Sunday, February 17, 2013

Carol Sanford Gives My Brain a Workout - Part 1

Carol Sanford at Bainbridge Graduate Institute

Carol Sanford doesn’t waste time.  There’s no small talk.  No pussy footing around.  She tells you what she’s thinking and she doesn’t allow you to bullshit her or yourself.  She asks a student how she felt doing a class exercise.  The student talks about the outcome, but not her feelings.  Carol looks at her and says, ok, but how did you feel?  The student pauses and tries again, without answering the question.  After a third prompt, she says something like, “uncomfortable.”  Carol says, “Good.  Nothing really changes until you’re destabilized. It’s hard to escape all the expectations society has of you.  Being uncomfortable helps you break loose so you can find your essence.”  [Since I didn’t record this, that’s a rough reenactment.]  

Language was a focus throughout the class as Carol asked people if they knew what the difference was, say, between ‘triangle’ and ‘triad.’  Or what the Latin root of education meant.  Words matter, how we use them or misuse them.  Are we saying what we mean or just using cliches to cover our lack of a real answer?  And words shape how we think.  Someone said their activity didn't work.  Carol said: Nothing ‘didn’t work.  It moved.’

Movement was a key issue.  We’re developing,  always.  We’re works in progress.  If something 'didn’t work' the way we expected, we at least know a little more than we did.  We've eliminated one option.  We've moved.

Carol’s work is to move corporations toward discovering their essences, by seducing their humans into looking deep inside of themselves to escape the traps of traditional ways of doing things.  The cliche behaviors maybe.   She’s trying to get the people to manage themselves, to find themselves and take control, be who they really are, not what the world has told them they should be.

Her critique of most management paradigms is that they treat humans as machines or lab rats.  Even when they treat them as humans, they are manipulating them, creating all sorts of external incentives.  What’s important to her is to liberate people’s internal will so that they will do things because they are the right things to do and because the people have a passion to do them. 

All of this was fascinating to me because it overlaps much of what I’ve studied and taught and ideas I’m writing up for a conference in May.  Carol's style is not at all like mine, though I can see her certainty and in-your-face delivery would appeal to corporate managers.  When someone asked about building trust before pushing people out of their comfort zones, she said bluntly:  “I don’t build trust.”  But she followed that up with, “I’m doing this with love.  I don’t work with an organizations unless I commit to them for the rest of my life.”   (She’s worked with large corporations on transformations of their thinking so they put environmental and social consequences into their business models.) 

She also reminded students that they must always test what people say with their own conscious reflective [and I can’t read my notes - was it ‘eye’ or ‘exp(erience)?] Basically, don't trust what I say.  Check it out.  Something I always warned students to do. 

This was a three hour encounter (I think that’s a more accurate word than ‘class.’)  There wasn't time to fill in all the gaps.  But when I asked about things while students were doing an exercise, she filled in the gaps I’d inquired about.  My guess is that with time to discuss the areas I questioned, we’d be pretty close on our assessment of things. 

The session sent my brain into over drive as I thought about my own models of the world and questioned how well I use what I know to do good.  Being with the students reminded me of the intellectual challenge (that's a good thing) that teaching is.  Finding who the students are so I can find ways to help them connect to the subject matter.  Once you do that, it's hard to hold them back. And despite her toughness, I felt like we were old friends within the first few minutes.

Her take on the part of the world I'm intellectually most interested in seems very close to mine - even in those parts where I usually feel out there on my own. Am I filling in the blanks to make them look like I want them to look?  Are the apparent differences real?  Would we would come together if we sat down and talked through them?  What has she figured out that I'm still puzzling over?  I need to read her book The Responsible Business.

OK now.  This post is just the warmup.  Next I'll take another swipe at this from a different angle. 

[This all happened at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute Intensive I mentioned yesterday]

Part 2  is up here.

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