Monday, March 29, 2010

Search Revolution: Social Media Can Save You Time (With a Little Help from Your Friends)

Many people say they don't have time for social media, are not on Facebook, can't follow the flow of Twitter, don't keep up with LinkedIn, never tried a ning, would never bother with a blog. They have too much email, spend too much time on the internet already looking for things; they simply don't have time to get into these new information streams. "Time wasters" they say - "Where do you find the time?" they ask.

Would they ever believe that using social media might actually save them time? This is what the experts are saying, and they point to the coming revolution in Search.

I recently went to the Social Business Summit in London, and this was one of the big discussion topics - the change in how people will search for information in the new social media environment. It was predicted that in 5 years, Google would no longer be the way we get our information. Google would be out, and our Friends would be in.

Instead of googling something and getting either 1,300 pages of nothing good for too specific searches (e.g. "lighting shops" + my village in Switzerland), or 11,300,000 pages for searches that are too broad ("light shops Switzerland"), people will increasingly use their social media networks of friends and followers to get the granuality of information they need to answer their questions, fast (e.g the Facebook Group that some women in my village set up called "Move and Improve" that shares information on home renovation and local vendors, in English no less). I will never google local electricians again.

Along with this, out goes celebrity advertising. We will no longer want to know what kind of watch to buy from Tiger Woods, we will go directly to one of our friends whom we know has done recent research in watches locally (because she is writing about it on her blog). Now that we have so much more information on our Friends and their preoccupations, whether through their Fan Pages or the discussions they start on LinkedIn Groups, or their incessant Tweets on one topic or another, we will begin to use these more personal filters, much closer to home and our interests, to shortcut our own lengthy research through broad search pathways. Our Friends rate things, they vote, they share their favorite links, videos, photos. And, because of our personal connection, if we ask them a question, they will probably respond.

And our Friends are not only social, we have our Plaxo's, our LinkedIns, our nings, our professional networks with their Web2.0 platforms where we can ask for and get work-related information, from those whom we know are experts in our topic-of-the-day.

Our Personal Knowledge Management Systems will become a connected web of Friends whom we know personally (or at least virtually), and where we will go for all kinds of information. They will become our Search engines of the future. Hours and hours of Google out, a quick check with our Friends in.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Preparing a Presentation? Read this Praise for Prezi

When preparing to give a presentation, how do you get started? A list of bullet points? Opening a PowerPoint and jotting down a key message for each slide? Browsing your folder of favourite images to highlight your ideas? Or perhaps like me: with a large table, a big blank sheet of white paper, and an array of colourful pens, sketching out visuals, words and key symbols, with circles and arrows highlighting the connections and helping navigate about the page?

If you are like me, then you’ve probably struggled with the transition from your sheet of beautifully animated paper to a series of PowerPoint slides. All of a sudden, the dynamism, the creative flair, the energy seems sucked right out. Despite your best efforts, clicking through the slides you are disheartened by the linearity, and frustrated by the challenge of retaining the contextual frame for each of your interestingly connected points – a frame which leapt from your one pager. If this speaks to you at all, I have just the presentation tool you’ve been waiting for: Prezi. Check it out here: It’s very intuitive to use, and makes a really refreshing change. Systems thinkers especially – this is absolutely for you!

Let me know how you get on.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Next Generation: Climate Change Preparedness Meets Social Media

I am just about to comment on a PPT presentation that a couple of elementary school students made about what to do in case of a tornado (Among other things: Seek shelter under a sturdy table in the basement. If there’s no basement available, go to a first floor, small bathroom opposite of the tornado. Did you know that?) A teacher in Pickerington, Ohio (population 9,792) is running a timely project with his class on extreme weather conditions, what causes them and what to do.

But they aren't making posters and standing up in front of their class (well, they might be doing that too.) They are doing their project using social media, so their learning becomes the learning of many. The students are doing their reports on tornadoes and hurricanes and the like in PowerPoint (with very nice visuals and lessons in word count that any good conference presenter should know). They are posted on a website in blog format, and they're inviting comments through word-of-mouth viral spread from all over the world. To incentize interaction, they are giving the teams with the most comments, and with the comments from the furthest away, a prize. (Thus the reason I was called in I guess - an Ohioan who cares about tornadoes, based in Switzerland.)

The comments they are getting are interesting too, lots of positive feedback on their delivery, extra information and geographical comparisons from people who live far from their small mid-western town. No amount of classroom interaction would get them that.

I'll put the link here, just for now, in case you want to go and give them some information on extreme weather events from your part of the world. As our climate changes and social media is just the way things are done, these kids will be doubly prepared!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

An Amazing Group of People: Have a Party, Play a (Social Learning) Game!

Last Friday night I went to a birthday party that a friend of mine threw for herself. It was a nice group size, 10 women, that she had drawn from various of her different social groups. Because of this diversity, everyone knew somebody, but no one knew everyone, except for her. So she decided to play a game, as a way to bring the group together and get conversation going.

At the beginning of the party, in front of the fireplace, we all sat together searching around for things to talk about with one another, work, school, family, our origins - the usual conversation suspects. Going on in parallel, as people came in, my friend would hand them a small piece of paper and a pen and asked them to write something about themselves that was interesting and that the others might not know about them, and give it back to her. The first reaction in almost every case was, but I haven’t done anything interesting! Stumped, people held on to those papers until the very last minute when they would finally write something down and hand it back.

My friend put all the papers aside as we started dinner, and indeed there was one conversation going at one end of the table about school, and another at the top of the table about another topic, and a few people like me in the middle trying to listen to both, but not quite managing to jump in. At that point, getting our attention, our hostess announced that we were going to play our game. She told people that she was going to read one of the statements and that the table would have to guess who had done what. People laughed nervously at first, apologetically restating that they had simply not been able to think of anything very interesting. Then we started, my friend began reading the statements one at a time….and... within minutes we were in an uproar, bursting with laughter, incredulous with disbelief!

This amazing group of people had been all over the world and done remarkable things – someone was being quietly paid to go by train every Friday up to Gstaad one of the world’s poshest ski resorts to teach flute lessons to a couple of students living there (we never found out who they were), one person had competed nationally in Latin Dance competitions and danced in stage shows, another person had a long list of movie stars that she had bumped into (some literally) in New York City and great stories to go along with these, someone else had worked as a forensic DNA research specialist in Costa Rica and mesmerized us with the story of CSI-like drug-related murder that she had worked on and helped solve.

What a completely different conversation we had after that! No more super small talk, there was no going back.

With that small game, not only was the conversation brought together, giving us a shared experience, it also produced an opportunity for us to connect with each person individually, making finding further conversations topics a breeze. We also quickly went to much deeper quality connections, and more memorable ones. I will probably never forget these things I learned about these women, and when I see them next I will be able to reconnect with them in a much different way thanks to this relationship building shortcut. It was a service to social learning too, knowing more about what people do and can do, if anyone asks me for a good music teacher, I know where to send them.

This game also created lots of good energy, and that relaxed people who did not know one another. It helped us share things about ourselves that we are proud of, but that would have never come up in a normal cocktail party conversations (like taking blood samples from dismembered corpses), and gave people a real sense of accomplishment; we all left feeling much more “amazing” than when we arrived. Remarkable what a little social learning exercise can do!

If you want to do it yourself, here are the game instructions:

Materials: Squares of paper (1 per person – make sure they are all the same), pens, a bowl to put them in.

Time: 3-4 minutes per person playing.

Game steps:

  1. As people walk in give them a slip of pepole and ask them individually to write down one thing about themselves that is interesting, and that people in the room may not know about themselves. Don’t give them any examples (they won’t really need them), but you can ask them to think about their past, their home or work life, etc. Tell them NOT to write their name on the paper.

  2. Collect the papers and fold them over; put them in a bowl or hat.

  3. During dinner, or when everyone can listen and see you, announce the game and pull the first paper out of the bowl. Tell the person who wrote it not to announce themselves until someone has guessed, or the group is stumped.

  4. Read the first paper, and start the guessing! When the person has finally been guessed, ask them to talk a little about their experience, ask about context, or for a short story (this is where the good stuff comes) and let the group focus on that person for a time before going on to the next paper.

  5. People will naturally keep track of how many they guessed correctly – if you want you can have a small prize for the person who got the most correct.

Variation: In a workshop setting I use this game just after lunch or on Day 2 or 3, as on the first day if people really don’t know one another at all, they will not be able to guess. If people do know one another somewhat, you can move the game up in the agenda. With a larger group, I mix up and number the cards, and then at the start of the game, I ask people to take out a piece of paper and number it from 1 to 15 (the number of people playing), and I read through all the papers first with no out-loud guessing, simply asking people to write down their guesses. Once I have completed one reading, I go back and read them again in the same order (thus the need for numbering!) and this time, we guess and then move into the wonderful sharing and storytelling as people get to tell more about what they can do and know.

Whether at a birthday dinner or in a workshop, you just never know what a gold mine of experience, stories and knowledge you have with you in the room, until you ask, and then let the evening be naturally taken over to learning about your Amazing Group of People.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Time it Takes: A Learning Practitioner's Lessons on Time

When I worked in an NGO environment, we didn't ever really notice how long it took to do things. We experimented very briefly with time sheets (about a month) and found that tricky and even a bit boring to note down how every 15 minutes was spent, mostly because there was no real incentive to do so. We did do some internal billing, so on a project basis from time to time we kept track. But even in these projects it seemed that planning meetings were so frequent and long and often multi-topic, that after a while, it didn't make sense to try to allocate that time. So we never got a good sense of how long it took to do things.

