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The hero’s journey shortchanges change
Why do people overlook the importance of integration and practice? Well, the hero’s journey is a common way we picture how change occurs. A hero goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed.
At the end of the hero’s journey, everyone involved, just like in fairy tales, “live happily ever after”.
Integration and practice is absent from this monomyth version of change.
Integration and practice is a vital component of change
In reality, integration and practice are vital components of change. You’ve probably experienced moments in your life when you realized that something was or was about to be different: the fourth stage transforming idea/event of Satir’s model of change. I certainly have.
Typically, however, such moments of insight or awareness do not lead to instantaneous change. Think about the times you’ve realized you can/have to/want to make a change in your life.
Some stories about working on change
Here are three stories about working on change in my life:
Each story includes the awakening moment(s), followed by integration and practice.
Even when we incorporate integration and practice, successful change isn’t guaranteed. Though eating mindfully has maintained my weight loss for 5 years, and I’m now good at asking for help, I still struggle to meditate daily.
As Jerry Weinberg said in his wonderful book Becoming a Change Artist:
‘Change requires patience. John Stevens tells this story from the martial arts:
Once, a young man petitioned a great swordsman to admit him as a disciple. “I’ll act as your live-in servant and train ceaselessly. How long will it take me to learn everything?”
“At least ten years,” the master replied.
“That’s too long,” the young man protested. “Suppose I work twice as hard as everyone else. Then how long will it take?”
“Thirty years,” the master shot back.
“What do you mean?” the anguished student exclaimed. “I’ll do anything to master swordsmanship as quickly as possible!”
“In that case,” the master said sharply, “you will need fifty years. A person in such a hurry will be a poor student.”‘
Practicing to become a change artist
We all probably hope that implementing change in our lives won’t take decades of integration and practice. So, are there ways we can practice getting better at facilitating change?
Why, yes, suggests Jerry Weinberg!
The title of Chapter 6 of Becoming a Change Artist is “Practicing to Become a Change Artist”.
In it he makes simple suggestions on how we can practice implementing change in our lives, and, in the process, become more open to and expert in facilitating change for others and ourselves.
‘The purpose is to launch your career as a change artist by experiencing some of the theoretical learnings in the “real world,” but in as small and safe a way as possible.’
Here are some exercises Jerry recommends:
- Go to work in a different way tomorrow.
- Make a different lunch every day, or make the same lunch a different way.
- Brush your teeth in a different order.
- Instead of trying to change something, sit back, listen, and observe. Notice your urge to change things and what happens when you don’t do anything about your urges.
- Pick one habit that keeps you from being fully present, and focus on reshaping that habit in all your interactions.
Why not try some of these yourself? I enjoy this challenge!
Practicing how to implement change in small ways in our daily lives can help us improve how we facilitate change. Put another way, concentrating on the process of facilitating change, rather than the product or outcome is the way to go.
Image attribution: Close up of a girl training inside a boxing ring by Jacob Lund from Noun Project
How do you facilitate change? In this occasional series, we explore various aspects of facilitating individual and group change.
1 • My gut meets Seth Andrew
Last week, I was about to begin an online presentation on “How to trust your gut” when a national story broke. Major news outlets (1, 2, 3) were reporting that Seth Andrew, founder of a national network of charter schools, had been arrested for allegedly stealing $218,000 from one of the schools: Democracy Prep.
Now it happens that I’ve had an intense set of community interactions with and about Seth Andrew over the last year. I first met him on Facebook on May 28, 2020, where he announced his non-profit, Democracy Builders, had purchased the Marlboro College campus where I taught for ten years.
That same day, it took me just thirty minutes to get a gut feeling that this man could not be trusted. I’ve worked in and with non-profits—in board member, volunteer, and consultant roles—for decades. When I asked Seth about Democracy Builders’ missing 990’s, the reports that every federally tax-exempt organization has to file with the IRS every year, he was clearly evasive and kept trying to change the subject. (In retrospect, now knowing that Seth is alleged to have stolen government funds the year before and transferred them to the exact non-profit I was asking about supplies a new perspective to his reactions.)
