Why I Write

After my post about my mixed thoughts on both traditional and self-publishing, I have continued to think about the purpose of what I do and yesterday, I had a big thought.

When I wrote Mob Rule Learning, I did so because the topic is important to me. I believe strongly in the power of a group to do amazing, revolutionary things. Our country was created by a group of passionate people who came together and made something new, a mob passionate for freedom.

I wrote that book because the idea has power. When people tell me they like Mob Rule Learning, I smile and am happy knowing that they understand the power of people too. I thought if anyone ever read my fiction and liked it, I would have the same kind of happiness. It is the happiness like-minded people find in a good conversation.

I think I vastly underestimated my own feelings about fiction and how that would tie into my feelings about my writing.

Something happens to me when I read fiction that does not happen when I read non-fiction. Every once in awhile you read one of those books. You know the ones. The ones where you fall down the rabbit hole and you never want out. The ones where you are afraid to get to the end because you will miss the characters. The ones that make your heart beat faster. The books that make you fall in love and you want to read over and over and over. The ones you stay up all night reading and then have troubling going to sleep because the whole thing is there in your head.

Those books.

Perhaps some of you feel that way about non-fiction, but for me, it is fiction.

One day, I want someone to fall down the rabbit hole into a world I made. I want them to fall in love with the characters from my head. I want to give that to someone. Even if this only ever happens once and even if I never know, that is the reason I write fiction.

It is not the only reason. The characters in my head never leave me alone until I write them down and I am a much happier person when I have a little time to write, but those are not the secret-wish-in-my-heart reason.

I want to give back to the world once what I have been given many, many times over. I am, after all, just a bibliophile.

–Jane, always reading



Creating Value Statements in 60 Minutes or Less

In February, I helped the women’s ministry at my church come up with value statements to go with our new mission and vision statements. I had less than 60 minutes to get a room full of opinionated women to agree to seven or less short statements of value. Here is how I did it.

Before you start planning, I suggest you watch the Digital Strategist’s videos on Mission, Vision, and Value statements. She has an excellent way of explaining the purpose of each and simple ways to craft them. They are very short.

For this exercise, you will need:

  • Post-its, regular size, one stack for each participant
  • one flip chart post it
  • pens for everyone
  • a room of passionate people
  • a good facilitator
  • one hour

The women in the room had already discussed the new mission and vision statements so they were familiar with them and had already bought into them as a group. How we created group buy-in is another topic for another post, but your group needs to believe in what they do for this to work. The individuals do not need to be the same (personality, training, etc.) just passionate about what your group is doing.

I began by explaining that value statements tell others what you believe in and hold to be true. They do not express individual beliefs. They are not one word, but a phrase or statement. They are designed to bring our actions into alignment with the words of our mission and vision statements. This explanation and question time took less than 10 minutes.

On one of the large post it pages, I wrote the following question and posted it for the room to see: What are the guiding principles that dictate how we treat each other and how we treat our women? (or others?)

Each woman was asked to answer that question on their sticky notes. One answer per note. They had to write at least one and could write as many as they wanted. They created a pile in front of them or kept their notes in a stack. I gave them 10 minutes to do this.

While they were writing, I posted six flip chart post-its in a cluster.

When they were done, I instructed them to come and place their sticky notes on one of the six flip chart pages and to cluster their own that were similar together. After everyone had posted their notes, the group was then instructed to arrange the statements into categories. Things that fell outside of the six groups could be placed off to the side.

The area in front of the emerging categories was crowded, so we did it in groups. Half the ladies went and then after a few minutes, I made them rotate. I did that a couple times to let the groups rearrange and move things. They could make no more than seven category groupings. They had 10-15 minutes to do this.

If you are keeping track, we are about 30-35 minutes through the process.

Everyone then sat down. Our group had four distinct groups and only a few outlying sticky notes. We focused on the four groups and for each one I asked: How would you describe these statements with only a few words. What word ties them all together?

I labeled each groups with the words they chose. This took less than 5 minutes.

Next, I pointed to the first category and asked them to make a phrase with those words (the labels they had created). I warned them that this was not word smithing, but more like brainstorming. On the flip chart, I wrote what they said. The group came up with three or four statements for each category and I helped them reduce it to a single short statement. We did that for each of our four categories. This took us about 15 minutes, but allow for at least 20 when planning in the event your group creates more categories.

We had enough time to create final value statements so we did word smith a tiny bit.

Viola! That is it.

Bonus: If you have time, do something fun at the end. Ask them to write on a sticky note what they loved most about the day, exercise, retreat and post them on the wall for others to read. We were behind schedule that day, so I actually had less than 60 minutes for my section and we did not get to the extra fun stuff.

You can see my original notes here.

