Posts Tagged ‘Gestalt’
Thursday, February 28th, 2013
By Barry Camson
I recently completed a study that looked at GISC as a network. The thesis of this study was that the community aspect of GISC which we have long been familiar with and appreciated really constitutes a network. Perhaps, the best way to describe it is as a latent network which in order to actualize its potential as a network requires our naming it, developing some language that enables us to speak about it as a network and recognizing the network characteristics that it possesses. All of this facilitates our intentional interventions to strengthen GISC as a network.
There are a variety of network attributes about which we could speak. I have previously written about many of these. On this occasion, I would like to view GISC as a network through a Gestalt lens.
Levels of system – the network level of system.
I have expanded common Gestalt categories of levels of system to include the network level of system which I believe is qualitatively different from the other levels. Though it is not always the case, I posit the network level of system as a type of the “largest present system” (LPS). Though a group could be a network, more often I suggest we would find a network as existing across organizational boundaries or extending into a regional, national or global community.
Well-developed and less-developed.
Networks commonly reflect what is well-developed and less developed. Network aspects that are well-developed or over-developed often involve a cost reflected in what is less developed. For example, when specific people in a network are over utilized as resources, it often means that other people are under-utilized. Network theory explains that without conscious intervention the adage that the “rich get richer” can often be the case. The consequences of this could be bottlenecks around the over-utilized person and isolation and lost input from the under-utilized person. Focusing on what is well-developed or less-developed is useful as a point of diagnosis and change. It allows us to “re-balance” the network.
Creative tensions: connection and production.
Networks have purposes and to be effective should have clearly acknowledged purposes. Networks vary in terms of what might be the purposes of the network. One schema of categorization views networks as having purposes of connection, alignment and production. These are evolutionary stages of a network in which the network first establishes connection, then may choose to build on this by aligning around a common ideology or language. Then a network may choose to add production as a purpose. Often purposes co-exist.
GISC has a purpose of connection supported by a culture of connection and values around interpersonal competency. At the same time, GISC has a purpose around the production of training, workshops, consulting and writing. Members vary in terms of their valence towards the purpose of connection or production. There is a creative tension within GISC on a network level of system between connection and production.
The Paradoxical Theory of Change can be applied here. Following this approach, the GISC network as a whole could be made aware of the existence of each polarity within the network. The practice of network mapping is an intervention that would increase awareness by visualizing these two creative tensions in operation within GISC. It could dramatize the network energy devoted to each. The role and value of each polarity within the GISC network can be acknowledged. This could in turn lead to explicit conversations about the role of both qualities.
Value propositions as structures of ground
Purposes are translated into value for members, customers and the public. This can be reflected in value propositions that cover each of these groups. The value proposition becomes an organizing and orienting mechanism for the network. Possible value propositions for GISC could be:
- Improve professional competencies and effectiveness.
- Transfer skills and theory.
- Build interpersonal competencies.
- Create good relationships.
- Build a better world.
A value proposition acts as structured ground in the network which then continues to influence future figure formation.
Integration of strategic and intimate.
This tension between production and connection can also be seen as a tension between the “strategic” and “intimate.” Another way of looking at this tension at GISC is arguably between the world of OD, leadership and organizations and the world of therapy. In the first, the effective completion of tasks is primary. In the second, relationships and intimacy are primary.
GISC constantly strives to integrate these two worlds. In the past, a major way that GISC ensured the integration of these two was through Edwin and Sonia [Nevis]. They represented, as founders and as husband and wife, the real and symbolic effort to maintain this integration. This integration remains an inherent challenge of the 21st century Gestalt enterprise.
The network cluster as a manifestation of figure formation.
A network competency is the ability to form fluid figures throughout the system in response to new internal and external challenges. Members join in new and different relationships with one another in responding to these challenges. Both the Healthcare and Education Initiatives at GISC are good examples of how GISC organized itself to respond to these challenges. When people have been energized to come together in pursuit of new knowledge or action, the result is what has been called a cluster or community of practice or simply a new initiative.
Creation of a fresh figure as a path to innovation.
