In a recent blog post a colleague, Runa Bouius, shared the term “co-creative collaboration”. For me it clicked and made so much sense. You may be wondering what the heck does it mean?
To co-create means “to create something jointly”. To collaborate is “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.”
What’s the difference between the two? I believe that by adding “co-creative” to collaboration it underscores the creative aspects of the process and focuses on the positive energy and joy that results from co-creating a new program, project, initiative, organization; and the ownership one feels to the “end product”. It is a great way to bond with a team or group of individuals.
To co-create with a group, there are a number of beliefs that are important to have in place and processes that support co-creative collaboration.
Beliefs that support co-creative collaboration
What I’ve found from my work with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds is that it is important to believe that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In other words, you believe that the chances of creating something new and innovative are much greater when you have variety of different perspectives and “heads” around the table, than what results from your own mind or from a small group who represent similar backgrounds (e.g. disciplines) and/or cultures.
I admire how Barbara Gray, a seasoned negotiator and organizational theorist, wrote about collaboration. She likened the collaborative process to a kaleidoscope and the pieces of colored glass within to the various diverse stakeholders involved in such a process. When you turn a kaleidoscope, the image changes, and a new one is created each time. Similarly in a well-designed collaborative process, each stakeholder is enabled to share their ideas and the final “product” the group comes up with is a combination of each person’s unique contribution; yet it is even better as each person builds on the next and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
Many of us begin our careers believing that we have all the answers, and it is easier to create something on our own rather than to involve others. We don’t really value collaboration until we experience a well-designed co-creative collaborative process.
Processes that support co-creative collaboration
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had the opportunity to co-chair a national strategy for the federal government. The consultant we hired to support us through that process was a gifted facilitator, Dorothy Strachan, who taught me so much. The strategy was “Enhancing Prevention in the Practice of Health Professionals” and it involved representatives from 8 national health professional associations in Canada; for example the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nursing Association, Canadian Dental Association … . Through a multi-phased process, we created a strategy document that supported integrating prevention through four key issue areas: policy and planning, program and service delivery, education of health professionals, and research and evaluation. The final “product” was endorsed by the Boards of each of the health professional associations who were around the table. It was a landmark document that included a number of concrete actions the various professions could take that included Goals and Options for Action in each of the issue areas, and a dissemination strategy characterized by “Prevention through Partnership: Collaborating for Change”.
Being part of this process made me value collaboration and understand how a well-designed and facilitated process can be both creative and productive.
We didn’t call it “co-creative collaboration” but indeed it was.
To be part of a co-creative collaborative process you need to trust in the process, believe that the whole IS greater than the sum of the parts, ideally include a diverse group of stakeholders in the process, create a safe environment with clear expectations, respect and value the contributions of everyone, and not come to the process invested in a particular outcome, rather be open to possibility. It is helpful to engage a skilled outside neutral facilitator with experience in collaborative processes.
As part of Female Wave of Change Canada, a member-based non-profit whose vision is:
“A more conscious, equitable, just, sustainable and peaceful world where authentic feminine leadership qualities are valued and underpin the creation of new and healthy organizations, structures and systems”,
I invited members to work together to co-create a project related to the Environment. In an email they were told that they didn’t need to be subject matter experts, and it was great if they were; however, having a passion for and interest in co-creating a project in the Environment area was important. Over 3 months of meeting via zoom about every 2 weeks, we co-created what is now called “The Mother Earth Ambassador Program”, an educational program for girls ages 9 to 12 that integrates indigenous wisdom and storytelling. As a group, we identified the: Problems we are solving, the broad Goal, the Outcomes/Objectives, a draft Outline, and Additional Design Aspects. We are now in conversation with a Master’s level university program and their students who we anticipate will assist us in fleshing out the program and “making it real”. If you’re interested in learning more and being part of a co-creative collaborative process, join us at: https://fwoccanada.com.
With the complex issues we are facing today, such as systemic racism, climate change, and gender inequality, we need a variety of “heads around the table” from different backgrounds and cultures to generate creative solutions and move us toward a world that works for everyone. Are you up to the challenge?
 Barbara Gray, Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1989.
 Feminine Leadership Qualities include: compassionate, creative, collaborative, emotionally intelligent, authentic, inclusive … usually associated with the feminine. That said, men as well as women can have and learn these qualities.
