Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now / Edition 1

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No One Is Coming to Help. Now What?
In this era of increasingly complex problems and shrinking resources, can we find meaningful and enduring solutions to the challenges we face today as individuals, communities, and nations?

In Walk Out Walk On, we invite you on a learning journey to seven communities around the world to meet people who have walked out of limiting beliefs and assumptions and walked on to create healthy and resilient communities. These Walk Outs who Walk On use their ingenuity and caring to figure out how to work with what they have to create what they need.

From Mexico to India, from Columbus, Ohio to Johannesburg, South Africa, we discover that all communities have the intelligence and inventiveness to solve their seemingly insolvable problems. "We discovered a gift inside ourselves," one Brazilian said, "something that was already there."

Walk Out Walk On is the winner of a silver medal in the social change category of the 2012 Nautilus Book Awards.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781605097312
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/11/2011
  • Series: BK Currents Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 311,939
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Margaret J. Wheatley is President Emerita and founder of The Berkana Institute, Meg has been working with people for many years to develop new practices and ideas for organizing people and communities. She is an internationally acclaimed speaker and author of several bestselling titles: Leadership and the New Science, A Simpler Way, Turning to One Another, and most recently, Finding Our Way.

Deborah Frieze is an author, entrepreneur and social activist. As former co-president of The Berkana Institute and co-founder of the Berkana Exchange, Deborah joined Berkana in 2002 to help bring its vision into the world and grow the Institute. She serves as a board member and is leading several initiatives, including Feeding Ourselves Sustainably, Swaraj University and multiple Sharing Our Learning projects. Deborah has an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

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Table of Contents

Part 1: The Journey
Why the world needs us to walk out and walk on
Who we are

Part II: Preparing for the Journey
Setting your intentions
Preparing to be disturbed
Noticing the world we're in

Part III: The Journey
Eight communities that have walked out and walked on
South Africa: From problem to place
Zimbabwe: From Efficiency to resilience
Brazil: From power to play
Mexico: From scaling up to scaling across
India: From transacting to gifting
Greece: From intervention to friendship
Canada and U.S.: From separation to interdependence
U.S.: From hero to host

Part IV: Bringing It Home
What do you notice now?
Who do you choose to be?

Appendix: Sustaining Curiosity

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First Chapter



Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Margaret J. Wheatley and Deborah Frieze
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60509-731-2

Chapter One


This is the setting out. The leaving of everything behind. Leaving the social milieu. The preconceptions. The definitions. The language. The narrowed field of vision. The expectations. No longer expecting relationships, memories, words, or letters to mean what they used to mean. To be, in a word: Open. —Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

This book takes you on a Learning Journey to places that will inspire, disturb, and provoke you, and to meet people who will delight, nourish, and encourage you. We're glad that you've joined us. We visit seven communities around the world, seven very different cultures, all of which are experimenting with what it means to live the future now. We, the authors, are intimately connected with each of these communities; we've worked alongside them for several years and been transformed by these experiences and relationships.

Our journey takes us to Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Zimbabwe, India, Greece, and the United States. In each community, we'll experience firsthand what's possible when we change our beliefs about what people are capable of and how change happens. We'll witness communities that rely on everyone to be an entrepreneur, a leader, an artist. These communities trust that these are common human traits, not limited to a few gifted people. We'll meet people who use their ingenuity and caring to figure out how to work with what they have to create what they need.

And as we move from community to community, we'll explore the deeper patterns that link them together, diverse as they are. We'll see how change happens through self-organized efforts that then move across the planet through networks of relationship. We'll see that lasting change doesn't start from the top of a system, but from deep inside it, when people step forward to solve a problem, then move on to the next issue that needs addressing. We'll see how much becomes possible when we abandon hope of being saved by the perfect leader or the perfect program, and instead look inside our community to notice that the resources and wisdom we need are already here.

In every community, you'll meet the Walk Outs Who Walk On. Perhaps you'll recognize yourself in some of them.


Walk Outs are people who bravely choose to leave behind situations, jobs, relationships, and ideas that restrict and confine them, anything that inhibits them. They walk on to the ideas, people, and practices that enable them to explore and discover new gifts, new possibilities.

We learned the phrase "Walks Outs Who Walk On" from our friends in India. They had created a network of young people who chose to leave school. They didn't consider themselves "dropouts," a negative label assigned to them by the school system. They left school because they wanted to be learners, not passive students. They walked on to discover many ways they could contribute to creating change in their world.

Although the phrase may be new to you, think about situations in your life that you've consciously chosen to leave because you knew that to stay any longer would limit you. Whenever we choose to leave behind what confines us, whenever we courageously step forward to discover new capacities, then we can rightfully call ourselves Walk Outs Who Walk On.

