Robert’s Hand at my Elbow‚Ä¶
Last week a group of my dear friends and fellow students gathered in Newfane, Vermont to celebrate the 70th birthday of our teacher, mentor and friend, Robert Fritz.
Many of my clients and friends have only an inkling of the impact Robert’s work has had on my life *. But a few hold a deeper appreciation because of their own study of the Creative Process with Robert. As with writing a poem, composing a song or designing a garden, they are intentionally creating their own businesses, and their own lives.
I first met Robert at a Fundamentals of Structural Thinking workshop. (My exposure to his work was a happy accident. One of my coworkers was not able to attend, so I went to the workshop in her place!) During that first workshop, Robert introduced us to the creative orientation and structure through poetry and art, and through conversations with people about their lives and their businesses. He helped us begin to see the world in a different light.
Many people travel this life seeing only what they want to see, or standing in their values only when it is convenient for them. We all know people like this.¬†It‚Äôs the person who pretends everything is fine, so they don’t have to make a decision or take action. Maybe it‚Äôs the manager who ‚Äúlets‚ÄĚ a chronically late employee get by for one more day, because they don‚Äôt want to deal with the conflict. Or perhaps it’s the person who fears they will lose funding and fudges a glowing progress report when the reality is quite different.
It is avoiding, rather than creating, that shapes their lives.
That first workshop started me down a lifelong path of learning. It was the starting point for a profound journey of seeing the world, myself, and obligations, biases and assumptions (of myself and others) as they are. Believe you me, at times I’d like to have jumped off and taken an easier path.¬†Over the next 20 years, I traveled to many workshops to learn from Robert. Each time I experienced a deeper understanding of ‘structure’ – the forces in play, the underlying patterns and behaviors that drive people, processes, relationships, businesses, and ideologies. I learned how to better see these structures that play out in our organizations and in our lives. And each time, I found I could immediately apply what I had learned with our clients.
One of the ways we honed our skills was to consult our clients at the front of a room full of our peers. Robert was a demanding teacher, expecting more discipline and rigor of thinking than we thought possible! But he was always there at our elbow, asking questions that helped us see the implications and discrepancies in the story (and in our own thinking) that helped to deepen our understanding of the structure.
While I don‚Äôt have many photos from the workshops over the years, I have mental images of the people, the sessions and the learning. Images of:
- Dissecting movies, plays and poems to learn about story, contrast and composition. Then, making movies! Movie sets in the woods behind the house, our scavenger hunts for props, and Robert peering through the camera lens framing just the right shot.
- Robert cooking dinner for and with our Advanced Students in the love and warmth of the Fritz‚Äôs kitchen in Newfane.
- The celebrations of birthdays, and of many successful creations, in Robert and Rosalind’s garden overlooking the Vermont countryside.
- Robert in the living room of the old house in Williamsburg, on a snowy morning, sharing ‘the reciprocal equilibrium cycle‚Äô for the first time. (While this is jargon to many readers, it was truly profound learning). We heard excerpts of new books and saw rough cuts of new movies. We have been witness to and a part of the creation of a wonderful body of work that will continue to impact our lives and our world.
When I stand with my children in the face of very challenging choices, we can objectively explore our thinking and better understand real relationships, real choice, and freedom. Underneath those conversations is the guidance of Robert’s hand at my elbow‚Ä¶
When I stand in relationships with mates, friends and colleagues co-creating our futures, projects, organizations and communities, I know that Robert’s hand is again at my elbow, guiding, reminding me to think‚Ä¶ and rethink‚Ä¶ and to picture.
Throw a stone in a still pond and watch the ripples flow out and out. That‚Äôs the impact of Roberts work touching one person‚Äôs life. As each of my fellow students and I pass that touch through our clients, friends, families and beyond, the multitude of subtle shifts is creating a better world. A world based on values, based on personal integrity, and most importantly, where we are each the generative force in our own lives.
- Ann Ralston
¬† August 26, 2013
* Rosalind Fritz, Robert’s lovely wife, is also a dear friend, teacher and mentor. Rosalind is a master structural consultant and director of the Structural Consulting Certification Program. Together with Robert she leads workshops throughout North America and Europe.¬†She has had an amazing impact on my life as well, and I‚Äôd be remiss at this moment if I didn‚Äôt acknowledge her, too. (Thank you, Rosalind!)
