I write to learn. Extracting an observation out of an experience gives me a way to improve my practice. I strive to “work out loud” and build community and connection around these ideas.
Topics related to learning most often capture my curiosity. Sometimes, however, I have to write about nonprofits because they are so fascinating, confounding, and central to strong communities.
- Push less dirt, Lift more rocks
Two years ago, my family bought land north of the city. Laboring with hand tools quickly proved futile, so we acquired a tractor. The tractor’s job is to push dirt around to flatten the land for a future orchard. The challenge is that the dirt is filled with large rocks, glacial erratic boulders to be precise, so it is hard to push that dirt around. You come at a mound from the side, and it takes repeated back and forth shoving and dragging to make any headway.
It would be a lot easier if we could grab the boulders from the above and pull them up and out of the dirt.
The image of putting the throttle to “rabbit mode” and ramming at mother earth with an iron claw came to mind as I was explaining instructional design. Rather than pushing through information from start to finish, it would be a lot more effective to come down from above and lift the meaningful parts up and into daylight. Give people the chance to see the whole picture from the start. That way they know what they might find as they dig deeper into what you have to offer.
What does this look like?
- When starting to plan a presentation or instructional design project, use a large scroll of paper to avoid the arbitrary hierarchy that can develop when writing a list on regular paper. Use the full lateral space to keep track of ideas and categorize them into buckets only after you have completed your research. See an example below.
- When presenting, consider language that explains the buckets up front. Here’s an example.
- Create graphics that show the buckets very clearly. See examples below.
Pushing dirt is really hard work. Covering vast information is taxing to the presenter and the person trying to make sense of it all. Here’s to working less and being more fruitful in the process.
- Five Years Later: Lessons from FUN
Finance Unlocked for Nonprofits (FUN) launched five years ago this week at the Washington State Nonprofit Conference. We shared the five buckets of basic nonprofit knowledge every board members should know: how to read a Balance sheet and Income statement, the IRS Form 990, Giving, and Oversight. The buckets spell BINGO, and yes—we played.
FUN was the first toolkit created in what became a series: Boards in Gear, Let’s Go Legal, Strategic Planning in Nonprofits, etc. (They are all here.) It set the structure that we continue to follow. The architecture of FUN proved to be successful. In short, we put the content expert onto a short video that can be used in the three places people learn, alone, in peer groups, and in classrooms. We supplemented with downloadable resources. FUN became the curriculum used in a state contract all over Washington.
FUN has become one of my favorite traveling companions as I deliver the training in communities large and small. What have I learned from my loyal friend, FUN?
“Going to scale” forces new solutions. We based FUN on an in-person training delivered in Seattle several times a year. At the time, a leader in our community implored me to address financial concerns plaguing nonprofits: many were losing their IRS status for failing to file, and fraud was nipping away the resources our nonprofits needed to thrive. “Run a training,” I was told. There are more than 50,000 nonprofits in Washington, thus roughly 500,000 board members who need to be trained. Where should I put that training? How will training the 50 or so people who come have any impact? The result was a blended learning solution that puts the CPA on video, thus not necessarily in every training room or living room where someone is learning from FUN.
Play in the sandbox of emotion in design and delivery. At the time we created FUN, another organization offered a finance workshop with marketing language that referenced dental surgery, something like: “Do you think finance is as fun as getting a root canal? Its painful but important.” I was the only person to sign up. We took the predominant emotion many people feel with finance— fear— and both honored it and flipped it into comfort and joy. An improv actor joined the CPA on film, introducing both laughter and simplified explanations into the story. The BINGO introduced a framework everyone knows. Since storytelling is inate to us humans, we practice income statement reading with my favorite activity ever, a “Once upon a time” storytelling exercise.
Communications is a key part of curriculum design. Early on in the development of FUN, our communications partner drew a clothesline with rectangles hanging off of it. Our job was to take all of the content we generated and sort it into boxes that would hang from a central thread, essentially our thesis. This approach moved us from pushing throughcontent to observing it from above. That bird’s eye view led us to five buckets. It was so successful that “chunking” became a standard part of our instructional design process.
We created FUN to train board members across Washington about finance. Along the way, we learned ourselves what works when teaching courageous volunteers with little free time who want to do right by their organizations. Happy birthday, FUN!
If you want to know more about the instructional design behind FUN, visit my website here: https://chunkflipguidelaugh.com.
- Design a Learning-full Conference
A few years ago I attended a three-day conference in a city on the other side of the country. I took a lot of notes. I remember the speakers being interesting. I know that I left with a few ideas to dig into. Yet on the flight home, I misplaced my notebook. I tried to re-create my to-do list, but I drew a complete blank on the specifics of conference. I couldn’t remember what I heard or decided to do. I moved on.
The conference cost at least $1,000 to attend once I accounted for the flight, conference fee, and the pizza dinner I bought to thank my local host. A hotel would have rounded the cost up another $500.
The conference cost the organizer a lot too! At least one staff member worked on the conference for six months, with the entire staff joining for the full three days. Money was spent on the venue, keynote speakers, and program. I’m sure sponsorships helped to offset some of these costs. The opportunity cost of doing a conference, however, includes all of the projects you would do if you had that time back.
A lot is on the table when it comes to conferences, so let’s talk about how to design a learning-full conference. That’s a conference where people get the support they need before, during, and after the conference to reflect and act (even if they lose their notebook!). It is a conference that has adult learning principles baked into its design, helping people to process information, remember it, and connect it with action steps. It is a conference that stays with the attendee past the last session, placing the conference into a larger constellation of learning experiences. These are the kind of conferences that are worthy of the time and financial investments we make to move our people forward.
This winter, Mark Nilles and I launched our new e-book on conference design, “Conferences That Make a Difference.” While there are several excellent resources for conference participants on how to make the most of attending a conference, this e-book looks at the other side of the equation: designing and delivering a conference. It gives ideas across four chapters:
- Strategy and overall approach to conference design
- Get Ready: Pre-Conference Activities
- The Big Day: Deliver a Day that Makes a Difference
- Make It Stick: Post-Conference Activities
We give you samples and tools to be able to implement what we are talking about right away.
If you design conferences, we hope this e-book gives you ideas. If you attend conferences, please feel free to send this to conference organizers. We might create a movement for better conferences everywhere!
- Love in Learning
I drove home from an intense learning event emotionally exhausted. It had been an exhilarating day of deep thought and connection. A few groups had made significant breakthroughs on important issues. When nonprofits make breakthroughs, lives change.
It was a long day, and when signing off from a debrief with my colleague, the words rolled off our tongues: I love you. I love you, too.
Love is a radical word that is both weak and bold, vague and crisp, all at the same time. It’s a word I lean on when no other seems to fit. What is the right word to describe the feeling in a room when people become so motivated by something they just heard or learned that they form connections that transcend that time and space? The word, I believe, is love.
I was first struck by the word “love” used in a non-typical way when reading Steve Patty’s book on evaluation, Getting to What Matters. Evaluation is hardly the bastion of romance and roses, yet his Heart Triangle describes the transformation I see in the classroom. He starts with the three human capacities– know, feel, and do– and shows how they can deepen into three defining characteristics– what we believe, love, and become.
Knowledge becomes action becomes a transformed person. Feeling something shifts the tectonic plates that make us who we are and brings to our surface a commitment to being different. That is powerful learning.
Perhaps due to the Brené Brown effect, love in leading and living is becoming part of the vernacular. “Love of learning” has long been used to describe the delight a parent has when a child reads late into the night. I’m excited to take delight in the “love in learning” that brings magic to a classroom, a conference, a community.
The 2019 “Train the Trainer Series” runs on February 26 and March 26. Join us!
- Lessons from Mary Poppins
We walked out of Mary Poppins Returns singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Five minutes after hearing “Nowhere to go but up,” the flying-through-the-sky song from Returns, we were remembering the elevation song from this movie’s precursor, the original Mary Poppins from 1964.
Why is that? How is it possible that we couldn’t remember a single song from Mary Poppins Returns,even five minutes after the credits rolled?
With this research question in front of us, my daughter and I set about listening to Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Returns songs back-to-back. As the younger of us pointed out, the music in Returns mirrors the original. There is a song for when the kids don’t want to do something, one that involves people floating to the top of a room, and of course the requisite computer-animated scene of children dropping into an inanimate object.
Our conclusion: Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins is as much a teacher as she is a nanny. She invites us and the children into the sung lesson. Here’s an example:
Spoonful of sugar (1964)
Sung by Julie Andrews
Can you imagine that (2018)
Sung by Emily Blunt
Mary speaks the words. ·
She explains why a spoonful of
With the children watching, she
demonstrates the magic that cleans
Jane tries and succeeds.
Michael tries and struggles. She lets him struggle and figure it out until he succeeds.
