What London needs now is Flower Power!

The Heliotropic Principle

Sunflowers in the bud stage move towards what gives them energy and life. At sunrise, the faces of most sunflowers are turned towards the east. Over the course of the day, they follow the sun from east to west, while at night they return to an eastward orientation.

This ‘heliotropic’ principle has been applied to Organisation Development, by an innovative approach to organising called ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ (AI). The idea is that people move towards what gives life and energy.

AI is increasingly being recognised as a positive approach to developing communities and organisations.  It is a technique for engendering change by unleashing positive energy amongst people. Research has shown that focussing on what gives life (rather than the problematic) can lead to ‘human floushing’ in communities and organisations alike.

Recriminations have well and truly begun after the recent troubles in our wonderful City.  My sense is that we shouldn’t dwell too long on finger pointing and blame. Rather, we need to create a momentum for change by re-imagining community life in our conurbation. We can start by asking what life-giving initiatives can offer hope and help transform our beleaguered communities.

One group of people working for this kind of change is ‘Imagine Chicago’ . I really think they are on to something worth looking at:

               a city where…

young people are leading the way forward
public schools are thriving community learning centers
neighborhoods and institutions work together to share ideas and resources
and all citizens recognize and apply their talents to create a positive future for themselves and their community 

Click here to find out more about this movement.

Appreciative inquiry in the face of wanton destruction, death and hopelessness…

In the aftermath of the riots, there have been numerous inquiries about why the authorities did not meet force with force? Why wasn’t justice in the form of water canons and rubber bullets dished out? Why can’t we respond to civil unrest in the way that the Americans or our Continental cousins do – decisively and with a show of strength? Why didn’t we call in the army? Where were the parents of rioting youths? In the days to come, there will be no doubt be yet more questions about the underlying causes of this malaise.

As I watched the events unfold, I found myself just asking… why?

In this connection, I applaud the Archbishop of Canterbury’s (ABC) speech to the House of Lords yesterday.

The ABC said,

“Seeking explanations, it is worth remembering, is not the same as seeking excuses, and in an intelligent and critical society, we do seek explanations so that we may be able to respond with greater intelligence and greater generosity”.

It seems counter-intuitive to be talking about Appreciative Inquiry (AI) at a time like this. However, I do believe that AI can be used, even in the worst of times. When things are at its bleakest, we can still try to be generative in our inquiry by asking what gives life, even in the face of wanton destruction, death, despair and hopelessness.

The ABC is pointing to something generative in the midst of the destruction and is  inviting us to build on this by inquiring into it:

“…I’ve spoken a little about the way in which communities have responded (to the rioting), not only volunteer bodies, but local businesses and also individuals, building new friendships, new networks. People have discovered why community matters. They’ve discovered why solidarity is important. They have begun to discover those civic virtues that we’ve talked about in the abstract. In other words, …I believe that this is a moment which we must seize, a moment where there is sufficient anger at the breakdown of civic solidarity, sufficient awareness of the resources people have in helping and supporting one another, sufficient hope (in spite of everything) of what can be achieved by the governing institutions of this country, to engage creatively with the possibilities that this moment gives us. And I trust, My Lords, that we shall respond with energy to that moment which could be crucial for the long-term future of our country and our society”.

In this speech, the ABC, of course, is calling on the government and in particular the House of Lords to thoughtful action. My sense is that, in our postmodern, consumerist, individualistic culture, real and lasting change can only come from the grassroots. The rediscovery of community and how we respond as community to such dire events is crucial for the long-term future of our country and our society.

For those of us in international Christian ministry, the events of the last week is a stark reminder that mission begins at home.

For a full transcript of the ABC’s speech click here.

Phil Simpson blogging on Simon Walker’s view of leadership – Rock on!

In his review of Simon Walker’s book, Phil writes enthusiastically about how he found himself agreeing strongly with lots of what Simon Walker has written. He quotes many of the latter’s throughts on leadership here. These capture some very helpful insights into the type of servant leadership Jesus epitomised when he washed his disciples feet:

Leadership itself is an act of followership. There is no such thing as leadership in the sense of executive agency and decision-making that we often take it to mean. The leader is not in the business of taking decisions about the things that happen. Rather she should be in the business of responding to the leading of God’s Spirit.

