First Wednesday Conversation 2021

Olympia, Washington

Hosted by The Athena Group

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

Frederick Buechner

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.

On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

Arundhati Roy

Out beyond the ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing – there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.


There is an art to flocking: staying separate enough not to crowd each other,

aligned enough to maintain a shared direction,

and cohesive enough to always move towards each other.

adrienne maree brown

2021 Intention

My intention in 2021 is to return to and reinforce some of the basic topics that have been discussed over the many years of this conversation. And I fully expect that the real issues and challenges we all face in 2021 (and beyond) will find their way into these conversations as examples of application or insight. That is, I expect to continue to host provocative conversations about racial equity, social and racial justice, bias and racism, and anger. My hope is that we will see how our familiar frames of systems thinking, leadership, inquiry, and conversation are challenged and changed when we talk about these topics. My hope is that we will expose our own biases and mental models, and thereby change ourselves.

The monthly readings will inform or remind participants about some of the fundamental concepts and principles that help us make sense and meaning in a complex world.

Overall Purpose (since 2007)

IMG_6217The First Wednesday Conversation will continue to develop our capacity for systems intelligence by focusing on a collection of tools and methods that can give us valuable insights into complex issues.

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

NOTE FOR APRIL 2021 and until further notice: Due to social restrictions related to COVID-19, the First Wednesday Conversation will take place virtually, via Zoom. The Zoom link will be in the monthly MailChimp email reminder! If you want to receive this reminder containing the link, please send me an email.

The Zoom meeting will open each month a little before 5pm Pacific time. The conversation begins at 5 and goes until 6:30.

[Note: The 2020 list of topics actually extended into January and February of 2021.]

2021 Topics

(updated March 5, 2021)

January 6, 2021

Yes, Anger Does Influence My Work for Racial Justice, and No, We Won’t Calm Down

February 3, 2021

The Bias of Professionalism Standards

March 3. 2021

Edward DeBono’s “Six Thinking Hats”

April 7, 2021

The Habits of a Systems Thinker

From the Waters Center for Systems Thinking

May 5, 2021

Lowering the Waterline

(to deepen our understanding of a complex challenge)


June 2, 2021

Causal Loop Basics

Beach Ball Handout – Oct 2012 – inside

Kumu map on homelessness

July 7, 2021

Inquiry Practice


Strategic Questioning  (by Fran Peavey)

August 4, 2021

Peter Block’s Six Conversations

Civic Engagement, or your copy of

Community: The Structure of Belonging

September 1, 2021

The Knower-Learner Survey: How do you show up in difficult conversations?

Knower-Learner exercise

The Learner’s Path (book by Brian Hinken)

October 6, 2021

Conflict! How do you work with it?

Come down off your ladder!

November 3, 2021

What if your team’s values were Transparency, Accountability, Curiosity, Compassion, and Informed Choice?


December 2, 2020

Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System

A classic paper by Donella Meadows