With all of the recent events, protests and discussion around anti-black racism, it is has made me reflect on some valuable lessons I learned from Dr. Vern Redekop while studying at the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution in the early 1990s. At that time, Vern was working on his PhD and I was honored to be part of a social experiment he was conducting as part of his dissertation. Vern was researching what would make people who had been discriminated against and harmed on many levels forgive their perpetrators and move forward, as well as increase understanding between the “victim” and the “perpetrator”.
To that end, Vern researched a number of different disciplines and conducted seminars that he invited a mix of people from various backgrounds, cultures, religions and ethnicities to participate in. At the beginning of each seminar he would share the research related to some aspect of the conflict process. Then we were divided into small groups to work on questions Vern provided. Following that we debriefed with the larger group.
There were many participants who shared horrific experiences based on religious, ethnic, and cultural differences. I recall a black man from Rwanda who had seen his family cut up in front of him as part of the genocide that took place in that country. There was an ex-policeman from Northern Ireland who had left the country due to death threats. There was a Sri Lankan woman who had been held hostage by the Khmer Rouge. So many stories and heart-breaking experiences were shared. As well, many of those who shared the horrific acts that had been perpetrated against them, also shared that they had learned to forgive their perpetrators.
There are several things that stand out for me from that experience that I believe can increase our understanding of anti-black racism and other prejudices and horrific acts. One was that in order for “victims” (those who had experienced atrocities and discrimination) to forgive their “perpetrators” (those who had committed the atrocities), the perpetrators had to acknowledge what they had done and issue a formal apology to that person or group. What also was useful in terms of process was for the “victim” or “victims” to sit in a circle with the “perpetrator” or “perpetrators” and for each to share how they were impacted by what had happened. This created increased understanding on both sides and also enabled the “victim(s)” to decide what type of punishment they felt was due to their “perpetrator”. This is how restorative justice is practised (for example among some indigenous communities in Canada) and it is interesting to note that the punishments that are decided upon by the “victim(s)” in a restorative justice process are usually much less harsh than typical sentences arrived at in court.
The other learning that stands out for me was some research Vern shared that demonstrated that the need to belong outweighs many other human needs, and historical events have borne this out. This is important when we think about racism and other forms of prejudice and acts of violence, because it helps us to better understand why people do what they do. It also helps us recognize that it takes a strong and courageous person to step away from a group he/she belongs to and take a stand that is in opposition to that group as they run the risk of being criticized, punished and ostracized.
These two “lessons” from conflict studies and from research on history, human nature and culture I believe are important, particularly at this time when the light is being shone on anti-black racism and other forms of racism worldwide.
Understanding and awareness are important for change to begin. It is also important to understand that there are many layers of belief and cultural conditioning that we need to “peel away” in order to truly forgive, heal and create a better world.
“(A) world free of war and violence;
One where all cultures, (races) and religions are accepted;
Where all people are respected and treated with respect;
Where people live together in communities that model
The values of contribution, collaboration, caring and connection …
One that believes in the power of groups and synergy,
That the whole is greater than the sum of the parts;
A world where women and men stand together as partners.:”
Based on these learnings what actions can we take to move forward and create a better world? I welcome your thoughts and suggestions below.
 Professor Emeritus, Conflict Studies, Saint Paul’s University, Founder of the Social Reconciliation, Just Peace and Development Research Group and author of From Violence to Blessing: How an Understanding of Deep-Rooted Conflict Can Open Paths to Reconciliation
 “Restorative justice is commonly defined as an approach to justice that focuses on addressing the harm caused by crime while holding the offender responsible for their actions, by providing an opportunity for the parties directly affected by the crime – victims, offenders and communities – to identify and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime. Restorative justice is based on an understanding that crime is a violation of people and relationships. The principles of restorative justice are based on respect, compassion and inclusivity. Restorative justice encourages meaningful engagement and accountability and provides an opportunity for healing, reparation and reintegration. Restorative justice processes take various forms and may take place at all stages of the criminal justice system.” (Source: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/rj-jr/index.html)
 Excerpted and slightly modified from Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women by Pamela Thompson, pp. 153 & 154
Our beliefs influence our
perceptions (how we see the world), and our behaviors. Dr. Bruce Lipton’s work,
a stem cell biologist and author of The
Biology of Belief,
provides strong evidence that we can change the character of our lives by
changing our beliefs. How powerful and empowering is that!
As a leader you have the power
to choose what you believe and the ability to influence others in your
organization, the groups you belong to, and in your families.
It is important to be aware of
our core beliefs and to consistently walk our talk so people feel safe, trust
us and are aware of what is expected of them. I will share some of my core
beliefs from leading and managing in a variety of organizations and cultures for
the past three decades, with the hope that you may connect with them and also
gain some clarity on the core beliefs that guide you as a leader.
