Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Poem for Gillian

Gillian, I decided to write a little poem,
To mark this time, whence from IUCN you are going,
To new bright and green pastures and beds,
That I know, for you, lie just ahead,
As you take to your garden with gusto and strength,
Whilst flourishing as Balaton Group President,
Sewing new seeds of learning,
As round each corner turning,
And taking inspiration from the toys and joys,
With your rambunctious growing boys!

Sad to see you go, we take heart,
That coming here daily in your little Smart,
You have changed much behaviour over time,
And set in place trends for a workplace better aligned,
To think about ‘process’ and the people who make,
Essential ingredients of the IUCN cake,
Using Strengths Finder to help us identify talents,
Getting Things Done à la David Allen,
Innovating with e-tools as part of your ‘flow’,
And challenging the status quo.

Now Alaska calls and into summer we step,
Remember us well. I’m sure we’ll be calling for help!
But more importantly, as friend, daughter, mother and wife,
Enjoy the next phase of your journey through life,
Keep up the ‘play’ and do write that blog,
So we can keep track of your latest inspiration from frogs,
Or whatever else is under the rock you upturn next,
As you strive to learn with twitter-ful zest,
We will miss you, but know that when islands separate,
We need only remember to - communicate!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Coconut Cracker: The Anatomy of a Game

This morning I was surprised with another Mother’s Day present - a game called “Coconut Cracker” which my 8 year old had created for me.

The essence of the game was that you had to toss a pencil onto a small piece of paper (a post-it note). On the post-it note were drawn nine small circles about the size of a marble. The objective was to get the pointed end of the pencil into one of the nine circles. If you got the pointed end in a circle, this first victory allowed you to peel off one of four pieces of cello tape which were holding a decorated paper cover onto half a coconut. The first three wins got to peel off one of the cello tapes. The fourth person to win would be able to uncover the hollowed coconut and get the surprise inside.

The game was fun! We were three players (my competitors were 8 and 6 years old.) The circles were just the right size, not too small and not too big, so that we had to try, test approaches, refine our pencil tossing skills, and then could succeed in the task. Each piece of tape lifted added to our anticipation, we got excited, we got a little sloppy. The final tape took us a full few minutes to get. And then someone won! We cheered, he peeled off the last piece of tape, lifted the coloured paper cover and exposed the contents of the coconut, which was confetti (hence the name, Coconut Cracker), and delightedly threw it all over the room.

That was a good game that he had created. It had many of the components of the kinds of games we play over and over for learning and recreation, including:

  • Roles (we each had an action we needed to perform which was clear)

  • Rules (these were introduced at the beginning and did not change, very important)

  • Accounting system (we counted our throws, and the tape)

  • Macro cycle (over all we were trying to uncover the coconut)

  • Micro cycle (each round we were trying to get the pencil in a circle, and we needed to complete four rounds successfully)

  • Props (pencil, post-it, coconut, confetti - this game was probably inspired by finding a coconut shell and thinking "what can I do with this?")

  • Referee (well, we all did that, we might have needed a way to deal with disputes)

  • Safety procedures (no one could put the pencil in his/her eye, or eat the confetti)

  • Media for introducing or debriefing the game (here my son did it orally, we were allowed to ask questions)

  • Name (something that does not give away the game, here Coconut Cracker was just on the edge, but since we did not know what was inside it seemed clever afterwards)
One further thing a more complex game has is a causal model, which governs between decisions and results. I would have to think about that one for Coconut Cracker, which is ultimately a game of skill.

At the end of the game, my son said that next time he might introduce more “levels” to the game – like having layers of paper covering the coconut, which when removed could become the next "game board" (e.g. post-it), each one a little more challenging, like smaller holes and further apart, so it would prolong the excitement and add to the skills development. I was amazed (very proud of course), and it made me wonder why we don’t create more games from scratch as adults. If we wanted to use them for something specific, like team development, or maybe as an entry into an innovation process, we could put more context into the frame.

There are some amazing people for whom creating games is a great art, one is Dennis Meadows, with whom I have had the great pleasure to learn over the years about games. He created wonderful sustainable development games like FishBanks, and STRATAGEM, among many others. Games that are both complex in their models and learning, and elegant in the simplicity of play (both are also computer supported.) I took my list above of components of a game and slightly adapted it from a workshop Dennis gave in 1998 about using games for learning. I am not sure he would completely agree with my assessment about Coconut Cracker’s merits, and my interpretation of the components. I took some poetic license - it was Mother’s Day after all!

Monday, May 04, 2009

If You Had to Choose: Using Your Web 2.0 Dashboard

So I just spent 2.5 hours on my Web 2.0 tools; it all started with 1 LinkedIn invitation in my Inbox ....

