Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 7, How to Experiment

I’m excited to share a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization.

The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt:

How to Experiment

Experimentation is at the heart of any Responsive organization. The goal is to react quickly with the best information at hand, and then respond to feedback, whether it be from clients, the market or employees.  The following three components are needed before companies can experiment successfully.

Trust

A vital component of any organization that wants to experiment is trust in the people actually doing the work. There was a point in catering the first annual Responsive Conference where the outcome was simply out of my control and I had to trust the people to whom I had given authority. In Buffer’s experiments with remote work, there was a willingness to trust that their employees would be productive outside of a traditional office setting. Had things gone poorly, they could always have moved back to a single location.

Culture

Culture is the second principle which makes a successful experimental company. General Electric couldn’t have embarked on the changes former CEO Jeff Immelt ushered in without a willingness to experiment with new visions, plans, and actions (see Chapter 6). While opinions of success vary, depending on whether we’re considering shareholder value or improved culture, GE is now a more agile company with a more human-focused culture than it had before.

Similarly, at Culture Amp, it took Didier Elzinga’s thoughtfulness and a company focused on the well-being of people, to leave behind a model of compensation that did not suit the needs of that organization.

Incremental Change

Finally, incremental change can be used to ease the process of implementing Responsive principles. Incremental change can minimize losses and maximize learning from “failed” experiments and allow successful trials to be quickly built upon, scaled, or improved further. This doesn’t mean all Responsive change must be small (as we’ll see in the next chapter), but it is important to factor in the gains afforded by small cumulative adaptations.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 6, Controlling and Empowering

I’m excited to share a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization.

The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt:

Characteristics of a Cult—or Any Poorly Run Company

The mechanisms that cults use to attract and keep members are actually used by all organizations to some degree. Cults just do things in extremes.

  • Cults place a “high demand” on their members, progressively raising the bar as people move toward the inner circles of the organization.
  • They allow for varying degrees of commitment and involvement, but the more members become involved within the organization, the more external communities are forbidden.
  • Cults are ideologically intense and offer simplistic answers.
  • They encourage conformity within the organization.

Cults are jealous of inclusion in other organizations and actively try to shut down member’s participation in alternative communities.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 5, Leadership

I’m excited to share a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization.

The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt:

Each person must determine how they will lead, but that leadership always stems from character and values. The leadership demonstrated by Stanley McChrystal, Pam Slim, and Adam Pisoni is rooted in what they personally value. The particulars of how that leadership materializes will vary depending on the situation, but an organization can’t surpass the quality of its leadership. As Chris Fussell has said of the team of teams approach, leader behavior is the essential element that allows a plan to succeed. Investing in leadership—your own and that of your teams—can only pay dividends in the long run.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 4, How We Organize

I’m excited to share a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization.

The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the past there were big and complex tasks that required many people working on them. The ‘transaction costs’ involved to get coordination between people was high, so the concept of a Manager was introduced. As the number of Managers increased, a Manager of the Managers was created… and hierarchies formed.

This resulted in order, clarity of authority, rank, and power. They reinforced a single primary connection: manager to worker, and enabled a command and control style of leadership that was terrifically successful during the industrial era.

If you’ve enjoyed Chapter 4 of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Chris Fussell & Rachel Mendelowitz of the McChrystal Group at Responsive Conference 2016

I hope you enjoy this talk from Responsive Conference 2016 with former Navy SEAL and New York Times best-selling author Chris Fussell (@fussellchris) alongside Rachel Mendelowitz (@rachelowitz) as they discuss “Team of Teams” and new ways of organizing companies of the future.

Alongside General Stan McChrystal, Chris runs the McChrystal Group – an organizational design consultancy that works with companies all over the world to do in industry what Stan, Chris and the US Military did during the Iraq War. In the book Teams of Teams, Stanley McChrystal and Chris outline how they took the special operations branch of the US Military – a stereotypically bureaucratic organization – and transformed it into a adaptive, agile system.

This video was recorded at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016.

Learn more:
http://responsiveconference.com

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 3, Purpose

I’m very pleased to share, exclusively for this podcast, a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it out in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!

The Morning Star Company

Doug Kirkpatrick was one of the earliest employees at The Morning Star Company. Founded in 1990, Morning Star would go on to trailblaze self-management in business. But as might be expected of any start-up, let alone one committed to innovative management, the company’s early days were intense times.

Morning Star is a tomato-ingredients manufacturer based out of Sacramento, California. The agribusiness and food-processing industries are notoriously old-school, known for strict command and control structures and rigid bureaucracies. The small group of employees who initiated the Morning Star project had a six-month window to start up the first factory and had committed to beginning operations on a specified day and even at a specific hour. They were a high-performance group, and Doug describes those initial weeks as a high state of flow, with each person striving cooperatively to bring the new company into existence. The company consisted of seasoned employees, and Doug, at thirty-four, was considered quite young.

Several months before the factory opened, the owner of The Morning Star Company, Chris Rufer, called a leadership meeting. The Morning Star founder and twenty-four members of the team met on the job site. They pulled steel folding chairs into a circle, and Chris passed around a page titled “Morning Star Colleague Principles.”

The sheet included just two points:

  •      Don’t use force.
  •      Keep your commitments.

The group spent several hours discussing what these principles meant. Questions cropped up. What happens if you have to fire somebody? What if someone quits? In the end, no one found a reason to reject these ideas, and every person there had reasons to embrace them.

Together, the group concluded that these two points were necessary and sufficient, and they would make up the core of all human interactions at the company. Adopting these principles wouldn’t change the day-to-day operations of the nascent company, but they’d have clear guideposts by which they’d proceed.

