Monthly Archives: May 2023

2023 Mycelium #22 Circle work

In 2007 when I was CEO of Volunteering SA & NT we joined in a State program of including young people on our Board. This involved selecting two young people to be involved in our governance and all the decision-making as if they were full Board members. We chose two young women, one Aboriginal woman and one non-Aboriginal woman from a regional community. We were actively picking up the gaps of who was underrepresented in boards generally and ours specifically. It was very fruitful, and we all learnt from each other and the connections lasted. It was beautiful to watch the development and leadership growth.  

Fast forward to 2023 and the Local Government Association’s research and development fund are supporting leadership development across the State and this initiative is being led by the Council where I am Mayor. The work began long before I was Mayor, and I had the privilege of attending their Summit yesterday to make a small contribution by hosting a conversation. I was introduced by one of the young women back in 2007.  It felt like a full circle. Mycelium in the undergrowth that had meandered for years, more than a decade, and popping up its fruit not too many streets away from where the relationship had first been sown. 

The room included leaders aged 12 – 25 from city and country, regional and a few remote locations. Leaders who had learnt their craft in Youth Parliament, community led movements in climate action and waste management, political parties, educational institutions, and the arts. I didn’t hear of anyone in sporting clubs, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. It was a very inclusive space – I thought about Fruit Tingles – every colour and flavour were celebrated.  This was a long way from what inclusion looked like twenty years ago.  While the commitment was there, there was an undercurrent of the exotic to anything slightly outside the mainstream.  And there was little institutional effort to shift some of the conditions. Yesterday however there were gender neutral toilets as we as the binary ones in the building itself, there was hair coloured from the whole rainbow palette, an appreciation of sensory sensitivity built into the program, language of self-care and mental wellbeing flowing off the tongues without shame. All signs to me of systems adjusting over time to being more inclusive. There were young, elected members of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. In 2007 councils were dominated by the species: retired white male. Councils don’t look like that anymore. Our administrations and systems still have to catch up but they are on the way and the more we elect people who reflect our community the quicker this will happen. (Yet another reason why I think compulsory voting will help.)

I went home with a skip in my step for so many reasons. I felt encouraged and inspired by these leaders, I took heart from the steps my generation of leaders had taken years ago to lay down the foundations for more inclusivity. I took pleasure in reconnecting with my own journey of leadership and finding ways to identify, include and nurture others to take steps in their leadership journeys. I sunk into the knowledge and power of mycelium to connect in the dark, even when I can’t see it weaving underground, threads and leads are moving with fecundity.  

Spores burst and can spread a long way, making a magical fairy ring circle, not too different to what can unfold when we open up for seeds of inclusion to fall on fertile ground. This is how to scale empathy and impact. Feeling grateful and blessed to have got a glimpse of that harvest and the promise of more to come.

2023 Mycelium #21 Path to transformation

Discernment tools come in all shapes and sizes – a question, a pause, a weighing up of choices, an investigation, taking advice.  Slowing things down always seems to help when change is afoot. In trying to explain to a community group what rates are all about and my long-term vision to turn them from being short term fixes to long term solutions helped me this week work my way into explaining how to get the foundations for transformational change. 

Mycelium is in constant conversation with its environmental conditions and the other organisms it bumps into, producing growth forms, and even new structures, depending on the circumstances.

I had just come from having my COVID booster shot, and my arm was sore. I rubbed by arm as I began to talk and somehow found an analogy that I had been searching for.  I explained that every year when the rates decisions get made it a bit like our annual flu shot, we are protecting ourselves from the coming season and next strain of a bug, but when we get a diagnosis of heart disease or diabetes it is usually a sign of genetics and past behaviours conspiring that requires not a quick fix, but lifestyle and sometimes surgical and / or medicinal interventions. We take stock, we assess, we plan, we stick to it mostly, and we still have to have our annual flu shot.  As I spoke to the group of senior citizens at a community centre, the nods went around the room. Many of them have heard a diagnosis like that either for themselves or a loved one, and I was no exception.

We often need extra support in these situations, perhaps even practitioners around us who have specialist skills. We stop taking a pulse to see if we are still alive and start gathering data to help us make the transitions we need to make to thrive. We reward ourselves along the way to remind ourselves we can do this, and we are on a transformative journey. We know the changes are going to come, with discipline, new practices, taking in the data, reflecting on what’s working and what isn’t and when other people start to notice and comment you get a little affirmation that keeps you on track. You slip back from time to time, but by keeping the records you can see where you are going and can demonstrate to yourself and others you are on your way. It is more than looking into the mirror, it is testing your mettle, not just every now and again, but over and over, building muscle memory, stamina and laying down new pathways to a different destination.  Very easy to slip back, a short cut here, a lapse of discipline there. I find being able to adapt, improvise, collect data, take in feedback, course correct with humility and humour, practice, practice, practice, acts of kindness to yourself, a bit of flair, colour and movement, all help.  You can’t play jazz unless you know all the scales.

Discerning what needs to happen next, may mean pausing for the moment to see which path to take, but my learning this week, and reminders from mycelium and adaptive leadership, is that more often than not, it is seeing there is no path and then making it.

