Jennifer: So how did you learn, how did you train yourself to do it? Do you remember maybe your earlier self where you felt that resistance rise in you? Maybe not for a long time in somebody like you, but what was that like?

Michael: Well, I’d say I’m thinking of a few things, and it’s learned behavior. It’s we’re saying that, I mean, I probably have a wiring towards this. And also I just had to learn a bunch of skills, and tactics, and tools to help me with this. In one of my earlier jobs, I spent a lot of time running focus groups and doing market research. I’d go out and I’m hired by Pizza Hut to try and help them invent the new Stuffed Crust pizza. So I have to go and talk to people. And part of running a focus group is you have to find a way of getting the group to talk to itself, and removing yourself from being the hub of the conversation. And so there were just some rhetorical devices to help a conversation not come back to me as the asker of the question.

Michael: So I would ask a question, and then I would look at the floor. Because people would start talking and they’re like, “Oh, Michael is not looking at me.” So they’d look for somebody to make eye contact with them, and then they’d talk to that other person. And it’s a simple physical trick, but it immediately decenters you. Because it just says, “I’m kind of not here. I’m listening, I’m not here, you can talk to anybody else.” And then getting comfortable to sit with silence. So they’ll finish talking, and you as the person in the focus group, but also in a meeting, or in a one-to-one conversation or anything, you just stay quiet. And of course inside you’re like, “This feels really awkward.” Because we haven’t said anything for two seconds.

Jennifer: Totally.

Michael: But you know what? Somebody else will feel more awkward than you and they will crack first. So they then start talking and now you’re like, “Good, now something interesting has happened here.” So that’s one thing that comes to mind, Jennifer. The other thing that comes to mind is a structure that I took from a woman called Susan Scott, who wrote a book called Fierce Conversations. And I’m not sure what she calls this model, but basically it uses the metaphor of a tree. Twigs, branches, trunk, roots. And what that model does is it is a decision-making model. So this is broadly how it works for people who report in to me. So I run and own two companies, and so I have two smart women running these companies for me, and they report in to me. And we have twig, branch, trunk, and root conversations.

Michael: So twigs are things that I will never know about, I’m never going to hear about them. Branches are things that I might hear about. It’ll be in the newsletter, or Shannon or [inaudible 00:16:21] will report it out to me as part of a conversation. Trunk, decisions that I get to have a conversation with them about, but the decision rests with them. And then root are the decisions that I get to make. And I just try and maintain a discipline of pushing things up the tree as much as I can.

Michael: So when I think about Shannon who runs Box of Crayons, and she took over about a year and a half ago as the CEO. And my wife and I own that, so we’ve got money and stuff at stake in that company. But I spent two years with Shannon and another coach working out the transition of power. Because it’s not just a male thing, it’s actually just a founder thing. Which are like founders find it very hard to let go of the thing that they created, because it’s an expression of themselves. And the root decisions for Box of Crayons are fundamentally, who do we sell the company to, and do I fire Shannon? That’s it, those are the only two things I get to make a decision on. The rest of them are hers.

Jennifer: [inaudible 00:17:39].

Michael: Now there are times that that kills me, because I don’t even know what’s happening in the company, I don’t know who they’ve hired. I mean, I do know how they’re spending their money, but they’re coming to me as a board member to talk that through. And so that’s required somebody to co-facilitate that, and support me as I’ve given up that control and given up that power. So I’d say for there, Jennifer, there’s two things. There’s the model really helps, the commitment to push things up the tree really helps. From root to trunk, from trunk to branch, and having somebody for the transition [inaudible 00:18:20] power to co-coach. It wasn’t my coach and it wasn’t Shannon’s coach, it was our coach managing that transition to power.

Jennifer: I mean, the investment that you made in such an important, and I can scarcely imagine a more important decision, right? Than that transition.

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: I mean, it’s fundamental.

Michael: And people treat it so-

Jennifer: Cavalierly.

Michael: They treat it a little casually.

Jennifer: Yes, no.

Michael: And most founders who want to give stuff up, they want to give up 95% of what’s going on, and just keep their fingers in the remaining five interesting percent. Which is what absolutely kills the experience.

Jennifer: [crosstalk 00:18:57]

Michael: So it took a certain amount of practice, and discipline, and structure, but we seem to have got there.

Jennifer: Can I ask you, now I have to ask this question. Just a structural business founder question here, which is what are you then freed up to do? So you’ve installed leadership, and the lens I’d love an answer through too, is your changing relationship to the word power, to the concept of power. So what is happening, and what do you hope to build? And how are you going to use your voice? And I guess, what did you need to move on from as well in order to find all of that that’s ahead?

