Friday, February 1, 2013

The Random and the Intentional: Growing a Business Rhizomatically

  I. Rhizome

Utopia (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

Some days I feel as if I may have awoken in someone else's life--so blessed am I. For the last year I have been composing an educational consulting business (Blueprints for Learning: Designing Educational Futures) built on the foundation of an adult lifetime of work.  It is ongoing effort and I have never been happier or more satisfied.  20 consultants join me and we work in inner city schools alongside principals, teachers, and children. In our organization, everyone teaches and everyone learns. This is the closest we get to a motto. As I have been reflecting on the work at hand, I realize that several of the tenets that (in)form my work as an artist and writer are also tenets that shape this new business.

II. The rhizome forms centers.

I think of my business as a 
rhizomatic learning community that is fluid (think river flowing).  We act as a collective who dwell in the middle of things and the learning that emerges is informed by explicit and tacit knowledge. I so value the tacit. We resemble a sea of "middles” continuously formed and reformed by alliances determined by needs, interests, whim, playfulness, directions, questions, redirections, assessments, errors, and commitments. 

In contrast to more conservative designs, a rhizomatic business design understands the necessity of joining and rejoining and is inherently unstable by act and desire. Such thinking allows us to embrace error and in doing so allows significant risk making and taking, kindness, and successes.

It is a curious tension that arises when random and intentional acts are allowed, encouraged, designed, and desired.  By frequently embracing this tension, spaces of emptiness arise.  Whereas, I have intentionally selected consultants to work with me--their work is not dictated by me (what a foolish undertaking that would be). I have no program to sell and believe so much in the goodness and brightness of each individual, that I know that it is in the joining and rejoining of consultants alongside principals, teachers and children that creativeness arises.  It is this deep belief in people, in the importance of error making and problem framing, and the role of randomness and play that guides this business design.

III. Practicing Emptiness

As the CEO of Blueprints, there are spaces I design and some that arise by chance where purposeful emptiness is privileged. We know that we are often hired to design with educators ways that enhance and complicate children’s learning and do so with measurable joy. Given the kind and brilliant people I work with (both within the organization and within the schools where we teach and learn), I am confident that everyone will find interesting, unique and artful ways of filling that emptiness by naming, claiming or playing with it.  That in doing so, we will have multiple opportunities to join/rejoin and make sense of the work.

It is this practice of mindful emptiness where lines of flight that (in)form our work are occasioned.  Lines of flight give rise to seemingly inconsequential noticings.  Alongside these, more profound meaning emerges.  I see this occurring in classrooms where we are working at the teacher and student levels. These meanings produced, in turn  produce more lines of flight. An iterative design at that and yet one that will also break.

I appreciate the clarity that Martin Wood and Sally Brown bring to the concept of lines of flight. They write (2009): 
A line of flight is essentially a movement of creativity, a practical act or a way of living that wards off or inhibits the formation of ‘centres’ and stable powers in favour of continuous variation and free action. (from here )

IV. Having Nothing to Say

I’m learning the value of having nothing to say and the need to talk especially. I think of John Cage who so wisely told us:

This work with others is the rhizome. It is an art.  It leads into and out of powerful learning—that is often exponential as it does not follow along strictly linear lines, but instead occasions lines of flight that join and rejoin that which we could not have seen connected from where we once stood.

Dreaming About Spring (M.A. Reilly, 2012)
This is the process that leads to such intense and meaningful learning--such as the 9-year-old who earlier today used his fellow classmates' learning to explain important tensions Charles Darwin experienced when naming  emerging scientific findings alongside his religious beliefs.  This child wisely told us that it wasn't about one or the other, but rather about what these differences formed together that most mattered.  

Such is the rhizomatic moment when a community of learners recognize the lines of flight that lead to a collective understanding of something we had not named before. 


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  2. "It is a curious tension that arises when random and intentional acts are allowed, encouraged, designed, and desired." I recently heard Frans Johansson, author of The Click Moment, speak about a similar "business plan." I honor your work.

    1. Thanks Maureen. I don't know The Click Moment but will look look it up:)

  3. I wish you were secretary of education.


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