Hidden in the Snow: Reflecting on Downtime and our Deepest Relationships

Charlotte in Snow: Myers Park Awaits Another Round

Charlotte in Snow: Myers Park Awaits Another Round

CHARLOTTE, NC. February 2014, by 

As the South dusts off from our latest brush with snowmegeddon, I’ve been reflecting on what the unplanned down time made possible. If you’re like me, your Facebook usage shot up several hundred percent last week.

Trapped indoors, there wasn’t much else to be doing.

But rather than finding myself wasting time, the fate so many fear with social media, I found I was learning lots of things from (and about!) my friends, rekindling relationships that had long been important to me. But here’s the kicker:  those relationships never really stopped being important. They were just crowded out by other, newer relationships. Distance and changes in lifestyle were contributing factors of course. We age. We have kids. They grow up. Sometimes we grow up a little too. But the depth of our long-term friendships is always there, under the snowcover of our hectic day-to-day. It took me a little cabin fever and a browser to realize that.

Social networks are new and mysterious things for most people. But they can be great places to connect and reconnect. Here are some things I’ve learned about connecting on places like Facebook and Twitter and blogs, much of it reinforced last week:

  • Making connections (old & new) can take just minutes a day
  • Let people know you are there, listening .. and interested; “likes” and comments on posts are good ways to start
  • Respect other people’s time and space; be gracious if they offer to share it 1:1 with you
  • If you’ve made a connection and there’s more to discuss, Facebook Messenger seems less invasive to me than texting because it doesn’t imply/require an immediate response, but it’s more immediate and personal than email or DM’s
  • If you’ve agreed to try connecting 1:1 live with an old friend or a potential new colleague (via phone? skype?) choose a bitesize window .. a “time box” .. that accommodates their needs, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes to compare notes
  • Have a plan. Why are you connecting? What happens next?
  • Keep it light. Always schedule a fallback time, and don’t get discouraged on reschedules or cancels
  • Most people .. including my own friends, extended family, and colleagues .. are spread unevenly across social platforms; knowing how/when to find them is quite an art; it calls for being flexible and patient

If you network, much of this is second nature. Doing it online can complicate the situation greatly, if you let it. Or it can be a fascinating place of discovery, a place you go to learn.

In Charlotte, the white stuff is mostly gone. Melted snow was coursing through downspouts in no time, signaling a rapid return to normal ..

Melting So Soon: Back to business as usual?

Melting So Soon: Back to business as usual?

Back to work. Back to school. Back to never enough time for what’s important.

Our past relationships are still out there. Many new ones await. They can be as deep and as valuable and as important as ever. And to me, renewed connections with old friends via social is a much more powerful force than we stop to realize. A few minutes to share a smile with a friend is such a small reinvestment on the years of friendship, support and insight we’ve gained from them in the balance. Relationships require some investment, after all.

Making time is making a space for possibilities.

A gift .. hidden in the snow. Who knew?

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Trouble in Social Media Paradise: Is Anybody Listening?

Who is on the receiving end, if anyone?

Who is on the receiving end, if anyone?

CHARLOTTE, NC. September 2013, by 

One thing you can count on with Twitter: everyone on it has something to say.  If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be there. But there may be trouble in paradise:

Social media consultants and PR folks: look around. Many early adopters have grown fatigued, and are increasingly absent. Take a deep breath, and ask the hard question: Is anybody listening?

To me, factoring in social media’s rapid evolution, its not too soon for it to be having a mid-life crisis.  Gartner, the industry think tank on technology trends, would call it the trough of disillusionment, a predictable window of second thoughts.  Enterprise 2.0 advocate Andrew McAfee would be quick to point to technology adoption cycles that run 10 years or more. Even so, our collective excitement over social media’s breakthrough in marketing and PR is increasingly ecclipsed by a vague realization that maybe we were wrong.

Does social media matter in the scheme of things?

