Monday, July 07, 2008

It's about the experience

During our conversation on the waterfront at World Financial Center a couple of weeks back, David Price, Mark Aakhus, and I were talking about some of the ideas underlying our respective approaches. I mentioned a few of the ideas expanded on in a previous post, related to transformative mediation and multi-perspective communication. Mark said something about how approaches like transformative mediation can founder on the presumption that people entering into them are already resolution-minded. If they aren't, the dialogue won't get to the required level and the potential of the approach won't be realized.

This connects for me with something I was talking with Jeff Conklin about recently. Ultimately what matters for approaches like Compendium is not the notation, the software, or the theory; it's the experience they make possible for people participating in them. The technical or procedural components are enablers but not determiners. It's what can (but doesn't always) happen in actual practice, in real sessions, between the people that is the real essence.

When I first saw CM/1 with Jeff & company in 1992, what struck me like a bolt was not the software or the method, but rather the potential for a kind of communication to emerge, enabled and made more likely by these. From time to time over the years we have see this fully flower in particular sessions, when people are able to see and share in each other's meanings and perceptions in a way not often found elsewhere.

If the experience can be brought into being, it doesn't matter so much whether people are resolution-minded going into a session. The experience itself enables them to be and act that way.

This is something difficult to prove empirically in a controlled experiment, but it's no less real for that. Practitioner skill, in one form or another, is often what makes the difference. In future posts I will describe some of the sessions where we saw the approach realize its potential and provide this kind of experience.

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