Straying Off Point

Meeting Best Practices #1 and #2:    (N3K)

  1. Have a goal    (N3L)
  2. Have an agenda    (N3M)

The meeting facilitator’s challenge is to keep the group on point and to finish the meeting on time. That’s where the agenda comes in.    (N3N)

Here’s the problem: What if the agenda is wrong?    (N3O)

We decide to the best of our abilities what the agenda should be, based not only on the goal but on the makeup and state of the group. The latter factor tends to be the trouble-maker. Everyone may agree that the goal of a meeting is to come up with an action plan that everyone stands behind, but what if the people in the room all speak different languages or have different understandings of the problem? You have no chance of creating that action plan without Shared Understanding and Shared Language, and so an agenda focused entirely on making a plan is doomed to failure.    (N3P)

The challenge is knowing your group well enough to make these decisions. That’s why I often say that good design is more crucial to a meeting’s success than good facilitation, because you are tackling these questions before you even step into the meeting.    (N3Q)

What happens if the goal shifts? This happens often when the problem is complex enough. Everyone agrees before the meeting on what the problem is, then in the course of collectively drafting a solution, you suddenly realize that you don’t understand the problem after all. Now the facilitator’s role is critical, because he or she needs to decide whether to stick with the agenda or revise it on the fly.    (N3R)

The reality is that agendas are important, but they need to be fluid. As a facilitator, you need to reserve the right to stray off point if you feel like the situation merits it. This is one reason that I feel so strongly in hiding the agenda, especially with the kind of highly emergent meetings that I usually design. People tend to cling to the agenda like a life-preserver rather than risk swimming into the unknown, which is certainly scarier, but is often necessary. It’s better to trust the facilitator to stay on point and stray off point when the situation merits it.    (N3S)

This is also why I like Dialogue Mapping so much as a facilitation technique. With Dialogue Mapping, the emergent structure of the conversation along with the key underlying questions are explicit and apparent to all of the participants, so that you can effectively leverage the Collective Intelligence of the group rather than rely on the facilitator to be the sole driver.    (N3T)

Imposed Stupidity, Emergent Intelligence

In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams wrote:    (MR5)

The major problem — one of the major problems, for there are several — one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.    (MR6)

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem. (278)    (MR7)

I recently watched Linus Torvalds‘s talk at Google on git, the distributed version control system he wrote a few years ago. There are a bunch of gems in his talk, and it’s well worth watching. My favorite had to do with git’s views on decision-making in Open Source communities:    (MR8)

Maybe you don’t have this issue inside a company, but we certainly have it in every single Open Source community I’ve ever seen that uses CVS or Subversion or something like that. You have this notion of commit access. Because you have a central repository, it means that everybody who’s working on that project needs to write to the central repository. Which means that, since you don’t want everybody to write to the central repository because most people are morons, you create this class of people who are ostensibly not morons. And most of the time, what happens is, you make that class too small, because it’s really hard to know if a person is smart or not, and even when you make it too small, you will have problems. So this whole commit access issue, which some companies are able to ignore by just giving everybody commit access, is a huge psychological barrier, and it causes endless hours of politics in most open source projects.    (MR9)

If you have a distributed model, it goes away. Everybody has commit access. You can do whatever you want to your project. You just get your own branch. You do great work or you do stupid work. Nobody cares. It’s your copy. It’s your branch. And later on, if it turns out you did a good job, you can tell people, “Hey, here’s my branch, and by the way, it performs ten times faster than anybody else’s branch. So nyah nyah nyah. How about pulling from me?” And people do.    (MRA)

And that’s actually how it works, and we never have any politics. That’s not quite true, but we have other politics. We don’t have to worry about the commit access thing. I think this is a huge issue, and that alone should mean that every single Open Source system should never use anything but a distributed model. You get rid of a lot of issues. (18:12-20:13)    (MRB)

Someone in the audience asked Torvalds whether the distributed model simply shifted the political questions of access rather than eliminated them, to which Torvalds replied:    (MRC)

What happens is, the way merging is done is the way real security is done: by a network of trust. If you have done any security work, and it did not involve the concept of network of trust, it wasn’t security work, it was masturbation. I don’t know what you were doing, but trust me, it’s the only way you can do security, it’s the only way you can do development.    (MRD)

The way I work, I don’t trust everybody. In fact, I’m a very cynical and untrusting person. I think most of you are completely incompetent. The whole point of being distributed is, I don’t have to trust you, I don’t have to give you commit access, but I know that among the multitude of average people, there are some people that just stand out, that I trust, because I’ve been working with them. I only need to trust five, ten, 15 people. If I have a network of trust that covers those five, ten, 15 people that are outstanding, and I know they’re outstanding, I can pull from them. I don’t have to spend a lot of brainpower on that question. (27:37-29:00)    (MRE)

Power relationships exist everywhere there are groups of people. And if you don’t believe they should, you’re kidding yourself. Collective Intelligence, Collective Leadership, and more specifically, emergent self-organization are not about eliminating power relationships. They’re about empowering the right people at the right time.    (MRF)

Dumbells and Collective Intelligence

I’ve been a member of 24 Hour Fitness ever since I moved out here, mostly frequenting their Mountain View location. Now that I’m in San Francisco, I go to the location on Ocean Avenue (when I’m not sitting on my lazy butt, that is). Here’s the amazing thing about that location. It’s about three times as big as the Mountain View location, with about three times the number of dumbells. And yet, it is impossible to find the weights you’re looking for there. They’re always scattered all over the place, and no one ever racks them where they’re supposed to go.    (K9J)

Tony Christopher once told me a story about this timeshare cabin he and his family rent. Someone (the owners I think) had the bright idea of actually labelling the drawers so that all of the inhabitants know exactly where to find the silverware and where to return it when they’re done. Brilliant, right? And it works for Tony and his timesharing cohorts.    (K9K)

All gyms already have this for their free weights. And most gyms I’ve been to are decent at keeping their free weights in order, although this is partially because they have some staffer reorganize them on a regular basis. Well, this apparently doesn’t happen enough in San Francisco, and for whatever reason, those who frequent that gym aren’t smart enough to put things back where they belong. And all of us suffer as a result.    (K9L)

This is as good of a metric for measuring a group’s Collective Intelligence as any: How well does a group keep its tools or its artifacts in order? There are two approaches to rating high on this metric: imposing discipline on a group from above, or hoping that your group is smart enough to figure it out on its own. When the latter happens, you’ve got self-organization, and it’s much more compelling than the top-down alternative. This, of course, is what makes Wikis so interesting.    (K9M)