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I spent a day last week at #unschool13 an unconference called by Simon Gough to “explore learning outside school together”. I qualified both as a parent of two young people who’ve had unconventional school experiences and as a witness to the learning powers of unconferences and gatherings like Everything Unplugged and of course #tuttle.
All were welcome and the right people were the ones who came. It was a really interesting and at times challenging experience. Just when I thought I was used to the uncertainty of the unconference format (after all, even the most wacky groups have a limited range of social interactions and odd ideas) we go and try doing one … with kids! I appreciated it being small enough to remain one conversation for most of the day.
The thing that struck me most was the similarity between the conversations we were having about unschooling families engaging with schools and education authorities; and those we have at other times about self-unemployed people engaging with corporate entities.
In both conversations, the people know that they’re doing something useful and valuable in working in a different way. Both sets of people believe that others would enjoy and prosper from following their way of life if they knew that it was an option.
The conversation went round in a few circles. Substitute the word “school” with “corporate” and you’ll see what I mean: “What should our relationship with schools be ? Should we be going in and using their facilities? What value might schools get from having us visit and work there? How do we do what we know is right and at the same time make enough money to pay our bills? If we don’t engage with schools but form groups of families to learn specialist things together, then aren’t we just becoming a school?”
So it got me thinking about what social aspects of my self-unemployed life map across. I don’t know, you tell me.
#tuttle-like meetups – I think that most home-schoolers do this kind of thing, getting together in a coffee shop and annoying the staff by sitting there all day.
#jelly and co-working – I’m not sure how much this happens, the equivalent would be people working on their own learning but having others nearby to help out, perhaps now and then co-operating on joint-learning projects. I think it would be interesting to create a C4CC-like space for unschoolers, but would that just be like a Summerhill-y kind of school?
unconferences – of course these start to bridge the gap between the employed and the self-unemployed – it would be good to see some young(er) people at unconferences in some other role than prodigy or hack-cannon-fodder. I’d also be interested to see an unconference that just was under-eighteens only.
consulting – the things we’re learning by being outside the system *are* valuable to those inside, but it’s sometimes difficult to quantify that value and to set up a contractual arrangement to exchange value that suits both parties well enough. I think we started to get there, especially with the first round of the Tuttle Consulting work. It’s more about knowledge-sharing perhaps.
Sitting in groups of traditional marketers or comms people I often groan. The most likely trigger is hearing words like: “Social media is just another channel”
Yes, you can see social media as a channel, but if you treat it like the other “channels” that you’ve had in the past (TV, radio, press) you’re missing out on the secret magic.
What’s importantly different about social media is that they encourage many-to-many connections rather than one-to-one or one-to-many connections. The counting that goes on is all 1:1 or 1:M – how many followers do you have, how many people saw this tweet/ad/page/article/video. But what really counts, what really makes a difference is relationship, including the relationships that you foster with your media but aren’t part of yourself. This is social object territory – make stuff that other people use to connect with each other. Most traditional comms efforts are still focused on creating a relationship between the creator and their audience whereas the real value for the community as a whole is the potential for connection between members of the audience and that’s what the internet and social media unlock.
This is the magic of unconferences and #tuttle-like meetings too. They are designed to create connections between participants rather than building a dependent relationship between participants and the organiser. Traditional conferences want you to sit and listen and know how brilliant the organisers are so that you will buy subscriptions to their publication or pony up to come to the next event. They grudgingly give you more networking time because you are connected people who understand the value of having many, diverse, connections and you understand the power of conversation. But there’s a payoff in this for organisers – they want you to have just enough networking time to have your conversation-hunger satisfied, but not so much that you start to think that you can do without them and omniscience.
At an unconference or #tuttle though the whole point is about making connections and building relationships. Most newbies, when you ask them, think that they’re coming for information, but by the end, most know (even if they can’t articulate it) that what they really got was the benefit of conversation with fellow human beings and the potential for new actions that arise from the new connection.
