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Highlights from 2013

My latest newsletter update with a glimpse into 2013 and the launch of Mycelium Learning Journey. Highlights from 2013 include:

    • The Mycelium vision continues to evolve and find form
    • The Compass Project – A one week intensive for 18-24 year olds

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Ideas That Move Youth Challenge

Working with real people in real communities making real efforts to take action that will support the maximum benefit for everyone is what inspires me, lights me up, brings me to life. How do we really take action that brings about well-being and positive movement for 100% of humanity?

What I know is that there is no single answer. There is no direct path there. And there is no shortage of amazing, intelligent, compassionate humans on this planet to invest themselves in truly making a difference. How do we continue to find one another, find the small things we can do that contribute to the larger story? Find the unique piece that we each have to offer and give our whole hearts towards making that contribution to the world? And how do we enjoy life, honor love and connectivity, and celebrate beauty as much as possible while on the journey?

One initiative that I’m working on now that is deeply inspiring me is the Ideas That Move Youth Challenge. Public schools and private schools collaborating together to create a platform where young voices can be heard and their efforts to be leaders are supported.

Check out some of the ideas they have to make Asheville healthier and more sustainable:

  • Aquaponics as Food Insecurity Solution
    Problem: One out of every six people in Western North Carolina suffers food insecurity, not having an adequate healthy food resource.Solution: An urban solution we propose is to create aquaponic farms in Asheville or other urban areas in Buncombe County, particularly areas with low socio-economic demographics. This will produce fish (i.e Tilapia) as well as vegetables (i.e. lettuce, other greens, tomatoes, peppers, etc.). It can even be completely off the grid and therefore provide a stable food source during conditions of extreme weather.
  • Swim For Life
    Problem: Every year hundreds of stories about people drowning are reported in our area. We see this as a preventable tragedy. Youth need to acquire the ability to swim as a survival skill. Due to income and opportunity limitations many young people would benefit from free swimming lessons.Solution: We would like to create a community service project that would work with local public schools to provide free swimming lessons to students who may not have the opportunity to take them otherwise. This would benefit students in many ways, such as increasing their self-confidence, keeping them safe and providing an exercise outlet for the future.
  • Youth Diversity in the Classroom and School Community
    Problem: Many students who attend SILSA do not realize the issues that arise regarding an equal learning environment for all, due to the segregation of social groups and diversity problems on campus. All students need to feel as if they have the same opportunity as others in order to be successful in high school and beyond.Solution: Our idea is to start a Diversity group on the AHS/SILSA campus. We will meet twice a week to discuss current adolescent issues with people from different backgrounds. It will also be a great opportunity to build new friendships with people of various cultures and build more community on our campus. We will also discuss possible ways to address issues that face teens on our campus.
  • Switching Asheville City Schools buses from diesel to biodiesel
    Problem: Asheville City School buses run on diesel fuel which is a nonrenewable resource and creates air pollution. If we continue using diesel fuel in our buses, our air quality will continue to worsen and we will continue using harmful nonrenewable resources. Western North Carolina is known for clean, healthy air. Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen, which is dangerous for students to be breathing.Solution: Asheville City School buses run on diesel fuel which emits harmful pollutants into our clean air. Diesel exhaust harms our environment and everyone exposed to it, including the 25 million children that are transported by diesel fueled school buses. Particulate matter in diesel exhaust has links to causing asthma, bronchitis, and even lung cancer. Biodiesel is a clean, renewable alternative that reduces diesel air pollution. Biodiesel contains virtually no sulfur. This reduces the amount of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter released.
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Gaming the Future

Gaming The Future introduces how an emerging cluster of social entrepreneurs, academic institutions and public agencies in Asheville, North Carolina are utilizing powerful interactive visualization technologies and decision-support techniques to explore new ways of imagining, planning and building a climate adaptive workforce and climate resilient society…for an economically and environmentally sustainable future.

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Wiser Together: Partnering Across Generations

This article originally appeared in Fieldnotes

BY JUANITA BROWN & ASHLEY COOPER

Tucked away in the small Appalachian community of Burnsville, North Carolina, is a family farm and a place of meeting that has recently become the new home base for Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, Co-Founders of the World Café. Together with Ashley Cooper, a young educator, community organizer, and Executive Director of TEDxNextGenerationAsheville, they are collaborating with Juanita’s 90-year-old mother and younger members from the nearby community to deepen the legacy of the farm for future generations.

In these “notes from the field,” Ashley and Juanita tell a story that will also be featured in the Innovation Marketplace at the upcoming Summer Institute.

Together for Life from Juanita Brown on Vimeo.

