Archive for working out loud

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.

Singing the Post-Conference Blues Together

At the 2016 National eXtension Conference in San Antonio, I had a couple of interactions that illustrated how hard it is for me to follow through on all the good intentions spurred by the energy and enthusiasm of a good conference.

First I ran into Holly. I had met Holly 6 months earlier at another meeting. Our demonstration tables at a conference reception were next to each other, and we discovered we had some common interests in telling Cooperative Extension’s story. We had a good talk and agreed that we should find time to talk more. Fast forward 6 months. Holly and I are setting up tables at another conference reception. We express our mutual regret that we haven’t had the conversation we had planned. We both comment on how busy everyone is, and we say, again, “We should talk  more.”

Here’s the second story. After a workshop, I introduce myself to Kathleen. When Kathleen tells me her full name, I realize I have seen her name before. I keep a journal. I keep telling myself I am going to take some time to read through my notes to make sense of them, but I never do. Instead, when I lose interest in meeting or I’m waiting for my computer to start up, I randomly page through my journal. A couple of weeks before the conference, I was paging through my journal and found a sticky note with a name and email address on it. I had no idea why I had been given the note (it wasn’t in my handwriting, so someone passed it on to me), or what I had promised to do with that contact information.

I’m sure you’ve guessed that the name and email address on the sticky note belonged to Kathleen, who was now standing in front of me. I told Kathleen about the note, and we deduced the likely place it had come from, but neither of us knows why someone wanted to connect us.

This happens to me all the time. The ideas, relationships and plans that come out of the energy and enthusiasm of a conference are quickly lost when I return to the office and the emails and the task lists of daily work. So what can I do about it?

Here’s what I’m going to try. John Stepper, author of Working Out Loud, was one of the keynote speakers at the 2016 National eXtension Conference. John’s book is full of practical advice for making and strengthening connections with people, and making contributions to your networks that can lead to something much bigger. I’m going to try to adapt some of the tactics in Working Out Loud to help me retain some of the momentum I gained at the conference.

The List

In Working Out Loud, John suggests you make a list of people and organizations that can help you reach whatever goal you have set. For my conference follow-up, I’m going to make a list of people I connected with, but also ideas I want to explore further and plans or projects that I realized may be possible.

Of course, making a list is not enough. I’m going to have to work the list, and to do that I need a system. My system for my Working Out Loud list is pretty simple. I created a note in Evernote for each person on my list. In that note, I keep track of what I know about them, where I can find them (email, social media, blog, etc.) and when I last made a contribution to them or received a contribution from them.

I think I could do the same for the people, ideas and plans from the conference, make a list and work the list.

Contributions

One of the ideas that affected me most from Working Out Loud is the idea of small contributions. Small acts like subscribing to someone’s blog, following them on Twitter or sharing something they wrote can be of value. These small contributions can make other people aware of you, can elicit responses from them (although you need to be OK with them not responding) and can lead to bigger contributions and even collaborations.

I’m going to make small contributions to those people I connected with at the conference, but I am also going to make small contributions to the ideas and plans I began to form there. I often get paralyzed by focusing on how much I have to learn to fully explore an idea or on how much work would need to be done to fully realize a project. I’m going to give myself permission to make small contributions to the ideas and potential projects that came out of the conference.

A small contribution to an idea might be as simple as adding a resource I found or a small insight I had to that idea’s note in Evernote. A small contribution to a project might be adding the name of a potential collaborator or spending a few minutes thinking about next steps for moving the project along.

These small contributions will add up, I hope, and lead to bigger contributions. The small contributions will allow me to keep the idea or project active in my mind.

Peer Support

I’m just wrapping up my experience in a Working out Loud circle. John Stepper adapted the tactics from his book into Working Out Loud circle guides that allow a group of 4-5 people to share their Working Out Loud experiences. The groups meet for 1 hour a week for 12 weeks. Participating in a circle has been a great experience. It has given me a safe space to share my struggles in the process, helped me when I’m stuck and, most importantly, made me accountable for working my list.

I’d like to adapt this idea to keep the momentum from the 2016 National eXtension Conference or from any other conference you’ve attended recently. The idea would be for 4-5 of us to get together for 1 hour each week, talk about the conference connections, ideas and projects we want to work on. I’m not sure how many weeks this experience would last, but we could test that together. If you are interested in a Conference Follow-Up circle and/or if you have a suggestion for a better name, let me know in the comments or contact me.

Working Out Loud in Extension: A WDinExt Podcast

John Stepper, author of “Working Out Loud,” received a really positive reaction to his presentation and workshop at the 2016 National eXtension Conference in San Antonio. I was lucky enough to sit down with John Stepper and Kevin Gamble, who is bringing working out loud to Cooperative Extension, for a conversation on working out loud, Extension, generosity, relationships and more.

I’ve been participating on one of the working out loud circles Kevin is facilitating, and it really has been a rewarding experience. The practice of intentionally seeking out connections, making small contributions out of generosity and working to strengthen connections has changed the way I work. It has encouraged me to record more Working Differently in Extension podcasts and to post more often to this blog. Finally, working out loud has lead to new connections, conversations and collaborations. I hope you’ll find the conversation below helpful, and that you’ll seek out your own path to engaging with working out loud.

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