The only kind of leadership possible is described in John 5:19, where the Son describes his following of the movements of the divine Father. The chief quality of the leader, then, should not be the capacity to make decisions or be visionary, but rather to listen and be attentive.

It is startling that we often seek to train our leaders to be better communicators (by which we mean ‘speakers’) believing that leadership is some act of persuasion. In fact, we should be looking for individuals who have cultivated a stillness of spirit such that they can attend to the movements of God. We should look for leaders who are sensitive to the tone of the room, to the unconscious voices in the discussion. We should be elevating women and men who have an awareness of the spiritual dimension to life, that runs in parallel to this world.

I am not in the slightest bit interested in following men and women who can depict some grand vision, or who have a confidence about ‘the way we should be doing things’. I want to follow and learn from the men and women who struggle with the pain in the world and who are generous, kind, self-effacing, seeking to learn, fragile, patient, still and free, those who have known failure and not been crushed. I want to follow the one who can laugh at him- or herself and who does not try to achieve mighty things.

As someone once said: ‘The immature man seeks to die heroically for a cause; the mature seeks to live humbly for one’

Church as a learning community – some thoughts…

This blog is adapted from an article a great friend and colleague, Carol Walker, and I wrote sometime ago. Please do add your thoughts, comments and suggestions.

Carol and I were wondering what could help churches become more ‘movement’ than ‘monument’? Most people would say “a visionary leader”. Perhaps. However, where this has happened, we’ve noticed that this tended to perpetuate the ‘one man’ ministry model.

As our conversation progressed, we began to imagine that applying the concept of the ‘church as a learning community’ might lead to such a transformation.

For this idea to work, we felt that there was a need to re-frame the traditional understanding of ‘learning’ from a discrete activity to something that goes on all the time, involving everyone. In other words, “learning as a way of being”. This refers to the whole person – to something that goes on constantly and that extends to all aspects of a person’s life – it involves all our levels of awareness, including our unconscious minds.

People make sense of social realities through a process of co-construction, in specific spaces at specific times. We gain words and explanations from one another, and then reject or hone these in the light of fresh encounters and experiences. In this way knowledge is co-created and built on by ‘learners’ as we shape and build mental frameworks to make sense of our contexts and challenges. (Inter)connecting conversations, enquiry and listening to one another respectfully is thus the essence of a learning. In this sense, learning is inherently communal – it emerges out of a process of interaction.

In our view:

  • Knowledge that brings about lived activity is not something that can simply be transferred in a linear way (eg, from teacher to student or preacher to congregation) but rather it is something that people work interdependently to develop. This relational process fosters active learning as opposed to passive learning, collaboration over competition and community over individualism.
  • Knowledge generation, acquisition, and sharing is a relational (social) activity that involves communal ‘sense and meaning’ making.
  • Learning involves deep listening… of being open beyond one’s pre-conceptions and historical ways of making sense. There are two aspects to enquiry, the asking of questions and the listening. There is an art to asking questions. However, ‘how’ we listen is equally important.
  • Healthy and productive relationships comes from “valuing listening” not “adversarial listening”. We noticed that listening can very often be adversarial! We listen in order to debate, so we look out for what we don’t like, for weaknesses, to identify problems. A valuing approach to listening, on the other hand, looks out for what makes positive contributions. How is the offering helpful, creative, and significant? In this way the positive contribution can be woven into the final decisions; what is problematic can be left behind. In doing so, participants will feel heard and valued.
  • The immense diversity of the world reminds us that Christian mission is always about learning!

 ‘The Ephesian Moment’ is a phrase used by Andrew Walls to describe the social coming together of people of two cultures (Jewish and Hellenistic believers) into Christianity in the first century, This led to a distinctive new Christian lifestyle that corresponded with their ethnic and cultural differences. For Walls, the Ephesian moment has come again.

