Nov 24 2014

The Fence of Fear

donkeyFear has played an interesting role in my life. Or better said, confronting my fears has given me the opportunity to do things I would have never done before. For example I was afraid to go to Brazil as a 16 year old exchange student for a year, but it was a life changing experience – for the better. I have been afraid to be “unknowing” and vulnerable when facilitating groups, but those have often been pivotal moments. (By the way, the picture is of me there, many many moons ago!)

But fear within groups and between members has never shown up  generatively. It seems to create tight fences between individuals in the group. Then I read Shawn Callahan (of Anecdote) recent post  about An indicator of group fear in organisations and a wee insight arrived.

First of all, click away and read the post AND take the time to view the video. Do the little exercise. It is worth the 30 seconds of cogitation.

Shawn’s conclusion is that fear is killing creativity. He writes:

Ed Catmull, the CEO and co-founder of Pixar made this point clear in his recent book, Creativity Inc., that this biggest killer of creativity is fear.

I’d say that fear blocks more than creativity. It blocks aspects of collaboration, cooperation, knowledge sharing, learning and even the simple pleasures we CAN have working with each other.

I’ve worked with a number of organizations where fear is palpable. Sometimes it is in the more day to day relationships between team members. Sometimes it is hierarchical, but not always. It isn’t always “the boss” we fear. It may be someone on the team who is bullying or harassing (consciously or unconsciously – most the latter in my observation.) Sometimes it is the very culture of the organization, often from the top, that permeates everywhere.

Slight side note: I want to make a clear distinction that I do not equate fear directly with dissent, diversity or critical thinking. They may show up together. But the absence of fear is not necessarily bland indifference, ok?  In fact, when fear is not present, I think we can better use our disagreements and diversity. So I don’t want to fall into the false trap of surface “niceness.” That kind of niceness can be a response to fear to cover it up and that doesn’t work well either! I’ll also state for the record that being “nice” as in using compassion and respect is something I’m all for. The word “nice” is a tricky one.

What really interests me are the people who seem to be resilient to fear. They don’t let fear of being dismissed, or not “liked” keep them from their own personal brand of excellence.

I find it hard to combat top down fear, so maybe I should pay more attention to those “positive deviants” who seem resilient. Have any clues on why they are that way? How we can nurture more of the resilience?

 

 

One response so far

Nov 18 2014

Good Suggestions for “Fixing the Q&A” Session

whatsyourstoryerealitiesThere is a useful post on the HBR blog by  that is a good follow-on to yesterday’s post about webinars. Thomas talks about the mismatch between the intention for interaction with the audience, and the poor design of most Q&A sessions that happen after keynotes or talks. Here is a snippet, then I have some amplifications below.

Some solutions to the Q&A dysfunction already exist. Some hire a professional moderator or use software tools to crowdsource the questions. Others experiment with radically new ways to run events, such as the unconference movement. However, those solutions are often expensive or time-consuming to deploy, making them infeasible for many types of events. Here are four techniques that I’ve used with great results, and that can be deployed without any kind of preparation:

  1. Do an inverse Q&A. An inverse Q&A is when I the speaker pose a question to the audience, asking them to discuss it with the person sitting next to them. A good question is, “For you, what was a key take-away from this session? What might you do differently going forward?” People love the opportunity to voice their thoughts to someone and unlike the traditional Q&A, this approach allows everybody to have their say. It also helps them network with each other in a natural manner, which is something many conferences don’t really cater to.
  2. Ask for reactions, not just questions. When you debrief on the small-group discussion, insisting on the question format makes it awkward for the people who just want to share something. As you open the floor, specifically say “What are your reactions to all this? Questions are great, but you are also welcome to just share an observation, it doesn’t have to be in the form of a question.”
  3. Have people vet the questions in groups. An alternative to the inverse Q&A is to ask people to find good questions in groups. Simply say, “Please spend a minute or two in small groups, and try to find a good question or a reflection you think is relevant for everybody.” Then walk around the room and listen as people talk. If you hear an interesting reflection, ask them to bring it up during the joint discussion, or bring it up yourself.
  4. Share a final story after the Q&A. Given that even the best-run Q&A session is unpredictable, it is best to have the Q&A as the second-to-last element. I always stop the Q&A part a few minutes before the end, so I have time to share one final example before getting off the stage. That way, even if the Q&A part falls flat, you can still end your session with a bang instead of a fizzle.The above methods can help you turn any keynote into a better experience. What other techniques — ideally simple ones — have you seen or used?

