First Wednesday Conversation – 2017
Olympia, Washington

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid.

Frederick Buechner

2017 Intention

My intention for the 2017 First Wednesday Conversation is to hone our skills in deciphering the plots of systems stories, with help from David Peter Stroh’s excellent book, “Systems Thinking for Social Change.”

“Since systems plots unfold in circles, our goal is to uncover the existing ones so that we can create new and more effective stories. …the act of recognizing the circles you are caught in is the first step toward altering them. Increasing self-awareness is an intervention in and of itself, and the precursor to making any other changes.”

David Peter Stroh, 2015

CEL strategic plan

The First Wednesday Conversation will continue to develop our capacity for systems intelligence by focusing on a series of common and recognizable story lines that can give us valuable insights into more complex issues. These “story lines” are also known as “systems archetypes.” In 2017 our guiding text will be Stroh’s book, but it’s not necessary to purchase it. I will bring a handout or flip chart drawing each month so that no one will be handicapped. You might already have a resource that describes these archetypes, such as Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline” or Meadows’s “Thinking in Systems.” And in each month’s email I will also include a link to a simulation model for most of the archetypes.

And here’s a reminder about what I mean by systems intelligence. I define it as the capacity and ability to apply systems thinking to complex challenges. Such challenges are different from technical problems. Learning is needed, both to adequately understand the problem and to address the emergent challenge. Systems intelligence enriches and enhances any change methodology.

When an organization or community or leader can do three things – develop their systems intelligence, nurture mutual learning, and discern complex adaptive challenges – wise action is possible.That’s what we’re about at The First Wednesday Conversation.

Time & Place

The 2017 First Wednesday Conversation will continue to take place in the lobby of the Olympia Senior Center from 5:00 until 6:30pm. It’s fine to bring coffee, tea or a snack from home or the Bread Peddler on Capital Way, just across the street. I am grateful to Senior Services of South Sound for the use of their Olympia lobby!

January 4

Virtuous & Vicious Cycles

(reinforcing feedback)


(balancing feedback)

February 1

Fixes That Backfire

(unintended consequences)

March 1

Shifting the Burden

(unintended dependency)

April 5

Limits to Growth

(unanticipated constraints)

May 3

Success to the Successful

(winner takes all)

June 7

“Art & Poetry in Our Work”

The annual conversation about art or poetry that you use or want to use in your change work. What inspires you or others? What grounds you or others? What challenges you or others? Poets that have “shown up” in previous years include David Whyte, Mary Oliver, Rumi, David Wagoner, Emily Dickinson, and John O’Donohue.

Next month we resume talking about the systems archetypes.

July 5

Accidental Adversaries

(partners who become enemies)

August 2

Drifting Goals

(inadvertent poor performance)

September 6

Competing Goals

(conflicting or multiple commitments)

October 4


(unintended proliferation)

November 1

Tragedy of the Commons

(optimizing the parts destroys the whole)

December 6


(self-created limits)