¬© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.
Connecting4Community is less than 2 weeks away!
We are delighted to be co-producing this very special gathering of truly amazing people from around the world. They are all traveling to Cincinnati, Ohio to deepen their understanding – and experience – of community, generosity and compassion.
We will learn from one another, as well as with our speakers, Peter Block, John McKnight, Angeles Arrien, Walter Brueggeman and Harrison Owen. ¬†Interwoven through this remarkable event are artists and their works, including musicians and other performers, from the local community and from abroad:
This is a larger conversation than can be dealt with here, but here is the gist of it. There can be no transformation without art. Art in the form of theater, poetry, music, dance, literature, painting, and sculpture. Communities by and large know this and invest heavily in the arts. Those who want to heal the wounds of a fragmented community initiate hundreds of art projects for those living on the margin. Art brings these voices into the mainstream. Most communities are proud of their arts tradition and rightly so.
If this is true for our larger communities, then it must be present each time we gather.
-¬†Peter Block. Community: The Structure of Belonging
We extend our warm welcome to all interested and involved in transformative community. We hope to see you very soon in Cincinnati!
- Ann Ralston
What We Do
For those of you who wonder what we do…
- Ann Ralston
¬© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.
Digital Opportunity Trust Honored for Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship
We are delighted to celebrate the success of our¬†client, Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT), an international social enterprise based in Canada. Since 2001 DOT has reached over 800,000 direct beneficiaries in Africa the Middle East and the Americas through its youth-led programs and network of over 4,000 local young leaders of change.¬†Today,¬†Janet Longmore, DOT’s founder, president and CEO has been selected by Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship as Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013. In an interview with Janet, columnist John Geddes, with¬†Canadian publication, Macleans, puts the honor in perspective:
¬†”That‚Äôs Schwab as in Klaus Schwab, better known as the founder of the World Economic Forum, best known, in turn, for its annual Davos, Switzerland confab of global leaders. Schwab‚Äôs foundation is a prime promoter of businesslike ways of fighting poverty. So winning the Schwab award, beyond being a nice accolade, links Longmore‚Äôs group to an influential network. She spoke with Maclean‚Äôs about what it means, what DOT does, and the state of Canadian social entrepreneurship.” [more‚Ä¶]
Even as DOT receives this honor, it is setting out to tackle a really difficult problem plaguing Not-For-Profits everywhere: Many funding organizations are focused tightly on measurable program outcomes and responsible management of money awarded. This means that recipient organizations cannot build capacity for further innovation and growth – ironically, their success constrains their further growth.
Janet summarizes the challenge and DOT’s innovative solution in this brief, brilliant interview on CBC’s Lang and O’Leary Exchange‚Ä¶
¬†- Ann Ralston
¬© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.
Book Review: To Sell is Human, by Daniel Pink
nce upon a time, there was a consultant who wanted their business to be successful far and wide, because she cared about people, the earth and longed deeply to make a difference.
Everyday, she would beat herself up for not being able to sell her wares or write pithy articles that were relevant to their clients.
One day, she read a book ‚Äď To Sell is Human
Because of that she developed greater skill (and confidence) and credibility with her clients, and more courage to find a financial win-win while helping the people and organizations she cared about.
Because of that, she saw their sales increase.
Until finally, she saw their business grow far and wide, making a difference to more people than ever, (and even wrote a relevant, pithy and timely book review).
(Example of a “Pixar pitch”, one of six successors to the elevator pitch)
‚ÄúI‚Äôm not a salesman. That’s just not who I am‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
A client echoed my own thoughts last evening. Inwardly, I smiled. No, I may not be a sales person, but I am really good at helping people succeed, at holding their vision, at connecting others, and at marshaling knowledge and resources in their service. That, according to author, Daniel Pink, is the new world order of sales -¬†a world where, like it or not, every one of us is in sales.