via 4 Ways to Fix the Q&A Session – Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg – Harvard Business Review.

The first thing I really want to amplify is the focus on questions – thinking about them and forming them more intentionally, both from the presenter and from the people formerly known as the audience.  Crap questions generate crap responses. People seeking to be heard often respond in kind with crap responses because they were so busy getting ready to speak, they weren’t listening. So we also see a relationship between crap questions and poor listening. As a speaker, it is your/mine/our job to bring value by offering good questions and to both role model good listening when we hand off the mic, and to make it easier for people to listen well.

How do we make it easier for people to listen well?

  • Present well. This is covered well other places, but if we are rambly (spell check suggested “brambly” which also fits!), unclear or just off point, we will have lost the audience well before the Q&A. Why not aim for having people SO EXCITED by the time you finish speaking…
  • ...so that the only solution is to let them have a conversation. Start with table or pair conversations so this energy can be unleashed, rather than squelched by passing a single mic and constricting/controlling that energy?
  • Harvest. The presenter’s job is then to harvest what was generated out of all that energy, and Thomas’ suggestions are spot on. You can also do post it note harvests, capture visually, among many options. The point here is you steward, you become of service.

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Nov 17 2014

Beyond the Webinar

The earthLet me confess right up front: I really don’t like webinars. Too often they feel “done unto me.” I am powerless, at the mercy of the organizers. I may have access to a chat room (Thank Goodness!) But more often than not, these are content delivery mechanisms with token participant interaction in the form of crowded Q&A segments or polls with varying degrees of relevance. What is worse is that I have been a perpetrator of these practices so I continue to try and change my evil ways.

Changing ingrained habits requires some reflection – of self and of the state of the practice of these so-called “webinars.”  Recently I had the chance to offer feedback on a webinar I experienced as a recording.  I’ve edited/generalized my thoughts to share. In a follow up post I’ll reflect on my own practice — this is where I need to cut to the bone!
1. Us/Them: It is logical for an organizer or organizing agency to want to  appear well prepared for sharing their work. We all like folks to know we “did our homework.” We get our slides spiffed up and appropriately formatted for the webinar tool we are given. We time our remarks. We practice speaking clearly and at an appropriate pace.

The challenge this presents is that the end product puts the speaker and/or the organization at the center. We create an us/them dynamic before the event even starts. Think about set ups where the only ones who can use the voice tool to communicate are the organizers. Those who bear the presentation file are in control of the message. The tool administrator(s) control the process (i.e determining that they speak for 60 minutes, then there is Q&A.)

The use of a one way style of presentation reinforces the power dynamics of the speaker/expert/organization as central, and everyone else as “audience.” All too often, the audience is never heard. Is that a good use of precious synchronous time? Why not send out a video or narrated PowerPoint? An online gathering is time better spent as a multi-directional mode of “being together” — even online. This does NOT diminish the importance and value of content we “deliver” to others. Here are some options to consider.

Options:

  • Move away from meetings that are primarily broadcast which holds control with the presenter. Sharing information is essential, but synchronous time should always have significant multi directional interaction. For my colleagues in international development, I think everyone has values of inclusiveness and shared participation. We have to “walk this talk” in webinars as well.
  • Small things can create or break down us/them.  For example don’t just show where you are on a map at the start of a webinar, add dots for all the participants and their locations. Better yet, use a tool that allows them to add their own dots. Help the group see not only you,  but “we” – all the people working together about something we all care deeply about.
  • Because we lack body  language online, it is useful to really scrutinize our language.From the wording in the slides and by the speaker, consider changes in language so that it is more inclusive of the participants.

