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In barely one generation, we’ve moved from exulting in time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them—often in order to make more time.

The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug.

—Pico Iyer

The transformational leadership organization the Leadership Learning Community has hosted a number of events called simply “Creating Space”. The hope behind each of these events—and indeed, behind LLC and many organizations like it looking at social justice and sustainability from a new perspective—is to create a meaningful opportunity for reflection and sharing ways of working more effectively to create change.

As many of us return from the holiday season and from end-of-year breaks, there’s often the feeling of the entire year unfolding before us, of new and continuing projects looming. I’ve spoken to several clients and colleagues over the past week and they’ve shared how overwhelmed they already feel just two or three weeks into the new year.

We need to pay attention to the spaces between meetings, calls, and events on our calendars as equal opportunities to advance our work—and not simply as time to grind away in front of our computers. Where can we schedule time in our day to reflect on what we are learning in our work, to pose questions—to ourselves and to co-workers—about how to improve our performance, or to just take a walk and get a breath of fresh air (rather than eat lunch at our desks again)?

I’m a big proponent of sabbaticals from our work and our technology as part of our work—and I have written about this several times over the past years. A recent article by Pico Iyer, from which the above quote is drawn, points to a growing trend of people trying to escape the technologies that have made us reachable all the time.

Space allows us to take a break, and to see more clearly. I’ve seen too many plans and projects fall victim to unrealistic expectations or too little time consulting with colleagues and partners—and if we want to create the kind of change many of us care so deeply about, we can’t afford to do this. So we need to go slower than we’d like, even though the issues we face are urgent.

When I first started DIG IN, my inaugural post began with a Deena Metzger quote I just shared with a friend while on a hike this past weekend:

There are those who are trying to set fire to the world.

We are in danger.

There is only time to act slowly.

There is no time not to love.

No matter how important our work it (and it all is), we can undermine our efforts by not creating the space necessary to truly understand the best ways to move forward and work together. “No is the New Yes”, a blog post by Tony Schwartz in the HBR blog, points to the importance of setting boundaries and slowing down to our productivity, and suggests some practices to assist with this. I’ve also written about this in a previous post on The Power of No.

In my work, I’ve seen “slowing down” not as a detriment, but as one of the most important factors preceding critical breakthroughs—whether in communities organizing the grassroots for change, in groups  working on their own communication and conflict-resolution, or for coalitions working together around policy reform.

My hope for you in the year to come is for success in your work and to be fulfilled in whatever it is you have wished for—and I’d also invite you to join me in the challenging yet vital practice of creating space as a step toward creating the change you’d like to see in the world.


FEATURED RESOURCE: Structuring Leadership

The Building Movement Project recently released a new paper entitled Structuring Leadership where they look at new ways of sharing and distributing leadership in organizations.

Among the foundational practices they identify to create alternative leadership structures are trust, values, learning and time. The idea of time, they point out, is not just the patience required to create change but also the dedication to making space within the organization for transformation to occur.


FEATURED POEM: Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda


Keeping Quiet


Now we will count to twelve

and we will all keep still

For once on the face of the earth,

let’s not speak in any language;

let’s stop for a second,

and not move our arms so much.


It would be an exotic moment

without rush, without engines;

we would all be together

in a sudden strangeness.


Fishermen in the cold sea

would not harm whales

and the man gathering salt

would not look at his hurt hands.


Those who prepare green wars,

wars with gas, wars with fire,

victories with no survivors,

would put on clean clothes

and walk about with their brothers

in the shade, doing nothing.


What I want should not be confused

with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about.


If we were not so single-minded

about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,

perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves with



Perhaps the earth can teach us

as when everything seems dead in winter

and later proves to be alive.


Now I’ll count up to twelve

and you keep quiet and I will go.


—Pablo Neruda

January 2012