Letting go of knowing.

After a weekend trip home to visit my family and friends a year or two ago I was met with a reality that I had been aware of for some time, but had not actually discovered what it meant for me and my day to day.

The day after visiting with a couple friends and their children, my friend shared with me that their daughter asked “Does Jamie know everything Mom?”. At first, I rushed to identify what I said. “Was I being a know it all?”, I asked myself. My friends daughter was 4 years old at the time and she has not been alone in such an observation. I have dedicated a large majority of my life exploring and researching everything from geopolitics and quantum computing to mega-cities and organizational strategy (not to mention a little time invested in Japanese Mens Wear).

At first it was driven by curiosity, but over time and into adult life it became more of a requirement and task. Essentially, I was determined in my pursuit for expert generalism. It was where I could double down on what I already had a strong foundation in. It became about “knowing” a lot for both my jobs and my relationships. I self-identified with it and had come to see my value proposition to others based around what I knew and how I could share it.

I say “was” because it all changed last month after a week in the south of France where I realized, that this pursuit was never going to end. It had lost its lustre and was no longer fulfilling. It was not working for me anymore.

I enrolled in an experiential facilitation training course that gave me an opportunity to not only “know” but to “be” and “do”. Over the past four years I had identified facilitation as a part of a future trajectory for myself. Through a lot of soul searching, reflection and cultivating a sense of purpose I feel I am most at home by helping, guiding and leading others through change and challenges.

In my early facilitative experience I was married to the content, whether that be the ideas, designs, strategies, or solutions — you name it! I knew a lot and wanted to ensure what I knew was included for others and the outcome.

You can see the tension that arises through this, regardless of what is being facilitated. After a few experiences in grad school, I quickly realized that facilitation does not mean you are also the creative director (there are of course times however where you may facilitate and also have vested interest in the group process or outcome), but once you recognize the difference between the two there is no going back. If you don’t resolve it, you will become trapped — and it does not matter whether you are in the role of a facilitator or participant. That does not mean that it’s an easy switch of course. There is a need to overcome bias, parts of your ego and ultimately detach from outcomes that you may have been traditionally striving for.

Today, the attachment I am focusing on is that of the process and I have experienced the merits of giving it my attention. Working with individuals, teams, groups and organizations with their goals and purpose in mind and not my own insights or preconceived objectives is an empowering place to be.

Before taking this course, many people asked me what is facilitation. And I probably answered with a dozen different versions tailored to whomever I was speaking with at the time. You can find a number of definitions from diverse cultures but one that particularly speaks to me is the following from Tom Justice and David Jamieson (as featured in the Art of Facilitation from Dale Hunter):

“Facilitation is the design and management of structures and processes that help a group do its work and minimize the common problems people have working together. Facilitation is therefore a neutral process (with respect to the content and participants) that focuses on: what needs to be done; who needs to be involved; design, flow, and sequence of tasks; communications patterns, effectiveness, and completeness; appropriate levels of participation and the use of resources; group energy, momentum, and capability; the physical and psychological environment.”

Ok! So how does one do that? With a lot of practice for starters. But it starts with a shift in mindset, discovering how to work with purpose, learning to be present with yourself, others and groups, engaging with different levels of energy and respectfully and safely giving and receiving feedback, for example. Perhaps the biggest leap (and the most fulfilling) is giving way to the process and the group. It is a liberating feeling, not just to think, but to feel and know with certainty that when you place trust in a group and its collective empowerment, great things can happen.

Over the course of five days, I took part in over 30 facilitated sessions both as a participant and a facilitator. It was in these sessions we were exposed to the power of these skills and traits.

This is Part 1 in a series of reflections on learning, personal growth, professional development, and facilitation — inspired by an experience at Zenergy Unlimited’s Stage 1: Discovering Collective Intelligence this past spring.

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