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Overcoming Your Fear of Public Skiing

What makes some people look down a steep and slippery mountain and say to themselves, “Weee heee, I can get down this slope REALLY FAST!” and yet fill other people with absolute terror?

What makes some people approach a public speaking event, standing on a stage in front of 900 people, with excitement and anticipation, and give other people the cold sweats several months in advance of the event?

Part could be fear of the unknown (although for my son, he approaches every ski-able mountain with the same glee, whether he has been down it already or not). Certainly some certainty about what is around the corner, or down the hill, or some familiarity with my audience, is helpful. You can check out the plan, get some local knowledge (who’s been down that hill or worked with that group before?), do what you need to to inform yourself about what is coming.

Part could be confidence in your ability to handle new and unexpected things. This could come from a great deal of practice, so taking hours of lessons, clocking hours of snow time, and getting back up over and over again can help (if you don’t hit a tree and break your arm one of those times, which can set you back both physically and mentally, let me assure you).

This also works with public speaking and facilitation – after I have done a run of workshops, I feel like I start from a position of confidence in front of a group. And even after a dud workshop session or presentation for whatever reason (and we have all had them -my first Toastmasters Table topic was a real blooper), you need to reflect on that and try to remember more of what you learned next time (lean forward, dig in those edges, prepare yourself, keep cool). Learning from more experienced speakers and facilitators (as well as skiers) is a great way to learn – be it in lessons or from mentoring/shadowing/keen observation.

Part could be sheer bravado, but I am not sure how I can map that over to public speaking or facilitation – except that if you believe it enough there might be some self-fulfilling prophecy there. This might relate to just that instinctive feeling that you can do something; that you have the right tools and equipment and muscles, and master them, you have good general awareness, and feel that normally when you try something and give it your best, it works out. (This could be a pre-tree collision feeling, but can come back with some additional effort and if you don’t give up, I am assured.)

All I can say at this point, is that I look at an audience at a workshop, or in an auditorium with much less trepidation than I do that mountain slope and I’m doing my best to apply my learning from one to the other!

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Can Good Storytelling Help You Be a Better Learning Designer?

In the learning field, especially when the approach is learner-centred, we talk of the “learning journey” that people go on as they build their capacity/understanding/competency in a new area. We may also use the words “learning narrative” to describe this learning process to others.

It’s interesting to think how a learning practitioner builds his or her ability to design a compelling learning journey. And I wondered today how storytelling and story writing might help us…

If you look at the structure of a story and that of a learning process (let’s take a week long workshop for example) you might find some of the same steps along the way.

Where a story might introduce the characters at the beginning, in a learning course you would introduce both the participants on the learning journey (e.g. other learners in the room), as well as the issues that will be playing a big role in the week.

After introductions, you might have some time to get to know the characters, including their backstories and ambitions. In a learning workshop you might at this stage have some group development exercises to help people to get to know more about their colleagues, and also go deeper together into the issues and themes of the workshop. As in a good story, all would not be described in a linear or obvious way; you would discover interesting new things, facets and added complexity, as you read. In a workshop it could be the same, new aspects of the theme would be uncovered as the group digs into it and adds their own different perspectives to it (e.g. through group discussion and work, rather than only presented through straight lecture format).

Then, just when you get comfortable (hey, I get this stuff!) there needs to be a challenge – some tension in our story (and our learning) – what ever will our heroes do?!

(And of course there might also be some antagonists – in workshops they call themselves “Devil’s Advocates”:-)

Our challenge may be a real community challenge-like transboundary water conflict or unsustainable fishing practices – to which the workshop participants, with the community members, are trying to contribute some thinking. It might be a learning case study to solve together or a U-process that helps them reflect on a problem, perplexing issue or an unhelpful paradigm. At this point in our story, and our workshop, as we try to overcome the challenge, passions and emotions may be high – can we do it?

Yes we can! (At this point the ending of our story may be personally biased, I tend towards resolution and happy endings, and I think that learning environments often benefit from the same). In our story, this can include that ending summary that we see when the characters get together and talk through what happened (like at the end of Secret Seven books or Scooby Doo episodes). In our workshop it may be a final report back on the conclusions of the group work, presented to the community or to each other. This could be followed by a collaboratively built summary reflection on what happened and what people learned, and some final words.

In stories, as in learning, there are lots of interesting ways to make the narrative exciting for the reader (and workshops for our learners). Unusual and complex situations and scenarios (who gets the land: the farmers, villagers, foresters or loggers?), thought experiments, seeing things from different perspectives, excellent questions, incredible backdrops (I once held a learning workshop on a beach in Thailand, at a wastewater treatment plant in Morocco, and a mountaintop in northern Mexico) and more.

So, where can you find insight and inspiration for the design of your learning narrative? Read any good books lately?

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Resonate With Your Audience. Here’s How…

Watch this video of Nancy Duarte talking about sparkline.

I have often found myself making reference to the ideas of Nancy Duarte. She spoke to me and a group of TEDx-ers on a pre-opening backstage tour of TED2011 early this year about storytelling and presentations that “Resonsate” – the title of her recent book. In my blog post “TEDxWorkshops, Talks, Tips and Tweets…” I recalled my tweets from her talk: Nancy Duarte on storytelling formula: What is – what could be – what is – what could be – what is – call for action – the utopian new bliss. / Nancy Duarte quotes Ernest Hemmingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.” / Nancy Duarte quotes Woodrow Wilson: “If I have 10 minutes to present I need a week to prepare; if I have an hour I am ready now.”

I have since quoted these myself many times when working with people preparing presentations, and am delighted to say that I just today discovered this short video of Nancy giving much the same talk. Watch it. And once you’ve done so, look at the links on the webpage under the heading ‘Extended Web Content’. Here you can click through to examples of how the formula applies to talks – including by Benjamin Zander, Ronald Reagan and Feynman. I think these are very useful to see it in practice, and trust that you too will find this a great resource for thinking about your presentations in the future. Let us know how you get on!

