Sunday, February 28, 2010

An online forum as a grafitti wall

Note: this is a translation of a Dutch blogpost. I'm thinking how to continue with a Dutch and an English blog. I used to have different content, but maybe I'll just translate? Anyhow here's a translated post:

(foto door cheryljns)
I've started in January with an online course 'Think till you are thin" 'Denk je slank in Dutch' It works I lost 4 kilos!). It is an online training so also signed up out of curiosity to see how they shape the course. The way it is set up is fun, with exercises, text-messaging, videos and a coach, though I miss the interaction.

There is a forum for sharing with other participants. This is a nice example of how you should not use a forum. It is a kind of online grafitti wall where any participant can post on any topic. It is not facilitated (at least I have not even noticed) and it is public, so anyone on the internet can read it. Not all forums have to be private, but if you want to discuss issues related to your weight, it helps when you have some feeling of privacy. As a result, it is a kind of graffiti wall where everyone starts as reporting that the course he started, then the conversation stops. A typical example of a message: "I started the course today and hope I get the book soon! As a result of this type of message, during the course people do not go back to the forum. People look at the forum in the beginning and forget about it.

What can you learn from this example? I see the following lessons:
  • Consider carefully whether you should make a forum public (visible to everyone) or private (visible to members only). If the goal is to discuss personal struggles with weight loss (as mentioned on this forum) I would make it private, only accessible to learners.
  • If you want to bring together people around shared interests and topics you will need to facilitate this and use categories or groups on the forum, so people will get attracted to a particular category or group.
  • Working with cohorts of new members, make sure that people from the same batch can find each other and link. Make for instance a group for anyone who starts in a given month.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Backchannels during presentations

I'm reading the backchannel. A backchannel is an online means of communication between the audience and between the audience and the speakers. The book has very good tips how to use a Twitter backchannel to make presentations more interactive. On the one hand I find it very interesting- how to use the audience thoughts and feelings during a presentation. On the other hand I think a presentation is NOT an very pro-active method, so shouldn't you simply not choose other more interactive methods? You choose a presentation form only when you think there is an expert who can put people quickly up to speed with a certain topic.

Then I found this youtube video from the muppets (through Wilma van den Brink) and I found it explains in a very humorous way what the downsides are of having a backchannel...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Some ideas on Innovation versus creative thinking

John Elkington at the 2006 SustainAbility Ltd ...Image via Wikipedia

In Wageningen I attended the launch of the Centre for Development Innovation (previously Wageningen International) with a talk by John Elkington, a world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development. I enjoyed his definition of sustainable development: imagine the world in 2050 with 9 billion inhabitants and think back what decisions we should make now to make that world possible... He mentioned social enterpreneurs (and social intrapreneurs working within companies) as the key people to drive innovation. In his book they are called the 'unreasonable people'. Innovation often doesn't start within the system, but on the edges or outside the system.

I made me wonder about innovation and the way I use the term. It's probably become another fad word with many different meanings. In the innovation 2.0 group on LinkedIn there was a discussion about 7 months ago about the definition of innovation.
One person said: Innovation is the succesful introduction of an 'invention'. A bit the Willie Wortel definition of innovation I guess :). Someone else introduced the term 'social innovation'. And what's the difference between change en innovation? One definition shared was: Innovation differs from 'normal change' because a prevaling thinking pattern is disrupted.

My interest is not so much in innovative products and services but in stimulating professionals to continue innovating their thinking and not to get stuck in their thinking pattern. Maybe creative thinking is a better name for that. An example: this afternoon we played a game in which you have to guess. My daughter had to guess 'pyama's'. She got stuck because she mentioned all the clothes you put in daytime (shoes, sweater, socks) but forgot that you also put on clothes at night. She needed a hint to think about that and it was suddenly so logical for her. In Ethiopia I once did an exercise with a rope, which needs creative thinking to get the solution. One of the farmers was the first to find the solution- not the development workers. That's creative thinking if you don't stay within the limits. Creative thinking is not something you do on your own, but you rather need to be challenged.

In my painting class, there are various forms of painting that stimulate you to paint with a new perspective like:
  • Draw without looking at your paper, just look at the model
  • Use paper snippets in stead of paint
  • Paint in negative (make everything light dark and everything dark light)
  • Paint upside down
  • Use only lines for shading (form oriented)
  • Draw with a ruler (teaches you the direction of lines)
  • Rotate your drawings and work on somebody else's drawings
A nice toolkit with forms to stimulate this kind of creative thinking (in Dutch) is Samen vernieuwen in de praktijk by Verdonschot, Keursten and van Rooij. Full of techniques and methods to stimulate creative thinking. (also for reasonable people :).

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Understanding intercultural misunderstandings

This is a funny video with a strong message. I found it through the blog of Raf Stevens. Watch it first if you have the time (2,5 minutes). It shows what a mental framework or 'schema' is and how it can lead to misunderstandings.

If you can't relate a conversation to your own experiences, it often makes no sense at all. When people talk from different mental frameworks, it is easy to misinterpret what is being said. Did you think it was about washing cloth or did you already have another interpretation?

This type of misinterpretation happens a lot in intercultural communications (intercultural communications can be between people from different nationalities, but also from different neighbourhoods or disciplines..). So any conversation where the mental framework is very different you have to be aware of this possible misunderstanding which is always around the corner. An example (but after 10 years in different countries I have many ofcourse..): I have a close Ethiopian friend who lives in the united states. When we visited her she locked herself out of the house. The way you deal with it, the decisions you make are very much tight to your framework. We prefered to pay a locksmith to allow us to enter the house. She prefered to call a friend and stay there. Only if you are aware of the fact that your reference frames differ so much, you can work through your differences (though you may still get conflicts...) It happened to us too when we did an assignment for a research program. We didn't know the schema from the research program and what we wrote down was misinterpreted, leading to frustrations on both sides. In this case neither party invested in resolving the misunderstandings.

What to do? When you are talking or presenting, assess how different the framework of the others might be.. A management view can also be very different from an employee's view. Try to make your own framework clear, by using stories that illustrate your own experiences. Try to talk about practical examples and try to avoid jargon...