“Learning Community” Words

Deborah Meehan led the Leadership Learning Community‘s board through a quick exercise today that was partially inspired by Gail Taylor‘s “love” experiment. She read us a quote from last year’s Creating Space conference, then asked us to write down five words we think of when we hear the words “Learning Community.” We each wrote our word phrases on Post-It notes, then proceeded to cluster our words on a large surface.    (M6L)

https://i0.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/176/454816833_a28778125d_m.jpg?w=700    (M6M)

There were 12 of us participating, which resulted in a total of 62 word phrases. (I split two Post-It notes into two word phrases. One was separated by a slash, the other by “and.”) Out of those 62 word phrases, 10 were used more than once. They were (in order of frequency):    (M6N)

You can see a cloud visualization of the words we chose.    (M6Y)

Some observations:    (M6Z)

  • Only one person (me) wrote, “learning.” Only two people wrote “community.” That could have been because people assumed that they could not use those two words.    (M70)
  • No one wrote “teaching.”    (M71)
  • The value of the clustering versus the cloud visualization is interesting. The clustering exercise (which is similar to an Affinity Diagram in the usability world) is an exercise in semantic convergence. All the cloud view does is match words, character-by-character. Both tell you different things. Both are valuable.    (M72)

If we were to do this exercise again, it would be interesting to do 10 rather than five words. I think there would be more overlap in that case, although the beauty of this exercise is, one never knows. And it would be interesting to do this exercise again with the same group of people six months from now to see if the results are different.    (M73)

Group Counting Icebreaker

One of the sessions I sat in on at last week’s Nonprofit Software Development Summit was, “Hierarchy on the Fly: Making Collaborative Projects Work Without Predefined Structures.” Amanda Hickman and Mark Libkuman, the leaders of the session, discussed some specific cases, and we also had a good discussion about general issues.    (LWG)

The discussion reminded me of an ice-breaking exercise I learned from Deborah Meehan at the Leadership Learning Community: Group Counting. The goal is for the group to count to the size of the group. In other words, if there are ten people, the group counts to ten. Each person may only say one number, with the leader of the exercise starting the process with “one.” If two people say the same number at the same time, the group has to start over.    (LWH)

If you have a large group, you generally won’t get through the count successfully. After failing a few times, tell everyone to close their eyes. Breathe deeply. Listen to your breathing. Listen to the breathing of your peers. Be present, and be aware of the presence of your peers. Then, with your eyes still closed, try it again.    (LWI)

When we tried this with a group of 14, it worked. When we tried it the following day with a group of 35, it also worked.    (LWJ)

Playing this game successfully with large groups seems to be a task that is crying out for top-down hierarchy. Maybe our intuition is wrong. Maybe we can — as a group — be aware of each other and learn to act as one without having someone tell us how to act. The group counting exercise seems to imply as much.    (LWK)

I’m planning to try this exercise on a teleconference sometime. If you try this exercise with your group, please let me know how it goes.    (LWL)

Leadership Learning Community

In the second half of 2006, I took a hard look at my list of projects and opportunities. I decided that I needed to be brutally honest about what I wanted to accomplish with Blue Oxen Associates, and that ultimately, I wanted two things:    (LTL)

  1. To have a wider impact    (LTM)
  2. To give more quality time to fewer projects.    (LTN)

That meant not renewing existing commitments and saying no to a lot of great people.    (LTO)

In the midst of all this, I got an email from Elissa Perry asking if I’d be interested in becoming a board member of the Leadership Learning Community (LLC). LLC is a community that takes a network-centric approach to leadership development, focusing particularly on the graduates of the many foundation leadership programs across the entire sector. Elissa had participated in our first two FLOSS Usability Sprints, and we had chances here and there to chat about our respective work and organizations. We were definitely on the same philosophical plane, and I loved hearing about the great work LLC was doing.    (LTP)

That said, my first instinct was to say no. But I decided to sleep on it, and I started having second thoughts. When I started Blue Oxen Associates, I originally wanted to focus on the nonprofit sector, and while we shifted our strategy midway through our first year, my heart never left that space. Over the years, I met many great people in the sector, I worked with a number of foundations and two nonprofits (Planetwork and People for the American Way) as clients, I joined the board of a nonprofit (Tomorrow Makers), and I did several projects with Aspiration, most notably the usability sprints. But I never got the chance to really get my hands dirty with one particular group. Focus was always the issue.    (LTQ)

Joining the board of LLC would give me the chance to focus my energies on one nonprofit and simultaneously impact the entire sector. If I were going to make that commitment to one organization, I wanted to make sure it was a good fit. I decided to research LLC a bit more, and the more I read, the more I felt kinship to the mission and the execution. In many ways, they were trying to do the same thing for leadership that I was trying to do for collaboration. I loved their emphasis on learning as well as their methodology. Most importantly, I saw ways that we could learn from each other.    (LTR)

In the end, I said yes. I was confident about my decision, but after participating in a board meeting and in one of their learning circles last month, I am ecstatic about it. Everyone there is smart, action-oriented, and full of heart, starting with the executive director, Deborah Meehan. That also goes for its board. The board meeting felt like… well, like one of Blue Oxen‘s workshops. Except it wasn’t a workshop, it was a board meeting! This was not your typical, sign-off-on-the-budget-so-we-can-go-drink meeting. This was a welcome-to-the-family, stretch-your-mind, now-get-down-to-business meeting, and it was infinitely more effective and fulfilling that way.    (LTS)

The learning circle, for me, sealed the deal. Not only did I get to watch the LLC staff do their thing, I was also blown away by the caliber of the participants, who were mostly from foundations. I live in an area and work in a field where I am constantly surrounded by brilliant people, and to be very frank, I have always been underwhelmed whenever I’ve attended gatherings of foundation people. This was a notable exception. I was struck by the breadth of experience, the depth and rigor of thinking, and the respectful and authentic discourse among the participants. My brain was overflowing by the end of the workshop.    (LTT)

As I said a few weeks ago, a week with the LLC generated enough thoughts to fill a thousand blog posts. I won’t write that many, but I hope to spit out a few, starting with this one. In the meantime, if you’re interested in leadership, check out the web site, participate in one of the learning circles, and come participate in the annual Creating Space workshop in Baltimore, April 11-13, 2007.    (LTU)