Mary starts singing. Her first words questions John’s intellect and
ability to “give in to imagination.”
It would be a discussion for another day to examine who is to blame: the writer, performer, director, or anyone else. However this came to be, the difference between these movies gives us lessons in learning:
Mary, in “Spoonful of Sugar” reminds us to:
- Tell people what you are going to share in clear, spoken language. Bonus points if you sound as smooth as Julie Andrews.
- Explain why it matters. We are asking adults to do things that may seem as fun as taking medicine. It has to be worth it!
- Demonstrate what you want them to do. Whether it is a click of the fingers or something much more complex, show them what good looks like.
- Let them do it, even if they don’t succeed at first. Stand to the side, and step in only if things get out of control. Like a toy cabinet that won’t stop opening and shutting.
Of course a lot of credit goes to the songwriters. The Sherman Brothers wrote lyrics that masterfully fit into our contextual experience. I can understand “let’s go fly a kite” and “love to laugh” without trying hard. “Turning turtle?” Not so much. Effective teaching is a magical combination of content and delivery. And that’s no tommy rot.
- Grains of Learning in a Mayo Jar of TimeIt would be hard to imagine a more ridiculous purchase. Straight out of a trainer tools magazine, a $39.95 mayonnaise jar complete with golf balls, pebbles and sand. The prop was designed to demonstrate time management. I couldn’t toss the catalog into the recycle bin fast enough. And yet a mere two hours later, our learning team gathered to talk about our new micro-learning strategy, and there I was talking about the mayo jar. Luckily I didn’t have to spend $39.95 to evoke the image of the mayo jar and the philosophical question of when it is actually full. You see, if you imagine our learning program to be a mayo jar, it is full of golf balls: webinars or workshops that require registration and a commitment of time. We run 150+ of these a year (with an amazing staff of 3). We even have the super bouncy balls of our trade: conferences. As much as they flex and squish into different shapes and sizes, they take up even more room than the golf balls. The jar seems full. But there is still space for the kidney beans. Those are the many five-to-ten minute videos that we produce on key elements of content. We have the five “chunks” of board success, and the five buckets of finance knowledge. We’ve got resources on strategic planning and nonprofit law. These take up less room than the golf balls, yet you can still see small pockets of space. That’s where the grains of rice come in. These are the short 1-2 minute lessons on one idea that fill the gaps left by everything else we offer. Captured on short videos, they include the ideas that people hear in workshops yet need to hear again to be able to apply them. They are the tips that we wish we had time to share in webinars. They are our content innovations too late to get into the professionally produced, longer videos. They are what folks have asked us to explain, as well as the “why this matters” intro videos that we upload to social media. Over the next two weeks, we will be installing “WN Studios” in an unrented space near our office. We will start by filming video clips to be used in our newest initiative, Next Level Nonprofits. We’ll be tracking data to see if people actually watch the videos, and ultimately if they report back that they made a difference. By this time next year, our mayo jar will indeed be completely full. I would bet $39.95 on it, but we already spent that on the tripod.
NEWSMark Nilles (Humentum) and I have been working on an ebook on conferences. Read the first Chapter now and look for the full ebook in January. Sign up to make sure you receive it when it comes out! The 2nd annual “Train the Trainer Series“ starts February 26. Based in Seattle, this popular two-part series features Guila Muir and Tracy Flynn teaching participants from across Washington how to deliver an awesome workshop every time. Just in time for conference season!
- Courage. Coragem.Two weeks ago, nonprofit and community leaders gathered together in Yakima, Washington, to work in teams on hard issues. In several different conversations, people used the word “courage.” They described some people as having it, others as needing it, and a general hope that the community could muster the courage needed to do things differently. I couldn’t help but think back to a time when a different community of leaders used the word “courage” to describe what they needed to have. I wrote about that experience in 2012, and the lessons from then seem as relevant now. As we go into the Thanksgiving holidays, I am tremendously grateful for the women I got to know in Salvador, Brazil– and the nonprofit leaders and partners across Washington I work with today.
CoragemOriginally posted in February 2012 I was in Salvador, Brazil, last month teaching a class on NGO capacity building and grant writing, sharing everything I know about building community and structure around a mission that makes the world a better place. On Friday, as all of the tools and tricks it takes to run an effective organization settled into the minds of class participants, one leaned forward and said, “Temos que ter coragem.” We have to have courage. Courage that allows them to pioneer new ways of doing things, knowing that they will make mistakes in front of each other along the way. Indeed, courage was on the minds of these women that day. A discussion about program evaluation shifted from graduation rates to measuring any gain in self esteem that might come through education and social support. They described trying to get young women to even consider taking a university entrance exam within a culture of presumed failure. Each of the women in the room had taken the Vestibular at least twice—several three and four times— before passing, and the young women they work with know that it is uphill battle to learn enough to pass this rigorous exam. Their dreams of achieving a university education required courage to march through the pain of endless study with no guarantee of success, foregone wages, and, for some, social stigma for even trying. As it turns out, the inner demons that haunt young African-Brazilian women were in good company. The night before, a police strike began, resulting in violence and looting in the neighborhoods to which these women were returning to that night. By the time this conversation was happening, over eighty people had been killed, and randomness of crime had uprooted any sense of public security for the poor residents of the city. The fear of what might happen was written on their faces. They left early to journey home on public buses, some traveling alone as far as the airport. Courage was on their minds, and now it is on mine. These women are working in a space in which they have to muster together personal, professional, and social courage, battling internal and external demons around every turn. They have to lift the spirits of others—giving others hope for a better tomorrow—when the same demons haunt them. The success they achieve in these circumstances is heroic and humbling. There I sat, listening to their discussion, aware of the space between their experiences and my reality. What was my role in this partnership? Encourage? Encourage has someone else as its object. It is passive, distant, and possibly condescending. I was on a flight out the next morning. Who was I to tell them to keep up the great work? What struck me about my week in Salvador was how open these women were to learn and to teach, how they had made a commitment to social change and were in this work for the long term, and how they intuitively understood that their big societal issues were made up of many small problems, all of which could be tackled with the right resources. They weren’t afraid to have the hard conversations. Our alternative to encouraging them is to have courage with them. We can be partners in hard conversations that cross cultural and power boundaries, giving each other the benefit of the doubt along the way. We can challenge our own limits, professionally and personally, in solidarity with them. And we can build a long-term community in which to learn, celebrate, and labor together through whatever demons come our way. To make a difference in this world, they reminded me, temos que ter coragem.
- Webinar emails: trying something newThis fall, the Washington Nonprofits learning team changed up the emails we send related to webinars. Here’s an infographic explaining what we did and why. What you do think? What are you doing to boost engagement with your webinars?
- So Who’s In the Room? Moving On.The presenter steps up to the podium, welcomes everyone to what will certainly be an awesome conference session. She segues into a typical warm-up exercise: let’s find out who is in the room. How many of you are chickens? Great, we appreciate the eggs. How many are cows? Wonderful, thank you for your service—without you there would be no cheese or chocolate. Do we have any alpaca in the room? There you are. Few in number but mighty in spirit. Please don’t spit. The exercise can happen in different ways, but the goal is the same: to build rapport and gather information about who is in the room so that you can better speak to them. Or not. At a recent conference session, some version of the above unfolded. The room was mostly filled with chickens—hard working creatures toiling hard to produce a golden egg. The presenter determined that right from the start. And then she spent the rest of the presentation speaking eloquently to an imagined audience of horses, delivering ideas and tools useful to running fast over hill and dale. Not so useful to chickens. I sat in the audience trying to telepathically communicate with the chickens. I hoped that they were picking up nuggets of relevance between the lines. The session ended after its requisite 75 minutes. Before it did, I made some notes on how we could do this better:
- Know who is likely to be in the room before the session even begins. The attendee profile of most conferences isn’t a state secret, particularly for presenters who attend these conferences year after year. If you don’t know, ask the organizers. Optimize for the people most likely to be in the room.
- Influence who is in the room. At most conferences, anyone can attend any session, so how do you make sure your desired audience shows up? Invite them. When you write your conference description, include a clear description of who this workshop is designed for.
- Use your power as the holder of the microphone to connect people. Maybe you ask people new to the work to stand up so others can meet them later. Maybe you ask people to line up by years of experience and then “fold the line” to make pairs to answer a question related to what you are presenting. (I learned this from the awesome Tracy Flynn). There are many ways to connect people, and doing so strengthens your presentation.
- Customize in real time once you know who is in the room. By the time the presentation starts, your powerpoint and handouts are done. What isn’t done is how you deliver it. You have the power to shift your speed and focus through content depending on who is listening. You have the knowledge to stop and ask thought-provoking questions to get real-time engagement and feedback. You have the audience’s permission to adjust so that they get more out of their time with you.
