Updates from November, 2013 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Eugene Eric Kim 3:54 pm on November 27, 2013 Permalink |

    I just learned that Chris Argyris passed away a few weeks ago. Chris was a giant in organizational development. He coined the term and described the concept, “Ladder of Inference,” a tool that we used often at Groupaya. Here’s a link to one of his many classic Harvard Business Review articles, “Teaching Smart People How to Learn.”

    I would have expected the New York Times to have printed an obituary for him, but they did not. Says something about the limited awareness that people have of our field.

  • Eugene Eric Kim 5:47 pm on November 23, 2013 Permalink |

    Here’s a related, but divergent followup to the world’s largest comment I left in response to @brooking’s questions. While I was pulling up links to some of my stories, I found some other posts that strongly color how I think about online tools and their role in collaboration.

    Here’s one on differentiating engagement from artifact. Here’s one on stigmergy (i.e. leaving trails).

    Here’s a 12-minute slidecast I put together three years ago that pulls together these different topics:

    As always, feedback encouraged!

    • Jessica 8:17 pm on November 25, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      A quick point about engaging busy people in response to @brooking and @eekim, via an anectode: I was at the airport and felt compelled to answer your conversation thread. I tried for 10 minutes to log in via iPhone, but finally got frustrated and gave up. It may be obvious, but it’s so much easier when friends ping you in a way that’s easy to respond. Technology is getting there, but there are still plenty of barriers.

      Eugene, how do sites like https://mural.ly/ change your perception of online vs. in-person engagements? I’m thinking about taking a systems class at Worscester Polytechnic Institute, and was told that the school has “quite a vibrant online community”… I’ll report back on what I learn re: best practices for getting people to actually and meaningfully engage online.


      • Eugene Eric Kim 11:15 pm on November 25, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        It’s not obvious, @jessausinheiler. An amazing number of people do not pay attention to things like login usability โ€” including online retailers, whose businesses depend on these sorts of things.

        I did a collective visioning project last year with several Alameda-based arts organizations, and we wanted to use a blog for participants to share their thoughts online. We picked Tumblr for a variety of reasons, and then we sat some participants down in front of it and asked them to log in and post something. It was brutal. No one could figure out how to log in without our help.

        These were not stupid people. They were just normal. Online tools require a mental model that does not map to what most normal people understand. The notion of online identity is particularly broken.

        When these things crop up, you don’t just give up, but you do have to get real about expectations. This is where a lot of people get tripped up. They don’t adjust.

        When I started working on the Delta Dialogues (@dana’s bootcamp project), @rapetzel and I mapped out a strategy for how we might integrate online tools. We ended up doing two things: We had a project blog that was public, and we implemented a buddy system for people to interact with each other however they choseย โ€” phone, face-to-face, etc. โ€” between meetings. We shared artifacts from the meeting as printable PowerPoints (although we also published them online for transparency purposes). We did not try to implement some kind of online tool system so that people could interact between meetings, although I had originally thought we might go in that direction in Phase 2. I didn’t think our participants would be ready for it, and we had too many other priorities.

        As it turned out, our participants were even less ready than I thought they would be. Several of our participants (mostly government officials) had their secretaries print out their emails so they could read them, which made sending links completely useless. One of the participants shared his email account with his wife.

        So our strategy ended up being a good one, but it was not easy. For whatever reason, I find that people still have a lot of trouble getting why we approached things this way and how they might proceed moving forward. This is a common problem, not just with the Delta Dialogues, but with just about every project I’ve been involved with. It’s why I find the physical thought experiment so useful. If you imagine a special room where people could interact, but only if they figured out a puzzle lock that on average on 10 percent of participants even had the patience to try, what kind of engagement should you realistically expect, and how might you modify your design as a result?

        Given all this, Jess, how do tools like mural.ly change your perception of online vs face-to-face engagement? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Jessica 6:13 am on December 5, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      It really depends on the length of the engagement and my goals.

      So, an unlikely but extreme example, if the group was a global group of people who’s only chance of accomplishing their goals, given the budget, was to communicate virtually, I’d probably make a really big investment to teach them how to use the tool. For example, at the kickoff meeting I might organize a simulation exercise where people have to post / respond / comment on the site in real time, in pairs or triads, so they learn how to use the site together and from each other’s mistakes–and so they get a sense of how valuable of a tool it can be. Between bi-annual meetings, on a predictable/regular basis, I might post questions on the site (or have people take turns posting questions) that participants have 24-48 hours to respond to, to keep the momentum going. (In Murally this might mean posting an idea that others can build and comment on.)