Then I spent some time reconnecting through LinkedIn with people that I met at the recent GTD Summit, and enjoyed reading their CV2.0s in there (even their titles are interesting - wonder what The Chief Innovator's day looks like? Sounds great).

Then I sent a Tweet on Twitter about it, and while I was on Twitter I checked out the #GTD tag to see what people were posting about that. One of the GTD Coaches said she was just in Mexico and was happy that she did not come back with "Get rid of Swine Flu" as a Project. Which reminded me of some of my Mexican friends while I worked at LEAD. That took me back to LinkedIn searching for them.

While I was doing that I got a message from a former colleague asking me to join her on Facebook. I resisted the impulse to open that account and inevitably spend time looking at photos and reading updates.

While I was on LinkedIn, I saw my last blog post there, and also I read through the blog feeds from some of my other LinkedIn connections. That made me want to write a blog post. When I went to my Blogger dashboard, I got a number of feeds from other bloggers I am following through my blog reader - including a few I decided to invite to add to my LinkedIn connections (back to LinkedIn).

All those interesting blog posts and links reminded me of my Del.icio.us social bookmarking account, which has been dormant for a while, although I do get daily notices through my Plaxo page (when I check it) about other people's Del.icio.us additions (which for the most part are very interesting-thanks to them for filtering part of the deluge for me). Must go and tidy mine up, but not right now.

OK, so since I was putting in links to this post (not that anyone and their dog cannot find these sites, just for good practice), I went to Facebook (FB) to copy the URL (big mistake) and couldn't help pausing to read some of my Friend's updates and to ask if anyone there is using Twitter.

Big circles and lots of time. Where is this getting me? So many people are using these Web2.0 tools - how many times do we reflect on what we are getting out of them? What are we learning? Here's some of what I'm noticing:

LinkedIn: I think this is useful. I started LinkedIn when my neighbour got a job interview with Google through his extended LinkedIn network. Although I have not yet had such an offer, it has connected me with some interesting people I did not already know. Mostly it gives me updated contact information and reminds me of interesting people I have met and worked with. As we move through many jobs, processes and events these days, it is a great way of keeping your professional network in one place and available from anywhere. It's also good to capture feedback and recommendations, giving a different voice and perspective to people's work (not just self-reported, although some recommendations are really OTT).

I like the new LinkedIn features of blog feeds, and short updates like in FB; however I can't seem to get into TripIt, or the Amazon reading function, that seems too FB (as in too much information) to me. The Groups have not yet worked for me either, I think Listserves are better, at least you can file them automatically. People seem to use the Group affiliations to beef up their CV2.0 by association, but I don't see lots of activity there. Someone write and tell me about a good Group experience on LinkedIn. Finally, it seems to have reached critical mass for my age bracket, whenever I search for someone on LinkedIn, I usually find them.

Twitter: This is my newest interest, although unlike LinkedIn, when I search I rarely turn up people I know, although apparently there are millions in there and more than Paris Hilton and her 47,000 followers. David Allen is Tweeting and, since I have met him, I enjoy that. Many techies are in there (Guy Kawasaki Tweets many times an hour seemingly automatically, so I stopped following him), and some interesting learning people are using Twitter to speed link to all kinds of news and research, like Harold Jarche. I know that my husband was keeping up with the swine flu spread on Twitter, which made him altogether too paranoid for a while as the number of flu-tagged Tweets soared by the second.

What am I getting out of it? Well, it is new, so there is the gratifying heatseeker thing. I also think it has some intesting applications for informal learning - I enjoyed seeing how interactive the Twitter Fountain made the GTD Summit plenary session, which I have blogged before. I feel that Twitter helps connect me to some people I admire who are doing good things for the world, like Hunter Lovins, Alan AtKisson and Alex Steffan at Worldchanging.com, and who are using it to share their thoughts 140 characters at a time.

Twitter also introduced me to making Tiny URLs (because you can't have your URL take up half of your character allocation.) As a result of this brevity it takes only a few minutes to read your Twitter home page, if you don't click on any of the links or search the hashtags (#something) which takes you to all the other Tweets with that tag. You can process it quicker. You can even add and delete followers and followees in a second if you want to. So can other people. Which seems to translate into a lot of spam. I had "Prime Minister Gordon Brown" sign up to follow me today on Twitter - clicking back asks you to sign a petition.

Facebook: OK, in the last 10 minutes since I posted my update on FB asking people if they were using Twitter, I have had 3 comments from people in London, Geneva and Texas. Whatever you want to say about FB, that is where the people are. If you ask a question, you will get some answers. That's not always the case with most blogs or most Twitterers. However, for me, like others, FB remains mainly social, and most of what I learn is about the value of keeping social connections warm. I heard one of my Communications colleagues say that our organization was going to move from putting time and energy into a FB Group to using Twitter for disseminating updates on conservation action, because people aren't searching for that kind of information on FB.

