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So What is a MeshWORK?

Following the visit of Spiral Dynamics co-developer Don Beck to South-East Wakefield in June 1999, there was much excited talk in certain circles of a ‘Wakefield MeshWORK’.

This piece first appeared in the July 1999 edition of the SESKU & Hemsworth Business News, written to capture the key principles for a MeshWORK strategy and has been reproduced here.

From some 16 years work in South Africa – during which time he advised both Nelson Mandela and F W DeKlerk – Don Beck has evolved his concept of MeshWORKS.

This is an application of Spiral Dynamics which Beck developed with National Values Center partner Chris Cowan from the ground-breaking work of Clare W Graves.

Early in the 1950s Graves, an admirer of the work of Abraham Maslow (1943), had set out to collect evidence on the ‘psychologically healthy human being’, expecting to validate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The data he gathered only partly achieved this.

Unusually for a psychologist, Graves let his data do the talking – rather than trying to force-fit it to a theory. He also collected more data. A lot of it!

What Graves discovered was 8 different core ways of thinking about life – attitudes, value systems, coping mechanisms – which appeared to be universal to human beings.

Graves would argue, for example, that it is the same value system which drives a fanatical Muslim as it is a fanatical Christian. Ie: the details of the particular ‘Absolute Truth’ may differ, but the value of ‘Absolute Truth’ is common to both. Equally, the value system which provides the tribal identity of a group of Aborigines in the Australian outback can be seen, albeit in more sophisticated forms, in the villages and small towns in the ‘Former Coalfields’ of West and South Yorkshire.

The work of Graves (who died in 1986) has been developed into Spiral Dynamics by Beck & Cowan (1996) who worked with him in his later years.

Beck used the concepts in assisting the teams of Mandela and DeKlerk to design the new South African constitution and to plan the transition from Apartheid to multi-cultural democracy.

He also worked with businesses and community groups all around the country. By focussing on value systems as drivers, rather than colour, he took much of the sting out of race issues. Indeed, some South Africans now believe that race will be a dead issue in their country inside 5 years.

Small wonder that Beck has been honoured by a joint resolution of the Texas House and Senate for his work in South Africa.

Adizes’ Concept of CAPI
During the early 1990s Beck & Cowan formed links with Ichak Adizes – Beck is now on the faculty of the Adizes Graduate School.

Adizes (1987) has developed the concept of the Business LifeCycle which shows that different interventions have to be designed for different stages of a company’s growth or decline. (The LifeCycle makes all those one-solution-for-all-problems consultants redundant!)

From Adizes, Beck has taken the concept of CAPI (Coalesced Authority, Power and Influence). One illustration of the way CAPI works is that, in a company, the managing director, might have the power to make decisions but Power may rest with the worker who does or does not do the work properly/efficiently. CAPI Influencers are those who enable Authority and Power to work together by creating or outlining complementary and/or mutually-beneficial objectives.

In Beck’s concept of a MeshWORK, all those who can contribute to CAPI are brought together to look down the spine of the Spiral to see what needs to be done.

A Different Kind of Partnership
In the kind of partnerships developed by business support and regeneration agencies during the 1990s, the focus tends to be on WHO wants to do WHAT. Such broad alliances, whilst often carrying out good projects, inevitably lack depth.

The MeshWORK concept provides depth. The focus is on WHAT needs to be done for WHOM before deciding WHO should do WHAT.

All too often, in standard partnerships, the solution providers work off their own value systems – which may (or, more frequently, may not!) have value to the intended recipients. The MeshWORK uses Spiral Dynamics to identify the values of the intended recipients so that solutions appropriate to them can be designed.

In the ‘pit village’ of South Kirkby there is the apocryphal tale of money being poured into a new youth club which was barely used. Kids hanging out on a street corner were asked why they didn’t come to the new youth club. They replied that, if they had been asked, they would have said that they would have preferred a new bus shelter.

In other words, the new youth club didn’t connect with their particular value systems – but a new bus shelter would have!

No wonder Don Beck sometimes says in his talks to business and community leaders: “If it looks good to you, don’t do it!”

A Vital Signs Centre
Key to designing a MeshWORK is having a Vital Signs Centre.

Don Beck developed this concept form an earthquake researcher he met who scoured the Los Angeles Times for missing cats and dogs ads. The researcher had found a distinct correlation between imminent earthquake activity and cats and dogs going missing. In other words, the pets knew something was going on before the scientists did!

They were vital signs.

The levels of drugs abuse and petty burglary in former coalfield areas like SESKU area (South Elmsall, South Kirkby and Upton) are vital signs of the area’s ill health. An increase in new business start-ups might be a sign of growing good health.

For a MeshWORK to function effectively, the participants must be able to monitor the vital signs of those for whom they have responsibility. This will provide early warning of ‘hot spots’ – so that those who can most exert positive influence can act quickly.

If the proposed MeshWORK for the Wakefield/SESKU area is developed, it will be only the second large scale MeshWORK in the world.

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