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Merlin Mann rapping on culture in companies:
Instead of worrying about your own emotional attachment to the past, ask how can you get out of the way, or be supportive in the right places to help it become the company it wants to be now.
His thesis is essentially:
Get the hell out of the way.
Sounds very similar to Harrison Owen’s argument that
high-performance is the natural outcome of self-organization1.
It seems counter-intuitive, but we can either try and convince ourselves that we are in control or we can let go and leverage the fundamental power of self-organisation to support our goals.
Owen, Harrison 2008. Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-Organising World. San Francisco: Berrett-Hoehler. ↩
I was exctited to receive my Group Works deck in the post today. The deck is
a pattern language for bringing life to meetings and other gatherings. It includes 91 full-colour cards, along with a 5-panel explanatory legend card and a booklet describing the deck’s purpose, story, and ideas for activities.
According to the box the cards are
seeds of a more dynamic and effective future group experience. So, I’m really looking forward to putting them to good use … to help facilitate meetings, train facilitators, and improve my own facilitation practice.
— With deep gratitude to those who contributed, to this project and shared the fruits of their labour so generously.
I just watched this inspiring talk by Tan Le.
Like Tan, I’m also a immigrant to Australia, and her story — although vastly different from my own — resonates strongly.
But this is not just an amazing story about immigration, it’s also about her journey of being “catapulted from one piece of the jigsaw to another” and stepping out of her comfort zone to “not become what she’s not”.
I particularly like her philosphy of being an outsider, or recent arrival:
It’s okay to be an outsider … something to be thankful for … being an insider can mean collapsing the horizons, and can so easily mean accepting the assumptions of your province.
This post brings the Gathering ’11 Podcast project to an end.
Initially, I had planned a series of 10-12 episodes. For various reasons, I didn’t quite reach that goal, and ended up with 9 episodes.
Here’s a quick episode guide:
Before I go any further, I’d like to thank all of my guests for their generosity and willingness to be involved in the project. A heart felt thanks to you all!
During the interview with Matt Cooperrider, Matt suggested that I write a blog post at the end of the series, reflecting on my experiences and tying together any loose ends. I though that it was such a great idea, and immediately added it to my task list. It’s taken me a while to get around to it, but here it is …
Publishing this series of podcasts was a great learning experience for me in a number of ways. This is quite a long post, so I’ll break it down and discuss these in a couple of areas:
Prior to the Gathering ’11 series, I’d been a guest (and a host) on a couple of episodes of The Productivity Show on The Podcast Network. Those previous experiences had seen me through that ‘feeling awkward’ about being recorded phase. So I started off fairly comfortable and confident in the role of host.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have any stage fright. I admit to some anxiety before each show, but I also know that there’s a certain level of creativity that comes from that nervous energy. Apparantly Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five!
I had a lot of fun interviewing. It was a great way to have stimulating conversations; for getting to meet new people with similar interests and to be reacquainted with some friends I haven’t spoken to in a while.
My intention was to create a relaxed, conversational style interview — a chat really, and definitely not something that was scripted. I think (hope) I achieved that.
The decision not to be too scripted made quite a difference to the type of preparation that I did for each interview. I did some background reading of blogs and other social media, and had a list of broad topics I wanted to cover, but I didn’t do a lot of planning. I wanted the conversations to be spontaneous and emergent, and to let the conversation flow naturally.
One thing I noticed I do quite a lot, and find difficult not to do, is using verbal listening cues. There’s a lot of a-ha and u-hums as a result. It’s quite a challenge when you are not able to provide the other person with any visual or verbal clues that you’re listening to them. It’s something I’ll have to continue to work on.
I initially thought I’d have difficulty finding people who were willing to be interviewed. I found the opposite. I was pleasantly surprised to find a real willingness to be to be involved. Out of all of the people I asked, not one declined. There were a couple of people I spoke with but didn’t end up interviewing, but that was more to do with finding the right time and place, and the stars aligning, than anything else.
The more time that had elapsed since the event, the harder it was to involve participants. Ideally, I would have locked guests into a schedule much earlier. As it happened, I was recording and publishing episode by episode. Having a few “in the can” would definitely have helped ease the pressure of publishing a weekly episode. All is well that ends well, I guess.
