on October 4, 2012
Multi-stakeholder facilitators, wicked problem mediators, listen up! This book is for everyone who cares about how people can work together more effectively, to address the most pressing challenges we are facing today. If you work in this field, I recommend you jump right in to the third section of the book, for some tremendously inspiring case studies of this groundbreaking approach in action.... and then go back and read the first two sections, as this is (at least!) three books in one...
The paradigm shift at the heart of part one: rather than "cookie cutter" approaches that are SPOZED to "work for all" (but never do!) we can work collaboratively to create custom solutions based on real participation from everyone involved. (Old-timers may remember that this is what the field of Organization Development once did, before being taken over by the "change management" corporate consultancies...) Culmsee and Awati make a brilliant case for this; a deceptively folksy intro, full of Dilbert and Aussie humor, segues into an in-depth exploration of the various sources of cognitive bias, a fascinating debunking of the PERT myth, and a close-up look at the challenges of moving from a bureaucratic to a post-bureaucratic organization...all building up to a whiz-bang weaving together of Rittel, Habermas, Ostrom, Winnicott, and Heifetz, as they articulate the need for creating "holding environments" that build adaptive capacity.
But wait, folks... that's just the preamble! : WHAT'S NEW HERE, is the high-tech support for taking real collaboration to scale: part two explores HOW we can create "holding environments" for building adaptive capacity, by using visual mapping practices, AND ALSO, by addressing issues of power. Again, no need to read all of this in order... if, after two chapters on visual reasoning, IBIS, and argumentation-based rationale, the esoteric comparisons of different problem-structuring methods in chapter 9 are feeling a bit too heady at the moment, SKIP RIGHT AHEAD, and by all means, DON'T MISS the last chapter of this section and the brilliant case study from the construction industry, of how to build collaboration into systems by addressing issues of power. (I can't tell you how many conversations I've been in among OD professionals, where everyone is lamenting how this is one of the most under-adressed issues in our field.. so PLEASE, don't miss this chapter!!!! )
Well, this brings us to the third and final section of the book, which as I mentioned earlier is chock-full of more juicy case studies. As I said, this is (at least) three books in one... three EXTREMELY WORTHWHILE books in one... not just for those of us who are working to help the emergence of shared understanding in organizations, but also, maybe especially, for those of us who are working to help the emergence of shared understanding among multiple stakeholder groups, facing wicked issues. Given everything that is happening in the world today, I can't think of a more timely or more useful message.
p.s. In re-reading my review, I realized I didn't say much about "agile". Here it is, in a nutshell: the ground-breaking collaborative "problem-dissolving" methodology that Culmsee and Awati describe, and use with great success in their detailed case studies, is based on "welcoming initial solutions" (i.e., prototypes), in a highly effective way. Thus the strong parallels with Agile, where rapid prototyping is a key feature. Both systems, Agile project management and Dialogue Mapping, thus feature a rapid, non-linear oscillation between the "problem space" and the "solution space" -- and both methods are highly effective for generating practical creativity in group settings. Make sense? For more... read the book!