FIELDNOTES: It looks like you’ve made quite a radical change in your life, Juanita. How did you come to be living in the Appalachian mountains?

Juanita: In the early 1970s my parents, Millie and Harold Cowan, civil liberties pioneers from Florida, bought a broken-down 90-acre farm in one of the poorest counties of North Carolina, near Asheville. For the next four decades they worked with others in the community to create a special and welcoming environment for people from all walks of life. After my dad passed away, David and I brought my mom back to the farm and spent the summer here. Late one night, I had an “illumination” in which I felt completely embraced by the love and care that my mom and dad had invested here. In that moment, I realized that we could never sell this farm in our lifetimes—and that David and I had a unique opportunity to discover what wanted to unfold here.

In a purely intuitive leap, we left our home of 35 years in California to “listen the future into being,” and to embody here the principles of multi-generational collaboration that we’d been exploring in our global work with the World Café community. As you know, we’ve co-hosted many multi-generational dialogues since helping to organize the first multi-gen learning program at the Shambhala Institute in 2004. Our farm project is providing a place based learning field for us to deepen into the principles and practices of intergenerational hosting and partnerships. We see this field as having implications for community resilience and for organizations across sectors that are seeking to engage the wisdom and expertise of all of their members in addressing critical challenges.

FN: And what is the path that brought you into this collaboration, Ashley?

Ashley: Growing up in Georgia, the Appalachian mountains have always been my “heart home.” The West Coast swept me away for many years, but my return was inevitable. The timing fortuitously aligned with Juanita and David’s decision to move to the region. They have been colleagues, friends, mentors, and co-inspiritors over the years. I embraced the opportunity to learn and co-create with them while at the same time being adopted by a new “grandmother,” Millie!

The nature of this project and this place drew me in—the intergenerational partnerships and the shared dedication to processes of engagement grounded in principles that nourish life, justice, learning and the common good. It is a unique opportunity to be part of a group of passionate people, as we move between our roles as learners, teachers, friends, mentors, and family. At the core, we are living the practice of mutual partnerships where appreciation and respect for each other’s contributions is based on recognizing that each of us has unique gifts to offer, whatever our age or stage of life.

FN: Why is multi-generational collaboration and partnership so important to you both?

Juanita: I have always been fascinated by large-scale systems change and what might enable whole societies to shift into more life-affirming patterns. Over the years I had the great good fortune to have older corporate and community leaders take me under their professional and personal wings as I engaged with this work.

I began to think abut the challenges we face at every level of system today. I realized that there is a huge untapped large-scale social change potential in the wisdom, experience, and perspective of younger leaders as well as children. I began to ask myself: How can we honor and use the unique contributions and gifts that reside in all of us, as a single generation, alive and awake together—whatever our age or stage of life?

Ashley: Young children are my key teachers. I learn from their honest perception of the world, bright curiosity, and playful ways of engaging life. They keep me attuned —reminding me to be in the present moment and inviting me to enthusiastically engage my whole self in the process of living.

At the same time, I’ve been greatly influenced by many older leaders and colleagues in the fields of education, process arts, conversational leadership and therapy. Relationships that bridge the lifespan have provided a strong foundation for my life and work. Youngers shake up my field of vision and invite me to see things from a totally different angle. Elders have acknowledged the value of my contributions and enabled me to stretch into the unknown edges of my capacities with greater confidence as I learn from their experiences, stories and insights.

At this time of global challenge to our common future it seems irresponsible to believe that we can make wise decisions without listening to contributions from all members of the circle of life. The wisdom of multiple generations is desperately needed. I also find life more personally exciting and fun when I am partnering across generations!

If intergenerational collaborations provide such potential for large-scale social change, why don’t we see more of it?

Juanita: Collaboration between generations has traditionally looked like grandparents reading to small children, a one-way power dynamic between professional mentors and their younger colleagues, and awkward attempts to manage a next-generation workforce. There are also strong beliefs, held by many, that “youngers are to be seen not heard,” or even that the final decision should always be made by the oldest person in the room. These cultural and societal norms and habits seem to shape so much of our thinking.

Ashley: I can relate to this personally. A colleague once said to me, “I’m older than you, I’m supposed to be wiser than you.” Not everyone will say something that direct, but I often feel that tone of a response, and sometimes it even has more of a dismissive edge. The challenge seems to be our willingness to be humble and genuinely recognize when we are learning. If new understanding is igniting inside of me because of something another person is doing or saying, I am learning from them. They are contributing to my knowing and influencing my actions and decisions. This is a precious gift and we have the opportunity to step beyond traditional boundaries and be open to learn from whoever has the wisdom of the moment to share, regardless of their age or background.