For GISC to be sustainable, it needs to exist as a fluid overall figure composed of other fluid figures. This fluidity results in ongoing fresh and rich figures. In this regard innovation becomes key. This includes innovation in programs and services, in governance and in the underlying content and process theories of the GISC network. Innovation needs to flow into action and into contact that changes GISC members, organizations and the world.
Innovation requires a diversity of members. It requires a movement of members into and out of the GISC system in order to keep the system fresh and fully in tune with its environment. It requires contact among members of GISC that is rich and in keeping with system values around connection. It requires a flow of knowledge from outside in, from inside out and throughout the system. Innovation requires clear goals from the core governance mechanism and ample space for new ideas to emerge that furthers GISC system purposes. Innovation requires an appropriate degree of support for these points of collaboration.
In essence, innovation arises from the integration of planfulness and emergence just as it does from the intimate with the strategic. Innovation requires sufficient goal directed behavior to make good contact with the surrounding business community as well as serendipity that makes contact with the hearts, minds and souls of its members.
Awareness as an intervention
I believe that networks are qualitatively different from traditional organizations and that interventions need to be adjusted to this new reality. The practitioner community is in an early stage of doing this. At this point, I want to posit one intervention for the network level of system that has strong continuity with Gestalt practice. This is the critical role of awareness as a guiding intervention. Though the concept is familiar, its application is more challenging at this level of system.
The thesis of this article is that we help to further the network potential of GISC by being more aware of its nature as a network. One can ask, is there a phenomenology of networks? We can observe and point out aspects of network governance, inclusion, interaction, funding, facilitation and knowledge sharing. We can also reflect back who talks to whom, about what, with what frequency, in what groupings. We can also point out how the flow of work overlaps with these groupings.
The challenge at the network level of system is how to cultivate this awareness at a network level of system.
It is my hope that the insights set out in this article will help everyone involved in GISC continue to make it a vibrant and giving network.
Barry Camson is an organization development consultant and trainer and professor of management (www.barrycamson.com). He has been a Gestalt practitioner for many years. A current focus of his work is on using networks effectively to connect, do business and support innovation. He can be reached at email@example.com.
 “Net Gains,” Peter Plastrik, Madeleine Taylor, v.1, Pg. 33.
 “Gestalt Reconsidered,” Gordon Wheeler, 1991.
Friday, September 7th, 2012
GISC Executive Director, Mary Anne Walk talks to Seán Gaffney about the upcoming Roots V Conference devoted to Gestalt OD, which he will chair along with fellow GISC faculty member Joseph Melnick on November 1-4, 2012. In this interview, Seán shares stories about planning the early conferences with Edwin Nevis, how the conference series has evolved, what to expect at Roots V, who should plan to attend, and what makes “Roots” so exciting for Gestalt practitioners and theorists alike.
MW: Hi Seán. Thanks for sitting down to talk to me about the Roots V Conference that will be held just outside of Stockholm this fall. It’s November first through fourth, will focus on Organizational Development and is dedicated to Edwin Nevis. Is that correct?
MW: I want to ask you a few questions about this because the conference has a strong heritage. Before beginning can you just say a few words about your engagement with Gestalt theory and the movement through the last several years?
SG: I came to the Gestalt world in 1986 when I had my first Gestalt training. I completed a four year Gestalt therapist training program in Sweden and then the Cleveland International OSD program. So I trained both as a therapist and in OD. My background also includes being a lecturer in cross-cultural management at the Stockholm School of Economics. And then in 1995/1996 I met Edwin when I did the international OSD program, and then joined the faculty. I shared with Edwin the fascination for social applications and organizational applications. We had many, many conversations, and there probably isn’t anything we haven’t spoken about.
MW: So you’re very steeped in the whole theoretical process of Gestalt as well as the application of it, which I think is very important for the different types of people who might attend the conference. It’s not just theoretical, but also the application of the theory as well. And Joe Melnick, the other co-chair has been around the Gestalt therapy and movement for a similar or maybe an even longer time. So he’ll be there as well to oversee the conference. Can you give me a little bit of the history of the Roots Conference, because this is Roots V?
