Archive for Community

The Times We Are Preparing For

I think I've mentioned that I have a fabulous women's group that meets in a sheltering cave in a mountain in Second Life. Every Thursday morning the five of us sit in circle and share the deeper levels of what's up for us.

In my case last week it was the final stretch of a long preparation period for the first event in the "Conversation for the 21st Century" series. This (material taken from our transcripts) is what I found myself musing upon:

These last few weeks have been so crazy that I am being forced to face how dysfunctional it is being this stressed. I am behaving in ways that do not serve me or anyone, even if I am getting a lot done. My impatience can be terrible. I'm not nice. … well, not as nice as I can be anyway 🙂

And it's ironic, because truly I think that's one of the most important things I could ever do; just be kind. Listen. To what people have to say, yes certainly, but perhaps more importantly to the stillness that is behind the words.

I have been realizing and valuing how important it is to be calm and clear and strong and unstressed, especially in these times when life seems to be moving faster and faster for all of us…

(William Yeats expressed the phenomenon so beautifully in his poem about modernism, Second Coming:
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold …"

Those of us who can be the strong "anchor" or center points that CAN hold during these times are increasingly valuable. Sometimes I wonder if there is a role we're preparing for that none of us may even see clearly yet, but will turn out to be of far more importance than anything we could ever "do".

As of right now, there are over 500 people registered for the event I'm hosting tomorrow!! To me, that represents a responsibility as well as an opportunity…

To prepare for it – in the day I have between now and then – I'm looking for ways to create a sense of spaciousness for myself so that the experience of awareness and presence can enter my voice tomorrow and call it from others throughout the room.

As it turned out, it's a good thing I did…

The event was just wonderful – we had the most amazing conversation starters who conveyed real depth and wisdom about the subject (community), and the 200+ people who showed up to engage each other in conversation lept to it immediately as a shoal of flashing fish to water. Everything in the first hour and a half was all I could have hoped for … and then… we had a massive breakdown in technology.

I've been using this software since November of 2009 and never seen anything like this happen before, but Tom Foolery was up to his April Fool's Day tricks during the last round of conversation when the 60-some small group conversations began to bleed into each other, causing people to hear others who were not in the room with them. Imagine how confusing that would be if your only sense perception was auditory!

It was definitely a test of equilibrium for me and my co-host Ben Roberts, as we managed to bring the situation back to center by muting everyone and trying to explain what was happening when we had no idea ourselves.

Luckilly they had been able to talk for 15 of the 20 minutes in that final round, but it was disconcerting nonetheless, and I really needed all my patience and presence of mind to keep the container of wonderful energy we had built up until then intact.

One of the things I drew heavily upon to do that was the positive intent in the room. Everyone there wanted to keep the energy alive and moving, too, so together we weathered the bumpy patch and moved into a wonderful harvest with full participation, and the rest of the event went smoothly.

These are the times we are preparing for.
May we all live into them fully, and be kind to ourselves and each other as we weather the bumpy patches.

Berrett Koehler Publishers – A Company with a Vision

BKcornerlr Berret Koehler Publishing, known to many simply as “BK”, is an extraordinary company. As you can read on the logo, their mission is to create a world that works for all and with a publishing list that includes Meg Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science, Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller’s The Secret, Peter Block’s Stewardship, Joe Jaworksi’s Synchronicity and The World Cafe: Shaping our Futures through Conversations that Matter, they’re really doing it.

A BK fan for many years, I am honored to serve as online strategist and designer for many BK authors, so you can imagine how excited I was to be called in as chief consultant for the development and launch of their online BK Community site. Already vibrant less than a month since its launch, this online community features wit, wisdom and informed inquiry from a diverse set of stakeholders ranging from BK authors to readers of these brilliant books to the full impressive array of BK staff and other luminaries in the publishing and promotional industries.

One of my favorite things about BK is their forward-looking understanding and application of digital media, and their early adoption of a community platform is a great example of their foresight in this area. With David Marshall at the helm in digital developments, BK is a company ready for the future.

If you are a BK author or reader, or if you just care about books and where they’re going, time spent in this community will be illuminating and definitely worth your while.

Conversation & Business

I just read a post by blogger /consultant Chris Brogan on Cafe-Shaped Conversations, where he explores how social media allows small intimate conversations and how that might or might not be what corporations are interested in, and when they are, how that might not be such a great idea for the rest of us.