- Stop talking. Let them play with your ideas. We hear all of the time about the importance of reflection. People need time to take what is going on in their heads and connect it to whatever you just said. They need to build a bridge between your idea and their lived experience. Presenters, therefore, need to build in time for people in the session to practice what they are hearing, share what they think about it, or otherwise exercise their brain. I know letting attendees talk introduces a certain level of chaos. Comfort with ambiguity is as great a skill in teaching as it is in life.
Want more on learning strategy?I will be teaching a workshop on curriculum design this fall. More information here
- Let’s Play Learning Strategy Mix-and-Match!The waning days of summer are upon us. The clouds have rolled in, and the smoke has cleared. For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, there’s comfort in donning fleece and staying inside while the rains freshen the air. One of the highlights of my summer was working with two groups developing a learning strategy. They wanted to take the pieces that they had—curriculum, partnerships, experts, and ideas—and turn them into a coherent program of activities that made a bigger and more lasting difference for more people. What a great opportunity to play Learning Strategy Mix-and-Match! (I first introduced this idea here.) Mix-and-Match takes the key elements of a learning program and invites us to combine them in ways that expand the times and spaces in which we can engage people. It forces us to think outside of the usual workshop model. It also forces us to consider practice more than we otherwise do. You have to do something with all of those orange parallelograms! These three key elements are: 1. WHAT is being delivered:
- PRACTICE actions related to the content
- STUDENT, the person learning
- TEACHER, the person delivering the content
- CLASSROOM of people together
- a GROUP of peers learning together
- An INDIVIDUAL learning alone
Download Learning Strategy Mix-and-Match shapes here.
How does this work?Most learning programs do okay with synchronous learning, meaning learning where the teacher and student are participating at the same time. Take a typical workshop or webinar. It may look something like this: A good workshop has practice built in. (For more on how to do this, buy Guila Muir’s book.) How about webinars? What do we do about practice? We can’t just forget about it– that orange parallelogram needs to go somewhere! Here’s some ideas… Include practice in the webinar, even if you are giving assignments for people to do later on. Provide boosting activities after the webinar so that they remember to exercise what they learned.
Let’s make this a bit harder.Workshops and webinars are pretty straight forward. Let’s push on how we can better reach the people we just can’t get to a scheduled event. Let’s explore asynchronous options, those where the teacher and student are not participating at the same time. On-demand learning happens when you post a video or some other learning content on a website: Where are folks going to be able to practice? How are we going to deploy the orange parallelogram? Here are some ideas: Office hours: There are many forms of this (from phone calls to Facebook groups), but at its core it means that the teacher participates in applying the content separate from the presentation of content. (A master at this is Maryn Boess of GrantsMagic.) Peer or networks: Schedule–or otherwise support– practice in board or staff meetings, service club meetings, or any other time when people already gather. (At Washington Nonprofits, we do this through Nonprofit Conversations.) Tool or micro-learning: Give the people learning something (worksheet, checklist, case study, scenarios) that challenges them to apply learning to their situation. Give them a short video that describes how they can practice. Set up the activity for them to try. These are just a few ideas. Imagine if we really let lose imagining how Mix-and-Match might be used to design conferences, publications, and so much more.
Your turn.Download your own set of shapes. Cut out the shapes. Lay them out on a table and see how many different learning events you can create using these building blocks. Some ideas:
- Take a strategic topic that you want people to learn about and figure out five different ways that you can deliver it.
- Explore time: scheduled learning vs. unscheduled learning. How can you expand opportunities to learn outside of scheduled events?
- Explore practice. Where does it show up in the programs you offer or partner with? Where else could it show up? This is often the most overlooked element within learning programs.
- Invite others to play with you! Your webmaster may have ideas on how to expand on-demand learning. Your membership person may have ideas on how to use affinity groups within the membership program. Your policy person may have real activities that need practicing, around which you can build a program.
Want more on learning strategy?I will be teaching a workshop on curriculum design this fall. More information here
- Project Runway: A Lesson in Adult LearningBinge watching reality television provides a lot of time between the drama to think about learning. Such was the case when my daughter and I watched a season of Project Runway over the course of two weeks. It was my first deep dive into the world of high fashion design and catty criticisms about whether one contestant can stitch straight or not. The design side was amazing to see. I’ve sewed since in high school, though seldom anything I would wear. By the second show, I had pulled out fabric and a pattern and sewed a jacket. By the end, I had my computer propped on a box to be able to watch while sewing, and I was pulling shirts out of my closet and sketching patterns to try and replicate them. One is already in the scrap pile. The other is a viable shirt, albeit one my daughter declared “something an old lady would wear.” I ignored the old lady part and went with the “would wear” possibility. All of this to say that watching experts do something over and over again demystifies the process. It quickly became clear that sewing is really just geometry, carving shapes out of fabric in a way that allows seams to fall flat. Sleeves all need a certain give to allow movement; zippers add a rigidity that needs accommodation; the characteristics of the fabric make or break any design. What does all of this have to do with adult learning? First, what we know going into an experience determines what we get out of it. I watch Project Runway and am inspired to sew. My daughter watches Project Runway and decides sewing is too hard. The difference? I knew enough to see possibility. Prior knowledge serves two functions: it provides a foundation for new knowledge and shapes our confidence and curiosity. It can’t be said enough that teaching and learning begins with them, not us. How can we better draw on the prior knowledge of the people we teach? How can we strengthen prior knowledge going before a training? Second, watching a show like Project Runway demonstrates that every fancy final product is constructed through a series of discrete steps, often the same steps repeated garment after garment. A complicated whole is achieved through simpler parts. When you watch dress after dress being sewn, you see the design decisions that lead to a standard set of outcomes. Nothing is sacred; an evening gown can become a cocktail dress with the cut of a hem. While watching a video alone does not mean you will be able to do it too, it gives you a boost when combined with practice. Imagine if we created more opportunities to see experts at work. What if we could capture their decision-making in real time and give people time themselves to practice similar decision-making in real settings? And when it comes to content, imagine how powerful it would be if we cut away everything extra to be left with something simple and classy. Lastly, watching Tim Gunn as a mentor is delightful. He anchors his critiques in a clear sense of the goal, often bringing designers back on track after they meander off course. His comments are crisp and honest, delivered with a sweet sense of love and protection. What any of us could achieve with a Tim Gunn by our side. The nonprofit sector would be vastly more effective if we invested in coaches to support the one-and-done learning that we too often provide. I hear a new season of Bachelorette is starting up. I have a shirt she can borrow.
- Thinking Out Loud: How to Make Conferences into Learning Experiences that Lead to ActionWe put a lot into conferences. We spend months lining up speakers with ideas intended to shift our thinking. We curate workshops and plan networking time; we publish conference programs and name tags enough to fill a table. And we aren’t the only one with a lot on the line: participants commit registration fees, travel costs, and time out of the office. How we can make conferences worth all of this time and effort? How can we place the conference in a larger constellation of learning that starts before the big day and runs well after the conference concludes? These are the questions that led me to try some new ideas at our most recent conference in Yakima. In the spirit of “thinking out loud,” I share them here to expand the conversation.
- CONFERENCE PLANNER
- KEYNOTE PLACEMAT
- KEYNOTE FOLLOW-ON DISCUSSIONS
- Wonder Woman needs her shield.It is kind of like Wonder Woman leaving her lasso of truth around a rock on Themyscira. It’s as if she forgot her vibranium shield in that tower before setting off for London. And her bracelets of submission? Back in the Paradise Island bathing grotto. Diana still has her cunning curiosity and empathetic outlook. But her tools of the trade aren’t there to help her take action on saving humanity. She can stand nobly in that foxhole telling Steve Trevor everything she knows about rescuing women and children under siege over yonder. But knowing isn’t doing. The only way this woman can cross “No Man’s Land” is with the full package of knowledge, skills, tools, courage…. and a shield. This is what comes to mind when I see leaders talk about the big changes they want to see in the world and then organize the same activities done for years. They call together the same people who have been called together before. They lean on experts of the topic of concern to share what they know. Here’s the thing. We know so much about adult learning, psychology, behavioral economics, and human development. We know about strategy and outcome-based planning. We have at our fingertips really talented people who know the process to get results that reflect the interests of others. Our system respects the knowledge of experts and not the experts of knowledge. Paradoxically it relies on content experts and not experts in transferring that content to others. Too often our lassos and bracelets are left in the closet. Its time to take them out.