Now that I am working independently I have all kind of incentive and a direct imperative to be scrupulous about the time it takes me to do things. I now have a very elaborate system that I use to keep track of time and the result of this kind of observation is very useful. Not only is it essential for billing, but it starts to show patterns that help immensely to make more accurate projections about how long things will take (useful both in the proposal and negotiation stage of projects). That of course doesn't mean that the other party has the same belief in your figures that you have, but at least you will know how close the time allocation is to what it will actually take you, and how much you might potentially be doing pro-bono.

I feel like I am prudent in how I use my time; indeed, many simultaneous commitments (work and home) and multiple ongoing projects force me to be most economic with it. Plus I have been very deliberate in my collection of reusable learning objects (RLOs-templates, activity briefs, job aids, games, etc.) which help me pass on this benefit in time savings from past investment in documenting things. Since I started keeping records nearly a year ago, and 26 projects later, this is a sample of what I am noticing about how long things take:

  • Writing a blog post (from first letter to final publish): 1 hour
  • Writing a proposal with a budget: 2 hours
  • Developing from scratch a 90-minute "training" session (part presentation/part group activity- including consultation, revisions, preparation, & delivery): 10.5 hours
  • Preparing an individual coaching programme (design, preparing/holding 6 sessions): 25 hours (3+ days)
  • Collaboratively developing a training programme curriculum (multiple events with companion 370-page participant's handbook - writing through to final proofing for printing, with some inputs coming from other sources): 172.5 hours (21.5 days)
  • Developing a 1-day facilitated planning workshop for a new client (design, consultation, and fully briefing the facilitator who delivered it): 16.75 hours (2+days)
  • Developing a 1-day facilitated training workshop for a university client (with a separate content expert providing central input, including delivery): 17.5 hours (2+ days)
  • Developing and delivering a 4-day facilitated partnership-building workshop (with multiple presenters, generative dialogue and strategy component): 64.25 hours (8+ days)
  • Design input for a 3-day conference for 300 people (including 2 parallel workshop designs and delivery, plenary activity design, coaching for other workshop presenters, plenary moderation and delivery): 80 hours (10 days)
  • Strategic Review and Advisory Report for a large training department (consultation, 6 day site visit for interviews with travel, online survey, web2.0 query and social media scan, preparation of 70-page report of feedback and recommendations, all original writing): 128 hours (16 days)

I could go on. What I notice is that time expands a little for new clients (trust building, multiple revisions, many conference calls), and for developing new materials or new approaches for known topics. Collaborative work obviously takes longer as there are many more partners and opinions to take into consideration, and more revisions as a result. Larger scale of an event also means more time as there are more delivery agents that need coordinated, coaching, briefing, etc.

Report writing is harder to judge, and it takes longer than you imagine, not only for creative delivery but for editing and layout. For a project that includes part original writing and part working with other sources, like creating a participant's manual, my past experience shows I can produce about 18 pages a day (as a ratio, that includes all the consultation, revision, proofing, etc.). For completely original writing much less: about 4 pages a day, depending on how much data collection is needed. I am doing a project right now that included 16 interviews to produce a 25 page highly synthetic how-to document plus annexes, and this is going to take more like 15 days (or 2 pages per day ratio.)

These things take time, and the more accurate you can be in capturing this data, and learning what makes creates divergence from your standard ratios, the clearer and more accurate you can be in your discussions with partners. Then you can choose your options, based on experience and learning about the way you work.

What are you learning about the time it takes? (and indeed, this blog post took exactly 1 hour, practically on the dot!)

Monday, March 01, 2010

(Almost) Foiled by a Doublet: Playing Around With Instructional Games and Puzzles


I couldn't believe that this worked, on my first go, after reading Brian Remer's puzzle instructions in this month's Thiagi Gameletter (TGL-Seriously fun activities for trainters, facilitators, performance consultants, and managers).

Brian calls this instructional puzzle a "Doublet", and cites Lewis Carroll (of Alice fame) as its originator. In Brian's description of this puzzle he went from WORK to PLAY and APE to MAN in four to five one-letter changes. I picked my two words (thinking about a teambuilding request I received today) and wondered if I could go from a Group to a Team as easily. It worked beautifully, and I could immediately imagine how this could be used as a teambuilding exercise, or part of a visioning or strategic planning opener. (fyi, Brian Remer writes a thoughtful monthly e-newsletter from his Firefly Group - spark your passion for continuous learning is his tag line.)

(Imagine my dismay later when I discovered that I had spelled troupe wrong! More on that anon.)

There is also a great game in the March TGL called "Destination: Innovation" by Dimis Michaelides (I found his bio on an intriguing website called Facilitators Without Borders) that involves an airfight of paper airplane ideas and flying paperwad obstacles that I am eager to try at one point (I also wrote about a paper airplane idea in a previous post called Keeping it Fresh about innovating on workshop exercises.)

Ah, I always get excited by new games! A Facilitator has a faithful set of these kinds of frame games, tried and tested, and whenever you get a new one, or a new idea for one, you just can't wait to try it...

*TROUP - UK Acronym for: Time to Restore Our Utility Poultry (no joke!) (Phew, saved! while I come up with another one that has all the words spelled correctly!)