Friday, September 25, 2009

New Bloggers: Boost Your Chances of Success

I am way behind in my blogging, mostly because I have been completely obsessed with another blog - one I set up in July for my Father that is not as different as I had imagined from this blog on Learning. The topics are very different, his blog (Outdoors with Martin) is about squirrel hunting, building farm ponds and the best places to catch large mouth bass. But his orientation is purely "how to" which definitely appeals to my learning side.

But that is not what is keeping me on his blog more than mine right now. Granted I try to post one of his articles per day (he is an outdoor and travel journalist with an archive of thousands of published newspaper articles just the perfect length for a blog), which takes me about 20 minutes to put in the links (they were originally print based), and update any dates or figures (what is the 2009 teal duck limit in Ohio?) Sometimes I find out odd things that need a little rewrite, like that the great State Park Lodge that my father raved about in a 2005 article burned down last year.) It is critical for him that all the dates, telephone numbers and so on are up-to-date.

But just the time spent on the other blog isn't what's keeping me off this blog.


Oh my, I love the statistics that Wordpress gives you (we decided to set it up on a different blog platform as a comparative experiment). We have set up a Sitemeter account for the new blog too. We are literally swimming in positive feedback - data about where the people come from who are checking your blog, who has referred you, which article is getting the most hits, what key words people typed into a search engine to get what article. That information sets up a positive feedback loop that just keeps you, the blogger, on that site, posting, researching, reading.

Maybe it is just for the extremely curious, but I think there is a business end to this too. For example, there are a few topics that are getting by far the most traffic on my father's site, odd things - using solunar tables for hunting and fishing is the top, after that building perfect farm ponds, raising peacocks, and growing nut trees. I would think that it might be interesting to write more on these niches, if that is getting the most interest. Reader feedback, that is one of the reasons to write a blog.

When Lizzie and I set up this Learning blog in 2006, we made a decision NOT to collect statistics. I set up a SiteMeter page, but it never worked on this Blogger site (maybe because we had a referral page?) In any case, we decided we didn't want to be driven by the statistics but by our own learning and desires to create reusable learning content. I still think that is completely valid. However, I guess I didn't know what I was missing!

Now my suggestion for a new blogger would be to use a site that has a good stats function (like Wordpress and not Blogger - sorry Blogger!), and link up Sitemeter as well. And to actively use that information on what people are reading, how they are skipping through your blog, and how they are finding you, to make your blog even better and keep you interested and energised, through powerful direct feedback.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Changing Social Logic: Learning for Fitting In

In January of this year I wrote a blog post called The Return of the Age of Education, where I wondered if the kick one gets from acquiring stuff could be replaced by that from acquiring knowledge. Effectively, could personal growth replace economic growth? Can acquiring knowledge replace acquiring things? (For example, I was going to experiment with growing all my garden plants from seeds this year.)

I asked that question last week at our Balaton Group Meeting to University of Surrey Professor Tim Jackson, one of our speakers and a member of the UK Sustainable Development Commission which produced the recent, provocative report Prosperity Without Growth.

His answer changed the way I'm thinking about how learning can best contribute to sustainable development, and changing the social logic is a part of this.

Why do people buy things? (Probably there are many individual answers to this question.) Tim Jackson questioned greed as the primary driver. People may instead buy things to gain a place in the community. Tim drew on Adam Smith's linen shirt example and spoke about the life without shame and the symbolic function of materials good and the importance of these commodities in our lives. So if buying is linked to participation and placement in the community (like keeping up with the Jones') then individual learning may not be a good replacement, or at least not good enough.

So instead let's look at community learning. Could this help people find their place (and minimize their need for stuff?) There are many examples of social "experiments" in intentional communities, local currencies, community agriculture schemes, which may better connect individual learning, through community learning, with sustainable development goals.

Of course it is not as simple as all that. In the current economic model, employment is a big driver, and it gives people the money to keep buying, which stimulates the economy, and signals to businesses to produce more stuff, that workers have to make, which keeps people employed. All this works until consumers stop buying (then comes the credit, for a while...) Replacing buying with something else has other consequences in the current system. One quote from this presentation stuck with me: Growth is unsustainable but degrowth is unstable. Tim gave some of the conclusions from their report Prosperity Without Growth, and if you're interested in thinking about alternatives to the current macro-economic system, its worth a look.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Quotable Quotes from the Balaton Group Meeting

The annual Balaton Group Meeting, featuring from 8-12 fascinating speakers in the morning formal programme, and anywhere from 15-25 parallel afternoon sessions in the Open Space portion of the meeting, is always full of provocative ideas. I captured a number of them here, made by some of our speakers including Dennis Meadows, Bert de Vries, Ashok Khosla, Kevin Noone, Tim Jackson, Jorgen Norgaard among others:

  • (On change) People and institutions are only willing to give money (for external research, projects, etc.) when they are no longer open to significant change.
  • (On resisting change) "Astroturfing" - When companies pay local people to fight their government over decisions that the companies don't like.
  • (On coming discontinuities) Global society will change more over the next 20 years than it has in the past 100.
  • (On thinking globally) Global sustainability problems will still be experienced locally.
  • (On time horizons) A far-sighted dictator is better than a short-sighted democracy and neither works.
  • (On equity) Are we really living together on this planet?
  • (On economic growth) A primary anxiety of a firm is around capital mobility - that money will fly out of the firm if it does not innovate.
  • (On alternatives to economic growth) Here is a global dilemma - growth is unsustainable, and de-growth (decroissance) is unstable.
  • (On carbon emissions) We need an economy that takes carbon out of the atmosphere.
  • (On a service economy) There are also limits to a service, or amateur, economy - you can only take care of other people's kids 24 hours a day.
  • (On decoupling) Where does environmental impact come from if not from economic activity?
  • (On the coming changes) These things take longer than you think.

Each idea, fascinating, and often bucking conventional wisdom. That's what the Balaton Group Meetings provide each year for the 50 people who attend them. For a little history and more on this years meeting, see another Balaton Group Member's Blog: Dormgrandpop.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Balaton Group Meeting 2009

Each year for 28 years, the Balaton Group has met on the shores of Lake Balaton, Hungary to discuss sustainability issues, systems dynamics, and global change.

This year's meeting is focused on "Frontiers of Sustainable Development" and I have decided to try to blog the various meeting inputs. These follow...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Can't Do Another Visioning Process?

Vision fatigue? Many groups involved in change processes over time claim they just can't do another visioning process. They have done it so many times. What is a creative way to engage this kind of group?

Instead of trying to design their process, why not design an inquiry process where they do the fundamentals of design?

You might start with attention grabbing questions (group or individual):

  • If I were going to send you an email inviting you to a visioning process, what would it have to include for you to enthusiastically say "Yes!"

  • If you were going to participate in a vision process that really energised you, what would be some of the features of this process?

  • If you were going to participate in a visioning process that created a profound vision, who would be doing something differently at the end? What would these people be doing differently at the end? What would you be doing differently at the end?

  • If you were going to say that the visioning process created lasting change, what would be some of the necessary conditions to make this vision stick?

  • If we were going to give this process an innovative name, what might we call it?
This inquiry process doesn't focus people in on their past, potentially less-than-satisfactory visioning exercises. It focuses them on the positive future and involves them in creating it and answering questions about what it will take to make it work (differently) this time. The energy that these kinds of questions creates is very different than that from a problem-focused approach, and just may get people to the table with a different attitude and intent, and that might make all the difference.