David Bullon Patton: Bringing Innovation and Love into Public Service
Dec 23, 2017
Guest: David Bullon Patton
Host: Aryae Coopersmith
Moderator: Preeta Bansal
Aryae: Every story is the beginning of a conversation whether it's with ourselves or with others. Across time and culture, stories have been agents of personal transformation, in part because they have the power to change our hearts and minds.
The purpose for our weekly calls is to share stories from incredible change makers from around the globe through personal stories that inspire us, through their actions, their experiences and their insights. Our hope is that these conversations will plant seeds for a more compassionate and service oriented society while serving to foster our own inner transformation. Behind these calls is an entire team of ServiceSpace volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this beautiful space. We are thankful to them and to all of our listeners for helping to co-create this space. Today we are grateful to have a remarkable guest speaker with us, David Bullon Patton whose personal journey is not only inspiring but also has had a tremendous impact on many people. Thanks again for joining us for today's call. Let's start with a moment of silence to anchor ourselves into this space.
Welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call today in conversation with David Bullon Patton.
I'd now like to turn the call over to our moderator, Preeta Bansal, who will engage in a deep dialogue with David and by the top of the hour we'll roll into Q&A and a circle of sharing where we invite all your reflections and questions. I've opened up the queue right now so at any point you can hit *6 on your phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also e-mail us at email@example.com. So, Preeta please take it from here.
Preeta: Thank you so much, Aryae, really excited today to be in conversation with David Bullon Patton. David is a remarkable individual currently in government, in Costa Rica. He is the director of innovation at the Costa Rican Ministry of Science, Technology and Telecommunications. He's actually the son of missionaries, he's lived all over the world, he's not only trying to bring knowledge based activities into the Costa Rican government but he's also experimenting with trying to bring a different tools for love into government which is kind of a remarkable thing. He's been in a number of sectors, he has worked in the corporate sector, in the non-profit sector and now in the government sector. He has a degree, a master's degree in public administration from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He's no stranger to the ServiceSpace ecosystem and he's generally working in a number of methods to try and bring kind of a conscious entrepreneurial leadership to various sectors of our society. So really, really excited. Thank you, David for being here with us, for being in conversation with you.
David: Thank you so much I'm really excited to here.
Preeta: Great. So, you have such an incredible background, in different sectors. You started off, I believe, as a mechanical engineer in the corporate world, then shifted to the non-profit world and now it's the government sector. I thought before we got too deep into your experiments and what you're doing in the public sector in Costa Rica, it be great to understand your journey and maybe starting with your personal journey, if you'd like, or starting with your professional journey, in terms of your experience with the various sectors that you've been involved in and what led to the shift and what you discovered in each sector.
David: Sure. Maybe I can weave the first one and the professional together because that's kinda how it's played out. So after college, I decided to work in corporate America and I did that a couple of years. What was interesting is that now as I look back, my experience there helped me become very familiar with [inaudible] the three great divides of our time - the ecological divide, the social divide and the spiritual divide. First as a mechanical engineer where I was essentially designing tools so that they would break at the right time - a disconnection between self and nature, and really a lot of ecological waste happening there. I also had a role in manufacturing where I was the leader of a manufacturing plant. I was asked to build the team for transitioning operations from one plant to this plant.
And then soon thereafter, as the economic crisis started to come in 2007-2008 I was asked to lay them all off. And so, that along with some work done in Mexico and feeling some indifferentiation between the treatment that workers received on one side of the border versus on the other, raised my awareness of this social divide and the disconnection between self and other. And then also, on the business side, maybe really a strong spiritual divide where it seemed like the only thing that really mattered was the value of the stock. And what I observed is that people further up the food chain seemed to be less connected with themselves, and so, needless to say after a couple of years of working in this corporate atmosphere, I was eager to explore other alternatives, other ways in which I might channel my energy towards making a difference in the world. And I think if it's OK Preeta I'd like to briefly tell the Story of The Fifth Monk by Tom Callanan because somehow the progression that my life took after leaving the corporate sector is very similar to the progression told in the story. Would that be ok Preeta?
Preeta: Yeah. Beautiful. That'd be fabulous.
David: So the story goes like this. If you like the more eloquent version of this story, you can look it up on Tom Callanan's website. Basically, there were four monks meditating on a river bank. One day, a basket with a baby started floating down the river. They all jumped in to save the baby and suddenly realized that many many more baskets of babies were flowing down river. Three of the monks decided that they were going to leave and explore solutions leaving one of the monks to the rescue efforts, and so, she was working basically on a direct relief approach. And so, months later, the flow babies down the river stopped and the second monk returned, and said, "Hey, what was happening is that there is this overpopulation and famine in a village upstream.
And so, families were releasing babies down the river because they had no other choice. So, what I did was that I established an orphanage and that's what solved the problem." And so, this second approach was kind of a direct service at grassroots. And so, the two months returned to meditation but soon the orphanage became overcrowded and the crisis started again. And so, years later, again the problem mysteriously stopped and the third monk returned to say, "Well, I realized that behind this orphanage was an issue with family planning and so I established a successful family planning program and that's what resolved the problem." And so, this approach is kind of educational and community empowerment. So, the three monks returned to meditating but it turns out that the family planning program was terminated because there was a fiscal crisis and a conservative government took over and so the crisis returned. Many years later, again the problem mysteriously stopped and the fourth monk returned and he said, "Well, really, this is all much more complex, and so, I built a single social political movement for progressive change to deal with these interwoven complex issues and together we managed to elect a liberal coalition that began to provide funding and assistance that resolved these difficult issues." So, that an approach where on social change. And so, the four monks returned to meditation but years later, the liberal coalition fell apart and the baby crisis returned.
