Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thinking about this slippery thing called 'leadership'

Can we think about leadership not first from "what it is", assuming there is "a thing called leadership" as our starting point,
but instead from "what do we think this 'leadership' thing is supposed to do?"
That is, what are the functions or impacts of a thing we might call leadership?  How do we think it would work?  What are the theories of change about the impact that our behaviours might have (that reflect what we might call leadership)?
This way, we might not be able to be clear what leadership "is or is not", but we can at least make solid, verifiable claims about things that happen in the world (patterns of personal influence), thus informing how we can behave in order to more effectively realise our intent in communion with others.

www.jsbaxter.com.au
@jsbaxter_

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Getting better at learning

I think I've built up a pretty sophisticated practice for learning, development and personal change over the last five or so years.

Which I guess is just the practice of influencing 'me'.

I'm pretty savvy with habit formation, developing simple frameworks to guide intended actions, kaizen and lean learning through rapid iteration cycles, different methods for learning content, GTD everything, visualisation and channeling role models, operating in complex environments, diminishing returns on investment... these are just the things I've written about or drew on today (that I can think of).

Whatever it is I want to be or do, I'm pretty comfortable that I can map out a way to get there, or at least somewhere close enough, or close enough to my potential to say QED.

I look back at my enthusiastic efforts to systematically create myself, of only four years ago, and it seems like another world.  I was a crazy man!  How could I drive so much enthusiasm into travelling round in circles!?  I'd say my capacity for learning is an order of magnitude better than back then.

But even so, I look at where I am, and everything I want to be is still light years away...  or at least one, or two, or ten years...  It's hard work, all this change!  And it's never ending.  There is always a lifetime of change around the corner that I don't even know about yet.

Still.  How much bloody harder was it four years ago?  How much harder must it be for those that don't have the tools that I do know?  How on earth do people get on?

And what must it be like for those who are so much better at it than me?  What is it like to be an order of magnitude better again?  Does it get easy?

If you're one of those amazing people out there then please, say hello.  I have so much to learn from you!


jsbaxter.com.au
@jsbaxter_

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blogging - when and why

Blogging for me is just a particular form of having a conversation.

I end talking about people's personal blogs frequently enough, or about the blog they plan to start... or perhaps most often, the blog they have lying dormant.  Many people sense it's worth blogging, but aren't clear about what what and why.  But many people don't seem to know how to catalyse this sense into actual writing.

I don't write a good blog, but I do have one, and I do write for it - occasionally.  And some of the posts are okay.  Some people seem to read it.  And I'm happy with how it's working facilitating my social connections online.

In the middle of last year I was writing some highly important, super intelligent, completely irrelevant and largely unread posts on the state of the world.  It was a waste of time.

I started this blog just to record my experience trying to set out for myself and make things happen in the world (and make a life/profession out of it - hence, Professional Adventurer).  A lot of what I'm doing and learning is worth sharing, because I know others out there want to be able to take this pathway.  And I don't want it to be as hard for them as it is for me.  And I just wanted to keep in contact with people that I probably wasn't going to be sitting down to drink beers with every other week.

My blog got shit when I started trying too hard.

So now, I don't.  Now I just converse.

There's an organic vibrancy to conversation.  In response to what's happening in conversation around you, things you want to say emerge within you.  They bubble up inside you and exert pressure on your larynx.  When a suitable opportunity arises you say it.

It doesn't really matter whether you're right or whether your 'thing' is going to save the world.  It's a social activity mostly, so you go with it.  Our brains are pretty good at creating things organically (and collectively) out of conversations that are worth saying, so we let it go and have faith.  Most of the time we just listen.  

So most of the time blogging for me is like this.  Nothing more and little less.

Normally I'm having a conversation in my head.  It seems like a valid thing to share, and I have an opportunity to sit at my laptop and type it up.  So I do.  And then I hit the publish button.  If I'm feeling adventurous I'll share it too.

It's easy and it just happens.

So if you're stuck maybe give it a shot.  Don't let trying too hard get in the way of having a conversation.


www.jsbaxter.com.au
@JohnSBaxter

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Changing Lives

Transforming lives is the heart of meaningful change.  So it's worth reflecting what has impacted on our own lives to get a sense of how we can enable change for others.

I was reminded of a few of my own, hearing Sam Manger's story of how he ended up doing Transitions Film Festival Adelaide - inspired by his experience of TFF in Melbourne.

I'm sure you can think of many examples in your own life similar to these...

Learning about the politics of social relations on 'year 13' exchange in Russia in 2004
High school social systems can be turbulent and unpleasant, but there is a wonderful simplicity to them.  It's something else trying to manage relationships in an exchange position living with families and schools with their own complexes, different cultures and a diverse (often perplexing) set of expectations.  I was totally unprepared, didn't realise how consciously I needed to manage these relationships, and I failed.  I learnt my lesson the hard way.

