As learning practitioners, we are always looking for new ways of engaging people and helping people learn. When it comes to helping people learn about what we do, we have a handful of cards up our sleeve. Moo cards. We love them – and we think that you will too.
Moo cards = business cards with a difference. Ours are mini; only half the width of a normal card. We have 50 different designs in full colour on both sides. We created them ourselves on the Moo site. And they are printed on paper that is sustainably sourced, as well as acid and lignin free.
Each of the 50 designs features one of our photos. Each highlights a diverse aspect of our work – so if someone is beckoned by our blog they can have a business card with our blog on it; if they are seeking systems thinking and crazy about causal loop diagrams – hey presto, a card to match; or maybe they want to get their fingers on some of our favourite books… a card featuring our bookshelf!
Of course, we also enjoy saying “here, take a look and take your pick”. They get a photographic tour of what we are all about. We see some great conversations sparked and engage in great two-way learning. And of course, they get a great card they chose (and chatted about) which means they are much more likely to remember us and keep in touch.
Go a step further and we can design our business cards into our learning and facilitation processes. For example, if we want to divide a group into teams for group work, we could hand out a selection of our business cards (ensuring that there is the appropriate number of duplicated or themed cards) and use them as the means by which the group organizes itself into teams. They pay attention to our card – which has a valid purpose in the process – and they get to keep it afterwards, which means less work networking after!
The speaker roster is also exciting, TED is known by its slogan, “Riveting talks by remarkable people”. At this TEDGlobal there are even a couple of people speaking that I have written about in the past, such as Tim Jackson (Changing Social Logic: Learning for Fitting In) and Sugata Mitra (Apparently children can teach themselves anything – can we do that too?)
I’ll also attend TEDUniversity on Monday where audience members can take the stage in shorter presentations. The audience of 700 that attend have applied to go (my application took me 5 hours to write!) and by their profiles, look to represent an eclectic cross section of the Technology, Environment and Design communities (and more) that make up TED. I will let you know which speakers I found the most inspirational, they will no doubt quickly appear on the TED Talks list, and look forward to my experience becoming a TEDster!
Last Friday night I went to a birthday party that a friend of mine threw for herself. It was a nice group size, 10 women, that she had drawn from various of her different social groups. Because of this diversity, everyone knew somebody, but no one knew everyone, except for her. So she decided to play a game, as a way to bring the group together and get conversation going.
At the beginning of the party, in front of the fireplace, we all sat together searching around for things to talk about with one another, work, school, family, our origins – the usual conversation suspects. Going on in parallel, as people came in, my friend would hand them a small piece of paper and a pen and asked them to write something about themselves that was interesting and that the others might not know about them, and give it back to her. The first reaction in almost every case was, but I haven’t done anything interesting! Stumped, people held on to those papers until the very last minute when they would finally write something down and hand it back.
My friend put all the papers aside as we started dinner, and indeed there was one conversation going at one end of the table about school, and another at the top of the table about another topic, and a few people like me in the middle trying to listen to both, but not quite managing to jump in. At that point, getting our attention, our hostess announced that we were going to play our game. She told people that she was going to read one of the statements and that the table would have to guess who had done what. People laughed nervously at first, apologetically restating that they had simply not been able to think of anything very interesting. Then we started, my friend began reading the statements one at a time….and… within minutes we were in an uproar, bursting with laughter, incredulous with disbelief!
This amazing group of people had been all over the world and done remarkable things – someone was being quietly paid to go by train every Friday up to Gstaad one of the world’s poshest ski resorts to teach flute lessons to a couple of students living there (we never found out who they were), one person had competed nationally in Latin Dance competitions and danced in stage shows, another person had a long list of movie stars that she had bumped into (some literally) in New York City and great stories to go along with these, someone else had worked as a forensic DNA research specialist in Costa Rica and mesmerized us with the story of CSI-like drug-related murder that she had worked on and helped solve.
What a completely different conversation we had after that! No more super small talk, there was no going back.
With that small game, not only was the conversation brought together, giving us a shared experience, it also produced an opportunity for us to connect with each person individually, making finding further conversations topics a breeze. We also quickly went to much deeper quality connections, and more memorable ones. I will probably never forget these things I learned about these women, and when I see them next I will be able to reconnect with them in a much different way thanks to this relationship building shortcut. It was a service to social learning too, knowing more about what people do and can do, if anyone asks me for a good music teacher, I know where to send them.