So, they kind of looked at each other in despair. I'm going to read the last part as Tom tells it. The monks realized that they needed to transform themselves and their society in some very fundamental way like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. So, with little idea of how to begin, the monks invited groups of leaders to sit with them in contemplation and dialogue, and over time, a special type of relationship in spirit and collective wisdom emerged within the groups and between the groups and the higher power that they began to call The Fifth Monk. So, with her help, and following her guidance, the group began to catch glimpses of the butterfly within themselves and society. These images began to form a new story about who they were and how they were to live together in new types of compassion and communities. Simultaneously, new processes of healing and reconciliation emerged from their process that helped them to let go of old wounds and battles. And this lit a new spirit of innovation and hope that step-by-step and year-by-year helped build a fundamentally different society where the once inevitable and recurring problems of the past are now obsolete. So that fifth monk approach is kind of an approach of transformational change. I share this powerful story with you because somehow I feel like my journey since leaving the corporate sector has been similar to that of the first four monks.
I went and worked in Nicaragua first of all on the Rectory, I was working in urban slums with homeless families, solving the urgent need for them to have a home. And so, I spent a couple of months digging septic tanks to help them build their homes. Probably those two months were enough for me to realize that even with a home these families were still going to have a very low income and very limited access to opportunities. So that kind of prompted me to move more towards the second monk's approach of direct services at the grassroots, and so I moved to India to work with an organization that provides consulting services to microfinance institutions.
And so, my feeling was that perhaps if I could support these organizations providing finance and helping people in the deserts of India come up with more effective methods of creating livelihood, that would really make a difference. And I think I learned a lot and I was really grateful for time I spend in India and at the same time I kind of felt like there is maybe some level of dependency that was being created. The question that was in my mind is what would happen if some of these microfinance institutions disappear, would this be sustainable or would it be kind of like the situation of the second monk faced in his story. And so, from there I moved to Peru to try and work in an education and community empowerment sort of approach. I worked with an organization that actually rigorously evaluates different social programs and the program that I was evaluating somehow helping to create is a program that had a series of integral components to support poor families who are graduating from their extreme poverty. And so this is one of seven pilots around the world and actually there's a study done on it that shows that the combination of a stipend, finance and savings and livelihood activity and a series of other components were affected.
But I also felt like even though there were seven pilots in different corners of the planet, scaling this was going to be very difficult unless governments were convinced that this is something that needs be done. And so, it was at that point that I realized that I was pretty far from my academic background and mechanical engineering. And I decided to go to Harvard to learn a little bit about public administration and international development. So, I moved back to my original country, my home country, Costa Rica to work in government with the same idea as the fourth monk, to try and build coalitions for a systemic change and in the six years that I've been in government through innovation policy and particularly social innovation policy, we have been trying to make government more open to implementing these sources of sustainable programs but even in the midst of that maybe over this past year, as I have engaged more deeply with the ServiceSpace community, I began to feel like really what we need is the fifth monk's approach - there is a need for transformation of self and society, and that's kind of the direction I am heading in now.
Preeta: Beautiful. I love the way you describe that. Speaking personally for myself with someone who spent a lot of time in government, a senior official in the Obama White House, I also, both resonate with your story and the progression of it. Since you started with the fifth monk and the full story, and we can send that around afterwards, a link to the full story for those who are interested in that from Tom Callanan's writings about it, I'd love to probe a little bit to even your earlier childhood, you were a child of missionaries, is that right?
David: Yeah, that's right. I was born in Peru and I think that was pretty formative for the direction that my life was taking because both of my parents, my father is Peruvian, my mother is British, both of them were quite committed to working in rural communities, the Andean Highlands, and so, it was every day business for my brother and I to be strapped on to our Land Rover or Land Cruiser on bumpy roads, with a mountain on one side and a cliff on the other. And a really sketchy bridges made of two planks of wood that somehow your car had to get over and if you missed by a couple of inches that was the end of you.
And so this is kinda the setting in which the earliest years of my life took place but then after a brief stint in the U.K. when my dad was getting his PhD, my parents decided to move to Costa Rica as missionaries. And so, my brother and I joke around and say we were really lucky, of all the places you can be sent to as missionaries, Costa Rica is really not a bad place to end up. My brother and I feel a very, very strong connection with Costa Rica because that's where we spent most of our formational years and I think that this story that Costa Rica offers to the world, I feel very fortunate to somehow be playing a very small part in that.
Preeta: Yeah, I'm wondering if growing up as a child of missionaries, you imbibed some sense from an early age the need to focus on not just the structures of society but also the kind of causes of the underlying intention of humans as they play out within those structures.
David: Yeah, I think that's probably true. Definitely my parents are a people of faith and this is something that was at the heart of our family. Our family is of a big Christian tradition and one of the things that I connect with very strongly about that tradition is the figure of Jesus as a leader for social change. This is very, very present in our family conversations over dinner, in all kinds of philosophical discussions you have, this kind of sense that change starts within each of us and more than dogma. Different associations that we often have with organized religion, what's most important is what my mother would call, ortho-practice which is instead of orthodoxy which is what you do with your life and how you can be the change that you want to see in the world.
