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Does anybody have a lloyd-shaped hole in what they’re doing around the weekend of 30th that would help me justify a trip up? Perhaps at the end of the week before, given that the Friday is Good Friday. For the uninitiated, most lloyd-shaped holes include working with groups of 2 to 200 (or more!) to have amazing conversations and get amazing things done and/or ukulele-accompanied warbling and/or talking about creating value through social media/networking/technology/conversation and many other things besides.
The ideal solution would include a fee, accommodation & travel expenses and of course I’d love it if you’d come with me to see Dr Who and The Master lock horns on Saturday afternoon!
Here’s a game that’s become popular among those of my acquaintance in recent years.
“Let’s do something to fix the world!” requires 3 or more players. Otherwise it risks descending into “Two boring gits mouthing off in the pub.” 20-30 folk make for a really good game.
The players are gathered out of business hours in a conference suite of a leading company or a government department. In the foyer, they are given mineral water, orange juice (occasionally cranberry), tea and coffee. Sometimes there are peanuts and kettle crisps. Gamesmasters who introduce alcohol at this stage are asking for trouble. The players are left to mingle. Most huddle in corners with their old pals. One or two, not knowing the etiquette, pursue other players around the room trying to press business cards into their hands while describing their highly valuable services.
After this warm-up period, the players are led into a meeting room which may contain tables and chairs arranged cabaret style or just chairs randomly scattered or, in the Owen variation, there may be little or no furniture at all.
The gamesmaster/mistress announces the theme for the evening, the “Big Question of the Night” or BQN (once hilariously, but mistakenly referred to as “the bacon” – ie “If we can please just get back to the bacon”). If any mild excitement has already emerged s/he will dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd by reading the contents of a long and detailed Powerpoint presentation. The theme is usually a confusingly worded question. Those devising the BQN should ensure that it covers a very wide subject area – it needs to be BIG, man, really BIIIIG. Squash out any specificity and introduce as much ambiguity in the question as possible. To add spice you may wish to declare that supposedly well-defined and well-understood terms are up for re-definition in this context.
Players are now grouped by a method of the gamesmasters choice, though “Boys v Girls” and distinctions based on social class or ethnic background are generally frowned upon in today’s politically correct dystopia. Don’t worry, the socially capable can get on with anyone and those who look a bit lost can be shepherded up into a “Nerds” group.
Now the “conversation” starts. There are a number of recognised opening gambits: “There’s nothing new under the sun”, “We must firmly lay the blame at the feet of the last government”, “I’m alright, Jack” etc. are played as a dummy to make sure that any new players don’t have a clue about what’s really going on. Then the real play starts. Players take it in turns to offer their solution to the BQN.
You may find the following observations on play to be useful:
1. If you are there to sell a commercial service that might at a stretch be a solution to the BQN, you must not refer to that service by name, nor may you reveal (except in a whispered aside to a trusted co-player) to the group this happy coincidence.
2. If you know or suspect that a co-player is trying to sell such a service, it’s considered bad form to declare this outright. However, you might make some knowing remark which makes your co-player blanch while the rest of the team remain unaware.
3. Wherever possible your contributions should refer to solutions that stress certainty, incentivisation, efficiency, driving out redundancy and duplication and the well-known fact that all human-based systems tend toward equillibrium. Phrases such as “it’s human nature”, “survival of the fittest”, “no pain, no gain” are all splendid signs that the game is going well.
4. Points are available for telling a story you once read in a book. With a bonus if you manage to get the title of the book and the name of the author completely wrong. Extra bonus if you actually heard the author speak but still get her name wrong.
5. Points are sometimes awarded for inventive use of diversionary tactics such as arguing definitions, restating the important differences between the public and private sectors, drawing pyramid-shaped diagrams on the back of a napkin. However, most conoisseurs will recognise these as the hallmark of the newcomer or amateur.
