Thursday, September 27, 2007

"We Deserve the Leaders We Get"

I have spent the last two days with the British Council team who is working to roll out an innovative leadership programme called InterAction. The programme started in Africa and has run for four years and trained over 1000 African leaders, and 40 African facilitators. I was very happy to have been a part of the original design team and work through the first year of the unique leadership programme with the African facilitation team. The programme is starting to scale up has just started in Pakistan and this meeting was to discuss a global programme.

Yesterday we had a discussion about the focus of the programme - one person asked, "What difference can you make if you just focus on personal development?" We had a passionate response from the Ethiopian facilitators, Selome Tadesse, who said, "We get the leaders we deserve. Our leaders do not fall down from Mars or Venus at 45 years old and are bad people. They grow up in our villages, and communities, they go to our schools and they belong to our families. " Personal leadership development that starts with community level leaders, people with local or neighbourhood spheres of influence, or young people in institutions, rather than the elected officials or heads of organizations and programmes might take longer, but will certainly help guarantee that the leaders we get in the future are the leaders we both want and deserve.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Get a First Life - Your World. Sorry About That.

I recently spent many hours in Second Life with the goal of showing people at the recent Balaton Group Meeting what all the fuss was about. One of the goals of our climate change-focused meeting was to explore accelerated learning tools, so my workshop on Web 2.0 applications to environment and development issues was one contribution towards this end. In the main programme of my workshop I did not get into Second Life, mainly because my avatar had been stuck in an unfinished ski resort for months, still in her first change of clothes and going nowhere. So I rustled up another avatar and was determined to get her going (at least get a skirt on her) and go out and have some fun.

I succeded on that front, to get off the initiation island, to get her decked out in long blond hair and a jazzy outfit, and took everyone watching my screen to a few places that I knew were concerned with sustainability issues. First I went to Better World, a collection of socially conscious organizations and their various neighbourhoods. I visited the water centre and wandered through Camp Darfur. Then I teleported to WWF's Conservation Island to have a look around - lots of lawn chairs, assorted animals running around, a couple of donation boxes in the shape of Panda Bears. But my main reaction was "HEY, WHERE IS EVERYONE???" These places are interestingly built and totally empty (at least the few times that I was there I saw no one.)

Well, that was a little embarassing to show to my open-minded colleagues. However, I busied myself in learning how to uncross my arms, sit down, and change the colour of my hair. It wasn't until I met my husband in there (a software engineer for whom this stuff is at least Second Nature if not Second Life itself) who then took me to some fun places - on a hot air balloon ride (I still managed to fall out somehow), to a swimming pool where you can slide down a high water slide. He showed me how to dance and we went to look at speed boats. That was actually nice as I was in Hungary and he was back home in Switzerland with the kids. But even in these places people seemed to zoom in for a moment, wave their swords or whatever, and then split. I guess you can be as clueless socially in Second Life as you can be in Real Life.

My complete absorption in trying to figure it out, and find the interesting environmental sites (not to mention telecavorting about with my husband) was seen as a very scary sign of how people can get sucked into this virtual environment and ignore the world around them (the world around me at that time was participating in Hungarian dancing). My colleagues were intrigued, but not totally convinced. They asked, how can Second Life model climate change? Can the lights dim and go out from time to time? Can teleporting be rationed or controlled, or at least affect the energy available to do other things? Is cyclonic and anti-cylonic activity increasing in Second Life like it is in First Life? And what happens if the weather starts to destroy the coastal developments? Is there Linden Insurance coverage?

Tonight I got an email from one of these colleagues with this link for a website called "Get a First Life" - I love it - it makes me want to walk out of my office and find someone real to talk to!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Learn Something New About: Water

Do you know where your water comes from? For the first few years after moving to Switzerland, we filtered all of our water, and bought bottled water frequently. Having lived in other urban areas around the world I tended towards doubt about water quality from taps.