- Walk This WayI spent the last five weeks immersed in two experiences. First, my family hosted a 19 year old foster-care “graduate” needing a short term place to stay. “Cam” had been in 32 different placements, was in school, had a 30 hour a week job, and could recite pretty much any detail from Black Panther or High School Musical. He knew a lot about rap artists of his generation. He fell short on knowing much about Grandmaster Flash and Run DMC. Forgivable. Second, I was creating a daylong workshop for all volunteer nonprofit leaders in rural areas. Designed to cover the major topics of running a small organization, the workshop needed to review key content, invite curiosity, inspire but not overwhelm, and connect people to each other. I delivered the inaugural workshop in Long Beach, Washington on March 10. Cam and the folks I spent Saturday with have something in common. They both know a lot about some things and nearly nothing about others. What they know, they have learned from experience—hands on, need to know, full body living it. Cam knew exactly how to receive a check, cash it at Safeway (for a fee), and move money onto a pre-paid debit card, or juggle money across several pre-paids since the one-time load limit was $500. He knew nothing about having a bank account, including why you would want one. The nonprofit volunteers from the poverty action group knew exactly where economically-disadvantaged people were living and how they juggled finding food, clothes, housing vouchers, etc. The “Stop ICE” volunteers recited names, stories, and statistics gathered from resistance activities. Yet most people in the room knew little about the bread and butter topics of nonprofit operations: board recruitment, internal controls, or fundraising beyond the spaghetti dinner. I heard at least three times, “I never thought of that before.” We live in a world that values mainstream, professionalized knowledge. Adults should have a bank account. Nonprofit leaders should know how to have a strong board, stay compliant, and raise money. At the same time, we should know how to recognize sources of deep knowledge when we see them. Too often we miss solutions because their knowledge doesn’t look like ours. A teacher once said that a good curriculum is like a strong fence. It goes deep enough to hold the fence firm and runs long enough to cover wide landscapes. The metaphor works for communities as much as curriculum. A healthy community values the deep knowledge of people living within the circumstances society’s solutions set out to solve. Our operational tips and tools allow them to cover a lot of ground faster than they would on their own. We need each other. I’m grateful to have been reminded that.
One thing I know is that life is short So listen up homeboy, give this a thought The next time someone’s teaching why don’t you get taught? It’s like that (what?) and that’s the way it is
– “It’s Like That” by Run DMC
- Upcoming Train the Trainer SeriesAt Washington Nonprofits, we are really excited to announce our Spring 2018 “Train the Trainer Series,” which starts April 4, 2018. Sessions will be lead by the amazing Guila Muir and Tracy Flynn…. and me, Nancy Bacon. More information is below. Please pass this along to anyone you think would be interested. Nancy
Washington Nonprofits Train the Trainer Series Spring 2018Train the Trainer is designed for consultants and learning staff in the nonprofit and public sector who want to strengthen their training practice. Over the course of three sessions led by adult learning experts, we will cover how to train, tips and tools for increased engagement, and how to know if you made a difference. Since learning happens best when you can reflect on your practice with others, we are offering an option for individualized observation and coaching. Sign up for individual sessions or the series. (When you take the series, you will get a Washington Nonprofits Train the Trainer Series Certificate at the last class.) By the end, you will have greater knowledge and skill, feel more confident, and be a part of a supportive cohort of people committed to the practice of teaching and learning. 3-PART SERIES “Never Fail” Course Design with Guila Muir April 4, 9:00-12:00pm Build Your Trainer Toolkit with Tracy Flynn May 2, 9:00-12:00pm Train to Make a Difference with Tracy Flynn & Nancy Bacon May 30, 9:00-12:00pm Location Pike/Pine Room 12th Avenue Arts / Capitol Hill Housing 1620 12th Avenue, Suite 206, Seattle WA 98122 Cost $95/ workshop $280/ series WASHINGTON NONPROFITS MEMBERS $116/ workshop $349/ series NON-MEMBERS Joining is easy! Register here
April 4, 2018 “NEVER FAIL” COURSE DESIGN Do you feel overwhelmed while developing a new class or webinar? Does all the content threaten to cover YOU up? Do you simply not know where to begin? Welcome to Guila Muir’s “Never Fail” Course Design Template. A product of twenty-five years of experimentation and evolution, this template enables you to design active, effective courses that transfer skills into the “real world”. Who knew course design could be so easy? By the end of this three-hour workshop, you will be able to:
- Describe the nine elements of outcome-focused, activity-driven lesson plan.
- Create the Purpose and Learning Outcomes of a training session that you will present in the near future.
- Explain how you will enable participants to transfer new skills into the “real world”.
- a topic for a training session, workshop, or webinar that you will give soon, or that you have given recently and would like to improve.
- a typical audience you’d present this to.
- the probable length of your training session, workshop, or webinar (PLEASE think of a session that would be at least 45 minutes long).
May 2, 2018 BUILD YOUR TRAINER TOOLKIT Strategies to increase meaningful participation, engagement and skill-building with any audience Are you wondering how to step into a classroom and create a learning community? Do want to add more tools to your toolbox when it comes to increasing participation? Through the course of this session, you will learn the connection between motivation, participation, and a deeper engagement in what you are teaching. You will leave with a lot of ideas for activities you can use in training. By the end of the workshop, you will be able to:
- Name two ways that you can create a strong learning community.
- Demonstrate at least one new engagement strategy
- Describe how to assess and capitalize on the learner’s own motivation
May 30, 2018 TRAIN TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE How to use feedback and evaluation to know if your training had an impact You taught, but did they learn? Are they doing anything differently because of your training? Their success depends on “learning transfer” and whether your lessons transfer into real results. In this session, we will dig deep into the building blocks of “learning transfer” and how to use feedback and evaluation to know what’s different. By the end of the session, you will be able to:
- Name the elements of learning transfer
- Demonstrate one way to use feedback to see if you are meeting your goals
- Describe how you could use evaluation to keep learning going past the training (and decrease forgetting!) and strengthen how you teach.
- Manipulation or Influence?At a recent conference, I introduced the work of Robert Cialdini, author of Influence and Presuasion. We were talking about how to motivate nonprofit board members, and I shared two possible approaches to moving a board member to raise money:
Option 1: You are on this board because you care about this mission. We really need to raise $10,000 at this event. Every board member should do their part inviting friends and giving funds.
Option 2: You have already shown great courage and commitment by stepping forward into the board member role. Your leadership makes an important difference in our ability to achieve our mission. I am going to ask that you do one more courageous thing and reach out to your friends and invite them to join us in our work.As participants got involved in an activity, a man pulled me aside to tell me that he was bothered by Option 2. It was manipulative, and he didn’t think that we should be manipulating board members into doing things. It seemed like a very nonprofit response. A huge body of evidence shows that people are motivated by their emotions. Companies use this research to get consumers to buy their products. (Cialdini gives some interesting examples here.) Wouldn’t it be powerful if nonprofits took what we know about influence and used it for good? As Jeff Brooks writes on his blog, we don’t avoid emotions in Option 1 since everything we say or do signals some emotion, possibly not the ones we intend. As Allen Gannett writes in Fast Company, the difference between manipulation and persuasion comes down to one question: is what you are asking in the person’s best interest? As influence expert Alex Swallow says on a recent podcast, effective influence creates a win-win outcome that lasts. Boards members by definition should care deeply about the mission of the organization on whose board they serve. It is in their best interest that they are motivated to do anything they can to support the cause they love. I truly believe that board members are the superheroes of our communities, taking on the most important social issues of our time as volunteers. Beyond nonprofit boards, we hold the power to make lasting change when we move from information sharing to imagination capturing, habit shifting, and action inspiring. It will take courage to step into this new space. But you have already shown great courage and commitment. Why not do one more courageous thing and give (intentional) influence a try.
Upcoming event: I’m speaking on February 1 as a part of the Learning Technology Design conference. In Chunk Flip Guide Laugh: Creating Learning Tools That Lead to Action, we will walk through Discover, Design, and Delivery, and I’ll share some stories behind Washington Nonprofits’ popular toolkits.
- Habits and House of Cards: How to bring thinking about habits into a New YearHouse of Cards left a legacy in our house, #metoo movement aside. A few episodes into the series, my beloved watched Frank Underwood rowing in the basement of his DC townhouse and said, “I want one of those.” (He wasn’t alone.) The object of his desire was a wooden water rower made in Rhode Island. Out with the treadmill, in with the WaterRower. The training videos are enticing. I quickly decided that I would faux-row-on-the-Charles a daily 40 minutes. Right. My first row lasted 8 painful minutes. I missed my treadmill. A few months later, I tried this again, this time committing to 12 minutes at 7:15am, five days in a row. I lined up podcasts to distract me from the slowest clock ever. I snuck in a few discrete stretch breaks, but I got through five days. And then another five days. I’m now a few months into a morning row routine. My “coach” holds me accountable: I tell my teen what I rowed while she stares into a bowl of Cheerios, to which she irreverently responds, “Nice job, Nancy.” Strangely that part has become motivating.
