Peter Block’s “Community: The Structure of Belonging” – Part One: From Problems to Possibilities

January 8, 2009 on 1:29 am | In Stimulated by the Literature | No Comments

Sometimes a book comes along that gets the attention of both heart and mind. Peter Block’s book “Community: The Structure of Belonging” is such a book. It is one of the most powerful books I have read in quite a while. Why? Because in it Block focuses on how people come together to create the future and in insight after insight he describes what it takes for us to truly engage others in our various communities.
Compelling to me is his premise that to create the future we need to shift our communities from problem solving to considering or declaring possibilities desired by the community in question.Problem solving has, according to Block, limited capacity for transformation. In my workshops and presentations on creativity, I have often discussed the difference between creating and problem-solving. Problem solving keeps us in the present and often takes us into the past. Creating has more power to take us into the future and, in fact, we cannot go into the future without creating. Creating brings into being that which does not now exist. And communities that create must have deep conversations about what they think is important to create.
We, as humans, are natural problem solvers and in our (greatly reinforced) need to reach answers, come to conclusions, and achieve closure we lose the opportunity to exercise our equally powerful human capacity for creating.
Creating is all about possibility and what can be. We need look no further than our own offices or living rooms to see the results of the creating drive of others: everything around us has been dreamed of, created, made – sometimes even for the sheer joy of it. We are now, in our neighborhoods, organizations, countries, and world, at a most critical point where we need to turn that creating drive toward building (rebuilding?) our communities.
The deep learning for organizations remains how to join together to go to the future and resist being drawn into framing or discussing it by revisiting the past. Block outlines in powerful ways how we can create conversations around possibility – possibility being both the window we can dream through and the doorway we can collectively walk through in order to commit to our desired futures.
I am reminded, as I consider Block’s book, of a slide in Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig’s 2002 “Free Culture” presentation. That riveting slide said simply “free societies enable the future by limiting the past.” A little amnesia about the past may be a very good thing for us as we do the hard work of learning how to think in the arena of possibility rather than problems.

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