January Chapter Meeting - Genius Forum

  • Sun, April 20, 2014 7:13 AM
    Message # 1540984
    A special thank you to Malia Nolan for submitting the following commentary on the January Chapter Meeting.

    My ASTD Genius Forum Experience, 
    By Malia Nolan, Sagatica Consultant

    If you’ve never attended a Genius Forum, the collaborative process can be surprising
    and unexpected. Its not every day that professionals from multiple backgrounds
    come together to share their knowledge and ideas for bettering organizations.
    Genius Forums create space for powerful breakthroughs, and I am grateful to have
    been a participant.
    The event, held at the Torrey Hills Hilton, was titled, “Why Culture Eats Strategy for
    Breakfast: an Experiential Approach to Driving Leadership Change”. It was hosted
    by the San Diego ASTD and local Leadership Consulting firm, Sagatica.
    The event began with Sagatica CEO Eric Kaufmann welcoming us and giving an
    insightful presentation on the importance of engagement, which he defined as “the
    extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the
    organization, and put discretionary effort into their work.” Much of the presentation
    focused on ways to lead others with greater awareness, and therefore increase our
    The presentation was rich with Eric’s characteristic insightfulness and self-effacing
    humor. A key to the presentation was the use of what he calls the “Four Virtues” of
    Focus, Courage, Grit, and Faith, that ask us what we are creating, avoiding,
    sustaining, and yielding (or letting go of) at any given moment. He shared that we
    can use these principles, or “virtues”, at any time to create more engaged
    workplaces simply by becoming mindful of how we are choosing to lead and interact
    with others. By this point, I was definitely inspired!
    After Eric’s presentation, Sagatica’s COO and ASTD Board Member, Gregg
    Fasbinder, stepped in, and led the 50 or so participants to a large circle with lots of
    colored paper and pens piled up in the center. Many of the attendees looked
    curiously at the pile, and I think we all wondered what was in store for us! He
    introduced himself and then gently asked us to close our eyes for a moment and
    become fully present. He shared that we were participating in this exercise as a way
    to share all of our collective wisdom on how to create cultures of engagement in the
    workplace. I haven’t attended many business functions that focused on workplace
    culture and mindfulness, and found myself feeling excited and grateful to be among
    such a group of people.
    From there, Gregg gave a brief overview of the structure of a Genius Forum, and
    explained how the group would be utilizing open-space technology (a facilitation
    method developed over 30 years ago and used around the world) to develop
    strategies for creating cultures of engagement.
    We learned that the governing rule of Genius Forums is “the Law of Two Feet”,
    which urges participants to join group discussions for as long, or as little, as they’d
    like. “If you lose passion and excitement about the topic, move on,” he explained. He
    then added, with a friendly laugh, “How often do you get the chance to walk out in
    the middle of a meeting?” Here, walking out was not only allowed, it was
    He continued to outline the four principles of the Genius Forum, explaining,
    . Whoever comes is the right people. This means that neither the number of
    participants nor the actual participants are as important as the quality of
    their interactions and conversations. For good conversation, you only need
    one other person who shares your passion.
    . Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. Real learning and
    progress take place when we move beyond our original agendas - if
    everything happened just the way we wanted it, life would be dull, and
    learning would be limited. It is in moments of surprise that we grow.
    . Whenever it starts is the right time. Creativity and spirit are critical for open
    space meetings, and neither pay much attention to the clock. They appear in
    their own time, which by definition means the right time can be at any
    . Whenever it’s over, it’s over. And conversely, when it’s not over, it’s not over.
    The time and space allocated is only as effective as the conversation and
    meaningful interaction that’s happening. Passion and content are the drivers
    for Genius Forums, not the artificial boundaries of the clock.
    After discussing the parameters, Gregg asked everyone to imagine one idea they had
    to create a culture of engagement, and then walk into the center of the circle and
    write it on a piece of colored paper. What was amazing to me was that most people
    didn’t just have one idea – they had many! And they were great!
    Ideas ranged from allowing 24 hour periods where employees could work on one
    project without distraction, to creating greater communication with upper-level
    management. They also included ideas like introducing stress-management
    activities, happy hour, and movie nights. It was interesting to see how much people
    knew and wanted to share once given the chance. All in all, we generated about 100
    great ideas to build cultures of engagement in our workplaces, and challenged our
    expectations about what was actually possible.
    After this initial activity we broke into three small groups, called “Open
    Marketplaces” where we tackled specific challenges to creating cultures of
    engagement, such how to increase creativity. We were all asked to contribute our
    ideas and suggestions, and then take it a step further and reflect on our own
    experience or knowledge that would be supportive in making these ideas happen.
    This kept the focus on positive action, rather then just generating ideas. We focused
    on what action we could take to make our work more engaged now. We were also
    given the freedom to utilize “The Law of 2 Feet” at any time, which kept discussions
    far more inspired, as we knew we could move on at any time.
    The experience of the genius forum was very eye-opening for me. I had never
    attended a business event that placed such emphasis on creative improvement and
    collective wisdom. I learned that we often know much more then we think we do,
    and all have valuable insights to contribute to make in our workplaces (and our
    lives) more engaged, productive, and happy. Several weeks later, I’ve already taken
    creative action in my own life and am reaping the benefits.

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