Project details

Why Communication is so Important

         Ever since I was a kid I have noticed when things weren't quite right. When the teacher was spending more time policing the kids than teaching or the Girl Scout camp counselor wasn't exemplifying the environmental stewardship they kept talking about I desperately wanted to say something. Sometimes I did but it often came off as rude, so I learned to keep my mouth shut.

         This pattern continued into adulthood in the activist community. When I noticed that meetings were unproductive or that things weren't getting done I knew there was a better way but I just didn't know how to communicate it. I decided that there must be a better way and so I embarked on a quest to find out.

          My first step on the path to understanding and being able to successfully implement regenerative organizational design is to look at my own ideas and communication skills around the topic. I can intellectualize about it all day, but if I can't communicate it to other people and get them excited about it, I won't be able to practice it.

          Rather than sitting at home practising Nonviolent Communication with myself, I decided to find somewhere where I could be around other people who would practice it with me and be a sounding board for my ideas. I think that to practice regenerative design, the first requirement is that you can't do it alone. It takes multiple people with different perspectives and skill sets to be able to see problems and come up with effective solutions. In order to get those people together, you need to be able to effectively communicate your vision and goals.

My Goals for this Project

  • Research tools and concepts for regenerative social dynamics
  • Put myself in a position to practice communicating as much as possible

  • Use introspection and meditation to identify my fears around communication

  • Come to terms with my past experiences and let go

  • Find an effective framework to discuss group dynamics

  • Distinguish the shifts I want to see in key group dynamics

  • Communicate about my project and overall trajectory in an inspiring way

  • Find and experience a healthy community

Lead Up to Emerging Leader Labs

          Shortly after enrolling in Gaia U in March I attended a telesummit about Nonviolent Communication and social change. I was deeply inspired by what I heard and put it together into a paper which I titled “Fierce Compassion: How Nonviolent Communication can Fuel the Revolution.” I knew intellectually what it takes to be compassionate, but I still couldn't do it consistently. My involvement in local projects had slowly dropped off. I was so frustrated with dysfunctional group dynamics that I couldn't talk about it without getting upset. I couldn't find anyone who really resonated with what I was saying. I felt increasingly isolated. I decided I needed to get out of the bubble I was in and get around more people who might have similar ideas.

          Several months earlier I embarked on a quest to find new ways of working with people when I discovered It was project organization software that organized work by task and facilitated democratic decision making. It was structured on Agile Development Processes, something I hadn't heard of before, but had been around the computer programming community for over a decade. I realized that the answer to my frustrations was close at hand, and I only needed to step into the world of computer technology to find it.

          I enrolled in computer programming classes at the local community college, a difficult decision after dropping out of conventional academia a decade earlier. In the second semester of online classes it became clear that the support structure for students at the community college was pathetic.  I could get better courses for free online.  I also discovered Holacracy, an organizational structure that achieved the core aspects of what I was looking for, which already had supporting software.  I decided I no longer needed to become a programmer, however I did gain enough to understand object oriented programming and do basic web development, which is coming in very handy.

          Online the website that had set me on this quest had disappeared. I went looking for the open source copy of the code and found a forum post by someone named elf Pavlik. I sent him an email, and surprisingly, he responded enthusiastically, listening to me talk about my vision for sustainable organizations that use innovative software. He suggested that I check out a project incubator called Emerging Leader Labs in New York. I looked it up online, but was skeptical. I went ahead and filled out a profile on their website and forgot about it.

          To my surprise near the end of May I received an email from Arthur Brock, one of the organizers, asking me if I wanted to enroll in their summer program. I was still skeptical, telling him how I have a 4 year old daughter, but he assured me they could find a way to include her as well. At the same time I started to connect more with the Gaia U community, setting up a skype session with Gregory Landua, a Gaia U graduate who had recently co-written a book called Regenerative Enterprise. During our skype, I mentioned Emerging Leader Labs and Gregory exclaimed, “Yeah, I know Arthur Brock, you should totally do that!” “Ok” I said, “I guess I will then.”

My Experience at Emerging Leader Labs

           At Emerging Leader Labs we embodied the kind of social organism that we want to see in the world.  We intentionally did activities that connected us on a human level.  We danced like crazy, played miming games, rolled around on the floor in “original play”, laughed, played ultimate frisby, and swam together.  We had deep conversations and practiced listening for underlying convictions. We created a container where individuals could act according to their own values.   We held a safe space for people to go through difficult transformations and make learning mistakes. 