[Click on the image of our conversations below and scroll down to and expand my first post, to see Seth’s evasions in the public Facebook thread.]
I considered adding this illustrative tale into my presentation. But, with ten minutes until showtime and a promise that the talk would take fewer than 21 minutes, I reluctantly omitted this remarkable story about trusting my gut response to Seth Andrew.
Regardless, my presentation includes other personal stories about how trusting my gut has worked out for me.
2 • How to trust your gut
How did I come to be giving this presentation in the first place? Well, a couple of months ago, my friend, the warm and oh-so talented association maven Kiki L’Italien, invited her Association Chat community members to share anything they wanted to talk about — in just 21 minutes. While reading her invite, “How to trust your gut” somehow popped into my head. I’ve never spoken on this topic before. Nevertheless, trusting my gut, I immediately signed up for a presentation.
During the following weeks, I realized that I had some advice to impart about trusting one’s gut, and put together this presentation that you can now watch.
3 • When your gut leads you astray — the story of vaccine hesitancy
As I share in the presentation, sometimes it’s not a good idea to trust your gut. A good example of this is the current issue of vaccine hesitancy: folks delaying acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccination services.
I’m not going go into much detail, except to point out that anecdotal stories often win out over facts. While personal stories can be a powerful modality for learning, the steps involved…
- Notice the important story.
- Capture the story.
- Tease out the meaning.
…as described in the post, can be misapplied.
Especially when the stories we hear are untrue.
The reality that…
- getting the COVID-19 vaccine can protect you from getting sick and helps others in your community;
- the fast development of COVID-19 vaccines did not corners on testing for safety and efficacy; and
- side effects of COVID-19 vaccines are temporary
… has been hijacked by deeply held gut beliefs that are the heart of many people’s resistance to getting vaccinated.
For example, research has shown that “[vaccine] skeptics were much more likely than nonskeptics to have a highly developed sensitivity for liberty — the rights of individuals — and to have less deference to those in positions of power. Skeptics were also twice as likely to care a lot about the ‘purity’ of their bodies and their minds.”
Such gut feelings can be very strong, and it’s hard to override them using facts and scientific findings.
Unfortunately, relying on such gut feelings and passing up opportunities to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can have deadly consequences. There are countless stories of COVID-19 deniers dying of COVID-19. Here are a few: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Don’t ignore your gut feelings, but test their veracity!
My presentation includes suggestions on what to do to check the accuracy of your gut feelings.
How to trust your gut—the presentation
Last week, I went on Kiki’s show. In 20 minutes, I shared everything I’ve learned (so far) about how to trust your gut, how trusting your gut can change your life, how to get better at doing it…and when you shouldn’t.
The presentation includes illustrative personal stories, the four qualities you need in order to trust your gut, how to learn when you shouldn’t trust your gut and two things you can do about it, plus a section on avoiding getting “stuck”.
I hope you enjoy it!
Additional presentation resources
Finally, here are two resources I mention during the presentation for learning about the importance of our gut responses. These excellent books explain in detail why our feelings, rather than our cognition generally drive us to act.
- The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt, which introduces the lovely rider and elephant analogy to explain the control relationship between our emotional and rational selves.
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which provides a cornucopia of research supporting the above relationship.
What have you learned about trusting your gut? Do you have stories to share? Wisdom to add? Please let us know in the comments below!
Attention, meeting planners! Safe meeting venue ventilation for COVID-19 is critical. As we start thinking about returning to in-person events, it’s crucial to check that venues are upgrading their HVAC systems to handle potentially virus-infused air.
There has been little public discussion on this important topic. In this post, I’ll explain why questions about venues’ HVAC safety should be at the top of your site visit checklist.
Before we start, I need to make clear I’m not an HVAC engineer. My (perhaps) relevant background is an ancient Ph.D. in high-energy particle physics, and two years spent exploring ventilation systems—specifically air-to-air heat exchangers—when I owned a solar manufacturing company in the 1980s.
