#10 Elizabeth Williams – Theory U, Communication and Collaboration

Theory U – an offgrid and connected theory?

Elizabeth Williams works with multidisciplinary, multi-interest groups of people to help them find common ground, energy and direction.

This conversation was a little different in that it was focused on the “connected” part of “offgrid & connected”. It was good to open up the conversation and step out of the strictly offgrid arena.

Currently based in London, UK most of Elizabeth’s work is with collaborative entities working together to bring large infrastructure projects to life. As an occupational psychologist, she uses tools and techniques such as group dialogue, leadership and team development and facilitated explorations to help people find their own generative sparks. Much of her work is influenced by Theory U, an approach which helps individuals and collectives from inspiration to action in ways that are collaborative, fresh and driven from an eco centric rather than ego centric view.

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2 comments

  1. Guy Williams says:

    I keep getting little revalatory epiphanies from hearing these conversations, even though they’re exactly the type of conversation I have all the time with (sometimes) the very same people. Something to do with only being able to listen without opportunity or obligation to generate responses? Perhaps also Patrick’s fountainous production of perfect metaphors?

    Perhaps the theme of the day for me was this concept of the muddle we get into around what we Want to Have, and what we Want to Do: Product vs Process.
    This cropped up in the Community section of the conversation, and the contrast between intentional communities that work, and those that peter out. Recent experience in teaching compost making gave me a stark insight into this – many people seem to be turning on to ideas generated in the organic, permaculture, offgrid context and touted widely as ‘Good Things’ (insert thermophilic compost, dry compost toilets, rainwater harvesting, solar power, bottle walls…. here), but they see them as objects, products, technological solutions, end games, rather than the multifaceted processes and contextualised interactions they actually are. I’m increasingly called in to wave what people seem to perceive as a Magic Wand of sustainability and righteous lifestyle, to give them objects that will sanctify them into the increasing social holiness of “Green”. But almost every time they seem put out, confused, let down when I start by asserting that the technology is useless if not coupled with real lifestyle change. People think they want to make compost (for various reasons, including that it’s fashionable), but when confronted with the reality of the physical labour, the regular attention to details, the time dedicated to all of the above – in short, the RELATIONSHIP one must create with a pile of organic material in order to facilitate it’s alchemical journey to the One True Value (aka ‘soil’) – they realise they didn’t actually want to MAKE compost, but to HAVE it.
    The same seems to apply to much of this ‘movement’, and many of the ‘solutions’ bandied about in this context. We are so starstruck by the promise of technology that we expect to change the world without having to change ourselves. We focus on the Product, not the Process.
    Which really is strange if one considers that all we ever seem to do is Process, and one never really arrives at Product, ever!
    Perhaps this is the crux of imperial consumerist capitalism; the eternal pursuit of happiness through Product, and the concomitant blindness to the primacy of Process. A compost loo isn’t just another way to get rid of your poop – it’s a fundamentally different relationship with your food cycle. The much-touted Flow Hive also seems like a pertinent example, in that it’s a technological solution to a perceived problem that actually just serves to further distance the beekeeper from the reality of the bees! The same with everything else in this realm.

    Perhaps we need to start investigating new ways of sensitizing ‘the mainstream’ about these approaches? Perhaps we need to stop saying, “It’s so easy, everyone should just have this”, and start saying, “It’s actually pretty difficult, but the process is really rewarding”?

    Is this all just in my head, or does it resonate with a wider group?

    • OffgridVision says:

      Thanks so much for these thoughts. This is exactly the PROCESS I was hoping to be a part of! Doing / sharing / sweating / problem solving creates togetherness and connection. Each person can be valued for their unique talents in situations where most often the whole is greater than the sum of the parts for that reason. Having on the other hand requires a haver. That creates separation: “It’s all MiiiiNe!”. I agree with you. A successful workshop is when people feel united having worked together for a common goal and maybe we do need to make that clearer. Or maybe the product is an entry point. An initial vocabulary that speaks to enriching our language!

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