Stories & practices that empower real change

Transcript – Marshall Ganz: The Power of Storytelling

In dialogue with Walter Link

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Marshall Ganz

 

Narrative is not like a little, here’s a little story to entertain you. It’s a fundamental way in which we understand who we are in the world. And certainly our identity. I mean, who am I can be answered by story. I can categorize until I’m blue in the face. What’s utterly unique about me? My narrative is what’s unique about me. The experiences I’ve had and from which I can teach and that have shaped me into the human being that I am. The same goes for our countries, for our cultures and our communities. And so the construction of narrative is a piece of identity work that provides us with moral resources to make choices in a world full of uncertainty.

 

Walter Link

 

Welcome to GlobalLeadership.TV, my name is Walter Link. I’ve always been fascinated by the question of how we move from our many challenges into our full potential as individuals, organizations and whole societies. In this television series I inquire with some of the most innovative leaders from around the world about how they manage to move from inspiration to real change. Please join us in this exploration because we all make a difference and we all can get better at it. Therefore, on our website, we not only show other dialogues and publications but also the kind of practices that these leaders and their organizations use to move from inspiration to real change.

 

After having been a senior strategist for some of America’s most important liberal politicians, he developed the grassroots organizing model that was central to Barack Obama’s campaign victories. Already decades ago, he started as an organizer in the civil rights movement. He matured into important leadership positions in the farmworkers union of the legendary Mexican-American activist Cesar Chavez. Over time he developed storytelling as his core strategy. Now we all have experienced what a great storyteller US President Obama can be. But Ganz demonstrated that thousands of his volunteers could also become very effective change agents by reaching deeply into their own souls and communicate heart to heart what the world really needs. Please join us as we explore together the transformative power of storytelling.

 

You spent a lot of time as a kid in Germany where your father was a rabbi chaplain for the Army and was counseling a lot of people who had suffered the Holocaust and who were both dealing with their trauma but also looking for hope, for a new vision, for a new life and I imagine that that must have been very impactful for a young kid like you being there. And I wonder how that impacted your life then and your choices, your values?

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Well, I think there are several pieces to that. You know, I was a small child and so you don’t fully get what’s going on – you don’t get what’s going on but it was a reality of human beings, of people who had suffered this horror on their way to try to find some hope somewhere. So it meant that the Holocaust had a kind of reality in our house that required interpretation. And my parents interpreted it not as being simply a consequence of anti-Semitism but of racism. My mother grew up in the South in Virginia and she felt very, very strongly about that. And that was very important in coming to understand the significance of the civil rights movement in the US. Because it didn’t make it a very complicated moral question. I mean, racism kills. We see that. So you fight it. I mean, the other part of course was being raised on Passover Seders and as a rabbi’s kid you have no choice but to show up for everything but you do learn. And you know the story year after year of people struggling to free themselves and the part where they point to their child and say, you were a slave in Egypt. And I say, what are you talking about? I’ve never been to Egypt or a slave. Until I realized that the story was a story to be retold each generation and it didn’t belong to any one people or one place or one time. And so those experiences certainly came together in my understanding of the civil rights movement which got me into organizing and activism.

 

Walter Link

 

And you worked closely with the whole movement around Chavez and labor movements and you became an expert in how to organize so that the beautiful ideas and visions can actually become translated into action.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

We hope so.

 

Walter Link

 

And in one of the pieces that I read, you were talking about how we have all the bad experiences with meetings and how when we get together we don’t create synergy for more intelligence, we seem to get dumber often. But there are also really effective strategies and methods to become effective. And maybe you can say something about some of them.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Well, I think that, at least in this country, there was a rich history of civic associations all through the 18th, 19th and first half of the 20th century which were in effect schools for civic – not like civic principles, but tools. How to have meetings, how to make decisions, the basics of collective action. There were mechanisms through which people acquired those tools. This is what de Tocqueville saw when he came here in the 1830s. Saw all of these civic associations, they were teaching people how to do this stuff. Well, a lot of those evaporated in the middle of the 20th century. And along with the kind of evaporation of those traditional institutions where people learned these basic tools, the whole ideology of individualism just became even bigger. And so there aren’t a lot of places where people have become – a lot of people, surprising to me teaching at an elite university, students come, have become sort of organizationally illiterate. Especially when it comes to self-governing organizations. And so it’s a lot easier to say, we will have a bureaucracy and provide services and try to make it efficient. Or we’ll just turn it into a market deal and that way we don’t have to worry about it and people just make choices and preferences. So the work of actually bringing people together to do collective work together that’s productive was getting to be a lost art because it is a craft. It doesn’t just happen. In the civil rights movement a lot of the leadership was trained in the black church, trained in black fraternal organizations, trained in black unions. And so we’re sort of in a place where we need to recapture the capacity to do that. And so the way we’ve approached it is through sort of first of all recognizing that it’s an issue. That the question of people being able to work together matters. Not as command-and-control structure and not as market participants but as collaborators. And so then what are the conditions that enable that?