Since the pandemic began, the science on COVID-19 transmission has evolved rapidly. Because early theories turned out to be inaccurate, current preventative measures are frequently misdirected. So I’ve included a short history of theories of COVID-19 transmission that shed light on the reasons we’ve underestimated the importance of ventilation in creating safe environments for indoor events.
Next, I’ve outlined what current research indicates venues and properties should be doing.
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Chapter 44 of my book The Power of Participation explains how facilitators use participatory voting to provide public information about viewpoints in the room, and pave the way for further discussion. In particular, we often use participatory voting to assess consensus.
It’s often unclear whether a group has formed a consensus around a specific viewpoint or proposed action. Consensual participatory voting techniques can quickly show whether a group has reached or is close to consensus, or wants to continue discussion.
Methods to assess consensus
However, Roman voting isn’t great for large groups, because participants can’t easily see how others have voted. Card voting (ibid, Chapter 47) works quite well for large groups, but it requires:
- procurement and distribution of card sets beforehand; and
- training participants on how to use the cards.
A novel way to assess consensus with large groups
I recently came across a novel (to me) way to explore large group consensus. This simple technique requires no training or extra resources. In addition, it’s a fine example of semi-anonymous voting: group voting where it’s difficult to determine how individuals vote without observing them during the process. [Dot voting (ibid, Chapter 49), is another semi-anonymous voting method.]
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We all have different responses to adversity, and none of them are “wrong”.
I write this post a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, sparked by the personal experience of an old friend, psychotherapist and author Nancy Leach. She shared the following:
This was the journey
I thought I had successfully managed my emotional wellbeing through almost a year and a half separation from my daughter and grandson, who live in California. I was deeply sad at times, but phone calls, texting and FaceTime usually took the edge off and so I carried on. I was grateful that I and my Toronto family were safe and well, and that I not only love my husband but like him and enjoy his company. The addition of an 8-week-old puppy just before Christmas kept us both incredibly busy and provided many moments of unbridled joy.
Then there was an emergency in the extended California family and in response I hopped on a plane. Twelve hours and two flights later, my daughter and I fell into each other’s arms. I was not surprised to feel a tsunami of love and relief; I was well aware that I was suffering without physical proximity. But I expected the pain of the past year to resolve itself quickly. I’m someone who feels intensely, and I tend to mine feeling for insight, so I figured I was pretty-much in touch with my inner state.
It therefore took me by surprise, when a few days later we stopped on the road to talk over the fence with a neighbour. “You must be so happy to be together after all this time” said she. A lump suddenly appeared in my throat and tears came to my eyes. “How was it to be in airports?” she asked, to which I replied, “It was a little crazy, but I didn’t care…” Deep breath as I struggled to let the grief move through me. “I would have walked here.” Sheltered in the soft and deep silence of a redwood forest and in the company of the two I had missed so much, my very cells were releasing the cumulative sadness of more than a year.
It wasn’t until at least a week later that I felt I had fully “metabolized” the loss of a pandemic shutdown. My daughter is of very similar sensibility and often conceptualizes and better articulates an experience we share. She commented that it was almost as if she had been gaslighting herself, telling herself she was okay when she was not.
Of course, we need to “carry on” even when conditions are far from optimal. But I’m sharing this because I wonder how many of us have convinced ourselves that because no family member has been incapacitated with Covid or we haven’t lost our job or aren’t devastated at the impact on a vulnerable child we are doing okay. My “suffering” was but a small fraction of what so many people have endured, and I simply didn’t realize how much ground I had lost.
Well, what is ground but an illusion? The deeper message is one that is always with us, but we don’t always want to acknowledge. When we investigate the nuances of our suffering, we come face to face with the reality that any certainty we feel about life is an illusion. Throughout our lives, our hopes, dreams, plans, even parts of us that identify with a certain narrative or condition must die. In these small deaths is a reminder of the fragility of the “self” we have so painstakingly built over this lifetime – and the reality of the impermanence of all things.
