Author Archive for bobbertsch

Metamorphosis

Image: Arthur Blythe at a Concert at the North Sea Jazz Festival 1989 with “The Leaders” by Alephalpha (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Arthur Blythe died this spring.

He was a saxophonist who easily jumped between more traditional jazz and the avant-garde. His recording Lenox Avenue Breakdown is considered a near classic, but he was no superstar. He was best as part of the collective.

I was introduced to jazz through the neo-classicism of Wynton Marsalis, so when I stumbled into the stacks of LPs at my college radio station, I gravitated towards the classics of swing and bebop. That changed in 1990 when I heard Metamorphosis.

Arthur Blythe released the world music-inspired album as part of the World Saxophone Quartet, It was a critical disappointment, but it opened my ears to a style of music grounded in collective improvisation. It was music not exactly with no rules, but with new rules. A year later, Don Cherry released Multikulti which eventually led me back to his work with new jazz progenitor Ornette Coleman, and my worldview officially changed.

Like so many American boys, I had been steeped in the culture of the hero, the exceptional individual, the lone genius. Despite it’s roots as an ensemble music, jazz had not challenged that view. It’s supreme soloists and tortured geniuses have largely overshadowed the story of jazz as the most collaborative of musical genres. The story of jazz is based in the belief that the community is more important than the individual, even the individual genius.

Metamorphosis revealed that to me. Along with Milman Parry’s  oral-formulaic composition theory of epic poetry, it planted the seed in my mind that would grow into my interest in human networks, cooperation and collaboration.

The music of Arthur Blythe, Don Cherry, and Ornette Coleman is the music of flocking birds. In Emergent Strategy, Adrienne Maree Brown writes, “There is an art to flocking: staying separate enough not to crowd each other, aligned enough to maintain a shared direction, and cohesive enough to always move toward each other.”

I’m not sure there is a better description of collective jazz improvisation or of collective action networks.

Youth and Community Development: A WDinExt Podcast

Neil Klemme‘s belief in the abilities of young people is rooted in 4-H. Neil’s a 4-H Youth Development Educator in Iron County, Wisconsin. He grew up in 4-H. His mom and his sister also work in 4-H. He’s acting on that belief by getting 4-H members involved in community development in their county.

He’s gotten youth involved in a community First Impressions survey, in creating a campaign for attracting and retaining young people to the county, and in designing the Iron County Regional Trail project. He even invited 2 of the kids to co-present with him at the NACDEP/CDS international community development conference.

Here’s what one of his 4-H teens said about him, “I was really surprised how (the others groups) were presenting on how to get youth involved, and some of them were doing longitudinal studies on how to get youth involved and what makes them want to be involved,” she said. “And here Neil is – we go up and present and we have youth there. Start to finish, youth was involved and this was the final product. That was really impressive. I just assumed everybody else did the things Neil did, and they don’t.” – Felicia Herlevi quoted in the Daily Globe (Ironwood, MI).

In the latest Working Differently in Extension podcast, I talked to Neil about Iron County, his work with youth and what a “charrette” is.

Standing Still

At the National eXtension Conference in 2004, Harold Jarche introduced me to the “triangles” exercise (sidebar: Here’s a panel session I moderated at that conference with Harold, Dave Gray, Jane Hart and Beth Kanter).

Here’s how it works. You take a room full of people (having more than 20 or so makes it more effective) and tell them to arrange themselves in equilateral triangles with a person at each point. Here’s the catch. They need to do it without speaking. Each person silently picks out 2 other people to make a triangle with, but those people don’t know they’ve been chosen. They are trying to make a triangle, likely with 2 other people they’ve selected. So as each person moves another person must adjust to that movement to keep an equal distance between them and a third person. Once they have formed their triangle, they stop.

It sounds complex, and it is. The main takeaway is that a group of people, with positive intent, can accomplish just as much or more through silent cooperation than by putting someone in charge. At a workshop in Nebraska, Harold, Karen Jeannette, Steve Judd and I, conducted the “triangles” exercise by putting one person in charge of arranging everyone into equilateral triangles, then having them do it again silently without anyone in charge. We did it at the end if day 1 of a 2-day workshop, and we didn’t explain why we had them do the exercise until the next morning. People were confused and some were a little pissed, which made me nervous, but Harold thought the uncertainty was great.

Last week, Karen Jeannette and I did the “triangles” exercise with the participants in our pre-conference workshop, “Working out loud: opening doors to personal and community change.” at the NACDEP/CDS Conference. As we prepared for the workshop, we talked about some of the other lessons of the “triangles” exercise.