SG: Well it all began in the many conversations Edwin and I had over the years about how you can’t have an international study center if it’s totally based and staffed by people of one country. So, in one of our evening sessions on the porch in his house in Wellfleet, we came upon the idea of the European Roots of Gestalt therapy. Paris was the first one. We had a great focus on all of the European pioneers. We had some great sessions on Sachs and on Sandor Ferencz who was a psychoanalyst, but his thinking was very similar to ours. We explored the theory that Fritz and Laura [Perls] brought with them from Europe to South Africa and then to America.
That conference went very well and gave rise to a number of papers, which were published either in the Gestalt Review or in the British Gestalt Journal.
The second conference was held in Antwerp, Belgium. We decided to continue the idea of the European roots. There we had some really fascinating presentations on Buber and Lewin to really go deeper into our roots. We even explored the European impact on Paul Goodman. And again the conference generated a number of papers. We were really interested in this connection between the conference and journal articles, which is why Joe Melnick and Malcolm Parlett (the founding editors of Gestalt Review and the British Gestalt Journal) were usually around. That connection was important to us.
Then, for Roots III, we shifted to exploring Gestalt in relation to society. I spoke about the North of Ireland, Brian O’Neil came from Australia to talk about Gestalt in Australia and its impact on the social field, and Raymond Saner brought us into the social and artistic environment in which Fritz and Laura lived and its impact on their thinking. We began to look at not just the impact of Gestalt on society but also the impact of society of Gestalt. Again that gave rise to a number of articles. By number IV we were beginning to wonder what is our next big thing. And then we decided on Gestalt in education, and we had that conference in Hungary.
MW: One of the questions that I had for you, you’ve already answered; how are Gestalt theory and the Roots conference impacting society? I now realize that when GISC started the education initiative immediately following the Roots IV conference, Belinda Harris, one of the presenters came here and did an internship to help that initiative to get off the ground, along with several other interested people. It has given rise to several programs that have been developed for teachers and administrators. Would you tell me about the conference format?
SG: Both Edwin and I agreed that the most deadening thing we could create would be a series of two-hour presentations where you had to choose your workshop, thus missing all of the others. So everybody got a bit of something, but nobody got the whole picture. So we decided that this would be a small conference where everyone was involved with everything and everyone else, all the time. We kept presentations short. We said to presenters, “aim at 30 minutes and if you start heading toward 45 we’ll stop you. We want to aim at a really focused input. The real work is when the participants break up into small groups and discuss your input and come back with questions and thoughts, and then we expand it. So, don’t try to say everything in your presentation. The presentation is the starting point.” We found that over the years the discussions that began in small groups would continue over lunch, over dinner and then breakfast, resulting in a wonderful exchange of ideas.
MW: A real intellectual exchange.
SG: A real intellectual exchange in which we really dig into our theory, play with it, turn it inside out, add and subtract from it; a real sense of developing a solid cognitive base for what we were doing.
MW: So tell me, what is the spread of people who have attended these conferences?
SG: The spread is from those who would regard themselves as primarily theorists, those who are interested in method, and those who are practitioners. Over the years we have seen the connection between the importance of theory to inform practice and the importance of practice to inform theory.
MW: How are the Roots Conferences set up?
SG: We always try to have a local institute involved as host so that we have people on the ground who really knows the location to help us and support us. We are lucky to have three institutes sponsoring and supporting this Conference. We have two that GISC has an alliance with; namely, the Gestalt Academy of Scandinavia, a training institute, and Perlan, an OD business consultancy. We will also be sponsored by Norlin & Partners, an OD consultancy with a long term relationship to GISC. Perlan and Norlin & Partners will be inviting their business associates, their customers, and their clients to come and join us to get a sense of what it is that Gestalt OD thinking has to offer them.
MW: I’ve sensed that for the last 20 years that I’ve been involved with Gestalt that the thinking evolves with what’s happening in the environment. I’m interested in knowing your opinion. The vision of GISC is transforming the way you live and work in the world. How do you think that the Roots V conference aligns with that vision and can help extend the teachings and theory around?
SG: Roots is a pretty unique conference. I know of few conferences with such a focus on applied theory that also provide a format where we can talk theory in a meaningful way and see the connection to method and from method to application. I think it is really, really important. This is fundamental to GISC’s value of having a sound cognitive base for the actions it does and programs it offers.
