Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen

Dr. Aliki Nicolaides & Fr. David McCallum, Ed.D. - Generative Knowing

September 06, 2023 Scott J. Allen Season 1 Episode 191
Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen
Dr. Aliki Nicolaides & Fr. David McCallum, Ed.D. - Generative Knowing
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Aliki Nicolaides Ed.D, is Professor of Adult Learning and Leadership at the University of Georgia in Learning, Leadership, and Organization Development program. Her research explores the intra-active dynamics of learning that generate personal and societal transformation. She accomplishes this by focusing her research on the role that learning plays in activating the vital potential that connects self and society. Her desire to create tools and scaffolds that grow individual and collective capacity for inquiry and action is central to her approach to teaching and mentoring the next generation of scholars and leaders of change. She's co-founder of the Generative Learning and Complexity Laboratory, which brings together scholars and practitioners of learning and complexity science to reimagine learning and development through the lens of generative knowing and complexity learning. Her scholarship is shaping a new philosophical strand of adult learning, what she describes as Generative Knowing: Ways of being and becoming that liberate potential creatively in her first solo book. Dr. Nicolaides is a founding steward and current Director of the International Transformative Learning Association.

David McCallum, S.J., Ed.D is a Jesuit priest and leadership educator. He serves as the founding Executive Director of the Program for Discerning Leadership, a special project of the General Curia of the Society of Jesus, Georgetown, and the Gregorian University. The Program provides leadership formation for senior Vatican officials and major superiors of religious orders in Rome, Italy, and internationally. He lives in Rome and serves as a member of the Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops Commission on Methodology, supporting the Synodal process initiative by Pope Francis, and as adjunct faculty in the Institute for Anthropology, Interdisciplinary Studies of Human Dignity and Care at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

A Quote From this Episode

  • "How do I do good things if I'm not conscious of, and in relationship with, the whole ecosystem in which I'm in?"

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

About The International Leadership Association (ILA)

  • The ILA was created in 1999 to bring together professionals interested in studying, practicing, and teaching leadership. Plan for ILA's 25th Global Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, October 12-15, 2023.

About The Boler College of Business at John Carroll University

  • Boler offers four MBA programs – 1 Year Flexible, Hybrid, Online, and Professional. Each MBA track offers flexible timelines and various class structure options (online, in-person, hybrid, asynchronous). Boler’s tech core and international study tour opportunities set these MBA programs apart. Rankings highlighted in the intro are taken from CEO Magazine.

About  Scott J. Allen

My Approach to Hosting

  • The views of my guests do not constitute "truth." Nor do they reflect my personal views in some instances. However, they are views to consider, and I hope they help you clarify your perspective. Nothing can replace your reflection, research, and exploration of the topic.

Note: Voice-to-text transcriptions are about 90% accurate, and conversations-to-text do not always translate perfectly. I include it to provide you with the spirit of the conversation.

Scott Allen  0:00

Okay, everybody, welcome to the Phronesis podcast. Thank you so much for checking in wherever you are in the world. I have another fun episode today with co-host Fr. David McCallum. And, as many of you long time listeners know, he is a Jesuit priest and leadership educator. He serves as the Founding Executive Director of the program for Discerning Leadership, a special project of the General Curia of the Society of Jesus, Georgetown, and the Gregorian University. The program provides leadership formation for senior Vatican officials and Major Superiors of religious orders in Rome, Italy, and internationally.  Currently, Fr. McCallum lives in Rome, and serves as a member of the Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops Commission on Methodology, supporting the Synodal Process Initiative by Pope Francis, and as adjunct faculty in The Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care at the Pontifical Gregorian University. And our guest today, Dr. Aliki Nicolaides, is Professor of Adult Learning and Leadership at the University of Georgia in the program of Learning, Leadership, and Organization Development. Her research centers on exploring the interactive dynamics of learning that generate personal and societal transformation. She accomplishes this by focusing her research on the role that learning plays in activating the vital potential that connects self and society. Her desire for creating tools and scaffolds that grow individual and collective capacity for both inquiry and action is central to her approach to teaching and mentoring the next generation of scholars and leaders of change. Dr. Nicolaides is co-founder of the Generative Learning and Complexity Laboratorythat brings together scholars and practitioners of learning and complexity science to reimagine learning and development through the lens of generative knowing and complexity learning. The results of her scholarship are shaping a new philosophical strand of adult learning, what she describes as generative knowing; ways of being and becoming that liberate potential creatively. Dr. Nicolaides is founding steward and current director of the International Transformative Learning Association. And, of course, her book was recently released ‘Generative Knowing: Principles, Methods, and Dispositions of an Emerging Adult Learning Theory.’ That's where we're going to have some of our conversation today. Dr., what else do listeners need to know about you? What is not in that bio that people might find interesting?