  • Alignment: To make the “triangles” exercise work, everyone has to understand the task. If someone doesn’t hear all the instructions or doesn’t understand them, the exercise will fail. This is a powerful lesson for those of us seeking to collaborate with others. We need to have a shared understanding of what we are trying to accomplish, what problem we are trying to solve. We also need to have agreed upon rules. I was recently collaborating with 3 other people on the script for an ignite talk. We agreed on the content, but we had a really hard time deciding the best process. Should we write the script and worry about the timing of the delivery later or should we try write 15-seconds of text for each slide or should we try do both at the same time? We were aligned on the problem we were trying to solve, but we had not aligned on the rules and process for solving it. In the end, we just appointed one person to write the script.
  • Positive Intent: I’ve heard Harold Jarche point out during the “triangles” exercise that it works because everyone enters into it with positive intent. Any individual participant could blow the whole thing up by staying in constant, random motion, causing anyone who is trying to align with them to stay in motion, which in turn causes anyone trying to align with that person to keep moving and so on. Collaboration only works if everyone comes to the table with positive intent, and it helps if everyone can also assume positive intent from others.
  • Standing Still: As mentioned above, if someone just keeps moving, it’s difficult to align with them. In the “triangles” exercise, when you move slowly or stand still it allows others to adjust their positions and align with you. If we want people, especially those we don’t already know, to connect with us, we need to stand still. If you’re quickly moving from project to project, chasing the next item on your to-do list and putting out fires, how can people see where you are and connect with you ? We need to stand still to allow people to align with us. Standing still means declaring your intent and sharing who you are, what you’re working on and what you care about. Standing still allows others to adjust their position to yours and look for opportunities for connection and collaboration.

Like almost everyone I’ve ever met, I have a to-do list that never seems to be completed, and crises to address and avert, but I’m working on finding more time and ways to stand still.I’m trying to stand still by writing this blog. I also include personal “mission statements” in my Twitter bio and LinkedIn summary. I hope you can see me and, if you want to, adjust your position, connect with me and explore making meaning together.

Bumping the Lamp

When I discovered kaptainkristian’s YouTube channel earlier this year, I veraciously tore through every video he had posted. His pop culture video essays appeal to my cultural sensibilities. Bugs Bunny re-runs are soundly in my wheelhouse. “Batman:The Animated Series” echoed through my early 90’s college years, and my kids have introduced me to Toonami, Pokemon and Gorillaz.

But there was something more in kaptainkristian’s skillful editing, meticulous production and heartfelt writing, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Early on I jotted down what I thought it was, “there’s an art to curation. It comes from a genuine love of the material and the craft of curation, as well as a meaningful relationship with the audience.” What kaptainkristian does is not really curation, however. It’s more like passionate, thoughtful celebration, and that passion sets the work apart.

It was one of kaptainkristian’s video essays that got me closer to why they were having such an impact on me.

In the video “Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – The 3 Rules of Living Animation,” kaptainkristian talks about “bumping the lamp.” There’s a scene in the film where Eddie, a real-life character played by Bob Hoskins, is trying to remove the handcuffs that are binding him to the animated rabbit, Roger. As kaptainkristian points out, the scene would have been fine without any lighting changes. Hell, in 1988, having a real character interact with an animated character as seamlessly as they do in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” was a pretty brilliant achievement on its own.  But the filmmakers didn’t stop there.

For no particular reason during the scene, Eddie bumps the hanging lamp. For the rest of the scene light and shadow are thrown everywhere. It’s doesn’t serve the plot. It’s not even good for a laugh. All it does is make the filmmakers’ jobs harder. Try to imagine how hard it was to put a real character and animated character in the same scene, to light them evenly, to make them interact believably. Bumping the lamp made all those things much harder than they already were and created a lot of extra work for the animators, but it also made the scene iconic.

“Bumping the lamp” is going the extra mile. It’s challenging yourself, pushing your limits, and showing your passion for and dedication to your work.

That’s what kaptainkristian does in all of his videos. He could deliver his essays over the video clips and still images common to many pop culture video essays and listicles. Instead he puts in the time and work necessary to challenge himself, push his limits and show his passion for his subjects. The results are incredible moments of insight and brilliance.

It’s that brilliance that I find lacking in my own work. I’ve spent most of my career in the non-profit and public sectors, but still most of my work has been ruled by the quest for efficiency, ROI and satisficing. In short, I’ve mostly tried to avoid bumping the lamp.

