Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Author Interview: Christine Wailand Harrison

Today's Author Interview is with Christine Wailand Harrison, who recently published an unusual book with Judith Irene Bach, How to Play Nice Together: Creating Community Locally and Globally.

Both Judith Bach and Christine Harrison received their doctorates in Human Systems Design. A Fellow of the International Systems Institute, Christine is one of the pioneers of innovative approaches to designing work systems. Specializing in all aspects of the design of the organizational infra-structure for sustainable high performance, she grounds her practice in solid systems research. Christine and her husband live in Arizona.

Welcome, Christine! How long have you been writing? What made you start?

I have been writing academic/scientific work for over 20 years but there never seemed to be enough time to write just for the fun of it. I had a full time career and went back to college as an adult single mother of two. As I progressed, I not only took on more responsible positions but also started teaching graduate school. All along I felt I had so much I wanted to share but did not find the time until my children were grown and I had an opportunity to pull back and reflect on my priorities. That was my start.

You have published a non-fiction book entitled How to Play Nice Together: Creating Community Locally and Globally. What made you write it?

A long time friend and colleague and I were preparing for an annual conference in our field (Social Systems Design) and we came up with similar ideas about what was happening with our communities and at our workplaces and how we could use our academic training to perhaps provide some tools that could improve difficult situations.

Did you have to do a lot of research for the book?

That’s an interesting question because the book that we finally published is about the third version of our work. As you can imagine, our first (and even second version to some extent) were more like an academic treatise than anything that our intended broader audience would enjoy reading. So even though we knew our field well, we had to research preferences and concerns of our intended audience and adjust our thinking and writing accordingly.

I understand you used a story format for the book. How did using fiction elements help drive a book about community design?

That’s where the fun came in! I enjoy reading Science Fiction which is basically a Systems approach to exploring alternative realities. So it was an easy next step to replace the technical science fiction leaps with social science ones and to ask ‘what might it be like if thoughts and emotions had instant power?’ Certainly there was a lot of action on this level whenever groups of people congregated and tried to get something done.

Later we found out that this style of writing actually has been termed Social Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov, and we thought that was great company!

You wrote with a collaborator, Judith Irene Bach. What was it like to work with another person to create the book?

Working with a long-time friend and colleague was my greatest learning experience. It seemed that we actually lived some of the lessons in our book, in particular the practice of ‘how to play nice together’!

Although we had a shared vision and designed the layout of the book together, our talents are very different, yet complimentary. Dr. Bach is a well-rounded artist and psychotherapist while my experiences in changing the organizational design of companies brought organizational and marketing skills. We obviously do not see the world with the same priorities. Our mutual respect got us through.

Tell us about How to Play Nice Together: Creating Community Locally and Globally.

Meet seven people, who are not just strangers to each other but have absolutely nothing in common. Follow them as they are brought together to design a community. But with their differences, can they learn How to Play Nice Together? Accompany them as they learn to adjust to their diversity, to work out their interpersonal dynamics, and to appreciate the collective power of their individual gifts. Discover the process of community building through the story and learn the necessary steps of community design with the help of the workbook at the end of the story.

What is your next project?

In addition to marketing the book, I am working on two more projects. First is a book tentatively entitled From Workplace to Whatever or How to retire with dignity. I am doing a lot of research for this topic at this time. My second effort is my family history in story format, something my grandchildren have asked for.

What type of writing schedule do you have?

I write best in the morning or late at night. Obviously I can’t do both so I grab a chunk of time whenever I can. Seems that I need a lot of preparation or gestation time. I reflect about the topic for days, then I need quiet time to focus and get ‘into my head’ before I can write. After that it usually flows well and that’s the best part.

How do you handle life interruptions?

Not very well, I am afraid. Our book literally took us years because either my colleague or I had major life changes to deal with. The topic of our book seemed to be still relevant so we kept at it.

What have you always dreamed of writing, but haven't yet?

I would like to write my memoirs while raising controversial issues.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?

I like most about writing that it requires me to clear my at-times muddled thoughts and become explicit about a message. What I like least is that it takes a long time and many re-writes to get there.

What is your advice for other writers?

Enjoy the process and play with it. Choose a topic that is meaningful to you and that you care about.

What other work of yours has been published?

A New David Preparing for a new Goliath: A Question of Corporate Competence, 2002, World Futures, 58: 433-440.
Beyond Boundaries: An Application of Systemic Tools to Transcend Corporate Turfs, 1997, Systems Research, Pergamon Press
The Will and Self-Organization, 1996, Systems Research and Behavioral Science, Wiley InterScience
Reflections of a Self-organizing Universe in the Design of a Self-Organizing Work Unit, 1992, U. M.I. Bell & Howell Information Company
Theoretical Aspects of Design as Foundations for Organizational Learning, 1990, Saybrook Institute

The website for How to Play Nice Together is

Thank you for the Interview, Christine.

I appreciate your blog and am glad to be part of your conversations.


  1. Great interview, Marsha. This is a book and a subject that I probably never would pick up on my own, but I can see that it's something that would not only teach, but would be enjoyable to read. Who'd a thunk it?

  2. I'm new here! What a great blog :) ♥ Hugs!

  3. Carol Osman Brown - journalist2:44 PM

    Great interview! This book comes at a time when more people and groups need to learn how to "play nice together." It can be difficult to write about a complex topic in a simple way, but these authors seem to have done it well.


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