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Postcards from Scotland

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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 08/06/2012

I had the great privilege to be the warm up act for Margaret Wheatley in Glasgow on Tuesday at an event organised by the CLD Standards Council.  In case you haven't come across Margaret Wheatley's work she is an American thinker and writer whose work on systems thinking has brought her a world-wide following. Her original focus was organisations but now she is more interested in community. Indeed the title of her talk on Tuesday was: 'Whatever the question, community is the answer'.

I also had the good fortune to be asked along to a small dinner on Monday night to meet Margaret and a variety of people involved in various types of community learning.  At one point I outlined the Centre's forthcoming collaboration with Argyll Publishing on Postcards from Scotland. This is a series of small books which will introduce some new thinking for Scotland (and beyond) while highlighting some of the fantastic projects and work which are currently happening here.  Indeed in the third book in the series – The New Road –Alf and Ewan Young will outline some of the fantastic environmental and social enterprise projects which are going on in Scotland which lots of people currently don't know about.

After I had told the assembled company about Postcards for Scotland we were served our food and broke into smaller discussions around the table. Margaret looked at me intently and said 'what you are proposing could be very powerful' and then spent a few minutes explaining why.

As Margaret pointed out to me much of what happens currently in organisations could be called 'gap'  management or analysis. Managers are aware that something isn't working. They think about what would be preferable and they start criticising the status quo and what people are doing in the hope of getting them to move towards the goal.  As we know from decades of failed management change programmes this isn't a successful strategy.

An alternative is to look around to see if there are already people doing what needs to be done and highlighting this work to encourage others. This is one of the main purposes of the book series.

Margaret's concept of emergence is particularly apposite. She outlined this in the following way in a paper with her frequent collaborator Deborah Frieze:

… change never happens as a result of top-down, pre-conceived strategic plans, or from the mandate of any single individual or boss. Change begins as local actions springs up simultaneously in many different areas. If these changes remain disconnected, nothing happens beyond each locale. However, when they become connected, local actions can emerge as a powerful system with influence at a more global or comprehensive level. (Global here means a larger scale, not necessarily the entire planet.)

The key to this change process? – self-organising networks.

We were too busy eating and chatting on Monday night to really get into serious conversation but here's another couple of things we could have mulled over: there is not only a lot of fantastic work happening in Scotland now but Scotland as a whole is a small, highly networked society. Indeed that is what gave Scottish thinking an edge in the 18th century during the period known as the Scottish Enlighenment.  

So if through Postcards from Scotland and other projects we can give more prominence to what is happening in Scotland at the local level and start to help people make connections then we might begin to see genuinely transformational change. I didn't have time to tell Margaret the other night but it was exactly her  type of thinking that has been on mind when I've been thinking about the series and its potential.

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