Recently:-Women In Technology: Male Allies Panel Discussions, Tech Team offsite, IT Leaders.

Collage of 4 photos, two from an off-site, two from a Panel Discussion.

Occasionally, I like to share cool things I’ve been a part of. Recently, I had a fun, but busy week. Here’s what I was doing.

University of Minnesota Women In Technology Male Allies Panel

On January 25, the University of Minnesota Women in Technology group hosted a panel of male leaders from the University and the business world to talk about how their experience and insights with supporting women across the technology industry. I was privileged to be asked to moderate the panel discussion. An official video may be released soon, but the archive of the live stream can be found here.

Technology team Off-site

I also had the opportunity to facilitate an off-site for a technology team from the University. We spent the day working to articulate the values and mission of the team. Often, when you work in IT it’s easy to get trapped in seeing your job simply as just “keeping the lights on” so I appreciated spending the day working with this team.

IT Leadership Community meeting

Once a quarter, IT directors across the University of Minnesota system gather to share information and collaborate so that IT supports the missions of outreach, research, and education. I help coordinate and where necessary help facilitate this meeting.

What we don’t see

There was a time in my life when I believed that everyone, at their core, was essentially Jamaican.

I probably wouldn’t have said it that way, but that’s what it boiled down to. Growing up in Jamaica, in the dominant majority culture, it was easy too think everyone had the same core beliefs and experiences, because everyone I met, and everyone who was respected, had those beliefs and experiences. So those things are just part off being human and deep down, everyone’s human, right?  So deep down everyone is like me.

The obvious problem was that for years I missed the ways that people were, deep down, not like me. It took me even longer to realize that their experience of the same world I lived in might be different from mine, even if we were right next to each other. I found myself able to rationalize away those experiences as isolated, unreal or unimportant. It turns out, that they were real. One of the major disadvantages of being a member of the majority or dominant is being blind to what others may see, and I was blind, and probably in some ways I still am.

The following headline and quote jumped out at me when I saw it.

Men are treating 2016 as as ‘normal’ election; women aren’t – Five Thirty Eight

To put this year’s gender split into a little more context: Trump’s 7-percentage-point lead among men is about how well George W. Bush did with men in 2000. If we had an average gender gap this year, we’d expect Clinton to carry women by between 5 and 10 points (given how men say they are going to vote). That kind of gap would result in a close race overall, which is exactly what the state of the economy suggests should be occurring.

Instead, Clinton is leading by about 6 or 7 percentage points nationally in the FiveThirtyEight polls-only forecast. Basically, the vote among men looks “normal”; the split among women does not. That is, the historically large gender gap this election is because women are disproportionately favoring one candidate (Clinton) — to an extent we wouldn’t expect them to in a normal election given the “fundamentals.”

It seems that women in this election overwhelmingly see something that says this isn’t just the regular battle between two less than ideal candidates. It also seems that whatever it is that women are seeing, as a group, men aren’t.

Unfortunately, this particular form of dominant culture blindness is not limited to the election. If you are a man reading this, you probably don’t think that women are saying proportionately less in meetings or classes than the men are. You probably think that their views are given equal weight as anyone else who is equally qualified. While stories and statistics say otherwise, it’s not something you’ve ever seen, so it probably doesn’t exist in your spaces.

While it is possible that your office, school, or community may be unusually woman friendly spaces, it is more likely that, as a member of the dominant group, you don’t see the ways in which those spaces aren’t women friendly. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it means you’re a human who happened to be born into the dominant culture.

What it does mean, is that when you hear a story like this one, when the non-dominant culture says something that doesn’t fit with our perception, it’s our responsibility, and our challenge to listen.

And to do something about it.

Photo Credit: paolo bosonin Flickr via Compfight cc


The simplest storytelling framework you can use everywhere

The spine of a red book displaying the words "The Story"

I have a storytelling board on Pinterest, and am always looking through story related pins and infographics. I’ve found a lot of pins that give you 21 rules for this, or 10 essential elements of that, and so much of it is so complex that I can’t remember them, let alone apply them. So I wanted to write something down that was simple, and that you could use everywhere. Even in the first paragraph of this post.

The three act structure of stories

The three act structure is one of the most common frameworks for writing stories. It’s the one that you heard about in elementary school when the teacher says that all stories have a beginning, middle and end. And while this is true, I don’t think that particular formulation is helpful. It lends itself into simply dividing a group of sentences into thirds, and that doesn’t make it a story. I prefer to think of it as every story having an Introduction, Escalation and a Resolution. It’s communicative, and simple enough that I can use it everywhere, and hopefully you can too.

