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Summary and list of habits (Version 1)

Adam Kahane
January, 2024


I am now busy rewriting all of the already-posted text and will post a complete book draft in June. Thank you all for your thoughtful and generous comments on the Google Docs to this point--all of which are now grievously out of date and so closed for further comments.  

On our Book Club Zoom calls in December we constructed, based on our various experiences, a long list of "the key habits of effective systems transformers."   

I found this material stimulating but much too diffuse for a mass-market book like this, which must, in the end, contain a single, true, challenging, and useful "big idea" (hat tip to my wise  editor Steve Piersanti). 

I have therefore taken the plunge and formed such a simple hypothesis, which in the new draft Introduction I will will post in a few weeks is articulated as follows:

When I stepped back from these lists and squinted, however, I could see one basic pattern: radical engagement. The way to make a good next move is not by forcing a move onto the system, but by engaging in give and take with it, meaning “taking part in; pledging oneself to; holding fast; entering into conflict with.” And not by engaging superficially in a way that keeps the system as it is (as in “I have a dinner engagement”), but by doing so radically, meaning “going to the root(s); affecting the foundation; naturally inherent, essential, fundamental.” Radical engagement with a system means taking part in it, hands in the dirt, at its roots. It means the day in-day out practice of intentionally and consciously connecting, communicating, competing, and collaborating on fundamental matters with people from across the system, in order, together with them, to transform it.

Given this hypothesis, the contents of the rest of the book becomes straightforward: an exposition of a short set of everyday habits (in the current draft I have seven) that enable Radical Engagement:

Generative systems transformation is a long-term job that requires sustained radical engagement. It’s not a “one and done” job, and so a spasm of engagement, no matter how radical, usually doesn’t make much of a difference. To be able to contribute substantially, we therefore need to develop our capacity to engage radically not just as an exceptional occasional action but as an everyday habit.

This short new Google Doc contains a summary of this hypothesis and a tentative list of seven habits.

Now is the time I most need your feedback, as I am not yet confident about this list!

Please give your specific comments in the Google Doc and general comments in the comment section below.

I will revise this document in advance of our Zoom calls on February 20-21 so that we can talk about it in depth then. Once this summary and list of habits are sound, we can put our heads together on how one can develop these habits.  


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