Information changes everything:
Of course, for many of us, the old world of selling conjures images of real estate agents and car salesmen wielding secret books of data, and the cry of ‚Äėcaveat emptor‚Äô – buyer beware! Pink observes that information is now equally available to both sides of the sale. Buyers come to a transaction knowing as much or more than the salesperson, so the value of the sales person as holder of knowledge has greatly diminished.
When we make a major purchase, Gary does his homework. When we got our last car, Gary knew more about price, availability and fit to my preferences than either the sales person or me, steering me to a car I never would have considered. Prescient? No. The information is readily available for consumers, along with the tools to make sense of and personalize it.
This information parity is perhaps most apparent in the real estate industry, where the old guard competes with agents more attuned and more wired to the new reality of how buyers approach their research and purchase. The typical home buyer today, smartphone in-hand, has walked through the house, scanned satellite images and toured the neighborhood, all virtually, before ever asking to step into a home. They have at their fingertips market pricing, school district grades, crime statistics, “Walkability” scores and the impressions and opinions of their social network living in the neighborhood. ‚ÄėCaveat venditor‚Äô – seller, beware. (Agent, plug-in!)
If not “gatekeeper to information” what is the value and role of the salesperson in the new order?
The new ABC‚Äôs of selling:
In researching the book, Pink has delved into many diverse fields, weaving them into surprising and sometimes counterintuitive insights. He follows with practical resources and useful thought experiments at the end of each section. These little ‚Äėsample cases‚Äô are grist for the reader‚Äôs personal reflection, insight and skill development (and yes, make us squirm just a bit).
In the old world of selling, ABC stood for¬†Always Be Closing. Ugh. Thankfully, Pink has come up with new ABC’s:
Attunement¬†‚Äď being aware of yourself, your actions and attitudes in the current context,
Buoyancy¬†‚Äď mental resilience before and after a sales opportunity, and
Clarity¬†‚Äď finding the right questions to ask to help the client gain clarity.
As Gary and I reflect on the evolution of our approach to sales, these principles ring true.
The final section of the book focuses on what to do in the ‘new’ sales process. He draws from Pixar and others as he walks through six ways to ‚Äėpitch‚Äô, and reaches into improvisational theatre to help the reader move from a world of scripted sales to deeper listening and awareness in working with customers and peers.
In closing, Pink talks about a fundamental shift in values underlying selling. Taking a page from Robert Greenleaf‚Äôs ‚ÄúServant Leadership‚ÄĚ philosophy, he creates a version for the new world of sales‚Ä¶ He calls it ‚ÄúServant Selling‚ÄĚ:
‚Äú It begins with the idea that those move others aren‚Äôt manipulators but servants. They serve first and sell later. And the test ‚Äď which, like Greanleaf‚Äôs, is the best and most difficult to administer is this: If the person you‚Äôre selling to agrees to buy, will his or her life improve? When your interaction is over will the world be a better place than when you began?‚ÄĚ
The book, like Pink‚Äôs previous work, is a fast read, a bit cheeky, and packed with useful tidbits. Most important, for the many of us who protest “I am not a salesman!”, it touches our core of doubts, fears and biases. It offers the opportunity and a pathway to change our frame from sales as something to be avoided to sales as a caring service aimed at helping both parties succeed.
This is certainly true for me. I‚Äôm far better off for having read this book.
‚Äď Ann Ralston
¬© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.
Link to Kindle e-book at Amazon.com:¬†To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
Our wish for you and yours this holiday‚Ä¶
The spruce – darling. The decorations – family heirloom ornaments. The strings of lights? Infuriating, as always. That didn’t stop Ann and her mom from their mission to push back winter’s long northern nights in the family’s traditional way. (For a high resolution version of Ann’s great photo, click on the image, above.)
Whatever your faith and spiritual outlook, we extend our warmest wishes to you all!
Ann and Gary Ralston
- Christmas, 2012¬†
What’s Your Soundtrack for 2012?
For over 30 years, growing up in BC, I sang ‚Äď in choirs and bands, and summer stock theatre. While I wasn’t big on hymns, I’d carol at Christmas, and I even wrote a song or two.