MW: Without interfering in the local culture, I think.
SG: Yes, this is important. Our goal from the start was to not compete with anyone local. We look for cooperation with someone local so that together we can meet a local population.
MW: That’s helpful. This conference will recognize Edwin Nevis as the father of Gestalt OD. You’ve known him as a friend, a mentor, a teacher, a buddy, but what does it mean to you when you think about Edwin as the father of Gestalt OD? What does that mean to you in the practice of OD in the world?
SG: I think Edwin was the first person with a good grounding in Gestalt who saw the connection between organizational psychology and Gestalt therapy; He recognized that Gestalt therapy theory, organizational thinking, and organizational development were a match. He was the first to bring the theory of Gestalt therapy and the method of Gestalt therapy into the workplace and apply it; that it was absolutely valid to talk to a manager or a leader about awareness. It made perfect sense to Edwin. It wasn’t anything you needed to be embarrassed about, and that once the people that he and, at the time, Dick Wallen worked with began to understand the impact of increased awareness on how they worked, it was so obvious to them too. He saw this before anyone else. He had a solid – absolutely rock solid – understanding of OD, a rock solid understanding of Gestalt theory, and he put the two of them together, creating a synthesis, which is unbeatable.
MW: His book Organizational Consulting is so very digestible. Even someone not steeped in Gestalt theory can take that book and really get a lot out of it. In fact, it’s still being used at many schools today in the OD field. I know that you have several topics that have already been identified that you will address at this conference and I’m wondering if you could give our readers just a couple of highlights?
SG: The opening one on Gestalt OD roots will honor Edwin, because Edwin was a historian. He regarded himself as an amateur historian, and he was always aware of the importance of the history of an idea in understanding it. So, we will be looking at some of the original roots beginning at the New York Institute, the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, at National Training Labs (NTL) and at Esalen. Then we will look at how these spread into the various institutes which have long had Gestalt OD training: for example at the Gestalt Institute of Scandinavia that has had OD for over 25 years. We’ll also be looking at various applications such as coaching, large-scale organizational transformation, and leadership. For example, three of the presenters have published a book in Sweden on leadership and adult development. It’s a quite fascinating book. They’re going to be presenting their ideas. We also have some people who work in industry who completed the Masters’ Program in Gestalt OD in Sweden. We’ll be asking them “please tell us, how Gestalt has impacted you as a manager?”
MW: What else would you like to offer those that could benefit from attending the Roots V conference?
SG: I would say that if you come you will have the most exciting, varied and rich conversations about Gestalt OD that you’ve ever had for a long, long tome, because we never stop talking.
MW: That’s one good thing about Gestalt; it never ends, it just keeps going, the picture keeps expanding. Well Dr. Gaffney I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
SG: Thank you.
MW: Thank you.
Tuesday, August 21st, 2012
By Jodi Paloni
The only thing better than facing challenging life transitions with intention, is meeting them head-on with a room full of equally excited people confronting similar, yet unique, developing edges. You realize there is nothing to be afraid of. You’re part of an ever-growing “in” crowd.
Last spring, on the brink of turning fifty, I’d just about finished my coaching certification program at the Gestalt International Study Center, ready to start a new career after 25-years of teaching. My partner and I were recently engaged to be married, his father needing more and more care six hours away in Pennsylvania. If those weren’t enough transitions for one plate, we found ourselves shocked by news that I would become a grandmother by winter. Did I mention we had decided to put our house in Vermont on the market to move closer to the ocean?
As conditions gathered for the perfect storm, I received an e-mail invitation from GISC to attend a program called The Next Phase: Life Strategies for Navigating Personal and Professional Transitions. It took me about sixty-seconds to sign up.
But this four-day workshop turned out to be far more than a short-course in strategies for moving forward. Instead, I was asked to take stock of where I resided presently (emotionally, physically, mentally) in my life, by engaging in a creative exploration of the past that led me there. What struck me, as I spent time alone, remembering and sketching a pictorial view of “The Experiences That Shaped Me,” then shared my discoveries in a small group, was the tendency I had to assign meaning and value to particular memories. Water as part of place was definitely a factor. Surprisingly, the role my three grandmothers played in shaping my character emerged in great proportions compared to some other events such as travel and education.
