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I had the opportunity to record 3 podcasts at last week's National eXtension Conference. You may have already heard the first, featuring John Stepper and Kevin Gamble. The last of the 3, with guests Paul Hill and Jamie Seger, will post Thursday, April 7. In between is this week's interview with Christine Geith, CEO of eXtension.

We first heard from Chris last summer, shortly after she joined eXtension. In our most recent conversation, about 10 months later, the direction she has set for eXtension is more clear. We are starting to see tangible evidence of eXtension's new focus on issues, innovation and impact. I was in the room for one day of the I3 Issues Teams "Design-a-thon," and was impressed by the overall energy in the room and with the thoughtfulness of the team members I spoke with.

Of course, energy does not always translate to meaningful work. eXtension definitely has some rough waters to negotiate. The line item in the USDA budget that has provided $1.5 million in eXtension funding has been dropped. It's also unclear to me if Extension state directors or Cooperative Extension professionals across the nation can keep up with the aggressive pace of change Chris has set.

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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.


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.


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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The latest Working Differently in Extension podcast is full of ideas that are interconnected. Social learning is at the core of my conversation with Justin Smith, Bryce DuBois and Jason Corwin, but that concept leads to thoughts about assessment, facilitation, communities and, for me, Cooperative Extension's role in helping human networks address complex problems.

I'm afraid my attempts to sort out all of these connected thoughts might have impaired by interviewing skills. I'm not sure this podcast will help you better understand how Justin, Bryce and Jason used mind-mapping to assess social learning, but it might introduce you to some new ways of thinking about Extension work and, hopefully, create some valuable connections in your mind.

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