FN: Can you describe how you see your vision for the farm unfolding?

Juanita: We aren’t approaching the visioning process in the traditional manner of creating our preferred picture of the future and driving towards it. More, we are together “listening the future into being.” We are experiencing each of the four seasons and asking ourselves questions such as: What is the story of this farm and its role in the local community?  How are we relating to the land and how is the land relating to us?  How can we honor and deepen the legacy of my parents and of those who came before? Assuming the farm has its own voice, what is it saying to us?  Sensing into the whole, what are the minimum, elegant, next steps?

Ashley: In addition to our own listening and imagining, we are inviting people who visit the farm to share their images of possibility and creative inspirations for this place. We are committed to collective intelligence informing our actions and we trust that this intuitive and collaborative approach will yield paths forward that none of us could have imagined on our own. For example, the local members of our team whose families have lived for generations in this mountain culture have helped us “see” different aspects of this place and its possibilities.

FN: What does this look like right now? How are you spending your days on the farm, Juanita?

Juanita: I´m experiencing the skills and wisdom emanating from the younger members of our team.  For example, Justin, age 22, has a unique capacity to find unexpected and innovative solutions to dilemmas related to renovating our 100-year-old barn while keeping its unique character. Not only am I thrilled to learn from him, but the other young carpenter he is working with will often turn to him and ask for his insight. At the same time, when I, as the elder, ask directly for his opinion, I notice that he will sometimes hesitate as I am breaking one of the unspoken cultural rules about relationships between the generations.

Ashley, as a ¨GiGi¨(girl geek!) has become my technical mentor, I am mentoring her in the next stages of her community organizing work, and we are partnering together on this farm project. Another of our team, Thomas Arthur, contributed the short video and photos about the project which accompanies this article, which I could never have imagined! For me, what is unique about these collaborations is that we are each ¨giving it all we´ve got¨ within the context of the cultural and historical factors that have shaped each of our lives.

FN: What have you been learning so far that may have broader organizational, community and societal, implications?

Ashley: We’re discovering that co-mentoring is a more useful construct than traditional mentoring, eldering, or teaching. By being open to fresh perspectives and actively learning from one another’s life experiences and skills, we are accessing leverage points that far exceed our individual capacities.

Juanita: Organizations of all types are facing critical issues as Baby Boomers, now in their 50s and 60s, enter their older years in a world that is dramatically different than the one they have been operating in. Doing it the way we’ve always done it is no longer an option. Younger employees deserve to be considered equal contributors to innovative solutions rather than needing to “wait their turn.” If organizations are to thrive in these uncertain and turbulent times, these new perspectives and redefined partnerships between generations in the workplace are sorely needed.

Elders can enter the legacy stage of their lives by forming alliances with younger leaders around the crucial challenges that not only organizations but also communities are facing today. This will require a new paradigm for all generations and we want to be part of the movement that is responding to this opportunity!

We’d love to hear your reflections and experiences with intergenerational collaboration and learning—in your organizations and in your communities.
Feel free to be in touch with us at:
Ashley: Ashley@easilyamazed.com
Juanita: Juanita@conversationalleadership.com


Juanita BrownAshley Cooper and Samantha Tan will be presenting a Skills and Lenses for Innovation session on Multi-Generational Leadership: Shaping Tomorrow Together at the Innovation Marketplace during the ALIA Summer Institute in Columbus in June.

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Risk-taking and Creativity

“Fostering risk-taking and creativity in children can ensure that they learn the basics of economics and independence—and develop a mentality of innovation.”

How do you foster risk-taking and creativity in your own life and/or in the lives of children or other adults? Please share.

A couple of organizations focusing on entrepreneurship with youth referenced in this article:

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All Swirled Into One


To be honest, I am often fascinated by my experience of being alive. As in, easily amazed! So I guess this time right now of living in the process of so many major life transitions is no exception. And yet, it’s definitely new for me. I wish I could easily put words to the nuances and extreme spectrum of feelings and experiences I’m having. I can’t do it easily, but I will give it a try!

As a whole, I feel like I’m living many different lives all swirled into one. They blur in and out of each other, overlapping, building upon, disappearing and re-emerging. It’s an exhilarating party of experiences. The old joining with the new, familiar and unfamiliar, light and dark… it’s very exciting.

And then at other times all the parts don’t feel like one life at all. They become compartmentalized. For a moment I’ll only be able to feel one thread. Intellectually I know that the others are still there, but a feeling of anxiety will narrow my perception.

