Category Archives: Creation Spaces

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Connections and Context

Category:Connections,Context,Creation Spaces,Flow,Learning,Narratives,Trust

As we sit in physical isolation, what better time to reflect on what helps to nurture deep connections with others? This is a natural sequel to my earlier blog post on viral flows.

Building deep trust-based relationships

As you probably know, I’ve long been a champion of flows that will help all of us to learn faster and to achieve more of our potential. The richest flows are those that occur among people as they interact with each other and build deeper relationships.

This is because the most valuable knowledge is tacit knowledge – new knowledge that we have acquired as we act in our specific contexts and that we have a hard time articulating for ourselves, much less for anyone else. As my colleague, John Seely Brown, likes to say, tacit knowledge is very “sticky” – it doesn’t flow easily because it’s challenging to share. The most effective way of accessing tacit knowledge is by forming deep, trust-based relationships that allow us to work closely together and watch each other in action.

Context matters

So, what’s required to build these deep, trust-based relationships? Well, of course, many things, but let me start by focusing on context. People trust each other only if they believe that the other person really understands who they are. And understanding who someone is involves the ability to read their context. None of us live in complete isolation, even in these trying times. We have a rich social and economic context that shapes our emotions, beliefs and actions.

Who are the people who matter to us and why? What are the economic pressures and opportunities that can motivate us to act? What is it in our environment that inspires us or, alternatively, fills us with fear? What are we trying to improve in our environment and why? Alternatively, what obstacles or barriers are we confronting in our environment that are limiting our ability to have the impact that matters to us?

The more we can show that we understand the context of the people we’re connecting with, and what they’re trying to achieve in that context, the more likely those people will be to trust us. And here’s the catch – contexts are fractal. Each context resides within a broader context.

For example, someone’s immediate context may be their nuclear family, their home and their job. But that context is shaped by a broader context of their extended family, their neighborhood and the department they work in. And that context in turn is shaped by a broader network of relationships, the town or city that the neighborhood is located in and the institution that the department resides in. I could go on, but you get the point.

We need to make an effort to understand those broader contexts for all the people we’re connecting with so that we have a rich understanding of the many factors that may be shaping their emotions, beliefs and actions.

And it becomes even more challenging. No context is static. In a rapidly changing world, the contexts we live in are rapidly evolving. We need to try to understand the dynamics that are shaping the context of others. The most powerful way to build trust is to anticipate how someone’s context is evolving and how their needs and aspirations might evolve as a result.

Create shared context

Building deep relationships is not just about reading context. It’s also about creating new context. How do we do that?

There are many ways, but one powerful approach is to frame an inspiring opportunity and powerful questions that need to be answered in order to address the opportunity. If we can frame an opportunity that can motivate us to come together and collaborate on shared goals, we’re much more likely to trust each other than if we see ourselves as operating in separate contexts with independent goals.

This leads me into my work on opportunity-based narratives. As I’ve written before, I make an important distinction between stories and narratives, even though most people use these terms as synonyms.

For me, a story is self-contained – it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories are about the story teller or some other people, they’re not about you, the people in the audience. In contrast, for me, a narrative is open-ended – it focuses on an opportunity or threat out in the future. It isn’t yet clear whether the opportunity or threat will be successfully addressed. The resolution of the narrative ultimately depends on you, in the audience – your choices and actions will determine how the narrative resolves. Narratives thus represent a powerful call to action.

For reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere, I believe opportunity-based narratives are particularly powerful in a time of mounting pressure when more and more of us are experiencing the emotion of fear. They can help us to overcome that fear because we’re coming together to achieve something that is exciting and inspiring.

Opportunity-based narratives can provide a context for framing powerful questions. What are the questions that need to be answered before the opportunity can be realized? Once again, these questions are a call to action, but they’re much more.

They provide an opportunity to express vulnerability – to openly acknowledge that we don’t yet have the answers we need and that we need help. Willingness to express vulnerability builds trust and that builds much deeper relationships. These questions also provide a very tangible context for our relationships with others – we’re coming together with the goal of answering challenging questions that can provide the key to unlocking big opportunities.

Deepening and scaling connections

Here’s a challenge. Really deep relationships don’t scale. This is why I’ve become a champion of creation spaces which I’ve explored in greater depth here. The basic building block of creation spaces is a small group of 5-15 people who come together very frequently (often several times each week) and who are committed to acting in effort to achieve a shared outcome. Their interactions focus on framing the actions that can have the greatest impact and reflecting on the impact that has already been achieved in a continuing effort to accelerate impact. By coming together in this way, the participants in each small group develop deep trust-based relationships with each other.

But how do these connections scale? These small groups come together into networks that provide a way for participants to connect more broadly in their quest to scale impact. They are connecting because they are inspired by the same long-term opportunity and driven to answer the questions that stand in the way of achieving the opportunity. These networks provide a context for collaboration in the quest to address a shared opportunity.

Bottom line

Context matters for cultivating connections. But don’t just take context as a given that needs to be seen and understood. That’s just the beginning. The most powerful way to cultivate connections at scale is to shape a new shared context that can bring more and more people together and encourage them to build deeper relationships with each other. Shaping shared context can help all participants to learn at an accelerating rate and recognize that they can accomplish a lot more together than they could ever achieve on their own.


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Leaping into the Launch Decade

Category:Creation Spaces,Launch Decade,Workgroups

As we celebrate a leap day in a leap year and the beginning of a new decade that I’ve called the “launch decade,” I couldn’t resist taking the occasion to reflect on the importance of leaps.

I’ve recently been writing about the importance of small groups in driving change and accelerating performance improvement. I’ve also been emphasizing the theme of “small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion.”

