My Love Letter to Miles River

Dear Team,

The Wye River meeting was superb. It was a 9/10 without question — a remarkable score especially given the circumstances. It speaks to the muscles we’ve built as a team and to all of the hard work and passion and dedication over the last two and a half years. Everybody’s contributions rang loud and clear, including those who couldn’t be there with us, including those who came before us.

For the past two and a half years, Miles River has been scurrying ahead of Wye River, pausing to validate that we’re moving in the right direction, then scurrying ahead again. We’ve taken big risks, STP has made a huge investment in us, and we’ve made a huge investment in ourselves, preparing and hopeful for that moment when Wye and Miles would converge.

From the beginning, we talked about how the leaders would need to invest more time if they wanted to succeed, how an ED-only group didn’t make strategic sense, how the group needed to be more open and porous, and how enrollment is always a tremendous challenge, especially given the very real constraints that our leaders face. We talked about how Miles River needed to be a model, and we invested a considerable amount of time in our own container and practice.

We saw and spoke our truths, then we modeled and prepared. We put some stakes in the ground and created a space, and we invited the leaders to come in, to be their best selves, and to make the space their own. Every time we engaged with the leaders, they took what resonated and brought their own considerable wisdom and experience and muscles and hope and joy into the space. And now here we are. Wye and Miles River have converged. It’s truly all of our space now.

The “easy” part of our work is officially over, and the hard work has officially started. As you all saw these last few days, building shared understanding is enormously challenging work, and as the leaders said, we’ve just barely dug our tendrils below the surface. Now we’re moving into experiments, which is ultimately a culture shift strategy. Culture shift is freaking hard. We have committed to designing and facilitating a conversation that is ultimately about equity, power, taking a hard look at ourselves, and challenging each other compassionately. Freaking hard. On top of all of that, we’re trying to grow. We’ve done all of this hard and time-consuming work together over the past few years. What is it going to look like to bring in new people? How do we continue to deepen and grow (the theme of many of our leaders’ framing questions)? What will be the impact of our porosity and tender transparency?

Are you excited yet?!

If we’ve learned anything over the past two and half years, I hope it is this — all of this is hard, but it’s surmountable. It just takes intentionality and commitment and accountability and lots and lots of practice.

Did you all see Mirai Nagasu’s triple axel? Have you read her story? She’s from my hometown — go Arcadia! She’s 24 — a senior citizen in figure skating years. She missed the cut at the last Olympics, which is when she decided to start exploring the jump. She practiced that same jump 30 times a day, and it took her two years to master. 30 times a day, every day, for two years. All for one, split-second moment.

We didn’t get to this point by accident. We saw what needed to happen, and we worked at it. Now we see what we need to do next. Roll up our sleeves, get to work. We’re going to stumble _a lot_ along the way, but if we keep getting up, we’re going to make it. All of the things the leaders want to do are no harder than a triple axel, but they will have a much, much greater impact on the world. Imagine how it will feel to bust out that triple axel.

I feel so humbled to be part of this team and this journey with all of you. Thank you for everything you’ve all done. Looking forward to Chapter 2.

#design

Cleaning, Ta-Nehesi Coates, and Incremental vs Transformational Change

This past weekend, I decided to sort through and donate lots of books. I had no urgency around this. I wasn’t (intentionally) trying to make space for something else, and I’m not moving. I simply have a bunch of books that I haven’t touched in years and that I didn’t need taking up space.

I ended up donating eight bags of books, enough to clear an entire small bookshelf and a few shelves from a big one. Once I got over the sentimental pain of giving these books up (which is why I had so many in the first place), I felt really good — literally and metaphorically lighter.

I would felt this way about getting rid of any number of books, even if it were only one bag. I’ll find something to do with those empty shelves on my big bookcase. But the fact that I was able to clear an entire small bookshelf meant that I suddenly had a big gap in my kitchen. It inspired me to get rid of even more stuff, and my kitchen is cleaner and more organized than it’s been in years.

More importantly, seeing that space made me realize that I could get a dishwasher, something that I never thought I had enough space for and that will have a much larger impact on my every day life than an empty bookshelf. It spoke, in a visceral way, to the difference between incremental and transformational change and how, past a certain threshold, incremental change can lead to transformational change.

If your goal is transformation, you have to have some sense of what that incremental threshold is — if that threshold even exists.