 

2. Strive for  good practices for learning/engaging online. Webinars in general run the risk of being even less engaging than a dark room face to face with a long PowerPoint. There is a saying in the online facilitation world “A bad meeting F2F is a terrible meeting online.” So we need to be even more attentive to how we structure online engagements to reflect a) how adults learn b) the high risk of losing attention (especially due to multi tasking) and c) the cultural and power diversity inherent in your group. Quality content is important, but it alone is not a reason to use an interactive platform — you can deliver content in many ways. Choosing a synchronous mode, to me,  implies interaction.

Options:

  • Consider keeping online meetings to 60 minutes. If not, do a stretch break every at 30 and 60 minutes. Say “let’s take a 60 second break.” Stand up, stretch, look away from the screen and give your body a moment of respite. We’ll call you back in 60 (90-120) seconds (sometimes a bio break is useful!)
  • A useful rule of thumb is to break up information presentation with some means of audience engagement/participation every 7-15 minutes. Use polls, chat, “red/green/yellow” feedback mechanisms, hand raising, checking for understanding, etc. This may mean you have someone facilitating these other channels if it is too distracting for the host and speakers. (Over time it does get easier, but practice is critical!)
  • Take questions approximately every 15 minutes vs holding at end. People stop listening carefully and are thus less prepared to ask questions after longer periods of time. (They are also more prone to multitasking, etc.)
  • Don’t just deliver information – use narrative. Stories hold our attention better than a series of bullet points. In fact, ditch those boring slides unless you are using the printed information to make it easier for people coming from a different first language.
  • Deliver the useful content in a different manner and use the webmeeting entirely for questions and interactions. Send a recording introducing the team. Send a narrated PowerPoint about the topic. Keep these content packages smaller. For example, if you were trying to give an overview of a portfolio of projects, you could break it up into some sub packages. 1) about the team 2) strategy, 3) project descriptions, 4) monitoring and evaluation strategy, etc.
  • Secondary tip: Do not think of these information products as polished products — don’t waste energy overproducing. That sucks the human element out of it. Imperfection is a door to engagement… seriously. Moments of uncertainty, tough questions — these engage the participants.
  • Stay relaxed as a narrator and speak at useful pace for understanding, particularly for those who have English as a second (or third, fourth) language. Keep that human touch. Add little bits of personal information and affect. Be human.
  • Let participants ask question verbally, not just in chat if possible. While there are many technical complications and sometimes the burden of accents on unclear audio channels, voice brings again brings in that human element. (Video does too, but there are bandwidth considerations. When you can, consider using it.)
  • Encourage collective note taking in the chat room or with complementary tool. When people share this task, they listen more carefully and the begin to learn about each others strengths and insights as people add additional information or annotations.
  • When someone asks a question, note who asked the question. This helps everyone see that people are heard, even if the audio option is not practical (for various reasons, no mic, etc. )  At the end of the call, specifically thank by name those who asked questions to encourage the behavior for future interactions.
  • In Q&A sections, consider a visual to help people pay attention. Use the whiteboard for noting the questions, answers, links that refer to what has been spoken about, etc.

There are a few ideas. What are yours?

Also, here are some previous posts about similar issues:

No responses yet

Nov 16 2014

What do we mean by engagement online? Reprise from 20019

Published by under Uncategorized

What do we mean by engagement online? was one of those old blog posts that keeps surfacing. Tomorrow I’m doing a web meeting with a group of people who are designing, stewarding and facilitating globally distributed online communities of work, practice and information sharing. I’ve been revisiting old posts and thought this one from 2009  was worth a re-run. By the way, there is great stuff in the comments from 2009, so I’m also copying that below. What, in your experience, has changed since then? What is the same?

