“It still comes as a shock to realize that I don’t write about what I know,
but in order to find out what I know.”
– Patricia Hampl, I Could Tell You Stories
This quote sums up one of the pleasant surprises I have had blogging: that the process of writing these blog posts is what helps me understand and make sense of what I am seeing and learning in my work. It sparked me to reflect on what I have learned and found valuable in writing this blog over the last three years – about 50 blog posts later (and why I encourage people to blog:)
Reflect and Distill What I Am Learning – Many aspects of the work we do are with innovators who are bringing in new ideas to create a better world, e.g., a specific focus is on how to work in networked ways within and across organizations and shift from top-down to participatory leadership approaches. There is a lot to making this kind of shift – and much of it is not in books (yet.)
Our clients, colleagues, and other practitioners I connect with on line are all in the thick of figuring out how to do this in real time. As a colleague Carole Martin recently said, much of the learning and knowledge about this is in oral tradition at the moment. For example, in our work, a learning I have come to is that if you want people to work in networked ways, you have to address two complementary dimensions, each of which became the subject of blog posts:
- Build people’s capacity and skills to work with a network mindset and collaborative learning orientation – (Wearing Two Hats, Keystone Habits to Create a Highly-Collaborative Environment)
- Create the conditions and collaborative structures that support and encourage this way of working. (Open Sourcing Social Change, Funders Role in Catalyzing Collaboration )
Writing this blog has been helpful to distill and clarify my own thinking on the nature of the change I am working on. I “invest in the field” by writing it up so others can also learn from it and build on these ideas in their own work.
Clarify the Old Way and New Way – In every client assignment, I am learning how to navigate the dynamics and implications of doing things in a new way, i.e., from a network mindset. I often seek ways to describe and help people understand new ways of doing things and where the old ways/thinking get in the way. Several blog posts have used the old way/new way framing and I find I can refer people to these to get the idea across quickly, for example:
Create a Tool Box – This blog has become a place to record and describe tools and techniques that we are developing and refining. Sharing these is our way of “investing in the field” and it becomes like an on-line filing cabinet, where I can easily send a link to a client or colleague, e.g., when we are designing an event, where they can read about the tool and get an understanding quickly. Examples are:
“Harvest” the Learning from an Event – I have made it a regular practice when I attend a training, conference, or a talk, to write up what I learned and share the link. The writing and reflection helps me integrate and synthesize what I learned. I have found that the organizers/funders are quite grateful to have the write up as a living record of the event and to see what participants got out of it. They and other participants can share it with others who were not there. For example:
Discover Answers as We Go – Those who work with me get familiar with my practice of asking strategic questions and encouraging people to be comfortable with the uncertainty of figuring out the answers as we go. Another way we talk about it is “iterative design” where we trust that the clarity will emerge as we get further into the process. Working in this way, it is critical to pause and reflect and distill the learning and answers as they become clear.
As more people in a field or network blog about what they are learning, doing, and seeing, the field as a whole can evolve and improve much more quickly.