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Pepperdine | Graziadio Business School

About Denise Morris Kipnis


My name is Denise Morris Kipnis and I'm from Iota Prime. We graduated around 2008 I think. I'm the founder and principal of Change Flow Consulting, a firm that I started a little bit before the program and have maintained ever since. So it's a part of me.

A couple things took me to Singapore. I actually like telling this story. It was a personal value of ours as a couple, my husband and I, to travel and to see the world. I've always been involved in diversity, and culture, and that sort of thing. I went into the program because I had a love of international travel, and work, and culture, and then coming through the program I really wanted to be a global practitioner. So that's hard to do if you're sitting in California on your porch being compliant.

So I thought it's kind of a put up or shut up moment. The more I could practice living outside of the United States, the more effective I could be in changing organizations. So Singapore itself was kind of a happy accident. We were actually targeting Hong Kong and that was part of session seven through the program when we went to China and consulted there in two separate cities. Then we went with the class trip to two more cities, and then my husband and I added two cities on top of that.

So after exploring China, we thought Hong Kong was the target, but my husband's job didn't work out there so we ended up in Singapore instead. Just had never heard of the place, thought I could do anything for two years. It's been eight and a half.

I literally stopped what I was doing and did something completely different. My analogy is that I wandered in the wilderness for a while trying to figure out what to do with myself. I've always been ... as the only person who looked like me in a room for most of my life, I've always been really curious about the way that people collaborate, and communicate, the way they connect and the way they miss each other, and sort of looking at how the pieces fit. I had done work in operations, and project management, and group facilitation. But I was still missing that human element, why do we do what we do and what's it all for, organizational effectiveness. I didn't know it at the time but evidently that's systems thinking.

So a lot of things just clicked for me when I finally found organization development. I had actually started out in another program, started out at USF, University of San Francisco, and when my husband's job moved us up to Washington state, they had a place-based program. I had to be in a conference room on Tuesdays and coming to MSOD was this grand adventure that brought me back to California, which is home, and put us out in the world. So I just really ... everything just, professionally it clicked. Personally it clicked. I just knew I wasn't going back.

When I came to the program late, I think I was ... definitely in my 30s by that point, and I think most people know what they want to do by then when they grow up.  I was meandering a little bit. But it all came together, and I'm able to use all the parts. I'm still grateful for that because I think it's made me. I think if I had found it too early I wouldn't be as effective. The fact that I can draw from so many different disciplines I think makes me, I don't know, a well-rounded player.

I would say that I come from a line of women who have generationally moved our family from being segregated, to assimilated, to integrated. I think I'm the third one within my family to go to college, and my sister would be the fourth. So I think the two of us together are really trying to bring our experience as the only person in the room who looks like us and still be valuable and to carry our heritage with us, just carry the women in our family with us, and try to, honestly, bring social justice into the rooms that we're in. Sometimes I'm very intentional about that and I'll those words, and a lot of times I just bring it with me and they don't know what happened until it's over. But that's what I'm about. That's what drives me is making sure there's just outcomes for people in the world.

The sort of the crusade that I've been on that I think will continue, and I think is getting some traction, is when I came through the program ... and like I said, coming through MSOD, all the pieces kind of clicked for me. I knew that there were parts of my life that were integrating in interesting ways. One of the greatest gifts, I think, from coming through the program and interpreting it the way that I have, is that we're uniquely qualified to change organization cultures, right? When we're asked to stand at the front of the room and do that, metaphorically speaking, there's a chance to either collude with the way things are and feed into those power structures, or really kind of turn them on their heads and do something different, bring different players into the room.

So my thing is I'm just trying to bring more and more OD people into the conversation of creating inclusion in organizations, not because I want to create warm and fuzzy spaces where we all get along. Actually, it's kind of controversial. I don't believe in that. But from an organizational effectiveness lens, right? We're here for a reason. People are gathered to do something, to execute a mission, or a strategy, or something like that. What's the most effective way to do that? Unlock everybody, unlock them, let them do what they do. So I just want to try and grab as many people as I can into this, help them see themselves in this work, and join me in doing it.

At the same time that we talk about cultures and so forth, it's such an interesting mix of folks that appropriate and play with things that are not theirs. It's kind of this interesting space where you can make mistakes and I find myself.  One of my personal journey is to watch my timing so I don't squash enthusiasm. I can be quite the party pooper. But watching people sort of try thing on and ask questions that they don't get to ask has been really interesting. But I suppose that's life.

There's something about the program that gives people the bravery to do stupid things and then you have to watch them do stupid things and find forgiveness and kind of process that and for me, try to figure out okay if this is happening here and this is ... not necessarily a safe space but a space where people are bouncing off the walls on sort of kind of guard rails, that's probably happening in organizations too where people have things that they don't see or they don't quite understand that they're trying on. It doesn't quite fit and so it's like a ... It's a container that you need a lot of empathy. I'm really working on my empathy, and my patience, my timing.

It's challenging that I have to give up some of my control. I do love a little control, and my anger. I mean my anger drives me. I wake up angry. It's what I do. So yeah, this program man, and even this past couple of days has been ... It's about metering your energy and sometimes I'm in it, and sometimes I need to step away and just get a break so that I can get energized and get back in there with folks. Yeah that's ... I'm glad I came though. Yeah, I'm glad I came.