I’ll explain each of the stages, and with a tip of the hat to Marvel Editor Jim Shooter’s $1.98 Storytelling Lecture (bookmark that and read it later). I’m going to use this nursery rhyme.

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Along came a spider and sat down beside her, and frightened Miss Muffet away.

I’m also going to make an assumption. I’m going to assume that there’s a conflict or a tension within whatever you’re trying to communicate. You may need to some work to identify or define the conflict, and maybe I’ll talk about how to do that later. But for now, I’m assuming you have. In which case your story starts with…

Introduction: What’s the status quo?

What was your world like before the conflict showed up? The trick with this section is to avoid over explanation. Tell us only what we need to know to understand the conflict you will hit us with.

In the nursery rhyme, all we get is “Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey.” They don’t tell us what time of day it was, where this tuffet was. We just know that there’s a little girl sitting and eating, and get just enough context to imply the stability that’s about to be disrupted.

Bonus points

  • Despite this being the first part of your story, it’s often worthwhile to write it last, or at least to review it after you’ve written everything.
  • If you can insert an element of your conflict here, you’ll grab your audience’s attention quickly. For example “After my mom died, I dedicated my life to finding a cure for the cancer that took her life,”

Escalation: Raising the stakes

In most stories, this would be where the conflict begins. This is “Along came a spider and sat down beside her…” This is where the tension rises, and the story deepens.

I used the word tension, as opposed to conflict, purposefully, because here I want you to think about your audience reaction, not just the facts of the story. It’s in this phase that you want your audience to lean forward, to know that there’s something that needs to be resolved. This is where you pull back the bowstring of their mind, knowing that it can’t stay there forever.

That something may be a conflict. It’s possible that someone or something is standing in the way of the goal you outlined in the Introduction. That something could also be a disruption of the peaceful status quo, the spider that sits beside your little girl. That something, could also be the reason why the conflict you introduced in step one is actually really important, or really tricky.

Whatever it is, what you’re answering here is less “what happened” and more “why should we care.”

Resolution: How will this all end

This part is simple. If you’ve done your job, the audience understands the conflict, and care about how what happens next. Your job is to tell them. The tricky part is making sure you are giving them the right answers to the questions you’ve raised.

Our nursery rhyme would be disappointing if it ended “and Miss Muffet finished eating and went off to school.” We want to know what happened with the spider, and so the author tells us “and [the spider] frightened Miss Muffet away.”

Often, you may be telling the story to convince your audience to take action. Then you need to make sure the action you’re asking them to take addresses the tension in the story. This might require you to write the story backwards. That’s okay. It will be worth the effort.

Example: Breaking down the first paragraph

One misconception is that storytelling means “dramatic” or “artistic”. But we can use storytelling in the most mundane ways. Take the first paragraph of this article, it was far from dramatic or artistic, but I was able to use this story structure to organize it into something that, if you got this far, kept your interest. Here’s how it broke down

Introduction: I have a storytelling board on Pinterest, and am always looking through story related pins and infographics.

Escalation: I’ve found a lot of pins that give you 21 rules for this, or 10 essential elements of that, and so much of it is so complex that I can’t remember them, let alone apply them.

Resolution: So I wanted to write something down that was simple, and that you could use everywhere.

And, because I wanted to keep you interested in the rest of the post I threw in this last sentence

Escalation (part 2): Even in the first paragraph of this post.

Riffs and Variations

Hat tip to Liberating Structures for the idea.

  • The Knowledge Gap story (good for teaching)
    • Introduction: Here’s an area that you don’t know about.
    • Escalation: Here’s why this area is even stranger than you think or why it’s actually really important that you understand this.
    • Resolution: Here are the actual facts about this.
  • The Discovery story (good for explaining research)
    • Introduction: Here’s what we were hoping to find out
    • Escalation: Here’s what makes this difficult to find or Here’s where our initial research was pointing us away from the answer
    • Resolution: Here’s the discovery that led us to the real answer.
  • The Call to Action
    • Everything is the same as above except that the Resolution is in the future tense, and makes the audience the star.

Featured Image Credit: Siqueira Filho

Presenting Ecocycle Planning to Project Managers at the University of Minnesota

A picture of the Ecocycle Planning Model Today I had the opportunity to present Liberating Structures’ Ecocycle Planning method to the University of Minnesota’s Project and Change Managers Collaborators.

