This is Cheryl Rose's response to What are you skating towards in 2012?
The Middle of Nowhere
Between the old and the new, there is a place that is a kind of nowhere-land and it is one of the most challenging places to be. It can be lonely and is full of uncertainty and tension. My work at the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR) has offered me many unique opportunities to meet and talk with some of the most brilliant individuals I’ve encountered so far in my lifetime. They are system thinkers, institutional entrepreneurs, maneuvering in quite complex environments, always scanning the system landscape, minds tuned, watching for the openings that can result in real and positive change in the world.
They know how it feels to let go of the old and familiar and intentionally make the leap towards the new and innovative. What I hear them often refer to is an uncomfortable ‘space’ that is part of the journey; a ‘nowhere’ that is part of being in between. I want to skate towards that in 2012.
Most social innovators vividly recall experiencing, at some point, the unnerving sense of being somewhat lost, far from shore, compass-less. The most difficult part about feeling that you’re nowhere is that it is so fraught with uncertainty – yet this very uncertainty is a necessary, productive, rich part of the process of creating conditions for social innovation. I’ve listened to my brilliant colleague, Frances Westley, encourage students of the new Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation to rest in ‘not knowing’ for as long as it takes a truly innovative idea to emerge. She reminds us over and over again that there is a direct correlation between a person’s or group’s capacity to tolerate uncertainty and the capacity for creating true innovation.
We need to know that it’s not only okay to feel lost for a time in nowhere-land, but that nowhere is a kind of gift with much to teach us about our work and about ourselves. Wagoner’s beautiful poem, “Lost”, encourages wanderers to ‘stand still’ and to remember that although you may feel lost, the forest always knows where you are.
In 2012, I will skate more deliberately towards “the middle of nowhere”; gliding, sometimes elegantly, falling from time to time. I want to skate into those spaces of uncertainty and unknowingness because that is where encouragement is needed, and that is where important, complex questions appear:
“What does it mean to think like a system?”
“How do we manage risk so that we can experiment more in our communities?
“Are we trying to build resilience or knock it down?”
Skating, even if a bit wobbly-legged, in the middle of nowhere offers up these good questions and, ultimately, can reveal new patterns and ideas about what the answers might be. This year, I want to skate a few laps with others in this space of letting go and living with not knowing. Just long enough to open up new thinking for innovative action. Just long enough for courage and commitment to be strengthened.
Cheryl Rose is a creative educator, well loved by her students. She pioneered the development of Community Service Learning in universities throughout Canada. She currently coordinates the new Graduate Diploma Program in Social Innovation at the University of Waterloo. She is also a colleague at Social Innovation Generation – Waterloo.
Note: I am releasing individual essays from the collection, What are you skating towards in 2012? on a regular basis. Upcoming contributions are by Jacques Dufresne, Linda Perry, John Mighton, Linda Couture, Sherri Torjman and many others. You can access the accumulated essays here.