Preeta: Beautiful, thank you. You also started this conversation by talking about the three divides that you felt in the various other sectors. I think trying a little bit on the toSharm? or mighty work for MIT?? You talked about the Ecological divide - you were helping to build and manufacture items almost with an intended obsolescence so that nature could be drawn upon further, you talked about kind of the social divide especially that you felt when you had to lay off individuals and then you talked about the spirit divide in terms of the profit driven life. And I'm wondering kind of focusing on your current time as a leader in government in Costa Rica, what is your feeling about those three divides? Do you feel that government is an opportunity and that sector is an opportunity for you to work in a more holistic way, in terms of your own value system?
David: That is an interesting question. I think an opportunity is there. But for a series of reasons that maybe we can get into in the next few minutes, a lot of those same issues are present in government so that often times, or at least the way things work today - governmental structures tend to lags behind rest of society. And so some of the most inspiring forces of change in our society, at least in Costa Rica, kind-of on the fringes of government, not necessarily in the heart of government. So sadly, after six years of being in government, i still sense in a lot of the day to day work that we do in the government, these 3 divides are very present.
Preeta: So tell me a little bit about working in Latin American government today. What are you working on now? What is your sense of some of the challenges of that setting?
David: Great yeah. So in my current job, my main role is to stimulate innovation in Costa Rica. My ministry is in charge of innovation policy. And in practice what that means is working with university, start-up incubators and schools, angel investors and a series of different players in innovation ecosystem. To try and work together to really support some of the most creative people in our country so they can help us move into the future that we want to create together. So when I moved into government and you know I was very clear that this is what my job was going to be about, I will be really excited. It is an awesome job!
And I feel I'm excited about that mission. And at the same time, after few years of being government, i've kind of realized that there seems to be three major crises that are happening in governments in Latin America because from conversations with others/friends in other countries in Latin America they report similar findings. The first is the crisis of leadership, the second of the crisis of management and the third is a crisis of participation. So I could give an example of each of those to give you a sense of what I'm talking about those.
In terms of the crisis leadership, what I've noticed is that it's kind of the situations where the paradigm of leadership is very much kind of revolves around the ego-based, power-hungry, control-oriented sort of leadership. So this tends to lead to pretty poor results. To give you an idea, I've been in my current ministry for the past three and a half years, and in that period we had three ministers. The first two were not able to survive. The main administrative officer - there have been six of those in that 3.5 year period. I would say that I admire in many ways all of those people who for one reason or another didn't survive the three and half year period. But definitely there was a lot of pressure for them to behave in ways that align with sort of paradigms of leadership that are not particularly effective in the twenty first century. I think there's an important opportunity to somehow improve or evolve in our ideas of what leadership means.
Preeta: When you say they didn't survive is it because they didn't want to participate in kind of what you're describing as kind of more older paradigms of leadership?
David: Yeah, it's probably true that their first choice would not have been to participate in that paradigm of leadership, but one of the things that's most interesting about what it means to be a leader is that the system that you leading in oftentimes influences you much more than you would imagine. So what happened with most of these people that I'm mentioning is that despite some of their pure and very altruistic intentions the system ended up using them in roles where they entered conflict, entered into serious conflict, with very heavy set political players.
And what happened in almost every single case was situations where one of both parties lost their equanimity and with that you know mayhem ensued and you know one or both of the parties kind of lost their role. Actually in several of the cases it was a lose-lose situation where in conflicts both parties ended up losing. So I guess that kind of what I mean and it's not really a harsh and negative comment about people, about specific people. Rather about the fact that there's a series of deeper skill sets and kind-of an inner transformation that maybe needs to be happening for a person in leadership position in such a complex setting to really be able to keep their head above water.
Preeta: I wonder and I know I don't take away from the other two issues you want to talk about, but I wonder if just the crisis in leadership that you're identifying whether that's unique to Latin American governments or whether that's kind of emblematic a little bit of the public sector generally. I mean I'm I'm recalling the fact that you know the average life of a political appointee in the White House within the United States is thirteen months.
So you know the average you know the span there's just a lot and certainly we're seeing with this present presidential administration you know very very very rapid turnover in the senior most physicians.Less than 3-4 months in some cases and certainly less than a year. So I think I guess my question is - in my experience in the public sector in general where you have people coming from other sectors for a period of time in the kind of senior political role there's often rapid turnover. Because you know there's many sacrifices people make in terms of financial things, investments, divestments, and unless they're able to make pretty rapid change which is often not the case in the public sector some people do lose steam.
David: Yeah yeah I mean and sure this is true in many parts around the world. What you are describing it sounds like the United States at this particular moment in time certainly fits that description.
Preeta: So anyway I don't want to take away from the other two crises you feel are happening - management and participation
David: Looks like the crisis of leadership may go beyond just Latin America. The second one, I think it's probably more serious in Latin America than other parts of the world, is crisis of management. Let me tell you a short story to illustrate this.
I think it was 2.5 years ago. After a fairly rigorous participatory process to establish an effective way to bring scientist, entrepreneurs & designers together, to create transformative innovations. The way to make this happen involved a public bid to engage some potential suppliers of certain services to make this move along. After months of waiting with a bureaucratic procedures to move forward, I made a simple phone call to the person in charge of making thing move faster and asked the question about whether or not there was any possibility that things can advance more quickly.