 

Well, first there is the work of creating a sense of shared values. Not 100% but enough shared values that a common purpose can emerge from it. That’s the work we do through narrative and through storytelling. Then there’s the question of shared commitments and that is the work we do through relationship building and working at relationships. Not as feel-goods but as fundamental to defining the interests that we have in collaboration with one another. And then the third piece we do is structural design. Designing leadership teams, organizational – my generation experienced structure as oppressive but the reality is, you need structure to create space. I mean it’s sort of like this whole idea of positive freedom. And so mastering the tools of structure that create spaces in which people can collaborate and be creative, that’s the third piece. The fourth piece is strategizing which is learning how, as a group, to do the work of strategy. Not have some consultant come and tell you your strategy but the ongoing process of strategizing that’s involved. And then finally, turning it into measurable, concrete action.

 

Outcomes on the ground that you can see so that you can learn from that and improve your practice so it becomes a learning cycle. Now those are the five practices that we focus on. And then putting them into what we call a cascading leadership structure where the idea is that learners become teachers. And so you develop a team and that team goes off and trains people to then become teams and then they can train people to become teams and so forth. And for social movements that’s often how their leadership structures evolve in any event. And so we do that and then we operate through what we call campaigns which are focused streams of activity to sort of move you from here to there. It’s not just like running a program, but that’s kind of it. Yeah, so we have a set of practices that we have been working at, training and develop –

 

Walter Link

 

So one of the concrete opportunities where I understand you also applied that lately was in the Obama campaign where one looks from the outside at the campaign and one sees a lot of young people that are very energized and one knows something happened with the Internet, but there isn’t really a clear understanding of the very specific methodology that was implemented with deliberate, disciplined orientation. And maybe you can say a little bit more about what happened there exactly.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

It’s also like people saw Tahrir Square in Cairo and didn’t see the work of the April 6th movements that had been going on for several years. In other words, you see this sort of the froth without seeing what it takes to build it. And with the Obama campaign there is a book though by Ari Berman, a book called Herding Donkeys, is actually about the best one out there that actually does tell the story of how this thing was organized. But, yeah, at its core the model I described is basically what we used there to launch leadership teams. We did these Camp Obamas which were large training sessions like for example Los Angeles, 200 people, formed them into volunteer teams, have geographic responsibilities, provide them with coaching and support, equip them with data tools so that they could access the Internet, report their numbers and so forth. And then launch them. And we did those kinds of launchings all over the country. And it was a robust volunteer structure because it had all five of those elements in it. In other words, traditional volunteer effort, they go out and recruit a volunteer, then the person loses interest or they burnout and then it’s done. By building volunteer teams you build in accountability and motivation that sustains the effort. But it’s all part of a package. It’s like people have to see that their work is really being valued. That’s where keeping track of the numbers really matters. I mean we had a data system that – if you were making phone calls from your home trying to identify voters, it went into a file where you could see what you did, you could see what everybody else was doing and see where it fit into the whole big picture nationally. So the support through new media was really important. But it’s as if, without the people, it would’ve been a whole bunch of hammers and no carpenters and wishing for a house. So the carpenters are what we provided by creating this volunteer structure, that was able to use these tools in new ways.

 

Walter Link

 

So you bring this very good image of the tool and the carpenter that you can have the best tool but if the carpenter isn’t skillful and isn’t committed and isn’t energized, nothing happens. So what did you do, how did you impact people on the very personal level and how did they develop to actually become these very effective carpenters?

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Well, again, the first thing is that Obama’s candidacy sparked hope. No Democrat had come along for quite a while that had the capacity to speak the language of values. The conservative movement was very good at speaking the values language for their people. On the Democratic side, when he gave his Democratic convention speech in 2004, I was writing an article on why do the Democrats keep nominating stiffs, like dead people? I mean this incapacity to speak the language of value is devastating. Well, he had that and that was an important gift. And so values like mutuality and equality and inclusion that had been sort of just robbed of their emotional content, of their real meaning, came back into language and that connected with a lot of people. It especially connected with young people who have an almost biological necessity to be hopeful. And so that’s the context we are operating in. Plus, the whole mission of electing the first African-American president was very empowering, very motivating for a lot of us. But that’s fine. But then how to turn that into organized effort, that’s where these Camp Obamas were sort of the core device we used. And that’s where we offered – the first thing we taught people was narrative. How to tell their own stories. And how to use narrative to translate values into the motivation for action. Now Obama is very good at that. But we taught that everybody could be good at that because everybody’s got a story and everybody’s motivated and so everyone has the capacity to inspire hope, empathy and self-worth in others and in themselves.