I mentioned in a couple of the podcasts, that in-part the motivation to produce this series was a selfish way for me to find out what happened at Gathering ’11 — an event I wish I was able to attend, but wasn’t able to.
So, what did I find out?
Overall, I sense that there are a number of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, who attended Gathering ’11. There seems to be a real passion and positive energy towards social change and innovation. I wouldn’t quite call it a ‘community’ (just yet anyway), but there seems to be a very real sense of participants belonging to a ‘movement’, or building something bigger together that’s bigger than themselves.
As a Facilitator, I was really interested in understanding the ‘processes’ used to bring the group together: the type of activities; the format of the meetings; and how people felt about their experience of coming together.
It was pleasing to hear that Gathering ’11 was based on the principles of self-organisation, active participation, and creating conversation and building relationships between participants, because this reflects my own philosophy and approach to bringing people together. It was reaffirming to hear that participants enjoyed the format and relished having the opportunity to explore, learn and share with others in such a space.
A number of persistent themes emerged from the conversations that I had about Gathering ’11:
One broad theme was technology and the role it plays in creating social change. There is a very real sense of connectedness both online and offline amongst gathering participants. Technology clearly played a crucial role in bring people together — from all over the world — to Gathering ’11 and provides a platform for ongoing conversations and relationships.
Two ideas introduced by John Hagel III, seem to resonate strongly with participants.
Another theme that participants seem to have really connected with, was the idea of ‘thriving, not just surviving‘ introduced by Jean Russell in the video A Thrivable World Emerges. I must say, I too resonate very strongly with the idea that the lens of thrivability triggers a real sense of expanded possibility. It’s something that continues to occupy my thoughts.
Finally, there seems to be an almost universal desire amongst participants to harness the energy that was created at Gathering ’11 and to turn this into action. As Ehon says, “to make shit happen!” Let’s hope that this energy can be harnessed and turned towards positive change.
This is really only a short summary of some of the ideas and themes that emerged and that stood out for me. I could never do it justice here. There was definitely no shortage of interesting ideas and conversations. All I can suggest is that you go listen to the podcasts for yourself, or check out the Alamanac — a harvest of Gathering ’11 conversations and digital assets.
It was great to have the opportunity to find out more about the event, but there’s no substitute for being there in person. I’m really looking forward to being part of Gathering ’12.
Prior to starting this project I had a pretty good understanding of the underlying technology used to publish and distribute a podcast.
Before this project though, I’d never hosted or produced my own show. Here’s what I did and what I learned about that:
Most of the interviews for Gathering ’11 were conducted on Skype. On most occasions Skype performed well and the audio quality was quite good. However, there were a couple of times when it caused a few headaches. Matt and I had to reschedule a number of times because of difficulties with connections, and in the in last episode with Ehon Chan, we also experienced problems with the call dropping in and out. In this instance we persevered, but paid the price in terms of the final audio quality. Skype is such a great tool, but it clearly depends on the quality of the Internet connection at both ends to work well.
To record the Skype calls I used Call Recorder software. The calls are recorded in high quality (192kbps) mp4 format, using AAC Compression. It was simple to use and did exactly what I needed.
The interview with David Hood was the only one that was recorded face to face. We met at Hub Melbourne and recorded our conversation at a quite table. I had intended to use a borrowed podcasting microphone, but found it difficult to use. I should have been better prepared and done more testing prior to the meeting. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing!
After scrapping that idea, we went to Plan B, and recorded the interview on my iPhone. It worked surprising well, using the standard built-in microphone. Close to the end of the interview the recording was interrupted by an incoming call. We didn’t realise straight away and had to back track. I also had to perform a little creative editing afterward. It turns out, that I hadn’t switched into airport mode, which would have prevented this — another valuable lesson learned!
Getting the recording off the iPhone proved to be more challenging than it needed to be, but a few google searches helped resolve that problem.
