Ah, people

“Our technical challenges pale in comparison to our people challenges” --someone working on the replacement for the Hubble telescope

As we sat together today to talk about systems thinking and organizational change I was struck by how the focus was on the individuals who make up the system. People are central to change efforts--our gifts, skills and foibles. Whatever scale we are working on, it is often the complexity of bringing people together, across differences that may be grounded in education, approach, background, identity or hierarchy, that continues to challenge us.

One of many pearls of wisdom from Jeremy Seligman in today’s workshop on organizational change was the mandate that a change effort needs to include attention to individual change, social structures, and macro structures in equal measure to have any hope of success. So often, we come up with “great” new policies or practices and forget that without tending to people we are likely to see the effort fail. Is the leader really open to the change and able to live in a different way? Is someone’s need for consistency or recognition or clarity going to interfere with an interest or ability to contribute to the change effort?

In fact, we could see it in the workshop room, as we strove for good learning across the perspectives of an engineer, a questioner, an activist, an astronomer, an anthropologist, and an IT person. It was great to have so many backgrounds and at times we each were stuck in our own frame and way of understanding. This was a group gathered for a common purpose, with similar levels of education and, from a visual scan, homogenous in terms of “race” and still we had our difficulties.

I left with renewed commitment to examining where I come from in change efforts and to asking the questions that allow others to do the same. After all, we can be thinking big and looking to change systems and we need to focus on the small, including the self and the people that make the system. At Interaction Institute for Social Change where I work, we care about systems of justice and democracy. We focus there for the individual person as well as the constellation of people, not for the grandeur of the idea.

Miriam Messinger, Director of Practice, Interaction Institute for Social Change

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