Michael: So it’s been a year and a half since I stopped being the CEO of Box of Crayons. And it took at least a year of me just flapping around, decompressing from Box of Crayons. And really running some small experiments around stuff to go, “Can I do this? Is there a business here? Do I want to do it?” Like in early days of the pandemic, I ran something called Cocktails and Questions. And four or five times a week there would be six people, me plus five others. And we would gather online through Zoom, and I would facilitate a conversation. And it’d be we’d have a little check-in, then people would have had 24 hours to mull over a question, and a question designed to prompt vulnerability. Like, “What’s the crossroads you’re at? What are you willing to give up? What are you holding onto that you’d like to let go of?” These are questions designed to make it hard not to be personal.

Jennifer: Right.

Michael: And then they’d have five or six minutes to monologue with the others listening, you couldn’t interrupt the person who’s talking. And I’m like, “This is interesting, and it’s really powerful for lots of people going through that process.” But I’m like, “Actually I don’t want to facilitate one of these five times a week. It’s a bit tiring and it’s not quite right for me.” So I experimented with a whole bunch of things. And of course Erin’s word is in my ear, “Power, power, power.” I’m like, “Oh.” [inaudible 00:21:04] so helpful in so many ways, because it cut ties from me just to do a 5% shift from Box of Crayons and [inaudible 00:21:14] curiosity. And that was really helpful, because Box of Crayons doesn’t want me fouling the nest by me talking about stuff that is now their remit. So I’ve got to leave 20 years of investment in becoming an expert in coaching and curiosity behind.

Jennifer: Wow.

Michael: So now what?

Jennifer: Wow.

Michael: So through Erin’s work, the new website is mbs.works, and the invitation is to help people be a force for change. So it’s a shift from more of an enterprise level, because Box of Crayons works with Microsoft, and Salesforce, and Gucci, and big, cool companies like that. And this is more individual work around, “Be a force for change.” And that’s my best bridge towards power and disrupting power. I found putting power too explicitly in the message was too much. First of all, people were like, “What are you doing talking about power, you’re a coaching dude?”

Jennifer: No.

Michael: So it’s confusing to people coming to me having read my book. So like, “Maybe this is the wrong Michael Bungay Stanier, but how many Michael Bungay Staniers are there in this world?” So I needed to find a bridge, but I’m trying to help people identify a worthy goal. Something that is thrilling, and important, and daunting. Lights them up, gives more to the world than it takes, takes them to the edge of who they are. And that feels like an empowering act. And it feels like an act that disrupts the status quo. So it’s my sideways way into coming back to that core route that Erin gave us of power.

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah. Oh my goodness, would I just kill to be in that, what you’re building. And what timing for it, because so many of us are awakening into a different world. A world that is seeking, I think, our empowered, embodied stories, and voices, and experience. Because the world needs it, the world has decided, “Okay, now it’s needed.” even though it’s been needed forever.

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: But now we have this tailwind at our back to really [crosstalk 00:23:36].

Michael: Exactly. And I want people to do more than stick up a black square on their Instagram and go, “That’s my activism.” I’m like, “That doesn’t give more to the world than it takes.

Jennifer: That’s so right, [crosstalk 00:23:46].

Michael: That’s just not enough.

Jennifer: No, no, it’s not enough.

Michael: So yeah.

Jennifer: Let me ask, so what do people struggle with embracing their powerful? If I can use that as a noun, what do you witness as the biggest challenge? And I guess I might imagine this can be seen through the lens of identity, I would think. Because we’re so impacted by, as we were talking about, our socialization, our imposter syndrome, all those fun things.

Michael: All of those things, yeah.

Jennifer: Yeah, so what do you see?

Michael: It’s so much. There are so many reasons that you can opt out of the invitation to own your power, own your authority. And so it’s a little hard to know where to start. So maybe just to talk from my own experience, and bear in mind as I’ve said, I’ve got a lot of good arrows in my quiver. But you feel that you’re never part of the inner circle. You feel that it’s hard to find the sight line to a sense of purpose, and having impact in the work that you do. You’re structurally excluded from resource that seems to be floating around. There always seems to be something else that you’re not part of.

Michael: I mean, [inaudible 00:25:31] Clubhouse, the new thing. And I show up on Clubhouse and I’m like, “I don’t know any of these people.” Then you read their bios and they’ve all started 73 seven figure companies, and ranked number one of this, and number one of that. And I’m like, “Is this true?” And I’m 53 now, and well-seasoned, and pretty confident in who I am in this world, and what authority I have. And I’m intimidated by all these people, none of whom I actually know. None of whom I know whether they’re telling the truth or not. So if I’m knocked off my stride, how easy must it be for others to be knocked off their stride? But one of the things that I am trying to facilitate in this new business, and [inaudible 00:26:31] I’m writing a book about it, and setting up other bits and pieces, is helping people make small steps forward.