Ecocyle is a method for mapping and reviewing an organization’s portfolio of activities using an ecological model. The premise is that just as a forest will have a number of trees in every stage of their lifecycle, every organization will have a number of activities in various lifecycle stages. It’s important for change managers to be able to see where each activity is, and in particular identify those activities that are being held on to past their prime, or new activities that are being under resourced.

It was a great group of people to present to. They were engaged and insightful. I really appreciated the opportunity.



Stepping off the walkway: A few easy steps you could take to combat injustice

A while ago, in the post Tamir Rice and the unbearable reasonableness of it all, I referenced the idea that racism, sexism and other systemic injustices are like a moving walkway. If one simply stands still, one is taken to the same undesirable and as you might encounter if you were actively pursuing racism, sexism, etc.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

  • There are fewer women in Industry A to help make Industry A a woman-welcoming environment. Why? Because…
  • …there are fewer women applying for Industry A positions, because there are fewer women pursuing Industry A related degree. Why? Because…
  • …there are fewer women who feel welcome in those programs because there are fewer women in Industry A to help make the Industry A programs a woman-welcoming environment.

If you work in Industry A, even if you are not actively against the idea of women in Industry A, not taking action means that your industry ends up in the same place as if you were actively anti-woman. There will be few women in Industry A. And while the example above is a simplified, hypothetical example, if you replaced the phrase Industry A with either Ministry or Technology, this simplified, hypothetical example would not be very far from the truth. I work in both industries.

So what can you do about it (or maybe, what can I do about it)? Here are some ideas directed at the industries in which I work, but I’m sure you can adapt to yours.

  • Say something – You can point out, in a non-anxious way, the particular moving walkway that you’re on. Here are some examples
    • “I notice that we don’t have many women in our applicant pool. What can we do to fix that?”
    • “Our industry is notorious for being unfriendly to minorities. What can we do that’s different from the stereotype here?”
    • “Our speakers seem to mostly represent a single demographic, can we broaden that?”
  • Do the same thing in a different place – Sometimes we use the same communication channels or take the same actions in the same networks and get trapped with the same results. What if you moved some of these? for example
    • You’ve probably put your job posting on local colleges’ message board. Perhaps you can also send send it to the career office of the nearest HBCU, or perhaps to the local Women in Industry A group.
    • You’ve often put the posters for your college ministry in the student center. Do you know where the Hispanic Student Group meets? How about putting some posters there?
  • Do one significant thing differently – There’s often a big difference between where our industry is, and where it should be to just and equitable. There’s a lot of changes to be made and it can seem overwhelming. Perhaps you can start with a single change. For example –
    • Consider keeping your job posting open until your applicant pool has a certain number of qualified female applicants.
    • Consider only accepting conference speaking engagements where there is at least one woman or minority on the slate.

You might be at the end of this post and thinking that I did not fulfill my promise of “easy steps”. The truth is, they will all require some bravery, and they don’t solve the entire problem of the various -isms of our society. I’m not even sure they will all work. But the step that I can guarantee will result in continued injustice is to do nothing.

Photo Credit: WikiHow

Do something badly

Crumpled Paper

When it comes down to it, I’m mostly okay with failure. Sometimes I do my best, and things don’t work out, and there isn’t anything that I can do about it. I’m less okay with being bad at something. Being bad at something will often keep me from participating. I’m cool with the idea that I may not win, I just really don’t want to suck. I’d guess that this isn’t unique to me. You probably feel the same way, right?

This is a problem. Because ninety percent of the time being good at something comes after a long period of being bad at it.

There’s a series of videos from Ira Glass of This American Life talking about storytelling, and in part 3 of 4 (posted below) he talks about this specific problem.

I’ll give away a bit of the punch line of the video and say that Glass’ advice is to do a lot of work and it will be a lot of bad work (he plays an example of his).

So, this year, how about you join me in doing something badly (like blogging, for example), or art, or music, or activism. Let’s do a lot of it, and eventually it will turn into something good.