I think a lot about habits because ultimately that is what matters in adult learning. It isn’t just about knowing something. It isn’t about doing something once. It is about doing it routinely over time. What habits do we want people to have? How do we nudge people to form them?Four thoughts on habits:
1. Start smallCharles Duhigg shared a simple graphic for understanding habits in his book, The Power of Habit. Nonprofit boards understand this already: they get to the finance part of the agenda (cue), the room goes silent while the treasurer and executive director talk (routine), and if everyone stays quiet, the finance part of the agenda ends quickly (reward). How do we break that cycle? In “Finance Unlocked for Nonprofits,” board members get a “Pulse” chart with simple questions to ask at each board meeting. The more familiar the routine gets, the more voices are heard.
2. Do something 5 timesWhy five? There is absolutely no research that I know of behind five, but the goal is to do something more than a couple of times. It has to become part of an unconscious routine. Now when 7:13am comes along, I feel the need to move towards rowing. For those nonprofit boards using the “Balance Sheet Pulse,” I hope at the fifth meeting they feel the need to talk about their assets and liabilities because it is what they know to do.
3. Create accountabilitySo many boards have to unlearn bad habits that are getting in the way. Wouldn’t it be better if a new board could start in mission-strengthening routines? We are working on a new toolkit on how to start a nonprofit. I’ve made a list of habits would be helpful for board members to start with to avoid unlearning later on. Things like:
- Start every meeting with a prompt that helps people to get to know each other.
- Build 10 minutes of learning into every board meeting.
- Give any volunteer a job description. No matter how simple it is, write down what you think their job is.
- Express gratitude before starting new business.
4. Reflect on rewardsThe “reward differential” is the difference between what the old routine yielded vs. what is possible because of the new routine.
- What do you now see or hear that is different?
- How does that make you feel?
- What might happen if you continued this new habit?
- What would be helpful to expand the habit, if you want to?
- How are you celebrating the change?
As we start a New Year, what habits do you want to change?
- What small, achievable actions can you commit to?
- What five times will you take that action?
- When will you reflect on what difference it makes?
- Learning • Technology • Design Conference Session – February 1, 2018
I’m absolutely thrilled to be presenting a session in the Learning • Technology • Design™ (LTD) virtual conference from February 1-23, 2018. The Washington Nonprofits learning team took away some great ideas last year from this conference. I hope you’ll consider joining it this year.Here’s information about my session:
CHUNK FLIP GUIDE LAUGH: CREATING LEARNING TOOLS THAT LEAD TO ACTION February 1, 2018 – 10:30-12:00pm PSTThose of us who teach adults face a daunting task. We often must cover large amounts of content with people who have limited time and lots of distractions. The learners we serve bring different sets of experiences and emotions to the topic at hand, and we must do our best to meet them where they are. At the same time, a lot is riding on our success—how well workers work, volunteers serve, and leaders lead. Chunk Flip Guide Laugh is a design process that challenges us to rethink the learning tools we create to move people to action. It puts the learner at the center and breaks down effective learning into four “pathways”—chunk, flip, guide, and laugh—which, through examples and case studies, you’ll learn to apply to your own work. As a working example, we’ll look at how a nonprofit state association created a set of action-focused learning tools aimed at busy volunteers. You’ll hear the story behind how that association turned “as fun as a root canal” nonprofit finance into Finance Unlocked for Nonprofits (FUN) starring an improv actor. You’ll also see how they used a similar discovery method to develop a board toolkit that is finding its way into board meetings across the state of Washington. While we’ll use the specific examples to show how the process works, the overall approach applies to nearly any learning experience you need to create. As an active participant, you’ll leave this session with a model for content creation and examples to guide you in development of your own action-inducing learning tools. This workshop will be led by Nancy Bacon, who developed Chunk Flip Guide Laugh and has been using the process in her role as director of learning and engagement at Washington Nonprofits. Read Nancy’s full bio. REGISTRATION INFORMATION
- Learning ≠ DoingIf you want people to be more financially literate, you invest in financial literacy education, right? So think governments, businesses, and nonprofits worldwide. They spend billions of dollars on financial literacy to improve budgeting, reduce credit card debt, and increase retirement savings. Financial literacy is now a required part of Washington State curriculum. The result of all of this investment? A 0.1% variance in financial behaviors. That’s it. All this education yields very little change in behavior. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely referred to this research while in town talking about his book Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter. His book is not about financial literacy, he said, but the systems that cause us to behave as we do. Rather than understand how a $4 coffee fits into our budget, he encourages us to think about our habits. Does that $4 coffee make us happy? Does the second one make us as happy as the first? If so, it is worth it. If not, don’t buy it. As the financial literacy research says, if we are aiming to change behavior, we should teach soft skills, like confidence to act, willingness to take risks, and propensity to plan. As someone who creates learning experiences on finance, I found this a breath of fresh air. Learning doesn’t (necessarily) lead to doing. Teaching someone something doesn’t mean that they bring that idea into their life. We don’t have to dwell on the movement of content from my brain to yours. We have license to bring into our teaching all of the inner and outer body experiences that lead people to do what they do. We can focus on habits, confidence, systems, and culture. We can give out templates and share links to “just in time” videos. In fact, we aren’t teaching lessons but facilitating action. Talking about facilitating action…. I was thrilled to receive in the mail this week my copy of Map It: The Hands-On Guide to Strategic Training Design by Cathy Moore. (Three cheers for her tagline: Let’s save the world from boring training!) Cathy tackles this issue of learning ≠ doing head on. Her Action Mapping has us defining a measurable goal and actions we can see in support of that goal. She invites us to develop a range of interventions—including but not limited to training. We think about the barriers holding folks back. We build in a lot of time to practice in authentic ways. Cathy’s approach has deeply influenced me in my work leading the teams that created Finance Unlocked, Boards in Gear, and other nonprofit toolkits. I appreciate her thought leadership guiding us in how best to facilitate action. I love the Ninjas. https://speakerdeck.com/cathymoore/design-lively-elearning-with-action-mapping?slide=9
- Ask Nancy: Audience EngagementI got an email this week that asked for my thoughts on audience engagement. I’m sharing a version of the exchange with you because engaged people are important when it comes to successful learning events. It’s no fun teaching unengaged participants. It’s no fun being an unengaged participant. Let’s see if we can turn this around. Dear Nancy, One of our speakers asked for help with audience engagement. She gives people opportunities to talk to each other and then report back to the group. They seem to want more than that. Any suggestions? Julie Dear Julie: This is a great question. There is both art and science to engagement. Some quick thoughts: The opening really matters. The first few minutes of the session sets the tone. I always start with some social interaction getting people to meet someone new. It warms up the room. I then make sure that people talk with someone on a topic related to the training within the first 15 minutes of the workshop. I tend to make it emotional and relevant to why they are there to get them emotionally invested in what’s coming next. The sooner you get them actively engaged in the conversation, the more likely they will stay engaged. What they are talking about matters. There is a thing in adult learning about doing the hard work when you are together. That means that a presenter thinks about what the hard work is prior to the session and builds in time for that hard work to happen during the workshop. In a fundraising workshop, for example, it is one thing to say that they need to reach out to 10 people they know who can give to their cause. It is another to give them time to make that list and share it with colleagues at their table. Not only will they leave with some of the work done, they will get feedback from their neighbors. (“I didn’t think about inviting my book club— great idea.”) And it may mean that you leave some of the content out to have time to do this. It can be hard to sacrifice content, but there is nothing less engaging than a monologue of information that goes on a little too long. Mixing up engagement matters. It is fine to have people talk with their neighbor some of the time. But it can get repetitive. What if their neighbor is someone not very helpful? What if their neighbor is a fellow staff or board member unable to offer a fresh perspective? I usually make them get up and talk with someone they don’t know at least once. I have them talk at their tables at least once. I even have them play a game if it seems appropriate. It depends on the length and topic of the workshop, but my goal is to mix it up so that they are talking with different people in different ways. The amount of reflection time matters. I make sure to give folks time throughout the presentation to connect what we are talking about with their own organization. Our board training, for example, has 5 chapters. After each chapter, I give them 2 minutes to think quietly about what we just talked about and write down one thing that connects with their work. I find that people appreciate the chance to think without having to talk with anyone. Usually I float around the tables to make myself available for the sideline questions that occur to people as they ponder what we covered. So often we are giving them lots of content to think about. They need time to absorb and connect. Thanks for asking such an important question. Let me know how it goes! Nancy
- Our Learning Pledge“What’s the ‘big idea’ for our conference?” Jim asked. “That kids need to be more engaged… actively involved in learning activities.” “And how are we starting?” “With your 90 minute keynote speech…”
-Opening page of 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong by John Antonetti and James GarverLast year, I attended a webinar on micro-learning… that was delivered over the course of an hour without break. Last week, I attended a workshop on strategies for a highly engaged nonprofit board. The speaker took his first break for audience engagement after 60 minutes. I do wonder if these presenters have any inkling that their dramatically ironic delivery drives people to their devices in ways that directly defeats their message. So it may be time to reaffirm our solemn pledge as people offering learning experiences to busy people. I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
- I will respect the hard-won scientific research of people who study learning, behavior, and psychology in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
- I will apply, for the benefit of anyone listening to me, all measures [that] are required, avoid those twin traps of talking too much and sharing too little reflection time.