What they perhaps didn’t fully process at that moment (and what Doug has spent his career implementing, first at Morning Star and now with companies all over the world) was the far-reaching ramifications of adopting those simple principles. Consider, for example, that “Don’t Use Force” effectively implies:

  •      No one can require anyone to do anything.
  •      No one can unilaterally make anyone do anything.
  •      No one can fire anyone unilaterally.
  •      Each person has a voice within the company and each voice is protected; no democracy or majority rules.
  •      Checks and balances will be inherent.

At the time, it didn’t register how profoundly that meeting, and its eventual outcomes, would impact the team, and its members individually. As Doug said, “What we did would end up being very radical—but we were so busy we didn’t necessarily see it since it didn’t seem immediately to impact our day-to-day lives.” More than two decades later, those principles—don’t use force and keep your commitments—continue to serve as the bedrock of a successful, self-managed company.

Shortly before opening, Doug and his colleagues celebrated his thirty-fourth birthday outside the same farmhouse where Chris Rufer had called that fateful leadership meeting. The company has gone on to become a model of self-management and the world’s largest tomato processor, handling between 25% and 30% of U.S. tomato crops.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 2, The Future of Work

 

I’m very pleased to share, exclusively for this podcast, a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it out in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!

…as the pace of change accelerates, the challenges we face are becoming less and less predictable. Those practices that were so successful in the past are counter-productive in less predictable environments. In contrast, Responsive Organizations are designed to thrive in less predictable environments…

— Responsive Org Manifesto

The world is changing more rapidly than we have ever seen before in human history. According to 2012 estimates, members of the S&P 500 were expected on average to remain in the index for only eighteen years, compared to the sixty-one years they might have expected in 1958. The anticipated lifespan of companies has dropped dramatically over the last few decades.

We also see this in the rise of the ridesharing industry—Lyft and Uber, among others—which was enabled by the proliferation of smartphones. This new industry seized a large part of the taxi market, which previously had been considered stable, if not untouchable. Similarly, the rise of home sharing—and most notably, AirBNB—was made possible by the hyper-connectivity of the Internet Age, and disrupted the traditional hotel industry.

Another example of the changing nature of the business landscape is the 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon.com. The day the acquisition was announced, Whole Foods stock rocketed almost 30%, while the value of competitors in the grocery business dropped precipitously. The presumption, it seems, is that disruption of the grocery industry is now inevitable.

There’s a broad lesson in the emergence of ride sharing, home sharing, and the Whole Foods acquisition—which is that any organization or industry is liable to be shaken up at any moment. The goal of every company in the 21st century should be to become resilient, flexible, and have the capacity to respond to inevitable change. Industries, today, can change with unprecedented speed.

If you’ve enjoyed Chapter 2 of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive: What It Takes To Create A Thriving Organization, Chapter 1

I’m very pleased to share, exclusively for this podcast, the first chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it out in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!

 

On the Shoulders of Giants

Responsive has been built on a community of which I am just a single member.

I am grateful to the six people wrote the Responsive Org manifesto, and began a movement: Adam Pisoni, Aaron Dignan, Matthew Partovi, Mike Arauz, Steve Hopkins and Alexis Gonzales-Black. They put words to a problem faced by organizations today and gave us a language to describe the challenges and tensions that have long existed in the workplace.

I would not have written this book without the friendship of Steve Hopkins, who taught me how to run an un-conference, and the handful of collaborators with whom I produced my first Responsive events.

I’m indebted to the fifty-plus leaders who I’ve interviewed on my podcast, The Robin Zander Show, who described big ideas like non-hierarchy and holacracy in simple language and gave me hope that I could write a book to do the same.

 

How To Use This Book

My career path has never followed a traditional route. My first job out of college was as a management consultant, with a gig as a circus performer nights and weekends. Of course, I couldn’t tell the consulting company that I was in the circus, but I also couldn’t admit to my fellow circus artists that I wore a suit to work. I am not content to live in such a binary world. I want to live in a world that encourages the full expression of every individual, and I am dedicated to building it. Improving the ways we work seems like a great place to start.

Responsive is a compilation of tactics and accompanying short stories about innovators on the front lines of the future of work. It is designed to be a choose-your-own-adventure exploration into how we work in the modern era, the approaches and perspectives employed by high performing organizations, and what makes those methods so effective.

While this book can be read cover to cover, I have designed it so that you can jump to those sections most interesting or relevant to you right now. Ultimately Responsive is intended as a reference guide as much as a road map—a resource you can return to again and again as you dive deeper into Responsive and the future of work.

 

A Responsive Café

I have a vested interest in discovering what works for myself and my small team. Throughout this book, I’ll share stories about my small business, a coffee shop in San Francisco, where I work with my ten-person staff to serve coffee and avocado toast and to build community.

I founded “Robin’s Café” in late April 2016, with no prior experience as a restaurateur but armed with a clear purpose: to foster a nascent community that I knew could exist in our corner of San Francisco. We had exactly three weeks from inception to opening day, so, unsurprisingly, our first week of operations was a mess. Attendees of a conference I had organized on site wanted to support the café, creating a bona fide lunch rush on our very first day.

In those early weeks, we were a team of four, often making up recipes on the spot to cover orders. I look back on those times now, after having a tough day, and realize that no matter how terrible things might seem, it will never be as chaotic and insane as those first few weeks.