Photo Credit: Mateusz Atroszko

A Venn diagram that’s the best piece of career advice I’ve ever received

A Venn Diagram with three labeled circes "What we do well", "What we want to do", "What we get paid to do".
A Venn Diagram with three labeled circes "What we do well", "What we want to do", "What we get paid to do". The intersecting segments are as follows - "What we do well" + "What we want to do" = "Learn to Monetize", "What we do well" + "What we can be paid to do" = "Learn to say 'No'", "What we want to do" + "What we can be paid to do" = "Learn to do this better", Intersection of all three = "Hooray!"
Career decision Venn Diagram

I recently ran into a friend on the train, and a conversation we had reminded me of the diagram above. I can’t remember who shared it with me, but I was able to find the original source. It still remains one of the best pieces of career advice I’ve ever received, and so I wanted to share it with you.

I’ve been trying to think of something else to add to this post to make it feel like a proper blog entry, but I’ve got nothing. However, as my wife was walking past, she mentioned this quote by — Frederick Buechner as a good companion to the diagram.

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Good luck to you as you continue to explore the next stages in your career.

Of Milestones and Halfway Marks

A photo of a rusty bicycle chain in winter

I’ve done this blogging thing before, on a variety of platforms and with a variety of names. Approximately two blog versions ago, I used to bike to work. Biking to work was good for me, it kept me in better shape than I am right now, gave me time to think, and inspired a small series of blog posts about things that I observed about biking that I thought would be useful. As I think back on that time, and since so many people are doing resolutions and other commitments to a better life in 2016, here’s a thought that I don’t think I wrote down then, but I hope may be useful now.

While I said that biking kept me in better shape than I am right now, it shouldn’t be taken to imply that I was in particularly good shape. I was never a natural athlete. Biking 6 to 8 miles everyday, while not a big deal to a lot of my friends who bike, was an effort for me. As I figured out my preferred route along which I could huff and puff to work I started to figure out where the approximate halfway mark was between my apartment and work. On any given day, I figured that if I could make it to that point, I knew I could make it the rest of the way. Even making it to that halfway point was hard, so I found a point halfway to that, and figured if I can make it to the quarter point, then I could make it to the halfway point, and so on.

It turns out, that I had stumbled upon a pretty decent way to keep myself motivated through long projects. We’ve probably all heard the idea of breaking up a large project into achievable chunks, this is just a variation on that same theme. It’s about strategically setting up the first set of those milestones so that they are proof that the next milestone is achievable.

So, if your resolution is to exercise 3 times a week, then if you make it through the first week of 2016, take it as proof that you can make it through the second week of 2016. If you make it through the second week, then it means you can probably make it through all of January, etc.

So here’s to your resolutions and goals for 2016. I wish you all the best at achieving them.

Photo Credit: Dusty J via Compfight cc

Tamir Rice and the unbearable reasonableness of it all.

A picture of a moving walkway at an airport

We know that lynch mobs are unreasonable. Two grown men coming together to beat and kill a black 14 year old boy because they think that he whistled at a white woman. That is unreasonable.

If you look at the actions in the Tamir Rice case, they all seem so reasonable especially when the situation is uncertain. You see a kid playing with something that looks like a gun, it might be a toy. You are uncertain, but it’s reasonable to call the police just in case. You’re a policeman responding to reports of someone with a gun in a public park. You are uncertain about whether this person poses a threat, but it’s reasonable to think that he might. You are on the grand jury, and you’re uncertain about what role race played in this shooting, and what the police officer perceived. So you come back with a judgement that the policeman acted reasonably.

Beverly Tatum, in her book Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria: and other conversations about race uses the metaphor of a moving walkway at an airport to describe the way racism (and other systemic problems work). If you are on a moving walkway, you can choose to walk forward, or you can choose to stand still, whichever of those choices you make, you end up moving in the same direction, and ending up at the same place. In the same way, racism and other systemic sins are self-sustaining, and you can chose to be overtly prejudiced, or you can choose not to be. In either case, the systemic part of “systemic sin” means that our perfectly reasonable choices bring us to the same place as the unreasonable choice of bigotry. With dead children, and no culpability.

The only choice, if you don’t want to go where the moving walkway of racism is taking you, is to turn around and walk backwards. To be a little unreasonable about racism, to be anti-racist. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a speech he made in 1963 had a specific word he used for this type of unreasonableness, ”

In case you can’t hear the speech above, here’s the relevant excerpt from its transcript

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well‐adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good‐will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.

I don’t know what it looks like in your context, but my hope for you is that you will also be maladjusted to these things. Maladjusted enough that you will choose not to simply be satisfied with the reasonable.

