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David Sawyer shares keys to cultivating high intelligence in human systems




Part 1 Topics

  • David’s mission statement:cultivating high intelligence in human systems.

  • Key components of human systems are strategy, leadership, and culture.

  • Culture is Job #1 and Task and Trust make up the key components of culture.

  • The process to address bad culture is through sense making, solution making, and change making.

  • To up the odds of change effort success: start with truth and focus on defining the problem correctly through the statement “How do we….”.

  • In the knowledge economy, all work is social. Dialogue is the basic unit of work which makes psychological safety a must and key for team success.



Part 2 Topics

  • A key exercise for creating psychological safety and the ability to be heard is to pair people up around the framing question: what’s a conversation that we need to have that we are not having?

  • 5 psychological dimensions that need to be considered in managing people: SCARF (Status, Certainly, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness).

  • Strategy needs to be implemented at each stage of “concept”->“startup”-> “systems building” -> “high performance”-> “renewal” then back to “concept” and so on.

  • Level 5/Servant Leadership is key to success.

  • You want to create a strategic organization, not a strategic plan.

  • In creating a strategic organization, focus on getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off) and in the right seats. Then, get people sharing information so you have shared intelligence to make sure you are going in the right direction.

  • To cause real change, you don’t need to re-work your entire organization and hierarchy, you simply need to create a dual operating system that works within the existing hierarchy.


About David Sawyer

David Sawyer is Co-founder and Partner of Converge, a team of strategists and designers committed to social and environmental impact. We help build collaborations and networks taking action on issues as diverse as economic mobility, environmental conservation, human rights, and healthcare reform.


He is also President of Context, a consulting firm with practice areas in strategy, leadership, and culture.


Sawyer has played key roles in a variety of fields: education reform, national service, social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy and environmental stewardship. He specializes in networks, strategy, design, and systems thinking. Prior to cofounding Converge he helped launch the Americorps program, received The Servant Leader Award from the National Youth Leadership Council, and served as the first Executive Director of Social Venture Partners Portland. He lives in Portland, Oregon with a cat named String Theory.

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