 

So our first mission was the training in what we call public narrative. The story self, the story of us, the story of now. It’s sort of a narrative that links my calling with our calling with the urgency of action now. Now that’s one side of it. The other side is a strategic side which is, how to use my resources resourcefully. Especially if I’m up against a strong opponent. So we teach strategizing and then we taught them how to structure their work. And then how to build the relationships needed to support it and then how to turn it into quantitative results. And there was constant coaching and learning. So I mean there was an infrastructure built based on the principles I described that, at the base, is what moved that.

 

Walter Link

 

So that brings in this element of emotion, feeling, which, so often in the intellectual world also a lot in the social change world and the business world and politics, is of course important and underlying but not generally addressed. What’s addressed is often the mind, the intellectual side, the thought. So I think you really understood in that campaign and in your work in general how important it is to integrate the mind with the heart and that the real motivational energy arises from this deep contact with the heart.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Well, being able to move the hands depends on engagement of the head and the heart. And you’ve got to know what to do with the hands but you also have to want to move them in the first place. And that is where the heart is central to it. It’s like Saint Augustine wrote that, it’s one thing to know the good, another to love it. And knowing it is interesting but loving it is what enables action upon the good. And so without the emotional musculature, without heart understanding, the rest of the stuff doesn’t go anywhere. And so to ignore that or pretend it’s not there, well you know, it goes way back in Western culture, the fear of emotion. And sort of this whole idea that somehow reason dominates emotion and it’s loaded with gender stuff too. But it undermines progressive politics in a deep way. And so it’s like you have no choice if you’re going to engage with people in public life. But to do this work around the values that move them. And the way you do that is through emotion.

 

Walter Link

 

So when you speak about the importance of emotions, how do you – if you look at our school system, if you look at our university system, if you look at professional training, there isn’t really much let’s say organized intentional effort to really develop emotional contact with it but also maturation into it.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

That’s absolutely right. It’s a huge deficit in professional schools and lots of places. I mean that’s where teaching here at the Kennedy School has been a rather unique opportunity because it’s where I developed this public narrative and had the chance to develop it over the last five years. So I teach this as a fall course and we have students from all the world which makes it kind of a laboratory for cross-cultural experimentation. And precisely because they are used to courses in ethics which are all about philosophical questions that have absolutely no meaning in daily life. Yet they know they are called to want to do something about the world, to make it better. But they get no support for it. Well the public narrative class does that by equipping them with an understanding of narrative as a way in which to conduct moral discourse. Meaningful moral discourse. I mean this is rooted in the teaching of Charles Taylor, the moral philosopher Charles Taylor. Alister McIntyre. I mean there is a whole current and moral philosophy that questions Keynseian and utilitarian views of individualistic moral understanding. And it’s really much more in understanding of narrative and tradition and story as how we understand our moral sources and our emotional therefore sources. So we teach another class called moral leadership which is also based on a narrative approach. And there’s a lot of interest in it all over the place because it is a big vacuum.

 

Walter Link

 

Say a little bit more about narrative. If I hadn’t heard that word and wouldn’t know what it means. How can I understand that from a more practical sense. If I would enter into a course with you and you teach me about narrative –

 

Marshall Ganz

 

I don’t know, have you ever heard a story? I mean they are all around us. We map the world cognitively and we map the world affectively. The affective mapping of the world is value that’s attached. In other words, value itself is experienced emotionally. Value’s not an intellectual concept, it’s an emotional commitment and it’s an emotional understanding of the world. And we know that there are certain kinds of emotions that facilitate mindful action and others that inhibit it. We know that, without an experience of urgency or anger to break through habit, we don’t pay attention. So in a sense, in order to get attention, requires creating conditions that are experienced as anxiety. Otherwise we’re just on autopilot all the time. But then how we respond to that depends on whether we are in a fear mode or in a hope mode. Because in the fear mode we will contract, we will strike out, we will get paralyzed. In a hope mode we will explore, we will ask questions, we will get curious. And so – and it relates to the function of the brain, the disposition system and the surveillance system and the way they interact. And so the challenge is to, on the one hand, create the kind of urgency that gets engagement. But on the other hand, inspire hope to counter fear, empathy to counter isolation and self-efficacy to counter self-doubt.