Aliki Nicolaides  2:29  

Wow, thank you for that introduction. And it's so fun to be here with both of you. What people don't know about me, probably, is that I live in a multi-generational home with my 92-year-old father, and almost, I'll just say septuagenarian mother, she doesn't like me to tell her about the precise age. They are currently away visiting my sister, and so, I have a task which my father tutored me on. And that is how to water his pea shoots. So, my father's hobby is gardening. And when he leaves, I must take care, tend to those little flowers that he's planting or vegetables that he is planting in a very particular way. And I have stress about it because you have to use the shower part of the hose so that you could water, you have to wiggle it around. You can't put the water directly on the plant because they're too young. Anyway…


Scott Allen  3:26  

(Laughs) This sounds like a whole world. This is big business. 


Aliki Nicolaides  3:31  

(Laughs) Yes, it’s big business.


Scott Allen  3:33  

And Fr. David, how are you, sir?


David McCallum  3:36  

I'm really well. Thanks very much, Scott.


Scott Allen  3:38  

And where are you in the world today?


David McCallum  3:41  

Outside of Rome, in a place called Il Carmelo, it's a conference center near Fiumicino airport. And we're working with a couple of teams doing some facilitation and merger work today. So, it's quite an intense day. Windy, cool, beautiful, and spring-like. 


Scott Allen  4:01  

Well, you both have your different complex challenges ahead of you, just in very different ways. (Laughs)


Aliki Nicolaides 4:09

That is true.


Scott Allen  4:11

Well, okay. So, Fr. David, maybe you can talk a little bit about how the two of you crossed paths. This is an introduction that you have made, and I'm so excited that you're here to have this conversation with me. So, maybe talk about the history and the roots of your relationship, and then we'll jump into the conversation.


David McCallum  4:28  

So, Aliki and I go back to 2004, basically, where I was starting doctoral studies at Columbia. Aliki was there for a year already, a known quantity for the faculty and that community. And when I came into the program, it was immediately clear to me she was a force to be reckoned with. When she introduced herself, I, within a few minutes, found out that not only was born in the United States, but raised in Crete, and Greece, and then Singapore. She had made this journey into Tibetan Buddhism, and had been doing conflict resolution work in Syria, of all places, for the State Department. This is a person who just had an incredible background and a lot of personality to match. And we formed this amazing friendship. We've been kind of playmates and intellectual sort of thought partners for the last 20 years, or so. It's been an amazing journey as friends. I'd say that we've been very much developmental friends, helping each other to kind of manage some of the challenges and opportunities in our own lives, and really support each other through some of those critical times both in doctoral work and afterwards. So, as I've witnessed, Aliki continues to evolve her own thinking. Was really present as she was working on this book. I just feel like this is a book that needs a wider audience beyond the adult learning field, especially for those of us who are in the leadership field. So many of us who are doing coaching, consulting, leadership development, we know that it's a lot bigger than a bottom line. It's a lot more about forming people and helping people to find their depth, their voice, liberate their potential, really bring their service forward in the world, and I think that Aliki’s work can help us to do that. So it's a privilege to be with you and to kind of create this bridge between you today.


Scott Allen  6:35  

I love it. I love it. Well, where would you like to start the conversation today, David?


David McCallum  6:39  

Well, I thought it might be interesting for Aliki to tell us a little bit of the origin story of this really emergent way of thinking about how adults learn and grow. And then, after she talks about where the origins of that story are, what they might have to do with leadership in her own perspective. 


Scott Allen  7:00

I love it. 


Aliki Nicolaides  7:01  

Well, thanks, this is going to be fun. It's always fun to have conversations with my best friend here who challenges me and supports me. So, thanks for bringing me here to this relationship with you and Scott, David. Origins are a really interesting way to start because there is a lineage that, I think, this theory, or this theorizing, I think it's important to recognize that what I've been doing is troubling the idea of how we learn. I’ve been interested in this idea of how we learn for a very long time because I've always been interested in this question, which is, if we learn, why do we learn to make a mess of things? Why do we learn to not love and care for one another? Why do we learn to create war and terror? I've always been very curious about that particularly because I come from a displaced people. I'm a Greek-Palestinian woman born of parents who were displaced because of war. So, decisions other leaders make about people's lives creates ripples for generations long. And so, the lifeline of learning is not merely a point in time, it's an ocean. And we think about learning and leadership as these inflection points when really they are oceans. They're rippling energetic forces, and that's been something that I hadn't been able to articulate. It took me 10 years of my own research, and 20 years before that of bumping up against every learning and leadership model that I could work collage together to create a program for people. That's what I did in Southeast Asia after I finished my master's degree, I kind of was bringing learning and leadership and conflict resolution together to say, okay, when we bring these ideas together, we can create these opportunities to learn to do things better, to be more productive, to be more effective, to be more efficient, to perform, whatever. But I realized, as I was doing that work, I was frustrated because I still saw the same reproductive mechanism of leaving people behind, leaving messes. That was still happening even when the Learning in leadership created this wonderful moment of awareness, or ‘aha,’ opening, or even a little shift in perspective. There were still things that were being left behind, ideas, concepts, difference, and that troubled me. And so, when I did my research, originally, when David and I were at Columbia, we were both interested in developmental ways of looking at learning and leadership. David took a different approach, I took a different approach. But we were really fascinated by how do these ideas, when ignited, live and make a difference. So, that's kind of one way of telling the origin story. And hopefully, I'm making some connections between the learning and leadership bit. I am definitely looking at leader, and I actually don't really like the word leadership. To be honest, I feel that that is an outdated word. 