Attending my first Australian Literature lecture with David Brooks
David Brooks is amazing, and I certainly hope Australian Literature is still kicking along in the backwaters of University of Sydney so that other students have the opportunity to learn with him.  Nevermind that the classes were interesting and engaging - I was inspired by being so directly connected to the actual world I lived in, studying writers who lived and wrote about my city, learning from a lecturer and tutor who knew them and often edited their journal submissions and published commentary on their work.  The only other time I remember doing anything that really connected to the broader world was reviewing the newspaper in year 12 economics.  It was inspiring to feel for the first time that I was a real human being with a right to engage in the world.

Taking up civic responsibility with the University of Sydney Motorcycle Club
A little later in my first year of uni I stumbled into my first real role of civic responsibility, as Treasurer of the university motorcycle club.  I went along because I wanted to hang out with some fellow bikers, and I put my hand up cos they needed it - and I could add and subtract.  As far as I can tell, this is the first time I exercised any civic agency, having previously taken a lot of interest in social science, economics, the labour market and other fun things - but only at an idealistic level.  I haven't looked back.

Having my assumptions turned upside down by the movie Economics of Happiness
I'm pretty grateful for the grounding year 12 economics gave me, but the Economics of Happiness was the first time I'd had my core economic assumptions challenged.  Much of the film is pretty dogmatic and suspect itself, this is true, but it did open my eyes to some of the limitations of economic rationalism that I'd previously taken as gospel.  Many of you will know my general disdain for mainstream economics, and its impact on decision making and our social and business structures.  Much more than just academic questions, this film forced me to reassess all of my own values relating to our economic systems.  I can see in this brief experience the seeds of my present respect for localism, sustainability, and probably even my passion for agency.

Economics of Happiness was going to be my very first post on this blog - but that ended up an unpublished draft owing to my first experience of really making something amazing happen, at the Global Sustainability Jam 2011.  You can read about that on my very first blog post.


While my writing is much better, the threads of inspiration are still clear.  A dozen other examples have come up in the writing of this... not least of which are moments of inspiration offered by the heroes I wrote about in my last post.  My past blog posts offer insights into many more as well.

So what can we take from this?

I don't know about your examples, but mine make a few things pretty clear...
  • the most transformative experiences are very rarely planned or predictable - all of the above were serendipitous
  • tiny things can make a big difference to the right people at the right time (butterfly effect)
  • most of the time when you enable a transformation in someone's life, you'll never know about it - and you won't capture any of the value you create either

I'm not sure what this really means though.  It suggests to me that philosophies of change need a level of sophistication higher than we're accustomed to. I have been reflecting recently on culture, memetics and planning for serendipity, and I sense that these are the types of things that will bring that extra level.  But we need to understand how to wield them.

In the meantime, keep creating experiences and and opening up possibilities for people - and keep learning how value flows out of them.


www.jsbaxter.com.au
@JohnSBaxter

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Keep marching, my heroes and my friends

Sometimes I sit and watch my balance depleting, and wonder what my work adds up to.  I'm investing all my energy, my time, my money - for what?  I'm going nowhere.

Then something catches my attention, I remember 'me' from a year or two ago - and I think maybe I'm doing alright after all.

Most of the change in me come from one thing: aspiring to be more like the heroes that are my friends.


archer10 on Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/archer10/7296289784/

I remember how I failed at 'social' when I started work in the Victorian Government.  Friday Night Drinks were unpleasant for all around me.  I tried all sorts of bullsh*t 'self improvement' initiatives that got nowhere - the thing that drove the change was the example of one of my peers and her infectiously charming banter.

It was inconceivable a year or two ago, but I get complements these days on my presence and how I host events.  It's only because I can channel those I'm lucky to know.  When I wonder whether it's possible to do amazing things, I think of those around me that already are - and know it's true.  When I wonder whether to fight when the odds are stacked against us, I'm inspired by friends who give their all to make this world a better place for others - not because they know they will achieve their dreams, but because they know the least they can do is everything they possibly can.

You probably know people like these.  The inspiration they provide is infectious.  We can be told, we can make a decision, and pour effort into being new and improved.  What sticks is following the change manifest in those we look up to.

Every act of kindness, generosity and excellence is an example of something better that we may one day become.  I can't be grateful enough of the wonderful friends that show me the way.

Little makes me prouder than seeing in myself shining little bits of those I admire - perhaps except the idea that if I keep on going, I may pass these gems to others too.

These people, my friends, are my heroes.  You might not realise it yet, but 'these people' are YOU.

Your efforts probably mean much more to those around you than you'll ever realise.  Keep being excellent.  Keep marching.

On behalf of us all - thank you.
x


www.jsbaxter.com.au
@JohnSBaxter

Monday, June 10, 2013

How do we know our work is worthwhile?