          We were also operating entirely in the gift economy.  The program was free.  The warehouse space was donated by Solaqua.  We had host homes that housed us.  Much of our food came from local farmers and a bakery that donated us leftovers.  We gave back by fixing up and beautifying the warehouse space, weeding and helping the farmers with tech support, and helping with cleaning and cooking community meals at the Quaker Intentional Village Canaan, where many of us stayed.

          We used agile processes like Gameshifting, a method of group process where we shift between different structures, or containers, as the needs of the group and the context change.  We made a huge group Kanban board, and used individual Kanban boards. A Kanban board is a kind of to-do list where you put activities on sticky notes and intentionally move them from Ready to Doing to Done, giving you a clear idea of what you are giving focus to now. We had morning standup meetings and learned to make clear requests and hold each other accountable for our promises.  I experienced in real life how applying tools for expanding consciousness as well as agile management can create a magical environment where people can express their full potential.

          Arthur Brock and Eric Harris-Braun led many discussions during group time at Emerging Leader Labs. They are highly knowledgeable in agile management, self-directed learning, expressive capacities including languages and currencies, psychology and sociology. Many of these conversations paralleled what I have been learning in the Transformative Action Learning Certification with Gaia University and the books that I have been reading for this project.

          One of the most powerful conversations was something that Arthur learned from the Wisdom Course. He led us through the “Stages of a Conversation.” A conversation being, in this case, the process of bringing something new into being, from the first time that it is spoken of, until it becomes something ubiquitously accepted by a culture.  I see this happening with the non-hierarchical organizational structures that I talk about. There is a core distinction of what makes this structure (consent) different from previous structures (hierarchy or consensus).  One of the biggest breakthroughs I had was figuring out how to make this distinction in a clear and simple way.

          I was assigned a coach, Mary Camacho whom I Skyped with each week. She helped me identify my goals, personal and professional, for the session, as well as empathizing with my difficulties with communication.  I also had many deep and insightful one-on-one discussions with the other participants and support team members. Each person and each conversation gave me a new perspective on the issues I was grappling with. Slowly I got clearer about how much my past experiences were affecting my current attitude and behavior.  During a ceremony that Ruben Alvarado led to help us realize our inner beauty I realized that I have allowed myself to succumb to peer pressure far too often.  I've failed to live up to my own values, afraid to take initiative to change things unless given explicit permission because I would come off as controlling.  I would just keep my mouth shut until my frustration built up and exploded as anger.

          I also realized how, by concentrating so much on my own "problems" I was getting myself stuck in a loop around them. Fear about "slipping up" was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.  What I need to break out of the cycle is to stop being self-conscious and open myself up to what is going on with other people in the moment.  I realized that if I did this, I could use my power WITH other people, and not come across like I am trying to use my power OVER others.

          I had another breakthrough in living with my housemate for the program, Eric Bear.  He often pointed out things that I was doing wrong like not cleaning up after myself or letting my daughter have too much screen time.  Although I agreed with his criticisms, I realized that the way that he spoke was a lot like the way I have critcized people in the past, especially those I lived with.  The feeling that I had made me realize how much it can hurt to receive criticism in such a direct way, even when it's honest.  I decided to never make myself "right" in a way that makes other people "wrong" again, using this experience as a reminder.

          Through conversations about Spiral Dynamics in Gaia University and ELL I identified a fear that had recently been stopping me from connecting with people. I'm afraid of working with people who are stuck in the “green meme”.  Spiral dynamics identifies different levels of social consciousness that have developed throughout western history. People usually identify with one level more than others, which is supported by their culture in the form of beliefs, or “memes” that are commonly repeated. People in the green meme identify with communitarian values that can be seen most apparently in “hippie” culture. People who are strongly stuck in this meme are vehemently opposed to “orange memes” which are capitalistic values of personal achievement (usually economic) and social status. I have been involved in groups where certain individuals have sabotaged their own projects because they refused to address realities that required “orange” thinking.

          I fit more in the next highest level, the “yellow” level, which accepts all levels as useful in different circumstances and shifts between them as needed.  I was experiencing re-stimulation when I enteracted with people who exhibited strong green beliefs.  My buttons were being pushed, but I couldn't explain exactly why.  Spiral Dynamics has given me a framework to explain this phenomenon and think about ways to upgrade to a yellow conversation.

