Changing the Dance in Somalia

Barry Oshry Posted by Barry Oshry, Co-Director, Power + Systems, Inc..

Barry Oshry is the creator of Power Lab, the When Cultures Meet Workshop, and the Organization Workshop . He is the author of Leading Systems: Lessons from the Power Lab and Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizaitonal Life.

Changing the Dance in Somalia

Jennifer O'Gorman, Creative Commons 2.0

“Today I am very happy for having assisted the signing of the peace deal… between Somali factions who have been fighting for almost 14 years… My little contribution to the process was: I made a copy of the article you gave me, The Terrible Dance of Power , and I gave it to one of the participants in the peace process; he found the article very interesting and made several copies for his colleagues. He called me… yesterday saying that my paper made a huge impact on everyone who read it, and asked me to translate it into the Somali language. … As you can see, a simple article can make a difference in an intricate process.”

This excerpt is from an email from Ahmed Sheikh Mohamed, a refugee from Somalia currently living in Canada, to his colleague, Diana Cooper. On a business trip to Nairobi, he found the Somali Peace Talks were in the final signing process and he felt compelled to make a contribution. His sharing of The Terrible Dance of Power with the peace delegates and their sponsors was, in his words, “a huge success” and “a good wake-up call for many Somalis.” Since then Mr. Sheikh Mohamed has created the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies-Somalia, along with a web site that has become one of the most visited web sites around the world for the Somali diaspora and on it resides The Terrible Dance of Power.

I wrote The Terrible Dance of Power several years ago. When I learned how it found its way into the hands of the Somalia peace delegates, I was stunned. To think I’d almost passed on writing it. I had turned down an invitation to speak on organizational development in international affairs. After all, what did I know on the subject? I was pressed to speak at the conference and write a paper so I did some research and uncovered an archetypal theme or “dance” playing itself out in many of the then-current (as well as present) war zones. Over the years, The Terrible Dance has been published in a small organization development journal, staged by the Seattle Public Theatre, and has made its way to college classrooms, all of which has been gratifying. But to think that The Terrible Dance had an impact on the peace in Somalia was overwhelming to me.

What Ahmed Sheikh Mohamed did for the country he loved is inspiring. He helped his countrymen to “First, see the dance. Second, to abandon their arrogance and righteousness. And finally, to stop the dance and create a new dance … to rebuild what they have destroyed in the last 14 years.”


  • Often we keep our most strongly held ideas and opinions to ourselves. But shifting perspective, particularly the perspective of others, means giving voice to our ideas. Get your ideas out of your head and into action. It’s a great way to make a difference!

Barry Oshry is the author of Seeing Systems: Unlocking The Mysteries Of Organizational Life (Berrett-Koehler, 1996) and Leading Systems: Lessons From The Power Lab (Berrett-Koehler, 2004). He is the developer of the Power Lab and The Organization Workshop on Creating Partnership and the producer of the prize-winning documentary “Power Lab: Living In New Hope.”