And there are so many more...So what Web2.0 tools are you using, what do you like best and what are you learning?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Brainstorming about Brainstorming

This week I was asked to facilitate a session on "Brainstorming" for the monthly meeting of the Geneva Facilitators Network (linked to the International Association of Facilitators which certified Lizzie and I last December as CPFs). It sounded like a relatively easy brief, however it proved to need some deeper thinking to make it interesting and a learning experience for the network members who would attend.

The previous week at IUCN we had hosted a Facilitators Demonstration and Learning day and one thing I noticed was that some techniques and materials cause some fatigue from participants from simple overuse. This poses a challenge when you want people to be brainstorming new ideas – if presented with a usual way of doing things, it might not add that extra stimulus to get people thinking beyond the easiest interpretation of the question.

So to start our brainstorming session I put cards on the table and markers and stood at the flipchart and asked the group to brainstorm a list of the “most common brainstorming techniques”. Without too much enthusiasm, they easily generated a list of about 7 of the techniques we all use all the time. The one I was using was the first mentioned (open question, call out, flipchart capture), the next was using cards or post-its (for individual work, collection, grouping, labeling, prioritizing), then came a few others (card races, autumn leaves, wall graffiti charts, a few others), and we had our list.

At that stage I had some rather rhetorical questions – which I asked myself first in my design considerations – why do the top brainstorming techniques get used so often? And if we want a brainstorming technique to help groups generate new creative ideas, what is our opportunity to model that in our brainstorming session? (After our intensive Facilitators Demo last week and some workshops I had run recently, I never wanted to use markers, cards or flipcharts again!)

So the next step of our sequence was to have a discussion around three questions related to brainstorming: 1) What are the most important conditions for successful brainstorming and what can hang up a brainstorming session; 2) What are the most important things a facilitator would need to consider to choose or design/adapt a new brainstorming technique for a group? And 3) What are the crucial next steps after a brainstorming session?

But I didn’t think that running a similar idea generation exercise would get us really thinking, so the groups got the following task:

1. We each picked a card which put us into three groups: hearts, diamonds and spades.
2. Each group had a place in the room (pre set up) with a table and a bag of items. On the bag was the Ace with their suite and one of the three questions (above).
3. Their task was to take 15 minutes to: Design a brainstorming session that would help the group answer their question, NOT using ANY of the common techniques that we had generated in the previous session, and using at least ONE item from the bag. They would have 10 minutes to run their session.
4. People didn’t know it in advance, but the bags had in them an eclectic mix of plastic dinosaurs, cows, balls, blindfolds, musical instruments, as well as the standard cards, tape, scissors and scrap paper.

So I timed out their 15 min and each of the groups had their 10 minutes to run their sessions – and what entertaining and unusual sessions we had!

The results were very thoughtful. The debriefing conversations which followed the three demos served to supplement the answers to our questions. This worked well because they were based on our shared experience of these brainstorming sessions, and as a result they were much deeper and layered than I imagine they would have been if we had simply stood at our flipchart and shot out ideas, or written them on cards for clustering.

In our reflection we went back to those three questions, and asked ourselves about our own process to generate the ideas as facilitators, and also our experience as participants. What did we see as the conditions for good brainstorming and what hung us up sometimes? (e.g. things like lack of clarity on the question or the process, although this generated quite a lot of discussion as some of the facilitators felt that broader questions initially might produce more creative left-field responses an not lead people in one direction or another and ). What did we take into consideration ourselves when adapting or creating new techniques for our colleagues (things like familiarity with the group, their level of trust and risk openness, etc.), and finally what needed to happen next after the brainstorming (here we went from the mechanical in-session follow-up like defining roles and reporting, to the softer side like commitment to action of the group, and celebration).

We finished with our take-aways as facilitators – which included my own – never underestimate the creativity of any group to take on an unusual task and make something interesting and useful for themselves out of it. As long as you hold the goals firmly and with respect, people are happy to trust the process and might get even more out of it than anyone expected. Which is usually one of the reasons groups engage facilitators in the first place.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Making Reflection a Habit: How You Know When You're There

I think I have finally achieved "reflection" as a habit. How do I know that?

When I've not had the time to pause and think about what I'm doing, write up some learning in our blog, or do my weekly review, it feels like I have not brushed my teeth. And then all I can think of and all I want to do is that. This week has been a blur of doing doing doing, and it really feels like I have had 3 days without brushing my teeth. Ugh!

You've got to try to get there, if you really want to embed something like reflection into your professional and personal practice. To get to the feeling of compulsion that having a habit brings - the little rush of endorphins from doing it, and all the unwanted things (from missing important things to bad breath) from not.

It's getting better now. Writing this blog post is like finding my toothbrush.