 

So the challenge here is how to access those emotional resources that enable mindful action, that enable action with intentionality. Now stories are the way in which we learn to do that because a story is really a moment of agency. In other words, what makes a story a story, a plot, is a protagonist is confronted with a challenge for which he or she is unprepared and then has to deal with. And then they struggle to deal with it and then it produces an outcome and then there is a moral that we get from that. Now because we can identify empathetically with the protagonist, we can experience the content of the story. Not just to understand its intellectual point but we fear that – we can experience the fear, the hope, the courage. And so by identifying with the protagonist, the moral we draw is a moral to the heart, not just to the head. It’s like – because, see what happens in a story, everybody pays attention – if I just say I got up here and came here, that’s not a story. I got up here and went outside and an elephant fell on me. And you say, well, what? What makes it interesting is the unexpected. That’s when people pay attention. They pay attention in order to learn how to deal with the unexpected. That’s what’s at stake. But they’re not interested in learning how to deal with elephants, they’re interested in learning how to deal with their own hearts. How to deal with the need for courage, the need for forbearance, the need for creativity, the need for imagination. And so that identification process then teaches us how to be actors under conditions of agency. Because agency is when the rulebooks don’t apply. In other words, core to the human experience is the experience of choice.

 

The experience of choice is a very scary one. It’s exhilarating and it’s scary. It’s both because, hey, if it’s all clear what to do, that’s not the deal. But usually it’s not. And so here we are. Do we do this? Do we do this? What are the resources we draw upon to help us deal with that? Well, 85% of the time parents spend with young children is in telling them stories. They tell them about uncle Charlie and so forth. They are teaching them how to be agents. How to be choiceful. But they are teaching their hearts how to handle it, not just their heads how to handle it. Our faith traditions are all articulated through narrative. Our cultural traditions, our family traditions. So narrative is not like a little, here’s a little story to entertain you. It’s a fundamental way in which we understand who we are in the world.

 

Certainly our identity, I mean who am I can be answered by story. I can categorize until I’m blue in the face. What’s utterly unique about me? My narrative is what’s unique about me. The experiences I’ve had and from which I can teach and that have shaped me into the human being that I am. The same goes for our countries, for our cultures and our communities. And so the construction of narrative is a piece of identity work that provides us with moral resources to make choices in a world full of uncertainty. And that’s kind of what it’s all about. And what we’ve learned is that people do this naturally. But what we’ve learned is that people can learn to do it. And so it can be done with much more craft and intentionality. And in an era such as ours when sort of traditional sources of moral understanding are so problematized, there is a huge vacuum out there for how do I – where do I go to get courage? Where do I go to get the faith that I need to continue? Where do I go to live with a sense of generosity? Well, the repository of our narratives is one place that we can go and one place from which we can teach.

 

So in this public narrative class we teach people how to develop their own public narrative. It’s not a speech, it’s how to access their own experience for a narrative that they can communicate to others what they are about. And then a group can share what it’s about. And in the moral leadership class we teach people how to read classical narrative texts for the same thing. Religious, nonreligious texts that are also loaded with narrative opportunities to learn. Whether it’s Arjuna and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, or whether it’s Moses and the golden calf or whether it’s Huckleberry Finn for that matter. So that’s kind of what the narrative stuff is about.

 

Walter Link

 

So what you were saying about the narrative, what matters is not just the intellectual clarity and the plot. It’s that you get down into the experiential level, into the heart, into where people actually live. And what then creates an impact in the other through kind of an empathetic response with each other. And of course for thousands of years in cultures throughout all the world and still today, whether it’s you mentioned Bhagavad Gita, so the Indian spiritual traditions. You mentioned kind of the more modern, more psychological or art traditions. But you also find it in ancient Western philosophies, that really were also spiritual traditions. There is this profound understanding and also very concrete practices of how do you actually do that. Because just wanting to do it is often not so easy. I say I want to feel my heart but I feel actually a lot of numbness or nothing much or it’s blocked or it’s a hardness. How does that play into –

 

Marshall Ganz

 

No, I think the practices are at the core. Karen Armstrong’s writing on faith traditions is really very helpful because she focuses on faith traditions as being sets of practices to train the heart. And it makes – it’s sort of, you put together the narrative and the practice, the theology is sort of secondary over there. It’s actually the practice itself. So virtually every religious practice has a story at the core of it. I mean if folks go to church and have Eucharistic feast, now we are reexperiencing that or whether it’s a Passover Seder or whether it’s the telling of the Hijra story of the migration from Mecca to Medina in the Islamic tradition. Faith traditions, culture traditions all have this stuff. Here we are in the secular, modern world, what do we do with it? How do we create our venues in which we can celebrate ourselves and the values that move us? I think that’s a big problem. This public narrative stuff, it’s a piece because at least it helps people capture it, the power in narrative for moral understanding. In Buddhism they talk about skillful practice. It’s sort of like, so there is a craft to this. There are skills to this. You know, in the movements that I’ve been part of it’s always a big part.

 

I mean whether it was the mass meetings or the song or the storytelling. Call to testimony in the black church, same thing. So it’s like we have to kind of let go of our fear of emotion and reconnect with these sources of moral energy that we need and that are there, they are present in all of us. So at the Kennedy School, I mean here we teach organizations to do three things. They meet, they act and they celebrate. Oh, they celebrate. No, that’s not booze. Celebration is ways of honoring your values. What does that consist of? Stories, song, ritual, other ways in which we honor one another and feed our hearts.

