Archives for the month of: January, 2010

Public leaders often have to lead small group discussions. Here is something that might help.

A lot of my work involves leading conversations. Sometimes that is because I am researching how people perceive an issue. Other times I am leading a session designed to convey content — how to use social media, ethical campaigning, public leadership.

BR_training_143I am preparing for a four-day candidate training seminar that is an initiative of the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. I’ve been part of this from the beginning, and it is one of the most rewarding things that I do. (Sorensen’s ethics-based candidate training course is the national model for such things and is highly effective.)

Part of the course involves small group discussions, and as we were preparing the agendas for those, I was erminded of a set of “universal probes” that I have been using for years. These are highly useful questions to ask as a follow up (after almost any initial question) and they typically unlock conversation and allow people to think quite deeply about the issue at hand. They are deceptively simple.

I did not come up with these. Chances are, any good focus group moderator will give you the same, or a similar, set. These are just how I articulate them. They arose out of study with one of my mentors, Rich Harwood, and work alongside of two imprtoant colleagues, John Creighton and Dave Moore.

Here are the questions:

  1. What do you mean by that?
  2. Say more about why you think that?
  3. What would that get you?
  4. What would that look like?
  5. And that leads you to think . . . ?

See? Simple. But ask them, and see what they can unlock. You might be surprised.

If you are a Facebook user, you may have noticed a recent, quiet change. When someone comments on one of your posts, links, or other content, you get an email, as you always have if you keep the default settings. Only now, you can reply to the comment simply by replying to the email.

Streaming by Flickr user makelessnoise

"Streaming" by Flickr user makelessnoise

This is an important change for Facebook, as it is an implicit acknowledgement that, while the Stream is an important place to share information, it is not the only place in which people want to share. Email remains, for just about everyone, the most indispensable communications tool. One of the pioneers of online civic engagement, Steven Clift, has long been almost a lone voice calling on organizations not to neglect their email strategy as they implement fancy social-networking strategies. He points out:

[N]ow that Facebook and Twitter have become so popular, they are now “streams” rather than reliable ways to reach the people who at one point said they wanted to “follow” you. People dip into the stream created by their friends and those they find interesting when they are thirsty
… often in their scarce idle time. They feel no obligation to drink from the end of the fire hose they have friended and followed.

He is absolutely right. This is the logical next step as people get used to “streams” as being a part of their digital life. In an earlier post, I’ve described a few of the nascent guidelines that people are beginning to follow when it comes to the Stream and the workplace:

  • When you are sharing something, if it is interesting but not critical, add it to the Stream (by sharing on Facebook or Twitter, for instance).
  • Don’t get upset if someone misses something you put in the Stream.
  • Try to reserve emails to people’s Inboxes for things you really need them to see or act on.

Facebook’s move to make elements of their Stream more usable form within email are thus a very good idea.

While I do not necessarily want to see every last thing all my friends and others have posted into the Stream, I do want to see if people are interacting with what I have posted or adding comments after me. Those actions are worth seeing in my Inbox and I do want to be able to act on them from within it.

Our workplace (and other) norms are shifting as we get used to the ubiquitous Streams in our lives. For instance, it used to be assumed that you saw all of your friends’ status updates. Now, as people have more friends and as the Facebook newsfeed has gotten a little more selective in what it shows, people have begun to call attention to the shared items they think are noteworthy. By the same token, more people are sharing ephemeral trivia in the Stream rather than clogging people’s Inboxes.

I wonder, in five years and some of these norms have established and settled, what they will be. I am also curious to see how pervasive the new norms will be — will Aunt Edna begin to use the Stream for LOLcats?

Only time will tell.

It’s Saturday morning, 8:30. You’ve gone out to get the car washed and your hair cut. But it’s still too early to mow the lawn. And the family is waking up hungry. What do you do? Pancakes, that’s what!

Believe me, this takes about as much time as making toast, and is a lot more fun. Plus, you get the satisfaction of thinking to yourself, “Who needs pancake mix?” and you can tell everyone at work on Monday that you made pancakes from scratch.

“Who Needs Pancake Mix?” Pancakes

  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 C Flour
  • 2 T Sugar
  • 1 T Baking Powder
  • 1 ½ t Salt
  • 2 C Milk + a little
  • 4 T Butter, melted in the microwave
All set up!

All set up!

Heat a nonstick griddle over medium-high heat.

Mix together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt) until they’re a uniform powder. Then pour in the melted butter, milk and crack the eggs into the mixture. Stir it all together so the yolks make the batter a bit yellowish. Stir until it’s just mixed but still a little lumpy. It should seem a bit thin – if it’s too thick add a few more splashes of milk.

Test to see if the griddle is hot enough by flicking some water onto it – the drops should sizzle and dance if it’s ready. It CAN get too hot, though, so check it after not too long.

Ready to flip

Ready to flip

Use a quarter-cup measuring cup or a ladle to pour the pancakes out onto the griddle. When bubbles begin to form around their edges, they are ready to flip.

After you flip them, they will puff up a little. Wait a moment, then press them down with the spatula (they’re tastier if they are thinner). If you want, cut a piece of butter to put on top of each one while the second side is cooking, so it melts down into it.

If you are cooking for a large group, you can have the oven on “warm” with a plate in it – keep the finished pancakes there while you make griddleful after griddleful. Serve in stacks with syrup and watch your family enjoy their morning.

Ready to eat!

Ready to eat!

You can double the recipe and save it in the fridge overnight for Sunday morning pancakes too. It tastes even better after sitting a while.

A few months ago, I bought a pair of Vibram Five Fingers shoes and blogged about my thoughts. At that time, I was just using them for general wear, and for the gym.