Photo Credit: markhillary via Compfight cc

Storytelling for good: An example from the Red Cross

I came upon a good example of nonprofit storytelling that I thought I would share with my readers as they think of how they use storytelling in the upcoming year. Check out the story from the International Committee of the Red Cross

Photo of two South Sudanese woman and a man, each talking on a cell phone for 3 minutes.We live in the most connected of times. It has never been easier to communicate with a loved one; by text, email, … What, if instead of mass communication, you could just phone one person, for two minutes, and nothing else. It’s almost impossible to imagine. Who would you call? What would you say?

In South Sudan, for many people, that is their reality…

Source: Three minutes to call the person you love — Pushed to the Limits — Medium

Here are some things I noticed that you may use in your next storytelling venture, whether you are in ministry, the nonprofit world, or an activist in some other arena.

  • Less can be more, if you edit well – In each of the stories, the author walks the tightrope of giving the reader enough to get the emotional heart of the story, but leaving enough gaps so that the reader’s mind is engaged in filling them in, resulting in a more compelling narrative.
  • Individuals (in their individuality) matters – We sometimes have a tendency to abstract away the specifics of this person, or this interaction. The texture and the details make it stick better
  • There is no call to action, and that’s ok – Some of your stories will end in a call to take action, to donate, to make a life change, but not all of them will. The truth is also that before someone makes the step to take action, they need to emotionally resonate with your cause, believe that your approach can make a difference, believe that they can help, and feel like they need to help now. Take some time to build your case, to build trust and connection before you make the ask.

There may be other things in this story that you can take from it (and if you do, I’d be happy to hear them in the comments) but I hope you’ll consider these three points the next time you have to tell a story for good.

Paying to ignore race

Black and white photo of a woman covering her eyes

Over the last couple of months the dynamics of race and racism have been important topics at colleges and universities across the United States, so it was interesting to see this opinion piece posted by Inside Higher Ed

“Yet these realities were too much for the administrators to handle. They were not ready to hear the truth. Hence, the report we furnished the institution was never publicly disseminated, as originally planned. Several students of color whom we interviewed contacted us months later asking where the report was because they never saw it.

The sad reality is that the administrators at this university paid us an enormous sum of money to remain in denial about its racial problems. This had happened to us before and has occurred again” – Inside Higher Ed|Paying to Ignore Racism

One of the difficult things about caring about racism, sexism, classism, etc. is that you’re likely going to be confronted with the realization that you’re not innocent of the creation of the problem you’re trying to eradicate, or that your guilt is greater than you realize. If you’re not prepared for that, you’ll probably find yourself in the same position as the administrators in this article.

Photo Credit: mellyjean via Compfight cc

Evil for Evil

Ernesto Quiñonez’s story is not about racism.

Well, that’s not true, Ernesto Quiñonez’s story is about racism. It’s also about bullying, but it’s also about how you react to race, racism, bullying and other evils. Watch the video, it’s shorter than a TED talk, and it’s worth the time.

The Moth Presents Ernesto Quiñonez: Spanish Harlem, 7th Grade – YouTube.

 It’s easy to say “Don’t repay evil for evil,” and, having some distance from Quiñonez’s story, we can easily see where lines were crossed, where evil was repaid with evil. In everyday life, the lines are not so clear, and our temptations to repay evil with evil are subtler.

I’d like to share two quotes with you that may illustrate what I mean.

The first quote is from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talking to Christians who were engaged in the fight against racism.

May I say just a word to those of you who are struggling against this evil. Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself. Let him know that the festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. With this attitude you will be able to keep your struggle on high Christian standards

The second is from Jesus

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

When we are hurt, oppressed and attacked, we are tempted to defeat and humiliate our enemies. We are tempted to consider them less than human, to paint them as misinformed, idiots or malevolent. We are tempted to talk about them this way to people who will agree with us.

We are tempted to hate, but our challenge is to love.

To that effect, here are three suggestions for you to resist the temptation to hate, and embrace the challenge to love

  1. Pray for the person or people you have conflict with. Don’t just pray that they change their antagonistic behavior. Consider them as full human beings, and pray for something unrelated to the present conflict.
  2. Do something genuinely good for the person who you disagree with. Not in a way that is trying to curry favor, but something that is genuinely helpful, even if it is unacknowledged.
  3. Listen to how you and the people around you talk about your “enemies”. Are you using language that implies that they are less human or less moral than you are? Instead of talking about them as bad people, try talking about them as a good people who are currently engaging in bad behavior.

Hate is, unfortunately, cyclical. Whether you do these three things, or you do something else, my hope is that you take some action this week to break that cycle.