It feels like a dance between harmony and chaos. In the frames of chaos, while they feel aggravating and invasive, I get to see the specifics of that particular thread that is holding me down or confining me. Like a mirror that has shattered into many fragments. I get to rest in one shard and notice the details of what it looks and feels like. What is being reflected back to me? I learn its uniqueness. And during the melodic phases it all spins together, the colors blending, creating a new beauty that is birthed from all the connections.

In my heart and body, this all plays out through a huge spectrum of emotions that I feel, that catch me, control me, tickle me and invite me to pay attention. Sometimes the pace at which I swing from one end of the feeling spectrum to the other is fascinating. I’ll fly in open-ended freedom sparkling with possibility, promise and potential. Confidence glowing through me. Excitement adding pep to my step. Joy twinkling out the corner of my eye and life wrapping me in an inner smile.

And then suddenly that openness is abruptly punctuated with a barreling thud of doubt and anxiety. Mischievously those contracting emotions creep into my skin and bones, throbbing through my heart and thoughts in unexpected moments. They burrow into my eye brows, yank at my heart, tug me down, spin me into confusion, agitation, uhggg, huh?, and not quite right. A shot of insecurity is injected into my blood stream. Without knowing it, I begin to take myself, my life, my experiences oh-so SERIOUSLY!! (and fortunately, even when all of this is going on, there is a steady constant of content. Of trust. Of knowing that it’s all just right.) And yet… I’m feeling the effects of taking myself so-very seriously!!

and then…
ack-a-lacka- splack
spiff, pooof, a wac wac

{shake, shake, shake, shake}

My love for life comes funneling back

The journey feels a bit like an amusement park. Riding the rides, roller coasters flying up and down, tumbling this way and that. Pure joy and passion is the ground where I stand and yet underneath there is an intermittent thrum of fear that surfaces, mumbling rhythms of ‘you’re not doing it right’… Continuously inviting me to slow down. Notice what’s happening. Accept. Love what-is. Rest in stillness. And before I know it, I’ve moved onto the next ride!

I was on a walk one morning after a particularly emotionally/energetically active and aggressive day. I had this feeling that I was disintegrating. I could feel the spaciousness in my body and cells. An airiness. Pieces breaking apart and disappearing, a field of emptiness present within me… as me. A peaceful calm. I felt how clearly the only thing that mattered was the step that I was taking. And the next step. And the next breath. Exactly what I was supposed to do was to take in, really savor, each moment and the environment around me and inside of me.

I then had the realization that I had no typical identity handles to hold onto. I don’t have the habits of being that generally help to shape my identity. In that moment I had no job or profession. No significant other. No home that was my own (I’m ‘boarding’ in another family’s house). No active community that I was tightly woven into. None of those typical outwardly obvious things that one might generally define themself by. I had me. I had life. And this step. And the next, and the next.

This recognition helped me open deeper into a breath of rest. Here it is. I’m living in the unknown. There is little habit or familiarity hinting at what might come in the next moment for me. There aren’t the usuals to predict or inform. And yet… there really still are. And here I am. Living what-is. Learning to love what-is in new ways. Continuously being reminded to be gentle with myself and to be patient.

That’s a sliver of my inner world.

Many photos are from my Flavors of Life album
Swinging in the Sky by McMorr
Roller Coaster Thrill by Carlos Lorenzo
Path – Should I follow? by Azzazello

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Keep Your Brain Entertained


An interesting npr segment on how active our brain gets when we are bored. Daydreams can suck us into an ever-interesting world of distraction. According to this article, if you want to stay engaged with the content at hand, keep your body engaged on something such as doodling. Don’t let the mental activity get the best of you if you want to continue focusing, give your hands something else to do.

When the brain lacks sufficient stimulation, it essentially goes on the prowl and scavenges for something to think about. Typically what happens in this situation is that the brain ends up manufacturing its own material.

In other words, the brain turns to daydreams, fantasies of Oscar acceptance speeches and million-dollar lottery wins. But those daydreams take up an enormous amount of energy.

The function of doodling, according to Andrade, who recently published a study on doodling in Applied Cognitive Psychology, is to provide just enough cognitive stimulation during an otherwise boring task to prevent the mind from taking the more radical step of totally opting out of the situation and running off into a fantasy world.

When I host small Friendship Groups with students, I often put a bowl of rocks, shells, stick, cones into the middle of the circle in case anyone needs something to fiddle with. A group the other day began building with the objects while we were discussing some of their problems and concerns. Their sculptures were beautiful and inspiring and a nice example for this article! One child preferred the erasers!

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