ChiliPLoP, Day 4

Last Friday was the last day of Chili PLoP. Ofra Homsky, Josh Rai, Linda Rising, Joe Yoder, and I met at our usual spot outside of the dining hall for our morning kickoff. We had two items on our agenda: workshop the patterns we had discussed the day before and that Josh and I had written up, and discuss next steps.    (1DF)

Stone Soup    (1DG)

We started with Collab:StoneSoup and decided to temporarily combine forces with the GivingSpace group, which had independently come up with a pattern of the same name. That experiment resulted in some constructive feedback but was short-lived. The most important lesson was that “Stone Soup” was a completely inappropriate name.    (1DH)

The pattern had arisen from a point I had made the previous day about faith in process. I stated that people about to participate in a new process had to demonstrate a certain amount of faith up-front; otherwise, they risked subconsciously hijacking the process. You want to give the process the chance to succeed or fail on its own merit.    (1DI)

Joe suggested calling this pattern, “Fake It ‘Til You Make It.” Ofra was reminded of a story, “Stone Soup,” which went like this.    (1DJ)

A weary soldier discovered a village in the desert and knocked on every door asking for food. Everyone turned him away.    (1DK)

Undaunted, the soldier took his pot, filled it with water and a large, round stone, and put it over a roaring fire, constantly stirring and tasting.    (1DL)

The curious villagers came out of their houses and watched, until finally, one of them asked how it tasted. The soldier replied, “It’s good, but it needs some salt.” So the villager went inside her home and brought out some salt.    (1DM)

She again asked the soldier how the soup tasted, and he responded that it could use some carrots. So another villager brought some carrots. The process repeated itself until eventually, there was enough tasty soup to feed the entire village.    (1DN)

During our group writing exercise, it quickly became apparent that we all had slightly different understandings of the pattern. Mine focused on the point of view of the participant and on adopting new processes. Everyone else seemed centered on initiating new collaboration, setting up enough structure to make the collaboration seem real, at least until the collaboration became real.    (1DO)

When I started refactoring and combining our work into a single pattern, I decided that there were multiple contexts for the same pattern, but that the solution was the same. I also decided to call it, “Stone Soup” instead of “Fake It ‘Til You Make It,” mostly because the former was a noun phrase. I had reservations, however, and our final day’s proceedings confirmed them. When we combined with the GivingSpace team, it became clear that there were at least three different versions of the Stone Soup story, each with different morals.    (1DP)

After we split with the GivingSpace group, my team continued giving feedback about what I had written. I picked up lots of good advice and promised to incorporate their comments into a revision.    (1DQ)

Kick Off    (1DR)

I was happy when Josh willingly took on the Collab:KickOff pattern, because I didn’t think we were close to Shared Understanding. That said, Josh’s work on the pattern helped us make that leap.    (1DS)

Originally, we called the pattern, “Kick Off Meeting.” I had asked whether the Kick Off meeting was, by definition, the first meeting. Ofra and Joe had said that it was not. However, as we started fleshing out the pattern, it wasn’t clear to me what the distinction was. People were mentioning a lot of things that supposedly happened at Kick Off meetings that I felt would happen regardless of whether or not a meeting was designated, “Kick Off.” The key distinction, in my mind, was whether or not those things would happen well. It wasn’t clear to me that denoting a meeting “Kick Off” was enough to make those things happen well.    (1DT)

Josh’s work on the pattern made some of those flaws apparent. Having something concrete to work from allowed us to quickly zone in on the vital piece — benefits from the ritual celebration of initiating a new project. We decided to remove “meeting” from the name.    (1DU)

In the end, this made perfect sense to me. We had defined collaboration as needing shared, bounded goals. We had also cited a pattern, Grand Finale (discussed in Linda and Mary Lynn Manns‘s upcoming book). It made sense that we also had a pattern for the beginning of a project as well.    (1DV)

Next Steps    (1DW)

One of the things I made clear to the group was that I considered this workshop to be the Kick Off to Blue Oxen Associates‘s ongoing Pattern Language effort. One of my broader goals is to do an ongoing series of workshops involving philanthropic foundations, nonprofits, and a variety of other organizations. These workshops would involve telling stories, mining for patterns, capturing those patterns, reinjecting them into the conversation, refining them, and so on.    (1DX)

In the meantime, I plan on further developing the language that began forming at our workshop with the help of our Collab:PatternsWorkGroup. I also plan on submitting some patterns to the PLoP conference in September.    (1DY)

I had an exceptional time at Chili PLoP. Lots of great people were there, and Arizona is warm and beautiful this time of year. More importantly, I was fortunate to have a great group of participants. Ofra, Josh, Linda, and Joe brought a tremendous amount of experience and enthusiasm to the process, which made the process both enjoyable and productive. I’m looking forward to the challenge of continuing what we started here, including another date at next year’s Chili PLoP.    (1DZ)

ChiliPLoP Day 1

Yesterday afternoon, I arrived in Phoenix, Arizona for Chili PLoP
2004. I hitched a ride with Ralph Johnson and Joe Yoder to Carefree,
Arizona, and soon found myself at the Lutheran Retreat Center, where the
conference is being held.    (1BJ)

