Just heard Arianna Huffington speak at Big Task Weekend, a conference that annually brings together top decision makers from across industries, government and NGOs with the power to change the world and make use of their power to do it, by teaching them the process of collaborative action. At the end of the conference people come away committed to big tasks in areas of heath and wellness, education (both public and corporate learning), financial literacy and refining the process of collaborative action.
Arianna spoke about her new book "Third World America" and in one story after another she described people turning from being mired in problems and pain to innovative solutions. She explained how the middle class is being eliminated and America is turning into the land of the rich and poor.
What I found most interesting -- especially in view of the political campaigns -- as a speaker, co-facilitator, participant, and "resident listener" was how over a period of two and half days, siloed people stopped guarding their turfs, dropped their "zero sum" informed walls and began to engage in collaborative action with commitments from participants to follow through.
Interestingly it didn't look like it was going to happen until the last day of the conference. In fact, there was a series of breakdowns throughout the conference and in all of the groups after a full day of working on "Big Tasks" on Friday Oct. 1 and it looked like the last day, Oct. 2 would reveal mission not accomplished.
But that changed on the last day and all the cause rooms made up of a wide range of senior managers and executives from top companies, organization and NGOs pulled together.
I think several things happened to make it so that our politicians could learn from:
1. After all the effort people had put in, the thought of accomplishing nothing was more painful than accomplishing something positive that might not have been exactly what each faction wanted (i.e. compromise was not a defeat, it was the only way to move forward).
2. After people had been through a number of exercises led by Keith Ferrazzi the founder of Big Task Weekend, everyone related to each other and to a greater or lesser degree had "Call Me Ron" experiences (that Reagan used with Gorbachev to bring down the Berlin Wall).
3. Making a difference became more important than being right.
4. A consensus that we shouldn't let "Perfect be the enemy of the good."
5. Breakdowns are probably a necessary prerequisite of breakthrough. Walls do not come down without a breakdown between and with egos.
When I watch politicians sparring as they do, I feel like a helpless, hapless child watching the egos of my parents fighting over getting their way instead of collaborating so that I have a way to become the best that I can be. When I see their lack of collaboration, it is like watching divorcing parents beating up on each other. And if I as a child am internalizing that as the way to solve problems and make decisions it's no wonder I will grow up feeling more impotent rage than empowered and emboldened to take on the world.
I spoke at the opening session of the conference along with Peter Guber and former top auto executive, Jim Schroer. In my talk I stressed the importance of "getting into the listening" of other people as the best way to move towards cooperate and collaborate.
Politicians would do well to get into each other's listening, but more importantly into the listening of all of us. If they got into "our listening" they would hear that we have much bigger "fish to fry" than their getting elected. In the end, it's not about whether they win or lose or even how they play the game, it's about whether together the people with the power to change the world will use it to do so.
Follow Mark Goulston, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/markgoulston