We desperately needed additional staff. One day, a man named Frank quietly dropped off his resume during our usual morning rush. I was up to my elbows managing an exploding keg of cold brew. But even in the midst of a coffee emergency, it quickly became clear that Frank was professional, playful, and knowledgeable about the food service industry. I hired him, and he soon became indispensable at the café.

On May 20, 2016, Frank had been scheduled to open the café. Around 9:30 a.m., I got a call that Frank hadn’t shown up. “Was he sick?” I wondered. I checked to see if he’d sent me any messages, but there were none. I called him, but it went to voicemail. A week later, I sent an email, mostly in jest, with the subject, “Are you still alive?” The staff and I just assumed that Frank became a “no call, no show,” something not uncommon in the service industry. Frank’s cutting contact was a simple case of job abandonment. Still, it somehow didn’t seem like Frank, and I wanted to make sure he was okay. I tracked down his brother on social media and messaged him. I heard nothing for several days.

Then, out of the blue, Frank’s brother called me. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” I remember him saying, “My brother is dead. He was hit and killed by a train.” In that moment of shock, while I digested what I’d just heard, Frank’s brother went on: “I want you to know how happy he was to be working at Robin’s Café.”

Frank’s death is a constant reminder to me of how truly transient and changeable business—and life—can be. As a small business owner in those first few weeks, I had to be resilient, not just in my response to Frank’s death, but to be able to mentor and support those at our café and in the community who knew him. I was determined to build into the ethos of our organization this realization that circumstances can change in an instant. I wanted my team to be resilient when times got tough and grateful for the days when work felt more like play. I like to think that in some way this commitment to resilience and good humor is a small homage to Frank.

That same ethos is what has compelled me to write this book and to share just some of the ways that ground-breaking organizations and individuals are exploring human-centered work. This book is an invitation to see the value of Responsive approaches and bring them into your organization as fits your vision and culture.

If you’ve enjoyed Chapter 1 of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

“Empathy, Compromise, and Courage” – Adam Pisoni at Responsive Conference 2016

This video was recorded live at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016. Come see Adam Pisoni live again this year at the 3rd Annual Responsive Conference on September 24 and 25, 2018 in Queens, New York.

 

Building Yammer

Adam Pisoni (@adampisoni) co-founded Yammer (which sold to Microsoft for 1.2 billion dollars). He recounts how he learned about about Conway’s law. “At Yammer, we believed in rapid product iteration. Once we realized the organizational structure was part of the product, we then had to believe in rapid organization iteration.” The engineering mantra at Yammer became: “We’re not smarter than other people. We just iterate faster.”

This insight led Adam to recognize that he and the engineering and product teams at Yammer were not just building a product but building a company (at least, if they were going to be effective). He began to investigate what it would mean not just to rapidly iterate on Yammer’s product but to iterate the organization’s structure itself.

In other words, he began to explore whether Yammer could become more Responsive. What Adam was clear on, was that their product didn’t exist in isolation. Yammer, as a communication platform for enterprise businesses, was particularly well placed to recognize the challenges of the current working world. Eventually, Adam put these thoughts into a manifesto and shared them with CEOs and C-level executives. The response was an enthusiastic affirmation of their ideas. The result of this thinking led Adam to co-found the Responsive Org movement.

 

Experiments in Education

Adam realized the education system in North America is largely still reliant on an assembly-model way of teaching and thinking. Consider the structure of most schools: there are grades, segregated by age; there are alarm bells which tell students when to move from one classroom to the next. The most common form of learning is to passively sit and absorb lectured lessons.

More subtly, subjects are taught according to a linear progression. Math education in the United States, for example, moves from algebra, to geometry, to advanced algebra, to precalculus, to calculus. This progression to trains students to think about math in a way that only entrenches a hierarchical, linear view of how to how the world works. School in the 21st Century is still designed to produce people to work in factories.

Adam was bold enough to tackle revitalizing the education system, by optimizing administrators’ time and budgets. He founded Abl Schools, a collaborative platform for administrators and teachers. Abl has re-envisioned how principals relate with their teachers and facilities and how schools use their time. The idea is to help schools better manage the day-to-day to be able to achieve its educational goals, starting with the company’s first product, a cloud-based master scheduler.

Exciting possibilities emerge when we reconsider even behemoth institutions like the U.S. education system and experiment with new approaches that leverage technology and new models of collaborating. What is necessary, is the willingness to experiment.

A Diverse Founding Team

Adam Pisoni has been open about the challenges of creating diversity in founding his company Abl Schools. He writes:

“If your founding team is homogenous, it will likely develop a narrow culture which is well suited for that narrow group of people. That culture won’t be as self-aware of the lack of inclusion in the culture, but it will feel inclusive for everyone within the tight knit founding team. As new employees with different backgrounds join, they will be more likely to reject or be rejected from the culture than to add to it. While you may be celebrating how strong a culture and tight a team you have, you may also be unaware of the ways you’re actually reminding that new employee that they don’t belong.”

While there is a lot of conversation about fostering an inclusive company culture, very few Silicon Valley companies have an equal gender split between male and female employees, and even fewer have women or underrepresented groups at the highest levels of leadership.

As Adam explains, this doesn’t actually mean teams of straight white men can’t produce great companies. He argues: “I believe diverse founding teams can produce better outcomes. A team of white men can come up with good ideas. But I believe a diverse team can come up with better ones.” The curiosity and perseverance Adam has demonstrated at Abl Schools is an example of what can be done in any number of genres by founders just starting out.

If you enjoyed this episode of the Robin Zander Show, you might also enjoy hearing me and Adam in conversation, recorded at the Responsive book launch party last November.

