A Summer Of Designing For Transformation
Posted by Audrey Lin on Sep 15, 2015
Trust is a word with shades of meaning. To one degree, it invites a question of faith in humanity—of whether or not our display of care for a loved one or stranger will be met with the same integrity of intention that inspired it.
On another level, to trust is to surrender. We do what we can to sow the seeds of our intentions, and then leave the results up to nature’s emergence— as we do our work in the spirit of service, the fruits of our labor will bloom as and when the conditions ripen.
In today's day and age, more and more folks-- whether fresh-eyed youth or seasoned elder, whether business executive or artist, teacher or technologist or healer-- are finding themselves pulled by a deeper calling to draw out that sense of trust in their own work and lives.
But what does that really look like?
“Being the change we wish to see in the world” sounds easy in the backdrop of Gandhi’s luminosity, but to an aspiring everyday changemaker, it’s actually a de-glorified balancing act filled with micro-decisions at the intersection of values and design. Unlike agriculture monocultures or factory assembly lines, designing for transformation has no formula or replicable model. The answer becomes a lived question that’s unique to each individual’s situation—to his or her journey and context and conditions, priorities and interests.
So at the start of 2015, we started holding Laddership Circles as a space to explore these questions together.
Whether redesigning business with deeper values, building a community-driven yoga studio, infusing generosity into a pottery studio—as each 6-week learning journey unfolded, we found ourselves reorienting our worldviews with broader forms of capital, practicing micro-moments of generosity, and putting in the effort to “do nothing”. Ultimately, we found ourselves fueled by the strength of conviction in our shared intentions, depth of insight from the collective wisdom, and grounding perspective of a longer-term patience—from knowing our turnaround time may extend far beyond our lifetimes.
At the conclusion of our January pilot circle, Calvin, young founder of a gratitude app, noted:
“I'm beginning to learn that I may have to have faith that in just taking the first step, the next steps will follow in a way aligned with my intention… changes to the system may be on a time scale that I have to be patient with… But you know, they might not happen at the scale I want them to even in my lifetime. At least I can help take small steps in that direction.”
The subtlety of such a space continued to snowball in visible and invisible ways. Fran keenly engaged the spirit of giftivism at her annual peace conference in April, and witnessed unprecedented amounts of contribution and collaboration. As we tuned deeper into the various forms of value in our own work, relationships, and lives, we slowly learned to trust that the fruits will bloom however they’re meant, when and as conditions ripen.
As June rolled into July, our second round of Laddership fellows and anchors hit the ground running with two concurrent circles that spanned time zones, cultures, and languages. Amidst more than full-time work schedules, Preeta and Min signed on to anchor alongside Birju and me, as Nicole and Zilong teamed up to volunteer. On Sunday morning at 7am in California, Kozo, Poonam, and Geet would dial in from Silicon Valley as their children slept while the Colorado morning shined in from Nicole’s screen. We took in the bustle of noontime Boston from Preeta’s backdrop while it was pre-dusk for Joel in Paris, and the day was drawing to a close for Natasha in Dubai and Deven, Swara, and Neha in their various corners of India.
On Monday evenings, our circle spanned from Fernando in Chile (with shouts of a house full of soccer match fans echoing from the other room) to Bonnie, Pranidhi, and Saejung just wrapping up their workday in Southern California, Arathi and Min calling from expected (and unexpected :)) stays in Canada, Birju’s echoing wind chimes and Zilong’s Casa de Paz backgrounds from the Bay Area, Lacey’s spirited insights from Colorado, Grant dialing in from the East Coast, and Sachi all the way in Mumbai rising at 5:30am to join us!
From the get-go, deep questions were raised. We wondered what it looks like to reflect our intentions for generosity within the structure of our work. How much giving is enough? At what point do you draw a line, if at all? Geet’s inquiry on articulating gift-based pricing in her Ayurveda practice struck a chord with Nicole and Pranidhi, and rippled into various breakout sessions (online and off) on the topic, as well as an articulation on “knobs of giftivism” inspired by extra comments from her husband, Somik!
In Week 3, several folks in our Monday group wondered, “Am I designing enough for generosity?” Pranidhi questioned if she should have a ‘free’ option for her yoga studio’s tiered pricing plan. Grant was inspired by a small, full-of-heart mom and pop shop, and wondered what it would look like if he offered them his pay-it-forward rewards program for free. Fernando noted how a period of patience is asking him to question, “What’s the real purpose that I’m doing this for? How can I bring the element of generosity into my shoe business? Should I just give shoes for free?”
Though we didn’t have set answers, a collective conviction in the values behind our questions emerged simply as we held space to ask (and experiment with) these questions together. In the coattails of our gift-based pricing conversation, Deven and Joel raised questions on our relationship to money, and the following week, Min guided us through a breakout call around just that. Beforehand, we all invited pre-reflections and questions. Sachi wondered, “Is it possible to serve purely while earning from it?” Bonnie asked, “How do I engage with money in a way that supports inner growth, and how do I teach others to do the same?” Joel mentioned, “'Under what conditions can lending/borrowing money empower everyone involved?” And Zilong noted, “How do we "measure" other forms of capital? If we don't measure, how do we know how we are doing, or explain our work to someone?”