While I was cleaning, I also listened to the October 2017 episode of The Ezra Klein Show with Ta-Nehisi Coates. I had to stop several times so I could re-listen and take notes. This interview embodies the kind of thinking that we’re trying to encourage our leaders to do this year, and I’d strongly encourage all of you to listen to it as well (especially the second half between 00:28:00 and 01:07:41).

In particular, it draws the distinction between incremental progress and transformation. Do you believe that “things getting better” race-wise will ultimately lead to the dismantling of white supremacy in the United States? Coates does not. He suggests that historically, it is dire external factors that lead to larger change (e.g. the fate of the union in the case of the Civil War, the specter of World War II and the Cold War leading to the Civil Rights movement, etc.), not the inevitable march toward moral progress.

Coates also offers his North Star — eliminating the 20-to-1 wealth gap between black and white families in this country.

This is the kind of precise, honest thinking that is critical for our leaders to start doing if they’re going to achieve the things they want to achieve. We are not simply building relationships and finding low-bar ways for our leaders to collaborate. That’s the low bar that STP has already cleared. We can do better on this (and will), but this alone will not lead to the transformational collaboration and change our leaders seek. We need to get much, much clearer and specific about what transformation actually looks like.

#design

We’re closing Free Your Mind…

We’re closing Free Your Mind and Try Again #trytry. This experiment was not completed, the first iteration draft was shared and everyone on the team gave feedback, although not everyone rated it for how compelling the first draft was.

Overall,l, Jodie will keep working on this piece of writing, connecting the dots between her other writing from the Jodie Jeopardy Experiments, #jodiejeopardy.

Jodie Jeopardy Dashboard

I pulled together a quick Google Spreadsheet to track and score the questions coming out of #jodiejeopardy. Here’s an overview of the dashboard:

I can imagine us doing something similar for Wye River as well.

Jodie Jeopardy Adjustments

Feedback from Alison on Slack:

I understand your metrics, but what will success be for this experiment versus failure? is the goal not to have repeat questions or is it that if there are repeaters that means it has more strategic importance? Also is the idea that the score differential would decrease over the week? Finally, I’d love to see the lists of questions, will those be kept in the data section?

I feel like our #Pulse call could look at one of these questions this week or in the future.

My response:

Yes, the idea is that the score differential would decrease over the week. I’ll update the experiment to clarify this. Jodie Jepoardy will definitely help us understand how to better assess strategic muscles.

Re: Repeaters. I’m not sure yet how to interpret repeat questions yet, so I’ll track, but no implied success metrics yet. One scenario is that repeated questions _and_ answers is a sign that this exercise is working, because the question is clearly occupying (and perhaps confusing or stressing out) @jodie’s mind, but she keeps coming back to the same answer. Another scenario is that the question keeps coming up, but Jodie keeps coming up with different, possibly diverging answers, which might be an indication that she’s working through possibilities or that she’s flip-flopping. Too soon to tell, so just want to observe and see.

We’ll track this exercise in our usual meeting log, so you’ll be able to follow Jodie’s questions and answers there. As I synthesize, I’ll make that available somewhere as well.

#jodiejeopardy

We had our second #pulse…

We had our second #pulse call today with Miles River. We tested our alignment around what we mean when we talk about porosity within the STP Network. In checkouts today and last week, there was agreement of improved alignment after the call.

M&M Week 7 Workout: April 10, 2017

This week, we’ll go back to the success spectrum, this time applying it to our shared work to the end of 2017 (as opposed to the individual project spectrums we all did in Week 5).

Remember what you learned from previous workouts: To get to a good spectrum, at some point, you have to shift away from just adding, and you have to start editing. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake, and don’t be afraid of editing other people’s work. If there are objections, that opens up opportunities for discussion. And if there are no objections, then you have made someone else’s work better — collaboration at work!