          I wanted a way to address group dynamics with people who have strong green or orange world views. I felt like if I had a framework to talk about these issues that didn't use triggering language, I would have less anxiety about bringing them up. What I came up with is a pattern language that is centered on the basic intentions that a social organism (i.e. community/business) that values social and environmental sustainability would likely have. This would give us a shared vocabulary to explore tools and systems that address those intentions.  I wrote a paper about it titled "Regenerative Dynamics: A Comprehensive Language for Social Organisms."  I used, another project at Emerging Leader Labs, to mind map the concepts in an online forum that is open, so other people can contribute to it.

          Perhaps my biggest communication challenge was the Emerging Leader Labs Showcase on July 27th.  We had an open house at the warehouse where we work and we each gave a 20 to 30 minute presentation on our projects.  We had been working up to it doing "Project Slams", five minute impromptu presentations focussed on what inspires us about our projects.  Each of my project slams had been different and I had no idea how to approach my project.  I talked about Regenerative Dynamics, which isn't exactly "my project", just a tool I came up with to help me do my project, but it was a good exercise in public speaking and it went well.

          With this new way of communicating the things that I value and having a strong community of like minded people, I finally feel like I can step into a new mode of being. I don't feel like I need to fight "hippie culture" any more. It will still take practice, but I feel like I am ready to open up to new people and communicate the possibilities in this new world.


          I have spent the last few months researching (Abstract Conceptualization), writing about (Reflective Observation), trying (Active Experimentation), and embodying (Concrete Experience) healthy communication and social dynamics. I started writing about communication when I began keeping a Nonviolent Communication journal in March of 2013.  I started reflecting on my past traumas and current experiences. I would evaluate my day-to-day communication to see where I was being compassionate and where I was being judgmental, both with myself and others. If I was being judgmental I would look for the underlying needs that were not being met.  I also explored my past traumas, doing a kind of self-re-evaluation counseling.


          I started doing research when I attended "A Path With Heart: a Nonviolent Communication and Social Change Telesummit." I gained knowledge about tools and practices that Nonviolent Communication consultants are using with organizations.  The speakers in the telesummit pointed me to more great references. One of the most powerful books that I have read was Influencer, The New Science of Leading Change. It beautifully explained how to influence behavior through six sources; personal motivation, personal ability, social motivation, social ability, structural motivation, and structural ability. This framework will be invaluable to me in helping groups develop healthy social dynamics.


          I first tried to communicate about this when I engaged some friends in Oklahoma with what I had learned from the NVC telesummit. I didn't know how they would react, so it was interesting to see how some of them resonated and some didn't.  Several people read my paper and gave good feedback, which I incorporated immediately.  I continued to engage people in conversation, even when I felt very anxious and unsure that I would come off well. Noticing myself being tense and saying something about it to the other person was useful.


          Coming to Emerging Leader Labs was a huge experiment. I had no idea what to expect. I continued to engage in conversations, despite my anxiety, and I began to feel more and more comfortable. As the ELL program progressed, I felt more at home with the group, experiencing the kind of positive group dynamics that I want to recreate.  ELL has been invaluable for me to have this positive experience to bring with me as a reminder that healthy communication and social dynamics are possible. 


          When I study organizational and ecological dynamics in my next two output packets I will work on my experimentation skills.  I will put more design work into the experiments and concentrate more intentionally on reporting the outcomes.  I will also carry forward the lessons that I have learned about communication and leadership and use them to build relationships and create understanding, increasing my skills in embodiment.

New Goals

  • Fully embody my values wherever I go

  • Listen for underlying needs and commitments in what others say and what I think and say
  • Validate other people's experiences, don't make them wrong
  • Find a community which shares the intentions I distinguished in Regenerative Dynamics

  • Fully express my true gifts

  • Make a place for myself supporting a community that supports my daughter and me

Next Steps

  1. Return to my parent's house in Kansas City
  2. Reconnect with my parents, practice nonviolent communication
  3. Research and Metamap organizations in the field of sustainable business
  4. Apply for jobs with organizations that share my vision
  5. Go on Program Pause with Gaia University
  6. Design my next output packet around the employment that I find

Building a Kitchen

Levels of Listening

Imagination Game

Stages of a Conversation

Group Kanban Board

Ultimate Frisbee

Spiral Dynamics

Helping Local Farmers

Kolb Kites Before and After

Time with my Daughter