32: William Isaacs

Welcome to the 32nd post in our Journey in Dialog. William Isaacs is the founder of Dialogos, a consulting firm. He is also a cofounder of the Organizational Learning Center at MIT and a senior lecturer at the Sloan School of Management. In his comprehensive book, Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together, we learn much about dialog. This post will include quotes from that book.

“Dialogue, as I define it, is a conversation with a center, not sides. It is a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling it toward something that has never been created before. … Like the Total Quality Movement, it seeks not to correct defects after they have occurred but to alter processes so that they do not occur in the first place. … Through it we can expand our awareness to include ever greater wholeness. Dialogue is a process that can allow us to become aware of our
participation in a much wider whole.

“Suspension asks us to put on hold the temptation to fix, correct, or problem-solve what we see so that we can begin to inquire into what we observe. … Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to suspend thought is to ask the questions.

“Rather than seeing our conversations as the crashing and careening of billiard balls, individuals may come to see and feel them as fields in which a sense of wholeness can appear, intensify, and diminish in intensity again. We cannot manufacture a ‘field.’ But we can create conditions under which a rich field for interaction is more likely to appear.

“This notion of ‘fields’ was once an important concept in the social sciences but lost significance as people sought to find too technical a definition for it. With the emergence of the ‘new sciences,’ particularly of quantum theory, we may now find new meanings for it.

“Most think of ‘transformation’ as something focused on individuals. But I believe this is no longer adequate. I believe that what is required now is something new—we cannot focus simply on personal transformation but, rather, on collective change.

“Gene Dawkins held that memes were culturally identifiable units that enable the transmission of culture: Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots, or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process, which, in a broad sense, can be called imitation.

“If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain. In other words, the meme concept is one way the system of thought extends its influence—It expands the theory of evolution to propose that culture, like biology, evolves through a process of natural selection. Ideas transmit, and as they transmit, they evolve—and, like species coevolving and affecting the niches they are part of, memes affect and shape the human communities around us.”

Do you think that the concept and practice of dialog is evolving and spreading?
Do you think it should? If you think it should, what more needs to happen to
encourage that?

© 2018 The Living Dialog™ Ministries

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