 

Walter Link

 

The experience that many people had of Obama was exactly that kind of alive contact. He had a wonderful quote that I can’t say now quite precisely but it basically said that when I’m in contact with people, also large crowds of people, there are certain moments when I get deeply in contact with the truth of who I am. And it’s in that moment that I can really communicate and get through and I let go of the intellectual brilliance and eloquency that he also developed among other places here at Harvard. But there is something when you speak truth – and truth of course is a difficult challenging term in academia and all throughout the world because lots of bad things are being done in the name of truth. But there is something like a living truth. Like when we touch into this real feeling, this real sense of being and communicate it and other people understand it.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Yeah, that’s right.

 

Walter Link

 

So how do we see how that kind of had an effect on the campaign? It seems to be like an echoing and this echoing of this positive inspiration made things possible.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

I must experience some kind of intolerable present but I also must experience some possibility of a hopeful future. And so it’s those two. So on the one side, the intolerable present has to do with anger. And it has to do with that kind of dissonance. But it’s got to be coupled over here with this other side which is the hope side. That it could be different, it could be better. And often I know often political folks focus so much on the anger side that they forget about this and often feel-good people focus on this side and they forget about this. And it’s actually both together that is what is the powerful motivator. When Ben Ali left Tunis, that was the spark for Egypt. In other words, it wasn’t like there hadn’t been that all these resentments and everything in Egypt for a long, long time and people organizing and doing stuff. But that was a spark of hope that ignited that whole thing. And so I think progressives in particular underestimate the significance of hope as a necessary spark to go with the other.

 

Walter Link

 

You also wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times in which you speak about the transformation of Obama from a transformational candidate to a transactional president. Of course there is a lot of disappointment in this country because somehow the hope seems to have slipped to the wayside and has taken place for compromises that seem unpalatable for many people here. So what happened there?

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Well, that’s a huge question for a lot of people. I mean, there’s what happened and then there’s why it happened. And they are two different questions. I mean, what happened was that the country had been mobilized to an incredible degree and right at the moment when it could have been put to work advancing a very aggressive, progressive agenda, especially given the state of the economy, it was put to sleep. And that was a strategic choice that the administration made. Apparently they believed that they could negotiate their way to deep reform which has never happened in our country. And that that would be accomplished through insider politics, not through public mobilization. And it was a huge error. What the motivations behind it, the choices involved, I can only speculate. But what ought to have been a great teaching moment for the country about wealth and about government and about all that – and a far better healthcare reform deal. And whether it was a combination – it’s as if the president lost any understanding of power. Or executive leadership – the president had never been in a position of executive leadership. Executive leadership requires – it’s very different – it’s very different than being a mediator. And he was so drawn to this whole mediation kind of role when what was needed was very strong executive leadership. And what that has to do with in terms of personality, in terms of philosophy, in terms of whatever, I don’t know. But the result was pretty bad.

 

Walter Link

 

It also seems that he was such a brilliant communicator and that he basically –

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Stopped communicating.

 

Walter Link

 

Stopped communicating.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Yes, so you sort of say, what happened here? Because that race speech was one of the great speeches in American politics. Of course that was something he was deeply invested in. Maybe he didn’t have the same appreciation for the economic crisis the country was in at the time. But, no, those are the – but to be fair, every progressive and liberal group in America bought it. There were all these coalitions in Washington around climate change, around labor law reform, around immigration reform. They all became passive. They all took direction from the White House, they all confused access with power. And when they should’ve been out there raising hell, weren’t. And were sort of, oh, well, the president says they’ll take care of it.

 

Well, that also has never happened in our history. It’s so ahistorical. I mean change in this country has been the result of powerful social movements mobilizing pressure on responsive politicians. And sometimes not responsive politicians. But I mean it’s been this combination. It’s never occurred within the political apparatus itself. That’s not how civil rights happened, that’s not how the conservative movement happened, that’s not how the women’s movement happened, environmental movement. Our whole history is one of an interplay between movements and between movements and parole politics. Because the political system itself is so fragmented and so nonrepresentative. I mean just the electoral college, the whole way first by the single-member districts built into the institutions of American politics are all of these veto points which go back to the fact that the founders really were very fearful of democracy and they had to protect slavery. And so we created these institutions that were very, very weak. And so it’s not like in Britain, you get to be the government and you get to decide stuff. It doesn’t happen that way. And so we’ve had to build these movements outside of government that then pressure politics and parties and so forth and that is the critical piece.

