April 16 ~ Notes from Japan #7

I remember years ago watching a western on TV.  A gnarled old man picked up one stick and broke it and said:  “boys, if you stand alone, you’re easy to break.”  He then put a bunch of sticks together and asked one of them to break the bunch — which, of course, they could not.  And he said “stand together and you can’t be broken.”  This old image of cooperation so you can’t be broken is being replaced in Japan with an image of together we can grow a beautiful garden.

Japan has always been a collaborative culture, but one of the results of 3/11 is that people see they need each other more than ever before.  The problems are too great, the opportunities too huge for anyone to really seriously think of going it alone.  Over the last several days I’ve had conversations with people from a number of different networks.  A picture — a glimmer — is beginning to emerge.

The following things seem true:

  • Among the people I am meeting with, at least, there is sense that a really respectful relationship is needed with people in the Tohoku.  Folks from the outside know they can’t rush in and fix things.
  • There’s a huge out pouring of goodwill from people all over Japan and all over the world.  These disasters have struck an emotional cord with many who want to help.
  • It’s all pretty overwhelming!  It is really, really, hard to think about how to do anything that would help Tohoku.  It is just paralyzing.

The question becomes one of how to bridge this goodwill, connecting it with people in the region within a culture of respectful relations.

Three things stand out to me as unique about this set of disasters:

  • Japan is a collectivist culture.  I suspect that the way this recovery proceeds and the possibility of not rebuilding the old, but recreating the new is different in a collectivist culture than in individualistic ones.
  • Most of the people displaced here are people who were independent with financial means.  I suspect for better and for worse they don’t have much training in being victims and are closer to memories of their own resilience.
  • By comparison to most other disasters (not Katrina and Rita), these disasters are occurring in a country with substantial resources and great capacity accomplish almost any task.

For a week now, we’ve been talking more and more about Future Centers.  The ideas keep shifting and where we’re at right now won’t be the final resting place.  Future Centers in Japan are an idea that has been growing for the last two years under the sponsorship of my friends at Fuji/Xerox Knowledge Dynamics Initiative (KDI).  After doing pioneering work on knowledge management with Japanese companies for more than a decade, KDI began to see that knowledge management was useful — but not enough.  They started looking around and liked what they saw in the Europe-based Future Center movement.  Several of my blogs over the last year describe what has been happening with Future Centers in Japan.  See http://www.resilientcommunities.org.

Simply put, a Future Center is a place that invites people into more curious and respectful relationship in order to create innovation.  They are a place where different rules apply and people are invited into their most authentic selves.  Friday we spent an afternoon distilling the core characteristics of Future Centers.  We ended up with a six point list:

  1. Each time a Future Center session is convened, it should be called by someone who is a champion for the cause and ideas to be discussed. This champion carries the core purpose of the session with passion and commitment.
  2. Careful attention is paid to inviting and creating the field long before people arrive.  Future Centers thrive on diversity.  The champion builds relationships with each person, engaging in early dialog about purpose and possibilities.
  3. When one enters the Future Center, one immediately knows this is a new and different space with different rules for how to be together.  It has beauty.  It calms.  It invites.
  4. Everything is held with an intention of inviting people in to their wholeness.  People are invited to loosen their personal boundaries in a way that allows them to become more receptive, more permeable.  Respect, curiosity and friendship are the foundation on which we build.  People work from the place of what they have, not what they need.
  5. Great care is taken to make things visible.  This visibility is three fold: making everything that is present and emerging in the room visible to all present; making knowledge and resources from outside the room visible in the room; making what happens in the room visible beyond the room.
  6. Finally, an astonishing BA (space — and more) is created.  People feel safe.  They are called into their deepest dreams.  Their creativity is fully engaged.  They are willing to enter into new and important relationships.  This BA is action oriented and produces astonishing results.

This is all still on “tissue paper” and will change many times, but the core goes something like this:

Two years ago TED Talks released a model called TEDx into the world.  TED created some clear non-negotiable guidelines for how to organize local TEDx talks and have them to recognized and included in a community that spanned the world.  More than 2000 have been organized.  It’s an incredible story of self-organizing.

People I am talking to here believe that we can be working now to create conditions which will nurture the birth of extremely locally based Future Centers across Tohoku and the rest of Japan.  Created by local champions, working with others they trust, people create local Future Centers which become part of a wide area network.  The network provides training and support through people and materials and events convened which draw people together from different parts of Japan.  Think in terms of the Youth Leaders gathering at the KEEP in Kiyosato I described in Notes #5.

Imagine small teams from Art of Hosting – Japan forming relationships in each Future Center and coming in to host dialogs.  Initial dialogs just create a space for grief.  Other dialogs would deal with what ever was needed.  Imagine people  from the Presencing Institute of Japan forming a relationship with each Center.  Imagine innovators from Social Venture Partners.  Imagine art therapists beginning to do their work through this network.

What’s key here is that this is potentially a community of locally based enterprises which support and learn with and from each other.  We come down to the local level.  Like TEDx, they grow through attraction rather than promotion.

What begins to happen is that a whole new series of bridges are being build which link people within the region, people throughout Japan and people around the world.

AND, this is a tender, early idea.  Yamamoto-san’s recent visit to Fukushima may have started one prototype of this kind of arrangement.  It is still early to be looking for where these might happen.  But it is time to be building the partnerships and planting the garden than might emerge.

Much is in motion!



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