David: I made a simple phone call to the person in charge of making things move a little bit faster and asked the question about whether or not there was any possibility that things could advance more quickly. And at that time the answer was yes and I'm sure this person make an attempt to make things move a little faster. What ended up happening was a month later, I ended being in, what the Latin American civil law system, a public suing case or something like that? Where I was accused of exceeding my functions and therefore there's sort of like a corruption case open. Where I was going to be interrogated and asked a bunch of questions to get to the truth of whether my intention in asking public servants whether or not they could comply by the stipulated time frame was questioned.
And so this ended up meaning that I spent a couple of months of my productive life kind of derailed. Focusing on simply explaining certain things. To me this should be obvious but had to be solidly rooted in a series of laws and rules. Eventually we demonstrated that all I was doing was actually within my functions. And that in fact, you know, there's nothing wrong with asking someone to move things along a little bit faster. But this story was incredibly frustrating for me and at that point, I was pretty close to quitting. Because you know you put yourself on the line, you put your best energy into something with absolutely no bad intentions whatsoever. And these sorts of situations can be quite demoralizing. But this is very typical of the way governments work in Latin America.
Because different to governments in countries based more on Anglo-Saxon law. We have civil law where you're only allowed to do, if you're in the public sector, you're only allowed to do what's explicitly mentioned in the law. This is, for someone working in innovation policy especially, it's quite restricting, because if the laws were created years ago, best practices that are involved. What that means is you have to be very creative, to propose things that had never been imagined when the laws were written but somehow are able to fit within what was imagined 30 years ago. So this leads to organizational structures with rules that are really from another age. And there's this fear of misuse and misappropriation of public funds creates a culture based on fear, short sightedness, not very clear accountability, lack of trust. I call this the government's autoimmune disease.
In Costa Rica, the government kind of works like the human body. Where there's an immune system that's designed to protect the human body from pathogens that might enter the body or from cells that might become corrupt for whatever reason. And so in government its the same. There's a series of government bodies whose task it is to make sure they identify and attack potential external corruptors or people inside government can become corrupt. And that in of itself is actually a good thing, except it was seen that our government and many governments in Latin America have an autoimmune disease. When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system confuses your body's healthy cells for invaders and starts attacking your body itself. And because the way the civil law system works, in our countries, our government's immune system end up attacking innovative people and innovative thinkers who try to do things a little bit differently with no intention of corruption.
Preeta: Yeah that's fascinating.
David: So we have a crisis of management where it's very difficult to things differently than they've always been done.
Preeta: Fascinating the distinction between civil law countries and others. I can see that being very pronounced in that system.
David: [chuckles] And then the third one which is a little bit related to the second, is a crisis of participation. Where...just a quick story. When I arrived at the ministry, we kind of did what the minister asked us to do. Which was to try and understand what programs have been in action and which ones have been worth while and which ones maybe we should change.
And what I found was that some key areas, we've been doing the same thing for thirty years without really ever asking anybody if needs maybe had changed. and so we organized a really simple pilot group with a bunch of high school kids to ask them if this particular program was what they needed and what we discovered was that as technology has changed, a series of things in society changed, and there were different needs. So, that led us to design something a little different.
That's just one example of how a lot of what we described in the civil law system and possibly also the crisis of leadership means that government is much less open to participation from the rest of society than would be helpful at this point of history. As society moves continually towards more open models in almost every other factor and field, unless government can start doing that government may begin to loose relevance.
Preeta: Interesting. Well, that's fascinating. I know you've been doing some interesting experiments with innovation, not just in terms of trying to draw innovation into Costa Rica, which is obviously your public role. But even internally, some experiments of trying to shift some of the consciousness of players within government. So maybe we can talk a little about some of your experiments within government and trying to bring a different type of energy and then kind of talk more generally on what that tells you or what that has informed you about the possibilities of government going forward.
David: Sure. Yeah, this is my favorite topic. Experimentation and government. I think before I share what I am gonna say I should say that most of this space for experimentation has been encouraged and enabled by my participation in the Service Space community. For that, I'm eternally grateful because I don't know if I would have had the courage to do some of these experiments without a support group along the way. So, I was able to participate in a ladder circle, and really the name ladder is where I think is kinda of a paradigm a leadership needs to move towards. Playing the role of a leader from the back of the room is better than the front of the room. To mention a couple of experiments that are very small, but have somehow created a different dynamic within my own team.
So, the first was a part of the ladder circle, and there was a meeting about strawberries and kind of varying towards generosity and the role that generosity can play and in creating human bonds and creating results that are very different. It so happens that I was reading this beautiful article. I also was eating some strawberries, and so I decided to have the last one that I was gonna have and give the rest of these strawberries to my members of my team. I said hey you know I feel like maybe you could enjoy these more than I can and if you feel called to do so, maybe next week you could share something similar to another member of the team and explain your motivation behind that. And so, they took this and created a chain reaction and it went on for a few weeks. In a very subtle way, it started to change the dynamic of our team. It created a greater sense of trust, appreciation, and that kind of paved the way by creating a stronger safer feel.
Or more bold experiments and kind of in mindfulness. So, one Monday morning, I decided to start our weekly meeting with a moment of silence, much like the one we had at the beginning of this call. I have to admit it that it was quite uncomfortable initially for me, because, anybody who's worked in the government. It's totally unimaginable that you would start a meeting with a moment of a kind of inner peace. (Chuckles). Afterwards, we will debrief and reached in and how we felt about it. And actually they really appreciated it. What we've done over the past few months is to build on that. Kind of build on what happened in that moment of silence and 1 minute becomes 3 minutes became 5 minutes and I kind of shared a little bit about meditation with them. How meditation can be a interesting tool to strengthen some of the things in that sort of moments of silence. And without really kind of pushing anything particular, just kind of exploring and sharing, they all kind of unanimously asked me to somehow give them the opportunity to learn more formally about meditation and to incorporate meditation practice in their lives.