We don’t like to be reminded of our death and despite the passing of each moment, sadness or joy, we cling to all vestiges of what seems to endure. But in the end, we cannot change the law of impermanence; we can only strive to make peace with it. As the worst of the pandemic restrictions ease, I hope I won’t be too quick to put that insight behind me.
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If people come to meetings to learn, how can we create the best environment for them to do so? It turns out that trust and safety are prerequisites for optimum learning at meetings. Let’s explore why.
How we learn at meetings
For over twenty years, we’ve known that adults learn 90% of what they need to know to do their job via informal learning. Only about 10% of adult learning involves formal classroom or meeting presentation formats.
Unfortunately, traditional conferences are poor places for this kind of learning to occur, since they’re filled with broadcast-style lectures, during which no interpersonal interaction takes place.
At well-designed meetings, however, participants have plenty of opportunities to engage with peers about topics that are personally important. The key learning modality at such meetings is peer learning.
Peer learning allows anyone to be a teacher and/or a student, with these roles switching from moment to moment. Potentially, everyone has something to contribute and to learn. Peer conferences first uncover the content and issues people want to discuss. They then facilitate appropriate peer learning around topics of interest. My books and this blog provide plenty of information on how to do this.
Of course, in order for peer learning to occur, participants need to share what they know.
And this is where trust and safety issues impact learning.
The importance of trust
Harold quotes philosophy professor Åsa Wikforss:
“It is important to stress that we are all connected through a complicated net of trust. It is not as if there is a group of people, the non-experts, who have to trust the experts and the experts do not have to trust anyone. Everyone needs to trust others since human knowledge is a joint effort…It is well known that low levels of trust in a society leads to corruption and conflict, but it is easy to forget the very central role that trust plays for knowledge. And knowledge, of course, is essential to the democratic society.”
—Åsa Wikforss, Why do we resist knowledge?
Why people may not share their knowledge
Knowledge management author Stan Garfield shares sixteen reasons why people don’t share their knowledge. Here’s a key one:
“They don’t trust others. They are worried that sharing their knowledge will allow other people to be rewarded without giving credit or something in return, or result in the misuse of that knowledge.”
—Stan Garfield, 16 reasons why people don’t share their knowledge
So, when trust is absent, knowledge fails to flow. But when knowledge flow is stemmed, opportunities for trust are reduced. This is a positive feedback loop that guarantees low trust and knowledge sharing.
This breakdown of trust can happen anywhere. Between individuals, in organizations, and at a societal level. And it is easy for it to happen at meetings.
Designing for trust, safety, and learning
In general, the more meeting attendees trust each other, the safer they feel. The safer they feel, the more likely they are to share their knowledge.
So when I design and facilitate meetings, one of my most important goals is to provide a maximally safe environment for sharing. This maximizes the potential for consequential learning.
That’s why I:
- introduce group agreements upfront, one of which has participants keep what individuals share confidential;
- create an environment where it’s OK to make mistakes (or where mistakes are impossible);
- provide ample opportunities for group discussions, rather than lectures, around appropriate content; and
- give people the right to not participate at any time.
The last condition is important. An attendee’s level of trust and feeling of safety may vary from moment to moment during a meeting. Giving attendees the freedom (and responsibility) to decide not to participate and/or share at any time allows them to determine and control what is personally safe to do.
[For more on creating safety at events, see Chapter 17 of my book The Power of Participation.]
Image attribution: Young girl learning spring board diving at outdoor pool by Jacob Lund from Noun Project
The essential characteristics of meeting professionals
If there is a heaven on earth in the event industry, there are four essential characteristics of successful meeting professionals you’ll meet there.
These four characteristics are essential because event professionals who possess and embrace them have what’s needed to thrive in our industry. And, perhaps even more important, they will love what they do.