 

Walter Link

 

We’ve been looking at your leadership approach and your approach to change. And your experience in working in this field and teaching has been mostly in the United States. But of course then the United States is a great diversity of communities and cultures. And then there’s also even larger diversity of cultures around the world. How is the approach to change, the approach to organizing, the approach to understanding this different in different cultures and how does it need to be adapted and what are maybe the overarching principles that are true for humans everywhere such as storytelling?

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Yeah, I think most of what I’ve described is a framework that we use, it’s not a model so much as it is a set of arrows saying, okay, if you want to mobilize, then in this context you need to understand relationships and how to build them. You need to understand how to translate sources of value into motivation. You need to figure out how to structure yourself, you need to figure out how to strategize, you need to figure out how to measure outcomes. So it’s not saying there is one way to do those things. We’re saying those things need to happen. So what our experience has been is that approach is very portable. And to just take story for example, I don’t know of a culture that doesn’t tell stories. It turns out that stories all have plots, they all have protagonists, they all have – they are created in very similar ways. It also turns out that most cultures have an interest in the relationship of the individual, the collective and action. And so my experience has been very, very positive with using this approach of cross-cultural contexts. In the US – I mean of course my introduction to organizing was in the African-American community of South. Then the Mexican community in California. And then inter-electoral politics. And now my classrooms are full of students from all over the world. And in the last couple of years we’ve done work in England and in Serbia and in Jordan and in Syria… I mean it’s just extraordinarily portable because we’re not saying, here is step one, two, three, four. We are saying, look at the question of relationships and how those are built. Look at the question of power. How is power being wielded and in what way? And I think what people find surprising is that we take culture really fundamental because the whole approach through narrative says, that’s the first question to ask. And so at the training we did in Jordan last summer, our trainers were all from Jordan. And so what one of them said – and we did the public narrative training – so what one of them said was, I see, this is not like imposing something. It’s saying, look in your culture for these resources and you will find them. And that’s what has been the experience of it. Now the approach we take to leadership is very challenging. And say in a place like Jordan where the models of leadership are military or tribal or religious. They are all essentially authoritarian models. And we are saying, well, this is a different way to think about leadership. This is a way – it’s an interdependent way of thinking of leadership. And of course that’s threatening to some people. But other people are really ready for it. And rather than sort of rejecting the whole notion of leadership, it’s rehabilitating the word. And so by separating leadership for example – we say, we teach leadership as a practice, not as a position. Oh, that’s interesting. You mean it isn’t always connected with a position? No. Well, what is the practice? Oh, well the practice is taking responsibility for enabling others to achieve purpose under conditions of uncertainty. That’s the definition we use. Oh. Okay. That makes sense. So that means that I don’t have to be the boss to lead? No. It means that people can have – can exercise leadership from a lot of different – oh. Well then we can structure authority differently too, can’t can’t we? Oh, maybe we can. So the whole way in which we’ve been trying to introduce it is as an alternate way of thinking about how to structure leadership. And that’s of course very much a challenge to authoritarian cultures. But that’s a challenge we want to make.

 

Walter Link

 

So that brings in also the integration of individual leadership and collective leadership. And what’s the relationship that you see between the two?

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Well, I mean I think leadership is a series of practices, kind of what I was describing. And I think that the authority arrangements that go with that or how we structure that, there’s a lot of different possible forms. I’ve become a big advocate of team leadership, but team leadership in the sense of interdependent team leadership. Sort of like the way an athletic team works where there is very clear responsibilities and very clear accountability and a very clear need for interdependence. But someone’s responsibility is to coordinate the team. But there’s a difference between coordinating a leadership team and being the boss. And that’s what we’re trying to develop. I mean it fits with models of distributed leadership that are – sort of people are more interested in now than they used to be. Because the old leadership model went with command-and-control. It was sort of like there’s a boss who tells everybody what to do. But that’s broken down in so many different settings and so many different ways that how to distribute authority, how to distribute leadership functions I think is on a lot of people’s minds. And not just for philosophical reasons, for practical reasons. You can’t run a business the old way. I guess the other thing I would say is that understanding that leadership is a lot more about coaching than directing. And I think the old model, it was very much about directing. It was very much about, you tell whoever is under you what to do. And what we’re getting today is a lot more in coaching. Like how do you provide the combination of challenge and support to enable the people for whom you are responsible to function more effectively?

