Blurring the Dividing Lines

Dividing usI can’t get through a day anymore without at least one conversation about blurring lines – how different players in the social change arena can work together better, learn from each other, avoid duplication, create new organizational forms that aren’t stuck in the old “business vs. nonprofit” paradigm.

It is becoming clear to me that, while seemingly noble, questions of blurring the lines are the wrong question.  Why? Because the question assumes there are, in fact, lines – that there are entities and organizations, corporations and social enterprises and traditional “nonprofits,” and that we need to tear down those walls.

It is the wrong question because, when we study and attempt to answer it, we actually reinforce the notion that we are all separate from each other.

A More Effective Question
What if instead of seeing a community filled with the artificial constructs of entities and organizations and businesses, each behind their own walls, we saw the whole interwoven fabric of the community? What if we saw each of the threads of that fabric not as legally separate entities, but as individual people, bringing together their dreams and aspirations, their talents and gifts, their access to “stuff” – all towards creating the greater whole?

Because of the brilliance of each of the strands in that interwoven fabric, our community knows about health and art and dogs.

Our community dreams of being healthy, vibrant, resilient.

Our community has desks and computers and storefronts and parks and cars.

Not mine. Not my organization’s or my business’s. Our collective whole has all of this.

We are not organizations. We are people. As people, we are all interconnected and interdependent, whether we acknowledge that or not. None of us is independent of the rest of us.

We are a whole with individual parts that constantly affect the whole and each other – cells in a larger body. We may be independently alive, but we are relatively worthless without each other. When small groups of us go off alone together from our own cancerous self interest, our fate is either to be stamped out by radiation – an outside force that is stronger than us – or we kill the very host that keeps us alive.

And like cells in a body, we are powerful only when acting in concert towards what is in ALL of our best interests – making sure the collective whole is healthy, resilient, at peace.

People. Together.

Which leads us to questions that can move us forward, instead of the well-intentioned yet ultimately unproductive question about blurring lines.

  • What does it make possible when we stop seeing the labels and the walls, and start seeing our collective ability to live well together?
  • What does it make possible when we stop having conversations about what social entrepreneurs and traditional nonprofits and corporations can learn from each other, and we START having conversations about the things we all care about as people who will only thrive when all of us thrive together?
  • What is it we can accomplish together that none of us individual cells can accomplish on our own?
  • And what favorable conditions can we create in our communities, that would make such coming together an inevitable result?

When we start asking these questions, what we will find is that the walls don’t have to be scaled, the lines don’t have to be blurred – because they don’t really exist.

9 Responses to Blurring the Dividing Lines

  1. Hildy, I LOVE this post! And I think it’s those conversations that then move into small innovative experiment-oriented community-enhancing action that are so critical right now.

  2. Hildy, I share your vision. Making it happen is something I’ve been working on for the past 18 years. Mapping that process is also something I’ve been trying to do.

    I’m glad that June Holley posted. This article by Valdis Krebs shows how he, June and I connected in the past. It uses social network analysis software.

    This article on Ning shows how our network of SNA mappers grew thanks to a software donation and training session by Valdis.

    These articles shows people coming together via a Chicago conference I host.

    If we can find ways to map the growth of networks, or groups of people coming together around common purpose, we might be able to teach the process that encourages this, and stimulate more funding to support it.

  3. I agree with this idea in that we are all interconnected. But I don’t think that current lingo/meme/groupthink is there yet. I think we are still operating in the land of this is my piece of pie and this is yours. Which makes me think that we at least have to start by speaking the same language of those out there who are involved and then introduce or provide clarity on what the world is really about or what is happening. Then can the movement which is already underfoot again in its new permutation able to take hold.

  4. I love your line of thinking, Hildy. Where I think many orgs run into challenges isn’t in the territorial elements, but the overarching goals. Companies are still accountable to shareholders or owners and need to generate profit; nonprofits must stay true to their missions.

    If they can temporarily park who they are and who they work for, and entertain an open dialog and brainstorming, regardless of their roles and positions, great ideas may result. After that, they can decide what roles they want to play that match their strategic goals. In the meantime, they’ve contributed their perspectives and ideas freely.

  5. Just catching up – so much for posting and then leaving the country! (sigh)

    Dan, I have heard many people talk about mapping similarities in everything from mission to perspective. Knowing who is “out there” is a big part of making the connections! Thanks for adding even more links to that chain.

    And Ericka, language is huge! I was facilitating a discussion just today, among community leaders in Calgary, where that very issue arose – if a huge part of our ability to work and be together requires conversation, shared language would sure help with that! 🙂

    And Elaine, it’s been interesting in the work we’ve done for the past decade. When one is instructed to “park your ego at the door,” it’s just about impossible – as we’ve all experienced.

    But when the conversation begins with the potential we all have to build something amazing together, we park our own egos at the door, without even being asked. We engage our higher selves, and our more base selves just never show up.

    And oddly enough, this came up with the same group I was facilitating today! A consultant shared that she had convened a group, and that they were initially having problems with ego and turf. But when they finally started asking, “What could we accomplish together?” they just started working together.

    So it’s fun to see how changing how we think can change everything! Thanks everyone, for your very thoughtful additions to this discussion – and again, sorry I posted and ran!

  6. I am at the hub of several projects that focus on breaking down silos and creating links between innovators/scientists/business and government in order to accelerate job creation and the innovation to commercialization engine for economic development. I find that the organizational definitions are not the roadblocks one expects to collaboration. The biggest roadblock is personal Ego. I have one university leader that’s been working on his vision for a NASA center in the state. Another center is forming, is funded, has NASA lined up as a partner and moving forward, but this university leader doesn’t want to participate because His Vision is going to be “something completely different”. What a waste. I talk with start up entrepreneurs who think they are Gods because they had one win and now should be bowed to for the rest of their lives. Large corporate heads who don’t want to engage unless the project is at least several million at the start or it’s not worth their time. I could go on and on. On the other side, there are those that really get collaboration, see that their ego is less important than the project as a whole, and work across “the lines” without problem. They are the real heros in moving things forward. I wish I had a big sign for our conference room that says “Park your Ego outside”.

  7. Eliz:
    Totally get that, and thank you. Your comment makes me wonder, what would it take for ego issues to not be present? We often see people with supposedly large egos get stuff done together – so I’m curious if anyone has thoughts about what leads to people acting out of something bigger than their ego?

    If we’re going to improve current circumstances and create the future we want, let’s figure out what that will take! Thoughts anyone?