Attention to detail
Every successful meeting involves thinking about, planning for and executing countless details. You can create the most original, beautiful event in the world, but if there’s no coffee available on the first morning, attendees are going to complain and remember. Late buses, missing or confusing signage, poor quality A/V, and a thousand other annoyances will mar an otherwise superb event.
So, good meeting professionals obsess about details. Obviously, we make big detailed lists about things that are supposed to happen. But we also think about details of things that could happen. We even think about circumstances that are very unlikely—but they have happened before, so we keep them in mind. We plan for planned and unexpected eventualities.
Good event professionals are seldom late, because they hate to be late. Our lives are sometimes crazy, but we mostly have things together. (Even when they’re not, we have plans on how we’re going to get back on track.) The one career my parents tentatively suggested to me I might want to consider was…wait for it…accountancy. Because they could see I was a detail person.
We are detail people. Paying attention to details is vital to create and execute successful events. It’s an essential characteristic for meeting professionals. But attention to detail is not enough…
Creativity when things don’t go according to plan
Any experienced meeting professional will tell you that the chances that everything will go according to plan A — what was supposed to happen — for an event is minuscule.
That’s why good event professionals have plans B, C, D… that cover the things that they know from experience might go wrong.
Many times, when things don’t go according to plan A, a backup plan is put into place, and the event goes on smoothly (at least as far as the participants are concerned).
And then there are the times when something completely unexpected happens. The wrong winner for Best Picture gets announced at the Oscars. A hurricane prevents timely delivery of your beautiful signage. A Thanksgiving Day Parade giant Barney balloon explodes.
However much we plan, experienced event professionals know that completely unexpected “stuff” will happen.
And that’s why good event professionals need to be creative when things don’t go according to (any) plan.
It’s not a coincidence that a surprising number of folks in the meeting industry have a theatrical background. Live theater, whether you’re on or behind the stage, provides a nightly opportunity for things to go wrong; things that need to be fixed or smoothed over right now. The show must go on.
I am rarely responsible for the logistics of the meetings I design or facilitate. And I have been awed and impressed by the creative solutions devised by the poor souls who are responsible in the moment for fixing something out of kilter. I’ve surprised myself with the creative approaches that popped into my head when a session I was facilitating went wonky. But the brilliant ways I’ve seen event professionals respond when faced with the unexpected — well, I’m glad it wasn’t me in charge.
Attention to detail, and the creative ability to solve unexpected problems get you a long way towards being a great event professional. But there’s more…
Great communication skills
I’m indebted to veteran event professional Dan Cormany for adding “great communication skills” to this set. He was kind enough to tell me I possessed this quality when I spoke to a class he was teaching at the Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. He also said he thought it was essential for good meeting professionals.
To have great communication skills, you need to be able to listen well, and have empathy for the people you’re with. You have to pick up on the verbal and non-verbal clues they provide about how your conversation is going. And you need to be able to respond appropriately, in ways they can hear you. People have written books about how to do this. It’s a difficult skill, but one that can always be improved with practice.
And it’s a great skill that will positively impact every aspect of your life.
I’m still working on it.
We’re almost there, but there’s one more characteristic that is, in my opinion, the most important of all…
Love being with people
If you don’t love being with people, all sorts of people, it’s going to be hard to be a great event professional.
Yes, everyone is flawed. We all have personality aspects that are sometimes hard for others to deal with. And there are people around whom it’s best to avoid, if you have a choice.
Although many meeting professionals are extraverts who get energy from interacting with others, there are many who need introvert-style downtime in their lives (including, during meetings). Regardless, both extraverts and introverts can love being with people.
Our industry, by definition, is people-centric. People can be amazing, frustrating, fascinating, challenging, delightful, and, once in a while, frightful. Good event professionals are capable of finding and connecting with the positive aspects of even the most difficult folks they meet. And, yes, loving them as people, even in the midst of turmoil.
I try to do this.
I don’t always succeed, but, nevertheless, my heart is there. And I know many great meeting professionals who strive to wear on their sleeve how they love being with people.