This works because the power of a group is huge when they are all passionate about something and you push them to think big.

If you are curious, and I know you are, the values my women’s ministry crafted that day are: We pursue and love others. We are growing in Christ and reflecting God’s love to others. We encourage one another with love, grace, and mercy. We strive towards being transparent and humble.

Is there something different you have done to make mission, vision, and value statements more collaborative?

–Jane, loves a motivated crowd


Backward is Forward

Dr. McDaniel teaches history at Rice University, which is just a few miles down the road from where I live in the south suburbs of Houston. This semester he is teaching a survey course in American History (I can see some of you are already falling asleep. Wake up!), but he does not want this to be a traditional survey course. Dr. McDaniel is going to teach this survey course starting in the present and going backwards into the past.

This is not an entirely new concept, as McDaniel points out in a very well reasoned argument about why a survey in history especially benefits from starting at the end. While the idea itself is compelling, it is the methodology of the course he envisions that strikes my imagination.

Dr. McDaniel wants the course to be question driven. Questioning the material and facts is a level of learning that students never achieve simply listening to lectures. It forces students to understand what they are learning and create new avenues of thought based on those new facts.

Students will read and review primary sources and then investigate some aspect of that source, an unfamiliar name or event mentioned in the source, for example. Based on their investigation, the students will then create a list of questions.

In class, the questions and issues the students have generated will be discussed as a group. The class, as a group, decides the top questions they wish to explore further. On the next class day, Dr. McDaniel will give a lecture that addresses the questions the class has identified as the most important.

This backwards, participatory approach not only forces the students to be engaged in their own learning process, it gives them the ability to control the direction of the class. It is mob rule learning at its finest.

As Dr. McDaniel points out, this process will also develop information literacy in his students. He says,

“Focusing my efforts on “historical thinking” will, I hope, better prepare students to critically analyze the history and pseudo-history they will encounter throughout their lives, whether at the movies, on cable news, or in written form.”

Dr. McDaniel has developed a course that teaches students how to navigate and evaluate information they will encounter in the real world, not just memorize facts on a timeline. I hope Dr. McDaniel updates us on the progress of his class over the semester and at its conclusion. His new approach has all the hallmarks of a course in which the students will be engaged and aggressively seeking a new understanding of their world. Bravo, I say, bravo!

–Jane, thanks to my friend Andromeda for sending this my way

Remove the Managers

When discussing using mob rule or crowdsourcing within organizations for staff training, strategic directions, or problem solving, there is one challenge that arises often. During my session at Internet Librarian, it came up again.

These ideas are great, but people in my organization say they can’t talk freely in front of management. How do we use these ideas in this environment?

The answer is simple: Remove the managers from the room.

Crowdsourcing works best when everyone can be given equal footing. When you have a situation where people can not leave the organizational chart at the door, for whatever reason, you need to do what you can to remove those structures.

In order for a mob top solve a problem well, they have to be able to share, to offer solutions, and criticism free of the things within your organization that have thus far prevented you from finding the solution through traditional means.

Remove the managers from the room, but put a great facilitator in there with the rest of the mob. The facilitator can be internal, but it should be someone who will be able to keep the group focused and be able to report back to management with some kind of reliable authority.

Reliable authority means that the mob trusts that their words and ideas will be conveyed truthfully and someone management trusts to keep the mob from burning down the organization entirely.

If you are using mob rule for something which requires input from management, then have management engage in their own mob discussion. Add the two parts together and see where the junctions lead. At the least, the junctions can serve as great starting points when you do get the mob back in the room with their managers.

–Jane, a reliable authority

Humans vs. Zombies, an Internet Librarian Presentation

Come see me in the flesh Monday at 1:15 in the DeAnza 1&2 in the Portola.
Added: Grab the Handout. View the slides.

The track I am in for Internet Librarian, Track D: Library Issues and Challenges, is a special one where the speakers are encouraged not to talk much and to let the participants do most of the talking. Meaning: It is my kind of presentation. Because I will be speaking for less than 10 minutes and have only 5 slides of a PPT, I wanted to write a post on the content of my talk instead of posting just the slides online which would be meaningless without context. The slides can be found here.

The title of the session is Engaging and Inspiring Staff. I am speaking with Lisa Hardy, who is going to give some real world examples after I talk about the big picture. My segment is called Human vs. Zombies: Organized Survivors vs. Mindless Horde.

When you are only speaking for a handful of minutes, you really only have time for one main idea. My main concept is crowdsourcing only works when you give people a purpose.

Crowdsourcing without a purpose is like unleashing zombies on the human race. Things will get done, but it is going to be very, very messy.

Using crowdsourcing methodology is a fabulous way to engage and inspire staff because it forces them to participate in the process from start to finish. Once people start investing time and resources into something, their heart will eventually follow.

