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Finding Your Purpose as a Group

June 13

stepping stones in water


About This Episode

(Season 5, Episode 24)

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Getting to a shared purpose as a group often requires digging a little deeper than usual. Jessica Beckendorf talks about the chaordic stepping stones, a  helpful tool for going below the surface with a group, and shares four questions that can help groups work toward a clear statement of purpose together.



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Bob: Hi, and thanks for joining us for the Practicing Connection podcast. I’m Bob Bertsch with Jessica Beckendorf. Hi, Jessica. How have you been?

Jessica: Hi, Bob. I’ve been pretty good this week. I actually had the chance to reread an essay by Derek Sivers called You don’t have to be local. As I was reading that essay, not in the middle of it, but this week when I was reading the essay, I also happened to receive an email from one of my community development listservs that was really making a lot of statements about how local is everything and we have to keep everything local. That interacting more with our neighbors and engaging more locally will be better for us and our communities in the long run.

These two opposing ideas, Derek Sivers’ idea of you don’t have to be local and the community development listserv saying local is everything were playing around in my mind a little bit this week. I do believe that engaging more locally with our neighbors, with our community is better for us and it’s better for our communities in the long run. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up as a military kid or I don’t know what the deal is, but I’ve never really felt local. To me, it’s inspiring to read Derek’s words because he’s basically proclaiming that we don’t have to be local if we don’t feel it, we can be global.

I don’t know how I feel yet. I think I’m going to keep giving local a try, but I’ve been thinking about this all week long. [chuckles] I really do believe in the power of the neighborhood, but this has been a good reflection and some validating words. If you don’t feel local, it’s okay because you can be global.

Bob: I love that. I love that you’re accepting, hey, there’s tension in this and that’s okay. We don’t have to pick one side or the other in this global local debate. I’ve been going back to a book that I pulled off of my shelf this week, inspired by the way by our discussion of character strengths in last month’s Practicasts. The book is Austin Kleon’s Keep Going. Super useful book. I highly recommend it. It outlines 10 ways to stay creative. One of the ways that I’ve been thinking a lot about this week and right now is forget the noun, do the verb. That’s about letting go of the thing that you’re trying to be, which is the noun and focusing on the actual work that you need to be doing, that’s the verb.

Instead of focusing on, I want to be a creative person, or I want to be an innovator, or I want to be a leader, which are labels and nouns, instead trying to focus on the work that you need to be doing, the verb, in order to maybe be that. I guess that’s changing my focus if I’m focusing on trying to be that, but just the work. Not trying to be a creative person, but just acting creatively. Love that book. That’s what I’ve been thinking about this week.

Jessica: No, I love that. All of Austin Kleon’s books are ones that I go back to over and over and over again, every time I need a little inspiration. I loved this idea of you can work creatively within the verb. You can work innovatively within the verb. You can be a leader within the verb. Just do the verb. [laughs]

Bob: Just do the verb, everybody.

Jessica: Verb, verb, verb. Verb is the word.


Bob: We’d love to hear what you’ve been thinking about and what’s inspiring you. Please share that with us. You can do that by clicking the send us a text message link at the top of the description of this episode. This is a new feature for us. When you click the link, your text messaging app will open. You’ll see a seven digit number and the words do not remove. Serious, do not remove. Type your message after that and then click send. Don’t remove that number or we’re not going to receive your message. That’s our identifier for the podcast. Just a note to protect your privacy. We’re not going to see your phone number and we can’t text you back. If you text us, we will share your feedback on an upcoming episode.

If you’re listening on a computer, obviously you can’t text us necessarily, but you can email us [email protected] Let us know what you’re thinking about, what’s inspiring you right now.


Jessica, let’s learn more about finding your purpose as a group. Can you tell us a little bit more about the practice you’ll be sharing and why you chose it?

Jessica: Of course I can. I love this practice. I chose a practice from the chaotic stepping stones. I’ll explain a little bit about chaotic because it’s a not really a word. It refers to a combination of words, the words chaos and order. It was first coined by Dee Hock, the founder of Visa International. The idea is that for change, there’s a sweet spot where chaos and order overlap and leadership, innovation and emergence thrive. If you go too far into chaos, it can be destructive. If you go too far toward control, the environment can be stifling.

The chaotic stepping stones is a series of practices that guide planning and action for groups to address issues that are important to them. It’s not a strictly linear process as each step can be revisited repeatedly and iterated on. I’m going to actually walk through what some people might call the second step, which is purpose. I chose this practice because I have found the chaotic stepping stones to be really helpful tool for going below the surface with a group. That’s because each step in the process is designed to encourage dialogue and connection.

Bob: Yes, I’m excited to hear more about this. Pulling back the curtain a little bit. We use the chaotic stepping stones when we created this podcast. When we had the very initial idea, we went to the stepping stones as a way of really developing that. That’s, as you said, one of the early steps, was finding our purpose. I’m really anxious to hear about the practice. Could you walk us through it?

Jessica: Yes, absolutely. Each step in the stepping stones is really a short series of questions that can be used to spur dialogue and develop, in this case, a shared purpose. I assembled these from a combination of sources from art of hosting practitioners, Jerry Nagel, Kathy Jordan, and Chris Corrigan. Here’s the series of questions. Use these in a group to spur some dialogue. The first question is, if this work should live up to its fullest potential, what do you imagine is possible? What could this work do, create, inspire, and or result in?

What is the next level for our work? Where should we be heading? Then finally, what is the purpose we can adopt that will best meet the need we are addressing? What you would do is have conversations around these questions and record the shared understanding that comes out of those conversations. As a group, then, co-write a clear statement of purpose for the work. I don’t recommend that you have one person take the notes from the shared understanding and have that one person write a purpose. I really think the group should do this together. Co-write a clear statement of purpose for the work, a statement that will guide the initial direction.

Don’t become too attached to this statement of purpose. As your group starts to deepen your work and make more connections, expect to make adjustments as you go because you’re going to probably invite more people in. You need to give them a chance also to share their perspectives, especially if they’re quite different from the group who initially got together. You can come back to the questions anytime. Expect to make adjustments, but definitely co-write that statement of purpose.

Bob: Thanks for sharing that, Jessica. I love the questions. Just so important, I think to have that shared sense of purpose. Speaking from experience, it’s easy to just assume we have our sense of purpose. We wrote it three years ago and never revisit it. I love your advice there.

Jessica: Yes. I actually even think a statement of purpose should be revisited every year, regardless of change. Ask yourself, is this still the thing that we can adopt that would best meet the need we’re addressing? Is this still that thing? If not, how do we need to change it? It’s okay for it to change because our work adapts and evolves as we keep addressing the issue together.

Bob: That’s it for this episode. Thanks for joining us. If you enjoyed this episode, click the share button in your podcast app and share it with a friend. We’ll be back next week with a practice for being open to all ideas. Until then, keep practicing.


Kalin Goble: The Practicing Connection podcast is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense under award numbers 2019-48770-30366 and 2023-48770-41333.


[00:10:10] [END OF AUDIO]


June 13
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