Reflections on “Never Done Before”

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 57 seconds

My heart is filled with gratitude today.

A few weeks ago, on impulse, I signed up to volunteer for something called the Never Done Before Festival (NBD). I was attracted to the name. Never done before. This sounded like me – I often decided to do things and was told “but that’s never been done before”. I didn’t realize at the time that this wasn’t what they meant. The festival was about facilitators coming and trying something THEY had never done before, rather than something that hadn’t at all been done before. This, though, still attracted me, because it meant they were creating a safe space for people to try something they’d never done before, where everyone in the room knew it was their first time trying it, and so it was a constructive space to experiement. I loved it. I heard of it through the Meeting Innovation Community which I just recently joined via Elise Keith (to whom I was introduced via Keith McCandless). Btw, I learned a lot about the way NBD organized themselves which sparked ideas for how we might design furure MYFest/Equity Unbound types of events.

I didn’t know it was an established community until I started getting involved. There was an interview, and I fell in love with Anuschka Ruge the person who interviewed me on Welo. I’m not sure the exact moment, but I think we bonded over biomimicry and adrienne maree brown. I then saw the ways leaders in the community like Myrian Hadnes provided personal video welcomes in spaces, and because I missed her note, she emailed me to make sure I got it. That was so above and beyond anything I’d ever seen in a new community as a kind of welcome. We also had an orientation session where I got to meet some of the other volunteers, learn about the values of the community, and learn how best to use Welo. I was inspired because I had not liked Welo so much before, but either they upgraded its features since I last used it, or this team of awesome facilitators have figured out how to use its affordances to the max, because I’m now definitely a fan!

I woke up at 4am today because my “volunteer” time was from 5am-9am my time. I basically just had to open some Zoom rooms and check if anyone needed help on Welo, and if not, attend any sessions I wanted. So here are some things I learned from the sessions today. They will probably sound like disconnected nuggets, but you never know what might resonate with others, so I’m sharing some of my notes anyway!

  1. In a session led by Elise Keith, I loved the terms Collaborative Friction, Creative abrasion, and Constructive conflict as positive ways of framing and using dissent/disagreement
  2. In that same session, I fell in love with notions of inviting feedback to “imagine better”, “do better” and “become better” and the distinctions between these. I think it helps me think of why some people resist receiving feedback or critique because they think it means they’re doing badly and need to “do better”, whereas sometimes we invite critique because we believe in continuous improvement and want to “become better”, or because we realize there may be other ways, and we can “imagine better”. This could be a way to reach educators to encourage them to seek more feedback at different points in the semester and their careers.
  3. In that session, Elise shared a lot of tools/strategies but one of them, relating to Radical Candor, reminded me of something else that had attracted me a while ago. A matrix. It took me a while to find the particular matrix I wanted, but in the process of seeking help on the matrix I wanted, I discovered a few other matrices that are useful (thanks Viren Thakrar!). So the matrix I was seeking was the challenge/support matrix – basically, that if you challenge students without supporting them, they struggle to cope; if you support them on something not challenging, they get bored. So the best situation is to challenge them AND support them in order to help them achieve. Along the way, I learned about the really useful will/skill matrix , care/challenge matrix, and also Theory of Flow which compares challenge with skill/ability and this one goes beyond a matrix and is like a spectrum (see image at bottom).
  4. In this workshop I also learned about the gamestorming technique, Cover Story and I can imagine it as a beautiful visioning exercise for an upcoming project I’m working on! I’m also looking forward to an upcoming Gamestorming intensive course (starts this November!)
  5. In a session by Marcus Crow on peer case-based discussion, I was really impressed by his questions at the beginning about how much the success of facilitation was dependent upon skill versus luck. The discussion around this was pheonomenal. I also found the process, similar to Troika consulting, but more relaxed on time, useful and I got great feedback on a key challenge and also feel like the discussions overall were useful for everyone.
  6. I learned about a public speaking community called Toast Masters: https://www.toastmasters.org/ I may have heard of them before but not understood the name – and now I understand the name I’m upset with the cultural exclusion in naming it that, but I’m still sharing as a I assume some people can benefit from this community to improve their public speaking.
  7. In the welcome for Europe, Middle East and Africa participants, Myriam led and used Welo like a boss 🙂 And I really liked the discussion about givers, takers and matchers. And who succeeded best. I think folks interested in this may want to read the book or watch the TEDTalk? Reading this summary here confused me because it tended to reframe giving as matching, rather than authentic giving, so… I don’t know. Maybe I need to read the book!
  8. Flawsome Facilitation with Jacinta Cubis was such a cool cool name for a workshop! And it was basically about four facilitation styles (Guide, Referee, Crowdpleaser and Dictator) and their characteristics and nuances of behaving these ways. I really enjoyed the way the workshop was facilitated overall, and the discussions were rich and nuanced.
  9. Games for Resilience with Mohsin Memon was maybe the most… engaging but also draining of the sessions. We played a game called Evivvo and my daughter actually played along helping me out on my phone – it was a group game and I really learned so much playing the game, but it was so exhausting because we were all trying to collaborate and feeling really stressed about trying to achieve our goals, only to realize we were not fully clear on what our goal exactly was, haha.
  10. The last session I attended with Alexandra and Yona on empathy and balancing our needs with others’ needs and I didn’t take notes in my document about this one, but it was phenomenal, in how they used drawing and physical exercises/visualization and small group and large group discussions to help us find our way to change something in our lives in order to find empathy for ourselves. I came out of it feeling great, relaxed, and like I had found something I’d been looking for for a long long time.
Image above is a matrix comparing Challenge level with Skill level. Low challenge/low skill leads to apathy; medium skill and low challenge leads to boredom, low challenge and high skill leads to relaxation. Medium challenge and low skill leads to worry, medium challenge and high skill leads to control. High challenge and low skill leads to anxiety; high challenge and medium skill leads to arousal; high skill and high challenge together lead to flow (optimal)
Image above is a matrix comparing Challenge level with Skill level. Low challenge/low skill leads to apathy; medium skill and low challenge leads to boredom, low challenge and high skill leads to relaxation. Medium challenge and low skill leads to worry, medium challenge and high skill leads to control. High challenge and low skill leads to anxiety; high challenge and medium skill leads to arousal; high skill and high challenge together lead to flow (optimal). Image from Wikipedia and is interactive on that page.

NBD was a 24-hour festival. I met so many lovely people whose names don’t end up here but I learned from them just as much as, if not more than, the facilitators. I think overall I attended maybe 5 or 6 sessions, but it really sparked so many actionable ideas and strategies for me, and I’m sure I’ve internalized much more than I’m articulating here.

I’m looking forward to engaging more with this community going forward inshallah.

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