Scott Allen  10:20

I agree.


Aliki Nicolaides  10:21

We can no longer use the word leadership. Leader formation, which, I think, the formation approach that David takes is a lot more generative, I think. And that's interesting to me, and that feels more right to me as a connection. Learning and leader formation, I think they go very well together. I do think that as scholars of learning and leadership, that we have to change the language. The language is broken, it no longer works, it reproduces things we no longer need.


Scott Allen  10:49  

For listeners, I know already you've noticed just the incredible language that Aliki is using. It's just inspiring. And I wish you could see her as well because her use of hand gestures is just masterful as she explains the origin story. It was just wonderful, absolutely wonderful. And I agree that our language limits us. Henry Mintzberg, I did an episode with him recently, and he's calling it communityship. That may or may not be the word, but there's more of a collective word that we are progressing that's needed versus the individual. This is a ‘we’ moving forward. Is that how you're thinking about it? Is that how you're framing it in your mind?


Aliki Nicolaides  11:29  

It is a disruption. So even, it isn't just a move from an “I” to a “we” to an “us”, it is… Again, I'm going to keep playing with an ocean metaphor. It is an ecosystem, we don't know how to think in ecosystems. We've left that to our anthropology, biology, friends. Although, Gregory Bateson already was talking about learning and decision-making responsibility a very long time ago, so I think we can go to some of our transdisciplinary philosophers who are giving us some language. Even an Ignatian spiritual theology, this idea of communal discernment. That's also interesting too. There's this, how do we capture the ecosystem of an ocean, the ecosystem of learning, the ecosystem of leader formation in a word. In a movement? And I think that's where, for me, I found the word ‘generative’ gave me the most space to work with. Because, ultimately, in the origin of the word ‘generative’ is also something that comes out of nothing. Creation. Something that comes out of, well, seemingly nothing but maybe more generative in the sense of something that comes out of the mystery, something that I cannot foreknow. I cannot foreknow the ecology and how it's working to create this moment, this inflection point, where I might learn and act in a way that creates something new, something beneficial. Because I am a human being, ultimately, I want to do good things. I can de-center myself a lot, but I ultimately, in my heart, I want to do good things. But how do I good things if I'm not conscious of, and in relationship with, the whole ecosystem in which I'm in? Which is those of you who are OD consultants are going to hate me, you'll probably press stop, I think organizational development (OD) as a field has failed. We have failed as OD. What is an OD consultant doing? Attempting to mobilize an ecology without understanding the ecological threads, that mystery that's happening within an ecology of a system to actually make it move in a different way. I would much rather have that as, like, what would be the Jedi training because it is May the 4th, what's the Jedi training of learning and leader formation that allows us to move with an entire ecology? Now, that's something new. And that's where I hope generative knowing is like a portal or a door opening so that we can discover that together. I think Mintzberg is right, it is about a ‘weness,’ but we have to call it something else. The more than we.


David McCallum  14:15  

First of all, Scott, I'm so glad that you brought our listeners attention to these incredibly poetic gestures that Aliki makes with her hands. No Roman or Italian has got anything on this Greek-Palestinian for expressiveness. Number two, as you have already pointed out, and I'm really feeling right now, we have a fumbled by the way in which, Aliki you're presenting, just this incredible field in which we are trying to navigate and make sense these days. Like you said, and I know that water is a very powerful image and metaphor for you, it's like standing before the ocean and trying to make sense of what's below the surface. And we can only see so far. So, the ideas of predicted, or predictive data-informed action really will only take us so far before all kinds of other fluid dynamics will interfere. And I'm conscious, even here, we came in with a plan of how to mobilize this group of decision-makers in a certain direction. And after five minutes, we had to really rethink the plan. And that involves this kind of knowing that is different from the kind of pre-planned knowing. It means kind of being in the moment. I wonder if you could say something about how this emerging theory of knowing helps you to convey to your students and people with whom you're interacting the importance of being in relationship to this ambiguous field in which we're now [Inaudible 16:07] these days? Does that make sense as a question? 