As Community Tech Steward of the World Café, I  know that conversation about things that matter is not just a marketing strategy, but one of the keys to human survival. It is in large part conversation (on a number of levels) that will carry us through the formidable global challenges that stand before us now. And online communication tools will no doubt make a key contribution to how we have those conversations.

How exciting it will be to have a President who really understands the power of the individual voice … I can't wait to see how Obama's presidency will effect participatory citizenship and this whole area. Online interaction needs to become a cultural meme that goes beyond digital natives and "geeky types" like me if it is to fulfill its potential.

But back to business, what Brogan and the World Café are calling Café Conversations (small intimate interactions that can connect with and feed into larger collective awareness) are important to large and small companies for many reasons beyond product sales and marketing.

Conversation is now becoming recognized as a core business competency and World Cafés are hosted in corporations just as often as they are with health and educational institutions, government, neighborhood groups, and anywhere else that conversation can increase communication, address challenges or help build a sense of community. It's only a matter of time until many of these conversations are happening online.

You've probably noticed that more and more conferences are moving to an interactive model, based on small group conversation. Increasingly, conference organizers are realizing that attendees are tired of "talking heads". There is so much more to be gained by an approach that calls on the collective intelligence gathered in the room, and engages everyone in a conversation where the "experts" and those in the audience (who are often equally as knowledgeable) are on a par.

So what I'm saying is that there's an analogy here that expands the power of conversation and online communications way out beyond marketing and product sales for businesses, and it's still just beginning.

Slow Community

With all my musing lately on slow work, and slow blogging, I was very excited to hear about my friend Nancy White’s extrapolating on this idea in what she calls slow community. In her inimitable capacity to identify patterns and make connections, she’s been talking about how quickly the interconnectivity of the web has grown beyond our abilities to stay connected in meaningful ways. (This image is a "splat map" of the internet’s growth since its beginnings in ARPANET (the green bit in the middle):


Variations on this theme are being discussed all over the media – two books among my own pile of bedtime reading focus on the topic in one way or another; Peter Block’s new Community: The Structure of Belonging, and Dot Calm (I love that title) – but what I particularly like about the concept of slow community is that it offers us a context with which to negotiate this growing nexus of interactivity on our own terms.

On a personal level, I long for a slower more reflective life, and I crave the depth and reflectivity and true connection that is possible within communities – online and off – that share these values.

On a professional level, the idea of "slow community" gives a conceptual framework to the online communities I help facilitate, or steward, through which we can identify and "see" ourselves. It also gives us a sense of what we might be evolving towards, or the kind of depth we might WANT to nurture between ourselves.

Some have spoken about the depth and quality of our attention as a key to slow community. I strongly believe that it’s possible – and as difficult – to be as deeply connected through our online communications as it is anywhere else. The online medium has its own challenges, of course, but it also has advantages, and one of them can be time. For all its limitations and lack of physical cues, writing is a slower medium than speaking. Writing gives us the time to reflect and consider those responses that can just "pop out" as unthinking reflexivity in real-time interaction and craft them into shapes that can more clearly carry the meanings we want to convey.

One might also ask whether the word community can be used to define all the ways we interact online. Is Twitter a community? Are the people who read my blog a community? I’m curious about what the boundaries are, or what the defining features of community are for different people.

For myself, I actually think this question of what community is and isn’t refers back to my earlier point about quality or more accurately, intent. In this framework, the word might be applied to any communication where the intent is to "commune", be that on Twitter, or within our blogging readerships, online conversations, or physical neighborhoods for that matter.

Having the intent to commune with each other requires an altogether different relationship to time. There’s something here about respecting time and entering into interactions with a
"presence" that makes the most of it, that expands time so that there’s
enough for whatever is needed.

Someone left a comment on one of Nancy White’s posts on this subject, bringing up the Quaker model where they moved VERY slowly as a community in discussing the challenges of slavery, and yet were still the first to stand up and call for abolition. This example shows us that slowness doesn’t necessarily mean an inability to respond to the challenges of the day, but rather offers the capacity to respond in a more profound and ultimately even more timely way.

* * * * * *

Here’s a video from a presentation on the subject that Nancy did at Zaadz (now the Gaia Community), which has some terrible sound production, but asks some great questions:

She’s also created a page on her online facilitation wiki devoted to slow community, which in turn has links to other helpful resources.