Michael: I think there is something about, I hope this is answering your question, Jennifer, it may not be. But something about look, actually being able to take regular small steps forward can really help. And to do that, what’s helpful to do is take in feedback, what’s working and what’s not working. And mitigate risk, how do you not step off a cliff, or run into some kind of dangerous place? And in part of the work that I’ve done, I hope with, for instance, the two women as part of these two companies. Is just to keep giving them permission to keep taking small steps forward, and help them see feedback, and hear it. To take what’s useful from the feedback, and to ignore the stuff that’s not useful. And to have their back, part of my job is to have their back. Which is like, “You’re okay to make mistakes here, because I’ve got your back around. So there’s very little that can go so badly wrong that we’re all screwed.”

Jennifer: Yes, [inaudible 00:27:55].

Michael: [inaudible 00:27:58] a stab in the dark and [inaudible 00:27:59].

Jennifer: Yeah. I love that. Well, and funny enough, that’s the advice I give, these days anyway, the mainly straight, white, male executives that I seem to be spending so much time with, on their inclusive leadership journey. There’s overwhelm, there’s fear of saying the wrong thing. There is, “How can I ever be authentic, I’m so privileged?” And so I agree with you what you said earlier, that now I think we’re dealing with, “I want to be a part of this, I just don’t know how.” And so often I liken it to those small steps that yes, mitigate risk. I see what you said in a different way about them, which is that I don’t want them to damage themselves or others in their learning process.

Michael: [inaudible 00:28:50].

Jennifer: And so I want for them to have a step-by-step muscle-building exercise. Where you don’t go out and run a marathon, you train carefully, right? You plan it out, you increase your capacity over time in a very prudent way, in a very strategic way.

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: Because the last thing I want is for an aspiring ally, which I will call people on this journey.

Michael: That’s a great phrase, yeah.

Jennifer: Yeah, to sort of jump off a cliff and hurt themselves or hurt others.

Michael: [inaudible 00:29:23].

Jennifer: Well-intended but not practiced, right?

Michael: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jennifer: And not taking that right next step, I think about that a lot. Because that varies from person to person, the right next step really depends on where you’re starting from.

Michael: Totally.

Jennifer: So anyway, I love what you said. That it doesn’t sound glamorous, tiny little steps every day, but it’s like everything else that we practice the hygiene around. And I try to give people as many metaphors that feel like this is how we become good at something. That it’s going to feel like we are not good at it for a really long time. And maybe with power, with the folks you work with, “How do I live into feeling powerful every single day?”

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: “How do I practice?” Is power something we can practice? Remember the power pose?

Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah, Amy Cuddy. Yeah.

Jennifer: Yeah, it’s so fascinating. I don’t know everybody listening to this, look up Amy Cuddy’s power poses. It’s like exhibit it and you can be it.

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: It’s like smiling when you’re having a really bad day. And all of a sudden you send signals to your brain that you’re having a good day, and your disposition changes.

Michael: Exactly. I mean, that specific insight here around the body leads the brain is one that this [crosstalk 00:30:37] a ton of science to say, “Look, shift in the way you want to be.” I mean, like I have two small desks in my office here. One is for my getting work done desk, and one is for my writing and being creative desk. And that shift is just a physical shift that’s my body informing my brain that I’m sitting down to do creative work now. And I’m priming myself to do that.

Jennifer: I love that, that’s so cool.

Michael: But what you’re describing is that learning journey. People talk about it as unconsciously incompetent moving to consciously incompetent.

Jennifer: Okay.

Michael: Which is the worst place to feel.

Jennifer: It feels horrible.

Michael: But it’s where you make the biggest leaps in the learning. So if you can sit with consciously incompetent and go, “This is not about me, it’s just about the skills I have around this subject matter.” That can be a really powerful place to be. And then if you move to consciously competent, and you move back towards that. You can see that that’s a journey for those aspiring allies that you’re talking about, for people stepping into power.

Michael: There’s that saying, “Stride confidently in the direction of your dreams”? I just think that’s mostly terrible advice when you’re dealing with complex stuff like this. There’s that model around the three different systems that drive our world. There’s complicated, there’s complex, and there’s chaotic. Complicated is like a machine. You pull a lever, and the buttons flash, and the predictable thing pops out of the end. Complex is emergent. So complicated is like a space shuttle, or landing the new thing on Mars. That is really complicated, but with the right spreadsheets, and computers, and calculations, it hopefully works.