At Responsive Conference 2018, Adam will be joined onstage by Anthony Kim (Founder, Education Elements) to dive deeply into the problems facing our current educational practices, and what can be done to improve them.

Learn more:
http://responsiveconference.com

Bob Gower at Responsive Conference 2016 – “How Not to Join a Cult”

Bob Gower (@bobgower) helps organizations become faster, better, and happier. He is an authority on agile development, lean theory, and responsive organizational design, and the author of “Agile Business: A Leader’s Guide to Harnessing Complexity“.

Bob has advised leaders at numerous companies—including GE, Ford, Chanel, and Spotify—in creating more effective organizations. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management, is a Certified Positive Psychology Practitioner, and speaks and publishes regularly on what it takes to build great organizations.

Bob is the author of the new book “Getting to Hell Yes”, along with his wife Alexandra Jamieson, and together they will be leading a workshop at Responsive Conference 2018 on generative conversations that will change your business (and the rest of your life).

This video was recorded at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016.

Learn more:
http://responsiveconference.com

Jennifer Dennard at Responsive Conference 2016 – “Medium – The Future of (People) Work”

I hope you enjoy this talk with Jennifer Dennard from Responsive Conference 2016. Jennifer is the co-founder of Range Labs and the former Head of People and Culture at Medium, focusing on organization design, people operations, and diversity & inclusion.

Jennifer is passionate about helping teams work together better. In this talk, Jennifer talks about human resources and a future of work that is best for our employees.

This talk was recorded live at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in September 2016. Learn more at http://responsiveconference.com

Charles Best at Responsive Conference 2017 – “DonorsChoose.org – A Purpose Driven Company”

I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Charles Best (@CharlesBest), founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org.

Charles Best is an American philanthropist and entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding platform for K-12 teachers serving in US schools.

Charles launched the organization out of a Bronx public high school where he taught history. DonorsChoose.org is one of Oprah Winfrey’s “ultimate favorite things” and was named by Fast Company as one of the “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.”

This video was recorded at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in New York City in 2017. Learn more: http://responsiveconference.com

Steve Hopkins at Responsive Conference 2017 – “Culture First”

I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Steve Hopkins (@stevehopkins), Director of Customer Success at Culture Amp and a founding member of the Responsive Org movement.

Steve is passionate about helping clients develop a responsive operating culture that they can be proud of. At Culture Amp, Steve does this by guiding clients through successful culture change programs using the Culture Amp HR and People Analytics platform.

This talk was recorded live at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in September 2017. Learn more at http://responsiveconference.com

Meg Poe at Responsive Conference 2017 – “The Most Popular Class at NYU on Love”

I’m pleased to share this talk at Responsive Conference 2017 with Meg Poe, professor at New York University.

Megan Poe is a psychiatrist and interpersonal psychoanalyst who teaches one of New York University’s most popular and fastest-growing classes. Her topic? Love! At this year’s Responsive Conference, she’ll explore with us what it takes to live, love, and work well.

In addition to her professorship at NYU, Meg has a private practice in New York City. Meg’s mission is to help people feel most present and alive in their creative flow and inner life. She specializes in helping adults create more-intimate, fulfilling relationships in their lives and work.

This talk was recorded live at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in September 2017. Learn more at http://responsiveconference.com

Aaron Dignan at Responsive Conference 2017 – “Let’s Disrupt the Modern World of Work”

I’m pleased to share this keynote address by my friend Aaron Dignan (@aarondignan), founder of The Ready, at Responsive Conference 2017.

Aaron Dignan sees the same phenomenon everywhere he looks. Our most trusted and important institutions – in business, healthcare, government, philanthropy, and beyond – are struggling. They’re confronted with the fact that the scale and bureaucracy that once made them strong are liabilities in an era of constant change.

Aaron is the founder of The Ready and a founding member of the Responsive Org movement.

This talk was recorded live at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference in September 2017. We’re gearing up for Responsive Conference 2018, and excited to have The Ready leading an interactive Teaming simulation.

Learn more at responsiveconference.com

Revolutionizing Education with Anthony Kim and Alexis Gonzales-Black

I am so excited for today’s interview with two guests. Today we are speaking with Anthony Kim (@Anthonx), the founder and CEO of Education Elements, as well as Alexis Gonzales-Black (@Gonzalesblack), a former guest on the podcast and speaker at Responsive Conference.

We are here today to talk about their new book, The New School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools. I had a blast conducting this interview and sitting down with them, and I hope you enjoy as much as I did!

Show Notes

1:30 How Anthony and Alexis met
4:30 Holacracy at Education Elements
7:00 Check ins and check outs
9:00 Balancing tensions
12:15 Assumptions versus known facts
14:15 Alexis’ background in education
15:30 Recruitment and retention
17:45 Inefficient processes in education
24:00 Team of teams autonomy
27:15 Tailor Responsive concepts to fit your personal teams
30:00 Sharing information transparently
32:30 School structures have not revolutionized enough
36:00 The New School Rules book structure
38:00 Planning and predicting
42:15 How to make change with mini experiments
45:15 Creating better work conditions for teachers
49:30 Safe enough to try
52:30 Contact Alexis and Anthony:
Website: The New School Rules
Amazon: The New School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools – If you like the book, please leave a review!
Linkedin: Alexis and Anthony
Twitter: Alexis, Anthony, The New School Rules
Anthony’s Website: Education Elements
Alexis’ Website: Thoughtful Org

If you enjoyed this interview you’ll also enjoy my first interview with Alexis Gonzales-Black, where we discussed her backstory, rolling out Holacracy at Zappos and much more.