6. At the discretion of the gamesmaster, a “plenary” session may follow where those players with inflated egos get to repeat everything they said and ignore what the rest of their group offered. If these people are particularly self-important, you may wish to provide “scribes” to make a glowing record of their wise words on flipchart paper. Then it’s off down the pub.
1. People who try to point out that this is just a stupid game that we play and it never gets us anywhere except salving our consciences, and it’s always the same old faces and god, what are we doing here? may be pronounced “A Bore” and sent to the corner to think about their wicked ways (mostly though they are simply ignored).
2. Anyone trying to start a real human conversation based on individual, personal experience, that isn’t about selling anything, or making people look wrong, or making ourselves look good is given one chance to try again and a withering look of pity. If they start up again they will be escorted from the premises immediately.
The winner is anyone with a vested interest in their little bit of the world staying exactly the same as it is, thank you very much.
I’ll be attending SXSWi in Austin, Texas again. My panel was not picked, but emotion aside all that means is that I’ll have to pay $blah or so for a ticket. So I’m definitely still going to go – it’s just well, you know, too lovely and awesome not to.
Last year we flew over a few days before and had some holiday time hanging out and getting acclimatimed and then flew back the day after interactive closed.
This time I want to take it a bit more gently. Here are the bare bones of the evil plan, which I’d prefer to do with a gang of tuttle-istas if we can find ways of funding it:
1. Find the shortest flight to North America possible (does that mean least-polluting? I don’t know but that seems like a good aim to bear in mind) and fly at least a week before SXSWi opens ie arrive March 5th at the latest.
2. Devise a series of train journeys from wherever I land, down to Austin, preferably going via New Orleans to visit that good friend of Tuttle, Mr Taylor Davidson and see how his Crescent City adventure is panning out. Yes, you read that right, train journeys. I understand that the US train system is not quite as beautiful or efficient as its European sisters. However, train travel rocks, it just does.
3. At stopping places throughout the journey hold Human-scale Conversation sessions with local people talking about differences between US and British culture – not trying to solve anything particularly, just getting the subject out on the table and seeing what comes of it. There will be heavy-duty social reporting of these conversations. Note that the format has been refined since July with some extra flourishes – this is how I introduced something like it at the Tuttle/Counterpoint event in December.
4. Once in Austin, continue to hold Human-scale Conversation sessions on the same subject and present #kebab-style what we heard, found, learned, saw along the way.
5. Make our way back to the east coast overland again, putting together a documentary film from the footage shot during the first part of the trip, so that we have something ready to show when we get back to London.
Howzat grab ya?
Here’s 8 ways you can help (and I’m sure you’ll come up with more)
1. Tell me how you’d improve on the plans and make them even more exciting.
2. Tell me why this is oh so very wrong-headed, misguided and stupid (I won’t listen very much, but I’d rather ask you for this than you just provide it out of the blue!).
3. Help me work out rough costings for each variation.
4. Provide money (just loads of it, regardless of the costs!)
5. Suggest routes and interesting stopover points, tell me why you think it’s interesting.
6. Volunteer to tag along and tell me how we’d pay for that.
7. Find other supporters with more money than time who’d like to see this happen.
8. Introduce me to sponsors who might provide help in terms of cash, food, shelter, transport as well as social reporting equipment.
UPDATE (18/01/10): The planning for this trip is now going on over here Come see!
Since the beginning of this year, Dougald has moved from the periphery of my consciousness, as one of those School of Everything chappies to being an important part of my tuttle experience and a bridge to all sort of other interesting people, places and things.
When he saw me writing about the tuttle consulting work and acknowledging the importance of making it up as we go along, he pointed me to more interesting thinking about the social place of improvisation and we agreed to have a chat sometime and make a little podcast. Great idea. Didn’t happen. Until now.
Here it is:
We thought we’d talk for 10 minutes and ended up at 17. However, so much was left that still needs to be said that I’m sure we’ll do some more sometime.
I enjoyed myself at rebootbritain this week (it was a bit of a bastard child of 2gether08 and Innovation Edge) I think I’d have preferred if it had more genetic code from barcamp and opentech but I’m fussy like that. I don’t think it was ever going to be a real “doing” place. More thinking, talking and connecting, all of which are still very important things to do, if we want to move on to “doing stuff”.
