Permission to Dream

A few years ago, I started tinkering with a new toolkit, which I’m calling the Rubber Band Visioning Toolkit. I created it for a bunch of reasons.

First, I want to see consultants design and facilitate better visioning sessions. I often see visioning designed as a one-off. This is not only an ineffective way to do visioning (as I articulated in my blog post, “Rubber Bands and the Art of Visioning”), it can even cause harm by opening loops that won’t get closed. I also noticed that many consultants who facilitate these sessions don’t actually do their own visioning, not even in one-off form. My hypothesis was that, if consultants had the opportunity to do their own visioning, it would have a slew of benefits, including helping them get better at designing visioning for others.

Second, I want people to have widespread access to visioning. It’s a crazy thing to say, because visioning is simply about stretching your imagination, it’s about striving for something you really want. You don’t need any special tools or guides to do it. You definitely don’t need to hire a consultant for it. And yet, we rarely give ourselves permission to do this, much less the space and the time. That’s a huge loss. I think we all would be so much better off if we all had a clearer idea of what we wanted in the world.

As is always the case with my toolkits, I’ve been piloting it with a bunch of different folks, tweaking and evolving it along the way. I have another set of changes I want to make to it before publicly releasing it hopefully early next year, and I’m planning on making it part of an official offering as well. (As with all of my toolkits, it will be public domain.) While I figure all this stuff out, I’ve continued to pilot it with friends and colleagues. (If you’re interested in giving it a go, ping me.)

I love piloting all of my toolkits. I love designing and tweaking, and I love the excuse to engage with others with this stuff. But I especially love piloting the visioning toolkit. It is so stupidly simple, and yet the impact it has on folks is profound. It’s also incredibly intimate to silence your self-censors, if only for a moment, and then to share what you really want. How often do we really do that with even our closest friends and family?

I kicked off a new session earlier today with two new folks and an old friend and colleague, who had gone through the process once before earlier this year. It was 90 minutes at the end of a packed day, but it just re-energized me and made me very happy. I am so grateful to all of the people willing to give it a spin. I can’t wait to share it with more people, and I hope others will use the toolkit to facilitate sessions with people they care about.

My Target Audience for my Work

I have a new online workshop offering at Faster Than 20 (Good Goal-Setting Peer Coachingregister today!), and I’ve been in the process of getting the word out. My friend, Danny Spitzberg, asked whom my target audience was. I figured I’d share my response here, as others might be interested in my answer.

Here’s a rough approximation of my target audiences:

In general, I’m targeting “collaboration practitioners” — anyone who:

  • Thinks effective collaboration is productive and fulfilling
  • Is motivated to improve their group’s collaboration, regardless of their role

The vast majority of collaboration practitioners do not self-identify as such. It’s sometimes in their job descriptions — any leadership and management position, for example — but often is not. It often ends up being invisible work by people who do not necessarily have positional power and that others may or may not value or even see (and hence is often uncompensated), but is nevertheless critical. Much of my strategy is about helping people recognize that being a collaboration practitioner is indeed a thing, that a lot of others think and care about doing this well, and that a community for this exists if people want it.

Good collaboration practitioners care about performance. Great practitioners care about the intersection between performance and aliveness. Truly high-performance groups both perform and feel alive.

My sweet spot audience is the intersection of collaboration practitioners and changemakers — people who care about making change in their respective groups. Not all changemakers have a broader or explicit social mission (which is where my heart is, personally), but I suspect that most changemakers have this implicitly.

“Unemployables” is a cheeky category (coined by Gwen Gordon) that came up at a dinner party the other night to describe independents who probably will never (and perhaps can’t) work for another person’s organization. There could be many reasons for why one might be an “unemployable,” some not necessarily good, especially in the context of collaboration. But when I use it in this context, there’s an implied (admirable) quality of being very values- and systems-driven.

I included this category mainly as an observation, not as a particular focus area, although I definitely care about these folks and count myself among them. They tend to be radically motivated, the folks who are most likely to take my public domain material and use it to learn and practice on their own.

What do you think? Are the categories clear? Do they resonate?

Party Waves Are Critical for Learning and Growth

The other day, my friend and colleague, Catherine Madden, was telling me about her and her husband’s forays into surfing. Apparently, some surfing communities are more territorial about their waves — especially toward beginners — than others.

It’s understandable. Surfing is already challenging without worrying about a newbie blindsiding you while you’re catching a wave. But if everyone were like this, how would anyone new get to learn?

Apparently, surfers in Bolinas tend to be more inclusive. Catherine told me a story about how she was on a wave there, and someone else yelled at her to get out of the way. Another surfer went up to her and said, “Don’t worry. You’re welcome on this wave. It’s a party wave!”

Here’s what Surfer Today says about party waves:

A party wave starts with two surfers and could end with half a dozen enthusiastic party animals. And that’s when surfing becomes a team sport.

How do you run a party a wave? It couldn’t be simpler. Just be kind, shake hands with strangers and have fun at the same time.

There’s room for everybody – on top of the wave, riding near the whitewater section, carving on the face of the wave, stalling on the shoulder, or performing a relaxed bottom turn in the flats.

As a collaboration practitioner, I’d like to see more party waves in my field. I’ve heard from many of my more experienced peers that they only want to work with experienced practitioners and that they don’t have time to “train more junior people.”

I understand this. When you’re doing high stakes work and when your reputation is on the line, you want to be surrounded by other folks who are skilled.

At the same time, I think there are several mindsets that are challenging here. First, I question what most people define as “experienced.” Collaboration is something that everyone experiences in many aspects of their lives, not just professionally. I find that those experiences are equally important as professional experiences, if not more so. Just because someone has less experience working formally as a facilitator, for example, does not mean that they’re not incredibly experienced.

Second, when you’re doing high stakes work, everyone makes mistakes, not just “junior” people. I’ve often found that working with emerging practitioners provides a fresh, broader perspective that often helps prevent mistakes that I, with my narrower perspective, might make. Furthermore, part of being a skilled practitioner means that I’m creating a safer, more resilient space for mistakes in general. If no one is making mistakes, you’re probably not trying hard enough.

Finally, it’s become trendy for collaboration practitioners to explicitly mention “equity” as one of their skills. This makes sense. Both collaboration and equity, fundamentally, are about power, and if you haven’t been thinking explicitly about equity, you‘re not going to be able to do your work effectively.

However, if you truly care about equity, you should be thinking about equity in your own field as well. So much of equity is about lifting up others who are less privileged than you, often for systemic reasons. How can we, as collaboration practitioners, do more of this for other practitioners?

One way to do this is to adopt more of a “party wave” mindset about our own work, finding ways to bring in and support more emerging practitioners. Not only would this be better for the field, I think it leads to better quality work. And, like party waves, it’s more fun for everyone!