This game also created lots of good energy, and that relaxed people who did not know one another. It helped us share things about ourselves that we are proud of, but that would have never come up in a normal cocktail party conversations (like taking blood samples from dismembered corpses), and gave people a real sense of accomplishment; we all left feeling much more “amazing” than when we arrived. Remarkable what a little social learning exercise can do!
If you want to do it yourself, here are the game instructions:
Materials: Squares of paper (1 per person – make sure they are all the same), pens, a bowl to put them in.
Time: 3-4 minutes per person playing.
- As people walk in give them a slip of pepole and ask them individually to write down one thing about themselves that is interesting, and that people in the room may not know about themselves. Don’t give them any examples (they won’t really need them), but you can ask them to think about their past, their home or work life, etc. Tell them NOT to write their name on the paper.
- Collect the papers and fold them over; put them in a bowl or hat.
- During dinner, or when everyone can listen and see you, announce the game and pull the first paper out of the bowl. Tell the person who wrote it not to announce themselves until someone has guessed, or the group is stumped.
- Read the first paper, and start the guessing! When the person has finally been guessed, ask them to talk a little about their experience, ask about context, or for a short story (this is where the good stuff comes) and let the group focus on that person for a time before going on to the next paper.
- People will naturally keep track of how many they guessed correctly – if you want you can have a small prize for the person who got the most correct.
Variation: In a workshop setting I use this game just after lunch or on Day 2 or 3, as on the first day if people really don’t know one another at all, they will not be able to guess. If people do know one another somewhat, you can move the game up in the agenda. With a larger group, I mix up and number the cards, and then at the start of the game, I ask people to take out a piece of paper and number it from 1 to 15 (the number of people playing), and I read through all the papers first with no out-loud guessing, simply asking people to write down their guesses. Once I have completed one reading, I go back and read them again in the same order (thus the need for numbering!) and this time, we guess and then move into the wonderful sharing and storytelling as people get to tell more about what they can do and know.
Whether at a birthday dinner or in a workshop, you just never know what a gold mine of experience, stories and knowledge you have with you in the room, until you ask, and then let the evening be naturally taken over to learning about your Amazing Group of People.
Imagine you are at a huge international conference. How can you get over 8,000 people from 178 countries who have so much in common, but don’t know anyone, to engage in conversations and meet each other? At mega-events like this, people pass by each other in droves in the hallways of the conference centre, pack into elevators or escalators on their way to the next event, and stand in long slow queues to buy their coffee. But with the exciting diversity of languages represented at a conference like this comes the inevitable and rather awkward entry question of “Do you speak English”? (or “Parlez-vous Francais?”, or dozens of other possible language variations). To deal with this quandry, our Learning and Leadership unit, partnering with the Commission on Education and Communication, introduced an innovation at our organization’s recent World Conservation Congress: language buttons.
Well, we decided that one way to get people to appoach each other was to advertise the languages they speak, so that the Do-you-speak-X question would not be a barrier to engagement. We made thousands of buttons with 20 major languages printed on them in their own alphabets AND we made a blank button. On the blank button, people wrote other languages (such as Nepali and Afrikaans), and dialects (like Kreol and Bavarian) and even in one case a rather key coordinating person coyly wrote, “Don’t even think of talking to me” (but I don’t think he ever wore it).
In this process, we learned new things about colleagues – our Australian Director spoke Nepali (he had worked in a field office there), a Canadian colleague spoke Chinese for the same reason, our American Chief Scientist was fluent in Thai. These buttons were conversation starters even among people who knew each other. That was a huge benefit, not to mention sharing the incredible pride that people felt when they put them on (like my colleague Nicole in the photo above who sported 7!)
The buttons were a hit! The Information Booth workers had them, the Registration people had them, the Commission on Education and Communication members had them, and many, many more. These big conferences can be so impersonal, yet are attended by people who have the most to gain, exchange and learn from great conversations with each other. The question we asked was,” What can we do to get people talking together?” One small answer, only 30mm across, turned out to be a big success.
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!