What do we mean by engagement online?

doodleheartCandace Whitehead, the Facilitator Support Specialist for the Florida Online Reading Professional Development project  funded by the Florida DOE and housed at the University of Central Florida  http://forpd.ucf.edu contacted me last month inviting me to participate in a web meeting with the cohort of online facilitators working in learning and particularly around literacy issues. The chance to have a conversation with practitioners is always an automatic YES for me. When we talked, Candace suggested the topic of “engagement.” This blog post is a little bit of “thinking out loud” prior to our conversation later this month.

Some rough definitions…

First, it is helpful to clarify what we mean by “engagement” online or offline. For me, it ranges from active participation in a group activity, to the subtle and often invisible internal engagement of listening, thinking, or taking and using what one hears from a group and applying it within or outside of that group. One one end you have very visible ways to observe and measure engagement. At the other end you rarely even know it exists.

I also believe that we engage with people AND with content. So when we talk about “encouraging engagement online” we should be clear what type of engagement we are talking about.  They are different!

That said, I think MOST engagement in both online and offline groups tends towards the invisible side. Think of the quiet person at the party or lecture, the kid on the fringe of the group playing. They are having an experience of being with a group, of experiencing the communications (verbal and non verbal) of the group.

This engagement may be perceived as positive and/or negative. We must let go of the romantic notion that all engagement is positive to the individual and the group as well as the expectation that all online engagement is positive. It isn’t. Trust me on this one!

So why should we care about engagement?
Particularly in the context of learning?

Well, my guess is no engagement = no chance of learning with others or from content. Again, this hinges on my belief that we learn through engagement both with people and content or the myriad of combinations. Many of us learn just fine by ourselves. Many of us need the social aspect of engagement with others to learn, work and play. I’ll leave the academics and people smarter than me to put the proof on the table. I’ll state as a practitioner, engagement is important for learning for individuals and groups. Period.

How do we encourage engagement online?

Now that some very crude and un-scientific definitions of engagement are on the table, let’s look at how we, as facilitators, can encourage engagement online. And how we encourage specific types of engagement in the service of learning.  For this blog post, I’ll focus on social engagement, rather than solo learner engagement with content. Because this is what I suspect Candace is looking for!

Social engagementimaginethepossibilities

First, remember and use what we know about offline engagement. While these may manifest differently online, we should not forget them. And it is odd, but we often do forget them!

  • Address people by name - they are more likely to respond than a generalized comment thrown out to the group. For example, in a web meeting, toss questions both to the group and to individuals.
  • Acknowledge and reciprocate contributions given to you as an individual and to the group. This is especially critical for first time contributions. Online, it is a way to indicate that you “heard” someone, which might be a subtle nod offline.
  • Ask good questions …. and then shut up and let people answer them! I fail at this one often because I love to ANSWER questions.  This is where self awareness and even separation between the role of facilitator and “knowledgable person” (some say “expert.” I resist that a bit.).
  • Paraphrase unclear contributions to check for meaning (if you are lost, it is a good chance someone else is!)
  • Vary the modality or media to accomodate different needs of participants. Be aware that the way you like to  communicate may or may not reflect the needs of others. Vary and see the response to get a sense of what works for individuals and the group. There are always trade offs to accomodate both.
  • Nibble. Break up delivery of content and intersperse activities. For synchronous engagements, consider 7-10 minute chunks in your plan. Online, resist the urge to offer pages to read and think in terms of paragraphs. People generally learn in smaller bites. Think of the overeating trap at buffets! Not so nice, even if you grabbed three lobsters, two steaks, a pile of asparagus and 5 chocolate desserts.
  • Role model passsion, and your own engagement.

Now, how does this change online? There are two areas that beg for some deeper exploration about engagement, one on the software or tool side and the other on the process side. They are very related, so I’m going to mix them up a bit.