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Tweets from a TED Week: TEDActive 2011

In February, I had my first “TED-ache” at TEDActive2011. TEDsters know all about TED-aches. They come with the “mind-mash” that is a TED conference. One minute its talks on quantum mechanics, biochemistry or brain science. The next its the latest in information technologies. And then you’re plunged deep into the ocean, taking a swim with seals alongside a nature photographer. Or you’re marvelling as a life-size horse puppet breathes and trots around the stage, and then Bobby McFerrin has you singing and laughing from your gut!

This is no ordinary conference. It stretches you to go where you would likely not go if just browsing the talks on TED.com. Most people listen actively to every single talk. And the beauty comes in the meaning you make for yourself as you listen to talks on a great diversity topics and begin to see patterns; to make connections; to find learning where you might least expect it.

On the journey home, I tried to create a mindmap as I read through all my notes (without which I would have retained but the merest fraction of ideas worth spreading). It was messy. However, perhaps even messier still has been my process of trying to sort all my tweets into some sort of coherence in order to share them here. From the mind-mash that was TEDActive, here are what are still a mish-mash of tweets (with some tweaks) to share my take-aways with you, clustered under some imperfect headings. The talks can be found here: TED2011 Talks

a. Perspective
b. Right, wrong and assumptions
c. Unintended consequences
d. The need to encode ethics in algorithms
e. Innovation and counter-intuition
f. Instrumental information: visualizing systems
g. Collective wisdom for change
h. Art for social change
i. Crowd-voicing
j. Collaborative creativity
k. Leveraging learning
l. Breathtaking medical breakthroughs
m. Miscellaneous communication products and technologies

a. Perspective

Astronaute in space Cady Coleman speaks perspective & the importance of connectedness & value of the earth as she circles once/18 mins.

“If a chunk of metal can be in two places at the same time, you could be. We have to think about the word differently as an individual” Physicist Aaron O’Connell.

Physicist Aaron O’Connell: “Everything around you is connected & that’s the profound weirdness of quantum mechanics.”

In a gfa-1 microbe in Mono Lake CA, arsenic seems to function as phospherous in a cell. Evidence of alternative biochemistry on our planet? It would change our definition of habitability elsewhere… Felisa Wolfe-Simon

We can only find what we know how to look for. For Felisa Wolfe-Simon that’s learning to look for alternative biochemistry on earth.

Edith Widder’s eye-in-the-sea explores bioluminescent deep ocean life & language. “Don’t know what they’re saying… I think its sexy!”

Paul Nicklen chokes up recounting leopard seal stories from his polar photo missions for Nat Geog and shows pictures of the white ‘Spirit’ or ‘Kermode’ bear – only 200 left on the planet! Save sea ice; its as important as soil.

Swiss explorer Sarah Marquis: “I dont want to put people back in nature; I want to put nature back in people”. “Let your soul touch the earth…. go walking.”

RachelSussman photographs living things >10’000 years old. “If you didn’t know what you were looking for, it would be easy to overlook something other megaflora were grazing on before extinction”.

b. Right, wrong and assumptions

“Trusting too much in the feeling of being right can be very dangerous and create huge tactical and social problems as we believe our beliefs reflect reality and make huge assumptions to explain people who disagree with us: assume their ignorant, idiots and/or evil, leading us to treat each other terribly, missing the hole point of being human. The miracle of the mind is that you can see the world as it isn’t.” Kathryn Schulz

“We need to learn to step outside of rightness, look around at one another and the vast complexity of the universe and say: ‘Wow, maybe I’m wrong!The system tells us getting something wrong means there’s something wrong with us. We learn the way to succeed is to never make any mistakes.” Kathryn Schulz

“How does it feel to be wrong?” Asks Kathryn Schulz. “Wrong. You’re answering the question, ‘How does it feel to realize that you’re wrong?’ It feels like being right to be wrong until until you realize you’re wrong.”

Daman Horowitz speaks about his work in prisons giving philosophy classes & the importance of questioning what we believe and why we believe it, including exploring wrongness. “What is wrong? Maybe I am!”

Magician Franz Harary demonstrates playing with glitches in peoples minds that distort and manipulate thoughts, using magic to fake technology that doesn’t exist.

c. Unintended consequences

Evolution will be guided by us in the future, thanks to genetics. What will we choose? More competitive? Empathetic? Creative? “If anything had the potential for unintended consequences, this is it!” Harvey Fineberg

We cannot foresee all consequences. But how can we close the gap between capabilities & foresight? Edward Tenner’: “Learn meticulously from unintended consequences & chaos”.

Edward Tenner: An example of unintended consequences = adding lifeboats to a ship, making it more unstable and resulting in tragedy.

“We are at a threshold moment: a single global brain of almost 7 billion individuals learning collectively at warp speed = very powerful and potentially very dangerous. Nuclear weapons are evidence.” David Christian

Looking at ‘big history’ shows us the power of collective learning and the dangers that come with it. Studying this will help all students make better decisions in the future. David Christian

d. The need to encode ethics in algorithms

“We need new info (Internet) gatekeepers to encode ethic responsibility into their (Facebook, Google…) algorithmic code & give us some control” El Pariser.

Speaking of Facebook and Google, Eli Pariser asserts: “’Personalized algorithmic filter bubbles are throwing off balance our info diet, converting it to info funk food.’

“The demise of guys is a consequence of arousal addictions stimulated by the internet & video ‘porning'” – Philip Zimbardo

e. Innovation and counter-intuition

“The greatest time for game-changing innovation was The Great Depression.” Edward Tenner

“When you train people to be risk averse, they are reward challenged”, said Morgan Spurlock in his talk encouraging the embracing of transparency. He sold the naming rights to his talk.

Inspiring talk by Kalia Colbin about reimagining Christchurch: “10 days ago my be the beginning of the demise of my city, but in the rubble their may be promise”. Help with ideas at www.reimaginechristchurch.org.nz.

