First Stepping Stones: Need, Purpose, Principles

It has been two years since I participated in the “Art of Hosting” workshop on Vancouver Island, an event that provided new inspiration, ideas and tools.

One tool I have come to appreciate time and time again is Chris Corrigan’s “Chaordic Stepping Stones”. (Chaordic refers to a system that is simultaneously chaotic and orderly).

In Chris’ words, “These steps are intended to create generative structures, structures that allow us to create together, without stifling creativity and the emergence of new ideas and new ways of doing things.”

Whether you are someone wanting to convene a meetings or launch a new initiative, the nine chaordic stepping stones lead people through a series of questions. These questions can help to evoke fresh perspectives on how you might create enough order in your process for it to function while will providing enough space for chaos and the creativity and depth it can generate.

As a facilitator, I am often brought into a process after a number of decisions (and assumptions) have been made. If we are fortunate enough to have the time, I like to get people to walk through the nine steps together so that we might uncover any risky assumptions, ensure the foundation for moving forward is grounded, and identify ways to strengthen the initiative.

The nine steps should be explored in order as each builds on the previous. This posting discusses the first of Chris’ three stepping stones: need; purpose; and principles. (Please visit Chris’ site to read more about his work and to view the document this posting draws from).


If you are working with others on something—whether it be a new initiative or a redesign of something ongoing—start by exploring what the bigger world needs you to be and do.

Have a discussion about one or two questions such as:

  • What ‘time’ is it for our initiative now?
  • What is the need that this project/initiative can uniquely meet?
  • What does the world/community need this event to be?

Sometimes in these discussions, people stray into what their group needs instead of what the world (the community) outside of the group needs. However, a group or a meeting is not created for its own sake; it is intended to meet a greater need.

If people are saying the community needs to increase their awareness of an issue, ask “To what end? Is there a deeper need? What is unique?”. If people are advocating that different sectors need to work together on this topic, ask “Why now?” If people are saying “We need to help people who are dying/hurting!”, explore the needs of the people dying or hurting, not the need to help.

These discussions can help ground and re-inspire people; they can also indicate that you might need to alter your initial course.

After you have drilled down and agreed to the real need you want to work together to meet, write it down and move onto the next stepping stone.


If the ‘need’ is about the greater need of the world beyond the group, the ‘purpose’ is about what the group can do best to meet that need. It is about the change you collectively want to create.

The purpose  is about the outcome; not the structure or tool you want to apply (that is a later stepping stone!). In other words, the purpose wouldn’t be “to hold a conference” or “to create a new group”. Those are the means to an end. The purpose is about the end, about what you are setting out to achieve (which flows from the need you have identified).

To help define the purpose, get your group to discuss one or two of the following questions:

  • If this work should live up to its fullest potential, what do you dream (or vision) is possible?
  • What is the purpose we can adopt that will best meet the need?
  • What could this work do/create/inspire?
  • What is the next level for the for our work?  Where should we be heading?
  • What is the simplest and most powerful question we could keep at the core of our work?

The dreams and visions may be many, but people will need to agree on one purpose they want to work towards, together. Make sure your purpose is clearly stated (and written down!) before moving onto the third stepping stone.


Although principles are sometimes seen as little more than platitudes—nice things that once written are forgotten—they can effectively guide how you work together and what you create. The challenge is to ensure they are clear, easily understood, and actionable. They also need to be agreed to and ‘owned’ by all.

Together, discuss a question or two out of this list to help you create a living list of principles for your work:

  • What are the principles we want to adopt for our networks?
  • What is it important to remember about how we want to work with the participants in our initiative?
  • What do we think is most important to remember as we design to meet the need and purpose?
  • What unique ways of doing work and being together can we bring to this work?
  • If our team should live up to its fullest potential, what would that look like?

To help make this list more than just a bunch of nice words, I like to ask people “What would ‘Principle A’ look like in action?”. For example, if you have a principle of “respect each other”, talk about what that would look and feel like. If you want a conference or process to “be inclusive”, what would that look like in practice?

These discussions about the principle in action can highlight different interpretations of the same word. They can also point to some things you might want to consider implementing further down the road!

Before moving on, make sure that everyone agrees and is committed to working together according to the list of principles. Keep them visible throughout the rest of your work.

The next steps

There are six more steps: people; concept; limiting beliefs; structure; practice; and harvest. These will be discussed in future postings.


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