Yay for us!
My journey is our journey
Twenty years ago I was a successful, independent information technology consultant. If you had told me then that I’d leave that career (my fourth) to write a book about meeting design that would catapult me into the heart of the meeting industry, I’d have said you were crazy.
What has surprised me during this journey is meeting so many meeting professionals I like along the way. Those of you who are passionate and committed to this industry will know what I mean. I am like you, and I like you, because we share the fundamental joy of the experience of bringing people together in ways that work.
We don’t usually enjoy all the backbreaking preparation needed to make the meeting happen. It’s the excitement and pleasure we get from creating a great experience for people, in the moment, that makes it all worthwhile.
You folks who share this joy with me are my tribe. We are lucky to be in this heaven on earth community of meeting professionals.
I’m glad I know some of you, and am always happy to meet more. Feel free to reach out to me if you feel the same way.
Do you agree with this set of qualities? Are there other essential characteristics of meeting professionals you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
We spend too much time distracting ourselves from what matters. Distraction is fine, up to a point. But when we spend two trillion dollars annually on entertainment, I’d say we are well beyond that point.
As Seth Godin puts it:
Marvel spent $400,000,000 to make Avengers: Endgame. Because there was a business model in place that made it a reasonable investment choice.
What if we wanted to cure river blindness or address ineffective policing as much as we wanted to watch movies? The business model would shift and things would change–in a different direction.
I’m not sure there’s an intrinsic reason that watching a particular movie is more satisfying than solving an endemic problem. We’ve simply evolved our culture to be focused on the business of amusement instead of the journey toward better. [Emphasis added]
—Seth Godin, In search of amusement
Seth points out that our business models have shifted away from those that satisfy needs, towards those that satisfy wants. These growing businesses make money by selling distraction from work, work that is needed to make things better.
As I write this, the COVID pandemic has been raging for a year. We’ve had even more reasons to distract ourselves from the additional turmoil the pandemic has brought to our lives. Online streaming consumption has soared (while live event attendance has plummeted). The rise of online makes it possible to choose exactly the kind of distraction we want with a click or finger tap.
It’s hard to believe that in a (hopefully) post-pandemic future, we’ll spontaneously give up our newfound distractions. Especially since businesses are hard at work creating more distraction opportunities and temptations, making it even easier to avoid what matters.
After all, that’s where the money is.
Or is it?
A different choice
Each of us can make a different choice.
It’s going to need to be a conscious choice, because businesses craft their distractions to be as addictive as possible. They will continue to do their best to make us want things that aren’t what we need.
There are so many unmet basic needs in this world. Here are some important ones:
- Food and water
- Adequate income
None of these needs are impossible to satisfy. The human race is capable of significantly improving access to all of them right now.
Working to meet these needs is a global effort. No one person can singlehandedly satisfy these needs. But each of us can do something.
You can make a difference
Individually, you can make a difference. Each of has unique talents and energy to devote to issues that matter.
We can choose to distract ourselves a little less, and use our freed up time to make the world a little better.
Because, for our world to become a better place, we can’t keep distracting ourselves from what matters.
You get to choose. Reduce weekly Netflix watching? Stop solving quite so many crossword puzzles? Don’t play Solitaire so often? (Those are some of my choices.)
Use your freed up time to make the world a little better. (I choose to help run non-profits that provide support for healthcare and education, and to support other non-profits that work on improving the world.)
Make a conscious choice that works for you. One that supports a “journey towards better” for the world we live in.
Recently, I’ve been appearing as a guest at college event planning and hospitality courses to talk about meeting design. (I love to do this. Teachers, please contact me, it’s free!) Rather than lecture for an hour, I’ve been using an Ask Me Anything (aka AMA) meeting format.
Here’s why I think Ask Me Anything is almost always a better session format than a lecture.
But suppose a group gets the opportunity to spend time with a content expert who knows a lot more about their field than anyone else present? Isn’t a lecture the best format to use in these circumstances?
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