Aliki Nicolaides  16:10  

Yeah, sure. I want to also honor that we can't get where we are without where we've been. And where we've been in terms of how we've thought about how learning and leadership intersect in order to create change. Like, all of us here on this call, that's all we do. We want to create change, and we think learning and leadership, in some configuration, is going to make that change happen. That comes from a kind of mechanistic mind. And whether we like it or not, the Industrial Revolution has influenced all of our theories of learning, and change, and leadership. Until now, maybe now is not this moment, but in the last 25 years or so, we have had a new revolution brewing, which is artificial intelligence, industrial 4.0, whichever version of the story you want to tell, that is a new energy that is underneath us and it's starting to emerge, so that's emerging. The reason why I'm bringing this up is because we're of the age, I mean, we're all Star Wars geeks, and we remember the origin stories of heroes and heroines, and also beyond the mystery. Like Star Wars introduced mystery. It wasn't just about Luke Skywalker, it was about the configuration of the Jedi together that would essentially defeat the Empire. And so, I think we're at this moment where, what is ambiguous, and, in this sense, ambiguous is not… We can define ambiguity in many ways. The economists basically define it from a risk perspective, but from a philosophical perspective, ambiguity is the doorway to mystery. When we encounter something that's ambiguous, it means that I don't quite understand it. And that can be scary in a world where knowing is… That's why we all get paid the big bucks, because we know. I know, I have an answer, I have a model, I have a system of approach. So, to encounter ambiguity is risky business. And the risky business of ambiguity is that it opens up multiple doorways to possibility. Impossibility is where creativity exists. Something that we do not know yet, that maybe something we cannot conceive of, may be the best path forward. But how do we discern that? So, here, let’s knock on Ignatius’ door and say, “Well, where does the sermon happen?” The sermon doesn't happen only in my head; discernment is another ecology. So ,when I wrote this book, I said, “How do we write a book that is a stirring in you?” So that's how I opened the book. I say, “Look, this emerging theory should stir something in you.” And if we look at learning and leadership as a stirring, then, all of a sudden, just think about it, where does stirring happen in your body? Just pause for a second. When I say, “It's a stirring in you,” my heart flutters. My brain doesn't go, “Oh, I'm going to get eggs, and milk, and I'm going to make a cake.” That's not what happens. (Laughs) So, learning, what if learning was a stirring in you? So, what is it like a good leader? A good leader knows how to respond to the moment. That's what a good leader is. That's it. That's how I define it. So, if learning is a stirring in me, then can configure a response that is just right for the moment. Now that's magic. That's a Jedi Master. So, that’s it. I'm just doing Jedi stuff.


Scott Allen  19:55  

(Laughs) I'm just doing Jedi stuff. Well, David, even as you reflect on what Aliki just said, I'm sure some of that, in the experience that you're having right now, did some of what she just said resonate for you based on, literally, some of the dialogue and discussions you're in now?


David McCallum  20:12  

Oh, yes. I hate to admit it, but she's always right. And I'll tell you this, I used to go kind of kicking and screaming along as Aliki would say, “No, you got to get out of your head, pay attention to what your heart is telling you, pay attention to what sensations are coming up in your body. Get in touch with where your intuition is getting tweaked, or you have this sense of metaphor that's working in you.” And I have to say, in the first couple of years of our doctoral work together, I used to just instinctively deflect or resist or like clench up when she would do that. And I don’t know if you can relate, but somewhere along the way, all that stuff begins to shift. I think we start to unlearn some of the programming that we've experienced in our own education, we start to get a little bit more trust in our own felt experience. Even that expression ‘felt experience’ used to drive me bananas. And now, I think to myself, “Yeah, all that I've been doing over the last three days of facilitation with this group has been drawn from this felt experience.” It's this sense of the tacit knowledge, as you said, Aliki, that comes from our past experiences, but it also means kind of feeling into what seems to be emerging next, and testing it out, and auditioning ideas, and trying something out in an experimental way that may or may not fly. But sometimes, shockingly amazing things happen. So, we've taken lots of risks this past week, we've done lots of pretty symbolic sort of gestures amongst this group to get them mobilized. And as if you were looking at this work, as if you were a shaman moving energy around and trying to unlock blockages and remove obstacles, and direct energy in a more deep and kind of fluent way, that's what this work feels like at a certain level. And do we have the freedom to talk about it that way, to engage our senses in all those ways? I really think, Aliki, that you have really helped me get here.


Aliki Nicolaides  22:40  

Now it’s made public, David. So now it’s recorded. You will forever never be able to live that down. Thank you for making this recording.


David McCallum  22:50  

Your work really is liberating. I think it's liberating.