We learned something rather counterintuitive this year about response rates when communicating with a virtual network. Our unit coordinates an expert network of communicators and educators with over 600 people particpating around the world. This network from time to time is asked to contribute their thoughts in planning and decision-making, so their response is important. You would think that interacting with a network of communicators would be a breeze. As it turns out, it is, if you ask the right questions in the right way – therein lies the learning.
Every four years this network gets a new Strategic Plan, a process lead by a Steering Committee of 15 people and validated by the network. Our first message to the group in this process seemed simple enough – the Steering Commitee had identified 3 options for a tag line for the Commission – pick your favorite one. That message went out to 600 people and one week later we had, wait for it, 8 replies. That is a response rate of 1.3% – not statistically relevant. So we did not have our tag line.
Our next challenge was to get inputs to the Strategic Plan itself – a 25-page text document. How could we possibly get a better response rate on a dense document, when only 8 people answered a one-liner? Well, what we decided to do was to NOT send the whole document as an attachment to the group of 600 asking “Dear Commission Members, please find attached a 25-page document for your comments”. If you really did not want comments, that would be a strategic way to do it.
Instead, we wrote a short email that informed people about the draft document and asked for volunteers to read it and give comments. Now this was a very different question, and demanded a different response. People needed to write us back first explicitly that they wanted to read the document, and would send comments. This extra step, effectively a commitment statement, proved to be important in terms of getting people’s involvement. What they got back then was a personalised email from me with the document, instructions, and a sincere thank you in advance. This time our initial response rate was over 100 people (asking to read the document) and of those over 80 sent in their comments, which were extensive, thoughtful, and significantly strengthened that important document. The final response rate was 13% – it might sound low, but when it’s you that’s incorporating 2000 pages of detailed comments to a document, it is quite sufficient.
What’s more – on page 13 of the document, in the middle of the page, we listed the three tag lines and noted that the Steering Committee requested Commission members to vote for A, B, or C. This time amazingly everyone wrote their vote into the document, and we have our tag line (and most importantly some new learning about) – Creating the Climate for Change.
Well, I think I am going to give up on the idea of workplace applications for Facebook. In three hours I managed to find some long lost friends, see photos of people I know in various guises, and learn a bit more about some of my “friends” hobbies (must google Rufus Wainwright, might be missing something big.) But as much as I tried, I could not see an obvious non-leisure link to this social networking tool.
If I was being generous, I could say that it would help colleagues to get to know each other better outside the office. However, my non-rigorous research showed that not too many “Friends”are also colleagues in people’s lists. Maybe about 10%. I also noticed that there is still a big demographic slant, which goes without saying; the number of Friends seems to be inversely correlated with the number of other people you are doing laundry for.
So Lizzie (196 Friends) and Caroline (239 Friends), can you share your thoughts here -does your Facebook time add anything to your work? I’m not saying it should of course. I just wonder whether Facebook might be a part of our 9-to-5 someday; so far I can’t imagine how I could timesheet the three hours I just spent scrutinising thumbnail photos for signs of aging and poking people.
This strikes me as a rather explosive question, and it would be interesting to hear different viewpoints. Several years ago I think I would not have considered it as plausible as I do today. Formal networks now are competing with personal networks that people set up for themselves, both social and professional. Why join a structured professional network, when you can use a ning or Facebook to bring into your orbit the people who are important for informal learning and exchange on your preferred practice, and use google or any other search engine to find all the relevant new information for your field. What can formal networks now provide as a compelling value proposition for their members?
I guess they can be filters and aggregators, but there are lots of organization providing clearinghouses and tailored information collections. There might be a few specialised niches left to populate here, but fewer and fewer every day. Maybe they can provide quality control? But voting and ranking functions can do that to, as well as checking the popular tags on del.icio.us or the public bloglines accounts of reputable experts. What is the most compelling offer for formal networks today?
Maybe they need to go back to F2F formats, that is something that many of these new tools don’t provide. When they are virtual, then they are increasingly in a crowded space.
We are just about to kick off a meeting organized in conjunction with our international network of communication and education/learning experts on New Learning, no doubt this will be an interesting question for reflection…
For the next few days I am attending a meeting of GAN-Net outside of Boston. A GAN is a Global Action Network and the people attending the workshop come from organizational development, knowledge management, human development and related fields.