And, don’t forget, tickets are on sale now for Responsive Conference 2018 – where both Alexis and Anthony will be onstage!

Founding the Global Phenomenon of AcroYoga with Jason Neymar

My guest today is the co-founder of the global phenomenon of AcroYoga Jason Neymar (@jasonnemer). I’ve followed Jason’s work for years, having watched the rise of AcroYoga at a distance over the last 10+ years, so it was a pleasure to sit down and talk about physical practice, the healing arts, AcroYoga, and much more.

I’m in awe of the global movement Jason has built, and we dive deep into some of the things he has done – and is doing – to make AcroYoga one of the most friendly and welcoming physical communities I’ve experienced.

I was connected to Jason by his co-founder and my dear friend Jenny Sauer-Klein. If you haven’t, I highly recommend listening to that conversation, as well.

As a physical nerd and athlete, I’ve long looked forward to talking about AcroYoga and I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. Here is Jason Neymar.

Show Notes

2:30 Finding gymnastics and acro yoga
6:00 Designing AcroYoga to be accessible
10:00 Jason’s physical practice
12:00 Inclusivity and play
16:30 Discipline met with openness
19:00 Gymnastics as a gateway to movement
22:15 Pros and cons of social media and the internet
25:45 Remedies to cyber addiction
27:45 Healing arts of acro yoga
33:15 Emotional cycles in healing
36:30 Touch and gender barriers
41:00 Art and science of acro yoga
43:00 Physical disciplines Jason recommends
45:45 Find AcroYoga:
Website
Youtube
Facebook
48:30 Future of acro yoga
50:30 AcroYoga Fest: Divine Play

If you enjoyed this episode with Jason Neymar, I think you will enjoy my previous podcast episode with AcroYoga co-founder Jenny Sauer-Klein.

Mark Fisher on Serious Fitness for Ridiculous Humans

My guest today is Mark Fisher, who regularly shows up wearing a unicorn head – atypical of someone who runs several gyms in midtown manhattan. Mark is the co-owner of Mark Fisher Fitness and the consulting group, Business for Unicorns.

Mark and I share a common background in the performing arts, and it was fun for me to hear how Mark has taken that background and applied it to his entrepreneurial efforts both at his gyms and as a consultant. As someone who has long thought of creating a gym or physical center, I loved this conversation. Even more so, though, Mark’s passion for culture and people shone through.

I’m also pleased to share that Mark Fisher is going to be one of our speakers at Responsive Conference 2018, which will be taking place on September 24th and 25th in New York City. Pick up a ticket to hear him speak live.

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!

Show Notes
3:30 Balancing ridiculousness at Mark Fisher Fitness
9:15 Starting a fitness business
12:30 Combining creativity with vision execution
15:00 Business for Unicorns
19:45 Soft skills in hard systems and the Unicorn Society
22:00 Current state of fitness
26:00 Advice for building a gym
31:00 Books:

33:30 Loving community
38:00 Cultural health
40:00 What’s next for Mark
43:15 Constant improvement
48:00 Find more about Mark:

Sunny Bates: How To Build A World Class Network

I first got to know today’s guest through my work at Socos, alongside Vivienne Ming. Over the last several years, I’ve heard a name mentioned in a variety of unlikely contexts – by Chris Anderson, the CEO of TED, Perry Chen, the Co-Founder of Kickstarter, and Beth Comstock, the Vice Chair at GE.

My guest today is Sunny Bates, a behind-the-scenes master connector of many of the most innovative companies, personalities, and artists that you’ve heard of, and many that you haven’t.

Sunny sits on the board of Kickstarter, the MIT Media Lab, and TED. She advises companies like GE and Credit Suisse on new initiatives and is the go-to resource when companies like P&G and The Guardian need a new breakthrough.

As you’ll hear, Sunny is deeply committed to culture and the arts. I was startled to learn that she had hosted world-famous musician, Amanda Palmer, and blogger, Maria Popova, to her home for a house party.

In this interview, we discuss how Sunny has built an incredible network of innovators, spanning more than 40,000 people, how her enthusiasm for spontaneous encounters led to her role at Kickstarter, among others, and some of the trends she is most excited for in the future.

Please enjoy!

Show Notes
2:30 Sunny’s connections
5:30 Building a network
10:30 Adding value to other’s work and lives
13:30 We learn quickest alongside an expert
16:45 Exploring our creative side
19:15 Kickstarter
22:00 Looking at the big picture
24:30 A career as a series of projects
29:00 Trends in the future of work
32:15 Equality
34:45 Acknowledgment and gratitude
38:00 It’s never too late to give thanks or apologize
39:45 Compensation
44:00 Books: The State of Affairs by Esther Perel
46:30 Website: sunnybates.com
Twitter: @SunnyBates
Ted Talk

Andrew Barnett on Coffee, Culture and Founding Linea Caffe

My guest Andrew Barnett (@andrewbbarnett) is the founder of Linea Caffe, a coffee roastery and wholesale company, which was one of the first vendors we began working with at Robin’s Cafe in 2016.

In this interview, we discuss how Andrew first introduced himself to me in those early days of the cafe, the humanness that he brings to his work, and his deep knowledge of coffee.

We discuss how the coffee industry has changed over the last 20 years, what it takes to create a thriving business, and why Andrew loves food service. He shares how he thinks about his company and what he does to build an inclusive culture at Linea Caffe.

If you’re interested in a unique perspective on building successful businesses and cultures, I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.