The group sharing was powerful. When it was my turn to talk, I heard new ideas about my life coming from my own mouth before I had a chance to think them. More important, in the careful listening to others’ stories, I found resonance with the meaning in their lives, again and again. The model of participatory learning fueled my growth whether it was my story on the table, or not. When others spoke, I gleaned aspects of myself that had not yet emerged. The experience was mutual. My excitement in this realization confirmed my passion for courageous conversation, supporting my new career path as coach.
The beauty of the GISC workshop model schedule is that there is loads of “free time” built into each day. A long walk on the beach at lunchtime to think about what my grandmothers mean to me, to dream about the kind of grandmother I want to become, for example, became invaluable for the integration of the morning material. The calming presence of the sea settled deep in my bones, substantiating my growing need to locate closer to water. My questions were complex, my style creative. The intricate all-encompassing design of the course met my need to immerse in a composite of experiences. Down time scheduled after morning work established energy for fresh work in the afternoons.
Mining the past readied me for “Mapping My Current Life” a visual memoir of the present. In activating the right side of the brain, the theoretical voice in the head, the part of the brain that thinks linearly, the voices that have solidified my default script all of these years, would be sidestepped temporarily to allow the true story to manifest from the sub-conscious.
I found my map resembling three over-lapping cloud shapes to represent my three roles in life: woman, mother, professional. The size of each cloud, unplanned, bore significance. I noticed the spaces marked mother and professional were diminished more than if I had made the map a few years back, when a single mother in a full-time career, allowed for little room for space me as a woman. Yet, when a large green triangle block signifying money appeared on the paper, spearing my professional “cloud,” I could see that it was time for growth as a professional to, once again, be considered as significant part of the future. Fortunately, the workshop allowed for process time to view the work, make connections, generate meaning, and use what I now understood about my overall journey to “Envision the Future.”
Getting back to the script I’d played in my head until now, The Next Phase workshop offers a powerful opportunity to challenge those loud-mouthed demons, the voices in our heads, that tell us why we can’t be or have or do what we want in our futures, the voices that keep us small. Instead of moving forward with our new ideas and plans, we were asked first to pause, to take the much needed time to validate the presence of negative thoughts and degrading influences. How might the past stand in our way?
Up to this point in the workshop, we’d used visual pictorial learning modalities and the more conventional communication skills to engage the curriculum. Now we found ourselves up on our feet, fully immersed in a potent role-playing session, in which we could, literally, “break-through the self-talk” and re-construct the messages we’d prefer to hear.
I’d attended three transition retreats, earned a master’s degree and a coach certification in the past three years from various institutions and centers with the purpose to discover my calling for the third phase of life, hone a purpose, see the clear path. I’d heard inspirational speakers, received one-on-one coaching sessions, made collages, read books, wrote in reams, and listened to self-help tapes. I had even worked with a clairvoyant who comforted me by confirming things I already sensed about myself. But it wasn’t until I was surrounded by a circle of new friends, comrades who held a sincere desire to support each other’s dreams and visions, who spoke the words that would not hold me by my ankles, but words that would lead me forward, that I felt clear-minded in my vision. With clarity, I bought in.
Recently my younger daughter purchased a digital camera that requires knowing how to use a lens. I stood beside her as she received instruction on the basics of aperture. My experience of The Next Phase was just that. Over the four-days, I scanned the landscape of self. I studied the background and honed the foreground until a figure emerged and became the point of interest. And like in the well-made photographs I favor, the focal point in a scene or a portrait becomes more notable when the landscape informs its position in the piece.
On the final day, I reviewed the overall composition of my vision once more, a “fattening of the figure” and developed an action plan, which included tangible and deliverable actions for achieving SMART goals. In a nutshell, the overall strategy I took away from the weekend, in the words of our facilitator, was this… “dream big, start small, act now.”
In writing this, I have spread before me the maps I made, the notes I took, the poems and journal entries crafted beside the sea, and the list of the seventeen participants in my cohort. It was difficult to say good-bye to a group that shared so deeply and generously, and the feeling of support we held for one another. I’m certain that if any one of them was to stop and think of me today, it would be with only the best intentions for my success and happiness, just as I think of them.