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Social media continues to post user gains on Twitter and new platforms like G+ and Instagram. Perhaps it’s only natural that newcomers bring the same bias to their marketing communication that they had in traditional web and broadcast media. Key word there, of course, being broadcast. It is the bane of those who seek to engage, and it’s a trend that’s clear to see in a typical Twitter stream. Even Twitter chats aren’t immune. You may find social interaction and friendly banter. But examine the content.

Do aphorisms outnumber personal perspectives?

And what do we know about our audience? Do we have one? Hopefully, we’re speaking to a community, or at least a group of loosely connected but interested stakeholders. If not, our tweets are simply flying off into thought space (and arguably, outer space) undirected and ill-focused, in hopes that somebody, anybody, might notice.

It’s time we take accountability for our messages. Ultimately, I think we’re experiencing growing pains as we learn a new way to communicate. Here are a few things we can do to put the social back in social media:

  1. Listen. It’s harder than it sounds. Watch people and hashtags that matter to you, and get into their flow. What’s being said today? Is it anything new that deserves a response?
  2. Focus your energy, responding to ideas that resonate. Many in the stream seem intent on outwitting colleagues with ever more clever tweets. Are we competing to be heard? Or adding value? Take ownership for helping with noise control.
  3. Tweet something that matters. Even if it means waiting.
  4. Tweet with personal insight. That’s what social media is about. Quotes and aphorisms can inspire, but that shouldn’t be all we have to say.
  5. Say “No” to broadcasting. Period. It’s a very 20th-century approach. It’s all TV and radio had to go on. Target your thinking, and be prepared to enage when someone responds.
  6. Use hashtags for context and relevance. If you can’t give your tweet a hashtag to associate it with a topic or audience, just maybe it’s not of value to others. Sobering? Perhaps. Hashtags help you think about your focus, and they increase the chance your tweet will reach someone who needs to hear it .. beyond the limit of your current followers .. which extends the half-life of your message.

Props to Su Wilcox for her tweet at #smchat #socialchange this week that inspired this post, as she advised: “make it clear somebody is listening”

As it happened, I was.

Are a significant number unplugged from social media?

Are a significant number unplugged from social media?

Twitter tells me I’ve tweeted over 27,000 times. I’m sure there are a few broadcast tweets in the mix. I’ll own them. But I’ll also challenge you to find them. There aren’t very many.

To me the ability to connect and engage with like minded people is the magic of Twitter, and social media in general. When I turn to Twitter, I’m focused on making an impact in specific ways, with a specific audience in mind. I’m not hashtag OCD. I’m bent on making a difference.

The alternative to broadcast? I call it “social intention” – a force that transforms broadcasting into purposeful sharing. It’s more than semantics. Two-way interaction is the core of social’s paradigm shift.

So think about it. And I mean, this time, really reflect. Go deep. I’d love to know your thoughts.

And there’s one more thing you can count on: I’m listening.

Chris aka @sourcepov

Parent Engagement: Exploring Key Roles in the K12 Ecosystem

From my experience, parents want their kids to have a great education, and most are willing to pitch in.

On a good day, it might mean helping them study for a killer algebra test. On a bad day, it’s a more thankless task: helping them reevaluate priorities, prying fingers from the high tech keypads, smartphones and controllers stashed under every pillow.

Education is a complex topic, which deserves and is getting much discussion. But as a parent, I think understanding our stake in the process is an increasingly critical conversation, one that doesn’t always get air time.

I’d like to frame the question like this:

With school districts grappling with troublesome finances and even more troublesome test scores, what roles can and should parents play in the education process?

K12 Education today functions like an ‘ecosystem’. Most of the many interdependent stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, administrators, legislators, policy makers, text book companies) work diligently, but not always in tandem. No one entity has full control of the process. Across the diverse stakeholder groups are multiple, often conflicting objectives. Each depends on the others in the food chain for the system to function, but there is little optimization taking place.

Across the education ecosystem, too often it’s become a challenge of survival.