Do something good for the city and we’ll give you more land, says Malaysia to property developers as incentive. Thomas Heatherwick does, with buildings that leave more ground for the forest.

For the first time in history not one child in Utter Pradesh & Bihar (northern India) has Polio. New vaccine + resolve + tactics = a unique eradication opportunity. Bruce Aylward

Chefs Hamaru Contu & Ben Roche introduce “Disruptive Food Technology”: from the Future Food science lab: tricking taste buds we can reduce energy & waste http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tv/future-food/.

Bill Ford asserts ingenuity in mobility solutions is not only about our movement, its also about access to food and healthcare. Smart cars, smart parking, smart signalling and smart phones all integrated in new smart mobility system is the future.

A leap in thinking is needed to avoid global gridlock if the population reaches the predicted 9 billion in 2044. Real time data is needed for a new mobility system. Bill Ford

“If we sped up cars in our cities by 3mph, we would reduce by 11% the emissions of our transport system.” Counter-intuitive! Luis Cilimingras, IDEO (formerly FIAT)

Speaking of cars actively driven by the blind (unveiled Jan 2011 http://is.gd/ruV8l1): “Technology will be ready, but will society be ready?” Need system change. Dennis Hong

f. Instrumental information: visualizing systemss

“As the world becomes increasingly instrumented and we have means to connect the dots, we can see interactions not previously visible with profound implications for us as individuals” Deb Roy,

Deb Roy set records in home-video hours to reveal patterns linking words to context and identifying feedback loops as his son acquired language in his Human Speechome Project http://j.mp/ePanlq.

Collaborating with scientists, Rajesh Rao tries to use computer modelling to decipher the last major undeciphered ancient script – Indus. Does it boil down to picture of ‘bee’ + ‘leaf’ = ‘belief’?

Ebs and flows in US flight patterns are visualized, providing powerful communication www.aaronkoblin.com/work/flightpatterns/

Carlo Ratti, MIT SENSEable City Lab, uses pervasive technologies to track trash in an investigation into the “removal-chain”. Listening to Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony (45), he shows us trash doesn’t leave, just moves! http://senseable.mit.edu/trashtrack/

g. Collective wisdom for change

Students tackle 50 interlocking systems problems learn how not to follow short term destructive paths and learn how to think about World Peace long term, learning right and wrong through their experience. John Hunter

John Hunter asserts very openly that the collective wisdom of his 4th grade students is so much greater than his own. He trusts them to solve world problems, practicing with his World Peace role-play game.

US General Stanley McChrystal talks about changes in leadership with distributed technologies and the inversion of expertize as old ‘leaders’ are less familiar wit the technologies required.

h. Art for social change

Under house arrest in Shanghai, Ai Weiwei speaks via video of art for social change & the creation of a civil & more democratic society in China despite no party willingness.

Street Artist JR’s wish: “Stand up for what you care about by participating in a global collaborative art project. And together we’ll turn the world INSIDE OUT”: www.insideoutproject.net

Women Are Heroes project by street artist JR: www.womenareheroes.be In Kibera “we didn’t use paper (on the rooves), because paper doesn’t prevent the rain from leaking in the house but vinyl does.”

“It doesn’t matter today if it’s your photo or not. The importance is what you do with images… We decided to take portraits of Palestinians and Israelis doing the same job. They all accepted to be pasted next to the other.” JR

i. Crowd-voicing

Human right activist & TED Fellow Esra’a Al Shafei presents www.crowdvoice.org – a project of MidEast Youth tracking voices of protest around the world using crowdsourcing.

Wael Ghonin: Egypt saw extreme tolerance, Christians & Muslims protecting one another praying. “The power of the people is much stronger than the people in power”.

Surprise talk by Wael Ghonim on the Egyptian revolution: “No one was a hero because everyone was a hero.”

“We cannot have a well-functioning democracy if there is not a good flow of information to citizens” El Pariser.

Head of Al-Jazeera, Wadar Khanfar: “The democratic revolution sweeping the Arab world is the best chance to see peace. Let us embrace it.”

j. Colloborative creativity

“Electronic communication will never be a substitute for someone who face to face encourages you to be brave and true” Marc Martens talking of the powerful “Glow” public art playground http://glowsantamonica.org/. Public art to connect people is at the heart of the Santa Monica ‘Glow’ project.

Face ache follows the Bobby McFerrin session. “Unparalleled joy” was in the programme! Playing along with Bobby’s creative spontaneity warmed everyone’s hands, voices and hearts.

The lennonbus.org at #TEDActive – a non-profit mobile recording studio dedicated to providing students with opportunities to make music and video projects.

eyewriter.org – an ongoing collaborative research project using completely open source technology to empower people suffering with paralysis to draw with their eyes. Mik

Co-creating a music video through crowdsourcing: Aaron Koblin describes www.thejonnycashproject.com: a living, moving, ever-changing portrait as people all over the world contribute portraits to the collective whole.

Aaron Koblin: “Interface can be a powerful narrative device”, showing a crowd-sourced video, which when viewed is unique to each viewer www.thewildernessdowntown.com/

Conductor Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque” gives voice to a virtual choir – http://ericwhitacre.com/the-virtual-choir. The upcoming project received >2050 videos online from 58 countries.

k. Leveraging learning

Project V.O.I.C.E. – lovely project by Sarah Kay uses poetry as a way to entertain, educate & inspire. List 10 things you know to be true. Sharing these lists – who has the same? / opposite? / who heard something never heard before? / heard new angles on what you thought you knew? Sarah Kay

Make a list “10 things I should have learned by now.” Sarah Kay uses poetry to work through what she doesn’t understand with a backpack from where she’s already been.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio looks at the conscious mind: “There are 3 levels of self: The proto, the core & the autobiographical (past & anticipated future). We share the first 2 with other species.”

NYT Columnist David Brooks asserts emotions are the foundation of reason and, as social beings emerging out of relationships, we need to learn better how to read, listen to and talk about emotions.

Ed Boyden explores the brain signals that drive learning & describes the process of installing molecules in neurons and using light to turn on/off specific cells in the brain and treat neurological disorders.