But I am an avid runner, and had not yet tried them out on the road. Well, I did try them once and got blisters. So. I thought I would do some research and a little training and see if I could run in them for real. Answer: yes. Here is my assessment:


Running In Five Fingers from Brad Rourke on Vimeo.

As you can see, they are working out very well for me. The key is to train yourself to have the proper gait — looking up “barefoot running” can help get some pointers. I describe the key ones in the video.

Here are the shoes I use: Vibram Fivefingers KSO

My goal now is to wear my Vibram Five Fingers in my next marathon! Wish me luck!

My latest article in my blog at the Washington Times Communities, Public Square Today:

20 Jobs Of The Future

Here comes the future by Flickr user Max Kiesler

"Here comes the future" by Flickr user Max Kiesler

As part of the UK’s effort to promote science and science literacy among its populace, the Fast Future consulting firm has developed a list of twenty “jobs of the future,” and released a report detailing their implications.

These are the jobs, according the the report, that “we could be doing” sometime between 2010 and 2030.

Like many futurist efforts, the list is part reasonable, part fanciful, and creates in the reader the sense of amused vertigo one gets from reading decades-old accounts of what 1994 will look like. We are still not driving in floating cars, and no one even in 2000 imagined what Facebook would do to us.

So the list ought to be taken with a grain of salt, though the authors of the study go to great lengths to argue for its validity. However, the list provides an interesting study of what people are thinking will matter and it is a useful exercise to think about what we might add to the list.

Here, from the report, are the twenty jobs of the future:

  1. Body part maker. Advances in science will make the creation of body parts possible, requiring body part makers, body part stores and body part repair shops.
  2. Nano-medic. Advances in nanotechnology offer the potential for a range of sub-atomic ‘nanoscale’ devices, inserts and procedures that could transform personal healthcare. A new range of nano-medicine specialists will be required to administer these treatments.
  3. ‘Pharmer’ of genetically engineered crops and livestock. New-age farmers could be raising crops and livestock that have been genetically engineered to improve yields and produce therapeutic proteins. Possibilities include a vaccine-carrying tomato and therapeutic milk from cows, sheep and goats.
  4. Old age wellness manager/consultant. Specialists will draw on a range of medical, pharmaceutical, prosthetic, psychiatric, natural and fitness solutions to help manage the various health and personal needs of the ageing population.
  5. Memory augmentation surgeon. Surgeons will add extra memory capacity to people who want to increase their memory capacity. They will also help those who have been over-exposed to information in the course of their life and simply can no longer take on any more information thus leading to sensory shutdown.
  6. ‘New science’ ethicist. As scientific advances accelerate in new and emerging fields such as cloning, proteomics and nanotechnology, a new breed of ethicist may be required, who understands a range of underlying scientific fields and helps society make consistent choices about what developments to allow. Much of science will not be a question of can we, but should we.
  7. Space pilots, tour guides and architects. With Virgin Galactic and others pioneering space tourism, space trained pilots and tour guides will be needed, as well as designers to enable the habitation of space and other planets. Current projects at SICSA (University of Houston) include a greenhouse on Mars, lunar outposts and space exploration vehicles.
  8. Vertical farmers. There is growing interest in the concept of city-based vertical farms, with hydroponically-fed food being grown in multi-storey buildings. These offer the potential to dramatically increase farm yield and reduce environmental degradation. The managers of such entities will require expertise in a range of scientific disciplines, as well as engineering and commerce.
  9. Climate change reversal specialist. As the threats and impacts of climate change increase, a new breed of engineer-scientists will be required to help reduce or reverse the effects of climate change on particular locations. They will need to apply multi-disciplinary solutions ranging from filling the oceans with iron filings, to erecting giant umbrellas that deflect the sun’s rays.
  10. Quarantine enforcer. If a deadly virus starts spreading rapidly, few countries, and few people, will be prepared. Nurses will be in short supply. Moreover, as mortality rates rise, and neighbourhoods are shut down, someone will have to guard the gates.
  11. Weather modification police. The act of seeding clouds to create rain is already happening in some parts of the world, and is altering weather patterns thousands of miles away. Weather modification police will need to control and monitor who is allowed to shoot rockets containing silver iodine into the air – a way to provoke rainfall from passing clouds.
  12. Virtual lawyer. As more and more of our daily life goes online, specialists will be required to resolve legal disputes which could involve citizens resident in different legal jurisdictions.
  13. Avatar manager / Devotees. Virtual teacher Avatars could be used to support or even replace teachers in the elementary classroom, for instance, as computer personas that serve as personal interactive guides. The Devotee is the human that makes sure that the Avatar and the student are properly matched and engaged, etc.
  14. Alternative vehicle developers. Designers and builders will create the next generation of vehicle transport using alternative materials and fuels. Could the dream of underwater and flying cars become a reality within the next two decades?
  15. Narrowcasters. As broadcasting media becomes increasingly personalised, roles will emerge for specialists working with content providers and advertisers to create content tailored to individual needs. While mass market customization solutions may be automated, premium rate narrowcasting could be performed by humans.
  16. Waste data handler. Specialists will provide a secure data disposal service for those who do not want to be tracked, electronically or otherwise.
  17. Virtual clutter organizer. Specialists will help us organise our electronic lives. Clutter management would include effective handling of email, ensuring orderly storage of data, management of electronic IDs and rationalizing the applications we use.
  18. Time broker / Time bank trader. Alternative currencies will evolve their own markets – for example time banking already exists.
  19. Social ‘networking’ worker. Social workers will help those in some way traumatised or marginalised by social networking.
  20. Personal branders. An extension of the role played by executive coaches giving advice on how to create a personal ‘brand’ using social and other media. What personality are you projecting via your blog, Twitter, etc? What personal values do you want to build into your image – and is your image consistent with your real life persona and your goals?

What about you? What job do you think should be on the list?