From the emaillist, August 2012:
I am a huge fan of the Chaordic Stepping Stones and use them a lot, primarily, but not at all exclusively, for strategic planning.
A few times recently we have come to a bit of a dead end with Beliefs that Limit. It’s as if the group are overwhelmed by their limiting beliefs and don’t know where to go with them. Invariably we haven’t had time to process them adequately and they are left hanging (the beliefs as opposed to the people, but not an altogether unhelpful metaphor!). Apart from the timing challenge I wonder if anyone has any experiences to share about what they have done with beliefs that limit? Of course the awareness is helpful and making some of the beliefs conscious and shared has been bonding.
This has also made me wonder about that stepping stone in terms of why we only ask about beliefs that limit? It seems to be coming from a deficit model and is hardly an appreciative inquiry. I recently did an exercise (World Café format) with rounds about beliefs that enable, beliefs that limit and how we can use our enabling beliefs to overcome our beliefs that limit. It seems altogether more constructive. We are trying this again tomorrow with another group.
I’d be interested in other people’s views. Is there scope for a more appreciative inquiry relating to our Beliefs in the Chaordic Stepping Stones framework? Also what experience have people had with that particular stepping stone?
We often use The Work of Byron Katie to help clients work through the beliefs that limit.
This is usually an individual practice but once we worked with a client in a group setting to have 100 members of the community work on the thought that "we can't move forward because we will leave people behind." The day before a big open space, my partner Caitlin led the group through an inquiry on that thought and although not everyone got through it, there was a surprising liberation of that thought which enabled a more creative Open Space the following day.
It is important to ale an appreciative gaze to beliefs that enable, and The Work is a process that, by giving attention to the energy behind the beliefs that limit, enables people to find more creative ways through those beliefs.
So that is one way.
A good inquiry, and in fact surprised this has not come up earlier. This is something I have been noodling on for a while and have come to call that stepping stone "stories on the path or stories on the journey"...
I think that "Beliefs that limit" found its way into the Chaordic Stepping Stones party if not wholly through a few folks working with "the Work of Byron Katie" and so in part that approach is a specifically structured way of raising, and then inquiring into limiting beliefs, ie "4 questions and a turnaround". I graduated the School of the Work of Byron Katie 6 years ago and have done a number of workshops all deep diving in The Work of Byron Katie, and find it can be a powerful process and approach for addressing limiting beliefs. My caution would be that if you do evoke and have folks focus on "limiting beliefs" you need a facilitated and strong process that can very cleanly and clearly support folks to be free of those limiting beliefs.
On another note, I am not sure that "limiting beliefs" is necessarily the only name for this stepping stone, and it certainly is an later addition to the stepping stones and one that I think prefers one side of a two sided coin...ie focusing on what is limiting life vs focusing on what is giving life....both these roads lead to Rome within the Chaordic Journey, ie raising awareness and engaging practices that make explicit that our stories/beliefs systems and thoughts act as conscious and unconscious maps of the territory we are in... and making explicit that our maps exist, that we in fact act according to them... and that they are themselves not the territory, they are interpretations of the territory...
This of course heads straight into a core human inquiry in a number of "fields" and schools of though/practice. Phenomenology, Narrative Therapy, Appreciative Inquiry and I think The Work of BK and many other methods of engagement and inquiry are founded explicitly on the understanding and belief systems/cultures ect are largely unconscious and are in fact interpretations of reality... not reality itself.
Appreciative inquiry specifically and boldly states that "what we inquire into grows" and so if we want to grow more appreciative/life giving experiences, abilities and futures... then we may want to focus on the positive core of our works/experiences and harvest from them the life giving experiences/conditions for designing better futures. The Work of BK on the other hand, specifically and boldly hunts down limiting beliefs at play in our "meaning making" to inquire into them specifically to make explicit both that any belief has questionable truth within it... and more over to simply ask what is the benefit of living according to any limiting beliefs anyway? Byron Katie would say "a questioned mind has options", ie choice, freedom for designing a better future. Both these roads lead to Rome... and specifically Socrates... but that is another story...
So punch line.... my 2 cents would be, in teaching the Chaordic Journey we do want to raise consciousness of the fact we are using maps/stories/belief systems to make sense of our world... as Wallace Stevens said..."the absence of the imagination has itself to be imagined", the question is what "practices" help us do so in a life serving way AND what practices will support more choice, courage and wisdom in our actions and leadership in the world.
So facing the unknown in the chaord you can ask...
what are your fears and limiting beliefs that come up when thinking about going forward... ie inquiry into limiting beliefs, but I recommend a clear exit strategy if going into this territory...
"Remember a time when you were faced with going into the unknown and were able to step through fear and anxiety to act with consciousness, wisdom and skill for a life serving result"... Appreciative frame... this could then be used to step into practices or engaging our "positive cores".
Both are worthy paths in my experience.
So where there has to date been a stepping stone of "limiting beliefs" I would suggest an alternate Stepping Stone to be used by those working from an appreciative frame... ie something like "empowering experiences" or "empowering stories". Either could work and would be a matter of design of the teaching. I have been using the meta and neutral theme of "Stories along the Path". Then the inquiry can be framed either as an appreciative inquiry or inquiry into what limiting as a means of getting beyond those limits.
Good question Stephen and thanks for sparking this good fire...
Sometimes when dealing in the limiting beliefs step, I have felt like it is just the right time for things to come up. Often in a project if we are going more or less sequentially through the stepping stones, the beliefs are made clear once we have nailed down the need and purpose and got the people and the principles and the concept nailed. In fact, going into the conceptualizing part of the work often triggers limiting beliefs.