These few days we are discussing the structure, strategy and governance systems of Global Action Networks including how these features could change to make them much more effective in reaching their global missions for social good. Sometimes it seems odd to be discussing fundamental changes in the governance structure or global strategy of a complex organization that has been around for 60 years or has developed a membership base of 10 million people. Surely that organization’s structure must be chiseled in stone? However, as one participant reminded the group on the first night, institutions are created in our imaginations, and they can be recreated there too.
For those who are not reading Winnie the Pooh (like I am at my house), a Woozle is an imaginary creature that Pooh is afraid of meeting one dark night while trying to find his way home with Piglet. He eventually discovers that the Woozle footprints he finds are just his and his friend’s as they have been walking in circles. These Global Action Networks are a little like that; they might seem large, complex and scary, but in fact they are just us. So changing them should be completely within our realm of possiblity (though of course as we are seeing it is not always so easy).
So off we go to explore how to create a new organizing paradigm for the world with this question: How does the world, how do we, and how do I, discuss and address strategy, structure and governance of complex, global multi-stakeholder issues with the precision and scale required to bring about deep societal change? We need to keep reminding ourselves that those huge footprints we are finding are merely our own.
When you coordinate a network, or a community of practice, it is always hard to know how much information to send through to people, be it on a listserve or an e-newsletter, or a number of other tools. Should it be just a little bit, or maybe none, with everything going on a portal that members can search for themselves? Or can more be sent if the quality is high?
People are overloaded with information these days, they create rules that file their emails before they even read them, and they are notorious for forgetting their log-in details (I speak from personal experience), so it would seem that the more you can add value, sort, synthesize, bring together disparate threads of information, the more useful it can be to the various network members. But is that true? We are planning to launch a survey of our network members in the next month or two to see for ourselves how our network members like their information. In the meantime – what about you?
(Apologies to our vegetarian friends, I could not find a photo of grilled tofu.)
I received an email from my Father-in-Law this morning, with a nice little learning story which I thought I would share here. It goes as follows:
In the late 19th century in Great Britain, milkmen left open bottles of milk outside people’s doors. A rich cream would rise to the top of the bottles. Two garden birds, titmice and red robins, began to eat the cream. In the 1930’s, after the birds had been enjoying the cream for about 50 years, the British put aluminium seals on the milk bottles. By the early 1950’s, the entire estimated population of one million titmice in Great Britain had learned to pierce the seals. The red robins never learned that skill. What happened?For learning to occur among birds, three things need to happen:
(1) Some of the individuals in the organization must have the potential to invent new behaviours or develop new skills;
(2) The members of the species must have and use the ability to move around, and they must flock or move in herds rather than sit individually in isolated territories; and
(3) The species must have an established process for transmitting a skill from the individual to the entire community through direct communication.
Red robins are territorial and don’t communicate much with one another, so they didn’t learn the new skill. Titmice flock together and were able to learn the new skill through-out the whole country.So, when you learn something new, or have a great idea on how to improve something, share what you’ve learned. You and your colleagues have many ways to communicate ideas and information – use them! Through improved organizational sharing and learning, we can help each other achieve our goals.
In one exercise people were asked to stand on a line on the floor which represented a continuum between two extremes. The question was: How do you feel about networking at meeting coffee breaks? The extremes were: “I love it!” or “I’ll go to the loo!” What we noticed was that a slight majority was going to the loo. One participant reflected that, for a networking organization, we are not all comfortable networkers.
Some suggestions were offered about how we can do more networking, and how we can help create work environments where networking and interaction is one of the key objectives. Longer coffee/lunch breaks? Open spaces in the agenda for interaction? Introductory sessions which serve to connect people and help them build relationships?
After this session, another 40 people know each other better (and can recognize each other by their ‘Learn Something New’ wristbands!). There is a reception tonight, let’s see how the networking goes…
Lizzie and I are at the Educa Online Conference in Berlin which brings together people working with all the weird and wonderful new online tools and technologies for learning. This will be the first of a series of blog posts on what we are learning and how we think it might be applied in our work.
