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Elephants from afar: Tuning into the Global Peter Drucker Forum

Intense two days at Global Drucker Forum with so many threads and topics and inspiration, most of it still fermenting, some being distilled, some still ripening on the branches. The following will focus on the experience of attending virtually more than the details of the content. A snapshot in time, reflecting out loud. If you want neat bullet points and content soundbites you’ll have to come back later. Much later.

Attending a conference via live stream #GPDF19 and twitter is weird. The word “virtual” used to mean something like “being something in essence or effect, though not actually or in fact” from mid-15th century (https://www.etymonline.com/word/virtual), which sounds about right. So many things about it work really well, and sometimes, there is friction that doesn’t have anywhere to go to but into the film inside your own head. Or onto twitter.

There is all the content which works fine online, and the live stream delivery was excellent. And then there is everything else, which sometimes comes through and sometimes doesn’t. If you were virtual, what was missing and how could at least some of that have been added? Lori Niles and Jo Cook talk about digital body language (not part of the conference). How did you show up, and did that have anywhere to go? What does showing up look like? Did anyone notice? What difference did that make?

The twitter participation was far lower than I had expected for an event like that, I had expected a much more lively backchannel so was a bit disappointed. The twitter connections with the gathering of “regulars” felt real and bonds were forming, real to the point of getting lovely messages to join people for lunch or coffee who were “just over here on the left of the stage”. And I couldn’t. I wasn’t in the room, or anywhere near Vienna for that matter. Joining from onlineland, it can’t get more real than that and that is beautiful. Some of the connections and conversations keep going and it is fantastic.

There was a lot of talk about psychological safety (Amy Edmondson), what makes us speak up (Amy Webb) and what keeps us silent. And how we make decisions based on what we hear, and we forget the importance of all the things we aren’t hearing because we haven’t created the space for people to safely bring them. Where safety starts is not for the space holder to decide, it is what feels safe to others, and that might need some careful listening, it takes a fine antenna to pick up the weakening of the signal, and you might register it with relief at first. The noise of dissent finally dies down. It might be a good thing. It might be the worst. You have to find out what it is. Online, this is even harder.

At a meta-level, as the temporary community that willfully signed up to the topic for this conference, we were acting out and taking on the joys and difficulties of that setup, power asymmetries and all, resonance of the topics and what that makes pop up in all its messiness, fear, safety, not knowing how to “go there”, as we were exploring the big questions Gianpiero Petriglieri mentioned: “Will we survive? Will we matter? Are we in charge?”. As we were discussing the theories and practices intellectually and as we were grasping morsels of the actual gravity of it all, very few people allowed themselves to be truly touched in plain sight (at least in sight of the livestream), although the enormity of the topic and the scope of transformation were present at all times. We know all of this full well, a lot of us in that community have multiple degrees in that sorta stuff, or written books. Few mentioned this elephant in the room or dared to invite it along for the exploration. On that note: Where else are you focusing on the content and framework at the expense of everything else? And what does that do? To yourself? To everyone else?

Such a fertile ground, and possibly an opportunity missed to bring that meta level back in, and do something with it. We had some of the finest minds, experts, practitioners at our fingertips those two days (in the room and online) as we kept talking about profound things like healing (Jos De Blok) and conscious capitalism (Raj Sisodia) and that touched, and gave us a sense where things might go, and that this can really work. For the most part though, we left things in their abstraction, flat and wipeable, as applied to someone else. No clear definition of ecosystem, another elephant as someone tweeted the picture of the wise people touching different parts of an elephant, declaring the properties of each piece they were holding to represent the whole thing. As a community, did we tune out as complexity took over? Did we not dare to flag this? (Some did) Waiting, not knowing what to do with that, hoping someone else would have a good idea or make it all make sense? Ignoring everything we know about systems, how they work and how change happens in them? Did we miss an experience to integrate and ground the conference for us, and to be in this together? Rather than wearing our brave professional faces, nodding, scribbling? I missed that. This might have well happened at the live event, in side conversations or over dinner. I partially got it in side conversations, on twitter and in follow-ups via skype, but it felt niche instead of main stage. Did that happen? How was it? Anything missing?

Space was mentioned (Kim Dabbs) as an enabler for transformation and I agree. It was considerably easier to allow myself to well up when things touched me in my comfy sweater at home on Day 1 than it was on Day 2 in the Director’s room of the Institute of Directors wearing an ironed shirt surrounded by oil paintings of dead men. I did that deliberately to see what difference it would make to the experience and it was huge. None of the spaces matched the location the conversations were actually in, so the conference twitterati likely experienced a fair bit of dissonance. How do you manage the mix of live and virtual participation? How do you hold these very different spaces together? How do you make a live stream into an experience? What do the spaces you use do for what you want to create? Do you allow yourself to be touched? How deep do you allow yourself to go with that? What helps? What constrains? Lots of windowless rectangular thoughts out there…

In a session on day 1 there was an incident where someone mentioned using a cricket bat applied to the head as a metaphorical management tool because ‘that was how things had to be done in that market’. And, while I hoped for outrage in the room, nobody called it, at least not in a way that I would have had access to from afar. Reactions on twitter were mostly silence with very few people speaking up (Andrew Hill). While I’d imagine there must have been plenty of outrage and conversations over the gala dinner people in the room attended, that was not fed back or picked up in a way that reached everyone. That elephant stayed in the room, for the most part unacknowledged, unnamed, uninvited. From afar, this sounded a whole lot like silence, and it felt awful. Also aware that not all conversations are meant for everyone and not everything should happen in public, or will fit neatly into a tweet. In your virtual or mixed spaces, what makes you shut off? How do you ensure safety? What do you think needs raising and what options do you have to go about it? How comfortable are you with dissonance, and still be able to be present? Where do you want to take that discomfort and what would you expect to happen? Do you trust this to happen when you can’t see it?