- I will remember that there is art to learning as well as science, and that an emotional connection outweighs excessive outlay of content.
- I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the teaching skills of another are needed for someone to learn.
- I will prevent inaction whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to having to call a consultant in later.
- If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the job of teaching those who seek my wisdom.
- Emotions in Learning: Ok, but how do I do that?A few months ago, I presented to nonprofit colleagues about learning and the power of emotions. One said, “Okay, I get it. Emotions are important in learning. But how do we do that? It seems weird to overly emote in the middle of a training?” True. Don’t start howling in the middle of a training. Let’s think of it in a larger frame: How do we engage emotions in moving people to action? What role do emotions play as they form habits, change behavior, and bring learning into the life of their organizations? Here’s how, I say. We consider what we teach and how we teach. (Teacher folks call this curriculum and instruction; workshop presenters think in terms of content and presentation style. What and how.) WHAT WE TEACH Delivering an effective workshop starts with an understanding of the audience: who is sitting in those seats, what is their reality, and how do they feel about what you are trying to teach them. Adults come to learning with a lot more emotion than children do. They have developed a fear of math, a sense of overwhelm when it comes to sorting out complex human challenges (like nonprofit boards), or a feeling of powerlessness when talking about the law and compliance issues. They have a long memory about someone who did something, or of something they tried to no avail. Nonprofit folks also have deeply rooted commitment to fixing problems based on life experiences, whether positive or negative. They exude a passion for their mission, a heartfelt love of the work that sustains them through the work of raising money or volunteering long hours. Emotions both drive and discourage people from taking action. Emotions are really important to honor and harness in adult learning. That is why the design teams I led working on nonprofit board, finance, and law toolkits began with an understanding of the emotions that people bring to these topics. Here are some examples of how emotion was incorporated into these kits:
People tend to feel… fear overwhelm powerlessness When talking about . finance (yikes, money!) boards law and compliance To honor this feeling, I… Make them laugh; Use familiar language (i.e. family budgets) Use language that simplifies; Avoid the word should Use language of empowerment People tend to feel… When talking about . I can honor this feeling by
- We draw out their why. Simon Sinek explains the power of starting with why on his viral TED talk. Why grabs people by the heart, and it is the heart that motivates us to action.
- We demonstrate that we know where they are coming from. We show that we have been “in the trenches” ourselves, we do advance research, lead “right-off-the-bat” conversations that get them talking, and name and discuss the emotion that they are bringing to the topic today. We become an ally.
- We give hope. Often in the form of case studies or stories, we create the space where participants feel hope that they will do better because they came today. They see that others have done it, and they can do it too. They build confidence by seeing concrete, doable steps forward.
- We honor and celebrate diversity. There is a full range of diversity factors in any workshop, from demographic diversity to professional experience to the life cycle of the organizations represented in the room. It is impossible to present one workshop that satisfies the needs of all. One way to come closer to satisfying them, however, is to acknowledge the diversity and give permission for people to start from where they are. We invite connections between people that create space for mentoring or coaching.
- How to move people to actionA well designed conference is awesome, in the original sense of the word. It inspires Aim for Action to provide a structure for people to turn their ideas and into action. It calls us to understand and plan for our environment, identify four kinds of barriers, build a team, and integrate reflection into our lives. The stories of the conference participants put these elements into a rich context and gave perspective in ways that I deeply appreciate. I continue to think about environment, team, and reflection in particular.Awesome can also be overwhelming. Through the morning, participants peppered speakers and each other about action. How do you take action on these huge ideas? What’s our first step towards action? Action became an echo because of an overriding impatience with talking towards no result. I shared
- The environment related to poverty, race, and charity is one of the hardest in which to make progress. Some participants raised the issue, for example, of Walmart’s low wages driving workers to government assistance (SNAP, etc.) while being the leading receiver of SNAP dollars spent in stores, and also being a leading contributor to Feeding America, a hunger relief organization that in turn supplies food banks (reportedly used by Walmart workers). Deconstructing the vast and complicated food system requires a constellation of courageous individuals taking focused actions coordinated towards a larger goal. That goal isn’t just to understand and plan for the environment but to fundamentally change it.
- Keynote speaker Malik Yakini invited us to create study groups to unpack racism. Indeed, a team holds us accountable and gives support. The team he is calling us to create is one of racially diverse voices able to provide perspective beyond accountability and support. It is a team in which we are held accountable to the goal and the means by which we get there.
- Reflection is vital for groups like those gathered at this conference. As Brazilian educator Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of Hope: “Through the process of reflection, individuals may become conscious of the realities other than the one into which they were socialized.” He taught us that we need time to discover the stories that deceive us. These include stories where more is better, even though we celebrate success when fewer people need the services of a food bank and fewer pounds of prepared foods are delivered distant miles. These include stories in which all gifts are appreciated, even though charity often undermines local solutions.
- Strategic Learning: Don’t leave action to chanceWe offer learning events to provide opportunities for people to get what they need to be more effective. Sometimes this goal is achieved, but often the transfer of learning into action is left to chance. A learning strategy connects the change that we are trying to make in the world — our larger organizational strategy — with activities most appropriate for the people we are focused on. It challenges us to think before and after about what will be different because of our learning activities. It creates a system that sustains action over time. In many ways that system is like a constellation. It connects the bright shiny objects we see — workshops, conferences, and webinars — to each other and to us. It also draws attention to the dark space around the luminous stars, quiet times in which we reflect and connect with peers. (The Incas saw life within these “dark constellations.”) It takes this full system of light and dark to create the shapes that generations recognize in the night sky. Likewise, it takes learning events and an intentional structure of support and reflection to move big ideas into action. This graphic is designed for associations and others thinking about how to create a learning strategy. It can also be downloaded as a pdf here.
- Reflections on a GraduationMy daughter graduates from high school this week. Nearly 18 years anticipating what she will become, and now she is. It seems like just yesterday that we sat at the dining room table, me sewing on my machine surrounded by shapes of fabric, she leaning over her textbook swearing that geometry had no practical use in real life. Much of a child’s education is focused on amassing knowledge for a future that is impractically elusive. In many ways it is like the other class about which we argued its practicality, physics. Our kids gather potential energy to one day to shift into the kinetic energy of doing something bold and important. That day always seemed far in the distance. Being a parent during a child’s graduation year is like observing the water’s edge as the tide recedes. First one spit of water, then a second, a hermit crab pokes out of a hole, and then the whole beach quivers with movement. Within a year, our transition started with a college application, then drivers ed, soon moving out, voting, and getting a first job. A new anticipation sets in as we see our child’s learning turn into practiced, practical action.
- 3 Ways to Break the Nonprofit Scarcity Trap (Part 2)It is not hard to slip into a scarcity mindset this time of year. The world can seem flat when we get tired. (Luckily Memorial Day Weekend is right around the corner!) Which brings us to Part 2 of our conversation about the scarcity trap. I wrote last week about the research on how poor people make decisions. I imagined how this research could inform how we work with small, underfunded nonprofits. Specifically, what if we could take what we know about tunneling, slack, and bandwidth in poor people and use it to set small nonprofits up for success.
- AUTOMATE GOOD DECISIONS
- SAVE TIME
- REDUCE BANDWIDTH
- Scarcity and What We Can Do About It (Part 1)We talk a lot about the scarcity mindset in nonprofits. It is that belief that nonprofits let limitations define them. They don’t have money, time, energy, knowledge, you name it. It is a wonder that they get anything done. We try to administer the antidote to the scarcity mindset: a mindset centered on abundance and gratitude. We offer webinars, workshops, keynote speeches, and blog posts on ways to defeat the scarcity scourge. But we don’t systematically bring research about scarcity into our work making nonprofits strong. We don’t draw on behavioral economics and psychology in constructing programs designed to change the ecosystem in which they work. We celebrate nonprofits for their vital role in community and society, but we leave the science of scarcity to global NGOs and domestic poverty fighters. We don’t connect what we know about poor individuals and their behavior to poor organizations and the decisions they make. Imagine if we did. What if we took what the best minds teach us about human behavior and applied it to the people doing really important work. What if we took the practices that nonprofits are using with the poor and used them on the nonprofits themselves. From Scarcity Mindset to Scarcity Trap As much as people talk about nonprofits having a scarcity mindset, in reality most of them exist within a scarcity trap. A scarcity mindset is a way of thinking. But when thoughts lead to actions repeated over and over—and many minds repeat similar actions across a community—a scarcity trap takes shape. A self-defeating behavior increasingly narrows options to break free. The word “trap” conjures up the image of a mechanism that snaps shut and holds its victim fest. Sure—you can change your way of thinking and break free. But it is hard when outside forces keep you in place.