Aliki Nicolaides  22:56  

Well, there's a beautiful phrase that Ann Pendleton-Julian said to me once, she said, “You know, complexity traffics in ambiguity,” It’s such a simple way of thinking about, particularly, and let’s just keep using David's context, you're in a context that is rapidly changing. A historical context that with thousands of years of history, it's in another inflection point in its history and its emergence. And you're responding in the moment. And the way that you're responding in the moment is accompanying people to pay attention in a different way. I think it's great that you have a meta-theory called, ‘Ignatian spirituality,’ which allows this notion of discernment to be discussable. But then, what is the discernment but the stirring within? The stirring that when I'm in a group of my supervisors, or, for me, I supervise doctoral students, groups of doctoral students, when I'm in a group of doctoral students and I sense the fear, I sense the anxiety, my response to that will move that group in a particular way. And I've learned that. And I used to feel my anxiety as a novice professor was, “I've got to get them through the next milestone.” And now, I've let it all go. In that moment, I'm paying attention to the sensation of where's this group of people moving in response to something they cannot foreknow? No one knows how to do a dissertation until they do it. And all the way to do it is kicking and screaming and hating it. So, now that I know that, how do we do change? We never do change according to any claim. Never. I don't know of any model that works that way. So, why do we insist on creating these superficial, these maps of a territory we can never know until we're in it? But how do we stand in a territory that is completely unknown to us without losing it? That's really the invitation. And so, when you create the containers, that’s where developmental theory really helps is like, oh, we now know that if we create enough supports and challenges in a context where there's ripeness and readiness for someone to be in the ambiguity, now we have an ecosystem where, potentially, new learning can happen, and something can emerge that will be the right response. And that's what we're in the business of now, I think, as educators, as researchers, as actors in the world, as facilitators. We are facilitating movement. The movement, in David's context, it's a movement of spirit, and maybe our movement, it's the movement of willingness to receive new learning.


David McCallum  25:53  

This is a little bit of a challenge, but maybe it's not a challenge. Maybe it's also just building on what you've just shared. At times, I'll just be honest, I feel that sometimes my sense is you overemphasize the ambiguity, the mystery, the sense in which we just don't know. And I want to hold on to the idea that we could at least throw down a couple of stones into the water to use as stepping stones. So, they may not be models that are 10 steps, and here's the blueprint to delivering on your dreams, but there's something about putting down the next steps. And it seems like that's what you're talking about.


Scott Allen  26:35  

David, I think that's a really wonderful thought. Aliki, as you were speaking, I was trying to think of, in our formation of leaders, what's the closest we get to what you're saying right now? And it seems to me, the closest we get would be like adaptive leadership with Heifetz and Linsky. Where it's less about, “Here are the four aspects of the four I of transformational leadership,” or “LMX or, “I had a conversation once with a very influential expert on change, and I said, ‘Is it always these nine?’ And he said, ‘Always.’” (Laughs) “I said, ‘For real?’ He said, ‘Always.’” And so, to your point of that kind of mechanistic way of kind of doing this work, we then go out and share that with the masses, “It's always these nine,” it's in many ways setting them up to fail. And so, would you agree that maybe Heifetz is the closest we get to helping people better manage some of this space? But it also, maybe, provides some stepping stones. To your point, David, I just would love to know your reaction to that.


Aliki Nicolaides  27:50  

I think David's challenge is fair in the sense that I get to step really, really deeply into the ambiguity because I'm not as scared as I used to be about it. And because that's where I'm sort of situating my scholarship, I'm willing to go there because I know there's still things to be discovered. So, let's just name that, that's my role as a scholar is to be in the deep of that for now, because I don't need to drag everyone else there right now. And how does this’ in the deep connect? I think Heifetz is a wonderful first step. Heifetz does the best job of what I call the “encounter with ambiguity.” Heifetz is brilliant at it because he deconstructs all of the learned models that we have about entering the dynamics of complexity. So, I would say Heifetz is right there. That is great tools and ways to enter the fray, so to speak. How do we enter the fray of the complexity of a system? Heifetz and Linsky are brilliant at that. I would say then Laloux really starts to give us a little bit of a… He kind of draws the outline…I love that Laloux doesn't... He sort of gives us a sort of territorial insight into organizational change, whatever the teal organization is. And he talks about certain principles that, when put into play, can start to generate a map for the system. So, I think that would be another toolkit to play with is like, oh, once we have attuned ourselves to the complexity in a way that we don't disappear, then we have, maybe, a way, principles to use to draw our own maps. I think those are two really interesting things to put in conversation. And I think where developmental theory is helpful is particularly at the level of the collective. Developmental theory can allow for developmental diversity to sort of be expressed and find new rhythms, new water level points, so to speak, within a system that I think can then generate new responses. And I think that as long as we still think in the ways that we think about efficiency, effectiveness, performance, productivity, we're going to keep reproducing those things over and over and over again, and not really create something different. And that's what I'm curious about. I'm not sure my theorizing is going to get us there, but I think we need to ask the question, “In this moment, at this time, what does it really mean to lead? What does it really mean to learn? And what are we creating, not what we’re producing? What are we creating?” And I think that's an interesting question.