When people see me talk about small groups and small moves, there’s a natural tendency to think that I am a fan of incrementalism. Far from it. Incrementalism will edge us over the cliff.

We need to resist the temptation to be incremental, and instead embrace the need to leap forward in an effort to capture opportunities that are expanding more rapidly than ever before.

Let’s start by exploring what it means to leap. While definitions differ, leaping is generally about moving quickly and with great force across a great distance, driven by some explicit and bold objective. It is the opposite of incremental movements, which tend to be pursued more slowly and are shaped by more modest objectives.

Smartly made small moves

When I talk about “small moves, smartly made,”  my focus is on “smartly made” and I devoted a blog post to exploring what I really mean by that term. While there are many dimensions to smartly made, for the purpose of this post, let me highlight three of the dimensions that I mentioned: to have a clear and ambitious sense of destination by “zooming out,” to move quickly to action and to commit to rapidly scaling impact.

Doesn’t that begin to sound like a leap? So, why do I call them “small moves”?

Small groups

They’re small moves because, in the early stages, they involve only a few people. That’s where my perspective on the power of small groups comes in.

Imagine, for a moment, what your success rate might be if you try to convince everyone in your large organization to make a leap at the same time. Good luck. Most would likely hold back and many would even try to undermine the effort to make a leap because of a fear of the consequences – never under-estimate the immune system!

Even if you could convince everyone to line up and make the leap together, the leap would likely be an uncoordinated mess, with many leapers colliding with, or tripping over, other leapers. Without any experience, the leaps would quickly fall apart, leading those who were brave enough to participate in the first round to hold back on the next round. Lesson learned, these leaps are dangerous.

Now, think about what might be possible if you focus initially on mobilizing a small group of participants (I’m talking about 3 – 15 people at most) who are deeply passionate about the opportunity to make a big difference in a short period of time. Properly coached, members in this small group could form deep, trust-based relationships with each other and provide each other with encouragement, while at the same time holding each other accountable for making the leap together.

They would likely be able to successfully leap far greater distances than any individual might be able to accomplish on their own. Their accomplishment together would encourage others to step forward and become excited about the opportunity to make one of the next leaps. There would still be fear (leaps are very scary), but the knowledge that they will make the leap with a small group of people they trust, would help to overcome that fear.

Balancing short and long horizons

And there’s more. These are also small moves because they focus on reaching some tangible destination within a short period of time – 6-12 months at most. That also helps to overcome fear because the small group will not be up in the air for an extended period of time – they have an opportunity to quickly reach their destination and to learn quickly from the experience. That’s very different from “big moves” that often require 5-10 years before the results become apparent – that’s a long time to be up in the air, taking great risk, without any sense of achieving what was intended.

As the initial leap plays out and the participants learn from their experience, later leaps can become much bolder in terms of defining the distance that will be traveled over the next short horizon. We’re not just going to make the same leap over and over. We’re going to seek to expand the scope of the leap, accelerating our ability to reach more and more distant destinations in each 6-12 month leap cycle.

The key here is to frame the short-term destinations in the context of a much longer-term view of an inspiring opportunity that is very different from anything that has been achieved to date. It’s that longer-term view that helps to pick a short-term destination that has the greatest potential in accelerating movement towards the longer-term opportunity. Without that context, we run a significant risk of becoming too incremental in our approach, rather than challenging ourselves to make a really bold leap. The balance between longer-term opportunity and short-term destinations is the essence of the  zoom out, zoom in approach to strategy that I’ve written about here.

The role of platforms

If we’re serious about leaping – moving quickly and with great force across a great distance – that also will increase our focus on platforms. People who leap from the right kinds of platforms are likely to travel much greater distances than those who just try to leap on their own.

In this context, platforms involve ways to leverage the resources and expertise of a growing number of third parties who participate on the platform. The small groups that I’ve been talking about don’t operate in isolation. They’re constantly looking for ways to leverage their efforts by connecting with others and scaling their efforts through creation spaces. With increasingly powerful and pervasive digital infrastructures, the ability to connect with a growing number of others becomes easier and easier and can significantly accelerate progress. Network effects are a powerful accelerator.

Small groups that harness the power of platforms are constantly asking where and how they can leverage the resources and expertise of others to come up with better approaches to the next leap, so that they can travel much greater distances much more quickly. That’s what helps them to maintain their small groups while at the same time accelerating their progress.

Bottom line

Leaps are a powerful way to launch us on the path to finally harnessing the exponentially expanding opportunities created by the Big Shift. As we move into the launch decade, we need to find ways to make smart leaps that can help us to learn faster together. Let’s greet this new decade by exploring the leaps that could have the greatest impact in a short period of time.

 


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The Foundations of Exponential Impact

Category:Creation Spaces,Movements,Passion,Workgroups

As we enter the first few weeks of what I’ve called the Launch Decade, it’s a good time to explore what we’ll need to launch ourselves into exponentially expanding opportunity for everyone. There’s a lot that will need to come together, but let me focus here on one of the key building blocks – small groups. (I love the paradox: to achieve very large impact, we need small groups.)

I’ve become more and more focused on the importance of small groups to achieving accelerating impact. I’ve explored this in a business context, with our work on business practice redesign for workgroups. I’ve explored this in the context of movements, with the realization that all successful movements are organized into small cells. I’ve also explored this in a broader learning context, with the perspective that creation spaces built around small groups are key to accelerating learning in arenas as diverse as extreme sports and online video games.

To be clear, I’m not talking about all small groups. Most small groups are trapped in narrow context and needs. But certain small groups show the ability to help participants have growing impact and, in the process, achieve far more of their potential as individuals and as a group.

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