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Immersive Learning with Peter Block

Where were you the first time you read Flawless Consulting by Peter Block? I first cracked open that transformative tome almost 25 years ago, in a tiny Starbucks nestled between a church and commercial building in the Upper West Side. And, back then if you had told me that Peter would help me introduce a video simulation based on a new case in his 4th edition, I would have rolled my eyes! Well, it happened. On April 25th, the date of the book's release, Peter joined the OpenSourceOD crew and a group of leaders and learners from around the world in the inaugural Immersive Learning Circle on Flawless Consulting. We were joined by people across the United States, Australia, British Columbia, Germany, and India! Peter draws a crowd, you see.

If you haven’t heard of Immersive Learning Circles (or ILCs) yet, they are case studies turned into guided video simulations in the spirit of role-play, experienced by small groups with facilitated discussion. We develop and run them with the support of luminaries in our field, like Frances Baldwin, Ed Schein, and now Peter Block. In a nutshell, ILC's are what you'd get if T-Groups and Consulting Practice had a baby (our next ILC is May 22nd and we'd love to see you there!). Here's what Peter has to say about the ILC approach:

It's worth pointing out that there were quite a few “mic drop” moments from our evening with Peter, too many to quote, so for that reason I'll share some of my favorites and some incredible observations made by attendees. However, it's in the full video (included at the end of this post), where you'll gain important context and learn about Peter's beginnings, which coincide with the formation of the field of Organization Development. You'll also hear about that time Peter was blindfolded by the CIA, his thoughts on linguistics as a key characteristic of transformation, and tactics you can use when faced with people who resist change.

Together, along with Peter, we walked in the shoes of an unlikely change agent that evening, Dr. Paul Uhlig, a physician who came to challenge an age-old social contract by inviting and empowering a community of change agents including patients, family members, nurses, physicians and other hospital staff.

Despite the breadth of systemic challenges facing leaders in healthcare, Paul Uhlig's innovative approach, called Collaborative Rounds produced measurable changes, including a substantial reduction in length of hospital stay, and the prevention costly mistakes (some lifesaving!). Peter shared his thoughts about how the way we frame systemic challenges, influences our sense of change efficacy:

“It's easy to empathize with all the parties and it's easy to say it's a systemic issue, but as soon as you say the word ‘systemic’, you're, you're flooded with a feeling of helplessness…”

Peter also talked about the role of psychological safety and what's ultimately at stake, positioning OD practitioners not only as consultants but as leaders of societal change. See Flawless Consulting for more on this critical point and case studies from different contexts such as education.

“When you say it's unsafe… we don't feel safe here… what's at stake is not only the customer, but you know, this explains a lot of violence in our culture because people just don't feel safe.”

At one point in the simulation, a different physician suggests that any attempt at change is futile and offers his theory about why the main character's approach won't work. Peter shared:

“Everybody has a theory as to why things are going wrong. I always know I never take their theories to be true. Because if their theory was true, they would've solved this a long time ago… in my own mind, whatever they tell me is the problem here, is the presenting problem. Pursuing that definition of the problem won't take us anymore. And the second thought is, I know in the end where I'm headed is a conversation among the players of ‘what do you want from each other?’ Crisis, staffing, history, culture, and it always comes down to here's what I want from you, what do you want from me? So, asking people what's going on here is a, is a loving way for us to build a relationship.”

Peter's advice? Take a step back and mix things up a bit. Reframing is an essential theme in Flawless Consulting. According to Peter,

“The challenge is to find a way to be with whoever's in the room that you haven't been that way before. And to help them engage with each other in a way they haven't engaged before this. In the absence of that, you'll, everybody will just be trying hard and trying always fails.”

And in many ways, the participants of that evening's ILC folded that advice into their own experience. One of our participants shared, “I felt that we reached a nice meta level on kindness and how to show up and somehow a bit on immortality. That…was quite interesting. So, I'm super grateful for that. Very rich conversation having you just met two hours ago. I really enjoyed that.”

Peter also shared his thoughts on dealing with cynics, which in many way is recognizing the

cynic in all of us, and the way language, like "let's try harder" often triggers this mentality:

“’Let's try harder’ evokes the cynic in all of us… Cynic is, is just a, a kind of wounded idealist… If you weren't an idealist, you couldn't call yourself a cynic. But anyway, you keep looking… is there a conversation we can have in this moment that we haven't had before?

Sometimes all the convincing in the world goes nowhere. What then? What do you say to someone who just can't come to see your side? Peter flips this framing on its head:

“I love the notion that if you're going to argue with me, I'm warning you now, I will take your side… I think all of us are longing for transformation. We just don't want to be coerced.”

A little more on the power of language, particularly in the field of OD and leadership:

"We could talk about ideas and intervention, but even the word intervention is brutal. You know, even the word self-improvement seems to me like a self-inflicted form of violence."

It was at this point that one of our ILC participants expressed being surprised by “…just how great the conversation is… how much happens through conversation and the power of kindness, human listening, and that whole notion of helping people reconstruct a story. So many stories surface! So, thank you. It's been brilliant to have those conversations with everyone.” Peter reminded us of the following truth behind the saying "We don't have enough time"(to co-create a better way of working together):

“There's time for everything. So, when everybody says there's not enough time, what it means is they're not, they don't care. They're not committed. There's time for everything that matters. So don't ever. I never take at face value what anybody says, including myself.

The evening went by so quickly, as you can imagine, and yet time seemed to stand still at points; particularly when Peter guided us in "Closing the Circle":

“The way to complete the circle is to talk about what worked. See, in a patriarchal world, you complete the circle by saying, what can we do better next time? Which is useless because there won't be a next time. All right? Even if you live that long, you'll be wearing a different outfit. So, everything changes.”

One participant helped us close out the evening with this observation about the value the ILC experience: “Community came out of the conversation, leadership came out of the conversation. Possibility came out of the conversation that from this, all things follow. But it's just in the way of being connected with one another and deciding not necessarily to do or to fix or to change or to correct or to, but just to be with one another was a shift was, was seismic.”

And without further ado, a full video of Peter responding to attendees and helping us all bridge concepts and deepen our inquiry. I hope you enjoy this video and share it widely! As always, share your thoughts in the comments below.

On behalf of the entire OpenSourceOD crew, thank you for your support and for helping us make some really great memories, Peter!

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