Still ruminating on my weekend with folk fascinated by ‘what are you working on/trying to solve’ vs ‘what have you done’ So cool. #UP2US14
— Brenda Sanderson (@brendamontreal) March 18, 2014
There is a level of clarity that only arrives after an incredible weekend of mind-blowing ideas, provocative discussions, bonfires, explorations along rivers, through woods and ravines and…. uh… moonlight canoe racing, karaoke dance parties and disc golf.
Three years running, it is safe to say that this year’s gathering of Up to All of Us was epic and in every way it’s because the participants made it so. This was one of those weekends for many participants (including yours truly) when everything changed. There was a healthy bombardment of new thinking and many opportunities to dwell quietly and let things sink in, as well as completely unstructured time to be filled with what we were each working on and investigating for the future.
Here are the ways in which we assembled.
While the swag bags were packed with coffee cereal, we gathered every morning at our ad-hoc coffee bar to make our own coffee. Our very own ninja, Brian Dusablon, curated our beverage choices with local beans from Krankies, which were (are) all delicious. With a scale, electric kettles, Aeropress kits, a French Press and V.60 pourovers, everyone could reward their coffee geekery and learn from each other how to get their morning cup of joy on.
Power of Pens
Our first activities on Friday included a visual social network and our visual jam organized by Megan, MJ Broadbent and Becca Wilson. This activity got us in drawing mode all weekend long.
Julie Dirksen kicked off both Saturday and Sunday with discussions around Hyperbolic Discounting and Pace Layering. Yeah. That’s how we started right after breakfast (and coffee).
Mary Quandt and MJ pushed us outside on Saturday to explore ideas around biomimicry. As an exercise in observation, we took advantage of a perfect March day in North Carolina and observed with our eyes and our ears to the systems operating all around us. This experience was made that much more memorable thanks to the contributions of Alex Summers, whose participation and incredible domain knowledge about ecology was serendipity smiling on us all. As a result of great weather, incredibly open eyes, drawing and embedded expertise the responses were surprisingly vivid and the applications to various practices were pretty evident.
Arvind Venkataramani and I experimented with investigations of urban design as a metaphor for organizational design. Organizing groups by the level of scale that was comfortable for people, we tackled considerations for the individual, the block, the neighborhood and the city as a whole.
Brenda Sanderson blew our minds with the power of self-organization as she recounted the story of how designers who had never met came together to create the Mandela Poster Project Collective.
Ramon Satyendra exposed different heuristic systems musicians have developed over centuries to construct sequences in music (chord progressions, to be crude about the music theory) which helped musicians to simply play together because of the common models they could collectively perform with.
Most important in these different activities wasn’t so much the imparting of information by the few who led the activities, but the feedback as people shared out from each activity. Up to All of Us is about master practitioners practicing for the love of it among our own in different fields, so while our minds were blown by the exposure to these different systems thinking concepts, the feedback shared openly expanded our collective minds even more.
Spontaneous Co-Creations and Joy
We had a wonderful crew of musicians with us this year. Mike Hruska on guitar, Christian Crumlish on Ukelele, Michelle Gray on Fiddle, Ramon on Piano and Keyboards — they led us to sing all Friday night. My personal favorites? Franklin’s Tower and… Every Rose Has its Thorn.
Steve Portigal jumpstarted our Saturday morning with a great improv activity around the idea of “Yes, And” which is a core idea with Up to All of Us. This activity had individuals suggesting a scenario for one another, having to “pass it on” to a next person with a different scenario. It was silly and memorable.
Around Saturday night’s bonfire, we played another improv game, Story, where the group tells a campfire story… with each person contributing one word at a time. In addition to more singing, impromptu Haikus and some profoundly heartfelt storytelling. Earlier in the evening, less profound but likely more memorable was the introduction of moonlight canoe racing orchestrated by Brian, Ben, Mary, Sean Putman, Judy Katz and doubtlessly others.
Sunday night we closed out the weekend with a karaoke dance party. Gareth Marland stole the show with his performances, Ben Betts with his dancing. In yet another surprise, Arvind and Craig Wiggins performed capoeira.
Dave Gray and Gareth debuting the MVP of Kardboard, the online platform for Gamestorming activities was a big highlight for our people, as it could probably not find a more enthusiastic audience of design practitioners across different fields eager to put it through its paces. There were many other discussions over the weekend that moved our various projects further forward. Joe Fournier‘s game prototype “Turn the Tile,” the OpenLRS effort, a shared discussion about articulating the utility of xAPI, Nano-coaching and even impromptu tutorials on how to use Sketchbook Pro…
This last weekend will be tough for us to make better. We were graced by wonderful weather and an amazing night, and even the crappy weather on Sunday while forcing many to leave early to avoid a winter storm, it also forced those of us who remained to hang together longer. The discussions throughout the weekend grew more and more insightful (and hilarious).
Megan and I both got our marching orders for the next several months and it’s going to re-establish the benchmark on JFDI for us. After several gatherings of various kinds organized over the last three years, this is the first time our path forward has been so clearly defined. We’re awed, slightly intimidated and incredibly motivated.
I’m sure I speak for every participant when I say that while the path forward for each of us is our own to walk, we are all the wind in each other’s sails, and that’s a mighty powerful and wonderful feeling.
Also wonderful? All the hugs. They were plentiful, as they should be. For myself and Megan, organizing Up to All of Us has been the most rewarding experience of our careers, now three years on. To feel this community coming together, working with each other not just at the event but all the way throughout the year, nudging each other forward — and now nudging Megan and I forward, too — is an amazing thing, and in the coming weeks expect us to share a lot more that was catalyzed by this weekend.