So how did we find a way to help all those in Public Radio find the answers to finding a path through the chaos that is media today?
We used play. We designed the core of the process as a game.
Imagine - You are a station leader, an NPR executive, a NPR Board Member or a person closely connected to Public Radio. You would be invited to a 2 day meeting in your part of America ( We held these all over the country) from October 2005 to May 2006. 240 NPR staffers went through the process in an internal version of the Game. Nearly 1,000 people were involved by the end.
Some of you, and all the NPR executives, would be interviewed prior to the meeting where you would tell me what you thought was really going on. By the end of the work we had over 100 of these interviews all written up in story format and posted on the project Intranet - so the individual opinion of many was there for all to see. No one could join the Intranet until that had finished their meeting. So all the interviews were "cold" in that they could not be influenced by others.
All of you were asked to do some Homework before the meeting. The Homework was to imagine that you had retired in 20 years into the future and that you were writing to your favorite 9 year granddaughter/neice who had asked you what you had done to make Public radio the great success it was. You were reminded that 9 year old girls had a great bullshit detector and knew the truth when they heard it. So people wrote stories from their heart. Some of the best ideas came from this part of the process when people were freed of their corporate mind. Some of these letters were published as well. The purpose of the process was to engage the heart prior to the meeting and to allow you to jump from today into the future. I think that for some, the letter also showed you what was really important to the future of the country and to the next generation.
So you turn up not knowing much about what you are going to do. All later participants knew was that it was fun.
You find that you have been put into a team. The teams would usually represent:
- Station leaders
- NPR executives
- Eat your Lunch - a group of people funded by Rupert Murdoch to take Public radio's audience from them
- News Listeners
- Music Listeners
The Eat your Lunch team in Philly
You were told that you had 3 tasks. You would have to develop a contextual landscape for your group's perspective of what would happen by 2009. Then you had to develop a 3 point plan for what your team was going to do to ensure that you came out the winner. Finally instead of flip charts or Power Point you would have to present your findings by putting on a 15 minute improv show. You all would then vote for the best team and it would a huge prize - usually a clock!
What we did not tell you was that there was a twist. After you had got comfortable with your team and you had done your best to gain a perspective from that team's point of view on how the world would work, we told you that Pierre Omidyar had just hired you all to find the way for Public radio and you were all then put into new teams. Then the magic would happen.
In the first phase you and your team would have behaved as we are used to. You would have debated your points of view to develop a composite. Now you were in a new team - each person would have to tell, without interruption what you had learned about say the Rupert Murdoch view or the NPR view or the Listener view. You started to listen and to see a much wider perspective. You started to see how complex and diverse the world really was. A many faceted world began to emerge.
Many were nervous about putting on a show. But we were all staggered by the quality of what then happened. Most of the "Plays" got at the essence of key issues. Story and humor were at the core of how the message was put across. Seeing revered leaders making complete fools of themselves was a refreshing way of communicating as well.
Here is Kevin Klose and Dana Rehm in action
More fun! The heart, the mind and the body were involved. There was all the pressure and camaraderie of a public performance. People were very competitive but in a game and not a political way. You were in teams with your real life competitors and you did great work with them.
After the voting, you had one more task - we asked you to stand up in front of all your colleagues and make a wish about what you really wanted to see happen. The overwhelming wish was to get serious about cooperating. You, at a time when your heart was open after performing in public before your peers made a vow.
As you finished your session, you were invited into a private intranet called the Sandbox - developed by partner Jevon MacDonald - where the conversation could continue and where you could find all the opinion of all those that had preceded you. So there was a huge potential iteration from the face to face to the virtual.
This process began with a beta run with the 23 NPR executives quickly followed by a session for the board. We then set out with some experience of how this may play out to the system as a whole. While we traveled the country with a session every few weeks, my partner Kash Birk set up and ran a duplicate process inside NPR. In 6 weeks 240 staff participated. The staff shows were all taped and if you were a participant you will have a copy of your show. Kash produced a document called NPR Unplugged where all the key comments, all unvarnished, of the staff about public radio and NPR are revealed.
In May we had to bring it all together. Our promise to all was that we would not manipulate the process. This left us with no choice but to bet on using Open Space as a process. Fortunately I knew of a person in whom I had the greatest confidence in being able to pull such a meeting with 300 attendees. Johnnie Moore has been a blogging friend for many years but ironically we had never met until after I asked him to help and he had arrived to do the orientation.
None of us other than Johnnie had experienced Open Space before and even Johnnie had not had 300 people before. What happened? In two days there was an unspoken agreement that Public Radio had to come together. Above all, many of the trust issues had been somehow resolved by months of working with each other and seeing the other's point of view.
Our purpose from the outset was to set in train a process where a common language, a common lens and a common vision would "Emerge". Our hope was that trust would build as would a sense of collective urgency. This has all unfolded. We have a huge amount of the record on the record and a lot of what I have been doing since May has been trying to see the patterns more clearly in the material. I have been helped enormously by a great story teller and radio personality, our PEI Jon Stewart, Cynthia Dunsford.
Now the work of deciding what to do has begun in what I now see as an environment of much greater trust and mutual understanding. Many of the questions that were un-answerable at the outset have been answered collectively.
How did we "manage" all of this?
We set out to build a cadre of an ever larger pool of participants. As each session was scheduled, we asked those that had obviously got engaged in prior sessions to join us as facilitators. By the end we had station managers, Staff, NPR execs, NPR board members (one was a key player in every session) all doing the heavy lifting of facilitating the groups.
Our Client, Dana Rehm, has also a wonderful and expanding team that we called the Amigas or later the Omegas as men were added. This was not the kind of assignment where the consultant does all the work. Dana and the Omegas were the heart and soul of the work. This meant that we only used 3 1/2 people from our side for a project of this scale. Consequently New Realities was always owned by our client.
In all of this we were all supported by Kevin Klose President and Ken Stern COO. Imagine how hard it would be for you as a CEO or COO to put your trust into a process that was so open? Without their commitment and trust, we could never have done this. Tim Eby, the Chair of NPR has been the capstone for all the support that was needed for such an open process.
For myself - this has been the assignment of a lifetime. Thank you all.