by Amina Knowlan | March 2009
MY CURRENT LEARNING EDGE IS around the nature of dynamic tensions – male/female, spirit/matter, being/doing, individual/collective, etc. I am coming to believe that collective wisdom involves growing our capacity for being with difference while staying connected. [Emphasis mine] What shows up as conflict is often simply one aspect of a larger dynamic pattern. By welcoming that disturbance and understanding the nature of what it is in tension with, we can embrace the larger context from which to draw insights and answers2.
— Peggy Holman
THE KEY OPERATIONAL PRINCIPLE AND practice that distinguishes Matrix containers from other types of living systems work is that we are constantly returning to the person-to-person discussions and connections that comprise the web or the whole.We must begin to shift our consciousness. A group is not just a collection of individuals. It becomes a living, interconnected system or organism because it is a set of connections between the parts. It is a group of relationships that are all themselves connecting and mutually influencing each other. The interpersonal connections provide the essential portal through which emergence occurs. Not in isolation from attention to the individual or the system, but in concert with and as a vehicle for, the emergence of a collective wisdom that is so much more than simple addition. The path is to keep returning to connection with each distinct, extraordinary individual and with the whole. It is my connections with each other person and the emerging whole that become my guide, my compass, my light and my transformational agent.
This is as close as we come to an operating manual for sustaining ongoing differentiation and emergence through the Matrix of connections. Make these practices mantras. Practice to become gold medal athletes. Take them to bed with you—meaning become intimately acquainted with the processes that will become more magical and awe-inspiring as you become more familiar and practiced with them in all of y(our) many relations. It’s not a complete list. It is intended to support the re-wiring of our nervous system and the reprogramming of our DNA toward the consciousness of interconnection.
1. URGE — Clarify the Intention, Vision, Mission, Purpose or Issue
Begin each meeting or session by clarifying the intention of the discussion or dialogue. Relate this to the larger vision, mission or purpose of the group. In a family or community context, take time to acknowledge or appreciate your connections.
2. MERGE — Establish, Maintain and Nourish Connections
Form and reform the Matrix. Be intentional about nourishing the quality of each of your connections and the connections between others within the whole group. Always return to what is richly authentic and transparent. Notice what opens the connections between you. What generates aliveness, creativity and love?
3. DIVERGE — Differ With Curiosity and Interest
Express differences in your perspectives, styles, values, opinions, and feelings while staying in connection. Know you are offering to turn the crystal over so that the light reflects through uniquely different facets. Engage others in a process of mutual discovery of the delightful, enlivening differences between and among you. Feast on the diversity. Avoid premature compromise or narrowing of the range of delicious differences that emerge.
4. GIVE FEEDBACK. ASK FOR FEEDBACK — Welcome it. It’s sexy.
If you are maintaining connections (#2) and differing with others (#3), skillful means will include feedback. We are not just stating differences from others, nor are we accommodating prematurely. We are exploring differences in relation to their impact on our connections and the whole group or larger system.
5. CLARIFY POLARITIES & TERRITORIES — Dance the Both-And Waltz
Name the issues that seem to be oppositional. Clearly identify the differences that occupy the opposite “poles” of the continuum. Stress and threat will often change to relaxation and creative tension. Name the collective versions: broaden the issues into themes, territories and fields. Invite other pairs to express their versions of the same territory or field.
6. IDENTIFY THE INFLUENCE OF SYSTEMS OF OPPRESSION
Acknowledge any systems of oppression that may be influencing or “running through” the pairs of subgroups expressing the differences. The territories are often related to larger systemic injustices that have an imbalance of power and privilege embedded in them. If the power difference or injustice is not named, it may be challenging to work with differences as creative potential in the present moment.
7. DISTRIBUTE DIFFERENCES & FIELDS
Once the polarities and territories are identified, invite other pairs to express their versions of that territory. Make space for contacting each person’s experience but don’t get caught in the trance of resolving each difference interpersonally.
8. CAPTURE THE QUESTIONS
Don’t look for answers or solutions. Gather and write down the questions in full view of the group. Great questions serve as “attractors” for the emerging collective intelligence and will mysteriously guide the group’s process and discussion to a more global or holistic possibility.
9. EMERGE — Track Emergent Ideas and Processes; Assess and Relate to Vision, Mission and Purpose (Or—family health, community sustainability or learning goals of the group or classroom, etc.)
When a creative possibility emerges out of expressing and holding the differences in the open in the group, it usually resonates around the room. It zings. It seems to have wings. It lifts the group out of chaos or tension or boredom into a heightened energy or aliveness. Truly emergent ideas or feelings are usually aligned with the group’s purpose. They support sustainable connections and lead to cooperative action.
10. CONVERGE INTO ACTIONS — Designate Who, What, and by When
When the ideas that emerge translate into decisions and actions, decide who has responsibility for what and by when. When inspirations or possibilities need further reflection or research, decide how you will track and return to them. When evolutionary possibilities emerge, it is through collective action that we converge and birth a new order.
Urge — Clarify the intention, purpose, agenda, question or issue. Relate this to the larger vision, mission or purpose of the group.
Merge — Establish & Maintain Connections between all pairs of people in the group. Form the Matrix.
Diverge — Differ with; utilize differentiating feedback; identify polarities & distribute differences, fields and roles. Welcome the chaos. Suspend the need for solutions. Identify and live the questions.
Emerge — Listen for the new, globally or holistically responsive ideas, feelings and practices!
Converge — Collaborate to implement the collective, emergent intelligence.
1Knowlan, Amina, Matrix Leadership, forthcoming, 2010.
2"Self Portrait," September 17. 2008
3Holman, Ibid. The words, "Diverge, Emerge, and Converge" are also used by Peggy Holman in her paper on "Welcoming Disturbance." The expanded model was developed simultaneously and independently by the author in Matrix Leadership (forthcoming).
I learned powerful tools and practices for enhancing my leadership, applying systems theory, and tapping the rich diversity that lives inside groups.
— Tarra Christoff
Life Coach & Organizational Consultant
Marin Countt, CA