Who is Adam Kahane?

Photo of Adam Kahane speaking at a microphone

Today in Nova Scotia, as in many other parts of the world, we are learning that no magic bullet or imported solution will solve our problems. Instead we need to put our heads together and roll up our sleeves in ways we haven’t done before. Just as each community’s challenges are unique, so are the solutions.

At the same time, we can learn from others who have traveled down similar paths. We can avoid some of the same pitfalls and look for tips and strategies that will increase our chances for success.

This fall, Engage is joining with the Province of Nova Scotia and Dalhousie University to welcome Adam Kahane to Nova Scotia. The lecture, seminar and workshop he will lead in Halifax September 26-28 will draw on his 25 years of personal experience in the trenches of “tough collaboration.”

It turns out that Adam Kahane is no stranger to Nova Scotia. From 2005 to 2014 he travelled annually to the Authentic Leadership in Action (ALIA) week-long summer institutes in Halifax. Like others on the faculty, he came not only to share his expertise and lessons from the field, but also to take part in a dynamic learning community. He brought his questions as well as his successes.

During those years, Adam got to know many Nova Scotians and the issues they were tackling. So when Engage expressed interest in a visit, Adam welcomed the invitation to return.

In the early 2000s, an explosion of new tools and ways of thinking made it seem like anything was possible. Adam’s own hopefulness had been forged in the post-Apartheid years of South Africa, where he had been dispatched by his employer Shell to help with the transition. There he saw how the forecasting tool of scenario planning could help create small miracles in a highly charged and high-stakes environment. Later, in other parts of the world, he employed another collaborative tool, the Social Lab, to bring people together to solve their most important and most critical issues.

Those of us who witnessed Adam’s theory and practice grow over the years also heard about the set-backs and failures, the disappointments and frustrations. This was not surprising given that he and his colleagues were tackling some of the biggest, most complex challenges imaginable. In Adam’s work, and across a worldwide network of change-makers, an earlier optimism became tempered by hard-won lessons.

Adam has been documenting his 25-year journey working with systems change in books filled with practical advice and concrete examples.  Solving Tough Problems (2004) outlines a more collaborative and peaceful alternative to force when confronted with stuck situations. Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change (2010) makes the case that collaboration (“love”) alone isn’t enough. We are naïve if we ignore the forces and dynamics of power. Transformative Scenario Planning (2012) describes how cross-sector teams can use this planning tool not only to understand the future, but to create it. Adam Kahane’s forthcoming book, Collaborating with the Enemy, will be published in 2017.

Read excerpts from Adam’s previous books.

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