Have you ever had a brainstorm of an idea, with all its euphoria, and then when you set about implementing it, all kinds of doubts and anxieties set in? It just feels like a downward spiral of defeat. This happened to me in putting together these Consultation Cards.
Over the last year or two, I’ve been focused on learning—facilitating learning within groups and between groups. One of the elements of learning that really fascinates me is consultation. In concept, it seems simple enough: each person fully expresses his view, then lets go of it. The view now belongs to the group—to sift, sort, evaluate and combine with other views to arrive at the truth of the matter. Then, once the group decides on a course of action, everyone supports the decision, whether they agree or not. If the group is unified, they can quickly determine if it is a good decision or not. If there’s dissension, everything becomes unclear.
Consultation. It’s easy to understand. It’s not so easy to put into practice.
Old habits crop up. In trying to make sure my view is understood, it’s easy to get attached to it. When someone else voices an opposing view, it’s easy to feel attacked or wrong. It’s a challenge to rise above my reactions and work with others to seek out what is true.
In working with groups to help them develop these skills, I found I needed a tangible (and visual) way to present the ideas. And that’s when I had that brainstorm of an idea…
My daughter had taken a photo of a dandelion seed head. At first glance, it looks like a round ball of fluff. But if you look closer, you can see the individual seeds–each one connected to a common center, each one reaching out to the sky, each one connected to its neighbors, forming a perfect feathery sphere. And if you look more closely still, you can see a ladybug hidden in the center of it all.
Photo by Emily DeHoff
What a beautiful image for consultation! We come together and connect deeply to Source (the Divine, the Universe, the Source of all light and life, however you want to describe it). We reach out to the sky (wisdom, inspiration, vision). And we connect to each other with love and respect. And then we discover hidden gems as we seek the truth together.
As I looked at the photo, I realized you could combine it with an inspiring quote and a brief explanation and you’ve got a beautiful tool to help groups develop the skills for this process—a postcard explaining consultation. Then more ideas started flowing and I realized I could create a whole stack of these cards to describe different aspects of consultation. They could be table cards for working groups or refrigerator cards for families. I was fully energized by the thought of creating something beautiful and inspiring that could help people develop the skills of working together.
The Doubts and Fears
Then the next day, as I started working on the idea, all the doubts and fears came rushing in: What if people don’t like it? How are you going to reach this audience? There’s already so many great products out there, you’ll just get lost in the crowd…
And on and on it went. Round and round and spiraling down into black negativity. It became harder and harder to put one foot in front of the other.
The Remedy: Choose Your Thoughts
But then, thankfully, bits of light started coming my way.
My daughter was taking a sociology class at the time and one assignment was a TED talk by Guy Winch on emotional first aid. As she related concepts from the talk, I started to perk up at the notion that we need to counter those feelings of doubt and failure or they will take over.
Later that night, after a long meeting, I needed to settle my brain with something quiet and gentle. I picked up The Secret Garden, one of my favorite children’s books and “by chance” landed on the one passage where the author reflects on the world, rather than telling the story. Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote her books in the early 1900s and she talked about the remarkable achievements of the 1800s:
One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts—just mere thoughts—are as powerful as electric batteries—as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison.
This reminded me of another wise thinker from that period, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, who voiced the same concept in different words:
When a thought of war comes, oppose it with a stronger thought of peace.
Wouldn’t this apply equally well to the inner war that rages when those thoughts of doubt and failure show up like an army of darkness?
The next morning, I sat down and watched that TED talk on mental hygiene. I got out my little notebook and started writing gratitudes until the energy and courage returned. I persevered with the Consultation Cards and brought the project to completion. The dandelion photo was replaced by others, but the concept proved true: combine beauty with inspiration and a straightforward explanation and you have a valuable tool for teams of all kinds.
Since then, I’ve created a workshop using these cards and an M.C. Escher drawing to help people develop the skills of consultation. Currently I’m working on a DIY workshop kit version of the Consultation Fundamentals workshop, so that anyone can implement these tools with their team.
Note: These Consultation Cards eventually became a book. Check it out: Collaboration Through Consultation.