- We are all interconnected.
You may have heard that when a
butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, two years later it can result in a
tornado in Kansas. The butterfly effect
has demonstrated that a small change in one area can result in powerful future
outcomes in another. If you as a leader believe in an organizational culture
that focuses on people, understanding and collaboration, you have the power to
shape and change the organization based on how you treat and respond to people
and challenging situations daily. How you communicate with others has an impact
throughout the organization and beyond. We all have heard about the
disheartened employee who has gone home and kicked his dog or beaten his wife.
I invite you to “try out” this
belief and have it in the forefront of your mind when you interact and
communicate with others on a daily basis in your workplace, community, and
family. Notice how this affects your interactions, the organizational morale
- We are all the same. We
all want to be respected, valued, to feel safe, secure and to belong.
When living and working in
Afghanistan eight years ago, I was sitting in the rose garden of the Ministry
of Public Health eating lunch with one of my female Afghan colleagues when
there was a powerful explosion. Within seconds of the huge blast, my Muslim
colleague was phoning each of her family members to ensure that they were all
safe. I think most of us would have done the same. We all value family and care
about those close to us. The explosion was from a number of suicide bombers
entering the military hospital across the road. The result was the senseless
deaths of a number of Afghan patients and their families, and medical students.
I have enjoyed managing and
consulting in a number of culturally diverse and uncertain environments, and
believe my effectiveness has been largely due to the belief that we are all
the same. When you view everyone through the lens of that belief, you are
able to connect with them, and work effectively whether or not you speak their
language or have the same cultural background or religion. In Afghanistan using
participatory processes, I was able to collaboratively develop/co-create the
first strategic plan with the Ministry of Public Health, and have it pass
through all the policy layers and be signed off by the Minister within 9
I invite you to experiment
tomorrow and try throughout your day to view everyone you see through the lens
and belief that “we are all the same”, whether it be a homeless person, a
colleague you have a tense relationship with, or a family member you have
difficulties relating to. Try this and notice what you notice.
- Nature connects me with my soul.
Did you know that when you walk
in forests, it reduces your blood pressure, reduces your heart rate and
increases the number of natural killer cells your body produces (i.e.
strengthens your immune system)? Based on longitudinal research, the Japanese have
institutionalized forest bathing or forest therapy. In their highly
competitive culture, they encourage and support people to regularly visit
centers in forests throughout Japan to forest bathe, and they continue to
collect powerful longitudinal data on its valuable effects.
I encourage you to spend time in
nature for 30 minutes or more at least 3 times a week. When I spend time in
nature I feel relaxed, energized, happy and free. My stress is reduced (if I’m
having a particularly stressful day). If as leaders we are committed to
spending regular time in nature, do you think it would positively impact our
- Life is an adventure to be lived to the
Based on this belief, I’ve led
an adventurous and full life so far [and hope to continue doing so!]. I’ve
lived and worked in the mountains of northern Colombia with peasant farmers in
the late 80s when Pablo Escobar was “running around” and the Medellin Cartel
was in full swing. I’ve lived and worked in Kabul, Afghanistan for 13 months
from October 2010 to November 2011 (a volatile and uncertain time), and managed
large multi-stakeholder projects in Pakistan and Nigeria where corruption is
rampant and violence can erupt at any time.
When I don’t have adventure in
my life I get restless and feel unfulfilled, and I either seek out adventure or
it serendipitously comes my way. Similarly, if contribution and making a
positive difference in the world is one of your core values and you work in an organization that is
“all about the money”, over time you will likely feel unhappy and unfulfilled.
This will affect your personal and your work life.
- Embracing change is a creative
process that opens me up to new possibilities.
These are times of massive
change and uncertainty. We have a choice to either embrace or to resist change.
When we view change as a threat and believe it is to be feared, this has
negative impacts on our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our organizations
and on our bottom lines. However, when we believe “embracing change is a
creative process that opens us up to new possibilities”, it has positive
impacts on our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our organizations and on
our bottom lines.
To learn more about this and proven strategies for embracing change, I invite you to download and read “The Art of Change Framework: A Guide to Embracing Personal and Organizational Change” from the homepage of https://pamela-thompson.com/).
beliefs guide and support you as a leader?
I welcome your thoughts and comments
 Lipton, B. H., The Biology of Belief – Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter
& Miracles. New York City: Hay House, Inc.