The post-dinner agenda was to discuss the structure of the
conference. Other than the meal schedule (which is strictly
enforced), there is no structure. This is what differentiates
Chili PLoP from Hillside Group‘s other PLoP conferences. The setting is
more relaxed, and the agenda is entirely flexible.    (1BK)

Once we got business out of way, the fun began. There were a lot of
great conversations, and a few of us stayed up late into the night
chatting about everything from Pattern Languages to politics.    (1BL)

Tom Munnecke got the discussion started by asking about the
generativity of Pattern Languages. This is an ongoing beef that Tom
has with Pattern Languages, a misunderstanding that’s important to
clarify.    (1BM)

Tom’s thesis is that society is too problem-centric. For example, our
approach to healthcare is to cure sickness rather than to promote
healthy living. Tom’s GivingSpace project — and the reason he’s here
— is to identify and propagate patterns of uplift. This is a
wonderful effort. It’s related to our work on patterns of
collaboration, and it’s an effort I fully support.    (1BN)

Patterns are often defined as solutions to problems in a context.
Tom’s complaint is about the term “problem”; he think it prevents
patterns from being generative. “Problem” in this context, however,
means, “Something that needs a solution,” not, “Something that is
wrong.” In other words, describing things in terms of problems and
solutions does not necessarily prevent the solution from being
generative.    (1BO)

In fact, Christopher Alexander stresses the importance of identifying
generative patterns. Linda Rising cited an example first described by
Don Olson (and is also discussed in Linda’s book, The Patterns
). Beginning skiiers often have a tendency to lean back,
something that will cause them to lose their balance. You could say
that one pattern is, “Don’t Lean Back.” This is not very useful
advice. Leaning back is an instinctive, not conscious action.    (1BP)

Don’s suggested pattern is “Hands In View.” This is a conscious action
you can perform, and the end result is that you lean forward. This is
a great example of a generative pattern.    (1BQ)

Ralph cited a similar example in software development:
qmail. The motivation for qmail was to
build a secure mail server. The approach, however, was not to
identify and fix every security problem. The approach was to design
small, modular programs that were easy to verify as secure. In other
words, security was an emergent property of the software’s design.    (1BR)

Other topics of note:    (1BS)

  • Ralph offered the following advice on naming patterns: Use noun phrases, not verbs.    (1BT)
  • Some patterns are not easily cross-cultural. For example, we talked about The Mexican Wave as a pattern of uplift. (I didn’t know that it was “the Mexican wave”; I thought it was just “the wave.”) Ofra Homsky suggested that Israelis would never do the wave. Joe Yoder said the same about Chicago Bears’ fans. The reasoning was that these fans are culturally noncomformist, and that they would never reach the necessary critical mass of fans in order to get the wave going. Similarly, Ofra explained that in America, when people want to increase their applause, they applaud faster. In Europe, people start applauding in rhythm.    (1BU)
  • Jerry Michalski related a story from Dave Grossman’s book, On Killing. Prior to World War I I, the U.S. military did a study that showed that in previous wars, only 10 percent of American soldiers were shooting to kill. This is because most humans naturally do not want to kill other people. The military reacted by changing its training methods, and by the Vietnam War, that number had increased to 90 percent. The point was that we are capable of changing people’s behaviors through training. The result, however, was not only increased killing efficiency but also the emergence of post-traumatic stress syndrome, which only started appearing after the Korean War, and an increase in the suicide rate among soldiers in wartime. The military had managed to change soldier’s behaviors, but at a terrible psychological cost.    (1BV)

ChiliPLoP 2004 Hot Topic

My proposal for a Hot Topic on patterns of collaboration and High-Performance Communities at ChiliPLoP 2004 has been accepted. We’ll be identifying and discussing these patterns and creating and refining the language, building on previous work by Blue Oxen Associates and others.    (VD)

PLoP (“Pattern Languages of Programming”) is a workshop devoted to reviewing pattern languages. The Hillside Group sponsors several of these workshops throughout the year. Although the original mission focused on patterns for software engineering, the scope has expanded to cover practically everything, technical and not. As far as I’m concerned, these folks are the experts on writing good Pattern Languages, regardless of topic.    (VE)

I’m looking for people who’d like to participate in the workshop. You do not have to be a member of the Hillside Group to attend, although you will have to register for Chili PLoP ($600 before March 1, or $500 for commuter participant). If you’re interested in improving collaboration or learning more about Pattern Languages, I highly encourage you to attend. Chili PLoP 2004 will be held April 13-16 in Carefree, Arizona. Drop me an email if you’re interested in participating or if you have further questions.    (VF)

Groupware Patterns Wiki

Seb Paquet points to the Groupware Patterns Wiki.    (7B)

I had lunch with Richard Gabriel, one of our advisors, on Monday. Richard is one of the foremost interpreters of the Pattern Language concept, and is president of the Hillside Group, which organizes the Pattern Language of Programs (PLoP) workshops. One of the things we discussed was how the theory underlying pattern languages requires many different communities exploring patterns together. Most existing patterns work seems to happen in relative isolation. To some extent, Hillside fosters intercommunity exploration of patterns, but it wants to increase its activity in this area.    (7C)

So does Blue Oxen Associates. If the pattern work we do is to be effective, it cannot be done in isolation.    (7D)