Transitional – a few thoughts on a difficult work week for many

This is hard – and may be hard for different people in different ways

Let’s start by acknowledging that the past week has not been “normal” and for many people in many ways, it’s been hard.

There’s a saying “be kind for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle” which reminds us not to judge others harshly when we don’t know what circumstances they’re dealing with. The current situation takes that a step further and shows us at least some of what our friends and colleagues are juggling on the work front – a video call taken from the closet because it’s the only private spot in a small shared apartment, a sick kid looking for a hug of reassurance during a call, increased responsibilities at work because you’re the “digitally savvy” one, and sudden pivots in projects – whether that’s moving classes or conferences online at short notice or seeing opportunities to be quickly responsive.

It’s a lot.

And that’s before we throw into the mix the challenges that we can’t always see. Worries about elderly relatives or at risk friends and family. Concerns about shifts in income, ability to pay the rent, or disappointments that forthcoming big events such as weddings or a holiday now need to be postponed…And then mix in how exhausting it is to sit on hours of Zoom calls when you’re an introvert – or just need a bit of space to process everything else that’s going on.

I know this weekend has been a big, long exhale for me and a chance to reflect. Here are a few thoughts:

Challenges can be opportunities to be kind

One thing I have noticed is that these windows into the struggling, the adjusting, and the trying our best have also been opportunities to be kind and have presented moments to engage more gently, human to human. Many emails that I’ve sent and I’ve received have been much gentler in tone – asking after loved ones, sharing snippets of life around the world. Deadlines have been adjusted, and networks for advice, support and simply sharing have been revived or ramped up in activity. Continue reading

5 books that have influenced how I think about healthy team work

In a series of 3 earlier posts, I shared some books that I’ve found useful on the topics of community management, online interactions, and leadership and team culture. In this new instalment of the series I add five books that I’ve found useful when thinking about how we create healthy teams where trust and learning together are at the centre of our interactions.

1. “Dare to Lead” – Brené Brown

If you’re already familiar with Brené Brown’s work you’ll know how much she’s done already to bring discussions about shame, resilience and belonging to the fore. It’s no surprises then that the next step on her research (and book) journey is to apply those themes to the topic of leadership. She focuses here on how we can create workplaces that are emotionally safe and welcoming while allowing us to work through and learn from challenging situations.

I particular appreciated the table of armoured versus daring leadership. It compares our sometimes habitual behaviours such as cynicism or numbing (where we fiddle constantly with our phones, go to nightly happy hours or some other tactic to avoid uncomfortable feelings) to the daring versions – being hopeful or sitting with discomfort to see what it might show us.

I did not find this an easy read – it definitely challenges the reader to work on themselves. Yet it provides very vivid perspectives about how taking responsibility for our emotions can lead to more fulfilling, collaborative relationships at work.

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Exploring forms and norms – “Terminal” installation at the Sackler Gallery, DC

One of the things I sometimes consider on this blog is how design and interactive art can help us to explore our relationships to technology and how we see the world. “Exploring forms and norms” is an occasional series of posts on this topic.

By now the phrase “we’re all connected” has become almost synonymous with network maps showing the links between different people or nodes. Whether the maps show who interacts with whom within an organisation or which scientists around the world collaborate together, network diagrams start to add a systems perspective to our own interactions.

However, one thing these network maps don’t really describe is the consequence of all this connection – the sometimes subtle cause and effects of our inter-relatedness. If that department over there is closed down or these two friends of friends meet, then so what for me – or anyone else in the system?

The ultimate link fest! Image credit:

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Social learning spaces – and how community managers help make room for uncertainty

In the fellowship program that I run for scientific community managers we often refer to how a community manager needs to “create the space” for productive interactions to occur between community members. Other variants of the phrase that I’ve heard or used are “creating the container”, “tilling the soil” or “holding the crucible” in which the alchemy of new knowledge generation happens. But what does this somewhat cryptic phrase “creating the space” actually mean? We’re not literally talking about moving chairs out of the way or building a box big enough to hold people in, are we?

Diving lessons – how do we hold uncertainty together in a learning space? Image credit:

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Brené Brown on civility – and how it relates to creating diverse, equitable and inclusive communities

A few months ago I listened to an interview with Brené Brown on Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast. In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brown examines how it is that we can find a sense of belonging with others while also staying true to our own beliefs. In many ways, it’s a reflection on what’s needed for healthy communities – online and off.

A very civilised way to explore civility and community.
Image credit: author’s own

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Exploring forms and norms – Lanterns in the Noguchi museum, NYC

One of the things I sometimes consider on this blog is how design and interactive art can help us to explore our relationships to technology and how we see the world. “Exploring forms and norms” is an occasional series of posts on this topic.

A few months ago I visited the Noguchi museum in NYC where a wonderful exhibition using paper lanterns prompted me to consider the sensory expectations that different forms can create and how playing with form and the absence of form can help us to think through what we notice and what we take for granted in our interactions.

Lanterns and spaces – Noguchi museum, NYC.
Image credit: author’s own

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Navigating knowledge landscapes – the role of community managers as guides

In July, I participated in an inspiring 4-day retreat led by Bev Trayner and Etienne Wenger – social learning theorists and consultants who have written extensively about communities of practice and how cultivation of knowledge is a group-mediated activity. Each morning at the retreat we explored their current thinking about social learning, enjoying much time for discussion of the ideas as a group. One model that particularly resonated with me was that of the knowledge landscape.

In this metaphor, communities of practice can be imagined as hills or mountains of expertise within a landscape. The mountains can vary in height, depending on the amount of knowledge contained, and the slope of the mountain indicates the gradient of learning or the curriculum that a new member of the community would need to follow in order to progress up the mountain to expert level. A steep slope indicates that it’s harder to master the knowledge in that community, whereas a more gentle gradient allows for working more leisurely within the learner’s comfort zone.

How steep is the learning curve in your community of practice?
Image credit: author’s own

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Reading for Leading #27: Just five minutes…Creating wide open ways in

Just five minutes…Creating wide open ways in

Reading for Leading is a weekly leadership tip shared every Monday morning as a pithy suggestion, question or reflection. You can find the whole series here.

There’s a joke I heard recently about meditation where one practitioner turns and asks another how her practice is going. To which she replies,  “Oh, you know how it is: I spent 45 minutes not meditating today.”

And yet it’s always a day away…
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URLs of wisdom – W.T.Facebook edition – April 2018

This is a special instalment of the URLs of wisdom in which I round up some new and some not-so-new links about privacy, fake news and the business of community as relates to Facebook. If you have additional reading material on these topics to recommend, please add it as a comment.


When you add a feature that is really a bug…
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Community Manager musings: Four reasons coordinators of communities of practice can fail

Community manager musings is a series of occasional posts looking at the roles and skills of community managers – usually within science. 

“Gah! It’s all Greek to me!” One form of failure in building a community of practice comes from lack of domain expertise.
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Nurturing and growing a successful community of practice is a delicate balance of activities where the intention is to create a vibrant group of members interested in honing their craft in a particular domain that they share.

Communities can fail for any of a number of reasons – but in communities of practice Wenger et al., mention four key causes that are due specifically to how the community manager’s role is carried out.

  1. Time
  2. Balance between public and private spaces
  3. Pro-active networking
  4. Technical / domain knowledge

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