  • speakincolorOffline we have non-verbals and body language to assess the state of people in the room. Online we have to do this with both software and process. From a process standpoint we cannot assume we know the state of the others in the group.
    • For example, silence may mean someone is shy, angry or their microphone doesn’t work –> each of these begs a different facilitation strategy. Process wise, we have to ask more often, to “check in. Build this into your process, especially at the start of an interaction when people don’t know each other and technology issues may not yet be sorted out.
    • Use the metrics tools in the software you are using to keep an eye on page views, online indicators, and other measure that can at least tell you if someone has logged on.
    • Use “text” and visual “body language” online in your own communications to help others enrich their use of text.   Yes, even emoticons,  no matter if you don’t like them yourself. They can give tone to text, especially for people who are less experienced at clear writing. (For example: “I am leaned forward towards my screen, devouring this thread, but I’m not sure I undersand fully what you mean by XYZ ” as compared to “What do you mean?” – which could be read in a serious or mocking tone and perhaps leave the other person thinking you don’t care.) I like including images and small audio clips to help assure we are “hearing” each other accurately.

time

  • Time is different online. People who are always on and respond quickly experience online interaction differently than those who log on less frequently. (Gilly Salmon called this  ” snowflake time“.) The latter can experience a sense of overwhelm and being “left behind.” Make this dynamic visible to the group and encourage the fast posters to slow down a bit and the others to log on a bit more frequently. Understand that if this gap persists, the group may  splinter. If that is the reality, consider sub groups and weave ideas between them as their facilitator.
  • Punctuate time. Alternate synchronous with asynchronous as a way to keep the “heartbeat” of a group going. Like a first time runner, groups “heartbeats” have to be faster at first to build relationships, establish norms and patterns of interaction. Over time as the runner “trains” the heart beats slower. So with the group.  For example in a three week online workshop I like a  minimum of one synchronous telecon interspersed with asynchronous activity. This is a simple matter of attention – which we always find is in short supply!

Yikes, this is getting long.  And I haven’t even touched on identity! Maybe it is time to stop and ask how you engage others online? Share with us your useful practices and tips!

Blog Comments from 2009

  1. Janeon 08 Sep 2009 at 1:51 pm edit this

    Hi Nancy,
    Great comments and insights. An area that strikes me about online communities versus face to face meetings is the power of questions, provocative statements or interesting artefacts. It’s interesting to see how a question can transform a group – a powerful question can take on a life of it’s own re-energizing a dormant group. I’ve watched this happen over the years with the online facilitators community. The more controversial, the better – conflict online which seems to be fast and furious provides incredible learning not too mention, engagement.

    Awhile ago, I read about a posting on ebay about antique hair pins. Fascinating to see the number of hits this post received and each time someone added to the knowledge on antique hair pins – (an internal wiki for ebay, I suppose) Who woud have thought a posting on hair pins would have generated so much content and engaged a community of followers. I’m not certain how long the community stayed together but I’m also not certain this matters. Online communities was and wane, dropping in and out of conversations as they please – this peripatetic lifestyle drives dynamic dialogue and ensures engagement – (even if only, fleetingly :-)

  2. […] White of Full Circle Associates has made a very useful blog post asking what we mean by engagement online. Nancy is the preeminent online facilitator, and her answers to her own question are a great outline […]

  3. […] in communities, vocational education and training at 4:51 am by ednavet Nancy White thinks that engagement in any community is on a spectrum from active participation in a group to […]

  4. Marcia Truitton 17 Sep 2009 at 4:27 am edit this

    Nancy,
    Your mention of tone is very important. In English classes we were hit with tone and many students did not get the message which is so important in this time of online and text communication. Since voice inflection is missing in online communication participants and facilitators must be very careful with their word choices. Since we are often in such a hurry to finish a task we often are careless with word choice. In face to face communication so many more cues are available.

  5. Cynthiaon 17 Sep 2009 at 8:17 am edit this

    Nancy,

    In online learning, one of our hurdles is when we ask our participants to do group activities. Many balk and find reasons why they cannot get together with others for group activities online.

