Friday, April 8, 2011

Sunshine in Portland

I've got sunshine on a cloudy day.
When it's cold outside I've got the month of May.
—the opening two lines of the Motown classic "My Girl" by Smokey Robinson

Back in 1984 I made a trek to southeastern Alaska. Mostly I was stayed with friends and explored the area in and around in Juneau, which is smack in the midst of a temperate rain forest. They average about 55 inches of rain annually and it was a dance finding sunny days sprinkled in amongst the liquid sunshine.

As impressive as that was, however, just a little bit down the coast is the town of Ketchikan, where it really rains. They average a whopping 150 inches of precipitation—nearly half an inch a day. There is a mountain overlooking the town and the locals say that if you can see the top, then it's just about to rain; if you can't see the peak, it's raining.

• • •
Twenty-seven years later. I'm in Portland OR, where I'll be working for the next 10 days with a trio of communities: Trillium Hollow, Columbia Ecovillage, and Daybreak. While the City of Roses has a reputation for rainy days, they don't get nearly as much accumulation as Juneau—Portland averages only 37 inches a year. Mostly they get mist and drizzle. Still, that adds up to a lot of cloud cover. Because most of their rain comes in the stretch November-February and then tapers off gradually in the spring, the natives are relatively starved for sunshine by April.

When I arrived yesterday, the skies were partly sunny. Today was even better: mostly sunny. Understandably, people wanted to be outside, or at least within sight of the sunshine. The past two days I've had about 12 hours of one-on-one (or one-on-two) conversations to get background for the plenary work I'll be doing with the whole community Saturday and Sunday. While no on blew off a date with me to play outdoors, people would position themselves so that they could look out a window.

Metaphorically, my job as a process consultant is to help bring sunshine into places where there's been a lot of rain, so this is all fitting together nicely. While it's tempting to play up the idea that I deserve partial credit for the upbeat change in the Portland weather ("Notice how the sun came out as soon as I arrived?"), I'll content myself with focusing on the weather we create inside the meeting room this weekend. If we can successfully navigate some stormy dynamics, people may not even notice the rain that's been forecast for the weekend.

When I was asked how I wanted the meeting room set up, I told my hosts that I wanted to be on the side of away from the windows, so that I wouldn't have to compete with the outdoor vistas for the community members' attention. While I'm fairly confident that I can be more stimulating than a steady drizzle, why take the chance?

Among other things, Trillium has asked me to demonstrate how to work authentically and constructively with conflict. They got some frozen dynamics in the group and my job, to paraphrase Smokey Robinson, is when it's cold inside to be the month of May. Even though it's only April, I'm up for the challenge.

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