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Consultation as a Tool for Learning

interconnected sparks of light
Photo by geralt

This whole Prosperity Project started when I read The Prosperity of Humankind and realized that unless we include every single human being on the planet in this vision of prosperity, we won’t have peace, justice or well-being for anyone.  As a writer, I realized I could paint a picture of what this looks like when we’re doing it. So I started interviewing people who had a unique perspective on prosperity and explored some of the deeper meanings of the concept. Each person I talked to, whether they actually did an interview or not, had insights, ideas and resources to share.

One such resource was the U.Lab course through MIT: Leading from the Emerging Future, which grapples with the process of fundamental systems change. I took the course last fall and it was incredible! I highly recommend it. Here’s the 90 minute free introductory course.

At the beginning of the course, you set an intention:

What kind of change do you want to help bring into the world?

The idea that most resonated with me in The Prosperity of Humankind, is that science—knowledge, learning—belongs to everybody. We need to put the tools of generating and applying knowledge into the hands of all people everywhere.

So the intention I set for myself is to facilitate learning within groups and between groups. And suddenly my world just exploded with opportunities. I started mapping them all with post-it notes and now my wall is covered with brightly-colored squares of paper.

I decided to just offer my skills wherever I saw a need and to facilitate learning wherever I saw an opportunity. I’ve ended up working with all kinds of groups, doing all kinds of things. What is emerging from all of this is the power of consultation as a tool for group learning.

Far from an approach of compromise or “design by committee”, consultation demands much more of its participants and creates much richer results. The essence is this:

  1. Each person states his view and then lets it go—it now belongs to the group.

  2. The group examines all the views to arrive at the truth of the matter.

  3. Together the group decides on a course of action and then everyone gets behind it.

So often, I think I know the best approach to a problem. But in consultation with others, I discover there’s actually more to the issue and often a different solution is more appropriate. It’s a pretty powerful tool.

But this tool, while simple to understand, is challenging to implement:

  • It’s hard to let go of my idea—I’ve put a lot of thought into it and I think I’m right. And yet, when I do let go, I gain so much.

  • It’s not easy to listen without prejudice to every other person in the group. I think I know what this person is going to say or I know that person is always going on about X. But when I do actually listen and not just assume, I start to understand what it means to search out the truth.

  • It’s not easy to abide by the decision of the group and not criticize it, especially when I think it’s not a good decision. And yet, when I do, the results are so powerful. If it really is a bad decision, it quickly becomes clear and a new decision can be made swiftly and without bad feelings. We can make rapid progress and we all feel energized.

When I do all these things, the results are so much greater than I could accomplish on my own. And I find that the more I practice, the more open I become and the less attached I am to my own opinions. And the more open and willing I become, the more effective the group is and the greater the results. Talk about a virtuous cycle!

So I’ve set out to find ways to make this tool of consultation more accessible to people. And to create a form of consultation in doing so.

I’m creating a set of beautifully-designed cards that explain the concepts of consultation. These can be used as inspiration, as reminders or as the basis for workshops. A family could put them on their refrigerator. A work team could deal them out before a meeting so everyone has an inspiration in front of them while they discuss the issue at hand. You can post them on the bulletin board above your desk. They can be used to teach children how to work in groups.

My hope is that as people start developing this skill, they’ll share their insights and we can create a new set of cards from our joint experience. Together, we create an extended consultation about consultation. The more we use the skill, the more insights we gain, the more we share those insights, the better we all become at building the skill. It’s a way to put the generation and application of knowledge into the hands of ordinary people.

If you are interested in participating, please contact me or leave a comment below.

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