      Is fun, instructive, collaborative up-front investment… and then time-bound, regular, predictable, valuable virtual engagement periods… really enough though?

      I pun it to other changemakers.

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    Brooking 1:14 am on November 23, 2013 Permalink |  

    Hey there bootcampers. I’m conscious of my commitment to write weekly not being met this past week, but I’ve been pondering offline a bit. One question that comes up for discussion is actually directly related to this: how do you keep busy people engaged in this sort of thing? What kinds of hooks could we institute to lure each other in to conversation? How can we make accountability easy? The topic of accountability has come up a lot this past week for me – working with busy leaders either as employee or as coach, also having managed online websites before that are only as valuable as the experience created by users… how do you support engagement without hand-holding? How do we inspire each other to want to participate? How can community hold us accountable and how can we hold ourselves accountable? Just seed planting right now – all questions, no answers ๐Ÿ™‚ perhaps the topic of week 2 of our next set of gatherings!?

    • Eugene Eric Kim 5:39 pm on November 23, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Lots of great, intertwingled questions here! I’m going to try to unwind them a bit and offer some rambling thoughts. I’d love to hear what others think as well.

      I want to put aside the “accountability” questions aside for a second and focus on your questions about engagement. This is also a great opportunity for me to re-introduce the thought experiment from my failed workout from bootcamp #2. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Pick a group that you’d like engaged in continuous conversation. Imagine that everyone in that group was in the same physical place all-the-time. They all work in the same building, they all hang out in the same neighborhood, they all live a few minutes away from each other.

      How would you like this group to engage? What kinds of interactions would you like them to have? How might you design for that?

      And how would you answer your other questions above in this situation?

      The reason I love this thought experiment is that it eliminates a lot of assumptions we make about online tools and forces us to focus on more critical design questions. What is it that you want people to actually do? Why? How are they going to make time for it? (Group physics!) Brooking asked how to keep busy people engaged. Creating an online space doesn’t change the fact that those people are busy. In fact, it often exacerbates the problem.

      Some rambly stories that might shed some light on these questions:

      I love the potential of this water cooler to build and maintain community for all of you (and perhaps beyondย โ€” an epic goal), but that’s not it’s primary purpose. The purpose of this space is to be a safe space for you to exercise your online engagement muscles. One of those muscles is sharing in public. When you share in public, you create the opportunity for connection. Your assumptions about what would be most valuable to share may not be right.

      Five years ago, I was working with a network of leaders in reproductive and population health on the ground in five different developing countries. I spent three weeks in three of those countries (India, Ethiopia, and Nigeria), blogging extensively and taking pictures throughout.

      When I got back home from my first trip, one of my colleagues on the project said to me, “Honestly, I didn’t read all of your blog posts, but I loved your pictures!” That turned out to be a common theme.

      Several months after the project was over, I checked in with a network leader in Nigeria, and she told me an interesting story. It turns out that my pictures had turned out to be an extraordinary tool in forging stronger connections. Participants in the network โ€” who were spread out across the country and who did not have easy access to the Internet at the time โ€”ย would visit Internet cafes and Google themselves out of curiosity. Since most of these folks didn’t have much of an Internet presence, not many things would show up. Many of the top hits turned out to be my pictures. Seeing those pictures struck an emotional chord, and it ended up being an impetus for people to proactively reach out to each other via mobile.

      None of this was by design. I was taking pictures because I like taking pictures, and because I was visiting new places. I tagged and shared them publicly out of habit. In the end, my pictures contributed more to catalyzing the network than the thousands of words I had written had.

      (Here are two posts from my Nigeria trip.)

      This past week, I posted a picture on Flickr, and I tagged it, “Richmond District.” The person who runs the Richmond District blog (Sarah B.) saw it, liked it, and decided to republish it. I happen to know Sarah, but I didn’t reach out to her about my picture. It didn’t even occur to me. She found it, because she follows the “Richmond District” tag on Flickr.

      As it turns out, there was a woman who used to work for Hawaii Community Foundation (one of my former clients) who saw it. She had participated in two of my processes there, and she was fantastic. She had left her job there earlier this year to have her second child, and unbeknownst to me, she had moved back to SF, which was where she grew up. She saw the picture, realized that I was in the neighborhood, and reached out to me. We have a ton of colleagues in common, but it was my sharing a random picture that resulted in this re-engagement!