“Personal perceptions are at the heart of how we acquire knowledge.” Autistic Savant, Daniel Tammet, shares insights from synaesthesia about colours, textures & the emotions of words & numbers.

29% greater retention from doodlers & better problem solving because it engages all learning styles – Sunni Brown. “The doodle has never been the nemesis of intellectual thought. In reality, it’s been one of its greatest allies.”

Khan Academy learning: self paced, interactive, peer-to-peer, encouraging trying & failing (like falling off a bicycle), and designed to be iterative and so avoid ‘swiss cheese’ gaps in education. Salman Khan

“By removing the one-size fits all lecture from the classroom, these teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom.” “What we’re seeing emerge is this notion of a global one-world classroom.” Salman Khan

“Kids 1 year from voting age don’t know butter comes from a cow. They’re not stupid. Adults have let them down. Every child has the right to fresh food at school & food education as a requirement. It’s a civil right” Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver’s exciting new announcement about the future of the Food Revolution: http://bit.ly/hbRmGM #TED

Alison Lewis presents fashion technology, encouraging DIY “Switch Craft” projects blending sewing and electronics to bring handiwork into the 21st century: http://blog.alisonlewis.com/?p=541.

Fiorenzo Omenetto reinvents something that’s been around for millennia. Learning from silk worms, he reverse engineers the cocoon turning water & protein into material with environmental & social significance.

A seed cathedral, inspired by Kew’s seed bank, jurassic park & play doh mop-tops is Thomas Heatherwick’s stunning London Pavillion @ Shanghai: www.heatherwick.com/uk-pavilion/.

Learn a second language in Second Life: an alternative emersion process that works with the 5 stages of second language acquisition and the mastery of the 4 language skills, says Jeong Kinser.

Indra Nooyi talks about Pepsi’s Refresh University to sustain & multiply social change emerging from www.refresheverything.com: stories, lessons & ‘how-to’ online + leadership skills training.

l. Breathtaking medical breakthroughs

Luke Massella is living proof of Anthony Atala’s regenerative organ work. He was one of the first ten people to receive a ‘printed’ kidney. 3D printed organs are the next frontier in medicine.

Eythor Bender showcases his incredible exoskeletons, which enable the paralyzed to walk again.

m. Miscellaneous communication products and technologies

The effects of HIV can be reversed. Watch this powerful ad from the Topsy Foundation: http://t.co/lLph2Or via @youtube.

A compelling video for the genocide-awareness www.onemillionbones.org/ project by Art Activist TED Fellow Naomi Natale #TED: http://youtu.be/FFukmsLLG0k.

Weforest.org’s “Lessons from a tree” video – narrated by Jeremy Irons – supports the “Buy2get1tree” campaign, working with corporate partners to save 2 trillion trees by 2014. Bill Liao

Kate Hartman creates devices that play with how we relate and communicate with ourself, others and nature. “Our bodies are our primary interaction with the world”.

The Handspring Puppet Company breath life into a larger than life War Horse puppet on stage using masterful “emotional engineering” and “up to date 17th century technology to turn nouns into verbs”.

Mike Matas demos www.pushpoppress.com/ – the first feature length interactive book and sequel to “Inconvenient Truth” – with Climate Change solutions. Blow on the screen to turn wind turbines!

A smart braille phone varying the height of a pixel instead of color to communicate information on “screen”: A concept of TED Fellow – SumitDagar.com.

Mattias Astrom demos C3, a new 3D mapping technology: http://www.c3technologies.com/

Bubbli – ambitious new startup seeks to change the way we record images with cameraphones. Terrence McArdle & Ben Newhouse.

Shea Hembrey invented 100 artists and imagined their art. http://www.sheahembrey.com/

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In the Absence of Metaphor: Games and New Groups

As Facilitators and Trainers working with new groups and organizations, we occasionally get strong reactions to descriptors like “interactive”, “games-based”, “experiential” when explaining our work. When you dig a bit deeper into those responses, you hear stories of team-building sessions gone awry, icebreakers that were too “silly”, or activity choices that were “pointless”, in someone’s estimation.

The gap in meaning, I might guess, is due to the absence of metaphor.

Metaphor is the concept of understanding one thing in terms of another – or constructing an analogy between two things, ideas or actions.

Picking the right team building game for example, is not just a question of what the facilitator likes or feels competent delivering; it is selecting a game that provides a platform to explore some of the key issues that the team has, and creating a metaphor in a game that lets team members identify them, work through them, test options, discuss them based on the behaviour in the game, and then draw lessons or ideas that can be useful in their daily work. 

Even a quick activity, like an icebreaker or introductions, can be linked to a useful metaphor too. For example, I recently used Thiagi’s Hello game to both have people collect information about their experience, expectations, etc., which was good insight in itself, and then in the debriefing asked the group to think about how the exercise might be a metaphor for their work. This game features a number of small groups concurrently collecting information from the whole group in very short segments for planning, collecting, analysing, and reporting of around 3 minutes each! This particular group had some issues that team members wanted to explore about dealing with time pressure, with cooperation and information sharing, and this game was perfect for both introductions and to begin to lightly focus and reflect on these things, even in the first 15 minutes of the day.

Think about where you can find or create metaphor in  facilitation and training work. Any extra design element, no matter how small, that makes the link between the activity or game and the work that people are doing (or hoping to do better) can deepen the connection and the learning. And of course, it is important to bring attention to the metaphor, through debriefing, questioning, noticing. Your role as a facilitator is to help people see and make those connections. When done with skill, this helps makes both the meaning of the activity as well as your choice in introducing it much more obvious to participants. Finally, it optimises the time and refreshingly gives people permission to play again (“serious play” of course).

Some groups might need some extra work to help regain credibility for experiential learning. By strengthening the metaphor and meaning of games and activities, you are both investing in a group’s future success learning together through interactive techniques, and also hopefully softening resistance, making your life easier on the day and afterwards.

