About Peter Block

Peter Block, Founder/Owner of Designed Learning

Peter Block
Peter Block is an author, consultant and citizen of Cincinnati, Ohio. His work is about empowerment, stewardship, chosen accountability and the reconciliation of community.

Peter is the author of several bestselling books. His most popular works include:

He has also authored, “Flawless Consulting Fieldbook & Companion: A Guide to Understanding Your Expertise"; “The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters" (Berrett-Koehler, 2002) which won the 2002 “Independent Book Publisher Book Award for Business Breakthrough Book of the Year” and “Freedom and Accountability at Work: Applying Philosophic Insight to the Real World” which was co-authored with consultant and philosopher Peter Koestenbaum.

Peter Block’s consulting books facilitate ways to create workplaces and communities that work for all. They offer an alternative to the patriarchal beliefs that dominate our culture. Bringing change into the world through consent and connectivity rather than through mandate and force is the ultimate goal of Peter Block consulting efforts.

Flawless Consulting (3rd edition, 2011) is about having impact when you have no direct control and has become a classic for anyone in a consulting role. The Empowered Manager focuses on creating an organization of our own choosing. Peter Block’s "Stewardship" is about the right use of power and designing organizations for service. "The Answer to How Is Yes" is about giving priority to what matters over what simply works.

He received a Masters Degree in Industrial Administration from Yale University in 1963 and performed his undergraduate work at the University of Kansas.

Peter serves on the Boards of Directors of Elementz, an urban arts center; and LivePerson, a provider of online engagement solutions. He is on the Advisory Board for the Festival in the Workplace Institute, Bahamas. He is the first Distinguished Consultant-in-Residence at Xavier University. With other volunteers in Cincinnati, Peter began A Small Group, whose work is to create a new community narrative and to bring his work on civic engagement into being.

He has received national awards for outstanding contributions in the field of training and development, including the American Society for Training and Development Award for Distinguished Contributions; the Association for Quality and Participation Presidents Award; and Training Magazine HRD Hall of Fame.

Peter’s office is in Mystic, Connecticut.

A Note From Peter Block

There are three themes that are newly developed in this edition of Flawless Consulting®. The first is about what to look for: Is it useful to look at problems and what is not working, or might we better look at possibilities and what is working?

The second is about who should do the looking; there is growing evidence that change occurs best when clients, employees and citizens are brought together in groups to examine their own situation, especially their strengths, and develop their own alternative future.

Finally, the third innovation in this edition is an expanded look at where the skills of Flawless Consulting are being applied; there are powerful new examples from a consultative teacher in a classroom and the collaborative practice of a heart surgeon.

We have been discovering that looking for problems and using the medical model of expert diagnoses focused on disease, is good in a crisis, but has serious limitations in mobilizing action towards something new. Traditional organizational consulting looks at deficiencies and tries to fix what is not working–cut costs, eliminate waste, merge functions, make people work better together, automate.

The process has the consultant do data collection on problems, analyze the results, define alternative actions and make recommendations. Intellectually sound, but logic and reason do not address the capacity of social systems to hold onto dysfunctional patterns and give lip service to new ways of working.

The alternative is to focus on strengths, gifts and capacities, specifically who in a work setting or community setting is doing something right. The new edition reflects what we are seeing in fields like Positive Psychology which has people learn more about their strengths. The book also now talks of the work in Positive Deviance, where the total effort is to find someone inside a community or organization who is succeeding and bring them into contact with the larger system. The work of Appreciative Inquiry and Asset Based Community Development are further examples of this movement toward focusing on gifts rather than deficiencies.

Here we question the widely held belief that it takes an objective third party consultant or support person to see what is needed and suggest ways to make things better. While this can be very useful, there are conditions where the consultant is better off organizing employee and citizen gatherings designed to help a cross section of employees or citizens self assess where things stand and envision what the future might look like. In this way, the consultant does not make third party recommendations. Rather the book suggests high engagement strategies where the idea generation is done by those with the power to act on those ideas.

This approach goes under many names: Whole System Change, Conference Model, Open Space, Art of Hosting, Future Search, World Café. All share certain principles which use a cross section of groups to focus on the current state, imagine a different future, make peer commitments and define for themselves ways of measuring progress.

We have heard from readers from the beginning that the basic skills of contracting, discovery and engaging people for action are applicable to more situations than the typical consultant-client relationship. This new edition describes in some detail what this looks like.

Ward Mailliard is a high school teacher who has renegotiated his relationship with his students. He contracts with them as a consultant and turns to his advantage the reality that it is the students who are really in control in the classroom.

Ward has successfully created a culture among students that is pro accountability, pro peer support for learning, and pro civility. This is making a difference in a world that often functions in the opposite way—we have too many classrooms with a culture of excuses, marginalization of high achieving kids, and a continuous stream of cliques and negative peer interaction. This is not an easy path and Ward is clear about the many bumps along the way.

The second new example of applying Flawless Consulting practices comes from the world of health care. Paul Uhlig has developed over a period of years what he calls Collaborative Rounds. Like Ward, he bases much of his innovation on the principles of contracting and relationship building described in the book.

In a world where physician is king, Paul, a thoracic surgeon himself, has created a structure that acknowledges the contribution of every person involved in the health of the patient. Doctors, nurses, social workers, family members, other support people and the patient all meet in a circle during rounds to discuss the best course of action. This is a massive renegotiation of the traditional set of relationships, and when it is done, hard as it is to arrange, it produces amazing results.

This work in the classroom and the hospital is changing cultures that many think are impregnable. The change is occurring through new contracting, engagement and invitation, a far cry from most of the reform conversation that is about hard bargaining and employee rights.