Worth a Look: The Agency – 21st Century Change Agent

Collective Intelligence, Cultural Intelligence, Earth Intelligence, Gift Intelligence, Worth A Look
Venessa Miemis

Interview with Jean Russell: How to Kickstart your Agency Engine

agency :: the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity) to act in a world

The concepts of individual and group agency are recurring themes around our virtual water cooler discussions of late. As eager change agents, edgeriders, and transitioners to a new world, we’re all more than blessed with big ideas. What many of us lack is the ability to reign in the ever expanding “cone of possibility” into a laser beam, pick a specific actionable project, and execute. Instead of implementing ideas, much time is wasted pitching them at each other, with no discernible path towards action.

How do we break through this inertia and start “getting shift done”??

Well, there are two mantras that might be appropriate here:

1. If you want to level up, ask for help.

2. Our community has within it all the resources we need.

If this is the case, then those of us who have project ideas and a true hunger for manifesting them have a pathway forward. Time for action!

So who’s bent on helping us help ourselves?

I took a quick look around and found that friend and colleague Jean Russell just launched a new initiative, The Agency, to assist us cultural creatives and innovators in bootstrapping.

Jean is a facilitator, coach and social ecosystem designer, and founder of the “thrivability” meme. (Perhaps you’ve seen her Collaborative Sketch, a curated compilation of perspectives from 70 authors on the values, qualities, cycles, and actions that comprise Thrivability. Recommended!)

I caught up with her via email interview to find out more details about The Agency, which she describes as “a vigorous accelerator to catalyze innovative people creating the emerging transition to a more thrivable world.”

Below are her thoughts on how to kickstart your agency engine, and start bringing more magic and light into the world!

You’ve just launched The Agency. Congrats! How does it work?

I wanted to design something thrivable – an engine that uplifted people and projects to make them better. I am checking every level of activity in it to make sure it generates upward spirals for everyone involved, thus the accelerator term: an engine to create more thriving.

The Agency isn’t a one-dimensional service.

  • There are elements of coaching in it.
  • And, it is also about accountability – we use a “SCRUM” to say how you are meeting your goals (crucial when we are doing it for ourselves).
  • It is also about barn-raising – getting a few people to pitch in, even just for 10 minutes, to get you past your biggest challenge. That might be marketing help, editing, or strategy etc… Whatever challenges you.
  • Oh, and I of course do network weaving, as I can.

The Agency requires about six hours each month for an agent, but my sense is the time and energy saved are worth much more than that.

The Build program offers a structured process for getting work done through two core methods: SCRUM and Barn-Raising.

Our Incubate program offers a bespoke yet structured process for getting to what matters and getting what matters done.

For those who want a lighter taste of acceleration, our weekly email stimulates and challenges people, like a coach in your inbox.

We also explore a monthly theme to bust stuck-ness for everyone involved. March was Perspectives. April is Collaboration.

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How do I know if your program is right for me?

We are accelerating people who act on thrivable principles in very practical ways. Are you working passionately to take action that leads towards a more thrivable world? If you want to be bold and pragmatic – as we say on the site – “play for an epic win.”

Nathaniel with his Adventures in New Giving project presents a terrific example. He has decided on a project. He is fundraising for it using StartSomeGood. Collectively, we have been helping him by: reviewing his project presentation, editing his emails, keeping his energy high amid the emotional turmoil of donations (which can lift you up) and gaps to goals (which can be quite challenging).

Several agents are turning successful business towards a more new economy market, so we have been working through those challenges which are both internal (story we have about ourselves) and external (what to say to others).

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You mention you to “Coaching to activate your potential” – what does that mean?

Reduce barriers to success.

People get in their own way. I know I have. And that is something everyone has control over. At The Agency, we get people unstuck. Somewhere in the process from idea to result, people get stuck. To be innovative, we need play and divergent thinking. To implement, we need focus and discernment. And to shift from one to the other, we need solid lightweight structures carrying us from idea to action to tangible outcome. I can be a bit “outcome-focused,” as Art Brock says.

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Tell me why you’re the woman for the job of helping me help myself!

I have been stuck. I taught myself how to get unstuck. I have worked for myself for a decade. When you are a master of knotting yourself, you have to learn how to be Houdini. Whatever the resource constraints, skill needs, or decision barricades, I learned from my failures, and I can help others benefit from that hard-earned wisdom. The Agency feels like the culmination of a decade of learning how to be an effective social innovator. Unstuck. Un-knotted.

I am trained as a coach in Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). How people work totally fascinates me. I learned how to work with what you have to get what you want. As for track record, I coached social entrepreneurs on 4 continents.