Just quickly a bit of maths – In any group, the number of potential pairings is n(n-1)/2
(check it if you’re not used to this sort of numberwork – If I’m in a room containing n people, I can make n-1 pairs with others and there are n of us who can all do that. My pairing with, say, @danslee is the same as @danslee’s pairing with me, so divide by two)
At #commscamp13 there were 135 people – in traditional terms this would be quite a small gathering because we’d only be able to get our message to 135 people. But by focusing on connections and the relationships that result from that, we get (135 x 134)/2 = 9,045 – nine thousand potential connections being nurtured feels a lot more valuable than 135 people receiving the message through the channel, doesn’t it? Is it surprising that from those nine thousand pairs some amazing conversations happened? And that’s not even taking into account the three-way or four-way conversations that could have happened too.
That’s why I spend my time creating spaces where people can connect without being told what to talk about or when to talk and when to listen.
I’m going to ask you to contribute to a crowdfunding campaign, but this time it’s not one of mine.
Having spent some time at a couple of unconferences this week, both of which focused in on the experiences of professionals working in public service (Commscamp for Communications folk, LibCampLdn for library peeps) and preparing (mentally) for next weekend’s mammoth, all-encompassing, UKGovCamp, I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern emerging.
Sessions held at both events this week contained a theme that can be boiled down to: “How do we as professionals who’ve seen the light of digital revolution, survive and thrive in corporate bureaucracies that refuse to change?”
I often say that my own “red pill” moment was in the board room of the Audit Commission, with Euan in 2002 but I’d seen others before that who seemed to be able to fly, do things incredibly quickly or smash through walls at will without hurting themselves – there was something going on here, but I didn’t know what it was, did I, Mr Jones?
But what is it really?
Isn’t it “just” that hyperlinks subvert hierarchy? By which I mean, isn’t it that connection through the network is destroying the control and decision-making structures and putting tremendous pressure on organisations to stop pretending that they’re machines and start being more like people?
About a year ago Liam Barrington-Bush, (a regular at #tuttle who started out as Steve Lawson‘s mate whose employers might buy coffee one week, but quickly emerged as a red-pill man through and through) interviewed me about the early days and what I’d been trying to do. He was going to go off to Mexico to write up a book on how social media and social movements can help your organisation to be more like people.
Well he went and he wrote it and he sent me the draft of his chapter that talks about me and #tuttle.
One of the things he wrote that had me cheering was this:
“When we don’t have specific aims, we are freer to be ourselves. When we are freer to be ourselves, we can let our minds wander. Tuttle – like so many naturally occurring conversations in our lives – demonstrates what can emerge when we make the effort to release ourselves from the responsibility of aims, goals, and targets.”
Now, the rest of the book is about other folk much more exciting and interesting than me. Liam is fundraising to publish the book himself – I’m right behind his decision to do this and to keep as much control over the content as possible. It’s really important that truly independent voices like Liam’s are heard without going through the filter of a publishing house, no matter how well-meaning.
So I encourage you to pop some cash in the pot. You know that every little helps, but especially if you can contribute on behalf of an organisation, some of the higher-priced perks that involve conversation with Liam himself would be top-value.
It’s back, even though it never really went away! Five years ago, a few of us were pushing around the idea of y’know getting people together on a regular basis who otherwise were hanging out in cyber-social-media-space. There were some experiments in late 2007 & early 2008 but The first regular prototype of the London Social Media Cafe at the Coach & Horses was on February 15th 2008 and before long it was known as the Tuttle Club (#tuttle on teh twitter) and it’s happened every Friday apart from Christmastime shenanigans ever since.
Going to #tuttle has been blamed for anything from hair loss, hair gain, meeting future work colleagues, meeting future partners, meeting future ex-partners, meeting users of your software, meeting heroic developers of software you love, but mostly having an excitable natter about internet’n'media’n'learning’n'stuff during work hours, drinking far too much coffee and tweeting about what a fab time you’re having.
#Tuttle has had many homes in the last five years and now it’s moving again. I’m going to pitch up on the 5th Floor at the Royal Festival Hall, from 10am to midday, this Friday, January 4th 2013 and drink coffee and chat with whomever turns up. As always the rule is that if two or more (yes, including me!) are there, then the event is a success, if any more of you come along, it’ll be just dandy! Just remember that you can get coffee on Level 2 (riverside) before you make the long slog up the stairs or in the lift.
