What is 10 Circles Anyway?

I cannot really answer this question without giving you some backstory first. Bear with me.

For the past decade and half, I have been restlessly and relentlessly exploring how we get diverse groups of people to work across political, social, racial, gender, age, geographic, power, and experience divides. Over that time, I have and the field of systems change has developed better and better tools—social technologies—to enable individuals to step outside their own frames of reference and see a problem or aspiration from multiple vantage points.

In doing this work it becomes clear very quickly most of us operate out just a few frames of reference or identity as we attempt to understand and move the issues that concern us. And in approaching the world from just these few frames we create both limited and often polarized view of the problems we face.

These frames are what I call circles and 10 Circles is both a consulting practice devoted to and an aspiration that we develop the capacity to operate from the widest and most comprehensive set of circles that we are able to access.

Let me be more concrete: here are some of the typical circles that individuals I work with on collaborative efforts think and act from:

  • Individual story: our personal history and experience.
  • Identity: the location of our individual story in the wider community. Identity is a powerful circle (and depending on the setting multiple cirlces) and includes gender, race, religion, age, sexual orientation among many others.
  • Occupation/training: the specific set of perspectives and mental models given to us by our training—think the mindset of the farmer, carpenter, dentist, accountant, economist, or business executive.
  • Politics: the individual as a political being which evokes the ongoing tension of individual rights vs. collective obligations and traditional progressive and conservative divides.
  • Role/responsibility: since I often work with people who represent others as advocates or stakeholders, role and title become an important circle. The perspective of the chief sustainability officer is quite different from the director of procurement and more different still from the executive director of a community non-profit organization.
  • Geography: the location of the individual or organization in actual space. This circle often evokes the tension between local, regional, national, and global perspectives.
  • Species: the identification with problems from a human perspective which is often in tension with a broader ecological view point or the perspectives of other species.
  • Time: the individual actor located in a particular time. Many groups tend to look at problems from a short-term viewpoint and discount the interests and needs of the future.
  • Inspirational: the individual as connected to her deepest source of inspiration and creativity.
  • Aspirational: the individual as connected to her deepest aspiration for herself and all people.

This is not a rigid schema, rather a rough map of the territory as I have experience it. Any of us can operate out any of the circles at any point and many of us can operate from many of them at the same time.

Deeply effective change processes and systems leaders can incorporate the wisdom and perspectives of many circles at one time. These processes and leaders push their boundaries and the boundaries of others to help us see from the both multiple perspectives and in wide view as well. From this wider and more diverse perspective emerge the real solutions to the challenges that we face.

Ranier Maria Rilke described this aspiration with crystal clarity

I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it.

I welcome you the journey at 10 Circles and to our shared journey of stretching ourselves to be effective and compassionate change leaders.