David McCallum  30:37  

What I loved about what you were sharing is this idea that, with Heifetz, he leaves aside the recipe book and instead offers seven practices. And the practices are all pretty rich because they involve a lot of whole person intelligence; head, heart, hands. They involve this kind of disposition of experimental prototyping, if you will. They involve the stance of risk-taking, and courage, and vulnerability. Our mutual friend, Bill Torbert, I think recommends action inquiry as a kind of practice or stepping forward into the unknown, listening into the dark. Can you say something about how your theory links to Bill's work, and anything that would then help those who are in the audience as leaders think about what their practices are?


Aliki Nicolaides  31:37  

Yeah. What I'm doing, and I'm building off of Bill's (Torbert) work, and I do think that Heifetz and Linsky have those practices. So, the first step of generative knowing is the encounter with complexity. And so, that's where we have to tune ourselves. And I think the practices that both the listening to the dark, action inquiry, these are really important tools for how do we encounter complexity without disappearing, without leaving ourselves behind, is basically what I'm saying. In the book, I called it rupture, but in my research, I call it ‘encounter’ and I prefer encounters. So, I'm going to go back to ‘Encounter.’ But it's the encounter with complexity because that's what's happening. And then, how do I metabolize and understand that at multiple levels of system? So, the other thing that I'm trying to disrupt is that learning and taking leadership doesn't happen in the individual, it happens in a whole ecology. I'm never separate from the multiple connections I am in, whether it's my organizational system, my family system, the world, the place I live. So, I think we also have to shift this idea of individual. So, we, and, I and us in this moment are encountering complexity. And whatever tools, mechanisms, systems that we need to use, we should use. And Heifetz has them, Bill (Torbert) does a beautiful job with what I call ‘Inscending,’ which is a second practice. Which is…once I attune myself to the complexity, and I allow myself to be in the unknown. That's what you're doing. I'm allowing myself to be in the mystery of what may emerge and trusting that it will emerge. I don't know when or how, but I'm going to trust it's going to emerge, then I start to do the inquiry, this ‘Inscending.’ But inquiry is not here, inquiry is moving beneath the experience of experience. This is John Dewey. John Dewey, in his works, he tells us that not every experience is educative, and if an experience is going to be educative, you must be had by it. Now, of course, it took us 100 years to understand what the hell he meant to be had by experience. And that's what he means, that you must be taken by the experience. Kegan says the ‘subject-object’ move, but you must be subject to the object before the subject can become an object. So how can we “receive” in Torbert’s talk, “the darkness of listening into that which we cannot foreknow?” So Bill’s Action Inquiry. And David and I have been playing with action inquiry for years, and people think it's more mysterious than it is, but it really is about how do I practice inquiry into the dark of experience. And then, can I go with curiosity and allow whatever needs to be revealed to be revealed, including, “oh, I need to do some unlearning,” or, “oh, I'm more developmentally attuned to this, rather than that?” “Oh, I have some stuff around authority that I need to deal with.” That's what you're discovering, and you're discovering your snags. And we all have them. We have them at self-levels, collective levels, at societal levels; we all get snagged. So let's go look at snags. And we've got Gestalt theory to help us there; we have a deep psychology to help us there. We have tools and practices of accompaniment that is really important, none of us can do this alone. And then, the third practice is what I call ‘Awaring,’ and that's the trickiest of them all because when we put into practice the tools, the mechanisms, the systems of action that (Ron) Heifetz and (Marty) Linsky, (Frederic) Laloux, (Bill) Torbert, (Robert) Kegan, Jennifer Garvey Berger, Susanne Cook-Greuter, Polarities work - Barry Johnson, Brian Emmerson…like, we've got great people who have taken principles of theory and turn them into practices. We can integrate all of them -- and here's where I want to play in, and hopefully, David and I will continue to play in this is -- then how do we name and make up new systems, new ecologies in which where we can now work differently. So, we're not going to take back our learning and put it back in the system, we're going to let a new system emerge. And that, we haven't done yet because, what happens, what interferes with that? You cannot make a system not do what a system is made to do, which is to reproduce itself over and over again in perpetuity. And that looks like profit for some systems. It looks like a particular mission in some. How can we surrender? How can we allow the system itself to die to itself? That's Bill's work. How do we let it die to itself so that a new system emerges around us? Now that is a mystery, that’s walking on water. That's Luke Skywalker finding Kylo Ren sitting on a rock in the middle of the…


David McCallum  36:41  

It's amazing. 