2023 Mycelium #20 Small

Big and small are real. I often challenge myself with the idea of how little can I do to make a difference? A drop, the essence, just a taste, a well-timed glance, a hint, a whiff – how small can something be to shift the conditions? What is the lightest touch possible to be useful? This translated in my Playback Theatre practice when I was learning to conduct players, just how little direction was needed to frame up a story – could I invite the storyteller to give their story a title and that bring all the elements of what they had shared together? When twitter first came on the scene using 140 characters to communicate was a beautiful constraint. I would regularly ask my facilitation clients to explain to me their situation by giving it the name of a book or movie before they started briefing me with pages of words. 

As a young social work student in the early 80s it was a relief to learn about systems theory via the structural family therapy work of Salvador Minuchin.  If one part of the systems changed then all parts would need to change to adapt, and so working on one piece would be an intervention to the whole system. The work of E.F. Schumacher blew my mind when I first read it in 90s (first published in 1973) as part of my masters program in economics and ethics – it made so much sense. A book called Small is Beautiful was a wonderful invitation to explore to sustainability, village size community for village based economics and the value or really the power of education. I have always believed that one person can make a difference and whole communities can be mobilized for systems change.

I am constantly reflecting about doing small things in big systems as interventions, in my role as Mayor. It is a big job, in a big council, with multiple intersecting systems, in complexity and with huge challenges. My practices and disciplines are in conversation with my imperfect self on a regular basis. The frame and exercise of small is a useful common sense restraint to bring me back to process most days.

Just a drop of this and a trace of that, feels like a recipe for an alchemist. I am encouraged by advice from a nearly eight year old who tells me that a splash of the potion of healing is a lesson from Minecraft to deal with an Ender Dragon who is bent on destruction, however regeneration is the one proven method when under that kind of attack in the online world. To regenerate, is to renew, replace, restore damaged of missing cells, tissues, organs, maybe even whole body parts to bring back full functionality. I have a feeling in my world, that starts small, one little cell, one idea, one step at a time. The repair job feels big, but I do take encouragement from the Repair Café I was at yesterday that a stitch, some glue, a clamp, a new fuse, can bring new life. One of the conversations I had with a volunteer at the Cafe was all about the problems of closed systems, when you can’t even take the back off a machine to check what’s not working as it was designed for disposal. Such a travesty.

The right to repair feels very connected to this idea of small and its relationship to big. It is certainly a feature of mycelium, tiny threads attaching deeply, creating labyrinths of connectivity, inviting tiny acts of generosity and compassion as levers to apply in big systems.

Happy 1st Birthday to the Aberfoyle Park Repair Cafe. If you look closely you will see tiny sewing machine and hammer and needle chocolates.

2023 Mycelium #19 Plovers

Tiny little hooded plovers are precious and a battalion of volunteers spend their summers monitoring and protecting these shorebirds.  The Thinornis rubricollis are in mortal danger from predators that come in a range of guises – other larger birds, waves, dogs, foxes, cars and humans. Some of the predatory behaviour can be managed, others are left to luck. I was deeply moved by all the efforts of one species mobilising to look out for another and doing all in their power to ensure the best possible outcomes for each breeding pair. I just wondered want kind of planet we would be living on if we all lived with this same level of love to all species at risk. And how we might live to make sure this doesn’t happen to those of our own kind who are under threat and in trouble from bigger predators, or the elements?

The sentiment of the small growing into something big. Here in the hall down the road I was watching a movement of a few people swell into their hundreds; a little bird inspiring systems to change; small incremental adjustments opening a path forward for long term improvements.  This is how all change takes place. The inspiration is often from an idea or issue quite small in the beginning but then takes flight. In between hearing from all the volunteer teams from up and down the coast line I also thought about the adage “on a wing and a prayer”.  This phrase coined in World War II when a US pilot Hugh G Ashcraft had a wing of his plane lost in battle and the radio airwaves invited people to pray the plane and his pilot home safely and so they did. The difficult and dangerous relying on a community of love to bring him to ground in one piece.  The miracle is that people set their intention on the same goal and over-ride what might look inevitable if left to chance.

We need a wing and a prayer more than ever as we face the threats and our own mortal danger of climate. Only through the mycelium of movements working together will be get out of the trouble we are in. I am full of hope we can get there with concerted, compassionate efforts pulling together and the acts of all the plover lovers is an instruction book. Add in a dash of mycelium and I think we have all we need.

Then we have our own predators to worry about – the ones who get in the way, our own fears and inertia, systems that are unresponsive or broken. I find myself in this predatory environment and wondering what of the techniques being used to save the hooded plover that can be deployed with predator management.  The lovely, cuddly spaniel that sniffs outs fox dens are needed in my efforts as well. Well trained creatures who can get across a lot of ground and let their handlers know what dens are active and which ones need to be fumigated to mitigate settlement of a family of thoughts.  The fox dens are everywhere in this landscape and they too should be a message to us about how dangerous ideas come to live among us and then come out into the open under the cover of darkness. Sadly I am seeing a few foxes roam around in the day time.

I am not in the business of fumigation but am relying on the skill sets of others, while I go about doing what I can to build community strong mycelium for good.  

Pt Willunga, April 2023