  1. Take one minute to pause and breathe deeply together in silence. (1min)
  2. Do a brief checkin with your partner. (3min)
  3. Warmup: Review Previous Work (10min)
    1. In our shared Google Doc, find your spectrums from Week 5, and take a few minutes to review. How did you do?
    2. Review your spectrums with your partner. Given your experiences, what would you have changed about your spectrums (if anything)? What makes a spectrum valuable?
  4. Workout: Success Spectrum (40min)
    1. Take a few minutes to imagine what our project would look like if it were successful in the timespan you both have chosen.
    2. Go to the Week 7 section in our shared Google Doc. Take five minutes to start capturing the different ranges of what success would look like — from minimum (i.e. must happen to call the project successful) to target (i.e. going for it, but probably won’t hit all of these) to epic (i.e. not going for it, but would be amazing if it happened).
    3. Take five minutes to capture what failure would look like. Review and adjust your minimum success column to make sure it’s consistent with your failure column.
    4. Compare your spectrums with your partner. Discuss what’s similar, what’s different, and how you’d resolve those differences. Now go to our actual success spectrum for 2017 and incorporate your shared work. This not only means adding to the spectrum, but deleting what’s no longer relevant. The shared spectrum should look cleaner after you’re both done than it was before. (20min)
  5. Quickly debrief the exercise:
    • How did the experience feel?
    • What did you learn?
  6. Checkout: Take a minute to share with your partner how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. (5min)
  7. Each of you should post one brief takeaway as a comment to this post. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive or incredibly detailed. I’d strongly encourage you to share your takeaway immediately after your workout. Make it a point to read (and respond to, if so moved) other people’s takeaways every week.

If you’d like to read the generic cards for the exercises above (which include design thoughts and variations), see:

#workout

M&M Week 6 Workout: March 27, 2017

This week, we’ll exercise our systems thinking muscles and will work on surfacing our respective theories of change about the STP work we’re all doing together.

  1. Take one minute to pause and breathe deeply together in silence. (1min)
  2. Do a brief checkin with your partner. (3min)
  3. Warmup: One-Minute Drill — Question Variation (15min)
    1. Take a minute to consider the following: What should be our highest priority goal in 2017 for the work we’re doing together for Wye River (and beyond)? You can pick one of the goals in our planning document, or you can come up with a different one.
    2. Decide who will share first.
    3. Take one minute to share your answer. Your partner should listen quietly and keep strict time. Unlike previous times we’ve done this exercise, I encourage you to take notes in the appropriate section of our shared Google Doc.
    4. Unlike previous exercises, we won’t repeat back yet. First, switch with your partner, so that your partner is answering the question, and you’re taking notes.
    5. Take five minutes to replace your notes in the Google Doc with a series of questions that represent partner’s answer. It should include questions that your partner asked (possibly reframed) and questions that your partner answered without asking. Make sure you delete your previous notes — only the questions should remain.
    6. Compare your notes with each other. Give each other a score between one to five based on how well you think the questions represent what you were trying to say, with five being a perfect reflection. Discuss and revise.
    7. Hold up between one to five fingers based on how well the person reflected back what you said, with five being a perfect reflection.
    8. Correct or improve your partner’s question synthesis. Don’t be afraid to nitpick — nuances are important.
    9. Quickly debrief the exercise. What did you notice? How did you feel? What did you learn?
  4. Workout: Five Whys (30min)
    1. Start with one person’s answer to the warmup question, and ask, “Why?” This is your first Why.
    2. For each of your partner’s answers, ask, “Why?” again. Repeat this until you’ve asked and your partner has answered, “Why?” a total of five times.
    3. Switch.
    4. Quickly debrief the exercise:
      • How did the experience feel?
      • What did you learn?
  5. Checkout: Take a minute to share with your partner how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. (5min)
  6. Each of you should post one brief takeaway as a comment to this post. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive or incredibly detailed. I’d strongly encourage you to share your takeaway immediately after your workout. Make it a point to read (and respond to, if so moved) other people’s takeaways every week.

This week’s homework:

#workout

M&M Week 5 Workout: March 20, 2017

Over the next four weeks, we’re going to take our warmed up synthesis muscles and start applying them toward strategy. We kick things off with an exercise you’re all already very familiar with — the success spectrum. In the workout itself, you’re going to be doing the spectrum for one of your own projects, but the homework will be about our collective spectrum for this project.

For this workout, think of a project you’re working on right now or are about to start. It could be related to the work we’re doing together at STP, but it doesn’t have to be.

Remember what you learned from the previous four workouts and our group checkin. To get to a good spectrum, at some point, you have to shift away from just adding, and you have to start editing. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake, and don’t be afraid of editing other people’s work. If there are objections, that opens up opportunities for discussion. And if there are no objections, then you have made someone else’s work better — collaboration at work!