We talked a lot about that four-letter word starting with an F, too, the one we dare not mention. Fear. Another elephant in the room. Your discomfort, your anger, you tuning out, your deflection. You needing to all of a sudden check your phone, go somewhere, do something. Pick a different fight just because. Being late despite knowing better. Find a person you like and hang out with them for a little too long. Making a small-ish point very fiercely to put a peg in. The extra coffee and sugary pastry (really wanting a whiskey instead). That is what that feels like. Fear. These are some of the things what we do with it when we are trying to keep our adult professional self together. Things like that. I did some of it. Online, this is even harder to catch. Conferences are intense. At some point during those two days, it is likely you did some of it, too, and you might really resent me writing this right now and that is another one for the list.

Fear is relatively easy to talk about when talking about change. Conveniently, it also seems to mostly be the fear of others during the conversations, that other-people’s-fear then turning into another line item to manage on your growing list as you drive change on a global scale in an ingraspably complex system. Stay in touch with your own, slow things down a bit and observe what you do with it. And remember that shitty rawness of it all whenever you talk about other people’s fear. We are all in this. Separately or together. Together tends to be better. To what extent are we in this together? Did we forget someone? Jennifer Petriglieri giving us hope and a sense how to better connect and contract with our loved one to be able to hold each other well to both thrive, so maybe we aren’t that alone after all. That was one elephant in the room that normally doesn’t get addressed so this was beautiful and helped with the grounding and healing themes.

I am working on compassion. Compassion with myself in my confusion in complex situations, and with everyone in this fuzzy space together, a group of people sharing something to try and make something happen. And the beauty of people sharing, and bringing their examples, sharing what they found to work to make it a little easier or less painful for all of us, the inspiration what is already possible and happening. The difficulty of creating and holding something online, and to bring people along. The fleeting tuning-in-and-out of a twitter stream with the whole world weighing in, and not always the right people and for the right reasons. To transmit what happens in the room beyond the voice/slide combination. Reflecting on the mechanics of safe spaces, how they grow, how they are granted, assumed, taken, lost. And how doing this in a split live/online setup adds complexity. What do we need for this to feel like a safe space as a person we are in our current circumstances. How much of that we got and what we didn’t at these points and how we negotiate and renegotiate this. Also, how some of this is different online, and what extra steps need taking to close the loop. What do you think?

Compassion with all of us doing “global things” or collaborating virtually, or as floating appendages bringing parts of our portfolio to existing teams in our new world of work. That new world of work people kept referencing on the podium, that world that is often so different from most of their own current work-life. A lot of us are already there, and for many it wasn’t a choice, and for many it ain’t pretty, not matter what their social media presence suggests. And how all of this is based on assumptions and might be completely wrong as nobody really has much of an idea what goes on in other people’s lives and careers anyway — particularly though a postcard-sized video feed and meeting them through their social media presence. Which brings us back to safety, fear, speaking up and healing, and the need to slow things down, look closely and connect. Really connect.

This is an invitation for all of us how we create, sustain and evolve these spaces together in these emergent ecosystems. To take these multi-channel meetings beyond broadcasting to a way of sharing (Miriam Meckel) and creating meaning together. If that is what we want.

Next year’s topic is “leadership everywhere”, and I can’t wait. Plenty of options to go about this by way of crafting a conference, a shared experience that connects, on so many different levels…

So, as we keep going out there, building stuff, creating things, making our dents in a universe already pretty badly banged around, it will serve us well to, as Gianpiero Petriglieri said, “hold love and pain at the same time”. And to see what wants to happen next. And then do something about that.

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My blog for the Drucker Forum on “Using Values as Common Guidelines for Action in Complex Ecosystems” is here. My book on “Values-based — Career and Life Changes that Make Sense is here. You can also ping me directly and we can have a chat how I can help. I coach individuals and work with organizations.


I go to a lot of conferences and events and enjoy making experiences out of them that involve more sharing, participation and to help people process and apply what they have learned. Here is a video of a chat with some fellow participants of the House of Beautiful Business 2018 (in German), Christoph Schmitt and Maike Kueper that led, amongst other things, to a Barcamp (Unconference) in Zurich in 2019 (#initiate19) with fellow twitter enthusiasts. More ideas are bubbling, so stay in touch with the newsletter.

All pictures my own.

Decision coach for professionals looking for more depth, facilitator, writer, art lover. https://liorlocher.me/ Book on values-based change out now.