As a heart-centered leader and/or changemaker, it is important to support others within your team and/or organization to embrace change. This may be easier said than done. Here are a few “tried and true” strategies.
discuss upcoming changes; (e.g. new leadership, reorganization) and ask
people to share how they are feeling about the changes
- Communicate about the changes and openly discuss how they may impact you and your team
- Ask how
people would like to be supported during the change process. I so relate to
Brene Brown’s work, the examples she shares in “Dare to Lead”, and the
importance of scheduling “rumbling sessions” during times of uncertainty and change.
“These changes are coming hard and fast, and I know there is a lot of anxiety … I want to spend the next forty-five minutes rumbling about how we’re all managing the changes” (p. 35).
those team members who are uncomfortable with change to start slowly and
integrate small changes into their daily routines (e.g. drive to work a
different way, when dressing if they usually put their right leg into their
pants first, start with their left leg, try sleeping on the other side of the
bed … . Change is like a muscle; the more
you welcome change into your life, the easier it becomes. Ariane
de Bonvoisin in “The First 30 Days – Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier”
identifies six “change demons” and their antidotes. The six change demons are:
fear, doubt, blame, guilt, shame and impatience. She explains that the change
demons “help us navigate through change by alerting us if we are off course and
encouraging us to choose a different emotion to help us get where we want to
go.” (To learn more visit: https://pamela-thompson.com/can-reduce-fear-change-power-beliefs/)
- View embracing change as a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities (a foundational belief of my “Art of Change Framework”- https://pamela-thompson.com/2017/10/), and speak with your team about the value of internalizing this belief.
- Use the
change process as an opportunity to be creative and innovative and create
space and opportunities for team members to share innovative ideas. William and
Susan Bridges in their book “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change”
share some excellent examples of this.
I’d love to hear from you what strategies you’ve found effective to support others in your groups, teams and organizations to embrace change. I welcome your comments and ideas below.
The passing of someone close to us reminds us of our own mortality and provides the opportunity to reflect on our lives and how we want to be remembered. Are you living the life you love? Are you using your gifts and talents to make the world a better place? Do you typically awaken with a smile on your face and a song in your heart? Are there some changes you would like to make to live a life more aligned with your core values? 
These are some questions that came up for me on the recent passing of my dear father, George Edsol Robert Thompson, affectionately known as Bob. Despite losing both parents by the time he was 21 and his only brother at 29, he was a compassionate man who touched the lives of many, and achieved most if not all the goals he set. A devoted husband and father, he and my Mom raised 3 daughters who all get along well and love each other.
As a tribute to my Dad I would like to share the open letter I spoke from my heart at his recent “celebration of life”.
Thank you for:
- Believing in me and making me believe that I can “be” or “do” anything I choose to “be” or “do”.
- Instilling in me the value of education and a thirst for learning.
- Encouraging and exposing me to try a wide variety of sports. I remember and so appreciate all those rides from the cottage to Iroquois and back for swimming lessons, and the basketball games and track and field events you faithfully attended.
- Modelling for me with Mom what a loving family looks, acts and feels like, and for instilling in me strong family values.
- Exposing me to nature. I have such fond memories of those camping trips to the west and east coast, and in particular the six-week adventure we took with a tent trailer when I was 13 and my sisters were 3 and 5. Who does that? YOU did Dad with Mom’s amazing support. Thank you Dad for …
- Inspiring me to be the best I can be.
You will be dearly missed and never forgotten, not only by me, my sisters, and our families, but by the many lives you touched throughout your teaching career and life.
I love you.
My Dad lived an extremely full, and fulfilling life. He accomplished pretty well everything he wanted to do. How many of us can say that?
What legacy do you want to leave? How do you want to be remembered? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.
 For more info on core values see http://creativelivingcommunity.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/
It is an understatement to say that we live in uncertain times. In this challenging period, characterized by worldwide conflict, sharp political divisions, and racism, you may feel uncertain about your future, the future of your family, your organization, and the planet. You may think there is little you can do in your day-to-day life and work to make a significant difference. You are a natural leader, yet in the current climate you may be wondering how you can lead with greater compassion, understanding, clarity and confidence.
What I know to be true is that HOW you perceive uncertainty has a powerful influence on your effectiveness and your ability to lead.
A number of years ago I read in Freedom to Love, Freedom to Heal, a phrase that stuck with me, and that I pondered for some time:
“Uncertainty is the path to freedom”
When we are in a sea of change or chaos, and much of what we know is being questioned, disassembled or is foreign, it is difficult to believe this is true. How CAN uncertainty be the path to freedom?
