Archive for August, 2013

Robert’s Hand at my Elbow…

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.

Robert-Crop-2-WEB-800x670Many 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’s the person who pretends everything is fine, so they don’t have to make a decision or take action. Maybe it’s the manager who “lets” a chronically late employee get by for one more day, because they don’t 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.

Balloons Crop DSC-0182 R2

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’t 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’s 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’ 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.

Ripples-experiment-smoothed-300x415Now, as I work with clients to clarify what they want for their business, for their life, for and in their community, I still feel the guidance of Robert’s hand at my elbow…

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…

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… and rethink… and to picture.

Throw a stone in a still pond and watch the ripples flow out and out. That’s the impact of Roberts work touching one person’s 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’d be remiss at this moment if I didn’t acknowledge her, too. (Thank you, Rosalind!)

© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.

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