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Tom Hurley: Transformation in Conversations

--Janis Daddona, on Nov 6, 2013

     In the joining places of inner and outer, chaos and order, individual and community; and holding that dynamic tension in conversations, we step into powerful protean energy.  Tom Hurley  has been experiencing conversations this way all his life.  From his work with the Institute of Noetic Sciences, the Chaordic Alliance, and the World Café to his consulting work with organizational leaders, the Oxford Leadership Academy, and his programs about the soul’s knowing, he lives trusting the power of conversations to inform and change how we live and work. 
     As Tom told us, “I’ve always been interested in and inspired by what is possible for us as human beings. I’m fascinated by the points where our ordinary life touches the other, larger world we are part of.”  We, too, on this Awakin Call were inspired by what is possible as he shared his thoughts with us.
     Conversations happen between you and me, them and us, God and you, and you and a host of internal selves.  But conversations can calcify our ideas unless we are willing to ask the more powerful questions, to listen more deeply, and to meet each moment as an opportunity for transformation.  “Whatever my work is,” Tom explained, “it starts with my own clarity of intention—which is always to serve—and the practice of obedience.  I mean this in a particular way.  From the Latin oboedire meaning to listen to.  Our listening to God and guidance from God.” 
     In this openness we can participate with fewer defenses, our egos in the background, our souls at the ready to make a quantum leap, even when things may not be stable.  Tom has had lots of experience with this scenario.
      “Whether humans, plants, or businesses everything evolves on the edge of chaos and order.  In the Chaordic Alliance [founded by Visa CEO Dee Hock, based on a combination of the words “chaos” and “order”] we saw organizations as living systems with enough order to hang together and enough change to continue adapting.  Through the chaordic way we develop systems and practices that allow people to stay connected through shared purpose and principles while allowing for as much freedom and autonomy among all those involved as possible.  That creative tension between freedom and belonging, individual and the collective is a dynamic that is continuously being worked and evolving.”
      “I work with leaders and their teams who are interested in a purpose beyond profit. More leaders are exploring their own deeper sense of purpose and the higher purpose of their company.  How can they contribute in a positive way to creating a world that works for all, that nourishes a life?  What is required of them in their own transformation to inspire transformation in others?  This is where some of the work I’ve done with the World Café comes into play.  This is a conversational methodology, which involves groups of four or five at tables in deep conversation about a question that matters to them.  People move from table to table and have the chance to be in relationship with a diverse group, cross fertilize ideas, and tap into the collective wisdom of the group more powerfully than through a traditional meeting.  This helps with large-scale change.  And that happens if people as individuals are willing to be open and change.  Our ability to be in conversation about the questions that truly matter will co-create our way forward.  Without them the transformation will never happen.”
     So given that the workplace can be a grueling environment due to a misalignment of values, a lack of a sense of what is possible, or an unfulfilled longing, can we as individuals be change agents for the better?
     “Yes,” Tom believes.  “Having some kind of practice for ourselves is essential to reconnecting with our own deepest sense of who we are and how we are called to live. Without it we have no way to stay rooted in the context of these systems.  It's like being caught up in the wind of the hurricane rather than being in the eye.  Being conscious and intentional about how we relate to others in the workplace is both simple and hard!  It’s less about what you do and more about who you are.  Can you show up with authenticity?  Can you really listen?  Suspend judgments?  Have we the courage to ask the questions that truly matter?  We grow in the direction of the questions we ask.  And how skillful and intelligent can we be in developing transformational change strategies and enlisting others in that process?” Tom’s TEDx talk provides some examples of how releasing our collective energy in conversations focuses us on the highest good, marrying skills with soul. 
     When we begin to live more authentically, we can experience the loss of identity and move into higher consciousness.  Perhaps the egoic self dissolves as we find our purpose.  Tom suggests, “The voice in us called I naturally attaches itself to experience and activity and relations, and we build identities.  The opportunity we have through our practice is to continue opening to the reality that the small I is not the true eternal I and to allow the center of gravity to shift from all the identities to the deeper I.  That’s an ongoing process.  We need to be gentle and compassionate with ourselves when we slip back into that small I. “
     Regarding this issue of soul, Tom has been nurturing and mining a powerful question over many years:  Can we have a deeper communion with God or our higher consciousness?  He refers to this as the soul’s knowing.   “There’s a wide range of transformative experiences we all have over time.  Moment to moment opportunities to awaken and sometimes reorient us.  Now my wife, Sara, and I are offering workshops and writing about it.  Fundamentally it’s about how we live a life infused by guidance in which in every moment we are open, listening, and obedient to that still small voice.  And what does it take for us, when called, to have the courage to let go and surrender to what is moving through us individually and collectively?  It’s not about me, it’s about all of us as the ever-evolving expression of divinity in the world and how we surrender to it moment to moment.”
     Our conversation with Tom went well over our usual time.  Space does not permit the inclusion of every comment—all of which were gems.  So let me encourage you to listen to the audio file.  Pick any spot on the recording and listen deeply.  It isn’t just what Tom or others said, but who they are that showed up in our conversation.  And I can tell you from personal experience, it truly was transformative.