When you’re really desperate for something, you can focus on it so obsessively there’s no room for anything else. The time-starved spend much of their mental energy juggling time. People with little money worry constantly about making ends meet.
Scarcity takes a huge toll. It robs people of insight. And it helps to explain why, when we’re in a hole, we sometimes dig ourselves even deeper.
Hidden Brain’s Shankar Vendantam introducing The Scarcity Trap: Why We Keep Digging When We’re Stuck In A Hole by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar ShafirThe scarcity being discussed here involves poor people. But they might as well be describing the people I work with—the leaders and volunteers of small nonprofits, desperate for funding, starved of time, and worried about making ends meet. Their success is limited—or at least they perceive it to be limited—by the resources they have around them. 3 Characteristics of Scarcity Traps Mullainathan and Shafir describe three characteristics of scarcity traps:
- Tunneling: Individuals have limited focus on the current challenge or problem. They show an inability to see broadly and into the distance. They see what is right in front of them.
- Slack: Individuals have little to no margin for change or recovery. They lack time to accommodate shifts in schedules or new opportunities.
- Bandwidth: Individuals can only handle so much brain effort. They experience a reduced ability to process information.
- What about the situation in which they work contributes to their underperformance?
- How will we change our behavior to reduce their perception of scarcity?
- How can we design programs that respond to tunneling, that put information right in front of them when they need it?
- How can we design programs that recognize the real limits on their time?
- How can we reduce the bandwidth taken up by tasks outside of their core interest?
- A Nonprofiters View of the WorldI’ve been spending a lot of time with nonprofits in Central Washington. I was recently asked what is most on their minds… and then The New Yorker arrived. Thinking about their view of the world is helping me think about what kind of programs would connect those isolated fields and reduce the height of those mountains (at least in their minds). I’ll write more about that next week. Inspired by the wonderful nonprofits of Kittitas and Yakima Valleys… and Saul Sternberg’s New Yorker’s View of the World.
- Press 1 for ActionPress 1 to pledge calling your congressperson next week. Press 2 to invite a friend to attend a local meeting with you. Those are your choices. Twenty minutes of stories from the field have primed you to care and want to act. Something has to change. You press one of these numbers to commit to doing something within the next week. Since the inauguration, I have attended a few MoveOn meetings and nationwide action calls. Wearing my nonprofit hat, I have found it interesting how MoveOn (an established voter engagement organization) and Indivisible (a new movement that arose out of the publication of the Indivisible Guide) have jostled and found their unique brand and purpose within the social change marketplace. Wearing my educator hat, I have to say “Hat’s Off!” to both for showing us how to move people to action. Some lessons from the Resistance: Emotions drive people to act. Each call starts with stories from people doing some pretty heavy lifting in communities across the country. We have heard from Latino community organizers, women’s movement marchers, and first time leaders from both red and blue states. I carry with me the story of one woman—seemingly older from her voice, seemingly working class from her language, calling from West Virginia where she finds herself the only progressive among a sea of Trump supporters. She asked for any help that MoveOn could provide to sustain and connect her. Immediately following, we were asked to press 1 to pledge to call our congressperson, or 2 to invite a friend into the movement. Information allows people to act. Within five minutes, a MoveOn representative answered her plea. There were several activist chapters in the area, and she gave a website on how to find them. When people get stuck, it is often because they don’t have information. They know they need to connect, but in this sea of data and desert of trust, how would this woman find the right people? The organization asking her to take action took action and gave her what she needed. A simply-written manual guides people to act. The Indivisible Guide has become the go-to manual for the progressive movement. Its crisp directives make it easy for any new activist to step in and do something for the first time. Its availability in multiple formats and in Spanish make it accessible to people who don’t live and breathe activism. It gives us easy to follow steps that the target audience –everyday citizens— can follow. A simple choice moves people to act. We were given 2 choices. Bam. None of this 33 ways to engage, 27 opportunities to learn, 10 things you should know. Two. We know from research that the human brain can only handle up to 4 things at a time. Folks who study choice and decision-making tell us that someone is more likely to choose if the number of choices before them doesn’t lead them to paralysis. Parents know that our kids will get dinner faster if we offer pasta or tacos, not instruct them to open the refrigerator and stare into the abyss. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to move people to do things differently. The resistance is succeeding to moving a whole lot of people to do things that they weren’t doing in October. Press 1 to commit to finding one story that would move a key person in your work to action. Press 2 to create information that help that person take one action.
- A Beginner’s MindWe ran a training last March on human centered development. One of the trainers told us that developing a beginner’s mind allowed us to process information and imagine new solutions. As you may recall, a beginner’s mind is that terrified, curious, excited brain that we experience when doing something we have never done before. It is the brain that our kids often have when we push them into dance class or that community play. It is the brain that adults exercise less often as we stick to the hobbies or tasks that we have done for years. I was thinking about adopting a beginner’s mind last night at pottery class. I had never potted in my life—not even casual clay play—until a friend invited me to join her at a class she loves. I’m pretty crafty with fabric, paint, or a glue gun, but clay has not been a medium I have dug in to. There I was on the wheel with balls of dark brown ready to spin—and spin out of control—when I realized I was having an out-of-body experience thinking about my teaching in terms of my own learning.
- Sense of humor
- “For Small Nonprofits” PodcastIn October 2016, I had the tremendous privilege to be interviewed by one of my favorite podcast producers: Erik Hanberg of the “For Small Nonprofits” podcast. Take a listen if you want to learn more about what resources we have designed for small nonprofits and why. http://forsmallnonprofits.com/2016/10/26/nancy-bacon-free-resources-nonprofits-episode-015/
- The Inseparability of Reflection and Action
“We find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed—even in part—the other immediately suffers.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the OppressedSometimes you give people time to think about something, and things get a lot deeper than you were planning on. You stop for reflection, and they dig into something so deep that even they seemed surprised. As much as you might prepare, you can’t anticipate when this is going to happen. And when it does happen, it is very cool. In a session on turning learning into action, I asked people to think about a time that they had reflected on something. What was that like. They thought silently for a minute then shared with a neighbor. One woman had journaled about a newspaper headline and ended up writing a book. Several women talked about the reflection that comes from loss, driving them to start a statewide advocacy group or make serious life changes. Across the board, people recounted experiences that showed how a time of reflection yielded a time of change.
“Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.” – Paulo FreireSilence was not an option for the author driven to write a book. She said that she couldn’t stop herself once the idea took hold. She described the fear that comes from taking on a project that involves new skills showcased in a public way, and yet that fear wasn’t enough to deter her. The resulting book is the only documentation of a local asylum that defined that era of mental health services. Reflection and action are inseparable. Each is needed to keep the other on track, and yet too often we rush to action because so much needs to get done. What if we stopped– and those supporting us funded us to stop– so that we could reflect alone, with colleagues, and our community?
- How Are You Feeling?We have a thing in the U.S. about talking about emotions. We are taught that we aren’t supposed to think a lot about how we our feeling because our emotions might cloud our objectivity. We may get distracted from the business at hand. So we don’t talk about how we are feeling in the hopes that we can move on. Ignoring all of that completely, I start our board trainings by asking what is holding people back from having a great board. I ask how they are feeling right now as it relates to their board service. “Overwhelmed, frustrated, scared,” they answer. Often someone tosses in “hopeful,” which is wonderful, but usually no more than one person in a crowd of 80. Curiously, the characteristics that we most read about related to boards and how their members should feel are quite different. “Resilient, agile, curious, confident.” These are descriptions of strength that lead us to think about the kind of leadership able to take an organization to the next level. The gap between how people are feeling and how we want them to feel matters because research tells us that emotions drive how we make decisions and take action. (Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide gives lots of interesting examples on how.) Emotions are not something to be tucked away but rather something to unpack, understand, and address. By cluing into emotions, we can design learning experiences that are more likely to take root. For example, what emotion do most people feel about the law? Anything legal seems to provoke a sense of powerlessness because it is complicated, risky if done wrong, and expensive if that error leads you to hire a lawyer. The opposite of powerlessness is power, which means that you have a full toolkit of knowledge, skills, tools, and even legal counsel accompanying you as you take action around following the law. Power over one’s law-related activities became our goal in developing “Let’s Go Legal,” a new tool for nonprofits in Washington to be legally compliant and protected. A set of short videos and kit materials deliver information, sample documents to help people take immediate action, and access to pro-bono legal help for more complicated cases. Just as I start each training getting a sense of how people feel about the topic at hand, I end the same way: how are you feeling as we finish our time together. As much as I care that they have learned something, I really care that they are feeling hopeful, encouraged, connected, or inspired as they leave. Happy people solve hard problems and come back for more learning another day.