    Seeing your concept of time online (thank you for the visual–it’s awesome), I wonder if you have some insight on quelling these “yeah, but” type responses to group activities in online learning. I think the problem is entangled in the time issue.

    Cinde

  6. Nancy Whiteon 19 Sep 2009 at 4:50 pm edit this

    Marcia, yes yes yes — I think in our hurry we cheat our own communications.

    Cynthia, it is funny you mention this because this ended up be a topic of conversation in an online gathering this past week with a bunch of educators in Florida.

    A couple of the things I do with “yea, but” are:

    1. Start with small, well defined collaborative tasks that build up trust, reciprocity and visibility of the value and interdependence of group work. I find people will be less likely to “let down” someone they have gotten to know a bit. The socialization seems to matter (from my experience working with adults.)

    2. Debrief the initial collaboration to identify what made it work/not work. Sometimes I ask tough questions like “what would happen if you did not participate in this activity?” or “what are the consequences of your non-participation.” (social pressure)

    3. If the group is not being generative in the assignment, “flip it.” So ask for work that is counter productive to the desired outcome (which people often find amusing and think I’m joking). So if your goal was to design a lesson for 10th graders on Beethoven, ask them to design the perfect lesson where students would learn nothing. Absolutely nothing. What could faillsafe this goal? They generate the list. Then ask them how many things are in place for failure in the work they are doing now. Prioritise the top one or two things they can do something about and then they redesign their learning context to support, rather than defeat, participation (ask me questions if I did not explain that very well. ) I learned this from Keith McCandless – he calls it TRIZ.

  7. […] via Full Circle Associates » What do we mean by engagement online?. […]

  8. — Informal Learning Blogon 02 Oct 2009 at 4:26 pm edit this

    […] What do we mean by engagement online?- Full Circle, September 8, 2009 […]

  9. […] What do we mean by engagement online? | Full Circle Candace Whitehead, the Facilitator Support Specialist for the Florida Online Reading Professional Development project funded by the Florida DOE and housed at the University of Central Florida http://forpd.ucf.edu contacted me last month inviting me to participate in a web meeting with the cohort of online facilitators working in learning and particularly around literacy issues. The chance to have a conversation with practitioners is always an automatic YES for me. When we talked, Candace suggested the topic of “engagement.” This blog post is a little bit of “thinking out loud” prior to our conversation later this month. (tags: tm_picks IDEA engagement bestpractices online_learning online_facilitation) […]

  10. […] What do we mean by engagement online? | Full Circle […]

  11. Lucy Garrickon 20 Oct 2009 at 11:12 am edit this

    Nancy,

    Enjoyed this post – and your experiences are quite helpful as this is the area that fascinates me most in virtual collaboration.

    I have formed a collaborative learning group on Linked to explore this topic in a socially open forum. I hope you and your readers will consider joining and engaging with this group to share your experiences, knowledge and questions.

    Here is a link to the group http://www.linkedin.com/groupInvitation?groupID=2350136&sharedKey=19C1004846E9

    OR once signed into LI, search on groups for Radical Inclusion – Open Virtual Collaboration

    All the best.

  12. Jeff Hurton 22 Oct 2009 at 7:03 am edit this

    Nancy:

    Wow, there’s some great stuff here. I’m a meeting and event professional that focuses on the education design of face-to-face and virtual experiences. I’ve been thinking for some time about how to make our face-to-face events more social, allowing more horizontal, peer-to-peer collaborative learning. So much of conference time is spent sitting passively in chairs listening to an expert “sage on the stage.” Participants want more dialogue and less monologue.

    I’ve also been playing with hybrid meetings, integrating the virtual with the face-to-face to extend the learning experience and allow people to engage with each other and the content. So you’re post resonates with me a lot.