The people you meet on this journey have walked out of a world of unsolvable problems, scarce resources, limiting beliefs, and destructive individualism. They've walked on to beliefs and practices that solve problems and reveal abundant resources. They've created communities where everyone is welcome to learn, grow, and contribute. They've walked out of the greed and grasping of this time, where many individuals try to get as much as they can, and walked on to discover how to create what they need with what they have. And while we visit only seven communities on this journey, there are millions more people like them throughout the world.

When people and communities walk out, they discover they're more gifted and wiser than they believed or had been told, that working together—even in the harshest circumstances—can be joyful, that they can invent solutions to problems that others have declared unsolvable. These communities are creating meaningful change in some of the most difficult political, social, and economic circumstances. They may have little money, few trustworthy formal leaders, and minimal material resources. They may have been told they're "backward" or don't possess the requisite expertise to solve their own problems. Had they accepted current thinking, they would have sat back and waited passively for help to come from the outside—from experts, foreign aid, heroic leaders.

But instead, they walked out. They had the good sense not to buy into these paralyzing beliefs about themselves and how change happens. They walked on to discover that the wisdom and wealth they need resides in themselves—in everyday people, their cultural traditions and their environment. They've used this wisdom and wealth to conduct bold experiments in how to create healthy and resilient communities where all people matter, all people can contribute. Their creativity and hard work make it easier for us to see that a different world is possible.


Margaret (Meg) and Deborah, as your hosts for this Learning Journey, are taking you to meet people and communities we've partnered with for several years through our work with The Berkana Institute. There are many, many other places worthy of visiting, but these are the ones we know well, that we're most intimate with. We're taking you to meet our friends, people with whom we've worked, danced, argued, cried, laughed, consoled, celebrated, and loved. Together, we've explored how self-organization and change happen, we've learned to trust the illimitable power of community, and we've come to realize how important our heritage and cultural traditions are.

Not only do we know these people as friends, but they also know each other well. For several years now, they've worked and learned together, visited one another's communities, shared their discoveries and dilemmas, and gathered annually as a learning community. As we visit each community, you may notice how they weave through each other's lives, how they support each other in deep friendship.

Your experience with these people and communities doesn't have to end with this book. We've created www.walkoutwalkon.net where you can watch videos, hear interviews, and keep informed about where these communities and people are now. Learn more about the Walk Out Walk On website on p. 260.)


Deborah has partnered with each one of these communities since 2004. She's led Learning Journeys to Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. In this book, she's written each of the seven visits, wanting you to experience what it feels like to be there, getting to know these communities and their pioneering work. All of these relationships were developed through the Berkana Exchange (an initiative of The Berkana Institute), a community of friends and a community of practice that has worked together over several years and that continues to actively engage and support one another. The people Deborah writes about have become her extended family, an intimate learning community that is inventing new solutions to the issues she cares about most—such as food security, ecological sustainability, and economic self-reliance.

Meg has worked with most of the people you'll meet, in gatherings and Berkana-hosted events around the world. She's been on the ground in the communities in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and the United States and led three Learning Journeys to South Africa and Zimbabwe. From her experiences with these communities—as mentor, student, steward, friend—she's learned firsthand about the power of community and self-organization. (It is these people and communities who've informed her work over the past several years; their stories and examples appear in her articles and books.) Meg's contribution here is to prepare you for the journey and to guide the reflections that, hopefully, lead you to think more deeply about your experiences and what might be changing in you as a result. Throughout the visits, both Deborah and Meg make visible the patterns and beliefs that connect these diverse communities.


We define these places as healthy and resilient communities because they have learned to trust themselves to find their own solutions and take control of their own future. They develop greater capacities and become smarter over time as they learn what works and how to work together. They become confident that they can deal with whatever problem confronts them next. In the face of hunger, poverty, ill health, environmental degradation, and economic injustice, they respond, adapt, invent. That's what makes them healthy and resilient.

Healthy and resilient communities take on big issues, those that all communities eventually must deal with—food, economics, education, leadership, environmental challenges. To give you a taste of what's ahead on this journey, here's a brief description of where we're going and the focus for each visit:

Mexico: From Scaling Up to Scaling Across. Taking things to scale doesn't happen vertically through one-size-fits-all replication strategies. We'll visit Unitierra, a new form of university, and the Zapatistas, a populist movement for self-determination. In both places, there's a deep, unshakable belief in the power of people to claim their right to live and learn as they see fit. We'll observe how their experiments move horizontally, scaling across villages and nations, trans-locally, as many diverse people learn from their discoveries and are inspired to try their own. Brazil: From Power to Play. Most leaders believe that it's their job to motivate people, that without their directive control, no work gets done. The most common way to motivate people is through external means, using punishment and reward. We'll experience Warriors Without Weapons, where play, not power, evokes people's passion, creativity, and motivation to work hard on seemingly overwhelming challenges. South Africa: From Problem to Place. Today's approach to social change posits that large and complex issues must be addressed one by one, with institutions and experts who specialize in that particular problem. We'll explore tiny Joubert Park in Johannesburg, where people have created changes in education, public safety, arts, ecology, food, and more using the principle of start anywhere, follow it everywhere. Zimbabwe: From Efficiency to Resilience. Conventional attempts to solve problems of scarcity focus on efficiencies—attempting to do more with less by cutting budgets and staff, minimizing resources, optimizing outputs. Kufunda Learning Village has achieved resilience in a time of total systems collapse by choosing a different approach. They engage in a wide range of small local actions that give them the capacity to continuously adapt to an unpredictable and chaotic world. India: From Transacting to Gifting. The transactional culture of today promotes self-interest and scarcity; people strive to take as much as they can and accumulate more than they need. In a gift culture—common in many traditional societies—generosity prevails and money loses its power. Shikshantar is experimenting with gift culture, replacing mindless growth with the confidence that we have what we need. Greece: From Intervention to Friendship. In our pursuit to find what works, we seldom notice how disempowering it is when we look for answers from experts and best practices created elsewhere. At the Art of Learning Centering at Axladtisa-Avatakia, participants walked out of dependence on experts and learned to trust the capacities and creativity available in friendship to address their community's needs. United States: From Hero to Host. When a community stops waiting for a hero to save it, it discovers internal resources and solutions to solve otherwise intractable problems. People in Columbus, Ohio, are walking out of heroic leadership and walking on to a new "operating system" of using conversational processes to address complex problems, such as health care, homelessness, poverty, public safety, and more.

These seven communities are very different from one another—different cultures, histories, and environments. But beneath these interesting and important differences, they share a common identity as Walk Outs Who Walked On.


Walk Outs Who Walk On play a crucial role in societal change. They use this time of dissolution and failing systems to create and experiment with new ways of working and organizing. In doing their pioneering work, they rely on the fact that people's capacity to self-organize is the most powerful change process there is. They've seen how local efforts can emerge into larger, transformative changes when they connect with other local efforts. They've confirmed Margaret Mead's brilliant statement that the world changes by dint of small groups of dedicated people. And they've demonstrated that when people know where they come from—their traditions and culture—they develop strength and stamina. These pathfinders have come to understand that living is a synonym for learning: they experiment, take risks, fail, succeed, make it up as they go along, and offer compassion and forgiveness to each other.

When any of us experiment with walking on, we're able to discover potential that we couldn't see before we freed ourselves from constraints. It's motivating to discover these hidden capacities and see how they serve us to accomplish good work. It's essential that we feel motivated, that we have faith that we're doing the right work, because whenever we use ideas and approaches that don't conform to the world's expectations, we're going to meet with resistance.

At Berkana, we use a map (co-created with our global family of friends and colleagues) to describe the predictable dynamics that are bound to occur between those pioneering the new and those preserving the old. We've used it for many years in diverse organizations and communities and now rely on it to know what to expect when we decide to walk out and walk on.

All systems go through life cycles. There's progress, setbacks, seasons. When a new effort begins, it feels like spring. People are excited by new possibilities, innovations and ideas abound, problems get solved, people feel inspired and motivated to contribute. It all works very well, for a time.

And then, especially if there's growth and success, things can start to go downhill. Leaders lose trust in people's ability to self-organize and feel the need to take control, to standardize everything, to issue policies, regulations, and laws. Self-organization gets replaced by over-organization; compliance becomes more important than creativity. Means and ends get reversed, and people struggle to uphold the system rather than having the system support them. These large, lumbering bureaucracies—think about education, health care, government, business—no longer have the capacity to create solutions to the very problems they were created to solve.

When a system reaches this stage of impotence, when it becomes the problem rather than the solution, we as individuals and communities have a choice. Either we struggle to fix and repair the current system, or we create new alternatives. New alternatives can be created either inside or outside the failing system. But if we choose to walk out and walk on, there are two competing roles we're called upon to play: We have to be thoughtful and compassionate in attending to what's dying—we have to be good hospice workers. And we have to be experimenters, pioneers, edge-walkers. Playing these dual roles is never easy, of course, but even so, there are enough people brave enough to do so.

Skilled hospice workers offer comfort and support to those at the end of their lives far beyond attending to physical needs. They help the dying focus on the transition ahead, and encourage them to see what their life has taught them—what wisdom and values shine clearly now that the distractions are gone.


Excerpted from WALK OUT WALK ON by MARGARET WHEATLEY DEBORAH FRIEZE Copyright © 2011 by Margaret J. Wheatley and Deborah Frieze. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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