Then I fell in love with Ann, joined her family in Midwestern USA, and life so filled and crowded and rushed with consulting and raising kids and caring for parents and teaching and volunteering. While I started the decade in song, by the end I had elbowed singing into the shower, where I’d occasionally hum a few bars and snatch a passing fragment of lyrics from memory’s mists.
Thinking back, I came to see singing and many forms of joyful expression incompatible with the “serious, credible” pursuit of business and consulting and organizational transformation. In many (not all) of the business settings I worked in across North America, including my hometown on the decidedly New Age west coast, suggestions of opening up and expressing and connecting more deeply were not usually well‚Äďreceived. “Now all together, let’s join hands and sing Kumbaya!” someone would scoff, and, well, that was that and it was time for something more productive.
I know my experience is not unique, and that many are coming to view this “us” and “them”; this disciplined corporate compartmentalization of mind and intellect and power and ambition from heart and doubt and expression and vulnerability ‚Äď from the generative spirit ‚Äď as unworkable for the complexities we face in the decades ahead. Without question, much has been accomplished, both great and terrible, with such a mindset, and we owe the majority of our today to it. I just wish very much we hadn’t borrowed so heavily from our future, and from our kids’ future to pay for our today.
The fundamental shift facing anyone who has modeled their leadership on predominant patterns of prior centuries is one Richard Barrett captures so eloquently in a phrase from his paper: ‘The New Leadership Paradigm ‚Äď A Response to the Global Leadership Crisis’ “‚Ä¶the shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world.”
It was at my blackest, lowest point in my relationship with my chosen craft of catalyzing organizational transformation for the greater good that I realized my own complicity in reinforcing old roles ‚Äď patriarchal models that would not serve our future. I discovered it through my work with First Nations clients in Canada, through my interactions with my closest colleagues, friends and family, and even in my act of exiling my heartfelt musical expression to the shower!
So imagine my hair-blown-back surprise at rediscovering music and song during a corporate engagement where I was introduced to two new colleagues. These alchemists of corporate culture who, in addition to wit and wisdom and insight, brought their extraordinary gifts as¬† musician / composer and singer / songwriter, respectively, into the corporate arena.
Did I get what these two remarkable beings were offering? Was I humbled by their vision and courage? Did I immediately see the error of my ways and re-integrate? Heck, no! First, I scoffed to our team lead and said: “Like THIS is going to fly with the client. Now all together, let’s join hands and sing Kumbaya!”
This was not my proudest moment.
A couple of years later, with the love and candor of my family, friends and colleagues, a good deal of stumbling, soul searching (soul‚Äďscraping?), and a stubborn determination to learn in support of my aspirations (thanks, dad!), I’m told I’m making good progress. I now sing with real COMMITMENT in the shower!
I also might be better prepared to join the community putting their hearts and minds and backs to the impossible but worthy task of finding and amplifying what’s right with the world, and shaping the future we want to live into.
I study with my singer / songwriter friend when I get the chance, and it was she who in January suggested I select, with clear intent, songs that fit the coming year. While many I chose have been favorites for years, one in particular hit me as I was driving home after receiving my assignment, listening to a cappella groups on internet radio. The King’s Singers were rendering a truly beautiful, straight-up version of “The Rose”, by Amanda McBroom. The second verse:
It’s the heart, afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance
It’s the dream, afraid of waking
That never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul, afraid of dying
That never learns to live
What will you choose for your soundtrack in 2012?
- Gary Ralston
February 11, 2012
We believe‚Ä¶ (part 1)
A TEDx video featuring Simon Sinek, author of the book: Start with Why, came to my attention as we were scanning for engaging pre-session material for a client project. From TED.com:
Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers …
In essence, he observed that while most will tell you first WHAT they do, HOW they do it, and then WHY, great leaders reverse the order. He asserts this works because our brains evolved that way. While I’m not all the way on board with that part of his theory, Simon is a great storyteller ‚Äď upbeat, interesting and thought-provoking. Really, really thought-provoking.
After taking the video in, Ann and I set out to re-draft the story of our company, starting with Why, and were surprised at the result. We hope you enjoy the video, and then invite you to part two, where we share our latest draft message and ask you for candid feedback!