REI at work

Attended a large “Making Change” gathering at the Ritz Carlton yesterday that had come together to learn something and to make new connections. A lot of sincere people and a lot of ideas (principles of good training would suggest a slightly different approach to the meeting–people can’t go nearly 5 hours without a break and some interactivity–they simply stop absorbing information effectively). But clearly a lot of hard work had gone into bringing everyone together and preparing the program.

Participants heard many presentations and saw many PowerPoints. Susan Helper, a local manufacturing expert, gave a particularly informative presentation on the state of that industry. Then when the social networking software called InFlow (see it at Orgnet.com) came up, the day got very interesting.

I’ve already written about this mapping software, but at this meeting its creator Valdis Krebs conducted a live demonstration. Participants were asked to fill out a “connectors” survey before the meeting–and volunteer students from Case Weatherhead School (one of the chief organizers of the meeting) entered the survey data into the InFlow software while the presentations proceeded.

Valdis had explained that we can tell a great deal about how connected people are from simple data such as, in this case, the self-described top 5 people (from a list of 60 or 70 attendees) that you exchange information and ideas with. His brief but poignant presentation engendered quite a few questions–which he answered from the floor after having graciously yielded the podium. But the piece de resistance came when he got back up later (after a very large panel of maybe 16 folks had told in varying degrees of detail about their different civic groups working towards a variety of environmental, political and social goals) and turned on his live software to show us the results of the survey.

It was truly fascinating to watch the little nodes that represented each of the attendees (green, it turned out, indicated highly connected–four or more–attendees and blue, those who were less so) gradually move into their designated positions. A quick glance seemed to indicate that the green nodes constituted about a third to half of the attendees, many also speakers on the panel. There were lots of barely connected blue nodes.

It made me sad to see so much disconnection alongside all the tight connecting going on in the subgroup. If any group can overcome the natural human tendency to divide into groups and miss out on the power of some of its human capital, this one–composed of the area’s highly respected business educators and some of its passionate entrepreneurs–is it. That’s the challenge this meeting and this mapping create for REI (the Weatherhead coalition that’s behind this). Check out their wiki page and watch for real change to happen…

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