Creating Pride in Place

Connie Martinez relied on collaboration to help raise Silicon Valley’s cultural and aesthetic quality of life—the visible exterior of community—towards the same level as its intellectual and scientific accomplishments. She writes:

Although globally acclaimed for technology and innovation, Silicon Valley tends to “live in its head” without manifesting its creativity and innovation in the physical realm where we actually live, work, and raise our families. With that end in mind, a growing leadership network launched a series of initiatives, anchored in arts and urban design, as strategies for community building and place-making.

Over an eight-year period, the collaborative work of sixty-five ALF senior fellows, more than a hundred organizations, and four thousand local people has made a huge difference. Improvements to downtown San Jose and the San Jose airport have been completed and more are under way. A new urban plaza or “outdoor living room” for the arts is under construction. An urban market has opened. A first-ever regional marketing campaign for the arts, with a technology platform called LiveSV focused on cultural engagement, is in place. A failed cultural facility in east San Jose has transformed into the successful School of Arts and Culture and multicultural gathering space. A children’s creativity initiative serving tens of thousands of children and youth is in its incubation phase. The list of accomplishments is broad and deep and continues to grow.

None of this would have happened the way it happened, and as swiftly as it happened, without the ALF network. The network brought courage, comfort, and access to resources, all anchored in a culture of trust, respect, and possibility—the culture of ALF.

Connie Martinez is CEO of Silicon Valley Creates and lives in San Jose, California.

Leadership in a Culture of Openness

by Erika Justis, ALF’s (Silicon Valley) VP of the Common Good Collaborative

Is openness necessary for an organization to succeed today? ALF welcomed Charlene Li, founder and current Managing Partner of the Altimeter Group and the author of The New York Times bestseller Open Leadership to join us for a Symposium on the subject. Charlene was in a fishbowl dialogue with Chris Block, Luther Jackson and Greg Papadopoulos.

Charlene proposed that Facebook and its fellow social media apps have changed the way we interact, and thus changed expectations in the work environment.

“For people that you’re hiring and working with this [Facebook] is their way of life.  They’re used to communicating and connecting with people in very different ways. The expectation now is to have openness and transparency and a sense of authenticity in their relationships. So what is the nature of the relationship between someone who chooses or aspires to lead, and those they want to follow them?”

Luther called it “creating the container.” It is the leader’s responsibility to create the space where openness is welcome and productive. “It’s critical to build the container where dialogue can happen, and that’s the leader’s key role—to spend a lot of time building the container and then let the magic happen.”

Greg offered that this container and culture is now critical to hiring the best talent. Any other culture is seen as outdated or undesirable. “If it’s anything short of an open environment or Facebook’s style of interaction and sharing, or ‘my voice is heard’ or making a comment, it’s like ‘Where am I?’ It’s a culture question—who do you want to attract? You certainly won’t attract anyone of this generation or anyone in their thirties at this point without it.”

What if creativity is really just seeing possibilities that already exist in order to create a future distinct from the past?

by Chris Block, Silicon Valley

Recently, I led a daylong training at a company in San Jose for younger managers with great potential. I planned on taking the group on a daylong experience of Theory U (see blog post “How many gorillas am I missing?” by John Hollar).

We began by intentionally getting into deep relationship with one another through sitting in a circle and telling each other about ourselves—a lighter version of the 7-minute talks (see the very first post on this blog, “How can seven minutes change the world?”). We then did some simple mindfulness exercises to deepen our ability to listen to ourselves and to each other.

By noon, I was going down in flames, no doubt about it. Whatever I was selling, they weren’t buying!! I thought I might try and change what I was doing—pull a rabbit out of the hat, be more entertaining so that I could leave sure that people really liked me.

I fought that temptation and decided to carry on as planned.

After lunch, I showed two “Invisible Gorilla” videos, the actual exercise followed by the award winning mini-documentary that explains what’s going on (see blog post “How many gorillas am I missing?” by John Hollar).

Directly after this, we did a mindful eating exercise where everyone ate or drank something that was a regular part of their diet, really paying attention while doing it for two full minutes. This awareness exercise was followed by a deep listening practice in pairs—each person listening to the other for two minutes as they talked about the experience.

We got back together for a large group dialogue. The third person who spoke appeared a bit shaken up. He had chosen to mindfully drink a can of Diet Coke. He said that he drinks a lot of Diet Coke and has been doing so for some time. In the two minutes, he had come to the realization that the Diet Coke he was drinking did not taste good. I got the impression that the experience had even called into question whether or not he had ever liked Diet Coke! The next person who spoke related the same feelings about the coffee he had been drinking.

The combined experience of missing the gorilla and the group’s experience with mindful eating was more than enough to collectively shake the group up and cause them to ask:

What else are we missing and why?

This led to a great afternoon in which people were much more receptive and open to working on achieving greater awareness, because they realized that all too often the answer to what we are missing is actually quite a bit.

I believe the answer to the question “Why?” is that we are rewarded for simplifying everything into a series of time-limited tasks that can be effectively completed, no matter the complexity. Over time this reactive focus stands in the way of the creative process. We are blinded by our habits, past experiences and fossilized world view, especially in stressful or high-risk situations when it’s especially important to see clearly, understand fully and to generate as many possibilities as possible—the key to innovation and creativity.

In the next blog I will look at the ALF process and talk about what we do in order to significantly increase awareness and put leaders in a place of limitless possibility.

Awareness + Possibility + Future Distinct From Past = Creativity

2by Chris Block, ALF Silicon Valley

What if seeing the unlimited possibilities that already exist is the essence of creativity?

The answer to every question and the solution to every problem already exist. The question, then, is not are you smart enough or savvy enough to solve the problem, but are you aware enough to discover the answers and uncover the possibilities?

I find this very reassuring because this is a human-scale challenge. To create possibilities feels god-like; to become aware of possibilities that already exist seems very doable indeed.

But there are a number of obstacles that stand in the way of meeting the challenge:

Extreme busyness causes us to react and take shortcuts.

Lots of stress causes us to take the limited view.

General isolation separates us from those that could help us most.

Individual isolation disconnects us from our being.

Lack of relationship leads to extreme cautiousness.

It is precisely because of these reasons and more that the American Leadership Forum uses different tools—from 7-minute talks to dialogue to mindfulness to powerful questions—to help people see with fresh eyes the possibilities that already exist.