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Edwin Nevis’ Lifetime of Innovation

By Bob Eason

Editor’s note: The following article was written to celebrate Edwin Nevis, his life, and the Lifetime Achievement Award he was recently awarded by the Organization Development Network at its 2010 Conference in New Orleans. Sadly, Edwin passed away before the article could be published in our newsletter. We have decided to go ahead and run the article in its original entirety. It is a salute to a man who spent his entire life helping others reach their full potential.

Edwin Nevis Recognized for Lifetime of Innovation

The amazing thing about Edwin Nevis is that his passion for making the world a better place still burns bright after nearly 60 years at the forefront of the organization development movement. In recognition of that fire, and his pioneering work with organizational consulting, the Organization Development Network recognized Edwin with its 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award.

“It’s a real honor,” the co-founder of the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) responded when asked what the award means. “It’s a reward for years of work. As recognition from my peers, it’s the culmination of my career.” And what a career it has been.

After spending over a half century in the organizational consulting field, Edwin Nevis has introduced literally thousands of consultants, coaches, therapists and leaders to an approach which has become the very foundation upon which GISC and its core programs have been built. “I’ve been involved with leadership since 1955 and training people from all over the world, the organizational practitioner explains. “The work is truly global in scope. My colleagues and I have worked with management from South Africa to Sweden, even the U.S. Presidency.”

What attracts so many OD consultants to Edwin and Gestalt International Study Center? Unlike most Gestalt institutions, who deal only with therapy, GISC works with couples, groups and organizations. It is an approach that is experiential rather than theoretical. “Our approach is hands-on,” Edwin says. “The goal is to create tools that will enrich our participants’ lives with greater self awareness, interpersonal and professional skills.”

Edwin’s approach is built on a set of principles that begin with self awareness. “It’s a question of how one interacts with the world,” he explains. How you are perceived by others. The impact your behavior has on others. Then there is what we call skillful dialogue. It’s how you interact with others in a skillful way. For example, dealing with difficult conversations such as performance reviews. And then there’s the ability to receive information from others. You need to receive information from others and hear what they saying … not just shout them out. It all leads to the ability to influence others.”

These principles are part of a body of work that is rooted in years of experience dating back to 1956 when Edwin co-founded the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. While serving as president and a member of the faculty, he also co-created the well known Organization and System Development Program and the OSD International Program. But his fascination with Gestalt psychology and group dynamics actually dates back to his early college studies in New York City.

It was while there that he was first introduced to Gestalt by a legendary group of expatriate German teachers who had migrated to New York City at the dawn of World War II. Today, Edwin is the second oldest living practitioner who studied under the originators of the movement. These included such legendary pioneers as Fritz and Laura Perls, Isadore From and Paul Goodman. “We were out to change the world,” he remembers. “There were lots of free flowing ideas being bounced around. I guess it was just a question of being in the right place at the right time.”

The right place for Edwin soon became the Sloan School of Management at MIT. Heading back East, he taught courses in organizational change and consulting for 17 years. He also served as a core faculty member and Director of the MIT Program for Senior Executives. It was also during this time, the early 60’s, that Edwin and his wife Sonia March Nevis, pioneered a new vision of what enriches relationships. Edwin’s focus was on organizations and consulting.

Eventually tiring of constantly being on the road consulting, and in search of yet another challenge, Edwin and Sonia co-founded the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) in 1979. Located in Wellfleet, MA, GISC is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to leadership, professional and organizational development. It offers advanced training for leaders, practitioners and individuals. GISC’s mission is to encourage advances in the application of Gestalt to the fields of family therapy, leadership, coaching and organizational consulting. Edwin continues to teach there and sits on the Board of Directors.

Over the years, Edwin has also been the author of numerous articles and several books including Organizational Consulting: A Gestalt Approach; International Revolutions (with Lancort and Vassallo); How Organizations Learn (with DiBella) and recently released by GISC, Mending the World: Social Healing Interventions by Gestalt Practitioners Worldwide (co-edited by Joseph Melnick).

Teaching. Publishing. Consulting. Some 60 years after he first started, Edwin Nevis’ passion to make the world a better place is still a driving force in his life. Today, at an age when most of his peers have long ago settled into retirement, Edwin is still going strong. He has career goals and unfinished business. In fact, even now; he is working to introduce his organizational approach to America’s educational system through a demonstration project at a community college in Connecticut and at a Cape Cod school system.

When asked what he’s the most proud of after all these years, Edwin quickly ticks off the accomplishments without skipping a beat. “First, my marriage and family, then doing good work and the influence I’ve had on people, he proudly states. “Over the years it has led to work with organizations based on a growing recognition of the skills you need in life and your professional world.”

But Edwin doesn’t stop there. “You know, I’m a 100% living embodiment of the American dream. I was the first to go to college from my family. And because of that I’m rooted in a certain set of values,” he says. “ I’m not a crusader … or a utopian … I simply believe in the working man. The dignity of work,” It’s something I inherited from my father and that I’ll always carry with me.”

Which might explain why after all these years, Edwin Nevis is still trying to make the workplace, and the world, a better place.

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