A mentor gone

Robert Genn – artist and writer whose twice weekly articles died yesterday.  I shall miss him for his humor, wisdom and practical tips – not just about art but about creating.  Rest in peace, Robert.  Your legacy is in your writing and example.

What Works – and What Doesn’t

I sat in a meeting yesterday and heard an interesting presentation from a person who is trying to build a new church community in a suburb – without a building, and the hope that a gathered community would have enough strength to move toward one some time in the future.  His target audience is families with young children – people quite like himself – and he is trying to do this by meeting the people where he knows they are – probably on public transport where they spend large portions of their lives. Because he also has a technology background he has created an app to make contact with them.  He calls the app, “Redeem the Commute”.  His target group is also described as “unchurched” – in other words, those who have no experience of or context for the kind of community that he is trying to create.

It’s a new way to try to combine local with global – and what was engaging was the honesty of his reporting.  How many of us get real about how things work – or don’t.  – in the worlds of social media and mobile apps.

His idea was to offer online mini- courses – parenting, marriage preparation and relgion 101.  I immediately found myself questioning the first one here – did he have the necessary credentials to offer a course on parenting – especially as a new parent himself?  While I have decades of parenting experience I’d be inclined to recognize my views as opinion rather than credentials.  Marriage prep and Religion 101 were fine. These are churchy things and related to the business he is in.  There were hopes that participants would group themselves around topics and form discussion groups.  There were also invitations to come to real meetings in a real location  Here are some of the things that happened.

Clear measurements took place over a 60 day period. There were a fair number of downloads of the app and quite a few visits to the website. But there was very little interest in the parenting or marriage course; there was better response to religion 101. The online communities never formed.  There were a very small number of visits to the local website.  Turning up for local events was sparse. Some local initiatives worked so much better.  An outdoor movie night attracted 400.  A Christmas party brought out 40 parents and children.

What do these things say to any of us who write for blogs or websites or posts for social media? We may be fooling ourselves quite a  lot of the time.  I had the same experience writing for a local community grouping in downtown Toronto over a three year period.  There were interested subscribers from all over the world – even a reporter from the Washington Post checked in – but local interest was sparse at best.

My Facebook friends are people whom I would recognize if I met them on the street – and some of them live a plane ride away – but the truth is we have common contexts for being digital acquaintances – and let’s face it, we are not all friends in a real sense but more often colleagues, classmates, and acquaintances.  It’s extremely difficult to develop relationships unless people have something of substance  in common – and what the targeted group had in common here was actually defined – no knowledge of the enterprise that was trying to recruit them. Social media is now based on the economic hope that what we “like” will be adopted by our “friends”.  Such friendship will come at a price and it doesn’t really build human bonding.

What did work was what the movie and Christmas party have in common.  They were local events where real people could actually meet and interact with other people.  When I think back to Howard Rheingold’s lovely book, The Virtual Community, Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier”, which I first read in the early 90’s, I realize how much things have changed.  Local combined with digital was possible then – to have a local community like the Bay area “Well” where people could meet online and share theirv real life experience.  But they also shared the context of San Francisco.  What there is to share in the sense of a new suburban commiunity is a a bit hard to say. There often is no sense of history or common experience and sometimes even landmarks are hard to spot.  Apps, on the other hand, are almost by definition, global.

So this honest presentation raised far more questions for me than it answered.  The presenter suggested that he might go in an app direction or a local relationship building direction or possibly a combination.  What did seem necessary was to make a choice – because the strengths and limitations of both were clear.  And I found myself leaning toward building relationships.

 

Transformation – and how it happens

I spent the morning seeing pictures and hearing about a recent trip to China – two working professionals spent a month there last November on holiday. One is a lawyer.  Her husband is the dean of a cathedral in a neighboring city.  He started by saying that getting his visa was more difficult than for any other member of the touring group.  Apparently he was seen as a threat who might be up to converting the 1.5 billion Chinese he’d run in to.

They had marvelous pictures – and raved about the luxurious accommodation and the food.  The dean remarked that for him, what was odd was not visiting any place of worship of his own denomination during his time on the mainland – though there was clearly lots of exposure to temples and shrines.  The way he described the experience – and especially the contacts with young English speaking guides was “transforming”.

This made sense to me.  On thing that bugs me about any enterprise is how often we seek transforming experiences is by hanging out with people so much like ourselves. In his book, Imagine, How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer notes how the strength of the high tech industry in Israel is influenced by the fact that most young men have compulsory military service a few weeks of the year.  It means that they make loose connections with people frequently and reconnect – and this spills over into new ideas from varied sources and capabilities in different fields.

But Lehrer also notes that our  “friends” and connections so beloved of social media – surely loose ones – are no substitute for real learning from others.  Thinking that others really care about what I have for dinner, or where I am right now, or my latest selfie may just represent the triumph of ego over reality.  But I find there are benefits of following different folks on Twitter who come from different fields and perspectives.  Some of them are good curators of new ideas well worth a read.

Good ideas

I wish I could draw like the folks at RSA – but at least I can forward their messages. A tip of the hat to colleague Dave Robinson for recently posting this. He notes – not new but worth a look.

Getting real about the value of conference calls

A tip of the hat to Seth Godin for this chance to review why conference calls are frequently NOT the best option for meetings

Not necessarily digital

I was told last evening to keep my presentation short. In other words, the fewer words the better. I knew that there was an overly-tight agenda.  I had doodled a few words in the morning but I didn’t know if there would be a projector. So rather than taking the time to create a slideshow, I used the photocopier.

If I were more confident I would draw this while speaking. Doing it this way though means that people have a take-away. The principle is that what we remember what we see better than what we hear. This is the doodle and an approximation of the script:

2020

It’s the year 2020.  The leaders have a vision.  They see us with 225 people in the parish church every Sunday (compared to 150 now) a balanced budget  about $150,000 higher – and the place full of people.   They went to our parent body over here on the right. (I held up a copy of the full proposal)  The diocese has similar goals and they have money to help.  So they did – the carrot is money for new staff. We will expand from one-full time and two-half-time people to three full-time and two half-time.  That’s a big jump in a single year.  The stick is accountability.  That comes with a coach who guides us for the seven years.  He helped us clarify what we want to do – which is to:

  • Have more members
  • Have more money
  • Make our parishioners disciples who reach out –  and by their example welcome and nourish others. That’s our mission.

Our next budget reflects these goals along with a road map for 2014.  The road map, called a work plan, describes what to do, who does it and when.Each goal has its own swim lane.  We report to the coach every quarter.  The last doodle bottom right is the org chart. (I held the real one up). It shows all the key players.  You are on the edge supporting the inner circle along with your working groups.  I’ve attached a sample of the 2013 work plan so you can see how it’s laid out.  We’re still improving the one for 2014. I’ll send it to you in digital format to save paper.

Even though I couldn’t spell accountability correctly, the points got made – in 273 words.  While this is a specific context, you can adapt the pattern to your own needs.  Try a word count on a typical written report and compare. It’s not what you write or say that matters,  The real test is whether anyone hears, reads, gets it or remembers.