Thursday, December 22, 2011

10,000 Hours of Meetings

In recent years I've occasionally taken to introducing myself to people attending one of my process workshops with the one-liner, "The first thing you need to know about me is that I've been to more meetings than you."

While this invariably gets a laugh, it turns out there may be more substance to my claim than I first knew...

In Malcolm Galdwell's newest book, Outlier (released earlier this year), he makes the case that highly successful people are a combination of above-average capacity (relative to their craft), dedication to developing their skill, and luck. His sample set ranges from the Beatles to Mozart, from Bill Gates to Canadian hockey players.

Let's take these one at a time.

1. Above-average Capacity
Gladwell's research suggests you don't need to be a genius to be highly successful. You just need to be good enough. It's important to have sufficient raw ability that you're encouraged to develop your talent, but you don't need to be a child prodigy in order to ultimately excel. It turns out that practice counts for much more than innate ability.

2. Dedication to Developing Your Skill
One of the most interesting outcomes of Gladwell's investigations is that people are able to achieve a quantum leap in skill once they approach the 10,000-hour mark in practicing their craft. Amazingly, in broad strokes this holds true independent of the skill. That is, this principle obtains just as well for lawyers proficient at managing hostile takeovers as it does for professional hockey players; just as well for hit musicians as for IT wizards.

3. Luck
In all of Gladwell's stories, the person makes the commitment to putting in the hours because they're following an interest rather than because they know there will be a pot of gold at the end. Often enough, it is just dumb luck that there is a surge in demand for the skill that a person has been honing, giving them a temporary yet significant market advantage (because competitors cannot quickly replicate the mind-numbing 10,000 hours needed to catch up).

• • •
Walking over to Sandhill for my FIC Office shift yesterday, I had time to contemplate how many hours I'd put into attending and facilitating meetings among cooperative groups. Here's what I came up with:

o Sandhill Meetings
I've been a member of my community for 37 years. My best guess is that we average 2-3 meetings per month, with most meetings running at least two hours. That's 2200 hours of community meetings. Given that I'm on the road a lot though, let's say that I participated in only 1600 hours.

o Sandhill Retreats
My community has been in the habit of holding annual retreats for the purpose of long-term planning and working on deep issues the last 20 years. Typically we meet for 4-5 days. If we average 25 hours of meeting time that would be another 500 hours.

o FEC Meetings
I was a Sandhill delegate to the Federation of Eglalitarian Communities for 22 years, and attended every Assembly from 1979 through 2001. As meetings would generally run for five days, and there were two per year during my tenure, I estimate that was 60 hours of sessions annually, or 1300 hours in all.

o FIC Meetings
I've been involved with the Fellowship for Intentional Communities since it's inception in 1986. This coming spring we'll celebrate our 25th anniversary. The board meets every spring and fall and I've never missed one, which means I've attended 50 in a row. In the early years meetings would last four days; in the last five years or so, we've been able to complete our work in three days. In addition, there's an agenda setting meeting that lasts about four hours in front, and a wrap-up meeting that last for a couple hours at the end. All together, I figure the average board meeting translated into at least 25 hours of my time in meetings. That's another 1200 hours.

o FIC Oversight Committee Meetings
For the last 15 years, the FIC has functioned with an administrative committee whose job it is to steer the ship between board meetings. The Oversight Committee (which I have always been a member of) meets on average once a month for a one-hour conference call, plus twice a year for two days of
face-to-face interim meetings. In a year's time, that equates to 25 hours of interim meetings, plus another eight hours of conference calls. That's totals another 500 hours.

o PEACH Administration
I ran a self-insurance program for the FEC communities from 1987-2009. While most of this was done remotely, by letter and email, there were occasional conference calls and a handful of live meetings with representatives of the participating communities. All together, I figure that's another 100 hours.

o Process Consulting
I've been a cooperative group process consultant since 1987. While my workload started out quite slowly, it's gradually ramped up to the point where I do 10-12 jobs annually, plus trainings (of which I did 11 this year). As best I can estimate, I've worked about 250 days as a consultant all together. Figuring I'm on the job an average of six hours/day, that's 1500 hours.

o Facilitation Training
I launched a two-year program in Integrated Facilitation Training in 2003. To date I've delivered 45 intensive three-day weekends in this modality. With an average of 27 hours of group time each weekend that's 1200 additional hours.

o Event Workshops
As a regular member of the presenting faculty for a variety of events that focus on cooperative living, I've logged the following hours offering workshops the last two decades:
—NASCO Institutes: 90 hours
—Twin Oaks Conferences: 70 hours
—Cohousing Conferences: 60 hours
—FIC Events: 60 hours
—Miscellaneous: 20 hours

That's 300 more, bringing the total time I've been actively involved in meetings with cooperative groups up to 8200 hours. But it's more than that.

Writing about Group Process
Early in my career as a process consultant, I realized that clients only digest about 20% of what happens in a weekend. In an effort to give them more useful product, I've committed to sending a detailed report after the fact, offering an overview of what happened, my analysis of the dynamics, process observations, and recommendations. I try to get these written reflections into the clients' In Box within two weeks. Because this effort involves concentrated analysis of what happens in live meetings, I figure it fully counts as practicing my craft:

—Facilitation training weekends: There have been 45 of these. At 14 hours per report (eight for the host group report and one hour each for every student facilitator) that's 600 hours.

—Consulting weekends: According to my records, I've written reports for at least 84 consulting jobs. At an average of eight hours per report, that's comes to 700 hours.

Beyond that, I'm a regular author for Communities magazine. In the 17 years that FIC has been the publisher, I've written about 80 articles. I figure at least half of those dealt with some aspect of cooperative group dynamics. Counting an average of five hours per article, that's 200 hours.

Finally, there's this blog. I've cranked out over 460 entries in four years, with the focus oscillating among the themes of homesteading, community, and cooperative group dynamics. I figure at least a third of my entries have been about group dynamics. If it takes me an average of 2-3 hours to complete a blog entry, that's 400 hours more.

Adding my writing about meetings to my actual time in meetings, the grand total is a whopping 10,100 hours. In short, it turns out I've made it (barely) across Gladwell's threshold for due diligence, and probably goes a long way toward explaining why the demand for my services as a process consultant has not diminished with the poor economy.

While none of this proves competence, it's nonetheless exciting to think about the possibilities in the face of current trends:
o Widespread dissatisfaction with traditional, competitive ways of doing business and making political decisions.
o Interest in community living has never been higher.
o Transition Towns are focusing on local, community-based responses to Peak Oil and Climate Change.
o The Occupy phenomenon has demonstrated a surprisingly resilient commitment to cooperative decision making.

I may be one of the lucky ones who accidentally focused on the right thing at the right time, so that I'd have my 10,000 hours in when opportunity knocks. Anyone care to have a meeting to discuss it?

No comments: