Category Archives: Learnings

Tools vs Practice

Today is the last workout of this iteration of my bootcamp. Over the past three workouts, we’ve navigated an interesting tension between learning-by-teaching and learning-by-doing.

I’m trying to design workouts that are not reliant on my “expertise” to facilitate. This is partially because of my practical desire to see these workouts scale beyond these bootcamps, but it’s also very much philosophical. I think that changemakers are conditioned to seek external knowledge rather than foster experiential knowledge. I think that consultants (my former profession) feed into this vicious cycle in a less than healthy way. I think this balance is all wrong.

For example, our third workout was about power dynamics. Rather than provide a framework for understanding group dynamics, I had participants simply tap into what they already understood. I was rewarded for my trust. They were insightful and thoughtful, and they complemented each other’s knowledge. Practicing what they already knew, but maybe didn’t realize, created deeper learning than would have resulted if I had tried to teach them a framework up-front.

Our fourth workout was about designing group engagements. This time, my approach failed. Participants felt lost, and they didn’t quite understand what I was asking them to do. (You can read Renee and Lauren’s thoughts on our new Water Cooler, which is where we’re now doing our homework exercises.) My design was too ambitious, and it didn’t give participants ample opportunities to tap into their own knowledge.

Last week’s workout was about difficult conversations, and I managed to recover from the previous week. Once again, I didn’t provide a framework, but it didn’t seem to matter. A big reason for that was that this group collectively already has quite a bit of experience with communication strategies. What they needed was practice.

My participants are finding the practice valuable, but they seem to be wanting more content to balance the practice. I’m listening, but I’m not ready to make drastic changes. I think there are some lightweight opportunities — providing a handbook, crowdsourcing tools, etc. — and I’m anxious to see how they feel after they’ve had a chance to run through these exercises two or three times. My theory is that they’re conditioned to want external tools more than they actually need them. However, I’m open to be wrong, and I’ll keep watching and listening.

Observations on Power Dynamics

Last week’s workout was about group dynamics and about power. I was particularly excited about this workout because, to me, the essence of group work is about 1. being intentional about the work you’re trying to accomplish; and 2. finding ways to maximize the power of the group as a whole. Shifting groups requires understanding the existing power dynamics (many of which are invisible), and skillfully finding ways to guide them.

How do you learn to do that? You guessed it — practice. It’s the only way. Power dynamics are complex and multilayered, with many potential touchpoints. Most of us are already attuned to certain kinds of power dynamics. However, broadening that frame and finding ways to guide those dynamics in the moment can only happen with practice.

We started the workout by reflecting on times when we ourselves felt powerful. I wanted participants to understand their own relationship to power, both to find practices for enhancing their own sense of power and also to understand the biases of their lenses.

Coincidentally, my friend, Amy Wu, shared Amy Cuddy’s TED talk with me yesterday. It’s a simple yet insightful explanation of how our physical posture biologically affects how powerful we feel:

One other interesting observation from last week’s workout were my bootcampers’ reactions to a scene from 12 Angry Men, the classic Henry Fonda movie about a jury deliberating on the guilt of a teenager on trial for murdering his father. I asked them a number of questions about the dynamics they saw in the scene, then I asked if the dynamic was healthy. The response was unilaterally no.

I disagreed with that assessment. There were definitely some unhealthy micro-dynamics in that scene, but as a whole, it amounted to a healthy, if delicate balance. (Of course, that’s the point of the movie, which masterfully, yet subtly celebrates this country’s tradition of our right to be judged by a jury of our peers.)

I thought it was interesting that my bootcampers — all of whom are women — reacted so negatively to this scene of 12, well, angry men interacting, whereas I — a man — saw something very different. It once again speaks to the importance of understanding your own lens in how you interpret the dynamics in a room, and the difficulty of knowing what’s healthy and valuable for any particular group.

Progress Report on the Changemaker Bootcamp Experiment

I wrote a detailed post on my personal blog yesterday about Changemaker Bootcamp. In it, I detail my motivations for starting Changemaker Bootcamp, my process for carrying out this experiment, and finally, how things have progressed.

In my post, I make a concerted point about doing this experiment out in the open before it’s “ready.” I love being able to point people to this website to give them a flavor of what’s happening, and I’m surprised by how many people have been staying engaged with this experiment via this openness. I especially appreciate all of my bootcampers, who have been great about blogging as part of their experience. It adds a richness to the learning-in-open, and it helps build valuable muscle around working transparently.

We’re already a third of the way through this second bootcamp. The first two sessions were largely a repeat of the first two I did at the first bootcamp, with different participants, a larger group, and some tweaks here and there. The next three weeks will look markedly different from the last bootcamp, as I’ll be experimenting with different workouts and taking advantage of the larger group. Looking forward to sharing!

Learning from Bootcamp Try #2

Natalie and Lauren Practice

As you can see from Renee and Natalie’s posts, bootcamp is back! This time, I’ve got six great participants, with Anna and Marie returning for another round, and some tweaks based on what I learned from my first try. (My other participants, Lauren and Allison, will introduce themselves on this blog this week. My friend, Amy Luckey, is observing, and she may pop onto this blog with her thoughts as well.)

As before, this is as much bootcamp for me as it is for the other participants. The project I’m bringing to the table, once again, is the bootcamp itself. And the big question on my mind this time around is: How can I leverage the bigger group?

With just two people, it was easy to give my participants lots of individual attention and to customize the workouts. With six very different people, all with different projects and skill levels, that won’t be possible.

However, more people also equals more opportunities. The additional diversity will make things more interesting, and it will also allow me to do things I wasn’t able to do with just two, because it will introduce more complicated group dynamics. I have a “power dynamics” workout for one of the later sessions that I’m super excited about and that I couldn’t do with just two people.

A related, underlying question is: How big of a group can I manage, while keeping the quality of everyone’s experiences very high? I don’t know what the upper limit is, but if I’m disciplined about writing myself out of the design, it will bounded by room size, not by the exercises. I need to leverage space and time to encourage quality interactions, and I need to give them permission and encouragement to facilitate themselves. That, after all, is the point of bootcamp — to give them the opportunity to practice these skills.

Looking forward to learning with this group, and sharing what I learn over the next several weeks!

The Importance of Asking Why

Hello!  I’m Renee and I am going to admit this is probably my first ever public blog post.  Yeah, not a blogger.  So Bootcamp is a great way for me to push my boundaries and practice being more transparent without the need for as much polish.

I am a Program Officer at the General Service Foundation, an awesome family foundation committed to social justice grant making.  I manage a portfolio to build a strong, multi-issue progressive base in Colorado by strengthening a set of core civic engagement grantees and connecting them via infrastructure innovations.  I work with a large network of other funders and organizations to inspire similar local infrastructure efforts and innovations in other states. You can read more about my program here.

I signed up for Bootcamp to gain tools and practice supporting groups (of grantees and funders) to create and achieve collective vision.  The organizations I work with increasingly intersect with each other to create a network – whether intentional or unintentional – in service of similar goals.  I find myself often leading processes to illuminate the shared purpose of the network, make it more explicit, and get people working more collaboratively toward an agreed-upon outcome.  Along these lines, here’s the project I’m focusing on at Bootcamp:

To co-create a vision with my grantees and a funder partner that takes our collective work together to the next level. Ultimately, I hope to develop a new investment strategy for my program based on that united field-funder vision.

In our first Bootcamp session, Eugene asked us to think of all the questions we could about our project and post them in clusters.  I came up with a ton of “HOW” and “WHAT” questions about the process I had envisioned in my head.  Interestingly, the one that provided the most insight to me was one I didn’t ask: “Why would we co-create a vision?” and a follow-up “Why would we take our work to the next level?”

This was a great reminder about generative questions.  I have talked to several stakeholders about my project and I tend to ask “Should we do this… (e.g. co-create a vision)?” and usually they answer yes, it’s needed, feels important, etc. especially because I tend to make a pretty compelling argument for it before I ask the question : )  Oh, and I’m their funder so of course they’re going to say it’s a great idea!  But just by shifting the frame of the question, I can get so much more insight into what THEY are thinking and find ways to design a process that will meet THEIR needs too, not just my own.  This is key to one of my priority questions: “How to build buy-in from the participants ahead of time?”.

So how will I go about answering these questions?

I already have plans to interview key stakeholders before the meeting but Bootcamp is helping me rethink the frame of my questions to a generative one so I can really tap the knowledge and insight of everyone else, rather than relying on my own brain to design it.

I also will be working with the fantastic Rebecca Petzel from Groupaya on a co-creation process for this project that will include representative stakeholders in the design phase.  I’ll try to break my habit of coming to these design meetings with my ideas fully fleshed out and instead allow for generative work to happen in the design phase itself.

Can’t wait for my next workout!

The Story Behind the Three Ground Rules

When I first started crafting this experiment, I wanted to come up with a set of ground rules that embodied the spirit of this work. Having done this kind of work for a decade, I had lots and lots of potential ground rules to draw from. However, the three I chose were quite different from ones I’ve used in the past.

1. Be nice to yourself. Many changemakers I know tend to want to take care of others before they take care of themselves. In fact, many seem to feel guilty about taking care of themselves. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, changemaking needs to start with self-compassion. I wanted to establish that from the very beginning, and I’m glad that I did. Anna and Marie joked that I cited this rule so often, it should go on a T-shirt. Great idea!

2. Be nice to others. Self-explanatory, but good to make explicit.

3. Don’t be nice. I went to see the YouthSpeaks finals a few years ago, and I noticed that the participants would shout this in support of their peers on stage. I loved it! Making change isn’t about being nice. Neither is learning. It’s about being real. I realize that this rule seems to conflict with ground rules 1 and 2, but one of the key literacies in today’s world is effectively balancing tensions, so I felt perfectly comfortable with this.

What do you think about these ground rules? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!