 

Show Notes

2:15 How Andrew and Robin met
5:15 Andrew’s interest in coffee and human service
8:30 The antithesis of Starbucks
11:30 Roasting coffee
13:45 Cup of Excellence program
17:30 The “Ah Ha” moment
20:00 Linea quality
24:45 Selling Echo Cafe to Intelligentsia
26:15 Third wave movement
28:15 Moving back to San Francisco and starting Linea
31:15 Andrew’s approach to people
35:00 Linea’s retail and roasting locations
37:30 What made this work for Andrew
40:45 Future of coffee
43:45 Find out more: Linea Website 

If you enjoyed this episode of the Robin Zander Show, you might also enjoy listening to my conversation with Steve Hopkins (@stevehopkins) on coffee, culture and the Future of Work.

Zander Strong Ep. 5 – How to Surf

I’m Robin Zander, and you’re listening to Zander Strong, a podcast about movement in the modern world.

Today: the story of how I learned to surf, and the simple tactical steps that you can use to begin surfing right away.

It has been an eventful last couple of years! In February 2016 I came up with the idea to run a big event. In September 2016, having sold 250 tickets and raised sponsorship from the likes of Microsoft and Accenture, I put on the 1st Annual Responsive Conference. Somewhere in the middle, I also opened up a café.

Meanwhile, throughout this, I’ve maintained a physical practice. Over the years this has meant a variety of things: ballet, martial arts, gymnastics, other forms. At the end of August, I re-discovered surfing.

I grew up around the ocean, and first tried out a surfboard on a beach in Costa Rica in 2003. The board was terrible — waterlogged, the surf rough — but I’ve always planned on going back. I visited the San Francisco Bay Area’s Linda Mar beach this August, and have been out surfing almost every day for the last few months. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

Form Follows Function

I’ve long believed that “form follows function” meaning that good form — including posture, positioning, or physique — follows from the movements we do. What I haven’t explored before is how significantly my mental state follows from my physical practice.

Surfing can be scary, don’t get me wrong. But there are also long stretches of peace, sitting on a board out on the waves. Surfers don’t generally talk much — at least not to a newbie like me. And there is something inherently pacific about sitting on the ocean, looking for the next big wave.

Emotional Matching

September 21, 2016 was a big day for me. It was the day after my 250-person Responsive Conference. For more than 3 months I had worked 7 days a week to make sure that the event was a success, and throughout that time had practiced Thai Kickboxing — an aggressive martial form that I tackled in intense 50-minute bursts.

Walking into my fight gym the day after the conference, I was hit by the familiar smells of old sweat and testosterone. Leading up to my conference, the aggression of Thai Kickboxing was exactly what I needed to combat the intensity of my work. That afternoon, I was surprised how unappetizing they were. I realized I no longer needed such physical intensity, closed my account, and went surfing.

Surfing Culture

As I do when I become obsessed with a new physical form, I’ve read a lot. By far the most engaging book I’ve read is the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. This autobiography is a coming of age story about the author’s relationship with surfing, of waves from around the world, and about an addiction that I’ve just begun to explore.

Another little tool that has been incredible in learning the ins and outs of the surf scene is Surfline. This free app shares buoy data and live video feeds of prime surf spots. It has gotten so that when I ask a local about the surf at our favorite spot, he’s likely to say “Fair to Good,” quoting the app.

The Moment

Even as a young surfer, just beginning to transfer to an intermediate board, I’m struck by how much catching waves and not falling off comes down to mindset. As I’ve grown more confident, I’ve attempted larger waves — 6ft, 8ft, even 12ft. In the moment that I’m looking down from the top a sheer face of water, if I can control my fear I’ll be alright. When I remain calm, I stay on top of my board and don’t get pummeled. But even on 3–4ft days, if I get frightened and let that emotion run unchecked, the wave lands on top of me. My mental and emotional state, in that fraction of a second, shape the entirety of the experience.

Awe

Even amidst some professional success, entering in an entirely new industry, and managing two teams totaling more than 15 employees, some of the most memorable moments in 2016 and 2017 have occurred on the waves.

In mid-September 2016, amidst 16-hour days of event planning and logistics, I stole a few hours on the surf. Pacifica was fogged in, and I could hear fog horns in the distance. The waves were breaking 50 meters offshore, and birds were circling further out.

After 30 minutes on the water, it became clear that the birds were circling with purpose, and looking closer I thought I could see something in the waves. Then, a whale breached. For the next hour, I let promising waves go by to catch glimpses of the mammoth of the sea, slowly making its way north.

As usual, when I find a new physical form, I’m enamored. Whether this new love affair lasts weeks or years, it is special and new.

How-To and Mental Resilience

There’s a moment of thrill when you catch a wave, whether that is a two foot wave or a ten. The moment when you go from moving at the speed of your own arm strokes to be carried along as fast as the wave can carry you. Sometimes I experience a moment of panic, other times I am so much in the zone – in flow – that there’s just bliss. Of all of the parts of surfing, I believe that catching waves is probably the most important for a novice surfer. Getting familiar with the moment of riding a wave and that transition from powering yourself to be carrying by the wave is the hardest to describe and the most essential to understand. That said, don’t try to put all of the pieces of surfing together your first day out. It is not important to catch a wave in the moment that it breaks and try to stand up and try to steer all in one go. Go out on a slow day and rather than try to swim out past the point where the waves are breaking, ride some of the chop after the wave has crashed and as the waves are coming in towards shore. I am no expert, but I recommend a beach break where surfers gather in an area where the ocean breaks onto a stretch of beach, so that you don’t also have to contend with rocky terrain, shallow rocks, or coral. It’ll become a common mantra, but don’t try to tackle all of the aspects of surfing, or any physical form, in one go. Instead, find that small step – in this case the feel of catching a wave – and work to understand that experience and hone that skill.