Aliki Nicolaides  36:42  

You turned me on, so here we go, Jedi stuff.


Scott Allen  36:46  

You just triggered something in me. So David, in the last episode we recorded, you heard about me having tears on an airplane in Amarillo. One of the times before that that I had tears in my eyes was when, in the latest series, it was around the holidays, and I went to the theater alone. And I was watching this, and when Han Solo and Chewbacca came into the scene, I had this moment back to 1977 in my mind, and tears welled up in my eyes. And when Leia passed away, and R2D2 was right there, I had tears in my eyes. And I’m thinking, “I'm a 45-year-old man, what’s going on?” But, to your point, that's fighting Kylo Ren from a rock somewhere in, quote-unquote, ‘Ireland.’ (Laughs)


David McCallum  37:43  

Yeah, yeah. We're talking about the next horizon, in a sense, if I'm not mistaken. And it's a horizon that many of us in this leadership work, any of us trying to plan or prepare for the future, any of us trying to invest in something new and innovate, it's probably a horizon that a lot of us describe in a lot of different ways. Aliki, how do you help people, in a sense, take just the next step in that direction?


Aliki Nicolaides  38:16  

And this is where the stirring comes. So, I'm going to prototype my first class, I'm going to teach a complexity leadership course, and I'm going to teach it from the perspective of a stirring. So, every session, I want to create opportunities for stirring. And what I mean by stirring is, I really want to dislodge them, I want them to pay attention to the next horizon and that's going to take some experimentation. I don't know quite how to do that. What I've found for myself is that I'm now more and more attracted back to listening to music differently, looking at sheets of music whilst listening to them because a sheet of music is very complex and complicated, but the listening to the music is simple. So there's an interesting way. How do I juxtapose that, at the same time, there’s simplicity and complexity. I think that's part of what stirring is about. And then, what does it mean to rest in that place? Because that emergence requires you to rest. When you ask me… We're going to talk about what I'm reading; I'm reading people who are disrupting the way we think about rest and work. Who's saying that the hustle culture has taken us this far and is actually not going to take us to the next horizon? So, I think disruption is part of it. I think slowing way, way, way down is part of it. And this is all, like, you do things when you think you should be more anxious and you should work harder; you have to slow down and do things in a very different rhythm. So, I think rhythms create new horizons, a disruption of patterns create new horizons, and, as an educator, how do I start to make safe spaces for adults to taste them? Just have a little taste because it's not going to happen in their organization, and it may not even happen out in the community. But it can happen in safe, small spaces, which I love about your work, David. You're creating these amazing psychologically robust safe spaces for these very passionate people who are so invested in the mission of the church to do work of managing, of leading, of organizing, and we need to make more safe spaces. So, I think we all can do that in any context. Trust. I know it sounds really weird, but how do we create spaces of deep trust and truth-telling? Heifetz talks about it, but I think he could talk even more about it. How do we speak truth to power? Whose power, even my own power? 


Scott Allen  41:02  

There were a couple of things in there that really stood out for me. One was, “I don't know,” which I love because you're modeling, in so many ways, what you're writing about. And then, also, I love the notion of the experimentation. Like, this summer, I don't necessarily know yet, but I'm going to start experimenting, I'm going to start exploring. See if we can help adults see some of this and experience that stirring, as you said.


Aliki Nicolaides  41:29  

Yeah. Just a little taste because I think a little taste will go a long way. It'll inspire its own mystery in the taster. I don't mean to be oblique about it, but I do think that we have to also remember that… What are the different doorways? One of the things that happened that I found in my original research was that ambiguity was a door in every moment. That was a metaphor that came out of that study. And I thought, “Oh, how do I create many doors instead of just the door?” “I want to become president and CEO, and there is one path to that, and therefore I will do it.” My students come to me with that. I say, “So, what do you want to do when you finish this thing?” “Well, I'm going to get my next promotion, and then I'm going to get this, and then I'm going to do that, and then I'm going to become the CEO.” And I'm like, “Okay. Well, the world could be destroyed by then. But okay.” How do you know you will be CEO? Why? “Well, because as CEO I can make lots of money.” “Oh, okay. “Oh, I’m mission-driven, this organization does… I'm passionate about cows, and I want to do the cow thing.” And I'm like, “Great. Okay.” What if it doesn't go that way? Now what? That's the thing that I want to prepare them for. How do you respond to that? It didn’t go that way.


