Photo by Goldberg
I participated in a meeting today at the Packard Foundation facilitated by the good folks at Monitor Institute to reflect on the work they've been doing over the past 18 months on network effectiveness. Over lunch, we had a conversation about what I have learned about working within an institutional setting and how it differs from working in the "social media cloud" or in a networked way.
Working in an institutional setting is far more structured, formal, more face-to-face meetings, slower paced, and less porosity. Working in a networked way is more non-linear, faster paced, informal, and very porous. I'm not making value judgement that one is better the other, but recoginizing they are different.
These are different cultures, different languages, different ways and styles of working. The technology to support the work is very different. I think one of the keys to transformation and adopting social media or a networked mindset is recognizing how to simultaneously have a foot in both worlds or learn how to shift between the two.
It is difficult to switch from one mode of working to the other, particularly if the different mode of working is not familiar or part of your routine. And, the first experience can be very uncomfortable. What happens a lot is that someone might try it, experience discomfort and immediately stop. The problem is that it takes doing it more than once.
I think it is really important to have a sand box where you can practice using the tools or techniques of working in a networked way in a low risk, safe environment. And, sand boxes are social. You need to be with other people because there is an element of social learning. And, the sand box needs to be more play than formal instruction.
Recently, a colleague who knows a lot about network weaving mentioned wanting to learn more about some social media tools. I wanted to learn more about network weaving. So, we decided to set aside an hour a week for sand box time.
Making time - even just an hour week on your schedule where you aren't checking something off the to do list is hard. But it has been very a rich and rewarding learning experience.
A few design principles for a good sand box:
- No formal agenda
- Exploratory and creative
- Invite someone new to the sandbox
- Reflection at the end to harvest learnings
Another important element in the sand box is what Rachel Happe calls orchestrated serendipity. She says that serendipity is supposed to be a happy accident and that actually planning it may not seem possible. She says that you can't define actually what will happen, but you need to set up an environment and processes that facilitate serendipity happen. She points a post by Christopher Penn and an article in Fast Company called How to Make Your Own Luck that also talk about this principle.
Rachel offers five tips for making this happen:
- Include room in your time and budget for cultivating topics, people, and events that will not have a direct correlated return but fall into your general range of business
- Understand what type of happy accidents you would be able to take advantage of and gear your cultivation in that general direction - whether it is topical, geographic, or specific types of people
- Listen, probe, and listen some more
- Be useful to people in your 'zone', they will return the favor in unexpected, serendipitous ways
- Assume you will achieve your goals in a slightly different way than you might think and leave room in your planning for it
How have you used sand boxes for informal learning? How do you encourage serendipty?