I didn’t find the process of recording overly difficult, although it’s an area I think I could definitely improve on over time. Getting it right is definitely a challenge. You have to be well prepared and also be able to think on your feet when things don’t go exactly to plan.
I have done a small amount of sound editing in the past, digitising some of my old vinyl collection. For that I used Audacity.
I thought that I’d end up going down that same path, but I ended up using GarageBand. It was already installed on my MacBook Pro, and was just easier to use.
Once recorded, I imported the call files into GarageBand where I added an Into and an Outro track.
Finding the music to use as the Intro and Outro was not all that easy. I already had a good understanding of copyright and the creative commons (from my days working in software development), which helped. I knew that I had to find something that was licensed in a manner that allowed me to include it as part of my podcast.
There was a small learning curve creating the fade-in and fade-out effects, but once I ‘got it’, it was very easy to do.
Once ‘editing’ was done, exporting the file in the correct format for publishing as a podcast was also quite a simple task. Using GarageBand’s ‘Share’ functionality, I exported the file, compressing it using the MP3 Encoder and ‘Good Quality’ (64kbps) settings. I’ve had a number of conversations with people about the best settings for quality etc., and while a higher bit rate is often used these days, I decided that 64kbps was best suited for this series to create small files, which download relatively fast.
As a general rule, I would recommend recording in the highest quality possible, and mix down to what’s appropriate for your audience.
I found this part of the process the easiest.
I want to qualify the last statement by saying that I made a conscious decision to produce the series with minimal editing and fairly low production values. This is from personal taste and a strong belief that the mistakes, the background noises, and the um’s and ah’s are what (often) makes podcasts a more authentic, genuine and interesting medium.
As a consequence, I spent very minimal time editing the interviews. There are a couple of instances, where I had to splice some conversations due to technical hitches, but other than that, they remain unedited and as recorded – mistakes (mostly mine) and all!
As you’ll see, even before I had started recording an episode, quite a lot of thought and planning went into the the post-production process. I found that getting this right was the most technically challenging part of the whole process.
I’ve been self-hosting my own website since 2005, but I decided to host the podcasts for Gathering ’11 elsewhere because of the potential issues (and cost) associated with hosting large media files, and ensuring the hosted media is preserved somewhere safer than my blog.
I could have used a commercial service such as Libsyn. However, I decided to host the files on the Internet Archive, whose audio and MP3 library contains over two hundred thousand free digital recordings. The free archives, seemed to be a nice fit with the ethos of the event and because I had decided to release all of the recordings under a Creative Commons license (BY-SA).
The podcast series was published here on my blog, which is powered by WordPress, and the Thesis theme (with a few customisations). I’ve been blogging since 2004, so the publishing part of the process came relatively easy.
I used a few services and plugins to add functionality and to make the process a whole lot easier.
I use the Blubrry PowerPress plugin, which adds additional podcasting support to the blog. The features I use include: the media player, simple iTunes integration, and delivering category feeds (meaning I can publish multiple podcasts, each with its own RSS feed).
The other plugin that proved to be invaluable was Twitter Tools. It provides integration between the blog and Twitter, allowing each episode (or blog post) to be tweeted automatically when it is published.
Adding a podcast to iTunes, is an experience in itself. Once I had published an episode, I filled out the appropriate forms online and registered with Apple. A couple of weeks later, it just shows up in iTunes! Strange process, but it worked.
One thing to be aware of with listing on iTunes is the rating of your podcast. I learnt from my friends Melbourne Podcast Meetup Group, that Apple has been known to pull a feed if it doesn’t comply with its guidelines, including language and ratings. I found this out after I had published the episode with Ehon, where we talked about the Soften the Fck Up campaign. I had to go back and re-publish, making sure I got the metadata right. I didn’t want to jeopardise the whole series of podcast just because of a little swearing.
One last thing about the publishing process: It takes a lot more time than you think! Uploading media, adding meta data, writing or editing a blog post and adding show notes is time consuming. It’s definitely a labour of love.
So, as they say in show business, “That’s a wrap”.
A big thanks once again to all of my guests on the show, and also to David Hood, Matt Cooperrider andChristine Egger who supported me and this project in so many ways.
~ Much metta.