Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Multiplying the power of thought partners to super-charge your strategy

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”―Jim Rohn

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I often have the opportunity to think together with colleagues and clients.

You do too, I am sure.  Sometimes it is to plan or solve an issue or even just to chat over a friendly coffee comparing notes on our profession.

The power of the “mind meld” 

However, really thinking together, which my friend Bill Braun describes as “moving along together in thought”, is rare.

This is the kind of creative dialogue that produces breakthroughs – that generates a quantum leap in understanding, alignment, planning, ideation and commitment.  Bill introduced me to a book a while ago, which I read cover to cover, and I am thinking it is time to revisit: “More Time to Think: A Way of Being in the World”. (And more from Bill on thinking together on his own blog here.)

Star Trek fans might think of the Vulcan “mind meld”:  “A “mind-meld” is a technique for sharing thoughts, experiences, memories, and knowledge with another individual, essentially a limited form of telepathy.” (

Qualitatively different thinking→co-creating

Those of you who know me, know that I am an avid networkerprobably in part because thinking together lights up my brain. Last week I had several such vibrant and fascinating meetings. One in particular got me thinking about the power of “thought partners”, how rare the “mind meld” experience is and how to create more of these.

Something qualitatively different happens with thought partners.  It can be spontaneous or it can be planned but the experience changes us.  We leap and jump together through information, through ideas. We become, even if just for moments, one mind.  We have memorable and shared epiphanies.  At its best we co-create a shared future.

Supercharging your strategy

This is the work of leading change and engaging others around us.  What if we could construct and repeat such experiences?  What if we could engage our whole organizations in seeing a new shared future and begin to move towards that with confidence and hopeful anticipation (a process that requires nurturing along the journey).  This is much more than an intellectual understanding driven through a generic PowerPoint, webcast or town hall meeting.  This is about two-way co-creation.

What is different when the conversation speeds up, all parties lean in, exchange information, build on ideas, when a “whiteboard” becomes essential to illustrate connections, relate and question new shared insights?

This is actually a rare experience. It’s about enough shared language, frames of reference and trust.  Trust to be vulnerable – to share more information about risk, to be confident in ambiguity and to lean in to experimenting and learning.

Creating a new future, the kind that corporate strategies need today, depends on this level of employee engagement.  While a few organizations have a better foundation of trust and engagement than others, I can think of only a handful that are ready (and still readying themselves) to traverse the kinds of transformational change that face them.

Think of the agility demonstrated by Netflix and required of GM.  In between these two examples there are thousands of others who are still trying to “manage” change through their organization in sequential, chronological, top-down, project managed, 1-year business plans – like the march of penguins.

What we really need is the migration of swarms.

Learning to “think together” is a step towards getting us there.

Thoughts? Reactions? Please share in the Comments section.

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7 Comments so far
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Thanks Gail – for pushing a concept that engages so many of us. About 12 years ago, for 18 months I was in an experimental “Dialogue Group,” based on David Bohm’s work (book: On Dialogue). That process of “thinking together” or “creating something new together” as Bohm would phrase it, fostered some amazing connections – both cognitively and personally.

The skill/discipline I had (and still have) to develop in that process is the listening without judging. Not an easy process (especially for an ENTJ). AND it is amazing what doors open when we can hear without judging in the process. Great article that makes me want to explore this concept more…

Comment by Martha Legare

Thanks so much Martha. Excellent additions.

Comment by Gail Severini

Gail, thank you for the push and the pull.

I think there are some meaningful distinctions between “power of” [a thought, a mindset, a practice, an action] and “power in” [one’s title, position, relationship]. I suspect that the tipping point for people concerned with the latter is some calculus (which could range from cold pragmatism to warm philosophy) that creates a sense that “power of” is a “good enough” idea to test.

I use “good enough” intentionally. I opine that there is often to great an emphasis on the requirement that all stars be aligned in order to embark on change. While not underestimating the difficulty and complexity of planning for and executing change, if it is true that all change is personal, then leaders invested in “power in” need guides and allies to prompt some shift.

Otto Scharmer notes that much attention has been given to what leaders do and what they know (the processes they use to lead) but little attention has been given to the question, “What sources are leaders actually operating from?” (Scharmer. 2007. “Theory U”.SOL. Cambridge MA.)

The sources describe the “interior condition” of the leader. When you speak of ” Trust[ing] to be vulnerable – to share more information about risk, to be confident in ambiguity and to lean in to experimenting and learning.” you are challenging the “power in” leader’s deepest mental model of the way things ought to be.

I am of the view that changes in interior condition are a function of the inner work the leader is willing to undertake. I would argue that of all the dimensions of change that have to be anticipated, planned and executed, the interior condition of the leader is a very deep lever that can work for you with the same power and intensity it works against you.

Inner work is devilishly difficult, as anyone who has ever tried can tell you. That may explain (in part) why theories of change focus on observable, quantifiable, and measurable dimensions that we can chart and graph.

Comment by billbraun

I think you’d really like the book Organizing for Complexity. It describes how moving towards networks, and away from hierarchical management is more relevant in today’s knowledge work world. It’s similar to the idea of Swarms.

With respect to change, the people who need to live with the consequences of the change are best suited to design and implement it!

Comment by jasonlittle (@jasonlittle)

Thanks Jason. I will look it up.

Comment by Gail Severini

Hey Gail, you also just forwarded the Collaboration Paradox, a fun piece of work. How do you see the points and pitfalls in that article meshing with your ideas on Thought Partners? I’m an introvert so mind-melding with one other person is great for me. Mind-melding with a group just doesn’t happen. Any thoughts on how mind-melding and collaboration can work together?


Comment by joegergen

Hi Joe. Yes that was an interesting post. I will look back at in the next week or so.

Believe it or not, the introvert issue resonates for me. I am quite extroverted but I find it difficult to process the rapid, dynamics of group collaboration concurrently with what’s going on in my own head.

For me, it needs to slow down a bit – not slow each person’s thinking rather find ways to channel the thinking. Structured work shops can be good for that – ie explore the components of the topic a chunk at a time.

I also found this fascinating For “The Capitalist’s Dilemma” the authors used crowdsourcing to generate and discuss ideas through an online platform. I am quite fascinated by the potential for this.

Comment by Gail Severini

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