Friday, April 30, 2010

If I Was a Word Cloud: Creating Your Visual Biography

We often get asked to introduce ourselves at the onset of a workshop or meeting, or at the beginning of a presentation. We may say a few words, or cram our entire CV on a PPT slide. What are some other, more creative ways to introduce ourselves?

If you want to give an impression of your experience in an interesting way, I really like the Wordle option. Go to Now take a Word version of your Curriculum Vitae. Select all and copy your entire CV. Paste it into the box on Wordle, and in 1 minute you have a beautiful word cloud that you can screen shot and paste into a PPT slide. The word cloud emphasizes key words that are more frequently used, so you get a quick snapshot of who you are and what you do.

I heard about another cool tool last night called Personas, a data mining site created by the MIT Media Lab that is a part of the Metropathologies exhibit. It says it "scours the web for information and attempts to characterize the person". It produces an interesting visual and a final continuum with key words that best describe you (you have to try it to get the gist - it takes literally 2 minutes). This screen shot can be captured and popped into a PPT slide. Both of these are licensed under the Creative Commons licenses so can be shared, and used with attibution (so put the URL on your slide too).

Two interesting ways to give people insight into the innovative you.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Who's the Coach?

Tonight I went to a network meeting at 2, place du Chateau in Nyon. I had made plans at 20:30 to see Lizzie (my co-blogger) afterwards and was a little stressed when at 21:15 the speaker asked the group if he could go over by another 15 minutes. I surreptitiously texted Lizzie under my chair to see if this delay was going to be ok. When we finally gave the speaker his well-deserved round of applause, I ran down the steps out into the courtyard and hustled towards the lift to the car park.

As I dug around for my keys down the dark pathway, I passed an older couple walking. As I got closer, the woman quietly said to her companion in English, “Look. Isn’t that beautiful.”

Because it was English, and perhaps the tone of her voice, it made me pause and look up.

I stopped. What was in front of me was panoramic. And absolutely breath-taking.

An enormous full moon broke the clouds with broad bright bands that crossed the full span of Lake Geneva, from the far shore of France’s sharp outlines of the Alps, to where I was standing on the cobblestone pathway in front of the Chateau of Nyon. I was so surprised at this I gaped for a moment. I took out my phone to take a picture that would never, ever, do it justice. Then I walked slowly to the elevator to go down the three floors into the car park. At that point the couple had caught up with me.

As the door to the lift opened I turned to them and said, “Thank you so much for saying that. I would never have noticed.” They were surprised and responded, “You sound like you’re from the States.” I told them I was, indeed, from Ohio. And they asked me if I lived here. I confirmed that with a gesture towards the next small village along the lake.

"How long have you been here?” the couple then asked. “Seventeen years” I said. Seventeen years and I couldn’t believe that I had nearly missed that – that spectacular scene in my own backyard and I had not even noticed. I left them at the next floor shaking my head, “I’m taking this for granted; seventeen years and I'm taking this for granted.”

And the kicker is, I had just spent a full 2 hours at a meeting of the Swiss branch of the International Coaching Federation about Coaching Presence – smugly practicing the ability to be fully conscious, being present, slowing down and connecting with the moment and what’s around you. And then I walked out into the most beautiful night scene and I didn’t even notice it! I was simply shocked. How else can I be practicing presence? For heaven's sake, what else am I missing? What a powerful intervention those two tourists made.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Life Lessons: What Dinner Conversations Can Produce (When you dine with systems thinkers)

Drawn on a napkin during a recent dinner I had with a systems expert, you might have to look closely to see what this Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) advises. It considers some of the dynamics involved in working independently and wishing to balance work with family life. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

It connects incoming work and project outputs, time for promotion and what you charge, and the rate of acceptance and completion of jobs. Central to this CLD is the link between reflection rate and number of jobs on your desk - the advice: make sure you always have enough time per job for reflection, and use that time frame as a filter to accept or decline a job (circled link in the centre of the diagram). It is tempting to be flexible on this when you are independent, but the knock-on effects of not paying attention to this important aspect can affect your quality, offer rate, time for family and happiness. A big conversation for a very small napkin...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Paper Free and Fast: Using Posterous for Workshops

I am at a workshop of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) in the Scottish Highlands (beautiful, yet not the best place to be when an Icelandic Volcano erupts.) CEC is one of IUCN's 6 expert Commissions, which are global knowledge networks of individual practitioners that contribute to the organization's conservation and sustainability work.

CEC aims to innovate; it is the learning and education-focused network within the IUCN system. New tools, social media, innovative learning has always been an area of exploration for the CEC. For example, in September 2007, it held a workshop on New Learning for the Arab Region at the Library of Alexandria in Egpyt where we looked at all kinds of social media and technologies. CEC makes an effort to test and model new tools and technologies in its work.

This meeting has been no exception, thanks to Posterous (self proclaimed as the "dead simple place to post everything"). We have been experimenting using Posterous as workshop support and it has been working brilliantly, making us virtually paper free, helping with simultaneous reporting, and providing practically instant feedback on group work and planning. Here's how we have been using it:


  1. We opened the free Posterous account prior to the event and restricted the membership to the participants, closing inputs and accessibility to those attending.
  2. We sent out an initial email to participants with the URL and information on how to use that, so they had it prior to (if they had time) and upon arrival, and asked them to bring their laptops to the meeting.
  3. We arranged for wifi in our room and helped everyone get on, then we demonstrated Posterous on the first day and had everyone make their first post (posting is done through email message. e.g.
  4. Then we were off!
In-Session Use
  1. No More USB Keys - Presentation Support: There was an updating/reporting session of the beginning of the agenda where people reported on what they had been doing. We asked people to send their PPT to Posterous first (not before they arrived, just before they presented.) We had Posterous open on our screen in the front of the room, and people could either show their PPT through Posterous, or not and simply refer to it, so that people could look at it later. So no multitude of USB keys, no swapping computers, and no asking after the fact for people's slides sets or sending them around by email (or worse, printing them and handing them out).
  2. Instant Stars - Real time photos/videos: At ramdom points during the meeting, someone with an I-Phone (me in this case), took short videos asking people for opinions about the meeting, or talking about their inputs, as well as photos, and immediately sent them to Posterous as an attachment to an email for people to see and hear as the meeting progressed. They uploaded in a minute to Posterous and were embedded within the blog space, complete with title and tags.
  3. Nothing Lost - Group work immediately captured in different formats: No longer do people need to take flipchart paper home to type up group reports (or lose), nor stay up at night to do it. We had people in small groups type results directly into Email as they were being produced and at the end of their group work, post them to Posterous. We also had people photo their flipcharts and send the photo. You could even use your phone to video one of your group members talking through the flipchart and post that to Posterous. All this happens simultaneously. We also did our workplanning like this and it is the first time I have left a meeting where all the workplans are done and on the web, accessable to all, and forming some kind of "officialness" that helps tracking and generates commitment. (And can be tagged to organize)
  4. Meeting Done, Reporting Done (Collectively): If everyone is posting things as they are being created - including discussion products, workplans, photos, videos, and attachments, interesting URLs - when you walk out at the end of the meeting, the reporting is effectively done. There is perhaps a short tie-it-together synthesis, but all the documentation produced is already there.

We are just about to end our meeting, and no paper has been circulated, no flurry of USB key swaps, or promises to send around this or that. It's done, organized neatly on the simple Posterous interface, and we all have access to all the inputs, products and materials, to get on with once we return home. And we all contributed to it, through the simple means of email.

Monday, April 12, 2010

IUCN's Commission on Education and Communication: Exploring Social Media Opportunities for Environmental NGOs

This video link was sent to all of us attending the upcoming meeting of IUCN's (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Commission on Education and Communication. I'm proud to be the Specialty Group Leader for a Community of Practice focused on Learning and Leadership, a group which itself explores new learning approaches. I hadn't seen this video on the Social Media Revolution yet, and enjoyed its concise and in-your-face delivery. It rings true from what I have been hearing at the various conferences, from Online Educa last year, to the Social Business Summit last month. It will be interesting to discuss it with this group as I have not seen very big pick up of Social Media in the large international environmental organizations in Europe. Looking forward to getting some good examples to share after this meeting later this week.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The End of Boring: Borrowing, Adapting, Mashing for Facilitators

I had a design conversation this morning for a one-day workshop that featured 10-15 participants each individually presenting project ideas, one after another. How do you make that interesting (after the third one)? Why not a pecha kucha or an Ignite (the tag line is "Enlighten us but make it quick")?

Both are presentation techniques with origins in the design and IT world which give presenters 20 slides on autochange at 15 seconds (ignite) or 20 seconds (pecha kucha), for presentations that total no more than 5 or 6 minutes. Both are now global phenomena, yet far from being household words. Pecha Kucha has a good website with samples, and here's one using Pecha Kucha for sustainability. Some good videos of Ignite presentations are on the Ignite Oreilly site, with more on Igniteshow).

These techniques shifts the whole emphasis refreshingly onto the story and the images and makes it much more fun and creative. One website said, "This is not your father's PowerPoint presentation." It all might sound intimidating, but even bad ones are really good (or at least funny and only last 5 or 6 minutes anyways.)

So there are new ways to do presentations, there is also new software for that. Lizzie wrote recently in our blog about Prezi, and what about Keynote that I recently heard enthused over by a super smart 11-year old attending a workshop with his mother (a reaction to the slideset no doubt). In fact, there are 40 listed in wikipedia under presentation programme from AdobePersuasion to VisualBee. It probably has never crossed your mind to try anything but PowerPoint, but if you only have 6 minutes to present something or if you want to get people's attention in a long series of presentations (or just a long day), it might be worth trying a new format.

Or what about a completely new format for the workshop itself (or at least Day 2)? We have written about using Open Space Technology in the past (see our post Open Space for Conversation and Eating Croissants) and how that technique helps to organize and support learning. There are a range of Unconference techniques that are being used (many again conceived in the IT sector, and often focused on sparking innovation and creativity enhancements). I heard at last year's Online Educa about the FooCamps and BarCamps that started 5 years ago and promoted as "user generated conferences". Again the content is brought by participants, and schedules are generated by those with ideas to share and develop with others. A typical FooCamp schedule board looks like this (lots of intriguing titles - I like the scribbled out session called "Howtoons" - I would have gone to that one.)

Again, the objective is to provide those people who seem to have at the top of their Job Description: "Go to Meetings", with a new and refreshing frame. A 2006 article about this was explicitly headlined: Why "Unconferences" are Fun Conferences: Unconferences - meetings organized on the Web or on the fly - are becoming the no-b.s. alternative to industry gabfests. The mention of "organizing on the Web or on the fly" comes from the fact that many pride themselves in being organized in less than a week, and are "evangelised" or promoted using mainly web tools. Some recent social applications include CrisisCamps held to promote relief efforts for the Haiti Earthquake. They are also short, with one day or half day formats, and a panoply of parallel, one hour sessions. (And perhaps also a driver for the creation of Ignite or Pecha Kucha type presentation formats).

All this is still a lot of talking. What about having a whole session where no one talks at all? Maybe something like a Dotmocracy session could be a calming and still productive way to spend an hour after lunch. I have seen this done for evaluations, but not as it is described here as a way to gather inputs on a specific idea. If you look at the template, it is obvious how you can use this for brainstorming, and you don't even need those sticky dots that can be a pain to cut anyways. This looks like something that could also work with very large groups, similar to the Camps and Pecha Kuchas described above.

Maybe I am oversensitive to boring. And yet, there are productivity gains to be made from spicing things up, speeding them up, tapping into enthusiasm and creativity, and cross-sector learning from the IT sector - not just from their methods, but also from their eternal willingness to borrow, adapt and mash things up. And for Facilitators, boring is not what we want to pop into people's minds when they think of our work (I was going to say "is the kiss of death" but that sounded rather unappreciative). At least there is no shortage of intriguing pathways to explore, these are just a few, if we want to help try to bring an end to boring.

The Climate Change Playbook: The Making Of

Can you imagine getting an invitation to a workshop that has as its main goal playing 20 games? Would you go?

Those invitations went out a few weeks ago, and we had a very good response to a test workshop we held in Bonn aimed at playing and discussing 20 games that deliver messages around climate change, using systems thinking concepts.

Dennis Meadows, Linda Booth Sweeney and I have been working together for the last few months to take 20 games from the original Systems Thinking Playbook, written by Linda and Dennis, and adapt them for climate change learning. That process is more complicated than you would think! We each have 6/7 games we are working on, originally selected from a larger number in the original book, and folding in climate change messaging is like a dance. You need to deeply understand the dynamic of the game and what happens (or could happen if adapted). With that in mind you need to move your focus over to the climate change world and consider related dynamics, whether in the natural or human (political/economic/social) systems. Then it is an iterative thought exercise to bring those two elements together so that they work elegantly together in the end and are not too contrived.

Sometimes it is very obvious how the game and the key climate change learning points link and relate. And sometimes it is like doing sudoku in your head. It took us from 6-8 hours per game (so far) to make the connection strong enough to use.

There are different ways to make this link (between the game, climate change and systems thinking). You can change the frame of the game to put people in a climate-related context while they play. You can use the debriefing questions to guide people in making the link with the climate debate or dynamic. You can put in data, an observation, quotes from climate specialists, or elements from the news and current events to anchor the game to climate change. Or in some cases you can play the game and ask people what the link is (of course you need to have an answer too in case you draw blank stares).

We tried all of these approaches in the test workshop for our 20 games. They all worked in different ways. Of course, we were fortunate to have a room full of climate and games specialists, which our partners from GTZ (GTZ Climate Task Force) had invited, to play through the games, analyse them and give us great feedback to further strengthen the climate learning.

Our agenda was simply a list of games, and our table of contents will be that too. So we wanted to create a of narrative that held them together, a thread that helped facilitators and educators understand how they might use them. We created two organizing principles for the games day, which we will also use for the book.

First, we used a systems "map" as the organizing principle. This was a stock and flow diagram with stocks such as CO2 in the atmosphere/ocean, heat in the atmosphere, and ice cover, and flows like CO2 emissions, heat in, heat out, ice melting, etc. We had that up in our workshop room and positioned the message from each game around these elements (sometimes before and sometimes after the game). It was not too much of a stretch to map out the lessons from the games - some of which were about natural aspects, and some were more human system dynamics with communication messages, collaboration and competition, etc. We found it useful, and people appreciated this signposting to pull the games together.

The second way of clustering the games was by use. Some of the games are mass games which can be used for large audiences, who might be sitting in an auditorium. They can be used during presentations and speeches to make points, and people can play them sitting in their chairs. Some of the games are demonstration games, which a small number of volunteers can play for a larger group of say 35-50, and the lessons will become obvious to both those playing and watching. The third type of game is a participation game which everyone needs to play to draw the learning, so this would be for a typical workshop size group of 10-25 people.

We also used materials as a criteria for selecting the games initially, not wishing to have any of them be too materials/equipment intensive. In the end, our games kit included: Ropes, balls, coins, paper cups, markers, scrap paper, pens, hula hoop (collapsible), ball of yarn, a newspaper, and a rubber chicken. (I always worry about a customs agent opening my bag in a crowded place.)

We spent 8 hours that day playing our games, each of which run from 2 to 25 minutes in length. We used a 10-minute plenary discussion after each game to identify with the participants ways to strengthen either the game mechanics or the climate change frame and lesson. We also used a Games Review Sheet, so that people could note any thoughts they had during the day individually. I came away with over 50 pages of notes and ideas!

We are now integrating the ideas, revising our games and their write-ups, each of which is from 3-5 pages and written for the facilitator. There is still plenty of writing to do to produce the book and we hope to finish in July. It never made sense to sit at our desks and write games. This test workshop was an important and useful step in the process. There is a saying in gaming that you have to test play a game 10 times before it is really good. We have all played these games dozens and dozens of times in their original format. But they're different now in some subtle and important ways, so this was an important step in "the making of" The Climate Change Playbook.