    Dr. Davis Fougler calls “snowflake time” “supersynchrony.” He says supersynchronly allows online attendees to control the level of synchrony with parallel interactions, which magnifies learning opportunities and retention. No longer do learners need to use “turn-taking in discussions,” where words follow words, paragraphs follow paragraphs, people taking turns to speak. Instead of following a single one-way linear straight line fixed presentation, online learners have the ability to break and restore communication linearity. They can scroll back from the moment the statements was posted, while interacting presently in the here-and-now, resulting in several conversations happening all at the same time allowing for additional data flow and increased productivity. He and other researchers call this online productivity “bending time” or “hyper time through polylogues.”

    Those of us that say that is information overload, too much information coming at us at once, have not yet mastered what many Gen X & Ys have: information synthesis. Information Synthesizers don’t feel overwhelmed by information – they either use it or they don’t, but they don’t whine that there’s too much. Oh, wait, that’s a different post than this one about engaging with content and people.

    Thanks for being a springboard for more thinking and allowing me to run with some thoughts here.

One response so far

Nov 10 2014

Ask Me Anything: Knowledge Sharing Through Peer Interviews

This is the third post in a series about how we learn from our work. The first one is here and the second here.

The popular Internet discussion site, Reddit.com has a practice called “Ask Me Anything.”(http://www.reddit.com/r/AMA/) It is a discussion thread where either some notable is invited in or a member offers their expertise and the other members can ask them, well, anything! It is so popular it even has a mobile app so you can follow the AMAs. Some of the AMA’s are amazing… the insights that emerge when someone asks us a question seem to leap over anything we can prepare. I’ve done a ton of keynote talks, and the best ones have been when someone interviews me. They pull out things I had no idea I knew, and I was able to express them naturally and easily.

What is it about someone asking us questions that surfaces great, sharable knowledge?

This is the question that is part of the second of two experiments we are running with the of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grantees of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program. (Read about the first one here.)We have started interviewing ourselves on the KM team, and have offered to interview any grantee to help tease out and share their insights with other grantees and stakeholders. It is a simple, low risk experiment to learn together and share knowledge

Our hypothesis, or Theory of Change, for the peer interviews is fourfold.

  1. HSLWe are often unconscious about what we know (see Dave Snowden’s great piece on “we know more than we can say and we say more than we can write.”) When someone asks us to “tell them a story” about our work, we are able to on the spot reflect, surface and share insights that might otherwise just stay stuck in our heads.
  2. We are short on time so we are reluctant or unable to stop, reflect, write and share. For whatever reasons. If someone can ask us and even help us write it up, we may be able to jump over that barrier.
  3. Pithy write ups of the insights can be valuable ways to cross pollinate learning in a grant portfolio, particularly if they come in small bites in greater frequency than the formal knowledge sharing instruments of regular reports and journal articles.
  4. Interviewing each other is a generative practice. This is because people like to know they have been heard. Not to freak out my dear science brethren and sisters, but the Dalai Lama once said that human beings “need to be heard, seen and loved, and in that order.” (As quoted in a story from Mark Jones, told to Peggy Holman and noted in her book, “Engaging Emergence.”) In the work world, we often swap in “respected” for loved, because talking about love at work seems taboo in many of our cultures. ;-) All the same, when we take the time to interview each other, to listen and to capture the insights, two things happen. One is the person who speaks often makes concrete, as they speak, thinking that was not yet fully formed or articulated. The second is that when people are heard, they are more likely to offer their knowledge in the future. So interviewing becomes a generative practice.

So far I have interviewed our KM team leader, Pete Cranston. On my to do list is to interview our client, the BDS portfolio lead (who is a pretty freaking amazingly open guy, so I look forward to this), and, after our last call (see blog post 2) I want to follow up with one of the grantees who is asking this same question: how do we surface and share our learnings more effectively. He calls it “process learning.” Some folks call it “working out loud.”

So another experiment has begun. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, do you have any stories or insights about peer interviewing as a learning and knowledge sharing method? Please, share them in the comments!

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