As for my plan, to believe in the gifts I developed and the dreams I’ve created and to offer them to grandbabies and the whole wide world alike, I’m working on it, step-by-step, every day, a little closer to the past, the present, and the future.
Tuesday, January 10th, 2012
By David Tunney, Executive Director
In 2011, GISC co-founder Edwin C. Nevis, PhD, passed away on his 85th birthday. The memorial service held at the Center included an outpouring of condolences and support and occurred between the launch of Professional Associates and the first annual Community Gathering. A fine tribute indeed to Edwin’s life and legacy. Many fond remembrances of Edwin also appeared in the last issue of the 2011 Gestalt Review, GISC’s academic journal co-founded by Edwin. One reflection in particular seems appropriate here: “He was huge in the ways in which he touched and impacted so many lives through his friendships, consulting, teaching, writing, and especially his mentoring of so, so many people.”
A founding father of process consulting, Edwin taught at MIT’s Sloan School of Management for 17 years and served as director of the school’s program for senior executives. He also launched dozens of study groups, conferences, and programs at GISC. Edwin had a passion for lifelong learning and leading, and so does GISC. Though Edwin is gone, his legacy continues as strong as ever, evidenced by upcoming programs and successful initiatives. In 2012, we are pleased to offer Roots V: Gestalt Organizational Development in honor of Edwin. The conference will be held in Stockholm with co-sponsors Gestalt Academy of Scandinavia and Perlan Dialogue and Leadership.
The Education Initiative is one of many undertakings inspired and fostered by Edwin. GISC faculty are now working with school systems from Cape Cod to Maine, ranging from elementary grades to colleges; and in 2012 there will be two programs at GISC specifically designed for educators.
The Healthcare Initiative is going strong after the successful design and delivery of a customized leadership and mentoring program for physicians and their teams at an Alaskan native, relation-based, healthcare organization. We are also honored to have two healthcare industry experts as co-faculty in one of the leadership programs.
This 2012 program catalogue reflects the extraordinary efforts and capabilities of GISC Professional Associates, faculty, and guest faculty in transforming the way we live and work in the world. Whether for leaders, practitioners, or individuals, all program tracks have many new exciting offerings and faculty.
For Leaders, we offer a new series of Executive Forums starting in January with Setting Up New Worlds: Organizing Our Futures. The outcome of the January program will help shape the agenda of the May and September Forums. In addition, we now offer a program that will integrate Gestalt-based leadership principles with proven methods for creating a continuous improvement culture. Another new program will help leaders improve virtual work team effectiveness. This year we also welcome two new co-faculty for the popular cornerstone program for senior executives, Leadership in the 21st Century. Three other highly successful programs will be offered including Leadership Transitions which will be conducted in New York City.
For Practitioners including consultants, coaches, change agents, psychotherapists, lawyers, healthcare providers, and other service professionals, the Cape Cod Model programs continue to be successful, well-attended anchors for GISC. Most of our programs are eligible for continuing education credits by the American Psychological Associate (APA) and/or the International Coach Federation (ICF).
In 2012, the renowned Cape Cod Training Program will be offered in Stockholm, Sweden, in association with the Gestalt Academy of Scandinavia, as well as in Wellfleet. For organization development professionals, we continue to offer a series of programs for fulfillment of the Advanced Practice OD Consulting Certificate. And for existing and prospective coaches seeking new skills and ICF certification, we now offer the Competency Development Program for Coaching Certification, with accreditation expected in 2012.
For Individuals, we will continue to offer the popular Next Phase program along with Women’s Wisdom and several other programs. In addition, we are excited to offer a new Summer Series 2012 of workshops for personal growth and exploration on diverse topics for mind, heart, and body. We will also be hosting our second annual Community Gathering in June, an event where newcomers and old-timers attend free workshops to explore the latest research and theory development, new program offerings, and GISC initiatives.
Nestled in the woods of Wellfleet, a short distance from the world-famous Cape Cod National Seashore, GISC offers a retreat-like training facility in an ideal location. Many participants return year after year not only for the programs but to reconnect with a world-wide community dedicated to lifelong learning, teaching, consulting, writing, coaching and mentoring.