Jennifer: Okay.

Michael: Complex is like a flock of birds or raising a kid. Having a whole series of spreadsheets, or a to-do list if you’re in a flock of birds is not that helpful. Because you’re reacting to principles as this flock emerges and changes its shape. And then chaos is when there is no emergent property, and it’s just chaotic. And we all wish life was complicated, only complicated, because then it would be predictable. Then you could go, “These are the leavers I pull to become an ally in diversity.”

Jennifer: Okay.

Michael: But actually stepping into power, shifting the way power works in your organization. Changing the way that recognition and diversity work in your organization is not complicated so much as it is complex. So in a complex situation, you move with small steps and you seek feedback.

Jennifer: Yes. Oh Michael, let me pause for a moment. Okay. I’m going to answer you, I was just taking that in. Did you want to talk about chaotic, or no?

Michael: I think chronic is like, “There’s nothing I can do about it. I just pour myself a martini and hope it goes away.”

Jennifer: I love that distinction. Where did you get that, did you come up with that?

Michael: I did not come up with that. The lead thinker on that is a guy called David Snowden, and he wrote a seminal article for HBR probably 30 years ago around that. And he’s Welsh, so he has this Welsh-named organization, which is Cynefin. Which has spelt C-Y-N-E-F-I-N, I think. It’s Welsh, so there’s no correlation between what you say and how it’s spelt.

Jennifer: Right.

Michael: But he’s the key champion of that model and that structure.

Jennifer: Yes. And that is such a worthy distinction, and very accurate I think. And leaders, I find, in a spreadsheet world, look at this conversation I always have with them as hopelessly mysterious. And a flock of birds is really mysterious, when you watch the starlings shape and reshape you talk about mystery.

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: But beautiful, right? I mean, the wonder of it.

Michael: And behind that flock of birds is some principals. For a flock of birds you have three principals. Fly towards the center, fly as close to the other birds as you can, don’t run into the other birds. Those are the three principles that are emergent property for a flock of birds. So what helps when you deal with complexity with power, and diversity, inclusion is let’s not have a whole lot of rules. Let’s understand what our core principles are around our behavior. And that just allows us to make progress in terms of the work we’re trying to do.

Jennifer: That is so cool. I could relate each one of those, I think, to an organizational behavior, which I’ll be reflecting on after this. But I love images and metaphors. And I love that nature has examples of what we’re endeavoring to do in organizations, right?

Michael: [crosstalk 00:35:47]. Yeah.

Jennifer: That’s not an accident, that’s such a beautiful way to look at it. And lastly before we run out of time, Michael, the potential beauty on the other side of all of this work, right? The conscious incompetence, the awkwardness, right?

Michael: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jennifer: The, “I am never going to get this right.” I find myself also, one of the most important messages I’m giving these days is, “You can do this.”

Michael: Right.

Jennifer: Like, “You can be this.” And I know that it doesn’t feel like it right now, but I know people on the other side. And Michael, you’ve always come to mind.

Michael: Thank you, [crosstalk 00:36:20]

Jennifer: I know that the endeavor has a result, and that’s what people can’t see when they’re in the middle of it.

Michael: Exactly. Which is, first of all, that you can make progress here. And secondly, you’re not alone. You’re not traveling alone in this. There’s lots of other people on the same path as you.

Jennifer: Yes. Back to the flock of birds, right?

Michael: Exactly.

Jennifer: It’s a perfect image, because we aren’t alone. And I think when we start to feel alone, a small step we can take is to remind ourselves that there are a lot of people endeavoring to grow. And that this is for the good of our expanded human consciousness, but can only be done in community with each other, which is so beautiful.

Michael: That’s right, yeah.

Jennifer: Anyway, so Michael, I’ve enjoyed this so much.

Michael: Me too.

Jennifer: There’s so much more I wanted to ask you about, but-

Michael: I know, and I’m sorry I have to run. I’m flying off to Australia in a couple of days, so I have to get a COVID test before I get on an airplane.

Jennifer: [crosstalk 00:37:15]

Michael: So I have to rush off, I’m sorry to cut it short.

Jennifer: You be safe, you be safe.

Michael: Thank you.

Jennifer: And tell us where we can find you/support you.

Michael: Sure.

Jennifer: Where?

Michael: Yeah, mbs.works is the personal website for me and all around this being a force for change. And for the coaching skills for big organizations, that’s boxofcrayons.com.

Jennifer: Beautiful. Thank you Michael, and thank you for the light that you’re shining in the world.

Michael: Oh, thank you Jennifer.