David McCallum  42:43  

Yeah. You remind me of how so much [Inaudible 42:46] of our field in adult learning is about instrumentality. It's about trying to shape, in a sense, all this unknown and define it in a way that's pressing towards some product, some efficiency, some value that's commodifiable. And this all feels so reductionistic relative to the conversation that you've been really helping us to explore today. And you also prompt me to just share briefly. Two weeks ago, accompanying about 20 organizational leaders facing very uncertain and complex futures in their global organizations, we went out to the sea together. The house that we were working in was right by the Tyrrhenian Sea. For half an hour, we invited people to take their shoes off and walk, basically, on the beach. The water was chilly. It’s Pebble Beach. There were wildflowers on the shore, the wind was blowing. And the breeze was creating all kinds of ripples that were glistening in the sunshine. That half hour of time by themselves but by the sea generated so much insight, creativity, metaphors and, in a sense, stirred the dynamic of their creativity about how they were approaching their challenges, their adaptive challenges, and their case studies which were filled with obstacles and challenges. In a sense, it's not rocket science, but it's about, I think, going to take that risk to be taught by experience in a different way, and to allow different teachers to appear for us, including nature and the sea. Anyway, I am really grateful for all that you've kind of put on the plate for us today. And it seems like, for me, so much more to digest even though I've read the book and I've been kind of accompanying you all these years because you're opening up so many doors, as you say, for us to explore. So, I just want to express as your friend, thank you for this contribution.


Aliki Nicolaides  45:08  

Just the beginning. Thank you.


Scott Allen  45:10  

And I will put links to some of your articles, the book. I will put all of that in the show notes. And so, that will be there for listeners to explore more because I think we've definitely set the table for some really, really cool reflection and opportunities for helping listeners make sense of, not only what we're talking about, but what they're experiencing in their lives. So, as we close out for today, I would love to just hear a little bit more. I know that you, Aliki, had mentioned something that you've been exploring a little bit, but what have the two of you been listening to, or streaming, or reading? What's caught your attention in recent times? And it could have something to do with what we've just discussed, it could have nothing to do with what we've just discussed. But what's been on your radar?


Aliki Nicolaides  45:56  

Well, there's a couple of things. My friends who know me well know that I have a hyper-vigilant over-responsible muscle are sending me books, like ‘How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy’ by Jenny Odell, which I haven't started, but I will. And then ‘Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto’ by Tricia Hersey, which I have started and it is quite good. There's a message being sent to me, so I’m about to pay attention to that. But the other thing is I'm actually immersing myself in, it's something that I've known about; I've been circling about the family happening. Nora Bateson is hosting one data labs. And something that's happened for me when I'm now working in that human, more than human space, or artificial intelligence. And artificial intelligence has, I think, something that we need to pay attention to in a very slow and deliberate way. So, I'm actually working in this sense of what's the one data that relational, entangle, visible, invisible data that I want to continue to tune myself to because that is the gift of my being human and not artificial intelligence. So, I'm kind of interested in, “I'm excited that artificial intelligence can now listen to a meeting and give me a summary of a meeting. I guess, if I'm a CEO, that's really important, because I can be at 10 places at the same time. However, I'm always going to be missing the energetic dynamics, and I don't want to give that up.” So, I think I am of the age where I'm not ready to become the Borg (STAR TREK), I still want to maintain being human. So, I'm interested in that, and that's an edge for me. And I'm working with engineers, I'm working with computer scientists. They use language I don't understand, but I want to be in that mix because I think it's important for me as somebody who's interested in generative knowing to continue to bring that mysterious warmth to the conversation.


Scott Allen  48:10  

Well, and you are now introducing Star Trek into the conversation here. 

Fr. David, how about you, sir?


David McCallum  48:24  

Well, I'm so glad that Aliki had all these amazing things that she's doing because, I have to admit, at the end of the day, in the little bit of free time I have before I go to sleep now, I'm watching Stupid Pet videos, basically. And reruns of Star Wars Rebels. It's just been that kind of a couple of months. So, Aliki, thank you for keeping us highbrow in the territory of academia. Yeah, I'm going to let you do that heavy reading on my behalf for a while.


Scott Allen  48:54  

I think, whoever sent you ‘How To Do Nothing,’ when they asked you if you've read it, you just say “no.” (Laughs) 


Aliki Nicolaide  49:03

Great, yeah.




Scott Allen  49:05

I didn't read that. Sorry. Well, to the two of you, thank you so much for a wonderful dialogue today. Can't thank you enough for your time. Be well, take care. Thanks for your good work, to the two of you. Thank you for your good work.


Aliki Nicolaides  49:19  

Thank you, Scott, and for all that you're doing. And may the force be with you. 


David McCallum  49:24  

Thanks, you two. Great to be with you.



[End Of Audio]

Generative Knowing and Leadership
The Power of Ambiguity in Leadership
Encountering Complexity and Creating New Systems
Navigating Ambiguity in Leadership
Navigating Complexity and Facilitating Emergence