And when you become a member of GISC, you will receive an annual subscription to the Gestalt Review. Please contact us if you have any questions. See you on Cape Cod!
Thursday, June 2nd, 2011
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.
Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
For GISC, 2010 has been a year of transitions, awards, successes, new opportunities—and challenges. Like you, perhaps, I believe there is an enormous need in the world today for the programs and services offered by GISC. Fortunately, we are well positioned to expand into new areas; however, we need your financial support. Therefore, this year’s annual campaign is about Funds for Growth!
In the years since Edwin and Sonia founded GISC in 1979 for study and research, GISC has grown to serve individuals and organizations worldwide. Our current momentum is exciting and puts us at a crossroads familiar to many organizations: the need for funds to ensure our ability to keep up with increased demand and opportunity. This year especially, we need your donations to support our growth. Here’s what we’re doing and how you can help.
This year’s biggest story is the extent to which GISC is expanding its base of operation from Wellfleet. We have a substantial new venture at a healthcare organization in Alaska and momentum to fulfill 2011 growth goals elsewhere in the US, Canada, and Europe as well. We are – as our name states – a truly international organization.
In Alaska, the GISC Healthcare Initiative is working to transform a major healthcare organization into a team-based, collaborative medical practice. An on-site, GISC-trained consultant is working with other GISC practitioners to provide a better model for medical care for Native Alaskans.
On the educational front, we have two new ventures. We will begin teaching GISC courses in the Leadership and Organization Development MS Program at
St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA. This strategic education initiative gives GISC greater impact and visibility and will position us to extend our programs into other colleges.
Second, the GISC Education Initiative – and its extraordinary team – is preparing to launch a “demo project” in 2011. The goal is to teach teachers GISC methods and demonstrate the results: improved skills and reduced dropout rates. This exciting project could be replicated and make a major impact on education.
In leadership – where GISC already has a well-established reputation for quality – we are preparing to offer programs in Toronto and/or Ottawa. Because our Leadership Consortium members have been so pleased, several members now want us to bring our proven, successful programs to their employees.
In Europe we have been asked to develop a strategic alliance with a leading Gestalt center and with Gestalt-based consulting firms. We expect to offer several courses – including the Cape Cod Training Program – throughout 2011 and beyond in many different European countries.
As you may be aware, the core history of GISC is based on the creation of new methods and theories, so in 2010 we honored our roots and launched the Leadership and Organizational Development Initiative (LODI). This effort will analyze GISC’s unique approach to leadership and result in a new Gestalt-based offering that will help us work even more effectively with large and small systems.
Finally, I am pleased to announce that this year also saw one of GISC’s own founders and leaders, Edwin Nevis, receive the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Organization Development (OD) Network! This award honors an individual whose commitment to the field of OD and achievements over the course of a lifetime have made a significant contribution to the OD profession. Please join us in congratulating Edwin on his many and remarkable achievements, now formally acknowledged by the professional community.
The remarkable history and past success of GISC combined with our current growth opportunities offers exciting expansion prospects for 2011. However, we need your financial support and ask that you donate to position GISC for sustainable growth. Here are a few examples of donation needs and dollars at work:
· The Nevis Scholarship Fund: provides financial support for participants to any program.
· Program-Specific Scholarships: provides financial support for a program of your choice, such as Leadership in the 21st Century; Nonprofit Leadership; or Next Phase: Life Strategies for Navigating Personal and Professional Transitions.
· Education Initiative: supports development and delivery of GISC courses and methods in education.
· Donor’s Choice: Is there something particular you would like to fund? Last year, a donor provided funding for a survey to understand the impact of our programs in the lives of participants.
“Be generous, it’s good for the heart.” Sonia March Nevis
If you donate $125 or more, you will receive your annual GISC Membership benefits. If you donate $500 or more, you can allocate that money to a specific program or initiative mentioned above. If you donate $1,000 or more, you are invited to attend a special event with Edwin and Sonia next spring.
Please give today according to your means and intention to sustain and grow the impact of GISC in Wellfleet and throughout the world.