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Who Wants to Be A…Converting Game Shows to Workshop Learning Games

For an event that combines product designers, technology experts and policy makers, you want to move into as many innovative “integrative” spaces as possible. That takes buy-in from all parties, as well as lots of courage!

On Tuesday, the second day of a 2-day international conference on sustainable products and services in Essen, Germany, we took the familiar format of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” and converted it into “Who Wants to Be a Sustillionaire” (credit to the CSCP team for the title!) We used this modified format to do something interesting and new for plenary reporting on a series of 5 parallel workshops, in which 200 people from 29 countries took a set of project ideas to their next stage of development.

Many conferences have a combination of plenary sessions and parallel workshops as a part of their design. The challenge is how to bring in the learning and outcomes from the parallel work back to the whole group in a way that is not a boring sequential set of oral reports from the workshop organizers.

It’s an interesting decision about whether to do plenary report-backs at all. Really large conferences don’t bother. Medium-sized ones with community-building goals, often try. And it is a challenge for organizers and facilitators to do this in a way that is engaging and not sleep-inducing (heaven forbid adding into the mix the after lunch snooze-time zone.)

One compelling reason to do after-workshop reporting, is that it ups the stakes in terms of quality outcomes. If you need to report back to 200 people what you accomplished during your 2 hour session, you put some extra effort into it and want it to be good. Another pro is that it promotes more authenticity in reporting, as you have your whole group of 40 or so participants in the room witnessing and hopefully validating your description of what came out of the event.

So there are some good arguments around why to try to bring some of the flavour and learning from parallel sessions into a plenary setting. We decided to do it.

So back to our game session, “Who Wants to Be A Sustillionaire”. We thought it would be interesting to get each of the Project Incubators (the titles of our parallel workshops) to give us two questions, in the familiar multiple-choice format of the game show. We would combine them all into one game round which would be delivered by Powerpoint in the plenary after the conclusion of the parallel sessions.

On each slide we had the question, and then an A, B or C choice. The next slide had the same question with the right answer highlighted. There were 10 questions. Each question was asked to the audience by the game host (in this case it was me), and their answers were collected in different ways. After some of the questions (at least one per workshop) I asked someone from that particular Project Incubator, either an organizer or participant, to tell us a little more about the question’s answer and in doing so some of the results of their workshop.

It was ambitious, we got some laughs, and good humoured responses. In retrospect, I would do it again. Here are some of the things I learned about the conversion process, converting the game show format to the learning format, that I would consider next time:

What I liked:

  1. I could administer the game from the audience, I had a lapel mike and walked through the audience as I asked the questions which were shown on the big screen at the front of the plenary. I also had a hand mike, so I could either ask the group to respond, or I could ask individuals the questions. It made it more spontaneous.
  2. The quiz was at the end of the conference, so I knew many people by that point, and when I needed to pick an individual to answer a question, I knew who might be happy to answer a queston in front of a group of 200 people, and who might add a little extra humour to their answer.
  3. I thought 10 questions was about right, I would not have wanted more (perhaps a few less, but generally, the 10 questions went pretty quickly).
  4. I thought it worked well to collect the answers in different ways. For some I asked the audience to stand if they thought it was A, B or C; or asked them to raise their hands; or ask individuals. I could also lightly play on the ask the audience, phone a friend etc. (although no one took me up on the latter). I couldn’t easily use 50:50 as we always had 4 answers.

What I would try or do differently next time:

  1. I would number the questions (1 to 10), so as the game host, I could tell when we were getting near the end and raise the drama.
  2. I think I would put the questions in order from very easy to hard, like in the game show. Ours were mixed, and all of them had some funny answer choices, which was good, and at the same time made the questions continue to be rather easy. Next time, I would make the first ones very funny and easy, and then get gradually harder so that people didn’t automatically know the answers. It might give me more opportunity to get discussion going within the audience and not just between the audience and me.
  3. I would vary the kinds of questions – we used a template to make it easier for the session organizers to give us their questions. We even gave them some samples, and then asked them to give us the wrong answers in advance and then give us the right answer after their session. I think having different kinds of questions, and different numbers of answers (e.g 2, 3, 4, 5) might have given more variety, and therefore be easier to animate.
  4. I was a good idea to have question “stems” (e.g. What are the priorities for…? What is the role of…?) which were sent in advance (5 days) to the organizers who could use them to frame their questions. In the future we could go back to the game show for some familiar stems, to even further connect the audience to the energy of the tv game.
  5. I would build in a little more time between the end of the workshops and the quiz in plenary – we had a courageous 30 minute coffee break to collect the final answers, check through them and run the game. It did feel like the quiz was very fresh which was great, and perhaps little more time would help iron out any little hiccups, let us look over the quiz as a whole for the build in difficulty and drama, and give us a test period. A lunch break time length would be great.
  6. I might add a final question that is not directly related to the indvidual workshops but was a comment on the overall goal or message of the conference – that could be the 1 million Euro question.
  7. Adding monetary figures overall to each question might have added some fun, at the end I could have asked who wanted to donate their winnings to the Project Incubator follow-up (hopefully everyone would have raised their hand!)

These are some of the things I learned from the experiment to convert a game show into a conference reporting game. It was infinitely better than stand up reports, gave some interesting energy to the end of a lively conference, and gave people a shared experience that could continue to bind them together (more than sitting shoulder-to-shoulder together and listening to podium speakers).

I think it also showed the organizers in a good light, as courageous and willing to try something new. It promoted the idea that there are always new ways to do routine things, things that we might do without giving it much thought, especially in a familiar setting (in this case, like a conference). How can we keep from going on autopilot and missing out on the innovation and energy that comes from trying something different and new? And for sustainability, we will take all the innovation and energy we can get!

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Let’s Give Them Something To Talk About: Big Change, Little by Little?

