Resilient Japan

Hello friends,

Right now my work has taken me to Japan — in a big way.  We’ve launched a new website: as host for this work and the commentary I am writing from there.  I will be bringing some of this over into Resilient Communities, because it is the same work.  But right now most of my writing is on this small new website.  Please come see what’s happening beneath the visible surface in Japan.

I’m working closely with Art of Hosting – Japan and KDI’s Future Centers — both described in earlier blogs from my work in Japan last year.

Blessings,  Bob

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Stepping Into New Possibilities in Japan

In a week I’ll be headed back to my beloved Japan.  What will I find there?  Community.  Friends and family.  Colleagues. Grief.  Destruction. Possibility. Fear. Hope.  All those and more.  My heart quivers some.  I am almost overwhelmed by all the images and stories that have flooded in over the last two weeks since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.  And, I am going to be with my community, with my kindred.  I’m carrying with me learning from the web of The Berkana Institute as I explore questions of what is possible now that was not possible before with my many friends and colleagues.

Over the last two weeks much of my time has been focused on Japan.  Connecting and supporting people, being in many conversations via twitter, facebook, skype, e-mail and even telephone.  Some ideas have been coming into focus that I want to share.  These are written as I see them.  They are based on many conversations and they are still my formulation of what might be helpful.  They are part of my starting point as I go home to Japan.

I see four main domains of work:

Grief and Possibility in the Tohoku Region.  Much has been lost:  25,000 people dead or missing; 500,000 people without homes; businesses, schools  and infrastructure destroyed.

  • This grief must be hosted.  Spaces need to be created which support people in speaking of their grief and loss and disappointment.  A safe space of talking and of listening is needed now.
  • And Tohoku can be re-created, stronger and more resilient than it ever was before.  What is essential is that people in Tohoku are in charge of this re-creation – not government, not NGOs, not well intended forces from outside.  People in Tohoku must come together in new ways to direct this recreation.

A new effort called  Japan Dialog –  is beginning to address these needs and possibilities.

A Wide Field of Possibilities. People around Japan and around the world want to support the people in Tohoku.  Think of this as an eco-system with many parts.  Some have ideas and resources for different community engagement processes.  Others know how to work with the strengths and assets still present in the communities.  Some know of more energy efficient and durable building techniques.  Others know of better ways to grow food sustainably.  These ideas can either be another tsunami that washes over the area, or they can be a rich ecology of possibilities which can support in the rebuilding.  Work is needed which can call this eco-system together.

The work of  Instituto Elos and the Oasis Game from Brazil may provide important tools for working in this area as well as the ABCD approach (Asset Based Community Development).  I’ve assembled some resources for this approach on my Resources Page

A Bridge to the Future. A third domain of work is the work of connecting Tohoku with this wide field of possibilities.  Spaces and places are needed which support this connection between the people in Tohoku and these many possibilities.  This bridge must be wide, solid and flexible, supporting robust dialogue and design which supports people in creating new future possibilities.  The work that the Knowledge Dynamics Initiative at Fuji/Xerox has done to bring Future Centers into Japan will be a foundation for this bridge.


Bridge To Future

Tohoku Tomorrow

New Relationship To Energy. The earthquake came.  The tsunami came.  What stayed was the radiation.  Perhaps there is an opportunity for a new dialogue in Japan about how much energy is needed to live happy lives.  Japan might choose to learn how to live with less.  If that choice were made in Japan, it would be put into action immediately.  Japan might provide critical leadership for the rest of the world on this important issue.  This is a deep dialogue that needs to be hosted well in the coming months.  There are no easy answers – just very important questions.

Who might help?

In many ways Japan is a large country and a very small community.  Over the last year I have had the opportunity to work with many people and organizations who might be, I believe, the key players to work in these four domains.  I know there are many others as well.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing stories from our work together.

And many, many more.  Japan is ripe for change.  Please visit some of my blogs here from November and December, 2010 to get a sense of the possibilities

And please come visit here from time to time.  I arrive in Japan on April 5th and will be there until the first of June.  I’ll be sharing stories and learning here from time to time.  Please also visit for a story about Resilience in Japan from the latest Fieldnotes from ALIA — Authentic Leadership in Action.

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Helping People Design Their Own Communities

Yamizaka-san and I were invited to do a workshop in Osaka.  Yamizaka-san was a landscape architect 10 years ago.  Now he’s something else?  But what does he call it?  A community developer?  A community designer?  Both of those have the sense of someone working from the outside.  He works from the inside and is no longer sure of what to call his work.

40 or so people joined us at a small café in Osaka for an evening of dialogue.  Yamizaka-san is a charismatic character.  A decade ago the death of a dear friend helped him realize that he wanted to make a difference with his own life.  He kept noticing that he was attracted to people’s true stories and started to find his path.

He and I each spoke for a time before moving into several rounds of World Café.  We’d only met earlier that evening and didn’t know much of each other’s stories.  But as soon as we met, I was thinking about my friends from Elos Institute in Santos Brazil.  Ten years ago they were architects as well.  And they changed.  Like Yamizaka-san, they had this weird idea that architecture should serve people.  Imagine that!

Yamizaka-san, like my friends at Elos, had never heard of Appreciative Inquiry or Asset-Based Community Development when they started their community work.  Like them, he began developing an approach that was based on listening – really listening – to people’s stories about what they want in their community.  He talks about how he coaches the teams of people he how sends how to “just listen.”  Don’t signal your agreement with what people are saying,” he says, “or they’ll start trying to tell you want they think you want to hear.”

Just Listen.

When we’re helping communities develop themselves from the inside out, the role of the outsider is to listen.  From a place of listening it is sometimes possible to offer an idea or two, a story from somewhere else, or some conceptual frameworks.  From a place of listening it is possible to respond to the true requests that arise in the group.  But it comes from this posture of listening.

In a conversation in the U.S. in September with my friend Nomura-san from Fuji-Xerox’s KDI, we started to develop the idea of the sacred outsider, a different role than the expert outsider.  The sacred outsider is a mirror, reflecting back the knowledge and wisdom present in the system while occasionally sharing a glimpse of possibilities from beyond.

It was a lively evening in Osaka.  People sparked each other’s enthusiasm and experience and shared their ideas about how communities can design themselves and how some of us can be sacred outsiders to that process.

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Global Summit of Future Centers


They came from all around the world.  Fifty from Japan, twenty from Israel, Denmark, the Netherlands, UK, Italy, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan.  An amazing production across culture.  They came to the lovely space of Fuji-Xerox’s Knowledge Dynamics Initiative (KDI) which organized and hosted the summit with support from The Future Centers Association.  Low […]

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White Ships and Future Centers


Over 150 years ago Admiral Perry’s Black Ship came to Japan and demanded that she open her doors to the world.  Ten years ago the White Ship set sail to unleash creativity in Japan and the world! Today I had the wonderful experience of being hosted by the Future Center of Tokio Marine & Nichido […]

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Social Innovation in Japan


I am back in the beauty of Japan.  Last week I worked with a group of 40 business leaders on social innovation.  We met in the autumn beauty of Nasu, a rural area north of Tokyo.  Those who came are the original members of the Future Center initiative from Fuji Xerox’s KDI — Knowledge Management […]

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Unleashing Leadership and Inspiring Innovation and Creativity in Japan


Once again I am awake in the middle of the Japanese night.  Head and heart buzzing from yesterday’s work.  I was invited to join KDI — Knowledge Management Initiative in Tokyo for a afternoon workshop with participants in their new Future Center.  KDI was started 10 years ago to work with knowledge creation and realationships […]

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