And so, you know, my team is very small, we are just one tiny unit within the Costa Rican government, which is tiny, compared to the rest of Latin America. What I feel about that experiment, somehow gives me hope that the idea of shifting that kind of control of paradigm of what leadership is to, mindful leadership, is totally achievable. All it takes is just a few initial steps and then many things eventually can kind of trickle up. So, that was one stark experiment around this idea of how to change the leadership paradigms. In parallel, we also worked on how to change this issue with management and participation. I call it kind of experimentalist governments.
We in American the way things work is that the government is expected to know what should be done and to design whatever should be done and to implement that. And so, the best of the cases, the government designs it and hires someone else to implement it. What we started noticing is when the programs that are implemented that way actually are very limited in their potential for generation of new ideas and also very limited in their potential to engage faithfulness and the right to create ownership, so things can then excel by sharing and collaborating. So, what we did was that we said ok, this issue of trying to bring designers, entrepreneurs, and scientists together to focus their energy to create trust and work on new innovations or technology-based social innovation projects.
Maybe, as governments, what we need to do is take the same pill that we are suggesting for others and try innovative ways of leading this process. So, we use this experimental governments strategy and we've been through 12 prototypes today where some of the most valuable ones involves defining a very clear objective and depositing our trust and decentralizing players within the innovation ecosystem and asking them to think of what they feel is the best way to solve some of these problems and take advantage of some of these opportunities. So, what ended up happening is some of these collaboration is where instead of thinking we should design what's gonna happen, trusting others to design and then implement collaboratively led to a series of variation of things that we'd have never thought of. And it also strengthened the social fibers of these different organizations. In one of these we worked with 5 public universities that have previously not had a strong history of working together, but using this kind of approach to ask them to each independently innovate in their way of bringing these 3 groups together and then also ask them to commit to spaces in which they will be crossed fertilization actually meant they became much more collaborative amongst themselves. So, next year, they decided to work on this together. Again, a small experiment, what initially one person $1000 per year ended up with a team of 30 people and almost half a million dollars, even though our contribution as government was on the order of 1 person and $1000. So, there is something deeply generative about style of management that encourages participation in a way that empowers people and takes advantage of their ideas to allow new things to emerge.
Preeta: So, what is the status of some of your experiments or some of the micro experiments you did with your team? Are those ongoing? My experiences is that there is often, you see some wonderful leadership come in for period of time in government where things seem to move, there's innovation, things seem to shape up. But because of the first set of challenges you raised which is sometimes the time limited span of leadership in the public sector. The status of these things often fade.
Aryae: Excuse me a moment, this is Aria. I just want to take this chance to remind our listeners that we're getting to the top of the hour, and we'd want to invite you to ask your questions of David. So if you're listening live you can hit Star6 on your phone. If you're live streaming, you can email at Ask@servicespace.org.
David: Yeah, this concern that you have is kind of a question that I am holding now. And right now, these experiments are ongoing, but that could be because I'm there. We have an election in February and there will be a change in government in May. And so it's looking unlikely that I'll be there given the way the election polls are working out. Right now one of the big questions and that I'm holding and the direction which a lot of my energy is going, is how do you create an initiative or how do you create a space that doesn't depend on government and somehow housed outside the government. To be able to further this kind of work and this kind of experimentation within government. And I think that that might be part of the key to resolving this concern that you have. Because certainly if it's in the hands of a political party or a specific administration then given the way things work, it's quite likely that things will fall apart when there's a transition from one to the next.
Preeta: Let me ask you this. We started with the 5 monks and I think where you are right now in some ways is kind of like the fourth monk, which is working on social, political change trying to affect systems that solve problems in a more systematic way. And you said your mind and heart is sort of shifting in the direction of the fifth monk. Which as I understand it is to bring groups of leaders together from various sectors. And you described it as sitting and meditating and being open to what is reimagined and what possibilities could arrive. So as your time and government potentially comes to a close as you spend time in these various sectors and at various levels of trying to address social issues. I guess I'd love to hear where you're headed in terms of your own thinking and what the fifth monk situation might look for you in a concrete way
David: Sure, i think i'll maybe start with a little bit of background that will help to explain where things are going for me. When you ask the question of where governments are heading, a lot of the work by Beck & Cohen on Spiral Dynamics, and a lot of Ken Wilbur's work are actually really helpful, or have been helpful in giving me a sense of where things might be heading. Eventually, people and society's see the world through specific lenses, and as the degree of complexity in our lives increases, we're forced to change our lenses, and when we change them, then suddenly the world comes into focus, but there's a lot more nuance when we upgrade our lens.
I think that forms of governance, and the way that states or governments are organized have evolved in waves, as the predominant lenses through which society sees the world have evolved. Technological change has played an important role in creating more complexity, which then leads society to shift its lens, and that creates a gap between society's lens and the lens through which the state sees the world. When that gap becomes big enough, then it becomes unsustainable, and then there's some sort of usually painful transition, whereby the state, or the prevailing government's model shifts its lens of how it sees the world.