Our local council last week sent out a simple information leaflet with some interesting information. The water from our taps comes from three sources: springs (like Evian!) (53%), underground water table (11%) and Lake Geneva (36%). The latter is only pumped into our water system from spring to autumn; during the winter, our water network draws entirely on water from springs and the water table, which is of such good quality that it enters the network without any treatment. The lake water is only lightly treated to take out sand, adjust ph and add some chlorine. This information is incredibly useful and sufficiant to make me feel both fortunate and foolish about wasting money on bottled water (Evian is just across Lake Geneva from us) and on expensive water filters when our water is such good quality. I just didn't know.

The second thing I didn't know was how much water on average we used in our area. Apparently, me and my neighbours use on average 403 liters of drinking water per person/per day. I wondered how it could be so high, so I went to the BBC's excellent water calculator to see what my household water consumption estimation would be. This is a very simple, visual calculator (no math necessary!) According to the calculator, our household uses approximately 160 liters of water per person/per day (I would like to know who's using the other 243 liters per day?). The calculator compared that to the average British household (155 liters per person per day) and also identified the places of highest use in my house and gave some useful tips for water saving. Now that I know how good our water is, it seems a pity to flush so much of it down the toilet!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Web 2.0 Meets Traditional Art Forms

This very random thought was inspired by my learning recently that text on the WWW is measured for value not by column inch but by the density of hyperlinks...

If a haiku has

hyperlinks within it is

it still a haiku?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tales of the Black Swan

Children's stories are cautionary tales that help to relay messages of right and wrong, good and bad, and somehow our hero always pulls through.

Yesterday in a presentation at our Balaton Group Meeting by Dick Barber, a Duke University oceanographer known for his work on El Nino, we heard a story about black swans, which for me was the ultimate cautionary tale. The Black Swan, a theory made popular again recently by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book by the same name, is a large-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare event beyond the realm of normal expectations. Black Swan was adopted as a metaphor for this phenomena because in the 17th century the Europeans, who felt they knew everything about swans, including that they were white, were astounded to find a black swan in Australia. Their science had not predicted that and there was no way it could have.

Dick Barber invoked the Black Swan concept in his talk about our oceans' response to climate change and our global climate regime. Our climate regime sits in a narrow band of plus/minus 18 degrees and has stayed there for 4 million years (Dick said that this fact shakes his faith in atheism). The group asked him if climate change could cause this regime to shift or flip. Because our models are built with historical information, they simply cannot predict these events; they are "new under the sun". Dick said that there might be two examples of climate regime shift/flip, Mars which froze and Venus which evaporated. Neither is a very cheery story.

Could our earth's climate regime flip? We simply do not know, our models have no way to tell us. If the black swan is a cautionary tale, does our hero pull through in the end?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Anyone Not Here Please Raise Your Hand

We opened our network meeting yesterday with a workshop on new media, Web 2.0 and social networking tools, and an exploration of applications for learning and sustainability processes. This network is the Balaton Group; a group of systems dynamicists, systems thinkers, and sustainability advocates founded by Dennis and Donella Meadows, who have been meeting by the shores of Lake Balaton to discuss global challenges and change for the past 26 years.

Yesterday during our workshop reflection, we queried our ability to "hear" voices not in the room. How much does our work and avenues of inquiry simply reinforce the messages that we want to hear, rather than minority (or in some cases majority) messages that are completely outside our experience? Network members are well-travelled, culturally sensitive, and primarily reached through electronic means, and now exploring the utility of blogs and podcasting; how much are we able to take into consideration those with whom we do not connect? One of our Members from Indonesia told a story about working with local communities in which they had provided computers for communication purposes. They had recently sent an email inviting people from those communitiesto attend a workshop, and no one responded.

In his recent book, "Stumbling on Happiness", Daniel Gilbert talks about the view from in here. He puts together a compelling story about how hard, even impossible, it is to remember accurately a previous condition. A more recent experience will always color our evaluation of a past experience. So if those around us are sharing an experience with us, how easy it is for any of us to represent or invoke accurately a completely different context (do we really remember what it was like before we had the internet)?