Active support for change can take many forms. Each act touches some group of people, potentially changes the way they think and (hopefully) what they do, and promotes the change further, connecting tiny points of light until a blanket of light shines out at us. When the actions are all taking us in the same direction, how powerful can that be? From a big city on the west coast of the USA to a rural village in eastern Switzerland, what innovative ways did change supporters get people’s attention and support for change last week?

For weeks before the inauguration of President Obama, Little Rae’s Bakery in Seattle has been selling the “First Family in Shortbread”. More than the good conversation that the cookies themselves produce, James Morse, the owner of Little Rae’s, explained on their website how this creative initiative demonstrates the bakery’s support for the new President and his change programme, encourages exchange, and takes the additional step to support community action. Here are some excerpts taken from their website (as is the photo):

In a few short weeks the nation will come together to celebrate the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States. As the country begins to understand the extent of the damage to our economy, the new president and his family are going to be looked to for leadership. The kind of leadership this generation has never seen – or needed.

At Little Rae’s Bakery, we’re bakers. That’s what we do. We decided to honor the entire first family to show our support and hope that when we stick together, when we lean on those closest, we are strongest. We’re pleased to offer you the First Family cookies. They depict the new President, the First Lady, the Obama children and even the family’s mystery dog. Since the Obamas couldn’t adopt a dog from the animal shelter due to a variety of allergies, we’re donating a portion of every sale to the Humane Society. We’d love to hear what you think of the cookies and have the chance to share the story behind them with you.

Creativity seems to be fundamental to raising awareness, getting people talking, and thinking differently. First Family cookies no doubt made an innovative contribution to this conversation, which was also going on where we live, some 5257 miles away.

We had a spirited discussion with our children last week around the inauguration due, as far as I can tell, to the action of the cantine workers at the local elementary school, which services a rural community of 2000 people in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Cafeteria workers made a whole week of “American” lunches to draw the children’s (and by association their parents’) attention to the inauguration and celebration of change in the US. Every day I had delighted reports of hamburgers, brownies, chili con carne, hot dogs and doughnuts (for full effect, say each with a thick French accent), the like they had never had before. I am sure the cantine staff enjoyed putting that menu together made up of clearly crowd pleasers. And I heard lots of good things about Obama and America from my 5 and 7 year old, and no doubt all the other parent’s in our community did too.

There is so much noise in the system, and so much to do. Getting people’s attention, focusing them on change, and getting them to try different things – whether donating to a local charity, exploring a new culture though its food, or even (like in our organizational change process) taking time to attend a World Cafe, and identify ways to contribute to organizational effeciveness and renewal – it all benefits from creativity and innovation in approach. It gives people something to talk about. And aims to help people to get interested enough to take it that one step further. We can go for big change, little by little.

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What’s Winning? Check Your Assumptions

Did you know that in unicycle races, it is the last person that crosses the finish line that wins? That is because it is much harder, and takes more skill to ride a unicycle slowly.

Sound counter-culture? What is it about our social norms that make us assume that bigger, faster, and more, is better than smaller, slower and less?

The sustainability community asks a similar question – why are high growth rates and GNP standard indicators of success? How can we help society see growing more skillfully, and possibly even more slowly, as akin to winning?

Even at work, winning sometimes seems to be about having the largest team, largest project portfolio and the most money – this can set up unhelpful competition among people with shared overall goals. Maybe we could flip “winning” to the team that collaborates most and generates more work and resources for other teams. Let’s follow those unicyclists. Let’s change the rules.

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Avoiding Petrifying Talk of ‘Taking Action’

How can we talk about applying learning without turning off those who are petrified by talk of taking action? This challenge leapt out and stared me in the face last week.

When we take time to interact with business people on the topic of business and biodiversity, we hope that they will be energized and better equipped with what they learn to return to their businesses and lead change. But leading change requires taking action. And talk of taking action… well, apparently this isn’t something that energizes everyone; Quite the opposite. So what did we come up with? – A series of appreciative questions which imply taking action, but don’t explicitly state so.

• Is your business strategy more focused on addressing biodiversity risks or opportunities?
• What more could your business do to mitigate the biodiversity risks and/or capitalize on the opportunities?
• If your CEO asked you for one suggestion on how to improve your business’ biodiversity strategy, what would you suggest?

The room buzzed. Suggestions sprung to the surface. And lively conversation continued into dinner, with learning translated into fresh ideas for leading change!

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Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in 50 Words

I just spent my Saturday morning filling in a 6-page questionnaire sent by UNESCO as a part of their global monitoring and evaluation of the Decade for Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). They want to know what organizations and networks are doing to contribute to the Decade, here at the mid-decade mark.

The question I appreciated the most was: What is Education for Sustainable Development for you? (Give your perception of ESD in 50 words.) It was the 50 words that got me, now that was a challenge! Because the Decade is a United Nations process (it is a UN Decade), with all the reams of paperwork, pages and column inches that brings, I found this question both refreshing and intriguing. It was an exercise that tapped into to my right brain creativity that was not unlike writing a poem or a haiku. It generated a little spark of energy where before there was only a 6-page questionnaire. And it was the last question – good thinking on someone’s part!

Here was my response:

ESD is the process of helping individuals and groups deliberately define their own SD journeys, supporting this through learning tools, collaborative opportunities and reflective processes. ESD shapes people’s viewpoint on their personal and professional experiences so that decisions that favour sustainability become a part of their habitual and desired practice.

Want to try one of your own? See if thinking about it this way, like a puzzle, ignites some renewed energy – after all we have 5 years to go!

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Leaking Left Brain Knowledge into Right Brain Action

I am at the annual Balaton Group meeting this week and we have been talking about, among other things, how to motivate people to change their behaviour – in this case, towards more sustainable actions.

One of our speakers on change agentry put up a slide titled, “Obstacles to change,” which included all kinds of reasons people give for not adopting more green behaviour (such as “my company needs to make a profit, my small contribution will not count for much, I can’t afford it”, etc.) Someone asked the quesion – are these obstacles to change, or rationalisations for not changing behaviour? Here was the argument:

People know what they want to do. When you encourage them to do something differently, they can easily come up with rationalisations of why they cannot possibly do it. Action emerges, it was suggested, in the right side of the brain. Action is vocalised, in the left side of the brain. Models, data, causal loop diagrams, and so on appeal to the left side of the brain. They can help people logically see what they should do and say so. In the right brain however, where the stories, emotions, images lie, is where the motivation to do something is initiated. The left side of the brain picks the song, but the right side of the brain dances to it.