      When we design engagements outside of meetings, focusing on in-depth conversation might not actually be the most useful thing we can do. Creating space to share “trivial things” can sometimes be far more effective at catalyzing conversation. That resulting conversation can happen in any number of other places โ€” coffee shop, phone, or some online space we’re already using. It doesn’t have to be in a space that we create.

      Another muscle I want you all to work out is the muscle to respond to other people online in a timely manner. Responding quickly, in this case, is more important than responding deeply. (This should not always be the case, but it’s a useful muscle to develop.) Shockingly, feedback encourages engagement! In an online space, feedback can come in many different forms, but the simplest โ€” and least tool-dependent โ€” is to simply reply to someone’s comment, even if it’s just to say, “Right on, sister!”

      There are a whole bunch of other interventions you can leverage as well. One is to start with a small, committed group, and get them to commit together to read and respond to each other’s work. (Now we’re getting into the accountability question.) Not only does that group develop its own online engagement muscles, but it also attracts other participants, because shockingly, people would rather go places where conversation is happening than talk to themselves in the quiet corner of the room with a bunch of empty chairs. The IISC blog is a great example of this. The vast majority of commenters are other people at IISC, but it shows that they at least are reading and responding to each other’s work internally, and that encourages people from outside of the organization to participate as well.

      I designed and led the Wikimedia strategic planning process from 2009-2010. One of the most important and misunderstood process piece was our weekly office hours. My facilitator and I held regular office hours (rotating every other week to accommodate different timezones) on the #wikimedia channel on IRC. We did it on IRC, because that’s where Wikimedians liked to hang out. (I personally am not fond of IRC.)

      These were not meetings. There were no agendas. There was no requirement for “serious conversation.” This was me and my facilitator hanging out with people, answering questions, but mostly getting to know people in the community and vice-versa. Honestly, it was grueling, not because we didn’t enjoy the interaction, but because the overall process was so intense and because these office hours happened at strange hours.

      A few months into the process, my facilitator and I were running out of steam and were questioning whether to continue them. If we had just gone with how we were feeling, we would have stopped. But we looked at the data. And the data showed that people were coming to office hours, and that people who participated in office hours were more likely to engage in the topical conversation that was happening on the wiki. It validated the basic premise of our design: Relationship is often a greater motivation for engagement than content. These office hours were designed to build relationships, and they drove a lot of engagement that wouldn’t otherwise have happened.

      Facebook is the prime example of this. They are demolishing traditional “laws” of online engagement, like the 90-9-1 rule, because interactions follow relationships, not the other way around.

      Finally, a thought on why and how I engage online. I love having deep conversations with great people, and I like to write. However, I would still rather have coffee with someone or talk over the phone (most of the time) than exchange long emails. Sometimes, it’s not practical, so asynchronous tools allow me to have conversations I want or need to have with people far and wide, whenever I’m available.

      But that actually only accounts for a tiny percentage of my online presence. I use online tools to help me get clear about what’s swimming in my head. When I do it in public, then those thoughts become persistent, meaning I can just point people to them in the future rather than restating them over and over again. So engaging online helps me get clear and it also ends up saving me time.

      A simple takeaway from this is to find things that you are already doing, and simply do it in public. I know a bunch of people who journal to get clear. Instead of journaling in private, journal in public! (This takes practice.) Or instead of sending a long email to one person, write a blog post so that anyone can see what you’ve written.

      Returning to Brooking’s questions, what’s the motivation behind wanting online engagement? When you’re clear on this and when you think about engagement systemically (e.g. not just about meetings or “traditional” conversations, regardless of the medium), then the possible strategies and interventions become much more clear.

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        Brooking 11:35 pm on November 24, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        RIght on, Brother! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks for thoughtful response Eugene, much appreciated.

        • Eugene Eric Kim 4:51 pm on November 25, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

          You’re welcome. And great exercising of the quick acknowledgement muscle! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Eugene Eric Kim 1:08 am on November 22, 2013 Permalink |  

    Just to let you all know, all of the exit interviews are now up. You can enjoy them in their entirety at:


    Looking forward to hearing more about December 10!

  • marie 11:26 pm on November 14, 2013 Permalink |  

    Replies and future workouts 

    First of all – HELLO EVERYONE! Love that bootcampers new and old are hopping on here and keeping active.

    I keep trying to reply to threads below and it won’t let me, so I’m starting a new post. In response to @eekim, @eugenechan, @rapetzel, and @brooking –

    BATNA = Best Alternative to Negotiation (Agreement?) – basically your own personal line in the sand. I’ve had that in my head for a while but don’t think I’ll need to follow through as there’s definitely movement from management now as we get close to the end of 2013. I’ll let you all know if/when all is official!