Close your eyes. Notice how you are sitting, standing, or lying at this moment. Notice how you feel. Imagine that you’re lying on your belly on a surfboard. There are seagulls above you, the sounds of the ocean around you. You are in the lineup which is the area where waves begin to break. You see a wave growing behind you, and you begin to paddle towards the shore. It’s big but not so big that you are scared. You look over your shoulder and see the wave behind you and paddle even more furiously until suddenly you are no longer moving yourself but you’re being carried on the wave downhill and very fast. It’s almost like the wave has slingshotted you down the face of the wave.

Here are a couple of pointers that will make your entry into surfing much easier.

  1. Start small. If you try to do every aspect at once, you’ll have no fun and won’t keep coming back for more. However, if you tackle small steps at a time, you’ll see much easier successes and begin to find the joy and the small victories that will keep you coming back.
  2. Don’t go out on a big day. As much fun as it is to surf big waves, even as a novice, start smaller. You don’t have to go out in your first couple of surf sessions on the biggest days in order to catch waves or even practice standing up. Instead, go out when the waves don’t look intimidating, and even try to surf waves that have already broken so you are really just riding the white water into shore. Even those experiences can give you a taste of the thrill of catching a big wave and learning to steer.

If you’ve enjoyed Zander Strong, I’d love to hear about it! It would mean the world to me if you could leave a review on iTunes.

 

Zander Strong, Ep. 4 – Learning to Breathe

Thanks for listing in for another episode of Zander Strong: The Future of Fitness.

In this episode, we examine breathing, which is one of the few human functions that is both automatic and directly within our control.

Most of us walk around with our bellies tightly held. The equivalent would be if we walked around with our fists permanently clenched. It would substantially limit how we use our hands and fingers!

Instead, the chest and belly should both be able to flex and release – to be used, functionally. In this episode, Robin guides you through a movement meditation, which will give you direct control over your breathing, highlight, and then help you to overcome physical limitations in your chest and belly.

Please enjoy!

Could you do me a favor?

If you’ve listened to any of these episode, could you please leave a review on iTunes? I’d love your feedback and reviews make a big difference in show ratings!

Zander Strong, Episode 3 – Learn to Squat

I’m Robin Zander, and you’re listening to Zander Strong.

Today: the importance of squatting. How this long-lost physical practice makes the difference in health, and how you can learn to squat with ease.

We so rarely think about how we use and bend at the waist. We are on our feet hours each day but don’t frequently pause to think about how they our pelvis feels, and how we might use them more effectively.

This episode is about squatting. That characteristically human movement that in modern life we have abandoned. Most adults are not able to squat on their heels with their feet flat on the ground, but you can learn to do so.

I was first exposed to squats through ballet, where they are called plies. The grande plie, specifically, is a classic movement in ballet that is essentially just a squat with the legs in a slightly different turned out position. Years later, when I learned the basics of the squat in weightlifting, my teacher was impressed that I was able to squat so close to the ground because I had spent years practicing the movement in a different context.

What is required to do a full sitting squat is mobility in your ankles and hips and this comes not through force or disciplined practice but through paying attention and using subtle movement to increase your awareness and range of motion.

Zander Strong, Episode 2 – The Biggest Muscles in the Body

Welcome to Zander Strong: The Future of Fitness. Each episode I teach tools and tactics for increasing physical performance and mental resilience.

In this 2nd episode, we begin to explore a part of the body that is largely ignored by mainstream fitness, even while it has the biggest bones and muscles in the human body.

Learn to move with subtlety your pelvis, and discover the lasting impact small micro-movements can have.

Zander Strong, Episode 1 – The Future of Fitness

In conducting my annual review, one of the things that became clear was the importance of a week that I spent in Puerto Rico in June 2017 co-teaching a workshop based on tools that I practice daily but rarely ever speak about or teach.

For background, in the Fall of 2008, I met Anat Baniel. At that time, I was about a year into a very severe neck injury resulting from landing on my head on a trampoline and was looking for ways to recover. I was also fresh out of college and looking for a path forward. I did my undergraduate research – a year long research project culminating in an oral defense and 150 page published dissertation – on how people learn movement. So, in retrospect, it was oddly fitting that I spent several years after college trying to learn again how to move without pain. In meeting Anat, it was immediately obvious to me that this woman knew a lot about how we learn, and I was determined to study with her. While the majority of my college peers went on to their PHDs (Reed College has the highest number of PHDs of any University in the country), I spent four years practicing very subtle movement, first on myself, and then with a wide variety of clients, and then with children with special needs.

As I began to practice with clients, I recognized a need for verbal tools as well as the non-verbal physical coaching that I was providing and ended up studying at the Option Institute for an additional three years. There I learned a form of socratic dialogue and the practice of being completely present with another human being regardless of what they are going through, and how to ask them loving questions.

I’ve continued to practice and refine tools I learned from these organizations, my study of behavior design BJ Fogg at Stanford University, and more tools I’ve picked up over the last decade.

Fast forward to June of 2017, where I taught a small group leadership training on retreat in Puerto Rico.  This was the first time that I had taught these tools in public.

When I conducted my annual review, I was surprised to find that the Puerto Rico training stood out even among the many other personal and professional successes of 2017, and I’ve decided to double down on fitness education for the 21st century.