With such rich questions, we embarked on a powerful call, kicking off with Deven and Joel’s initial reflections on various points along their journeys-- from Joel’s pre-teen paper route to Wall Street banking and Deven’s experiments sharing his family home in Goa and uncanny experience with a television show on relieving debt that he had signed on to anchor. All of us began to note how various forms of capital show up in our lives, and wondered what it would look like to experiment with it in our work. In our final week, Natasha shared:
“I gave something away that I deeply treasured this week and it was interesting to hear the "fear based" and security based dialogue that appeared. In fact, I actually challenged myself that whenever I felt like giving this week to simply give and more ... I'm challenging myself to walk into a meeting tomorrow with a "huge" business partner and move away from business but ask how can we come together to bring generosity and love back to our community. Whatever the monetary terms - I will ask them to decide that. The funny thing is that I have so much more inner space and inner curiosity to explore this thread to its roots and I'm EXCITED to see where this will take me and us as an organization in 6 months.”
Similarly, Fernando remarked on a subtle shift of perspective in his shoe business: “I believe that part of my journey in this new venture is aimed at taking the "economy" part of the equation of be able to put the "ecology" at the core of it. I now feel like I can have a respectful and appreciative relationship with money.”
All throughout, our circle came back to the theme of focusing on process versus results. Natasha found herself asking how to serve purely in her structured business context with a bottom line. Bonnie noticed a shift in her own approach to giving weekly sermons at her church-- from seeking approval and having the answers to simply seeing it as an opportunity to show up authentically, with the intent to be of service to her congregation. She observed a “realization that showing up as I am with an open heart and willing to serve is more than enough.” Poonam wondered about the value of process as she ran her summer Soulforce Leadership Fellowship for youth in the heart of the high-impact culture of Silicon Valley. In her Week 6 reflection, she wrote:
“A big a-ha I had this week is how you can gain tunnel vision so quickly when all you care about is short-term results...There is a difference between conscious and passive, and sometimes being "conscious" and "slow" can be seen as not doing as much, but really it's doing the opposite. It's doing much more, just at more of a transformative level.”
Lacey noticed, “How I do something is just as important than what I do.” Week after week, call after call, we found ourselves transformed by the micro-moments that the space of our circle-- its readings, videos, practices, and reflections-- continued to inspire. Prandhi reflected, “I'm noticing that I view more and more of my interactions as opportunities to be kind, and that this shift is not as effortful or forced as it used to feel. This is a testament to how powerful practice can be.” Saejung, exploring these themes in both her professional and family life, took an evening walk with her family and ended up connecting with a longtime neighbor that she never sees. She also recounted several shifts of perspective as she explored embedding deeper values in her law practice, such as this one:
I always struggled with whether or not to charge for initial consultations that can take up to 1 hour of my day. On my website I state that "I may provide free consultation over the phone or email." I did not want to commit to a free in-person consultation. Before starting the meeting, I decided to offer this in-person consultation for free. I also decided to see my one hour as an opportunity for my internal growth and pay attention to all details. I felt so incredibly relaxed. This person who is obviously highly educated came to me to explore options for his future. I thought of all the emotions I felt when I was at various different crossroads in my life: fear, anxiety, excitement, eagerness...
We delved deep into his accomplishments and goals. We explored different options. I did not look at my watch. We talked. We reached a point when all options were fully explored. I asked if he had any questions. He asked, "How much do I owe you?" I replied, you owe nothing. I said, "You have worked hard all your life to get to this point. There are many options for you in the future, but you are not quite ready yet. I would welcome the opportunity, but in the meantime please feel free to contact me if you have any other questions."
He let out a big joyous puff of air followed by, "Wow." He thanked me multiple times and left. I was left with priceless joy and gratitude.
Another member recalled an aha moment that happened by email:
This week, in one of my correspondence with a client (executive at a Fortune 20 company), I sneaked in a link to the Awakin reading, “Money Is a Lot Like Water,” by Lynne Twist. The theme of the email touched on hunger relief and philanthropy, so I added the article as a “p.s.” at the bottom of my regular email. To my great delight, the client side responded with, “Great piece – thank you for sharing!” [The exclamation mark was theirs :) ] The lesson for me is: never underestimate the dormant/counter-intuitive/non-obvious potential for transformation anywhere, any time. They might be just waiting for that simple invitation/permission.
Even in the aftermath, the ripples continue. When Fernando announced his engagement, a crew of us (inspired by a recent story) dedicated an act of kindness to him and his fiancé by gifting flowers to strangers in our various parts of the globe. When Birju got married, Bonnie assembled a bunch of bath products into decorated bundles to gift to strangers, and included a note to inform its recipient that it was her way of honoring a friend’s marriage, even when she hadn’t even yet met the wife-to-be. When Kozo shared news of his cancer diagnosis, many of us dedicated an hour of stillness and prayer to him without him even knowing. At the end of the 6 weeks, Natasha expressed her gratitude by vowing to embark on a continued experiment to “be love” in all aspects of her life-- from work to parenting and beyond. And just recently, an angel investor for her company made a surprise visit to their office, where she noted that while she normally would’ve jumped into a defensive conversation to justify why they hadn’t yet reached their projected benchmarks, she simply reminded herself to "be love," held space with no assumptions, offered her presence, and ultimately ended up in tears as the investor told her how much they believed in their work and were excited to continue to support them in the year ahead.
The stories, ripples, questions and insights continue to stream in. And as it all unfolds, we can’t help but feel that these circles have taken on a life of their own—one that certainly incubates but also hits a depth far beyond our entrepreneurial endeavors. As the experiment carries forward, we can’t help but feel a sense of wealth and aliveness from another kind of security—one that’s stored in the horizons of each human heart.