If you look at the way that things have evolved over the past thousand years, what you see is evolution in waves, where there's a continual tendency of decentralization of power. And decentralization of where real value is created, which implies the release of control. So if you go way back, there's monarchies where the prevailing view is respect to the most powerful. Then maybe an authoritarian state, where there's a series of rules and strict roles to be respected. Then more capitalistic democracies oriented on objectives and efficiency. Then social democracies are more into consensus and appreciation of diversity.
I think this is -- Frida, I think this is something we were talking about the other day -- we both feel that we're at one of these times again where that gap between the way society is viewing the world and the way the government's structure allows public servants to view the world has become really wide again. I think that maybe what's next is more of an open and integrative democracy that allows for a lot of this kind of integrative and participatory experimentation. So for me, i feel like the fifth monk approach in government can play an important role in describing these three crises i mentioned earlier.
With the crisis of leadership there's a lot that can be done through mindfulness, and by sitting with people and listening and encouraging processes that facilitate deeper listening. In terms of the crisis of management, there's a lot to be said for facilitating processes for innovation within government, and facilitating them in a way that's born from those spaces of deep listening. If the government can begin to operate in a way that's more innovative, then that can lead us to maybe a resolution for this crisis of participation by opening frontiers of government in non-sectorial spaces that allow people inside, public servants, people who have a vocation for public service - both inside and outside of government to work together on some of these issues. Right now, I'm working with a group of 10 or 15 like-minded and like-hearted individuals in Costa Rica who have an expertise in mindfulness and innovation methodologies and in public administration to build Micelio, which is the community of practice of innovative public services inside and outside of governments. Micelio in Spanish is mycelium in English, which is the network of the roots of fungus which are underneath the floor in a forest, that actually interconnect each of the trees in a forest to make a forest what it is -- an interconnected ecosystem.
So somehow what seems to be emerging -- and it's still very early days -- is a community where people who connect with this can focus their efforts through acts of service, working in a non-sectorial culture and working with an exponential mindset.
Preeta: Ok, great. So you were talking about innovation and government, maybe the possibility that we're at an inflection point of the role of government and the ways in which government is structured vis a vis the way people want to organize socially and solve issues collectively. The question i have for you is, "What modern western governments have been created in a certain model of bureaucracy that relied on a system of governance that was kind of command and control. Where you have problem solvers, bureaucrats, experts that are able to tackle significant issues. And we're now arguably entered an era of great complexity, where that idea of command and control problem solving just doesn't hold in any center. Yet we have vast civil service systems with lots of employment and it's structured in a certain way. So i'm wondering, how optimistic are you about transforming government, and the consciousness within government, given what might be an outmoded system of the way we even conceive of bureaucracy?
David: Yeah, that's a really important question. It's kind of what keeps me awake at night. I think that what you're describing is this kind of movement towards what i would describe as an open and integrative democracy, where maybe at the level of what people think and believe, it's not so difficult to imagine how we might evolve, even within government. But your point is really important, which is that there's a path-dependency in the way in which the organizations are structured and the laws are written and the rules that apply. Most of that is quite backward relative to some of these new forms of operation.
So this is what i think currently. I think it's not going to be possible to change the system overnight. What i come back to is the curve that shows how innovations are adopted. It's kind of like a normal curve, where you start out with your innovators, and then your early adopters, and then your early majority, and by the time you get there, then the rest of the system changes. What we're trying to do is to focus on those innovators, which are 2.5% of whatever target population you're working with. So let's say we're talking about public servants. How can you identify those 2.5% of public servants who are in leadership positions who actually already connect with this way of thinking? But what they don't have is a network of people who support them, and they don't have this external space where they can connect with the culture and value set that are actually their true value but that are not currently visible within wherever they are in government. So if you can create that non-sectorial space and then have some sort of peer-to-peer learning program that takes advantage of digital technology to help spread certain ways of working to that first 2.5%, then eventually you can work into the early adopters. If you can begin to have a critical mass, then the sorts of success stories you can tell would be very helpful to create the political momentum that's been needed to be able to change the status quo.
I think it requires patience. What i see is that we have two options. As that gap between society's expectations and the reality of government widens -- I don't think we're at a crisis point yet, but we're not too far from that. And if we don't start to take small steps to work in some way similar to what i'm describing - then what's going to happen is that eventually it's going to get out of control, and then there will be a painful shift. A painful transition much like the ones that have happened between monarchies and authoritarian states and democracies. Out of empathy for society, if there's anything we can do to make that a more fluid transition, rather than a painful, violent transition, then I think we should do what we can.
David: And out of empathy for society, if there is anything we can do to make a more fluid transition rather than a painful, violent transition, then I think we should do what we can.
Preeta: I'm just going to ask one little question. I know there are other some other questions that others have. But let me ask one more question because it kind of goes in the flow of this. Sorry!
You know you talked about bringing mindful conscious leadership into government and various sectors. And you talked about- through meditation, mindful practices and things like that and I guess I'd like go back to,,,
Partly because of your background as a childhood as a missionary, how realistic or what do you see as the challenges of having diverse groups of people from various backgrounds sit together and try and connect at that level of consciousness, given that so many that there are from many different belief systems. I ascribe as you do, to the notion that we're all interconnected, They're all part of their bridge structure. You know a lot of a lot of people don't necessarily see it that way.