If we want people to dance, to change their behaviour (for example after our systems visioning workshops), we need to do something that leaks over into the right side of their brain. We can’t just give them rationale, data, causal loop diagrams to get them to do things differently. That will help them find their direction. It will be the games, the images and maps, great questions and the heated discussions, that will get them to do something differently after our workshop. Let’s dance!

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Say It With Flowers

There are many ways to say “No”, some are distinctly better than others. Yesterday a mini experiment in saying “No” happened in our office. I wrote an email query (not the first time) which included a budget request and sent it to two senior managers in the institution. It was something I had been banging on about for months and clearly was beginning to be an issue that needed resolution. A short meeting had been held the previous day on the topic, so I was eager for the answer. Within 30 minutes of my message, both managers wrote me back. Both effectively saying “No”, but what a difference in approach, delivery, and how it made me feel afterwards.

One manager wrote me a one liner asking if he could talk to me about this. Then within 30 min he was standing in my office. We sat down, chatted for a minute and then he brought up the issue. He listened to me first, then he told me about the process and rationale for the decision. He gave me an example of how another staff member in my similar situation had found a solution and was working it out. He appealed to my sense of fairness (as in this case the limited budget I had requested was going to those who had no other options for participation without this means). He smiled, he asked if I understood, and in the end I felt a bit guilty about my initial request, was willing to give it up. I thanked him for his time and thoughtful explanation; I practically thanked him for his “No”. At the end of our 7 minute conversation I was more knowledgable about the process, I understood his challenges in decision-making and his rationale.

The other “No” response could not have been more different. The second manager wrote me an email and pasted in the text from the minutes regarding the decision that was taken in the meeting. It also refered to a memo from last January (which has not been spoken of again until recently). It had no rationale, was unapologetic, and straightforward in saying “No”. It ended with saying, effectively, the rules say you will not do this. All this in 4 lines of an email. Wow, the feeling of this “No” response was dramatically different. I made me feel argumentative; I wanted to take the time to dig out that January memo, follow all the discussions and find evidence of miscommunication, etc. write back a retort, stir up a fuss, stand on principle, etc. etc. Effectively, waste a lot of time (mine and potentially this manager’s) contesting a decision that only moments before I was completely fine with.

The nice approach won out. I will drop this now, but it is an interesting lesson in how to artfully say “No”. And also about time -short term time investment for long term time savings (in systems akin to the “Worse Before Better” archetype). Both managers are incredibly busy. However, taking 10 minutes to come see me saved this first manager (and me) potentially much more effort dealing with my reaction to this decision over time, and potential spin off reactions from bad feelings. Ironically, this short exchange with the first manager to tell me “No” probably even improved our relationship. Imagine being able to use a bad news situation to make interactions better overall – artful people management. I am not sure this would be the case with the second approach.

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Taking Your Work Outdoors

You don’t need to be a farmer or a tree surgeon to work outdoors. Even office workers benefit from a bit of fresh air and fresh perspective sometimes.

Today we did our team’s mid-year performance assessment, and because it was hot, and there is construction right outside our office window, we decided to have our 2 hour meeting out back of the building in our break area under the trees. It was cool and fresh, and the context was so different that I cannot help to think that the unusual setting encouraged us to have a different conversation than the one we might have had in our more institutional office space.

As a bonus, we also got a new perspective on what work means for some of our colleagues. First we saw a co-worker walk by in a pair of chest waders and a long stick. Following that was another colleague in a long T-shirt and barefeet (and noticeably missing a pair of trousers). Before this blog post gets an X rating, I must say that (upon query) they were draining the bog in our natural garden (a beautiful wetland area with all native Swiss species). We enviously watched another work style in our office, one that happens outside more often than not – and what’s stopping all of us from taking our work outdoors more often? Have a meeting? Need to have a different conversation? Take a walk!

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How Can You Get Them to Drink? Effective Communication in the Workplace

Imagine that you have spent two years developing guidelines for engaging with some key corporate issue. Or you just undertook a major survey with an important stakeholder group and wrote a 6-page summary of the central findings. You are finally finished and you send around your laboured document as an email attachment. Do people read it, do they understand it, do they do something differently as a result of this heroic effort?

How can you best broadcast essential information to a staff of hundreds?

It might not be enough to just send out your email message and hope that people find it in their in-boxes and have the time to read it (the 6-page summary mentioned above took me 1 hour to read carefully). Or might not get everyone’s attention at the monthly staff meeting in your 3 minute report. How can you get people in the “room” either physically or metaphorically?

We have been speaking to a couple of internal units about this in the last weeks and some interesting ideas have come up revolving around taking a campaign approach to internal communications, using a combination of existing structures/processes and creating some new information sharing opportunities. Here are a few steps that might be helpful:

Step 1: What staff gatherings already exist? In our organization we have a monthly staff meeting, a bi-weekly management meeting, our weekly Free Coffee mornings, and an ad-hoc series of “Brown-bag lunches” which can be programmed. Each of these activities is more or less optional (although for some attendance is more strongly encouraged than others). Each seems to attract a different segment of our internal population, and numbers are usually not very high (staff meetings are the highest, but also the shortest, and most jammed with information.) Matrix those gatherings out with the type of people who go and the rough numbers – how far does that get you?

Step 2: Where else do people congregate, wait or rest? Can you take a few walks during your work day and notice where people stop and pause? We have our cafeteria, especially the line for the coffee machine (can you put a sign there?), at the tables in the cafeteria (can you laminate the guidelines and leave them on the tables?), at the reception area (comfy couches), where else?