Early in my career, I worked at a public radio station on a college campus. I would sometimes spend more hours picking the music for a show than I spent actually broadcasting. I would see if I could construct a 3-hour music shift around a single narrative theme or if I could create a show stringing together biographical connections between each artist. Sometimes the results were disastrous, but sometimes I found moments of brilliance.

I’m much older now, and my time, focus and energy seem to be in shorter supply. I have an organization, a supervisor and colleagues whom I’m responsible to. I have every reason to chase efficiency as hard as I ever have. So….

Fuck it. I’m bumping the lamp.

Data Jams: A WDinExt Podcast

Over the last year-and-a-half people throughout Cooperative Extension have been creating spaces for conversation and collaboration. eXtension Issue Corps designathons, Working Out Loud circles and Innovate events in Ohio, Utah, North Dakota and Oregon have all given Extension professionals the time and intellectual space to come together to create change.

Data Jams at the University of Wisconsin create the same kind of space. Based on Game Jams, where game developers gather to rapidly develop prototypes of games, Data Jams, bring together researchers, program teams and evaluation specialists to analyze large amounts of data and collaboratively produce write-ups, models, initial theories and visualizations.

Here’s my conversation with University of Wisconsin Extension qualitative research specialist Christian Schmieder about the Data Jam Initiative.

Showing Our Impact: A WDinExt Podcast

Cooperative Extension is making a difference, but does it show?

I talked with Dena Wise from The University of Tennessee Extension about that very question. Dena authored the Journal of Extension commentary, “Evaluating Extension Impact on a Nationwide Level: Focus on Programs or Concepts?

4-H LIFE: A WDinExt Podcast

I’m embarrassed to admit I had thought little about the needs of children with an incarcerated parent. I had never thought about Cooperative Extension’s ability to help those kids until I found out about the 4-H LIFE program.

My colleagues in the eXtension Educational Technology Network brainstormed a list of potential guests for the podcast, and Lynna Lawson’s name was on it. Lynna helps lead 4-H LIFE, a program for children of offenders and their families, in Missouri. After an emotional and eye-opening review of the work 4-H LIFE is doing, I couldn’t wait to talk with her.

Here’s our conversation.

Maker Movement, Horticulture Fusion: A WDinExt Podcast

Dave Francis is helping to lead the maker movement within Cooperative Extension. His 2016 eXtension Fellowship project, “Maker Movement, Horticulture Fusion” focuses on the connection between the maker movement and local, small scale agriculture.

Dave also co-authored the Journal of Extension articles, “Extension and the Maker Movement” and “4-H and the Maker Movement.”

We had a great conversation about the maker movement, Cooperative Extension, hipsters, horticulture and more. Enjoy!

Examining eXtension: A WDinExt Podcast

First, an apology. I’m sorry for the recent radio silence. The holidays and a family-wide cold/flu epidemic have me well behind. So far behind, that I am just now posting this interview that was recorded last month.

Cayla Taylor, a program coordinator at Iowa State University, talked with me about the Journal of Extension article, “Examining eXtension: Diffusion, Disruption, and Adoption Among Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Professionals,” which she co-authored with Greg Miller.

I think it brings up some interesting discussions about eXtension and its current rate of adoption among Extension professionals.

What do you think? Is eXtension being used in your state? Do you think the number of Extension professionals using eXtension tolls is a good measure of its success? Share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

Podcast Exchange: A WDinExt Podcast

The latest Working Differently in Extension podcast is a testament to working out loud. Justin Thomas, a family and consumer science agent with University of Tennessee Extension, gave the small gift of gratitude to Jamie Seger. Jamie, Program Director, Educational Technology, Ohio State University Extension, and Paul Hill, Extension Assistant Professor, Utah State University Extension, wrote the article, “The Future of Extension Leadership Is Soft Leadership,” for the Journal of Extension. Justin emailed Jamie to express his appreciation for the article and invited Jamie to appear on his podcast, “Blue Ribbons & Boots.”

Then it was Jamie’s turn. Since Justin said he had a podcast, she decided to introduce him to me. In network building that’s called, “closing the triangle.” Jamie’s connection with Justin forms one edge of the triangle, and her connection with me forms another. Jamie closed the triangle by connecting Justin to me to form the final edge.

I’m glad she did. Justin and I connected for an informal conversation about our podcasts, and agreed to an exchange program. Justin would appear as a guest on WDinExt, and I would join Justin on “Blue Ribbons & Boots.” I got the first shot. Age before beauty, I guess.

Be sure out check out Justin’s podcast on Facebook, iTunes, and/or Spreaker.

Here’s my conversation with Justin. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.