Slow thinking and triple loop learning for our high-paced online metamorphosis


In her preface to a great series of posts on moving online in pandemic, our iconic and highly inspirational friend Nancy White made this revealing statement:

In typical Nancy fashion I jumped into action, started up an email list, opened a Google Doc to share resources, responded to individual requests for help. Boing, boom, zip, zap!

(And she goes on to suggest precisely slowing down).

The point is: in the face of a crisis, or a situation that requires an immediate reaction, we tend to flee or fight, or indeed to freeze, not to fall back, free ourselves from that frame and feel or think about the situation. When it’s a matter of immediate life and death, fleeing or fighting makes sense.

But when it’s not the case, taking a step back could actually be the better option.

Metamorphosis (image credit: Arteascuola / Lee Watters)

In the wake of the pandemic that is sweeping the globe, and the ensuing confinement, many people have had to learn how to move, work and collaborate online. Managers, managees (ha ha), independents, we’re all jumping into the pool and learning how to swim the online waters…

Great! As I said previously, this is actually a very promising premise for the future of our collaboration, including  face-to-face. But there is also an incredibly powerful transition at play here, and we’re too busy making that transition to actually learn and document how that transition is really taking place in a mindful way. Who is doing that process documentation?

And why bother documenting this? This triple loop learning (learning how we learn) matters because it can give us incredibly powerful insights into our changing patterns in the face of a crisis – this pandemic has had incredible effects on our ability to tackle some global challenges like drug trafficking, but also on our ability to adapt to change. And adapting to change we are. See this below…

Thinking about this transformation is a temporary slowing down of our pace to realise what is really happening, in order to collectively accelerate our learning and get better able at wondering about the right questions.

And there are many many interesting questions to explore in this. Here are just a few I can think of, off the bat:

  • What is it we really want to know and get better at?
  • How do we know what we need to adopt, adapt, cherish, change, let go?
  • How are we making space for novel practices?
  • How much practice and stock taking does it take to be able to draw our lessons?
  • How are we bringing useful novel practices to stability and maturity?
  • How useful can an ‘ecocycle planning’ lens to our work be in this world of change?
  • How are we sharing our insights on the transformation?
  • How do we try to ensure that our true and tested insights are potentially put in practice by others around us?
  • What is/are the scale/s of change we are focusing on from the micro to the macro scale?
  • How much do we rely on ourselves individually as opposed to e.g. the power of feedback and external observation to inform our learning?
  • How frequently are we looking at the changes we’re going through?
  • How intensely are we looking at it? How frankly are we looking at it?
  • How are we putting into practice the insights we’ve gathered with every cycle?
  • What indicates we are on the right path, what are our measures, metrics or sensory means to know we’re on the right path?
  • How do we most effectively tease out useful lessons when collaboration takes two to tango and it’s difficult to untangle what’s the result of our practice and what’s the result of the others’ dance?
  • What is the best environment for us to reflect on and learn about changing practices? What can help with that?

It is precisely all this learning, and a whole lot more that Liberating Structures pioneers and friends Fisher Qua, Anna Jackson and Nadia von Holzen are going to examine, one online gathering at a time over the coming few months. So keep watching this space and/or Agile Facilitation and Process Change to find out more about this. By the way I’ve just put together a listing of upcoming events I’m involved in on my website, so keep your eyes peeled on this page.

Published by Ewen Le Borgne

Collaboration and change process optimist motivated by ‘Fun, focus and feedback’. Nearly 20 years of experience in group facilitation and collaboration, learning and Knowledge Management, communication, innovation and change in development cooperation. Be the change you want to see, help others be their own version of the same.

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