You should want your people to have heart in what they do for the organization. People who have heart give more, believe stronger, and work harder. They give because their heart compels them to do so. Not only that, but people who have a heart in your organization will then tell other people why your organization is so great.

Crowdsourcing can be done many ways. I have a handy hand out that I am giving to the participants and that you can download here (link is to a Google Doc). It is similar, very similar to the one I used at Computers in Libraries last spring. The handout includes some quick and dirty facilitation style and pointers. I do not discuss the handout in the presentation. It is just a resource.

But how do you organize your mob? How do you take a bedraggled group of humans and outfit them to face the future, even if the future is a teeming mass of zombies?

To give your mob, your humans, the means to organize, to create, and to find their heart in your organization, you need to do three things.

Give them a goal. Without a goal, your people are the zombie horde. The have one things on their mind and that is a selfish thirst for brains (or whatever it is that suits their fancy). Crowdsourcing only works if you give the crowd a goal so they can then work together towards the same goal as a team. It is possible to let the crowd define the goal, but they still need an overarching purpose.

For instance, do not just throw people in a room and say, “Get to it!” Put them in a room and ask them to come up with a product: a new slogan, a new service with a plan to execute the service, a strategic direction, a marketing plan to increase business, a charitable campaign, or an organizational restructuring. They can do anything, accomplish anything. Just point them in the right direction and let them go. You will be amazed at where they take you.

Let the crowd choose their weapons. This seems obvious, but it is one of the worst abused within organizations with robust bureaucracies. Often, more often than not, crowds contained within an organizational structure are asked to perform a task, but are then also told what tools to use and how to complete the task. This cripples your mob of survivors before they have even ventured forth.

Give your crowd the direction and then let them choose the method. They may want to work asynchronously or synchronously on Google Docs. They may want to create a facebook group. They might prefer video chat. They might * shudder * want to use a word doc that they save and forward around on email. Let them work their way. Give them resources so that they are able to choose the tools they want and then step away. Let them know you have faith in their choices and then follow through on that statement by leaving them alone to work.

Celebrate their successes and failures alike. We are wonderful at pointing out successes, but we have to celebrate our mistakes, even the crash and burn ones. Why? Because we learn from our mistakes and we get better. Give high fives for every zombie kill, but learn from the near misses and improve your swing. Do not be afraid to get dirty. Killing zombies is hard work.

After a very condensed version of the above motivational speech, Lisa is going to take over with some examples of things they have done at her library. Then, we will get to the really fun part. The attendees will form groups and talk about things they can do in their own organization to motivate staff. They will come to a consensus about the best ideas from their group and then share them with the room.

At the end we are going to give away some copies of my book, Mob Rule Learning, for people who can answer some of my nerd trivia.

–Jane, do you have a plan for the zombie apocalypse?

Original link to the Zombie pic can be found here.

Going from Talking Head to Mob Rule, Engineering Edition

Readers, you know I love engineers. I married one, so I know how they love equations, following directions, taking things apart, and the process of things. It makes me completely batty, but I get it. I have now spent almost half my life working around the idiosyncratic ways of Mr. Rochester.

I received an email from a lovely gentleman engineer who will be chairing an engineering conference next year. He wants to shake things up a bit and add some unconference elements to his gathering. He told me they used to do what they called rap sessions, it sounded like birds of a feather to me, but the sessions have evolved into a panel of experts, which he wants to move away from. He also said there was a lot of time where people were just sitting around.

My first thought was, “Bless their hearts. They mean well.” (I am a southern girl, in case any of you have forgotten.) I wrote him a long email, with some decent advice I thought others might find helpful.

If you are facing an especially rigid group that you would like to shake up, here are some ideas from the email I sent:

For groups that have an especially hard time with change or unscheduled elements, planning an unconference type event works best at the beginning of the conference. You can use the session, whatever it is, as a type of ice breaker to get people interacting and engaging before the more structured sessions. If you give people an opportunity to start talking early, chances are high they will keep doing so.

A Birds of a Feather discussion to kick off the conference might be good for your situation. If you want the rap sessions to go back to their roots, small table discussions not led by experts, either be very clear that the format is going retro or rename the session. The problem is getting people to break out of their mold. Clear directions up front will help.

You can also use lightening talks, if the experts still want to have their say. Each talking head gets 5-10 minutes MAX to talk, say 6 speakers in a row. Then the participants break up into small discussion groups of no more than 8 (a round table) and discuss some of the ideas. People can be free to leave groups and join new discussions as they please. This might be a little chaotic, so you might need to add in some structure.