In my experience this is a good time to have an explicit conversation about what is making us tremble at the moment. If we have unresolved fears about what we are building and we don't talk about them, they will find a way into the structure of the initiative and they will be very hard to dislodge. I have seen organizations engage in planning where there was very little trust between units, and the planning exercise became a way of structuring silos so that people didn't have to deal with each other. Without dealing with the belief that "those guys don't know what they are doing" you get a five year plan based on the assumption that one group is more competent than another.
It doesn't always have to be a grand entry either. It would rarely be wise to say "OK... we have done tons of good work now. So let's stop and talk about what is holding us back..." Rather the process around this step flows a little more intuitively in my mind. There are almost always thoughts and beliefs that create limits around the possibilities that we are playing with. Naming them - either as a host or holding space for someone else to do so - can be a powerful act of leadership if, as David says, you have an exit strategy.
So maybe some good advice here is that you don't always have to enter the limiting beliefs step as deliberately as the others, but be careful not to design immutable structures if there are shadowy conversations that are yet to be held. You run the risk of pushing it all underground, where it can become very corrosive.
Basic principle here: Hold Space for Whatever Comes Up.
What are the chances, do you suppose, of it being more useful to ask people about empowering beliefs that they might hold?
How could we trigger them?
What could we do to stir up unresolved hopes?
Is it too simple to ask (along the way), what else do we need to do to ensure we have enough trust (or whatever) to make this work well for us?
Paul Z Jackson
I have a hunch that the origins of "limiting beliefs" may have been there from the very beginning.
If you read the "VISA story" where Dee Hock describes the events that later lead to the stepping stones - it was not until they were about to give up after having tried to crack at a solution for a few months (to the situation with all banks having their own credit or bank cards and none of them compatible). As they were ready to give up someone asked (in despair) "What is an organization anyway?" - which then released them to think totally differently at what money was and what an organization looks like. As they could not go straight for the solution - they began defining what they could - i.e. - purpose - principles (which were describing qualities or characteristics that the new solution needed to embrace) etc. -
So the lead up to actually letting go of their traditional way of thinking was long and hard - and after that they could let go of their limiting beliefs about money, organization etc. - I guess this situation may be difficult to replicate in a 1 or 2 day process; although it is probably very useful to bring this into everyones awareness.
So how to actually do this in a planned process is a good question indeed.
Thank you for sharing that story... many learnings here. What comes for me, is the key role of context... in this case, the preliminary process of having explored initial solutions for a few months, and encountered the limitations of all of them, which then eventually led to the place of futility, where they were ready to question old beliefs and ask themselves the provocative question of "what is an organization anyway?"
It's interesting to me, how many design processes often start with "defining purpose and principles", without having gone through the earlier stages... and, I'm not sure whether that is just a question of time, or whether there may be other underlying assumptions at work.
Some of us have found that "practical dialogue" approaches, such as dialogue mapping and choice-creating, are helpful for accomplishing this purpose of exploring initial solutions, in a much shorter time frame. There is a chapter on this at
In the meantime, here in our small town in Western Massachusetts, we received a phone call at 4:30 am this morning from our town's emergency department, warning us to stay indoors until further notice. There is an industrial fire right across the border in upstate New York, in a facility that handles large quantities of PCB's...
I am choosing to believe, that there may be a "silver lining" to all of this... our Environmental Protection Agency is in the middle of negotiations with General Electric, about their responsibility to clean up our local river from PCB contamination. Some of us have already been working on a public awareness campaign about this. Maybe this incident will result in greater numbers of people in our community, becoming active? We''ll see...
with all best wishes,
Love this thread I have to say...
I have just finished using the stepping stones on a strategic plan, and even if you do not do something immediately with the Limiting Beliefs, its great that they are there, to actually put them on the table.
Because they might surface along the path and it will not be completely out of the blue. It definitely helps to be aware and hold them with the intention of the purpose to move forward (or whichever way the path takes you!).
I do think that everything else in the process of the stepping stones and a plan in general are appreciative and should come from that appreciative place, but the Limiting Beliefs are a great way of also including the conflict or potential conflict and see how things unfold... the signs we have to watch out for in case they surface/materialize!
Sole Pons Caruso
Thank for your thoughts, and the history and context Monica.
I thought I would report back on the process we used Wednesday last with a client.
Just briefly the design was as follows:
Check-In Circle - "What is burning within you to want social and economic justice for all?"
Appreciative Storytelling - "Share a recent story of a person or situation that reflects the need for microfinance and financial systems change."
Silent Clustering - "If Good Shepherd Microfinance Microfinance should live up to its fullest potential what is the purpose we can adopt that will best meet the needs?"
Moving Conversation (Soft Shoe Shuffle) - What unique ways of doing work and being together can we bring to this work?"
World Cafe - Round 1 "What beliefs do we hold that will ENABLE us to deliver on our strategic pillars?" Round 2 "What beliefs do we hold that will LIMIT us from delivering on our strategic pillars?" and Round 3 "How can we use our ENABLING beliefs to overcome our LIMITING beliefs?"
Check-Out Circle "What key learning or insight have you gained from today?"
The beliefs world cafe was very powerful and brought into consciousness a raft of limiting beliefs, within a constructive context. (The other process that worked really well was the moving conversation.)
We received this feedback from the client this morning:
" Thanks again for a fantastic day. People were very impressed, especially those who had done lots of Strat. Plan days. This one is memorable!"
I hope sharing the above might spark some ideas and be helpful.