  1. Take one minute to pause and breathe deeply together in silence. (1min)
  2. Do a brief checkin with your partner. (3min)
  3. Warmup: Question Brainstorm (10min)
    1. In our shared Google Doc, find your section, and take five minutes to write down all of the questions that come to mind about your project. This exercise is about quantity, not quality, so just write, don’t edit.
    2. Take a minute to cluster your questions.
    3. Rewrite your Yes / No questions into non-Yes / No questions. Help your partners with this!
    4. Identify (with your partner’s help) one or two questions that will most help you move forward with your project.
  4. Workout: Success Spectrum (40min)
    1. Take a few minutes to imagine what your project would look like if it were successful?
    2. Go to the appropriate section in our shared Google Doc. Take five minutes to start capturing the different ranges of what success would look like — from minimum (i.e. must happen to call the project successful) to target (i.e. going for it, but probably won’t hit all of these) to epic (i.e. not going for it, but would be amazing if it happened).
    3. Take five minutes to capture what failure would look like. Review and adjust your minimum success column to make sure it’s consistent with your failure column.
    4. Review your success spectrum with your partner. Exchange feedback. (5 min each)
    5. Revise your success spectrum based on your discussion, and quickly share your changes with your partner. (5 min each)
    6. Quickly debrief the exercise:
      • How did the experience feel?
      • What did you learn?
  5. Checkout: Take a minute to share with your partner how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. (5min)
  6. Each of you should post one brief takeaway as a comment to this post. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive or incredibly detailed. I’d strongly encourage you to share your takeaway immediately after your workout. Make it a point to read (and respond to, if so moved) other people’s takeaways every week.

This week’s homework:

  • We currently have a messy, out-of-date success spectrum for our 2017 plan. This week, start cleaning up the original and create a new spectrum here. Do what you can, see what others do, and we’ll see where we are at the end of next week.

If you’d like to read the generic cards for the exercises above (which include design thoughts and variations), see:

#workout

M&M Week 4 Workout: March 6, 2017

We’ll conclude our first set of synthesis and alignment exercises with a repeat of last week’s workout. You’ll need lots of scratch paper and a pen. Have your smartphones ready so that you can photograph and email your work to your partner throughout the workout.

  1. Take one minute to pause and breathe deeply together in silence. (1min)
  2. Do a brief checkin with your partner. (3min)
  3. Warmup: One-Minute Drill (10min)
    1. Take a minute to consider the following: Describe a skill that’s taken you a long time (at least a year) to get good at. What was your learning process like?
    2. Decide who will share first.
    3. Take one minute to share your answer. Your partner should listen quietly and keep strict time. Don’t take notes.
    4. Share the same answer again for one minute. You may refine or add to your answer if you’d like.
    5. The listening partner should take one-minute to reflect back what she or he heard.
    6. Hold up between one to five fingers based on how well the person reflected back what you said, with five being a perfect reflection.
    7. Correct whatever your partner may have misheard. Don’t be afraid to nitpick — nuances are important.
    8. The listening partner should take one more minute to reflect your story back again.
    9. Hold up between one-to-five fingers based on how well the person reflected back what you said.
    10. Switch with your partner, and repeat the exercise.
    11. Quickly debrief the exercise. What did you notice? How did you feel? What did you learn?
  4. Workout: Working iteratively (40min)
    1. We’re going to be do the same iterations exercise we did last week. Don’t worry about perfection. Use this as an opportunity to explore and refine lots of different ideas. Part of the point is to experience progress through multiple, rapid iterations and detaching yourself from previous work.
    2. Review our current shared framework for alignment. Give a score between one (being the worst) and five (being the best) for how effective and useful the framework is right now. Be brutally honest.
    3. Individually, take up to five minutes to create a new framework for “alignment” on your scratch paper. Timebox this exercise. It’s not important for it to be complete or perfect, as you’ll have the opportunity to iterate. Email a photograph of your work to your partner, so that she or he can review it.
    4. Once again, consider the questions above, and evaluate your partner’s framework on a 1-5 scale. Quickly explain the reason for your score.
    5. Physically tear up your work, and recycle it. Don’t skip this step.
    6. Do another iteration for up to five minutes, again sharing and scoring your partner’s work. Do as many iterations as you can (at least three total) until you have about 15-minutes left in your workout.
    7. Quickly debrief the exercise:
      • How did the experience feel?
      • What did you learn?
  5. Checkout: Take a minute to share with your partner how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. (5min)
  6. Each of you should post one brief takeaway as a comment to this post. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive or incredibly detailed. I’d strongly encourage you to share your takeaway immediately after your workout. Make it a point to read (and respond to, if so moved) other people’s takeaways every week.

This week’s homework:

  • Based on your work, once again review and refine our shared framework for “alignment” in our shared Google Doc. We’ll go over this together next Monday at our group checkin.

If you’d like to read the generic cards for the exercises above (which include design thoughts and variations), see:

#workout