David: I see. I understand what you're asking is this kind of may be two levels of complexity. One is peoples' level of kind of personal development the maturity and consciousness. There is definitely very heterogeneous group that you deal with when you enter the space of public service. Secondly, it is different faiths, right? You know, if you talk about meditation, people sometimes associate that with very specific religious traditions and not others.
For the second part- what's been interesting is bringing meditation into my family. Meditation in Latin America is mostly associated with Buddhism and religions that are on the other side of the planet. And depending on what branch of Christianity you are coming from that may be considered sect or you know something that you want to avoid at all costs without even considering what it is. What's been really interesting is you know as I have gone much closer to meditation, it strengthened my meditation practice. My brother has as well. And over the past month or two my mother has as well. As a Christian, just by seeing the example of how her sons have been evolving in what she considers to be a very positive way, she has been drawn to you know by curiosity. What is this thing that you are doing? l so I think that getting over the kind of preconceptions rooted in people's own religious background think it's just kind and gentle invitation to learn and explore is what can make a difference there.
With the first point, I kind of feel like there's a degree of realism that you have to have.
It needs to be accompanied with empathy as well. That different people in different parts of the world and in different sectors of society and the conditions of their life thus far have
led them to whatever state of development that they are currently in. And rather than hoping for everybody to engage in this kind of fifth monk form of doing things, really the objective is more or be kind of diverse combination of different sorts of people in their different stages to flow together and to be able to evolve in their own personal development. What I've seen... it's interesting in my own team I have a gentleman who's sixty two and he is a very mature person you know. He has been somehow close to yoga and meditation for forty years. Way ahead of me. And then you know we have a woman who is in her thirties who has a lot of emotional intelligence and then then a guy who is kind of new to government and fairly new to labor force. And so it's been really interesting to see how each of them, who are perhaps in different stage in life but are able to engage with these moments of silence on their own terms, what it means for them and what lessons it teaches for them. The lessons that the older gentleman learns are in some way much more complex and subtle. But all of us are learning together in it and still somehow provide a common space that we can all identify with.
Aryae: Well this conversation is really great. I have to say I'm really enjoying listening to you two government types talking about these issues.
From very different backgrounds and different countries and different governments and how some of these issues resonate across it. So thank you to you both. I want to remind those of you who are listening either via live stream or phone that you have the opportunity to join this amazing conversation. And if you feel like I do and maybe a little bit intimidated by these two by their range of knowledge, don't be. Just come in and I'm sure that you can be part of the conversation.
So a question came in that I'd like to ask you David to see your thoughts on this. If you were talking to a younger version of yourself about going into government today, what would you advise that person?
David: A good question....
Aryae: Got a pause on that one!
David: I guess the reason why I am pausing is because I think that a lot of the key lessons that I've learned, my younger self might not have listened to. I have to be totally honest. It would have been so distant from my younger self's experience in life that it would've been very difficult to connect to. And so I think perhaps the one thing that my younger self would have listened to is the idea that things are not as they seem.
David: And that whatever mental models you have about the way things work are susceptible to be completely changed and lean into that rather than leaning away from it. I think in my case a lot of the progress that we've made could have happened much faster if instead of leaning away from things that seemed uncomfortable and different and that fell outside of my mental models, until you know I had no choice but to face them.
Instead of that If I had been a little bit curious, open and leaned in, I would have learned faster.
Aryae: Could you give a small example of that. Something that was different than you thought and it took you a while to lean in and what happened?
David: Sure! I think a best example is the same for a project that I was sharing about with the twelve prototypes.
Initially my view of how to how to lead the innovation ecosystem was for my theme to think about what should be done and then to use whatever mechanisms we had to hire people who were able executing that vision. And I think a lot of things work that way. But it wasn't until my attempts to move forward with that plan lead to you know the situation where I was sued, I kind of was forced to say, "OK, We can't do that this year because it's October and we have some specific indicators and goals that we have to achieve. So what else can we do?"
And it was in that moment that we thought, well what if we give each one of the five public universities a little bit of money and then ask them to think of what they want to do and see where that takes us. And so, I kind of did that because that was my last ... you know I have no other choice. And a lot of the learning that I've been through has been that way. And I think I would advise my younger self you kind of tune into some of the signs earlier on and lean into them so that some of these lessons come from moments of inspiration rather than moments of crisis.
Aryae: yeah! Got it. OK we have a caller who has dial in
Kozo: Hi David. Thank you for this beautiful conversation. My name is Kozo. I'm calling in from Cupertino California. I have a kind of a variation of I think a question that Preeta asked. But I may be more specific. I know you're familiar with Laddership and you're familiar with Servicespace and this whole idea- change yourself to change the world. There's this quality of being rather than doing right that seems to be the core practice.
And if I look at government and especially government in America, it's all about doing and it's not just the government but the expectations of the people and the expectations of all of America is like- what have you done for me lately? What are you doing right now for me? And it's all about doing and with our current administration, our current leadership people don't care about being. You know they don't care about how they treat other people and how they treat women, it’s almost like their level of consciousness doesn't care about that. They care about what this person can do. And so I'm curious to hear your thoughts about how that shift can happen from doing to being when not only the institution, the system is based on doing but also the expectations of the populace is based on doing rather than being.
