How to get an “unconference” session wrong: my experience at the #responsiveorg London event

It took all my nerve, gaul and mental stamina to get up and suggest a session at the start of the #responsiveorg day in London last month. Here’s how it went.

My session was entitled “Encouraging ‘Bit Literacy’ amongst the late majority”. I had had my mind blown by some very clever people and ideas throughout the earlier parts of the day and was massively relieved yet slightly anxious that a few good people had turned up to contribute when my time came.

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I drew an explanation about Bit Literacy on a sheet of paper in advance, referencing Mark Hurst who coined the term and recommending people download his book (which is easy to read and free to download btw).

I then turned the session over to the participants by explaining that I have been thinking about the challenge of ‘upskilling’ the majority of the company I work for. What should I do to encourage bit literate skills and behaviours amongst the wider population in the business?

What transpired wasn’t what I expected but was refreshing and inspiring nonetheless.

Reframe for success
I found out that the way I had framed the problem was likely to be totally wrong – and at worst it was condescending. It lacked empathy to expect almost everyone in an organisation to effectively be at the laggard end of the spectrum of literacy. How did the people in the wider organisation feel about becoming literate?

Don’t assume there will be benefits; express them clearly
I hadn’t expressed the tangible business benefits of becoming bit literate. I hadn’t expressed the ‘why’ from either a business point of view or from an individual’s point of view. Unlikely to get many people engaged that way.

Social media no-show
There were a few digital cynics amongst the group – they had shunned social media and the like as it had created further distraction in their lives that they didn’t feel they needed and having used Facebook and Twitter etc found them to have limited value. Even getting people over the ‘social media hump’ was something I should consider.

Benefits can be expressed in a number of ways
Nevertheless there were some great pointers about helping organisations encourage take up of new technologies. In one organisation, instant messaging was called “just a different way of thinking”, and that strapline worked to grow its use. Why? Because as a statement it was vague enough for everyone to be curious enough to find out more. Successful usage bred further usage.

I came away from the session with my mind even further blown. The main question of the session not answered but turned inside out and upside down by enlightening conversation. As it should be.

That was my little slice of #responsiveorg. Thanks to the organisers and everyone there on the day.

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