 

Walter Link

 

I think one thing that makes a difference in a lot of the movements today, whether it’s the revolutions in the Arabian world or whether it’s the women’s movement or the sustainability movement or the corporate responsibility movement or many other movements that are changing society is that, while there are certain individuals that can be identified and often are picked out, especially by the press, none of these movements depend on individuals. They are really a series of many, many individuals and the movement as such is more important as a collective force than one particular person like for example, a Gandhi, that can be picked out. And yet there are these individuals who play an important role.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

I don’t know, I don’t think that’s so new or different. I think that movements are always broader than organizations. But it also takes organizations to drive movements. And then that means that the responsibility has to be managed in some way. I think there is a mythic – in other words, if we think of the Indian movement as Gandhi then we are missing the point. Because it wasn’t just Gandhi, it was a lot of people. And the same thing goes with the civil rights movement. So it never was one person. That’s sort of a conceit. It’s a mythic conceit that is convenient for a whole lot of reasons. The civil rights movement was never Doctor King. He was a significant leader in the movement but there were – it wasn’t that there was just then Doctor King – it wasn’t that there was sort of an amorphous mass. There were organizations, they had their own leaders, they had their own decision-making processes, some were local, some were state, some were national. They had to work with each other. I mean Tahrir Square April 6th was a very important organization leading up to the whole thing. And these are the folks that went to Serbia and got training in organizing and came back and trained other people and learned about nonviolence and how to manage – Al Jazeera had a great people in power series where they were profiling the different organizations that were involved in Tahrir Square. So I mean I just don’t – movements have always been a mixture of cultural elements, specific organizations, particular leaders.

 

Walter Link

 

So you also spoke about the importance of values to motivate movements and individuals. How do people get values? How do I actually –

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Where did you get yours?

 

Walter Link

 

Well, that’s I think a long story and they evolved over time and had to do with people that were modeling them and their modeling touched me in a way. But I think also I opened to life through involvement in practices for 30 years in which values just emerged from life itself where I not necessarily – I could recognize them in other people. But the connection was more profound than just connecting it to a human being. It was like opening into a contact with life. And something ignited, maybe reawoke or maybe developed. And then I would say over many, many years of working and feedback and learning and making mistakes and learning from that, there was a process of maturing these values and the values became more complex, subtle, tangible and simple.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

And probably occurred in relationship with other people and probably drew on sources, traditions of different kinds that may have been associated more with your parents, may have been associated with literature, with other culture. I mean that’s where values come from. You know, what you just described is what somebody 100 years ago might have described as, where does my faith come from? And it’s a very similar question. It’s a very similar question. Paul Tillich described faith as a source of ultimate concern. What is it that I really care about? What is it that is the bottom line for me that gives meaning to my life? And we struggle to answer that. And again, we’ve often answered it in religious frameworks. Today we’re struggling to answer it in other ways. I mean, some people find it in the natural world. But it’s more than the natural world. There is a dimension of transcendence usually. And it’s usually social as well. And so we develop our own narratives and our own practices and rituals and so forth to honor those values and celebrate them. I mean I don’t think human beings live without values. I mean that’s what orients us in our lives. So what are narrative sources? Well, there’s your parents, there’s where you grew up, there’s your family, there’s your own story that’s evolved over the years. There’s the stories that it’s overlapped with. And contained within those stories and those narratives are values.

 

Walter Link

 

I think as you were asking, where it really started for me I think was first growing up in the 60s.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Where did you grow up?

 

Walter Link

 

In Germany.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

What did your parents do there?

 

Walter Link

 

They were in business. So there was this kind of world of normalcy that we were involved in. And then there was this waking up of our culture to – especially the Holocaust. And of course then the women’s movement, the peace movement, the environmental movement, the human rights movement. And I was a young person, a teenager growing up in this. And I was seeking for something. And I didn’t really know what I was seeking. I was seeking I think especially for a certain depth of contact with reality and I found it in arts and in political engagement and in endless discussions and great activism. But it wasn’t until I really met in a very experiential, emotional, psychological way the question of how was the Holocaust possible. I worked on two movie projects and a big campaign that were asking these questions which before I had looked at from a political perspective, a sociological perspective, an economic perspective, a historical perspective. From the safety of my mind. And then I was finally thrown into and supported to open my heart to this incredible pain. And for months on end I would study and talk with people and cry and cry. And it opened something to me that made the values that are underlying these movements real, human. I mean I became humanized. I kind of dropped part of my armoring and I feel like that’s where my journey of values, of discovery and of action really started.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Yes. Yes I think that’s what it is. I mean it sounds like through that journey you established a deep connection between you and others. It sounded like it was a deep engagement with empathy in a really deep way. Where empathy is not just like feeling sympathy for somebody but it’s also experiencing pain, but it’s also experiencing, well, it sounds simplistic to say, put yourself in another person’s shoes, it’s not that. It’s a deeper kind of experience of connection than that which I sort of hear you describing. There’s this moment when Robert Kennedy, during the 68 campaign, had to announce to a black audience in Indianapolis, Indiana that Doctor King had been killed. It’s an amazing moment because here is this guy, this white guy, this Kennedy guy, who’s going to now tell this black audience that Doctor King has been killed. And his advisors all said, don’t do it, don’t do it. But he did it. And it’s on tape. It’s an extraordinary moment. Because he sort of delivers the news, he tries awkwardly to sort of establish empathy. Says about how his brother was killed by a white man too. Doesn’t quite work. He closes with quoting from Aeschylus  about pain that drops unremittingly on the heart and through the awful grace of God brings wisdom. The whole sort of thing was not so much the words but here was a person who had experienced loss and pain. And that’s the connection that was made there. Indianapolis was about the only city that didn’t have a riot that night. And it was interesting because his words were awkward but the presence and the sentiment was very powerful and very real. And that to me is a little bit of what you are describing. That kind of sense of deep connection. Sure. But again, somebody else would have described what you just described to me as a religious experience. I mean it is. And I think that human beings need that and we find ways for that.