I'm going through a critical reflective phase with CoCreate at the moment.  It's making me wonder how we really know whether we're doing anything meaningful.  Though that's not a quandary unique to CoCreate.

In a way, I have no doubt that it's a good thing.  Michael Kubler and I edited a video yesterday from footage of the April CoCreate Adelaide event.  (Video below.)  There was some pretty inspiring content in there, and some of it was a pretty convincing demonstration that we were doing something that was valuable for people.

But I still really, really struggle to put my finger on how we provide value, and what we should focus on as we grow - not only with CoCreate Adelaide, but the CoCreate movement as a whole.

At our last CoCreate Adelaide community session we discussed what we're about, what we do, and our indicators of success.  Or as I like to put these last ones - the things that let us know we're winning.  The indicators we came up with were a pretty good spread I think

  • people having positive experiences and coming back
  • event attendance increases
  • number of connections made
  • visible action happening as a result - people starting projects, getting involved in others projects, or getting supported with their own

But for the last couple of weeks I've still sat uneasy with this - with our understanding of whether we are doing something meaningful.  Let alone whether it's the meaningful work we could be doing!

I think the startup approach is very helpful here, with its relentless focus on understanding the 'user', their needs, and the value proposition as an offer to fulfill those needs.  It's something I bring in to all my community activity - cultivating community should only be pursued on the basis of the unmet needs of members, not on the ideas of the 'community builder' about what the community should look like.  So this has been churning around in the back of my head.
  • Who are our members?
  • What are their needs?
  • What energy is there in our community, and in the broader population, that we are offering an outlet for?

The startup philosophy basically stops at the point where your users are willing to part money for your offering.  That's your sign that you're providing them value.  But you can't apply that with communities in quite the same way, and at any rate I find it a deeply unconvincing way to establish that you're creating value.  (That's a debate for another day. Grrr fallacy of homo economicus! *shakes fist*)

Flicking through images from our CoCreate video about what was meaningful to people, two types of value came through.  First, people have a positive experience and they are happy.  That's fine, but it's not particularly exciting or meaningful by itself - especially because it's so transient.  Second, we enable a positive transformation in people's lives.


All of the other things we talked about that were good for people essentially boil down to this second point - we provide something that changes people's lives for the better.  That's why it is valuable to make connections, and it's what happens when people are supported to do meaningful projects.  Yes the projects themselves might achieve good things, but from the perspective of our own members, it's the transformation in their own lives that is really the end point.

It feels like such an elementary, important discovery.  The question at the heart of whether we are doing something meaningful:

What transformations are we really enabling in people's lives?

I don't pretend to have any good answers for this yet, but I think having a good question is a pretty good start.


www.jsbaxter.com.au
@JohnSBaxter

Friday, April 19, 2013

A model for movement driven initiatives

How do you create a social change initiative?

There are a range of models out there for getting things done.  The startup model will work for many social enterprises (e.g. Lean Startup and Business Model Canvas).  A movement-building approach is great for behaviour-driven social change.  Activist and campaign techniques can leverage collective interest to influence the activity of large institutions.

I have learnt a lot from all of these fields - and continue to learn from them.  But none of them has ever been a convincing model for 'what I do' - or what I could do, or ever want to do either.

I've lamented before about the lack of an archetype for being a 'social innovator'.  I've discovered many more fields of interest, but still nothing that fits the bill.  Hell, I've even started telling people I'm setting up a consultancy.  A consultancy!?  What crap that is.  Yes, I hope in the (near) future to be paid to consult, but that's a far cry from "being a consultant".

These thoughts have recently coalesced into something that I think might just work, for me.  Not to say it is a model others should follow, but it seems promising for me.  At least, at this stage, it feels right.  That's more than I can say about any model I've sat with before.

As of... now, I'm calling it a model of 'movement driven social initiatives'.

The model goes something like this:

  1. Find a cause you care about: develop a sense of untapped potential, a problem, or the possibility for change
  2. Find allies
  3. Work with your allies to understand the space, find further allies, and opportunities to move forward
  4. Move forward 'growably' - initially with low-hanging 'MVP' initiatives, progressively with 'bigger', higher-impact and more scaleable initiatives - always with initiatives that grow the movement and the resources driving it (including your personal energy and finances!)
  5. Champion the cause, support your allies to deliver the change they are passionate about, and grow your initiative into a community and a movement
  6. Cultivate leaders to make yourself redundant before you get over it - because the first five steps are never finished
  7. Find another cause


I'm not going to blog here about this here in any more detail, but if you want me to elaborate, tell me that this is 'so 2005' and has been written about already, or especially if think this is what you (could) do - would love to hear from you.

Especially that last one.  Let's get awesome at doing this together, eh?


www.jsbaxter.com.au
@JohnSBaxter