Monthly Archives: January 2015

Barriers to a cocreative mindset – disempowerment

Embracing cocreation requires an aligned mindset.  Many things need to line up… a will to work differently, a willingness to change and be vulnerable, a perspective that acknowledges the long-term and the big picture…  (I wrote about the cocreative mindset a few weeks ago.)

But the greatest barriers I find time and time again, are mental models of change that run counter to possibility of cocreation.

None of these mental models are wrong – they are not even deficient. They are valuable additions to any process, and are the basis for many sound decisions and effective paths of action. But when these paths are no longer sufficient, we need to be able to leave behind models that no longer serve us and open up to cocreative opportunities.

Thinking through my experiences, I can identify three major limiting beliefs.

This blog post is a fair bit longer than the last one… I will forgive you if you skim it.

Crystal_ball_May_2009 - cropped - wikimedia

The first and clearest is defeatism, or fatalism.

If we believe that the world is the only way it could be, and will be the only way it can be… then any possibility of positively influencing this world is entirely snuffed out. Change is not hard, change is impossible!

Few of us embrace this idea in all aspects of our lives, but we do all rely upon this belief in certain areas of our lives, at one time or another – often without any consciousness of it.  We might believe for instance, that that’s how I am (and I will always be like that), that greed and fallibility are part of human nature, or that the procurement process can’t be changed.

This can be a handy tool to simplify the complex world around us. Unfortunately, when wish for the education system to better reflect the needs of diverse students (for example), we are going to have a hard time bringing this wish into reality if we are struggling against the hidden belief that the way things are now is ‘the way it is’.

The second is the cog-in-the-machine mindset.

This is constraining not because we think that we are too small to matter… but that the only role we can play is the one that has been designed for us. We are blinkered to any avenue to change that is not part of the formal mechanism of the system itself.

This is very common in bureaucratic situations like government, where the construction and management of the system itself rests upon this premise, and often seeps into the culture. When we are trapped in this mindset, we see and acknowledge that change happens, but by blinding ourselves to most of our options to influence, we amputate our capacity to shape these changes.

If we had ideas about making our school more engaging for the kids, there are any number of ways we could start to do something about it. But if all we could see was to put these in the suggestion bucket, or provide them as feedback the next time the department invited us to comment on policy reform, our chances are very very slim.

If I take a step back, I sense the roots for this mindset lie in the role these systems play reinforcing patriarchal power structures, and the way we this authority privileges the formal over the informal… but let’s leave that can of worms for another day!

What is worth noting for now is how tricky this barrier can be, because it is very value-laden. It often comes wrapped up with a strong respect for The Rules and The Right Way to do things… these values can prevent people from taking action even if they can see clearly that it is possible. (I personally try every possible route around such points of resistance before thinking about pushing through as a point of last resort. It is easier for everybody!)

The third barrier is the ‘they should do something about that’ doozy.

We are probably all familiar with this response. It is actually not about believing that other people need to take action, which is almost always true. The core is the belief that, because someone else needs to take action, I don’t need to.

‘They should do something about that’ is a whinge that makes us feel better about something we don’t like. It is inherently passive. Sometimes we don’t actually care about the result, or at least not enough to act… and the whinge is a perfectly acceptable social bonding exchange. A lot of politics ‘discussion’ is in this basket. Sometimes we slyly whinge knowing that this message will have a desired influence; a very sneaky lever for change! But a lot of the time the whinge is a way to share something we wish were different, but because we don’t actually want to act, we want social reinforcement that we can’t influence that outcome, and are therefore absolved of responsibility for action.

The barrier in this case is the belief that we are powerless to influence something that we care about.

The whinge itself is not a problem, but it is a good indicator of the real problem, because it is a mechanism we use to reinforce the belief that we are powerless and therefore not responsible. Think about how often we whinge about our workplace. Or let’s not… it is a depressing thought*.

This is the most pervasive of the three barriers, and it is also much more subtle than the other two… it is easy to convince ourselves we aren’t exhibiting it, and to defend our position if we think we are. It is often culturally ingrained, and interwoven with the roles we adopt in society: workers, consumers and voters, vs decision makers, policy makers or The Boss.  By shifting something beyond our implicit realm of activity, it convinces us not to take action without us even realising that we can.

On the other hand, I think it is also the most practical of the three beliefs, helping us to prioritise and process those things we don’t like, but aren’t prepared to focus energy on. So it is not all bad!

Reeve_and_Serfs - Wikipedia

Despite writing about these three limiting beliefs separately, I suspect that they are ‘three sides of the same coin’.  I suspect they are inseparable and mutually interdependent parts of one cluster of beliefs— the dominant paradigm.

If I have written this out clearly enough, it should be pretty clear how common ideas can lead to a paradigm of beliefs about how the world is shaped, and that in turn these beliefs can limit our willingness to embrace cocreation (and a productive and fulfilling role in shaping the world around us).

Taken together, these limiting beliefs constitute a culture of powerlessness.

It’s worth noting that empowerment is not enough to be willing to step in to the work of cocreation.  We also need to embrace our inherent togetherness, the complexity of the world around us, and the need to work with others to shape the future.  This perspective is what marks cocreation out from many of the existing empowerment trends.

I think the mindset of togetherness probably deserves a post of its own.  Once I’ve collected my thoughts I will write a proper post about them, and hopefully round this out as a series of three.

Til then, may you embrace your agency to shape the future you want to be a part of.


* yes, this is borderline whingeing. There is no escape!

Letting go of a paradigm of powerlessness

We have great capacity to shape the world around us.

It is a truism that we can now publish and share our thoughts, connect with peers and leaders, start businesses and scale them much more readily than even ten years ago.  Of course, not all of us are so lucky… but if you’re reading my blog I’m willing to bet that these things ring true.

It is also a truism that we are disempowered and disconnected from this capacity.

While the sense is still fuzzy for me (and everybody else describes it in their own way), it seems to me like we are in a paradigm of powerlessness.

It is very hard to generalise, but the strongest indicator I see is how we characterise our different roles in society, and how frequently we adopt one role or another.

We are often workers before all else, consumers whenever we are not working, and customers some of the time of both. We are voters once every few years, volunteers perhaps once a month, and as far as I can tell most people are citizens perhaps a couple of times in their lives.

Decision makers make the decisions about society for us… and even in our personal lives, we decide little more than who our friends are (if we are lucky) and what colour case we put on our latest tech gadget – a choice out of those provided to us.

Diagram_of_the_Federal_Government_and_American_Union_edit - co Wikipedia

These roles reflect how we think about how the world around us is shaped, and our role in that process.

Despite the tools that we have and the capacity we wield, if we cannot let go of the beliefs that don’t serve us, then we are handicapped.  It is hard to cocreate a better future if we do not believe it is possible.

Step one for a better future; believe in possibility.