“Developments over several centuries, reaching a climax in the twentieth, mean that we no longer have two, but innumerable, major cultures in the church. Like the old Jerusalem Christians, Western Christians had long grown used to the idea that they were guardians of a ‘standard’ Christianity; also like them, they find themselves in the presence of new expressions of Christianity and new Christian lifestyles that have developed or are developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to display Christ under the conditions of African, Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Latin American life. And most of the world’s Christians are now Africans, Asians or Latin Americans.”

Chinese Philosophy on Curly Life


When without money, keep pigs;
When have money, keep dogs.

When without money, eat wild vege at home ;
When have money, eat same wild vege in fine restaurant.

When without money, ride bicycle;
When have money, ride exercise machine.


When without money, wish to get married;
When have money, wish to get divorced.

When without money, wife becomes secretary;
When have money, secretary becomes wife.

When without money, act like rich man;
When with money, act like poor man.

A Million Minor Miracles by Pete Greig

Jono’s reflection this morning reminded me of a poem I came across a couple of years ago. It’s by Pete Greig, founding member of the 24-7 movement and Director of Prayer for Holy Trinity Brompton, in London.

Pete was one of the speakers at Spring Harvest one year. His morning reflections had a great impact on me and, amazingly, on my17 year old son! He wrote this in a 24-7 Prayer Room in Guildford:

I’m standing at night in this subterranean place of prayer, and perhaps it’s the coffee, or the music, or the Spirit, but the darkness doesn’t seem too strong. I’m praying for miracles in the city where I live – for healings, and salvations, and justice, and revival, and all those usual Kingdom kind of things. But tonight, as I do so, I find myself suddenly startled – like a boy blinking at fireworks – bewildered by how many miracles there already are.

It occurs to me that here in my city today, doctors dispensed healing – can you imagine anything more wonderful? Neighbours did favours. Dog-walkers in the park silently admired the shape of trees. Jokes were told in nursing homes. Thousands and thousands of people prayed, or wished, or merely unwittingly wanted what God wanted for a moment or two.

Chances are that somewhere today a young man and a young woman began to fall in love (although they don’t yet know it). A teenager picked up trash she had not dropped. A single mother decided, just for once, to buy herself a slice of chocolate cake and to celebrate the moment in long, slow, mouthfuls of happiness. A painter-decorator stepped back from a wall he’d just painted the colour of claret, and maybe at that moment the sunlight broke through the window, and he saw that it was a good piece of work. A man resisted the temptation to click the link he wouldn’t want his wife to see. Maybe he failed yesterday. Maybe he’ll click it tomorrow. But today he overcame. In the hospital perhaps a surgeon pinned a broken arm with immaculate skill. Delicious food was prepared and cooked and served in thousands of homes joyously. A pastor’s words, so carefully crafted, brought a little comfort to grieving relatives. People cried, but a check-out girl smiled at a lonely old lady. People died of course, but babies were also born. From time to time today, I was born too. We all were. A million, minor miracles.

We do not pray ex nihilo. We pray for more of whatever it is we see. Nothing comes from nothing – certainly not faith like this. Tonight I’m blessing the evidence of miracles; the pre-existing goodness, the presence of Christ in these streets, these surgeries, these schools, these art galleries, these pubs, these homes, these wards. Witnessing so many minor miracles I applaud the world.  If all of this is happening all around me, what might not happen next?

And so I stand here now in this subterranean place of prayer and it seems self-evident that there is more light in the night than darkness in the day. There is goodness breaking through, everywhere I look. And I’m praying for miracles tonight with greater faith than frustration for once. I can see creation rising like the moon above the Fall. Ultimately, almost inevitably, benevolence wins the day quietly.

I’m climbing the stairs to my car now, stepping out of the prayer room into the darkness. I’m driving home past houses and perhaps it’s the music on the stereo, or the coffee, or the Spirit, but the city seems to me to have become the place of prayer.

FUTURE NOT OUR OWN – A Prayer/poem by Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero

It helps, now and then, to step back

and take the long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,

It is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of

the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete,

which is another way of saying

that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No programme accomplishes the church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:

We plant seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything

and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something,

and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,

an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,

but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders,

Ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

And now for something different! A book recommendation!

