More than a change in latitude. A change in afftitude

margaritaville by Ed Bierman
We cannot problem solve our way into fundamental change, or transformation
[Via Gurteen Knowledge-Log]

By David Gurteen

Whenever I run my Knowledge Cafe Masterclasses, a few people always have a serious problem with the fact that when run in its “pure form” there are no tangible outcomes of a Knowledge Cafe.

There are plenty of intangible ones, such as a better understanding of the issue, a better understanding of ones own views, a better understanding of others perspectives, improved relationships and genuine engagement and motivation to pursue the subject but no outcomes in the form of a decision or a consensus or a to-do list.

I and many others don’t have a problem with this — the intangibles are worthy outcomes. And then I recently came across this quote from Peter Block in an online booklet of his entited Civic Engagement and theRestoration of Community: Changing the Nature of the Conversation

My belief is that the way we create conversations that overcome the fragmented nature of our communities is what creates an alternative future.

This can be a difficult stance to take for we have a deeply held belief that the way to make a difference in the world is to define problems and needs and then recommend actions to solve those needs.

We are all problem solvers, action oriented and results minded. It is illegal in this culture to leave a meeting without a to-do list.

We want measurable outcomes and we want them now.

What is hard to grasp is that it is this very mindset which prevents anything fundamental from changing.

We cannot problem solve our way into fundamental change, or transformation.

This is not an argument against problem solving; it is an intention to shift the context and language within which problem solving takes place.

Authentic transformation is about a shift in context and a shift in language and conversation. It is about changing our idea of what constitutes action.

So another intangible I should add to my list: “a shift in context and in language and conversation that changes our idea of what constitutes action.”


I do not usually include an entire post but this one has so many important points. There are intangible benefits when these changes are made that may eventually lead to tangible benefits. But, most likely, those benefits will be a series of actions that would be wildly different than expected.

This is the paradox of a paradigm shift. People on either side live in completely different contextual worlds and are completely unable to explain their worldview to the other. One example – mimeograph machines. This used to be the only inexpensive way that multiple copies of a test could be produced for schools. There was an entire process developed for creating the stencils for the test, etc. It resulted in a ‘wax’ copy of the test that was used to print off the copies. With the appearance of copiers, the mimeograph disappeared from regular use. Now most young people have no idea of what a mimeograph is.

Thus when they watch National Lampoon’s Animal House, they just do not understand the whole scene with the two characters rifling through the trash bin to find the stencil. They have no personal knowledge of what a stencil is or why having one would be useful for cheating on a test.

Transformation presents a similar division between what was and what is. But those organizations that can effectively learn how to move information around more effectively, who can harness human social networks in order to solve complex problems, will be more successful.

They may just have a hard time explaining it to those organizations still on the other side.

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