You could also do an AMA (Ask me Anything) like on Reddit. The experts would be there, not to give a talk, but to just answer questions from the audience. There are a lot of techie and nontechie ways to td that, but again, it would give the experts their time while allowing the audience to run the show.

In terms of people sitting around at the tables doing nothing: Is there a way to spark conversation while they are there? Consider labeling the tables with topics and allow people to sit at table that interest them allowing the conversation occur organically.

Don’t be afraid to step out of the accepted way of doing things and do something adventurous!

–Jane, an adventurer

Teaching Without Technology

I was going to post this yesterday, but the internet went crazy after President Obama got on Reddit for an AMA and I decided to wait.

I have another post, the last in this series, over at the ITI Books Blog. I am talking about how to take the idea of mob rule into a classroom where little or no technology is available.

My Twitter feed was awash the past few days with school supply shopping, teachers gearing up, librarians preparing, and parents rejoicing. It is a time of educational renewal, when all things are still possible and we still have hope that this year will be The Year of Something Wonderful.

Unfortunately, many of our students will come the first day, admittedly tired, but hopeful to a classroom that neither reflects learning or the real world outside of the classroom.

Stop by and tell us your stories from the trenches.

–Jane, good luck to all teachers and students this year!

Crowdfunding and Libraries

I am over at the ITI Books Blog today talking about crowdfunding and libraries.

Budgets continue to be a major issue for most libraries. Lack of funding for programs, books, and staff has caused many libraries to make major cuts. As librarians, we know that the worse the economic times, the more people need the resources we offer. How do we bridge the funding gap?

Do you have a success story to share involving crowdfunding? Is there a project you would love to put into motion in your library but you just need some cash? Consider crowdfunding as an option.

–Jane, Happy Monday!

This Moment

This first year of motherhood is overwhelming, joyful, and stretches you beyond your limits. Eventually, the children learn to amuse themselves, though they still need you for many, many things. Once Bairn4 turned one, I started writing again. I wrote a book, Mob Rule Learning.

It was an interesting process, writing non-fiction. I found through the process that I preferred writing non-fiction in the length of articles and blog posts, not books. The process did give me the confidence to try something new and different.

Then Bairn1 came along and I was again in the throes of high maintenance motherhood. The youngest Rochesterling has achieved the ability to amuse himself and thus I have again been writing. All the free time I could squeeze out has been spent working on a new project.

I wrote a novel, a fantasy romance, that has been bouncing around in my head for a very long time. Unlike the non-fiction experience, it was exhilarating. I am now polishing up the manuscript for submission. That part of the process makes me freeze with anxiety and fear. I have determined that one step at a time is the best way to tackle the anxiety of the submission process.

I have begun, in the past year, to drop my ALA committments and disengage from libraryland. Oh, I still follow mostly librarians on Twitter, though they are starting to be outnumbered by editors, publishers, and writers. I will still be presenting at Internet Librarian in October. I loved being a librarian and I may be one again, some day, but my heart’s desire is to write more. Now that Bairn4 and Bairn1 are older, I can write more here, there, and everywhere.

Being at home means I can juggle writing in between quiet time, preschool, and PBS Kids. I am going to use this opportunity to see what I can do.

That is where I am at this moment. A once librarian (and maybe again some day) stay at home mom who wants to write stories with kissing in them.

–Jane, happy with her place

Getting Difficult People to Come Along: a crowdsource challenge

Last week, at Computers in Libraries, I facilitated a session in which the participants defined the direction of our 45 minutes together. It was fun for me and, I think, fun for them as well. After some brainstorming, multi-voting, hand-raising, and discussion, the topic that came to the forefront was “Getting Difficult People to Come Along.”

I asked the group of about 120 people, in 11 minutes, to tell me what worked in their organizations when faced with challenging people. The list they came up with is an absolutely fabulous one. Here is the list:

  • pay attention to learning styles~!
  • customize the experience
  • letting people be a part of the process
  • get them to say what is important to them and then empower them to make that change
  • honor the past
  • demonstrate how the new thing solves a problem for them
  • being resistant to change can be good, make them winners, they are the people that can spot problems when the runners are too far forward
  • acknowledge and honor that what people are doing is difficult and there are multiple ways to do everything
  • have personal conversations with staff that are challenges
  • institutional perceptions are not always reflective of the institution – tissue paper example
  • all staff took learning or personality style surveys and classes, then talked about the change and put in the job descriptions that change is happening
  • involving everyone (don’t panic and carry a towel)
  • made training fun and was an often a scheduled thing
  • asked people what they wanted to learn
  • talking to people outside of your department
  • same as managing children (haha because it is so true)
  • change is coming, give them time to adjust

To see the full list of topics, check out the presentation notes I took on the session entitled “Unleash the Power of Your People”.

–Jane, mob ruled