Really, much of what the Agency does is a more structured version of what I have done for years: work with people to get stuff that matters done. The Agency itself was built this way. A dozen people pitched in to help me pull it together. I want to help other people be this nimble too! After hundreds of social swap sessions given with people in the thrivable network, I know how to put social capital to work in mutually supportive ways. The Thrivable network knows that already. We did it with the Thrivability Sketch in 2010. 
I know how to activate resources, leverage social networks, manage complex projects with lots of moving parts and people, navigate scope creep, and move through production process to create something that is seen and valuable to many people – all within a short time frame. The Sketch was completed in 3 months! I want to help others get those kinds of results.

For those that don’t know me, I worked for or been in a variety of start-ups, mostly in the tech/social media space over the last 5 years. Clients like Zyozy for a Pepsi project, PeopleBrowsr (Analytic.ly), Sceneverse, OsoEco, Wagn, and Guildsmiths (whose first client was the Gates Foundation). Sceneverse, for example, said:

“Jean Russell is a facilitator like none other. You simply cannot compare her services to any other group facilitator’s work. In the preparation and execution of her facilitation plan for our first corporate retreat, she made absolutely certain that the event would deliver on many levels at once. She prioritized and helped us clarify our strategic needs and key outcomes for the session. She made sure that the schedule was organized to deliver on that promise, and she held us to our own goals throughout the event – making sure that the value she promised us for the event would be the value we received.
We’ve each participated in many facilitated workshops over the years (even been paid to facilitate them ourselves on occasion), but neither of us have ever seen anyone link creative team building to organizational outcomes as deeply as Jean Russell did for us. Her workshop facilitation for us was geared towards actually doing work. She has a unique talent, and if you are looking for a facilitator who will ensure that your collaboration sessions actually help you attain your goals, look no further than Jean Russell.” ~ David de Werdt and Neil LaChapelle, Founders, Sceneverse

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Who else is on your accelerator team of getting shift done?


Everything I do involves the network of people drawn to the concept of thrivability. I love the Social Era! 

To pull together the work on this project so far, I am really grateful for: Pritha RaySircar, Todd Hoskins, Kathryn Bottrell, Herman Wagter, Christina Jordan, Bonnie Koenig, Cassie Robinson, Christelle Van Ham, Christopher Douglas, Nathaniel James, Christine Egger, Gil Friend, Jerry Michalski, and Art Brock. I can’t begin to list all of the people and conversations that got me here, but those are the most recent or significant contributors to this work. Explicitly, advisors who have signed on to help include: Nilofer Merchant, Kevin Doyle Jones, and Kevin Clark. Credits and gratitude listed here: http://agency.thrivable.net/credits-and-gratitude/

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And finally, what is the nature of this “transition” of which you speak?

20th Century models (business, citizen sector, and government) are not working. The breakdown in the economy makes most of us feel how real that is. How do we make bridges to the new era? The Agency at Thrivable is here to catalyze bridge-building. We need to make a transition. We can help each other do that.

The transition is where we use what works from the past, discard what doesn’t work, and build toward what will work better.

Thanks to Jean for taking the time to share about her new venture. Best of luck!!

To find out more details about The Agency program, check out the FAQ and follow updates on twitter at @thrivable.

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Jean Russell, Catalyst at Agency.Thrivable.Net

Jean Russell is a facilitator and social ecosystem designer. As your guide to a thrivable world, Jean takes entrepreneurs, social innovators, and business builders on tours of network culture. She navigates clients through the crucial questions of creating and nurturing teams and networks to develop healthy, productive collaborations.

Jean’s dedication to shifting our collective awareness from sustainability (where we seek to eliminate social, financial, and environmental harm) to thrivability (where we contribute meaningfully to a deep cultivation of natural, financial and social systems) provides a rallying point for those interested in systemic change.

Demonstrating collaboration, she curated, “Thrivability: A Collaborative Sketch” in 2010 with 65 inspiring people. She currently writes passionately about “Breakthroughs for a World that Works.”

Tip of the Hat to Venessa Miemis of Emergence.

With 15 years experience in writing and editing, together with the study of cultural theory and NLP, her coaching and facilitation approach focuses on the flow of communication and interpersonal dynamics. Jean leads strategy retreats and social benefit conferences, collaborating with colleagues in fields ranging from social media/networks to philanthropy, currencies, green/sustainable design, community development, and human rights.

Jean Russell co-founded Thrivable Inc and Inspired Legacies. A blogger, speaker, facilitator and mom, Jean blogs at thrivable.net and agency.thrivable.net, and tweets as @thrivable and @nurturegirl.

This bio is crowdsourced.