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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Block’

In John McKnight and Peter Block, recent book, Abundant Community, they state,

Volunteerism was never designed to be efficient, only satisfying.   Systems were never designed to be satisfying, only efficient.

This simple truth speaks to something that I have come to know in my heart over the last few years working in volunteer management.  As I have often described it to people, instead of trying to figure out how I can do the same or more with fewer people, I actually look for ways to involve more people in the work.  If your goal is to mentor a child, do you really want to do that efficiently?  If volunteers are seen as resources, then the standard view of creating an efficient program would be to reduce the number of volunteers it takes to mentor a child, or to get more mentoring out of each volunteer.

But a mentoring relationship is not a system, it is a building block of community.  The rules are different and we can not use the same language to talk about mentoring as we use to talk about manufacturing.  It is too easy to confuse not only why we do what we do, but the beauty in HOW we do it.  We build community through making connections between people and between associations.  More connections, stronger connections, are better.  Taking more time with one another leads to higher quality relationships.

I refuse to be efficient in volunteering.  Can anyone give me a reason why I should accept this language and concept of efficiency for volunteering and community building?

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Summer semester (ODKM program at George Mason University) has officially come and gone.  As you are pulling together your summer reading list, maybe I can recommend a few gems from my own recently read list.

In no particular order:

1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl  – when I first saw this as an assigned text for the Leadership class, I was confused about the relevance, but after reading Frankl’s beautiful work, I think it should be read by all future leaders.

2. Flawless Consulting by Peter Block – this tome is a must read for would be consultants.  I also bought the fieldbook and companion, but I would not recommend it unless you get a great deal on the pair.  Also, I have heard there is a new edition coming out this Fall, so you might want to wait till then to purchase it.

3. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins – Perkins drove me crazy with his ego and money lust, but he has a great story to tell and a lot of thought provoking commentary.  I chose to buy this one as an e-book, which worked well.

4. Organizational Consulting by Edwin Nevis – Old school OD.  This is the most theory heavy text that we read this semester.  It is a short book, but packed with challenging ideas.  If you need to read this for class, start early and take breaks to absorb the ideas.

We also read a tree’s worth of articles.  I will try to pick out a few to highlight in a future post.

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Peter Block and John McKnight

Peter Block and John McKnight

Today I had the pleasure of being part of a discussion group with John McKnight of the Asset-Based Community Development fame.  He and Peter Block (one of my favorite authors) have just come out with a new book, The Abundant Community.  (note: the book just came out so I have not read it yet but plan to do so as soon as I’m done with school reading)

McKnight focused much of the conversation on the importance of associations for democracy and strong communities.  In this context he is referring to groups of people (usually neighbors) who get together to identify the issues in their communities, figure out how to solve community problems, and organize the community to implement those solutions.  McKnight argues that associations are one of the defining features of the US and were identified as such as far back as Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.  Robert Putnam, in his book, Bowling Alone, brought to light the fact that associational life as we have known it for centuries in the US is on the decline (and has been since the 1960s).

With McKnight and Block’s new book they hope to demonstrate that associations are not just nice to haves, but are essential to a community’s core functions.  They outline six areas in which associational life is key to community health:

  1. Personal wellness – 90% of an individuals health is based on life factors, including their connections to their family and neighbors.
  2. Safety – community policing and National Night Out are just a couple of examples of the role neighbors play in safe neighborhoods.
  3. Economy – the majority of jobs are related to local businesses
  4. Environment – the decisions we make at a local level are key in grassroots change
  5. Food – McKnight cited the importance of local grown food
  6. Children – it takes a village to raise a child

I appreciated McKnight’s key arguments, but it left me wondering about the difference between networks and associations.  One of McKnight’s arguments for associations is that institutions have reached the limits of what they can do for us.  This is the same argument that I hear Beth Kanter and Allison Fine making in the Networked Nonprofit.  It seems like everywhere I turn these days I am reading about how powerful social change and social movements happen through networks.  I don’t hear the word association used at all.  Are networks the same as associations?  If not, why not?

The way that I live my life as member of the millennial generation, I live it through networks.  Using social media, I keep in contact with people that I have met throughout my life.  If I switch jobs, move to a new city, or just have a question about how to do something, I turn to my network.  I reinforce my relationships with people through face to face interaction, but the online networks like Facebook and LinkedIn make it possible to maintain those connections between face to face gatherings.  I may join an association for a short period of time, but with my greater need for flexibility and my penchant for moving regularly, I am less likely to invest time and make a commitment to an association.  When I speak to the interservice club council and others like them, they are very frustrated by young people like myself who are not joining local associations.  The advice that I and others have given these groups is to be more like a network.

So now we get back to the question from my recent post about free agents, How does the connection someone has with their online networks affect their relationship to local in person networks?

Or to put it another way, are networks and the free agents that thrive in them the answer to Robert Putnam’s concerns about the unraveling of associational life?  If not, what are we missing and how can we build those features into a way of connecting with one another that embraces both the best of the social web as well as lessons from centuries of voluntary associations?

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Person holding a lot of books

Photo Illustration by Doung Sundin/WINONAN

So I’m starting to freak out a little bit because I went a smidge overboard in my ordering and pursuing of reading since the semester ended. I of course ordered the books we are required to read this semester, but I also ordered a bunch of the recommended readings that I found for great prices at half.com.

In addition, I’m continuing to read Malcolm Gladwell and finished the book that Jay was given at Thanksgiving. All this is to say that I am writing this blog post if for no other reason than to account for what the heck I’ve been reading and remind myself that I need to actually put my attention on the school assigned books.

So…

What I’ve Finished Reading Lately:

Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work.

Shop Class is a must read for anyone who has ever uttered any of the following jargon:

“knowledge worker” “knowledge economy” “the creative class” “collaborative team environment” “right brain thinking”

or anyone that has a son or daughter that is is interested in a skilled trade.

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Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self Interest. by Peter Block
This one I got from the library on Audio Book and listened to on my way to New York. It is a quick listen and definitely thought provoking.

What I’ve started reading but haven’t finished:

Wikipatterns (assigned book)
Seems like a good read for information on how to understand and set up wikis.

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Catalytic conversations: Organizational Communication and Innovation (assigned book) by Ann Baker
This is my professor’s new book, hot off the presses.  So far I like it because it is helping me to understand some of why we do things the way we do them in the ODKM program.

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The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters by Peter Block
I’m on a Peter Block kick at the moment.  Luckily all of his books are pretty quick reads and they build on one another.

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What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
I can’t say I would strongly recommend this one. It is just Gladwell getting more money out of the same content that he has already published in the New Yorker .. much of which was material for his other books and will seem like old news.

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Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block
I am referencing this book for my work with the Community Volunteer Network.  This is my favorite of his books so far.  If you are interested in community work / social work / volunteer engagement, I would recommend this title.  It is very similar to Better Together by Robert Putnam (another book I started reading and never finished).

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A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink
I think Pink needs to read Matthew Crawford’s book and get back to me.

Things I have bought but have not even begun to read:

CompanyCommand (assigned)

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Images of Organization (assigned)

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Learning Through Knowledge Management (assigned)
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The Knowledge Evolution: Expanding Organizational Intelligence (assigned)

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The World Cafe

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Storytelling in Organizations

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Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn

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