Organisation Development, A Practitioner’s Guide for OD and HR by Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge, Linda Holbeche

I have just completed the Post-graduate Certificate in the Psychology of Organisation Development and Change with the British Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), accredited by Herriot Watt University.

To get through this programme, I had to read literally dozens of books and articles about OD.

Having just read this book, I must say that it is the best on this subject that I have come across todate.

It is concise and incisive. It covers the entire OD curriculum with refreshing clarity and authority; and, sums up even the most complex aspects of OD in a layout that is easy to read and aesthetically pleasing. (The one improvement I would suggest is the inclusion of a CD containing summaries, tables and diagrams.)

Apart from being a brilliant addition to the OD/HR literature, this book adds value two ways:

  • It covers topics not normally included in other OD books and does this with great insight, eg, power and politics in organisations; and, the inter-relationship and interdependence between HR and OD.
  • In every chapter, you get the sense that the authors are not only academically able; they are also highly experienced practitioners. It’s like having a textual coach or mentor at your side!

Like all the latest books on this subject, the authors have begun to recognise the post-modern turn by positioning social constructionist methodology as the latest development in OD. While I welcome and applaud this, my caveat is that the range of methodologies stemming from social constructionist thinking and relational models go way beyond the popular approaches cited, eg, Appreciative Inquiry and Future Search. My sense is that an exploration and collation of ‘systemic’ or ‘relational’ approaches would be a very useful next book.

Who should read this book? Well…

  • Obviously, anyone who works in (or thinking about going into) HR or OD.
  • Generally, anyone interested in how organisations work (theory); and, how to organise people (practice) in any human system. I love the word coined by the authors themselves, anyone who want to make their organisation “change-able”.
  • Specifically, anyone who has a leadership role. The book makes a great point that the “real” OD practitioners are the leaders of any organisations wanting to facilitate change.


Oh, and if you do read it, please post your comments about it here. Small and big nuggets welcome!

The power of inquiry

“An answer is always the part of the road that is behind you. Only questions point to the future.”  Jostein Gaarder

The theory…

Good questions are catalytic and generative. They stimulate thought, curiosity, learning and are able to open up possibilities.

Identifying meaningful questions is an art that can be cultivated and learnt. The right questions can lead to the proverbial ‘paradigm shift’ and bring about transformative change.

Rather than write a long blog about the power of inquiry, I thought I’d just give some examples of what, in my view, are generative questions.

“How do questions shape our reality?

“What is lost when we just take majority decisions and don’t hear minority voices?”

“How do we create meetings (conversations) modelled on how people naturally communicate?”

“Why are we re-creating ways of talking (conferences, meetings, forums, committees, etc) that limit our creativity?”

“Why are we not bringing in the collective intelligence of hundreds of people but rather choosing over and over again to just listen to a few expert voices?”

On second thought, perhaps it is more about developing an attitude of curiosity rather than the questions themselves but I think a combination of the two is essential for anyone wanting to facilitating change.

I always try to ask questions at meetings but this is countercultural. More value seems to be placed on the person with a lot to say and who seemingly has all the answers and solutions.

Rather than listening to respond, I make myself listen in order to ask questions that open up alternatives or possibilities.

The practice…

In my experience many people (those who’s opinions are seldom sought) appreciate the collaboration that such an approach engenders but some (usually those who’s voices are legitimised by status) may not!

I used a variation of one of these questions at a meeting where an influential member of staff wanted to implement an initiative that he had heard about. He talked about running “vision casting” conferences, and bringing in experts on the subject to speak at these conferences, etc.

At an appropriate time, I asked what we would potentially lose if we only asked the ‘good and the great’ for their input and not use the significant talent, knowledge and experience of our own people? This question caught the imagination of others at the meeting and the intervention changed the trajectory of the conversation.

I thought it was a significant moment that illustrated the power of inquiry.

However, the person with the idea told me afterwards that he wanted his ideas to be simply accepted and implemented and that my intervention made the situation overly complicated and changed the essence of his suggestion.

This was in stark contrast to feedback I received from others who felt that the intervention helped generate support for the idea because it (a) addressed the issue of contextual appropriateness and, (b) generated ownership for the idea by invoking the collective wisdom of the group.