Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: Walk Out Walk On

Book Review written by Ginny Santos

Do you yearn for inspiration of what is possible? Walk Out Walk On, by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze, is sure to give you a renewed sense of hope in the creativity and resilience of human kind, and in the ability of local and transnational communities to work towards creative change. Walk Out Walk On is more than a book. It is an experience, an opportunity to witness creativity skills in action and an opportunity to practice your own creative abilities. As the authors put it, this is “a learning journey into communities daring to live the future now”, and literally, it is a journey.

Written in a similar style as ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books, Wheatley and Frieze are your hosts, introducing you to a series of creative leaders and communities as you travel around the world. But first, they prepare you for the journey while heightening your anticipation of what you are about to experience. In doing so, they urge you to bring along all your courage, your awareness of your beliefs and any assumptions that might get in the way of staying open to the new. They start by giving you a small glimpse into each of the seven regions you will visit: Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Zimbabwe, India, Greece, and the United States.

As you begin each new adventure, they help you richly visualize your surroundings, the history and complexity of the problems faced by the local people, and the social interactions you may have as you meet new people. But these are not ordinary interactions. In these unexpected interactions you meet local creative leaders who are not necessarily charismatic heroes, but hosts of change. As you learn about the ways they confront complex problems without waiting for any foreign aid, governmental intervention or heroic leaders, you are filled with renewed optimism, passion for change and endless curiosity. As you are exposed to the unexpected, the authors also bring your attention to any resistance and disbelief that may be arising in you, thus encouraging you to practice your ability to tolerate complexity, to stay open, and to look at it another way. For example, I will share with you the last paragraph from one of the first chapters, which concludes your journey to Mexico:

Before you descend from this misty highland village, the Zapatistas will make one request of you: Will you remember their story? Will you let it remain in your heart and provoke your imagination? Will you tell it to others? For that is the reason they accepted your request to visit their village and learn about their work. As you look back into the eyes of the Zapatista woman who gazes at you from behind her black ski mask, she wants to know, will you recognize that she is you? (p. 41)

In another journey, you are invited to witness the power of play, playing to make the world a better place. Starting with a small community in Brazil called Paquetá, where poverty, unemployment, drug abuse, murder, and homelessness are the norm. Here, one of the authors shares her experience:

The purpose of this game was to discover how play unleashes everyone’s creativity, how it invites us to see what’s possible rather than what’s so. In this game, it would be the residents of Paquetá who would discover and build their dreams. I would have the privilege of playing alongside, learning how a community becomes healthy and resilient, not when it gains access to power and wealth, but when it discovers that its creativity and capacity were there all along. (p. 52)

Every one of the seven journeys has something unique to teach you about creative change. What you take away from them, really depends on who you are and how open you are able to stay while reading. One interesting learning for me occurred in the visit to South Africa, specifically in Joubert Park. Joubert Park is a place, as the authors explain, where a deep history of racial oppression is only one diabolical piece of the puzzle: “It is heartbreaking, a hopeless place where dreams crumble into the dust left behind after all the gold has been stripped out” (p. 83). A place where the complexity can be overwhelming and you may not think that the community can have any influence. And as we know from the creative problem solving process, you must have influence in order to tackle a problem. However, the authors challenge you to think twice. They begin with a difficult series of questions:

Do you want to try to fix this place? Let’s see, which problem would you like to solve first? [...] How about HIV? One in every four people in this neighborhood is infected with the disease. Crime? South Africa has among the world’s highest per capita rates of murder, rape, robbery and assault. […] Or perhaps you’d rather start with poverty? Urban decay? Drugs? Child rape? Teen violence? Lack of schooling? Illiteracy? (p. 83)

They then introduce you to some inspiring people and how they have found the starting place that is just right, a place where they do have influence, one that relies on their local strength, which is togetherness and interdependence. My learning here, is that when it comes to complex, seemingly overwhelming social problems, creative and lasting change comes from the bottom up, starting from where the people do have influence, and not expecting to create an artificial list of priorities, a plan with a beginning and end. As they show at Joubert Park: ”Start anywhere and follow it everywhere” (p. 85), because what really matters is who is involved in solving the problem, the interconnectedness, the relationships, and the creativity inherent in the people who live what’s happening day to day.

‘Returning Home’ is the second last part of the book. It is an invitation to embrace your learning and allow the experience to bring change to your own life while tolerating the ambiguity that this might include. As the authors review the highlights of your journey one last time, they invite you to reflect. My reflection begins with a wide-open, “Wow”! and a sigh of relief as I now see and feel impressed by what the authors so clearly demonstrate: “scarcity has been replaced by abundance, a mindset that declares: We have what we need. Our creativity produces infinite wealth” (p. 222).

Walk Out Walk On is so vividly rich that it is impossible to truly summarize it’s contents. The most this review can accomplish is to give you a glimpse into what it has to offer. As said earlier, it is not just a book, but a beautiful set of glossy pages filled with vivid and colorful photographs, enchanting language, and poetic prose. It is a learning journey, an opportunity to grow, and an invitation to join something bigger. In fact, you can stay connected to the people you meet in the book, continue to learn about their ongoing work, their successes, failures and learnings by visiting a website that accompanies the book:

Wheatley, M. & Frieze, D. (2010). Walk out walk on. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.


Ginny Santos is a creativity facilitator and trainer currently completing her Master’s of Science in Creativity and Change Leadership at the International Centre for Studies in Creativity, State University of New York. She uses Creative Problem Solving (CPS) to help leaders and groups focus and improve their thinking through the use of creative facilitation tools in order to reach innovative solutions and work towards positive change.

Ginny has over 10 years of professional experience working with diverse groups. She has quickly gone from being a student leader, social justice activist and community organizer to leadership and management positions in the non-profit sector. She has a strong and proven commitment to diversity, consensus, and authentic leadership and believes that people can have fun at work.

Ginny is originally from Spain, she moved to Canada at 17 and had never planned on staying. But as plans always change she is now a Torontonian, an occasional dance performer, a cyclist, a mother, an enthusiastic learner and a creative planner.