Doing myself out of a job


September 1st, 2008

Travelling to other cultures, especially in developing countries, is a useful reminder of how good most of us have it. A dinner table discussion in rural Zambia recently brought this clearly into focus – with a tourist complaining about the escalating cost of petrol back home in her petrol-guzzling nation – as we ate our dinner by the light of kerosene lamps. Admittedly we were in a National Park and at a bush camp where no electricity was available, unless you count the small amount generated by solar panels during the day. I couldn’t help suggesting that the ‘relative’ cost of fuel was increasing. Sure it’s real enough when considered in isolation. But the week previously Zambia had run out of diesel fuel. In any case most people don’t even have vehicles to worry about fueling. So what’s the point of this minor rant?

It got me thinking about my own role as a facilitator and what value I add. I don’t contribute much really. The world could easily survive quite well (some would suggest better) without facilitators. Groups would most likely get to where they need to be eventually. Facilitators probably help short-circuit some of the more ponderous discussions… And we can suggest some processes that can be helpful… And then we get out of the way. What if we weren’t in the way at all?

Which helped me clarify that the world does not need more facilitators. The world needs facilitation skills. Why? Because the challenges we are facing, and will face, will require us to tap into the breadth and diversity of minds to develop solutions. We will need to talk with other – and listen – and build on each others’ ideas. Our existing political and commercial systems don’t seem to support this, where competition still reigns supreme. It’s often the only way people know. Our models, our examples, our ways of being with each other are competitive. Even chatting with friends usually ends up with dissing – trying to outdo each other with an even better story. “Let me tell you about MY experience with lost luggage. One day is nothing – mine was lost for six days!” “Six days! I wish – mine never turned up at all. Gone for ever.”

So those of us working as facilitators are demonstrating how to tap into the wisdom of a group of people. How to hear what they are saying, build on each others’ ideas, and create solutions. The world needs  a lot of creative solutions, I think. Not everyone has facilitation skills. Not everyone understands the difference between dialogue and debate, when to inquire and when to advocate. These skills will be necessary. Not as a profession – but as something we can all do. Maybe once we could, and we’re on a journey of rediscovery.

For my part, I’m going to continue to try and do myself out of a job. To let others in on ‘secret facilitators’ business’, build capacity where I can, use processes that are easy to learn and transferable, train others, share resources, help each other. Good enough reasons to continue this blog?

1 Comment so far

  1. Chris Corrigan — Viv McWaters on doing and teaching on September 2, 2008 4:24 am

    […] For me, my consulting practice is as much about building capacity as it is about doing work.  Viv captures this beautifully today: So those of us working as facilitators are demonstrating how to tap into the wisdom of a group of […]

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