George Siemens, author of Knowing Knowledge says that that a body of knowledge cannot exist in the head of one individual, there is too much and it is too complex. Therefore, we need to network our knowledge and rely on our network to collect and filter knowledge for us.
Charles Jennings, from Reuters, added that 40% of a knowledge worker’s time is spent finding answers. So instead of spending so much time trying to keep up with a rapidly changing field yourself, it is better not to know – instead learn where to go when you need the information (instead of the information itself.) Networked learning is knowing where to go, who to go to, and to learn as you go. Especially in an environment where information changes rapidly, is complex, comes from distributed sources, and is for the most part itself technologically mediated.
It also means that you need to be more deliberate about what you are doing every day, so you can identify your knowledge needs and go for the specific information you need. Rather than trying to keep up with the ocean of information and letting its eternal flow to determine how you spend your day (reading email documents, filing or deleting it). What a relief, that takes about 100 emails out of my in-box!
Sticky croissant in my left hand, coffee in my right, congress programme tucked under one arm and computer bag precariously balancing on the shoulder of the other, I awkwardly weaved in and out of the people thronging in the ‘Atrium’ until I found some breathing space by the outer wall, along side a documentary photo exhibit. Looking onto the jostling Congress (www.devcomm.org) participants from this ‘safe’ spot, I found myself in a conundrum: Do I put on my networking hat, offer my sticky fingers to others and muster my best opening line in the hope of kick-starting a conversation to identify common interests and future possibilities? Or, do I busy myself with carefully examining the photo exhibit beside me – “Communication in the Disaster Zone” and drink my coffee in peace?
Day one, coffee break one – I allowed myself the photo exhibit, full in the knowledge that in those that followed I would need to step into networking mode (something which doesn’t come very naturally to me). As I did so I began thinking about a book I’d just come across whilst scouring the airport bookshelves on my way: Edward de Bono’s How to Have a Beautiful Mind (2004) (http://www.edwarddebono.com/). “The beautiful mind… is a mind that can be appreciated by others – usually through conversation… Just as people can look at your physical beauty they can listen to the beauty of your mind… If you want to make your mind more beautiful you can. It is not a matter of innate intelligence or great knowledge. It is how you use your mind that matters” – read the intro.
Thinking about this book and about the Congress of which I would be part for the next three days, I began wondering about the link between natural networkers and ‘beautiful minds’. I believe that there is at least some link, whilst additional factors are certainly at work (introvert versus extrovert tendencies for example). I guess the question is: Do all good networkers have beautiful minds? And if so, do they have beautiful minds because of what they have learned from the many conversations they have had as good networkers? Or did they start with beautiful minds which have made them good conversationalists and therefore good networkers?
What would improving our networking skills contribute to beautifying the mind? And how would developing a more beautiful mind – and more ‘beautiful’ conversations – enhance the networker within? I will sign up for the makeover and let you know.
We’ve all heard of “walking the talk” – but what of “talking the walk”?
Googling this just now I came across a report Talk the Walk – Advancing Sustainable Lifestyles through Marketing and Communications (http://www.talkthewalk.net/) by Utopies, UNEP and UNGC. However I don’t want to talk now about “design, development, branding, packaging, pricing, distribution, personal selling, advertising and sales promotion” (see the foreword). Rather I want to refer back to an earlier entry and ask: In our day to day conversations, how do we “talk the walk” and reflect the core values employed in our work?
During the coffee break at a recent external networking meeting – where I was a newcomer in the community – another participant approached me; “Of course the discussion about the Wilbur model would have gone over your head”, he began the conversation. This completely surprised me. Only minutes before the break the group had been affirming the importance of respect and trust, as conditions for successful efforts to bring together diverse people and organizations in exploring sustainable solutions to complex, multi-stakeholder challenges!
Our conversations can serve to enforce or discredit our messages and ourselves in powerful and lasting ways. Walking the talk is imperative. Talking the walk is so important too. People notice.
Today the new Director General greeted the staff for the first time (she begins officially in January 2007). People filled the cafeteria with a little trepidation perhaps, a new boss after all… However, a couple of good jokes later, you could feel the mood lighten and energy fill the room:
New DG: How many people work in this organization?
Senior Staff Member: About half.
New DG: Which half are you?
That worked, a quick fire response and a big smile – you never get a second chance to make a good first impression!