Hosted on November 16, 2013, the Minnesota Rising 2013 Un/Conference: Cultivating Capacity for Collective Leadership was a great success by the numbers, featuring 125 attendees, 14 breakout sessions (including 4 Open Space sessions generated that morning), 9 sponsors, and 27 Network Partners. Workshop topics spanned the art of facilitating conversations that matter, low-cost or no-cost spatial analysis and mapping tools, building networks and careers through peer mentoring, and philanthropy trends for the rising generation. The agenda was jam-packed and fast-paced, and per the evaluation comments, sparked innumerable connections, newly highlighted incredible organizations and opportunities, and prompted lots of fun and merriment!
While these individual connections and takeaways are of critical importance, more valuable yet was the shared emphasis throughout the day on a future focus and concern for the whole of Minnesota. The morning kicked off with a rousing keynote by Sondra Samuels, President and CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone, a collaboration of organizations and schools partnering to prepare children to graduate from high school ready for college. Sondra spoke to the myriad skills she employs to bring partners together to end multigenerational poverty within North Minneapolis using education as a lever, acknowledging that the leadership of an organization determines the culture. In quoting an old maxim, she made one point that particularly resonated with attendees: “People don’t fear change. They fear loss.”
This admission led to the proposal of an open space session entitled, “What are we willing to lose?” which sought to discover what we are truly willing to give up in order to bring about the change that we seek in the world. In the spirit of appreciative inquiry, this question continues to be at the heart of Minnesota Rising’s exploration, rearticulated to acknowledge that when we are willing to give up the comfortable and familiar, we can open up space for a new world that perhaps looks more like the one we are seeking to emerge. To this end, we can instead ask:
- What do we stand to gain by losing what we have, especially when what we have now smacks of partisanship, disparities and achievement gaps, and broken systems?
- How can letting go of the idea of building permanent things (buildings, institutions, organizations) allow the values and principles we admire to sustain over the long-term?
- How can shedding the belief that we know what leadership looks like (and if you don’t bear a resemblance, you’re not a leader) allow ever more people and more expansive ways of contributing and giving to flourish?
This line of questioning also took root in a rapid-prototyping activity following the lunchtime Show and Tell session at the Un/Conference. After the release of the initial findings of the “Our Minnesota” Cascading Conversations Tour, small groups gathered and used human-centered design methodologies to develop prototypes illustrating the future of education, government and public policy, the arts, healthcare, nonprofits, and more in Minnesota. Teams created mixed-media posters and fashioned pipe cleaners into symbols depicting more connected, values-based, and innovative solutions to the sectors and issues they care most about, taking the first step toward collectively imagining a different future for our state and communities.
As we continue examining how we might cultivate capacity for collective leadership, we must remember that change will come whether we welcome it or not. As the old proverb advises, “This, too, shall pass.” Holding too tightly to a past that isn’t serving every last person in our communities well, will not serve us well. By recognizing that we collectively stand to gain even in the midst of loss, by letting go of facades of perpetuity in favor of enduring values, and by expanding our definitions of what leadership looks like and welcoming a broader diversity of contributions into the fold, our generation can move beyond “built to last,” and help Minnesota become a place that is “built to adapt.”