What about the toilet? We currently have one sign in our toilets about cleanliness in French, English and Spanish which has been read, I am sure, millions of times. Everyone in our building can recite “Please flush the toilet” in three languages. What about having some kind of revolving mechanism whereby ads, short papers, executive summaries, guidelines get put up in the toilets and changed weekly? Maybe one item per week so it gets maximum attention? Anywhere else (think of your smokers, where do they go?) You are trying to pick off different segments of your population over time, be strategic!

Step 3: What is the message? Instead of pasting up all 6 pages of the survey in the toilet, or leaving stapled documents on the tables, can you boil it down to one attractive page, with the main action you desire from the reader at the top? Can you use questions to get people’s attention? Remember you are still competing with lots of other stimuli, no matter where you are (except perhaps the toilet). Also think of your segment, if young professionals are the ones that come most to the Brown Bag lunches, and are very interested in building their own capacities, how can you frame your information for them?

Step 4: How can you get a few more people to come? If you have a little budget, perhaps you can do small things that would get a few more people to attend your events. For example, offer pizza at the brown bag lunches (Legal Pizza anyone?) Or before the staff meeting, send out a message asking people for questions (If you could ask the Membership Unit one question what would it be?) then say you will pick two to answer at the staff meeting, and give a prize to the two questions you pick (then tell them about your survey results). Or in the Free Coffee morning tell people in advance that you will run a quiz about your guidelines, (link the URL) and will be awarding free lunch tickets to everyone that answers them correctly – hand out the quiz while people wait in line at the coffee machine, or put on the tables while they chat, and collect them later and send the list of winners out by email (they are now the experts on the guidelines, not only you!)

Step 5: What kind of support and take aways/reminders can you offer? Once you have people’s attention, whether it is in the Ladies room, in cafeteria, or the conference room – what can you give them to remind them of your essential information? Can you make a postcard with top tips that you can give away and they can put it by their desk (include the contact person, and URL for more information), can you put the location on the knowledge network for the full document, can you create an interesting aid memoire (magnet or badge – “I wonder what our Members are doing today?”). Can you follow up with a card offering an hour of your services? Our unit did this for the holidays, we created a holiday post card with a clock on one side saying that we would like to give a gift of our time (one hour), and on the back we put the list of “services” or things that our unit could do, and we sent it to all the different units through internal mail. No one yet has cashed it in, but at least they know more about the kinds of things we are doing, and they probably kept it up somewhere for at least a month before recycling it with the other holiday cards.

Step 6: Keep track of where you are and create your own product bank. Whether you want to do a one week blitz using all these things, a three-month campaign, or want to work over the calendar year, keep track of who you are getting and what you are using. Where are the gaps? Have you gotten the DG yet, or are you missing a few senior managers? Maybe a lunch date or a 10 minute coffee will do. Or maybe the administration is one of the key users of your guidelines, so a special meeting called with them will work. And because of inevitable turnover, can you slip your summary into the new recruits pack with HR? And keep all your supports, papers, take aways, in a central place in a resource bank complete with Frequently Asked Questions, YouTube videos of you answering the different questions, case stories of people who have used your guidelines successfully and saved time and money, and of course your guidelines or survey results.

Next year, just a reminder in the loo might be enough to get people thinking about your issue again.

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Applying the 80/20 Principles – What Does It Mean for Formal Learning?

The blog has been a little slow lately as we have entered an intense period of travel. The upside to this is that long flights are great places to read and think (and a much more pleasant environment for this than the emergency room…)

On my flight yesterday I began reading Howard Gardner‘s book Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds. This book was first published in 2004, and probabaly most people read it then. However, it is interesting to connect it with Jay Cross’ new book Informal Learning (2007). One connection jumped out to me immediately – that is the application of 80/20 principles. In Gardner’s book, he talks about the Pareto Principle (that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort). He states that this is a counterintuitive concept because people have an embedded 50/50 mentality (that we should spread our effort equally across all parts of an activity until we get to 100%). So if we want to optimise we should just focus on getting to 80% and not worry too much about the last 20%(unless we are brain surgeons or pilots), which actually takes the most effort to achieve.

Jay Cross talks about the 80/20 principle in informal learning – that 80% of our learning is informal and 20% is formal. My dangerous question as a learning practitioner is, if you put the two together, should we be skipping formal workplace learning altogether?

As a trainer and facilitator by experience, my first response would be “no”; somehow that does not feel quite right. However, it is a powerful question to consider if you are trying for increased efficiency. Also, I notice that professional development budgets in HR departments, no matter how small, are often linked to providing formal learning opportunities. Perhaps at least we could open those funds up to informal learning opportunities – like can HR help pay for Free Coffee Mornings?

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Our Story, Our Choice

In the next few days no doubt we will be writing a lot about a recent meeting we held on “Exploring Deep Change Processes: Learning from Around the World”. As I work through my reflections, I thought I would start with the discussion about how much choice we really have about how we see our own past, present and future.

One of our speakers was Ulrich Goluke, from blue-way, who is a scenarios and systems practitioner. He urged us to think about the future in a deliberate way and to have the courage to choose and develop for ourselves a set of possible scenarios for our futures. He prefaced his contribution with a short game, described below:

In pairs, take two minutes each to tell the story of your life to your partner as though it was a heroic one.

In the same pairs, take two minutes each to tell the story of your life to your partner as though you were a victim.

For many of the participants, this exercise was a “Wow” (we collected “wows” at the end of the workshop.) Why did this short exercise mean so much to people? It was incredible that with the one data set (our lives) we could frame the same sequence of life experiences so convincingly and so truthfully as both a heroic endeavour, and as a victim. Where one moment we were proud of where we were and our future, and four minutes later, we lamented the fact that we had only come this far due to events that kept us from living to our full potential.

This really showed how much choice we have in how we project ourselves into the world in the present and in the future; how we tell ourselves stories that can either celebrate a life, or despair it. Ultimately, we can choose the story we want to tell, and it can lift us up, or bring us down. It’s our choice…