    I love the idea of doing a narrowing workout – maybe this will be my topic when I facilitate one of our follow up sessions! Would love to explore the idea with all of you. [And I’ll probably hit you up for some help with design @eekim :)]

    Finally (for now ๐Ÿ™‚ )I am definitely committed to trialing a 5 week follow up bootcamp where we all get together and take turns planning workouts with support from each other as needed. I love the idea of jam sessions too, but am unsure what that would look like – and maybe that’s the point? No matter what, I look forward to working with you all on a more continuous basis to practice and learn from each other.

    • Eugene Eric Kim 1:03 am on November 22, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Thanks for the update, Marie! You’re rapidly becoming our most active poster. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Sorry about the issue with commenting. I think I fixed it, but you should test it to make sure it works.

      Always available to help designing workouts and supporting all of you in your changemaker goals.

  • Eugene Eric Kim 3:23 pm on November 13, 2013 Permalink |  

    Here’s @dana’s exit interview:


    Talking to @brooking tomorrow; will post next week!

  • Eugene Eric Kim 4:04 pm on November 12, 2013 Permalink |  

    Hope everyone had a good Veteran’s Day weekend! I posted @jessausinheiler’s exit interview yesterday. @dana’s goes up tomorrow, and @brooking’s next week.


  • Eugene Eric Kim 12:55 am on November 9, 2013 Permalink |  

    It was a fun little group dynamics exercise for me to watch you all talk about the possibility of continuing to meet, actually picking a date, and then exploring what you might want to do together on that date. Rather than simply enjoy the exercise in silence, I thought I’d also try to contribute something useful. ๐Ÿ™‚

    First, my meta-observations: @jessausinheiler showed a lot of leadership in not only proposing a date, but also by making an offer. To me, that was classic do-acracy. @brooking showed a lot of leadership in committing to the date, then advocating for her interests. When there was conflict around what to do on the 10th, Brooking then showed skill by noting that there wasn’t shared clarity around what all of the individual goals were for continuing to meet.

    There’s a spectrum of ways to get that clarity. On the one hand, you can have a discussion, get all of your interests on a table, then try to come to consensus on a meeting goal and design for the 10th. On the other hand, you can let the person who organizes decide. If people aren’t interested in following, they won’t come.

    I would lean towards the “let the organizer decide” part of the spectrum. And, I’d like to step out of the observer role to make a suggestion and an offer.

    I would like to see two things happening at scale. First, I’d like to see people doing workouts on their own. Second, I’d like to see people doing “jam sessions” on their own. By jam sessions, I mean coming together and practicing by playing. That could mean making up the workout on the fly, or it could mean having one person pick the progression they want to try playing.

    One of the things on my list to do is to create “workout cards,” so that people can easily download and do these workouts on their own. I’ve started doing some of this to support @anna341bc and @lauren, but I want to push them all out sooner rather than later.

    I’d encourage you all to commit to meeting for five weeks, not just one. Since Jess organized the first session, I’d let her decide what she wants to do. She may choose to solicit input, or she may choose to do her own thing. Since Brooking has shown strong interest in a specific experiment, I’d let her have the second session.

    The rest of you can pick the remaining days. If you’d like to use one of my workouts, let me know, and I’ll prioritize pushing out the appropriate workout card.

    Finally, my offer to all of you is: 1. to come to all five sessions as a participant rather than a facilitator; and 2. to offer support and feedback for anyone who’d like help designing a session.

    How does that sound?

    • Jessica 4:35 pm on November 18, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Eugene, I think my reply to your comment here got lost in the shuffle…

      …maybe I can solicit your and @marie and @eekim โ€˜s help in turning @marie ‘s “narrowing” challenge into our next bootcamp exercise (yes team โ€ฆ Iโ€™m โ€œitโ€):

      1. Using a deck of “calling cards” by Richard Leider. The deck of cards showcase various “callings” (e.g., thinking critically, connecting to others, writing) and requires you to quickly identify what your core interests are. Would it be interesting to go through an exercise of narrowing down a set of skills to think about what you might be passionate and/or good at? (I have a sense that @brooking might have done this before)

      2. As part of a community of practice of which I was a part, we had Holly Minch present a โ€œpersuation frameworkโ€ (see this link: http://networksguide.wikispaces.com/4-6+Creating+shared+language+and+talking+about+networks+and+network+impact) that helps you think about crafting highly targeted/relevant messages.