Assuming that it works out (what could possibly go wrong?) we’ll carry on doing it here until we get bored again.
OK? See you Friday.
(photo credit: Josh Russell CC BY-NC-SA)
I was struck by a piece by Scott Walker a few weeks ago on the use of the gutter in comic-strips and relating it to transmedia storytelling. I identified with it immediately because I know that the space you leave between the things you articulate are hugely fertile places – our minds are great at filling in the gap between A and B. Storytellers have exploited this by setting the audience up with a series of scenes that lead you to a certain conclusion and then revealing something that was left out that turns the plot around completely. In great detective novels for example the truth becomes clear when we find out exactly what happened between B and C rather than what we’d taken for granted and therefore Y to Z makes perfect sense.
I’ve applied this to Tuttle. When we started I made up some simple boundary conditions that I wanted to hold and I reinforced them over time: minimal structure; no-one grabs attention; regular meetings; as free at the point of access as possible; it isn’t for everyone but it is for anyone, etc. and theen I let you all make up the “rules” or ways to behave that make sense to you. I think this is the best way to make co-creation work.
And with Tuttle it still works: it leads to conversation that draws out and articulates what we can agree on – just such a conversation happened this week about moving Friday mornings to another location, out of which came the insight that maybe Tuttle needs a social space to feel comfortable in. We’ll keep this conversation going. It isn’t finished – that’s because the gutters are fractal – everytime you fill the gap between A and B with X you actually create two new narrower ones A-X and X-B and so we continue on.
So my favourite advice to people thinking about co-creation is “Pay as much attention to the gaps you leave as to the structure you build”
But this brings to light an error in how I’ve unconsciously applied this to everything I do, particularly in the narrative I create about myself when marketing the things I do. I realise that it’s not obvious how Tuttle arose out of my previous work, nor how Tuttle the meetup relates either to Tuttle Consulting nor to Tuttle2Texas – it’s clear perhaps that I’m involved, but how are they Tuttle things – and what’s all this art stuff about?
So there’s more to say on each of those than fits in a Monday morning blogging session. However, I offer the following observations relating to keeping wide gutters between things:
1. Some (maybe lots of) people just give up trying to work it out, it’s too hard – this means they give up on the story altogether.
2. People make up the stuff based on their own experience and that can have positive and negative consequences for someone trying to maintain a narrative.
3. People vary in their ability to give up a bridging idea that they’ve constructed, but most hold on pretty tight.
PS I recognise that I might not have completely recovered from this – ie I’m leaving holes that might be too big for you to traverse right now. Sorry, one blog post at a time
PPS there may be some more clues in my soon-to-be-launched newsletter – sign up here
I spoke at Social Media for Business ’10 the other week and in the panel session afterwards we were asked what we thought social media in the enterprise meant for leadership and management. Big question. I flannelled off some stuff about leadership through service, that the leader needs to encourage and facilitate what’s already going on rather than decide what needs to happen and then make others do it.
(Oh man, I wish I could take my own advice sometimes…)
It ties in with some of the work that’s been stuck up on the wall at #c4cc for a while – a bunch of statements of value that Frankie noted down when I was speaking about Tuttle2Texas at TEDxTuttle. They summarise the value an organisation might get from interacting with “us” whoever we are – tuttle, tuttle consulting, me & Brian & Heather, just me? That’s all for another post.
But when I’d finished writing them out it seemed to me that there was something else to it. These things are only valuable if you have a particular mindset about the people you work with. So I wrote the following things on the end, intended to summarise our assumptions about the sorts of organisations we can deliver value to. If someone is going to buy from “us” they probably will share these assumptions – that managers or leaders need to:
- be more comfortable with their own creativity;
- let go of the myth of control;
- work more effectively in groups;
- report on what they’re doing in an engaging way;
- be more responsive to changes in a market or organisational environment;
- lead people in audacious acts of innovation;
- better understand the cultural implications of what they do.
so, each of those probably needs a blog post of their own but I think that if you’re looking for ways to get the people around you to do some of the things on this list and you’re struggling then you should come and have a chat about how we can help.
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!