David: Well. Thanks for that question Kozo, Really important question feel that tension as well. And I guess what I can say is- In the past four years I've experimented with different approaches. Some very doing oriented. Some much more being oriented. I don't think I have a definite answer to your question. May be some of the signs are emerging are the reaction of my bosses to those experiments. Really what they're interested in is results. Whether you achieve results by doing or by being is not necessarily important to them. And what I've found is that the experiments in which I focus much more on being a not so much of doing have been so incredibly powerful in engaging others and other stakeholders and somehow inspire others to be a part of what's happening, that results and the being more powerful. And so I think given what you're saying and the fact that most of the population in the United States or most other countries don't necessarily connect with language of Laddership and servant leadership. There's maybe terminology that they are not familiar with. Maybe that doesn't matter as much as long as people and government are able to buy themselves space to experiment with some of these strategies that at the end of the day actually create better results.
Kozo: I like that. There's a lot of hope there. Thank you for being a vanguard.
Aryae: Thank you Kozo.
So David I've got a question that I've been wondering about as I've been listening to you. You’ve been talking about Latin American government, the expectation that sort of the government that there's a crisis of engagement there's the government makes the decisions perhaps without so much citizen input. I think we're seeing a similar tendencies starting to happen in this country today. What occurs to me is that - that seems like what historically has been a male culture where we lead from the top. Father knows best. We decide what we're going to do. And there are a number of people, friends, part of the Servicespace ecosystem who are working around the world in different places with women's leadership which may hold in many cases a different kind of cultural space. A more engaged participatory kind of space. I'm wondering what you think of the idea that encouraging women's leadership can help shift that culture toward more engagement between citizens and government.
David: That's a really good question. Yeah, I mean I've been really fortunate to have had female bosses while I have been in government. And I agree hundred percent with what you are saying. Because their style of leadership has created a space to do a lot of these experiments that I am sharing with you. Might not have been that way if we had kind of the stereotypical Latin American male in those roles.
To me it seems like form the teams that I've had the opportunity to be a part of, what's ideal is a mix. A mix of male and female leaders. And what you are observing is the fact that overwhelmingly in politics and in a lot of other areas of society we have mostly male leaders. And that definitely is not desirable. I think a lot of what are traditionally considered female approach to leadership are very necessary complement to what are considered male forms of leadership. What I would aspire to is that - In a decade or two, we would no longer associate those styles of leadership with male or female, but just more effective ways of leading. There's no particular reason for why men or women should behave one way or another. So I think that a good step in that direction is to have more female leaders demonstrating how effective the approaches that have much more to do with engaging with others and being attentive to others needs and dialogue and listening are. Definitely we need a lot more of that in government.
Aryae: What you're saying I think is very important. There's been some academic work done in this field that says that - traditionally male leadership has been more individualistic and female leadership has been more relational. But there's nothing programmed into our genes that says it has to be that way and that men and women can learn from each other to be flexible about when to be individual and when to be relational.
David: Exactly! You said it better than me!
Aryae: I have another question that occurs to me. You have mentioned Gandhi and being in India. It occurs to me you know from my reading and my understanding of Gandhi's story that, so much of his leadership was by his personal example that he made decisions to put himself at risk to respond with the love rather than other ways. And it was the personal actions that he did that were so effective. I don't see much of that certainly in our government today in the U.S, people who are behaving that way. I'm wondering what you think of the possibility of people in leadership who would radically put themselves on the line for their values as a conscious choice about leading.
David: In think in some ways I think it's the only way forward. It takes a lot of courage. I can only speak to my own experience. You know and of having my own meditation practice and spending time with friends that connect through that and kind of been very open talking about that, doesn't really require much courage. Those are my values and I hang out with people who connect to those values. But bringing that into a space that is. normally totally contrary to those values, you know you risk rejection, you risk making people uncomfortable because they just don't understand and you make people kind of isolate you. I think what's often lacking is not that leaders don't have those values, although that's probably true for some people, but more how to help leaders go through sorts of processes that will help them find the courage to lean into their fears in the way the Gandhi did, to be true to their values in a very open and public way and that can then inspire others to do the same both in terms of others discovering new values, but mostly others connecting to their own values in a very visible way.
Aryae: It would be great to see leaders publicly with the courage to do that. Well I'm seeing that we're coming toward the end of our time together. And in the Servicespace we traditionally ask our guest’s one last question. Here it is David. You're familiar with the community. What can we in the in the Servicespace community do to support you and your transformational work?
David: Wow! That's an amazing question. Feel so grateful for that question. First of all the Servicespace community has already done so much. I don't think that I would have had that courage to stand up for my own values in government if it hadn't been for that support. I think moving forward may be there is a series of things that could be helpful.
Probably the most helpful one is that same role. You know as these initiative to build a community of practice or innovative public servants evolves, there's voices in the back of my head and back of those who are collaborating with, the voices of fear the status quo saying- you know you guys are crazy. How are you going to fund that? How are you going to really create changes? How are you going to change people's mindsets if they're so set in stones? I think that having the support of the community that continually encourages us to experiment and.to test things and to lead with courage is perhaps the most valuable thing that Servicespace community can offer us.
Aryae: All righty! Thank you and Preeta before we end any final reflections?
Preeta: Just incredible gratitude David for your wisdom, for your courage for your experimentation and I can't wait to see what's next especially as you explore ways to bring some of these practices that you said that started possibly outside of government so that it can influence government going forward. Really excited for all your work and what's yet to come.
David: Thank You so much!
After a minute of silence
Aryae: Thank you Dave again for joining us today and thank you Preeta for being such a great moderator and everybody thank you for being here.
Preeta: Thank you.
David: Thank you Namaste.