      Does anyone have a particularly negative reaction to either of these two?
      @impact hub? @eekim and @marie, you interested in helping a changemaker create a workout around either one of these?

      • Eugene Eric Kim 1:05 am on November 22, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        Responded here.

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        Brooking 11:22 pm on November 24, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        Belated reply but Jess I am totally down and excited to do this calling card thing in our 1st session!

  • Eugene Eric Kim 3:33 pm on November 8, 2013 Permalink |  

    Fun, fun, fun to see bootcampers โ€” old and new โ€” pop onto the water cooler this week! I had a long day yesterday that was packed with meetings, but it was re-energizing to peek here afterward and see all of this activity!

    My exit interview with @eugenechan is now up:


    I’ll post @jessausinheiler and @dana’s next week and @brooking’s the week after.

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    Renee Fazzari 9:54 pm on November 7, 2013 Permalink |  

    Hey folks – wow! There is a lot to catch up on since my last visit to the Water Cooler. I look forward to perusing a bit of this! But for now, a quick question for you all – does anyone have experience with fishbowl sessions at a conference that have worked well?

    For me, the fishbowl – where you have 3-5 presenters in a circle with empty chairs that people can filter into and ask questions – is that mythical presentation descriptor on any session planning worksheet, that begs me to pick it but I never have the guts to give it a try. I’ve heard lots of warnings against fishbowls, but they seem so great in theory! The small group conversation in the large group format. We’re considering this for a conference of about 90 people in December. Any tips or warnings greatly appreciated!

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      Renee 12:14 am on November 8, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      And to answer my own question: a post-back from my Facebook crowd-sourcing question on this same topic:

      From Stephanie Syd Yang (a Bootcamper in spirit!)… aha! i have a lot to say!! (and hiii renee!) so, i am on the side of not liking fishbowls, as they can be performative and well, annoying as an audience/observer/person on the outside. however, i also admit that i have participated in them many times over the years and am coming around to appreciating then benefit in allowing pthers to be witness to a dynamic that is difficult to “describe” or is too easy to “theorize”. that said, fishbowls i have appreciated are ones that stay on point (as much they can) and are not too lengthy time wise. personally i find the richness of fishbowls in the reflections and conversations afterwards, and the questions that are then generated

      so, where i get frustrated wth fishbowls is the following:
      1. folks in the circle take the opportunity of the fishbowl to take up A LOT of space — to air other thoughts, frustrtions, ideas etc as if there has been no other space to be heard, thus not allowing for shared space and eating up so so so much time
      2. people going way off topic
      3. those who tap in to the fishbowl having to wait a really long time to contributw because othrs on the circle are taking up a lot of space and/or moving the discussion into other or unexpected directions
      4. ways that the fishbowl can get very self-focused by those in the bowl and thua moving it away from being a tool/technique to elicit questions and deepen reflections on a certain topic and / or dynamic

      ok! i will stop now happy to share more if you’d like.

    • Eugene Eric Kim 3:15 pm on November 8, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I love fishbowls! And there’s definitely an art to doing them well.

      Once you get beyond about 20 people, the dynamic definitely shifts. 90 people is a lot. I’ve done one this size once, and it worked well, but there are definitely some additional factors . (A nerdy aside: A “fishbowl” where you essentially structure the space like a panel only with empty chairs, it’s actually a “park bench.”)

      Stephanie’s feedback is excellent. Here are some additional thoughts:

      1. Establish groundrules. One of the risks, as Stephanie points out, is that people go up and start taking up space without participating in the spirit of the discussion. Establishing appropriate groundrules empowers everybody to be a facilitator. This actually happened at a large park bench I facilitated several years ago, where one of the panelists did a beautiful job getting an audience member to get off his soapbox.
      2. Prep the initial participants. Spend some time explaining the dynamic and offering suggestions on how to engage, including permission to facilitate.
      3. You still have a facilitator if you need one! If you have a facilitator as part of the original group, then you have a built-in backup plan, because if the conversation starts to get unruly, the facilitator can always get back in the circle and take care of it. In other words, the worst case scenario of a “facilitated” fishbowl should be that it essentially becomes a panel discussion.
      4. Be intentional. As always, you should be clear about why you’re doing this and whether you’re setting yourself up for success. For example, if you were to try to plug a fishbowl into a traditional townhall meeting, where the dynamic is that it’s generally the only space for community members to air their grievances, the fishbowl will probably not succeed (or it will be just as bad as any other townhall meeting). As always, being clear about intention matters.
      5. Choose the variation that works best. You can customize fishbowls in lots of different ways. If you want to be really safe, you can have a moderator just stay up there the whole time. The number of empty chairs shifts the dynamic. I like to do the musical chair version, where if one person sits down, another person has to leave, so that you always have empty chairs, but you don’t have to do it that way. I prefer more open designs in general, but if you’re not comfortable with that, you can refine accordingly.
      6. Give it time to work. The biggest mistake that people make with more open, participatory designs โ€” especially with lots of people โ€” is that they bail when things get awkward. Generally, things will start off awkward, even with a skilled, acculturated group. Give it time for norms and a rhythm to develop.

