“WEaseling”, a post-heroic varmint

This short explanation was requested manifold by those who heard me use this hairy little  neologisms of mine: “WEaseling”*.

The term proved helpful in pointing to a phenomenon in groups and group-processes, that quickly creates a feeling of joint direction but, on the flip side, leads to disappointment and disengagement afterwards.

Especially in groups that gather for a couple of days around a topic that is important to all participants, there often emerges the urge to refer to that present group as something substantial and coherent, which seems to suit the individual needs. This seems ever more virulent when people come together to talk about such broad and far-reaching topics like money, currency and the economy.

WEaseling becomes noticeable when participants start using the word “we” to refer to the group in ever grander terms and manifests when needs are generalized and turned into collective demands, for example:

“I don´t want to adhere to current economics”    turns into     “Current economics don´t serve anybody (or only “the 1%”)”     turns into    “One has to do something about it”    turns into     “WE have to do something about it”

At this point, if the “we” is not clearly defined and communicated, and the “it” is not discussed in concrete and tangible terms right away, I would caution against “WEaseling”.

Too easily tasks are too broad to be realistic and do not clearly allocated, commitment is presumed but not carefully confirmed, hopes rise high, movements are proclaimed, declarations are drafted, listservs and collaborative online tools mustered and then – shortly after the meeting concluded – nothing happens.

Of course, this is not to say that there is not immense value in conversation or, in the rare cases of it materializing, “co-creation”. Synergies lurk in the most unassuming places and one should never stop to be receptive for serendipities, collaborators and allies in mind and deed. But this is a friendly warning against repeatedly getting people excited and disappointed. In the end they might just resign one meeting short of the one that actually changes their lives.

One way to try and sort the situation out is to drill into the differences of “vision”, “mission” and “outputs” a little deeper then comfortable.

Naturally visions, being the broadest, most aspirational and conversely least clearly defined of the three, invites us to find overlaps between ourselves and many so called “like minded” people. But just because we hear ourselves in the vision of somebody else, does not mean we are actually geared up to work with them productively.

The “mission” and mission-statement of somebody or an organization already gives a better orientation as to the specific contribution they strive for in order to reach the (presumably shared) vision.

And finally, action will always only be found around concrete and tangible outputs.
A shared vision is necessary for personal relationships. An overlap in missions might be enough for a strategic partnership. Acute collaboration though will only take place if the involved parties are, individually, after the same outputs.

Steer clear of confusions here and the WEasel might already stay in the box.

I guess WEasling then is just one of the side-effects of us collectively moving into what is elsewhere is described as the post-heroic era, without yet having acquired the skills and tools for truly open and participatory collaboration**.

Processes like the ones allured to above often persist longer when there is a leading figure in the group that continues to inspire participants, provides definitions and direction and, often ignored, stems most of the workload needed to bring all the distributed potential into factual outputs.

Ironically, participatory processes, when not carefully hosted, often lead to situations, in which people feel lost, inefficient, misunderstood and finally grave for bold leadership and its advantages in urgent crisis. But prolonged flight might just mean more disappointing crash-landings, if or when the uncrowned leader burns out or gets distracted by yet another WEasel.

Not only the “We” is a term consciously or unconsciously employed to inspire coherence and commitment. Also concepts like movement, organization, community, team are often rather inspirational than factual for what a group constitutes at a given moment. Unfortunately, to attract attention in today’s super-saturated world, such terms seem necessary to have a chance on the “attention-market” and are often just lip-service in order to attract the resources needed to actually fill the empty conceptual containers. This is legitimate in the form of a clearly articulated marketing strategy, with clear probation periods and contingency plans – otherwise it might lead into a relational void.

Now, with the whole notion of WEaseling here equally lacking clarity and leverage, the following suggestions to groups and individuals seeking collaboration of any kind might seem hypocritical, but that´s why this is just a blog entry, not a DIY collaboration guide (-:

Clearly articulate a value proposition.
(not just a grievance)

Clearly define your invitation to others.

Clearly state your vision, mission and projected outputs and don’t confuse one for the other.

Clearly ask and communicate what kind of commitment is required for collaboration.

Acknowledge and value contributions of any kind, without needing to ask for more.

If you’re onto something important, consider it important enough to get impartial facilitation in, too.

*no weasels were hurt in the process of writing this, and I hope none will suffer any more reputational damage than already inflicted on them by the term Weasel-Word

**reminds me, I shouldn´t forget to elaborate on complementary currencies as one of the many social technologies of catalysed collaboration. Subscribe and remind me, too.

3 comments to ““WEaseling”, a post-heroic varmint”

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  1. Brilliantly expressed Leander!

    I subscribe to all of it from my own experience!

    YES WE CAN, IF we follow your list at the end (or something like it)…

  2. Well said Leander.

    I like to ask “are we here to enjoy being together, or to deliver results?” Only if people all say ‘both’ is there a chance of a high performing team with useful outputs.

    Also why I dislike vision statements; I much prefer a purpose statement, one that says what output do we intend delivering that will make a difference to some other stakeholder.

    Have seen lots of WEaseling!

  3. Jens Martignoni says: -#1

    Great thoughts about a really inflationary phenomenon. Additional “advantages” of WEaseling are:
    – It makes feel good beeing a WE and that feeling might be a personal output too.
    – It prevents from doing something – yes some people don’t like to work hard on tricky details which await us by realizing ideas.
    And not to forget: Most workshops, seminars etc. start habitually from a visionary point but do hardly point out the different projects and directions of the participants because the organizer or moderator would not be able to manage diversity and negotiation….