Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Review by Dr. Stephen W. Littlejohn

Thought I would share this review that Dr. Littlejohn published last month:

CMM Solutions Field Guide and companion Workbook for Consultants
By Barnett Pearce, Jesse Sostrin, and Kimberly Pearce (Lulu Press, 2011)

CMM Solutions, a two-part package of tools and practices for consultants, is designed to help practitioners apply the theory of the Coordinated Management of Meaning in their work with clients. Since its inception in the 1970s, CMM has been employed in various social situations and organizational interventions, including, for example, community dialogues, conflict resolution, counseling and psychotherapy, and spiritual practice. As a practical theory, CMM is powerful in helping consultants think about and act into client situations and problems, and practitioners familiar with the theory seem hungry for guidance on how to use the theory in this way. CMM Solutions was written to fill this gap.

The package consists of two booklets. The first, CMM Solutions: Field Guide for Consultants provides an overview of a CMM process that can guide any kind of intervention in which a consultant is presented with a problem or challenge experienced by a dyad, group, organization, or community. This first booklet features a realistic scenario and transcript of an intervention using this method. The second part, entitled CMM Solutions: Workbook for Consultants is a practical guide to CMM tools with templates and directions on how to use and adapt them.

The program features a five-part model for intervention, which the authors call SEAVA—(1) storyboarding, (2) enriching, (3) analyzing, (4) visioning, and (5) acting. SEAVA is described in detail in the first booklet, the Field Guide, and its use is illustrated by an annotated narrative “transcript” of a fictional intervention constructed as a composite from various actual consultations. Each stage of the consultation model features particular aspects of CMM carefully arranged for building awareness of the communication perspective, creating client insight into participants’ patterns of interaction, and consideration of how those patterns might be changed. The method is wholly collaborative in approach and relies heavily on the clients’ own constructions and insights. As such the method is heavy on process and light on judgment and consultant-centered problem solving. The consultant is aided at each stage of SEAVA with a set of tools designed to help build awareness of the communication process, choices made, and levels of meaning and action. These tools and forms are detailed in the Workbook.

CMM Solutions works within the communication perspective, aiming to help clients look at their process of communication, rather than through the process to some other content. Indeed, the fictional consultant, Larry, uses a card to remind himself that “we get what we make, we make it through communication, [and] if we get the pattern of communication right, the best possible things will happen.” CMM Solutions does not require prior familiarity with the theory. Many sources are available for readers who want to know more about the theory itself, several of which are listed in the resources at the end. I personally recommend Barnett Pearce’s book Making Social Worlds: A Communication Perspective (Blackwell, 2007).

For those familiar with the theory, CMM Solutions provides a method of storyboarding as a way of helping participants identify episodes and the punctuation of interactional sequences. A template for the LUUUUTT model can be used to help clients explore their stories, and a “daisy” template can help identify groups and conversations outside the immediate situation that influence or inform what is going on. The participants’ hierarchies of meaning and action can be probed using the hierarchy template, which can also be used in conjunction with a form for analyzing logical force. Tools are also available for uncovering unwanted repetitive patterns, strange loops, and bifurcation points. The practitioner can use any combination of these as part of the SEAVA process, and the Workbook provides guidelines for using and adapting each tool, including suggested time and resources required along with the process steps and examples. The CMM Solutions approach may appear formulaic at first glance, and it does present the method as a pre-formed and sequential model. However, the authors are clear that the model is presented in this way for clarity and completeness, but that experienced consultants will use it in innumerable creative and adaptive ways.

The CMM Solutions Field Guide at 134 pages is available for $35.00, or $19.99 for a downloadable version. The CMM Solutions Workbook at 31 pages is available for $24.95, or $14.99 downloadable. Both are can be purchased from Amazon or Lulu. The Field Guide can be used as a stand-alone, but I do not recommend the Workbook without the Field Guide.

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