      As always, let us know what you decide to do and how it goes!

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      Renee 6:20 pm on November 8, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Thanks Eugene! These are great tips. I’m a little concerned because we only have 1h15m for the whole thing, which would include setting the ground rules, introducing the conversation, and doing the fishbowl.

      But I’m still really leaning towards the format because there is a dynamic within our group that only a few select people are really “in the know” and other more ancillary people are often left out of inner circle information. It would be nice to draw some of that out – which I think happens better in a conversation than in a panel presentation. Plus we just want to experiment with something different.

      I’m also including another post from my facebook request, below. I will report back!

      Hey Renee Fazzari – I agree with Stephanie Syd Yang. I am a huge fan of fishbowls when there is a conversation in the group that needs to be had by some ppl and everyone needs to witness it. It works well when you prime the fish! The first fish should embody the perspectives of different “camps” in the group, and have an intimate dialogue with each other in front of everyone about the decision or issue at hand. Sometimes passing note cards w ?s into the center circle works. Sometimes the tapping thing that syd describes is great – as the somatics of stepping into that center circle to speak can really be powerful. It can also work in an anti oppression conversation – for example, women talk in the center circle about experiences with sexism, men listen and hold that outer circle. Where it doesn’t work is when it’s really like a panel discussion – ppl in the center each going on about their thing, whatever it is, and everyone else passively watching. Good luck with your convening!

      • Eugene Eric Kim 1:02 am on November 9, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        1h15m is more than enough time. I’d be more concerned about the size of the group.

        I like your underlying motivation, and I also like your friend’s feedback about physically modeling an inner and outer circle. I did an exercise with about 140 people where we broke out into nine fishbowls, with one leadership team member per fishbowl. The feedback we got from a few participants was that they liked the physical act of stepping into the inner circle, which felt symbolic of stepping into their own leadership.

        Regarding having multiple fishbowls: I like doing this for large groups, largely for group physics reasons, and there were some other advantages with the above meeting. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for your gathering. It’s logistically a lot more challenging, and you have to give very clear instructions, most likely multiple times. You can’t afford to be too open-ended in your instructions, because it will just confuse the heck out of people. Doing one large fishbowl / park bench seems like it will be an interesting enough experiment for you all!

    • Jessica 4:40 pm on November 18, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I like Eugene love fishbowls. I’ve seen them work really well with 25 and even 40 people.

      Things that have worked well include everything that Eugene mentioned, particularly prepping participants and having a facilitator.

      I’d make two additions:
      TIMING: I’ve found them to work really well at the END of a long day, when people are tired and may appreciate the opportunity to sit back and listen a bit.
      WILD CARD: Spicing up the inner circle with a wild card–a person who asks provocative questions–has worked wonders to get the conversation flowing in a different direction, organically.

      Hope this helps!


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      Renee 9:27 pm on November 21, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Thank you Jessica and Eugene for all of the advice. I’m sorry to say that we decided to scrap this idea, this time. We just don’t have the time before the conference to think through all the logistics. Also we don’t have enough time (or flexibilty with space) to make a fishbowl feel like a safe space for people to participate. We worry that without really setting up a different feeling space, it will feel pretty hard for people to march up on stage and join presenters, thus creating an exclusivity component that would only have very confident voices join, rather than really tapping the wisdom of the whole room.

      That said, I’m totally committed to doing a fishbowl soon and will keep all this advice in my back pocket for the next time around. Super grateful for everyone’s advice and time!

      • Eugene Eric Kim 1:07 am on November 22, 2013 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        Those sound like wise reasons for not doing it. Thanks for reporting back, as always, Renee! Looking forward to hearing how it does go.

        How did your GEO presentation go? You were a tweeting machine! ๐Ÿ™‚

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