And I believe that we need to practice this a bit more if we’re going to get good at collaborating in spaces like this – it’s one thing to have a difference of opinion in a conversation about how someone’s project should engage online. It’s quite another if the group you are in is trying to actually make that happen there and then. It’s not that the doing is more difficult necessarily but I think collaborative doing is easier and goes better when people are well practiced in talking with each other in a small group. It’s yet another thing I’ve learned from growing tuttle from a small seedling and then going out doing consulting with people from the network.
Back to what actually happened on Monday. I see two basic models of how people can talk to each other at events like this. There are conference rooms where the speaker to listener ratio is between 1:50 and 1:700 (not including those watching live on the web) and the other “Coffee Track” mode of people speaking in pairs, joined by a third which gives the opportunity for one of the original pair to slip away and for a new pair to get talking. Of course there are other mutations and variations that spring up around the place but they don’t live for long, the ecosystem keeps returning to two dominant, parallel states, the very large and the very small. The flavour of discussion in each of these is markedly different. In large scale meetings, the speakers often speak about what “we” are doing – sometims that is a specific group of people, but often it’s a more slippery “public policy we”, or “we in society” it’s a Global we. Q&A where allowed gets dominated by those with something to sell (if it’s me, it’s usually my own cleverness!). Meanwhile in the corridors the conversations are led by the question “So what are you doing?” or if you don’t know them already “So what do you do?”.
This means there’s a very high level global conversation going on, and a very personal (but rarely intimate) conversation going on, but nothing in between.
So, encouraged by others to do something to reboot rebootbritain I sought out Steve Moore and got permission to use one of the rooms that was shown as empty on the schedule. Then I thought more about what I wanted to do. I wanted to create something tuttle-ish but more structured, so I plumped for conversation circles and added in a rule or two: 7 +/- 2 people popped into my head, whatever that really meant, I worked it out later – and remembered the reference. An another ‘rule’: you can talk about whatever you want. Then I wandered around pitching it to people in their twosomes and tweeted the time, location and basic form.
As I talked about it to my chums around the place, of course the pitch and my idea of what we were going to do evolved and I am an unreliable reporter of the exact sequence – just remember this is my post-hoc rationalisation, it was (even) messier than this…
So I let as many people as I could, know that we were doing “something”. Found that the start clashed ith sessions that people wanted to go to: “Is the Web Female” and the Social by Social launch – but then it had to clash with something. Only one person, noticed that I was interrupting their conversation to invite them to something which, on the face of it, sounded quite similar to what they were already doing.
I went up to the room at 2pm to find that the group occupying it had been told they could carry on for a bit but we soon managed to be turning the seats around from their parallel ranks into circles. Three or four people from this previous session asked what we were doing and on hearing, joined in enthusiastically. In fact, they were among those who eventually stayed the full three hours. And so, the conversations began. Two groups to start. I noticed quickly that there were a couple of other rules to add. Firstly an exhortation to come in, sit down and join in. And then another to encourage people not to interview each other but rather to focus on sharing their own experience. Interview-style conversations can easily slip into Q&A which is replicating the dynamic of the Global conversations, just with fewer people taking part. Oh yes, and I introduced the law of two feet although very few exercised their rights under this law.
Overall several people stayed for the three hours before Steve came and ushered us downstairs to listen to Howard Rheingold. Many others came and stayed for half an hour or so and then moved on. In the tradition of tuttle, I had no attachment to “success” or “outcome” and therefore there could be no failure.
Many people said to me on the day or since that it was the best bit of the day for them. There was even a brief flurry of tweeting suggesting that I should be gifted money by NESTA for instigating it. It’s a practice of mine never to say no to money, but it was interesting when this subject came up in one of the conversations on the day how difficult we all found to talk about it.
I do think that practicing conversation at this scale is important. I like it. I’m going to do more.