You may have seen “Waiting for Superman” and learned that across the nation, drop out rates are accelerating. Or maybe you saw “Race to Nowhere” about the pressure schools and parents are together putting on children, and how we must reevaluate how to define success. A more extreme example is the “Parent Trigger” where states allow parent-led coalitions to takeover problem schools.

While education leaders have much to do in sorting this out, parents have an important voice. We often forget that kids acquire language, behavior, and foundational learning skills before they set foot in a public school. Approaches will vary, but parents have the first crack at making learning a priority, and must work ever harder to sustain that. Schools, in turn, must understand what the family is experiencing, to effectively participate in an open collaboration.

Let’s tee up a few discussion topics to help us get at the core challenges of Parent Engagement.

Q1. What is the ideal role of parents in the education process?

Q2. How could we, as parents, help in a meaningful way? Here are some starter ideas, to get you thinking (do these resonate?)

  1. quality time on foundational skills (especially pre-K)
  2. finding creative ways and times to teach (story, play)
  3. fostering respect for knowledge and learning
  4. focus on resilience
  5. focus on mastery (deep learning) over performance (test scores)
  6. focus on critical thinking
  7. making innovation in education a priority

Q3. Who helps parents navigate these challenges, and should schools play a role in supporting them?

Q4. Can parents and teachers find the quality time required?

Education is undergoing some much needed transformation. From multiple sources, we can see innovative schools working diligently on new approaches. But time is short. And that’s an issue on many levels.

I sense that kids today start kindergarten well behind the power curve, leaving parents with few choices and many frustrations, and often no sense of what they could be doing to help.

No silver bullets here. But that’s all the more reason for the conversation.

We’ll tee this up at our weekly #ECOSYS chat on WEDS 1/5 at 9pET. This opens our 2011 Education Topic Agenda, on our wiki, under “T1 Parent Engagement”.

As always, please share your thoughts as comments, I’d love to discuss your perspective.

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It Takes a Village: Insights on Culture and Community in Local Government

In prior posts, we’ve looked at the many aspects of culture that affect large organizations, including the cultural dynamics in government that play out in large state & federal agencies.

A few days ago, a reader wrote and asked: “What about local government?”

That really started me thinking. So let’s have a look.

Similarities

Government agencies share a common service mandate, regardless of scale. That means local government exists to support its citizens, and that many aspects of the overall mission would logically be the same. Examples of this: revenue collection, protection services, health & welfare, even natural resources.

There’s also a similar political dynamic. Elected officials are voted into office to provide leadership and direction to full-time administrative branches. That can lead to a philosophical divide between the elected and the civil servants, an interesting cultural rift that is unique to governmental organizations, as I covered previously.

The net result is that local governments, like their larger state & federal counterparts, will encounter challenges of silo thinking and culture clashes, often resulting in small-scale bureaucracies.

Differences

It’s the differences that really bring home some interesting new factors. The most important of these is a sense of community. I wrote on virtual community a few months back, but the ‘brick and mortar’ community – including neighborhoods, businesses, recreation areas, and the like – makes up what is typically the strong, vibrant foundation or our day-to-day experience.

In a real way, our local communities serve as the backbone of our society.

These are critical factors for any town or region to remain healthy. Where these elements are absent, as is the case in regions with long-term economic decline, the systemic problems can be overwhelming. That means local communities and their governments are vitally important to create safe, healthy places for people to live and work.

Several things come with community that can benefit the cause of local government, with opportunities to drive a more open, participative culture

  • Citizen engagement – most want to live a good, healthy lifestyle, and want their neighborhoods safe, their schools effective, their tax dollars put to good use. This bodes well for engagement, because local citizens have an immediate stake in the affairs of local government
  • Proximity – by being nearby, it is far easier to participate in local government events and elections, including hearings, council meetings, and the like. Not so with state or federal.
  • Visible results – the effect of government can be seen locally, reinforcing value in real terms

I’ll argue that an “intellectual distance” has caused state and federal government to grow more removed from their constituents. It’s a chasm that hurts relevance to the average citizen. Small wonder the feds have long embraced a “town meeting” approach, in hopes of capturing the level of engagment that normally accrues locally.