When I’ve worked in conflict zones and foreign countries where I didn’t speak the language, every day was uncertain. In Afghanistan on the way to work, my vehicle with its armed Afghan driver could be pulled over by police at any time, and we could be questioned at length or commanded to drive to the nearest police station for further questioning. At any moment, a suicide bomb attack could occur nearby.
To work effectively in these environments, I couldn’t be fearful and focus on the negative possibilities. To do so would result in stress hormones constantly pumping through my body, and an inability to function effectively. I had to focus on the positive difference I was making on the people and within the organizations whose capacity I was building. Many times I had to be creative about the processes and solutions I chose, and trust that they would work. One example was when I met with the Minister of the Department who I was working with to develop their first strategic plan. Within that first meeting she asked me for a report based on what I thought of the policy development and planning processes within her Ministry. She wanted this report within a month, and I had just arrived in a country that I’d never before worked in whose language I did not speak! The first thing I did was ask an Afghan colleague if he had or knew where to obtain an organizational chart in English. He said he didn’t think one existed so I asked him for one in local language. Then I pointed to the 15 highest-level “boxes” on the org chart and asked what departments they were and the names of each Director. Shortly after, I approached my colleague to take me in person and introduce me to each Director. At each introduction, I would ask for an hour or so of their time to be interviewed and stated that I would follow up with some questions prior to each interview. All those approached were happy to accommodate me. The result was, I met the top 15 key decision-makers in the Ministry within the first month. I asked them how they developed policy and did planning, what was working, what wasn’t and what suggestions they would offer to improve policy development and planning processes within their Ministry. I “rolled up” their data, teasing out the key strengths, weaknesses and their suggestions for improvement, and added my own observations and recommendations. In about a month I submitted my report to the Minister. Months later when I was in meetings with many of those I’d interviewed and they asked why a certain action had been taken, I was able to refer to those interviews and the fact that a particular action had been taken to address an issue they had raised with me months before.
Perhaps the reason I enjoy working in foreign countries and cultures is because many processes I’ve used have never before been tested in a particular culture or language, OR I am challenged to come up with creative solutions for situations I’ve never before encountered.
So how can we lead effectively in times of uncertainty?
Key Beliefs for Effective Leadership in Uncertain Times
1) It is important to believe that uncertain times provide opportunities for creativity, and new and innovative approaches versus playing it safe and doing things “like we’ve always done”. Belief and what we believe is powerful! Did you know that you CAN change your life by changing your beliefs? Bruce Lipton, an internationally recognized stem cell biologist, demonstrated in his research that “the character of our lives is determined not by our genes but by our responses to the environmental signals that propel life.” Epigenetics “… the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off” further supports Lipton’s work, as it reveals that our perceptions influence our biology.
As leaders we have an incredible opportunity to influence the beliefs of those around us. What if we truly believed that uncertain times provide opportunities for creativity and new and innovative approaches? Imagine leading from a place of hope, rather than fear and uncertainty.
2) You have the power to change the world.
The butterfly effect demonstrates that powerful outcomes are extremely sensitive to initial conditions; such that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon can result in a tornado over Kansas 2 years later. Another example is how the black woman, Rosa Parks, refusing to go to the back of the bus, resulted in the birth of the civil rights movement in the United States. If you believe that you have the power to change the world, the values you emanate and the courageous actions you take influence those around you.
3) The Power of Collaboration and Synergy – When I was young, I believed that I could get things done better if I did them all myself, based on my experiences working with groups in elementary and high school. You may relate. It wasn’t until I was chairing a national strategy in my 30s with representatives from a number of organizations, facilitated by a skilled facilitator, when I realized that a group of diverse individuals when focused around a common and powerful vision CAN make an incredible difference. It was then that I understood the power of synergy; the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
4) Understanding and Compassion is the way forward – One of the lessons I’ve learned from living and working in a number of diverse cultures, is that if we seek to understand why someone does or says something, rather than judge them based on our own perspective, our life and work is much more interesting and fulfilling. Rather than becoming angry, judgmental and imposing our beliefs on others, coming from a place of curiosity and compassion builds connection and enables people to do their best work. … What I’ve learned is that people always do things for a reason that makes sense to them.
Our perceptions have a powerful influence on our effectiveness as leaders in uncertain times. I welcome your comments and invite you to share your experiences below. Feel free to share this post with others.
Together we CAN change the world!
 A book by Dr. David Simon, neurologist, and internationally renowned expert in mind-body medicine.
 The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles, xiv