When such a large percentage of our work is devoted to behaviour change of people that have a potentially very different motivations and contexts to us, sustainability advocates, how close are we getting to really understanding and speaking to the real thing?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Test Message: Balaton Group Meeting 2007

This is a test message for a workshop I am giving this morning on Web2.0. We have a group who will be experimenting with blogs and wikis, tagging and other social networking sites. This message has the tag: BGM2007 (changed later to Balaton Group).

More later!

Tools for Accelerated Learning Workshop: Balaton Group Meeting 2007

This is a test message for a workshop I am giving for 14 people this morning on Web2.0. From Emeritus Professors to sustainabity field workers, we have an interesting group of people attending who are exploring tools for accelerating learning by experimenting with blogs and wikis, tagging and other social networking sites. This meeting has the tag: BGM2007.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Eggs Teaching the Chickens: Reverse Mentoring

‘The old adage “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” may be true, but what do you do when your “acorn” days are far behind you? How do you continue to grow and flourish? Mentoring apprentices and protégés has been a part of business as long as we’ve had crafts and professions. But when you’ve put a few growth rings under the bark, consider the flip side. Sometimes what managers really need is a mentor from a younger generation to inform and inspire.’

As a ‘young’ professional reading this from the much-loved ‘silence car’ on the train from Zurich early this morning, I smile. It comes from a wonderful book – The Ten Faces of Innovation: Strategies for Heightening Creativity – by Tom Kelly with Jonathan Littman, IDEO.

‘Reverse mentoring can help counter your company’s natural tendency to be over-reliant on its experience. Consider seeking out younger mentors to provide insights and initiative about what’s happening in the world today’ (pp 86).

Whether the relationship is formalized or not, most of us tend to have mentors. Yet how many of us have or are ‘reverse mentors’? What does your reverse mentoring landscape look like?

Within the headquarters of my organization, around 30% of our staff are under the age of 35. We are, somewhat controversially, referred to as the ‘young professionals’. Having already gained considerably greater presence, visibility and voice in the last four years, we are now in the process of developing a programme to maximize the value that we bring and receive during our time here. Part of this is expected to be more formalized mentoring. Now i'm thinking that we perhaps ought rather (or at least additionally) be paying more attention and giving more credit to the reverse mentoring at play…? I wonder what our senior colleagues would feel and have to say about that! Any thoughts?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Workplace Evolution – a Process of Natural Selection?

In recent months our organization has undergone some restructuring and our team has accordingly received a new mandate. Whilst continuing much of our existing work, we now have the scope to develop in new areas, including in the area of ‘leadership’. Thinking for some time now about what this might look like, we have been looking at ourselves – as individuals and a team – to see how we might better use and further develop our strengths. In this process, I have been struck by quite how quickly our jobs can evolve. And I have been wondering about the relationship between me and my job. Are my job and I evolving apace? And is there a process of natural selection at work, in which my job has increasingly played to my strengths?

I joined the organization almost four years ago on a short contract as an editor and soon became involved in a number of projects looking at strategic communication and learning. I have since gained valuable experience working with international, voluntary membership networks, developing websites and portals, using web 2.0 technologies, and more recently I’ve added facilitation skills and interactive learning design as ‘feathers to my bow’. In the course of all of this, to what extent have I sought to evolve in response to an evolving job? And to what extent has the evolution of my strengths influenced the evolution of the job? I am not sure of the answer. Nor am I sure of what would be the optimal balance for me and my organization. To the extent that we can influence the evolution of our jobs, how much should we?

Tapping Into Natural Talent: Bibliotheca Talent Shows

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was, last week, host to a couple of talent shows. One was that of participants in the Youth Employment Summit (YES). Amongst others, Dumisani Nyoni was on stage with his guitar performing a medley of songs from across the world – with his audience standing and singing along as he strums something from a part of the world with which they feel special association. Another, quite different talent show took place during the ‘New Learning for Sustainability in the Arab Region’ event.