The other major delta that impacts culture in local government derives from smaller scale, with 3 immediate impacts:

  • Less-hardened silos – the walls of over-specialization become stronger (quite literally, hardened) with time and scale. Yes, local governments will exhibit turf wars and silos among departments. But because they are typically smaller scale, it should, in theory at least, be easier to begin working across them.
  • Greater impact of individuals – with smaller jurisdictions in particular (towns, small cities) it is possible for strong leaders to drive signifcant changes; this is more difficult with large-scale entrenched bureaucracy.
  • Low critical mass (smaller talent pool). Being ‘smaller’ means there is generally less expertise available locally; smaller jurisdictions may need to lean more on outside help.

What does this mean? For starters: state and federal governments should ‘think small’.

But it also means this:

Local government should be aggressive on capitalizing on the advantages that community and smaller scale afford. They enjoy unique levels of access to their constituents. Moreover, they are closer to organizational models that favor collaboration .. provided they can abandon the silos that are inherited via the notion of government as ‘bureaucracy’.

A strong message from our culture research still applies here: there are no silver bullets. Achieving change of any scale is hard, and culture is as strong a factor in local government as with the larger jurisdictions. Government must be willing to interact directly with their citizens, not hide behind the silo’d walls of bureaucracy. Being both small and local can encourage engagement, a fundamental enabler of social change.

Is it time for the resurgence of the local community? Maybe it takes a village, after all.

In a virtual world, what do we mean by “Community”?

Back in the day, when tribes were really tribes, the most critical need within a community was survival. Separating from the group introduced risk. Staying close improved your chances. In some ways, little has changed. These conditions seem strangely familiar.

No wonder an emotional connection often exists among the people and places of our local communities.

Borrowing from the anthropology books, the community of practice (“CoP”) concept emerged. It was coined by Lave & Wenger in the early 1990’s to reflect the tendency for professional groups to form based on common interests, independent of local boundaries. With a gradual introduction of work group and email technology, geographic constraints diminished. Knowledge Management (KM) brought recognition that groups in remote places could collaborate.

Today, social media dramatically improves on that capability, serving to amplify, accelerate, and even multi-thread interactions. But there’s a need to strike a balance between capability and usability. For a virtual community to survive, some key ingredients are required:

  1. A common, stated purpose (affinity).
  2. An aligned culture that values participation, cognitive diversity and discovery.
  3. Strong, cohesive relationships, built via engagement, trust and mutual respect.
  4. Support from authoritative external leaders (if applicable), and (at least) rudimentary governance.
  5. Awareness of diverse contexts (recognizing differences across functional silos, or along social vs. commercial, or local vs. global dimensions). This implies an ability to manage your mental filters.
  6. Semantic clarity.
  7. Strong connection (or access), providing intuitive ways for members to interact.

Virtual communities cut across traditional geographic, social and political boundaries; membership in many groups is possible. This allows cultures to mix. With increased interdependence comes new complexity. So it’s a mistake to believe virtual communities work just like the local ones. In the physical world, we had nonverbal cues; getting our bearings involved our ‘line of sight’. Now, we must rely on our ‘line of thinking’. And that can change quickly.

If a traditional community gives us a social context and a sense of place, a virtual community gives us optional contexts, diverse ways to view a problem and its solutions.

It’s more capability, with a price .. it takes more rigor to drive it.

Social media is just a platform, the next set of tools. The hard work of change remains. Is our culture more aligned with a race to the future? Or is our desire for stability prompting us (even subconsciously) to cling to the past?

I’m an optimist, but many take the latter perspective. For the ultimate answer, I’m holding on to the complexity view: the optimal solution is likely someplace in the middle.