- Time Bank – Nonprofit Style“But after a few weeks he noticed that he was spending an incredible amount [of time]. I’ll economise, he thought. He got up earlier, washed less thoroughly, drank his tea standing up, ran all the way to the office, and arrived far too early. Everywhere he saved a little bit of time. But on Sunday there was nothing left of all that he’d saved….
It occurred to him that there must be some government bureau, some kind of time bank where he could change at least part of his paltry seconds. After all they were genuine. He’d never heard of such an establishment but there would certainly be something of the kind in the directory under “T” or perhaps it was also called “Bank for Time”; he could easily look under “B”. Maybe he could also consider the letter “I” for he assumed it was an imperial institution; that would accord with its importance.”
– The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Rainier Maria RilkeImagine a time bank, an institution into which you can deposit little bits of time saved now to withdraw later when you need time. It’s the kind of bank that converts a whole lot of seconds into minutes, into hours, into days, into productive lumps of time that are “genuine.” This is the kind of institution imagined by Nikolaj Kusmitch, the “he” in the story above. Kusmitch is a Russian bureaucrat for whom time is very precious. He hoards time, saves time, and otherwise manages time in order to be able to live longer. But no matter how hard he tries, his Sunday accounting leaves him short. The “he” could just as well be a nonprofit board trying desperately to save time around the edges and yet meeting after meeting, month after month falling short to do all of those other things that would extend their capacity to do the purposeful, community-growing work that so many want them to do. This is where German literature and the education of nonprofit boards intersect. (No, I’m not talking about feeling trapped in a Kafkaesque bug’s body during an especially long board meeting.) Imagine if we gathered all of the seconds, minutes, and possibly hours that boards waste trying to figure out how minutes should be written, how to navigate roles and responsibilities in the absence of job descriptions, or where to find the standard operating policies that Google just doesn’t seem to have the algorithm for. We run factories, restaurants and schools through lean principles, why not boards? The result could be revolutionary. Dividends of time would accumulate for matters of true governance. We could withdraw hours to have the kind of “sense-making” conversations that never find time in a normal board meeting. We could dive into the policy decisions that hold us back and make sure policymakers understand the experiences of the people we serve. Imagine the kind of thoughtful plans we would devise. Everything boards are told they should do, they could do. And that time bank? If we were able to create such a thing, I would venture to say that it would be found under the letter “I” just as Nikolaj speculated. That would accord with its… Influence… to change the actions and habits of the good people volunteering their time to make something important happen.
- 3 Thoughts on Human-Centered DesignHuman-centered design has taken center stage. It is the theme for this year’s Washington State Nonprofit Conference. It comes up regularly now in conversation about human service program design and how to engage previously not reached populations in our programs. It has jumped from designing products to delivering programs. A movement is underfoot, and I am just catching up. What is human-centered design? What have I been missing?
“Human-centered design … starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.” – http://www.designkit.org/human-centered-designIt sounds like good teaching. Human-centered design sounds like what teachers have known for a long time—that educating students is most effective when the content is delivered in a shape and form that most resonates with the learner. Kids who feel ownership of the process are more likely to invest in their own success. People working in international development have experienced that the only way to solve hard social problems is for the people living within the problem to be a fundamental driver in moving forward a solution. We can take lessons from education and global poverty alleviation to better understand human-centered design. Teams help us to get there. A human-centered design expert explained that the secret sauce is the team of people at the table. That team blends a mix of talent that cuts across all of the elements of the work: content experts, social workers, data managers, educators, etc. We experienced the power of such a team in creating two tools for nonprofit board learning (Finance Unlocked and Boards in Gear). In both, a content expert, communication expert, and adult educator developed resources that reflect must-know content paired equally with effective language and delivery. Our understanding of local culture, social realities, predominant emotions and other “human-centered” topics provided the foundation to our solution. Empathy makes human-centered design inevitable. Lastly, I am struck by the reference to “deep empathy.” “Deep empathy” lies at the heart of why we press for global education in which our children build a deep and personal connection to communities living lives very different from ours. It is what challenges us in building authentic relationships with neighbors down the street. “Deep empathy” has the potential to drive powerful change as we shape solutions that place at the center the people we have accompanied, admired, become challenged by, and otherwise created a personal connection with. If we can invest in ways to drill down into the kind of empathy that stewards compassionate, respectful, and inclusive action, society will be better for it.
- Learning is more fun with a buddyOur workshop participants won’t learn most of what they need to know from us. Hard to imagine, but it is true. The prevailing wisdom of 70/20/10 — 70% is learned on the job, 20% in interactions with others, and 10% in classrooms– rings true as I check back with people who were fired up to change their practice just one month ago. As one wrote yesterday, “Thank you for keeping us on track… so sorry I seemed to have dropped the ball.” How do we help them hold on to the ball? How do we grab some of that 20% of learning that comes from peer engagement? One thought is to create learning buddies when we have them. Give them a way to exchange contact information with someone in the room and commit to meeting within 30 days. What will they talk about? How about:
- What is your goal?
- What progress have you made?
- What more do you need to do, get, or find to achieve your goal?
- Chunk, the Superhero of LearningI recently presented at a conference with someone who has lived and breathed grantwriting for a long time. We were working over our presentation, and I found myself in the same conversation I often find myself in with experts in the field. “They need to understand this. And this. And this. And this. And this.” The thises go on and on, and I get lulled as one does when Ferris Bueller’s teacher states his absent student’s name over and over and over in a monotone voice. Chunk to the rescue. “Bottom line: What five things do we need people to know to be better grantwriters?” There are countless things that these newcomers to grantwriting could and possibly should know. But if we are going to move them forward, we are going to need to prioritize and simplify. Our message is better heard and internalized when we amplify these five bottom line nuggets and modulate our voice around information that pushes more experienced practitioners in their practice. In education-ese, that’s scaffolding: “Using a variety of instructional techniques to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process.” Imagine a room full of people walking up ladders with five rungs, each one placed at just the right height to move them comfortably upward. As I have shared Chunk Flip Guide Laugh with people thinking about how to better teach adults, Chunk has emerged as the superhero of learning. “Your chunking approach had me rethink the book I am writing…. I came back on a mission to make sure every chapter zeros in on 3 to 5 ideas.” Simplicity can be revolutionary. Let the chunking begin.
- Action Objectives Are More ActiveA good lesson begins with learning objectives, we are told. We create and then communicate what we intend our students to learn by the end of our time together. Learning is great, but action is better. Teachers, imagine how our teaching shifts when we articulate the actions our students will take because of our lesson. Those creating teachable moments within your office or board meeting, imagine how the engagement of others changes when we envision what our staff or board members will do because of the information you share. I hesitate to say “will take” or “will do” as opposed to “be able to take or do” because there is, of course, no certainly that they will take or do them. But let’s post that flag on the hill and aim for it. Their success matters. The action objectives I set for our board trainings is that the board members who attend will implement job descriptions, schedule an orientation for new members, and train those who need it on how read a balance sheet. I know that not all will take these actions, but I have heard from many of them that they do. We give them the awareness of why these things matter, word doc templates to adapt as they need, and short videos that make a lesson on balance sheets easy. We make it simple to take the next step. By stating our objectives in term of action, we have more skin in the game to move them along the engagement cycle from know to understand to engage. We commit to giving them the tools they’ll need to succeed; we commit to staying with them as inevitable questions arise while they put lesson learned to work. Ultimately we need those sitting in our workshops to do things differently. Our funding partners expect it too. Setting action objectives raises the bar on us so that we can more reasonably expect more from them. Ready, set, action!
- The start of something newWe often don’t think about why we do what we do until well after we have done it. Such was the case with Chunk, Flip, Guide, Laugh, an educational approach that I have subconsciously been developing over the past 15 years without an intentional focus on the purpose behind it. It took a colleague’s request that I share my thoughts with others for me to take the time and write them down. In reflection, Chunk, Flip, Guide, Laugh resulted from a chunking process on the plane ride out to that talk. It was the end of the training season, and I was tired. I hadn’t packed any supporting materials and had no intention of doing a powerpoint. I asked myself: Bottom line, what do they need to know about my approach to education? Chunk became a part of my professional vocabulary after a graduate school leadership professor spent a quarter talking about how we needed to “chunk the work.” Flip is commonly associated with the “flipped classroom” and Khan academy. Guide and Laugh flowed naturally from our work with rubrics (which we call “pathways” as a friendlier word) and humor to break up such serious subjects. The notes I scribbled on that plane ride became the basis for more thinking on how we teach so adults can learn.