Fayez Mikhail, an Information Technology Manager from a large, international environmental organization, took centre stage (well actually just off-centre so as not to obscure the images projected on the screen behind) and showed a talent he had never shown before in almost twenty years with his organization. Fayez has a natural talent for speaking in public. Discovery of this talent was quite by accident. He never signed up for a talent show. We needed a speaker on how developments in information and communication technologies have affected learning within our organization and how we are sharing and learning with others. The speaker would be before a largely Arabic audience. Who better than our Egyptian IT Manager! It didn’t take long for us to close the deal and before we knew it Fayez was on stage and displaying a talent he never even knew he had. (Conversely, during the event we were also presented with performances by that highly experienced public speaker who clearly lacks any natural talent at all and who would have been wise to ask another to do the job for him/her – after all if your lyrics and score are great but you can’t carry a tune you’re unlikely to convince your audience that you belong at the top of the charts).

How can we tap into natural talent in our organizations? Would bringing talent shows into the workplace help us discover talents we never knew we had? And would they help us identify others with the talents we lack who could help us for greater impact? If not a talent show, how can we provide other environments in which we can discover these things? Surely our talents shouldn’t go hidden for almost twenty years. And once discovered, how can we make sure we use these to their full potential?

How Is Networking Form Following Function?

‘Are formal networks pre-internet artifacts?’ - asked Gillian in her post of August 30th. For some time now, we have been dabbling in and experimenting with the ever-evolving networking technologies available online. Working with a formal membership network of over 600 people worldwide, we have been seeking ways to use online technologies to stimulate decentralized engagement and action.

In 2006 we progressed from a traditional website (in Dreamweaver) – editable only by headquarters staff – to an open-source web-portal. The portal provides all network members with the opportunity to login, edit their user profiles, search other members, and share news stories, coming events and resources. And yet already we can see that the speed at which online technologies are developing means that our portal appears a product of the past. Web2.0 social and professional networking tools have taken centre stage, offering ever-more informality, flexibility, functionality and fun. The burning question - What are the implications for our formal membership network? And yet maybe there’s a bigger question that we ought to first be answering…

For me, the question of a network’s ‘form’ (and related used of tools and technologies) cannot be separated from the question: What is the network’s function? (- For we have all heard the familiar ‘form follows function’ saying.)

The World Conservation Union has over 10’000 expert members in six formal networks (otherwise known as ‘Commissions’). What is the key, generic function of these networks? The Union’s website states that these networks ‘assess the state of the world’s natural resources and provide the Union with sound know-how and policy advice on conservation issues’. Is a formal, membership network the best form to support this function? I think this question deserves further exploration. No further exploration is necessary, however, to see clearly that the formality of these membership networks brings to the Union an essential scientific credibility without which the largest conservation organization in the world would certainly lack influence.

When addressing the issue of form following network function - and the related issue of the most appropriate technologies- how can we address (and perhaps reconcile?) these explicit and implicit network functions for greatest impact? I’m hoping that both my informal and formal networks will help me here…

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Having F.U.N.* with Vance Stevens

Vance Stevens, of the Petroleum Institute (Abu Dhabi) and founder of Webheads in 1998, gave a two hour Un-Workshop this morning at our Arab Region New Learning for Sustainable Development Workshop that he titled F.U.N. * Fair: Computer Mediated Communications Tools for Distributed Social Learning Networks. This was a face-to-face un-workshop, a veritable souk of activity, connectivity and interaction both in our training room at the Library of Alexandria, where we are now in Egypt, and with his online colleagues from Barcelona, the West Coast of the US, and so on, who joined us in Second Life, on skype and on

The Un-workshop had an open door policy, people were popping in and out. Laptops and terminals all on different pages, the clattering of keypads, exploring and trying out the URLs that Vance was introducing to us, talking us through, answering ten questions simultaneously. There were plenty of technical challenges, and at the same time lots of patient people who were excited by the possibilities, mystified by Second Life (one Egyptian participant said it should be called "Second Wife" instead), and eagerly starting their journey in the technology-mediated environment. It was great to have Vance as a guide. What you can learn from seeing it, trying it, and being able to query it in real time is so valuable, plus his enthusiasm is catching. You could tell that we weren't the only ones having F.U.N.*

* Frivilous Unanticipated Nonsense