 

Walter Link

 

I think what it changed for me this time was that I had been frustrated with how little our discussions and even our actions achieved. That we were somehow missing the human point. I couldn’t put it to those words. But there is something that we are yearning for where our actions take a meaning that is not only intellectual and theoretical. And then there is the connection, the humanity that is really – brings the meaning.

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Yeah and because it’s an experience of a kind of – it’s an experience that’s a kind of a transcendence in the experience. I think. I mean it’s through people but it also reaches beyond. In the 60s I was never drawn to the SDS debates about – I was drawn to the civil rights movement because I was drawn to the people who were doing the work. That was very, very different. It was about real people confronting real threats, finding courage, which was so different from the kind of conversation about the meaning of materialism and X, Y, Z. I just never relate to that at all. And I think in a deep way it becomes a kind of – as you said – an armor. It becomes a big kind of defense. And intellectuals and leftists are really good at it. And it cuts us off from the humanity that’s the source of really the value that we are trying to assert I think.

 

Walter Link

 

So the question that I also have in my work of course is how do you bring that kind of much more messy, much more engaged process into so many institutions like, for example, education where we kind of sanitize things, we keep them nicely organized and beautifully packaged?

 

Marshall Ganz

 

I mean that’s what I try to do with my teaching. There’s a lot of people that would want to do that. Try to do that. It’s sort of the art to do that.

 

Walter Link

 

How do you reach people and what is it that you do and maybe more what you are that kind of helps people to connect within that in themselves and find the courage?

 

Marshall Ganz

 

The narrative work is a big piece of it. Because what we’re doing when we are teaching narrative is really, it’s Charles Taylor in practice. We’re equipping people with a practice to access their own moral resources through the moments and events that – through which they have shaped – that have shaped their values and enabling them to articulate that. And that’s a very concrete, specific thing. I mean it’s a practice. In all the organizing that I do, we start off with all that. I mean the foundation is always the values foundation so we always start with the story work. And then the story work sort of sets the ground for all the rest that comes afterwards. I mean this little workshop that we’re doing here today, we started off with story of self. Now they’re working on relationships in teams. They’re going to come back and they’re going to do a story of us. And then tomorrow we work on strategy. We’re going to start what we call the story of now. And so there is this integration of values all the way through.

 

Walter Link

 

These living values –

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Yeah, the practices. They are not ideas.

 

Walter Link

 

When you look at the mission statement of companies –

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Oh no, those are ridiculous because they are not – see, values live through the particular. This is the whole deal about stories and how they work. They live through the particular. Like a poem. The particularity of a poem is a portal on the experience of transcendence that lies through that poem. That’s how stories work. It’s the particularity. And that’s why they can cross cultures. And I can tell a story particular to mine and you can tell one to yours. But there will be a capacity to connect at the core of it. And so it’s the opposite of abstraction. It’s accessing the transcendent through the particular rather than retreating from the particular to a level of abstraction which then loses all the emotional content. It just becomes mush. I mean it’s the Greeks running away from the material world. Or it’s getting lost in Platonism or whatever it is. It’s a world that’s typical of the academy.

 

Walter Link

 

So the particular becomes the portal and you enter through this portal into the transcendent which at the same time is also kind of the living value, the real-life, where life was most vibrant?

 

Marshall Ganz

 

Exactly. I think that’s exactly right. I mean it sounds like your immersion in the particularity of the Holocaust experience was a portal for you on a whole other level of understanding of life and the world we are in.

 

Walter Link

 

I would say that the opening into the suffering of others allowed me to also open into my own suffering and that allowed me to melt in a certain place where I became more able to feel – able to access. And then of course a whole different set of relationships with others, with myself, with nature, with life in general became possible that had this feeling of reality to it. And I think, like a lot of people today, they see the need for change and they recognize that we need innovation, we need creativity, but we often don’t know how to go about that. Are we just kind of having another layer of idea that goes over another layer of idea? Or how do we really access this kind of living being of creativity and innovation?

 

Marshall Ganz

 

One thing we do know is that the moral energy we are describing is central to creativity.