Thus, it is my great pleasure to announce the release of my new podcast, Zander Strong: The Future of Fitness, where I teach tools for cultivating physical health and mental resilience.

These podcasts are short, under 30 minutes, unlike my long form podcast, The Robin Zander Show. Each episode focuses on a specific tool or tactic that you can apply to improve your physical or mental performance.

Please enjoy Zander Strong and subscribe to the show on iTunes.

How I Conduct A Personal Annual Review – and Highlights from 2017

Every year, for nearly the last decade, I’ve conducted an annual review.

When writing a personal annual review, my process looks like this:

  • Going on the week by week view of my 2017 calendar and listing out every single thing that I spent my time doing. Given that most days I usually have 10-20 things on my calendar scheduled per day, this ends up being 4 or 5 handwritten pages. It goes faster than I would expect but usually takes about 2 hours. I list everything from phone calls, trips, and time spent in transit to meals (personal or professional), time at the cafe, time spent meeting vendors, and weekly standing meetings.
  • I go through and sort all of the items listed by category: business appointments, hours spent writing, hours spent exercising, hours working at the cafe.
  • Once I’ve organized everything by category, I give it a positive value judgement – a score from 1-10 on how much joy I derived from this activity, and a negative value judgement – a score from negative 1-10 on how much dissatisfaction I got from this activity. Each data point gets two specific numbers.
  • I mostly pay attention to the high scores of joy and the high scores of dissatisfaction. I circle the 8, 9, 10s of both positive and negative. I’ll list those out by peak experience by the positives like surfing, travel with my family, and time with my girlfriend, and the negatives like raising sponsorship, handling vendors at Robin’s Cafe, and time spent driving.
  • Next, I take this into action for the new year by grading the quality of my experiences over the year. If there are specific people that fall in the negative 8, 9, or 10 category, I may have to sever ties with them, which can be very challenging. I may email the person outlining the reasons why I am taking steps to set new boundaries in our relationship.
    • Ex: When I did this reflection in 2016, I noticed that there was a person that I had spent a lot of time with that year who I hadn’t enjoyed the quality of our time spent together. I asked myself – would I rather spend this time with this person or would I rather spend this time alone? To make a change going forward, I stopped calling him up. He invited me to a few things this year, and I declined. It was a pretty easy change.
    • Ex: Writing – I spent a lot of time writing in 2017. How much satisfaction did I get from the act of that process? Is that something worth repeating in 2018?
    • Ex: Time spent exercising – I spent significantly less time exercising in 2017 than in 2015 when I studied ballet every day. Is that amount of time per day enough? If the answer is no, I can schedule time to exercise everyday for a few hours in my calendar for 2018 for first few months.
  • Finally, I write down the 3 – 5 most significant changes or projects that I accomplished for the year (my trip to Morocco, my training in Puerto Rico, the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference, Responsive the book, and my relationship).

 

Significant Events & Projects in 2017

Morocco

I’ve written about cultural lessons learned on my trip to Morocco but less so about the importance of time spent with my parents. Growing up, I traveled with my immediate family several weeks per year but have not done so regularly as an adult. For my 30th birthday present, my parents took me on a 5 week trip to Morocco. What is interesting, in retrospect, is that even more than the cultural experience of traveling, was the importance of that time with my family. Taking time as an adult to get to know each of my parents, see myself in them, and be grateful for the quality of time spent has been, and continues to be, life changing.

 

Puerto Rico training

I spent 4 years in my early 20’s studying deep somatic practice with Anat Baniel and another 4 years studying at the Option Institute. While I no longer participate in either organization, I achieved a level of mastery with the tool sets that each of these organizations teach and continue to practice them to this day. On my first day of my first training with Anat Baniel, I told her that someday I would like to teach this material, and now 10 years later, I have done so only minimally.

The Puerto Rico training, which I co-taught with a friend in June of 2017, was my first public offering to teach and further refine the tool sets that I was fortunate enough to be exposed to and truly changed my life throughout my 20s. I am excited to further teach these tools through a variety of mediums in 2018.

 

Responsive Conference

2nd Annual Responsive Conference from Robin Zander on Vimeo.

The 1st annual Responsive Conference was a giant unknown as I had never previously curated and directed an event of that magnitude before. The 2nd Annual Responsive Conference was less of an exploration and more of a refinement. My single biggest goal was to form a cohesive organizing team, and in that I succeeded magnificently. Further, I sought to make intentional the curatorial choices I had begun in 2016 including factors like venue, speakers, and working with speakers to present fresh and relevant content. Across the board, the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference was a triumph. We had 225 people from more than 10 countries and with the help of my production team, the event went off pristinely. I am excited in 2018 to further refine and automate the processes that made the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference a success – aka to do less!

Responsive: What It Takes To Create A Thriving Organization

I have never been able to write as other than a very intentional act, and writing had been one of the primary things I avoided throughout most of 2017. Thus, I am thrilled to have actually publishedResponsive: What it Takes to Create a Thriving Organization which is a compilation of three years of interviews and curation on the future of work.

 

Relationships

Finally, and by no means least important, I entered into a new relationship midway through the year. I moved in with my girlfriend in December of 2017. This is far and away, the most significant romantic relationship I have ever had, and it’s no coincidence that we have become collaborators on multiple professional, as well as personal, projects. Relationships of all kinds are perhaps one of the three most important aspects in any of our lives, and I couldn’t be any more pleased with this developing romance.

What were your highlights in 2017? Lowlights? What do you want to build on in the year ahead? Let me know in the comments!

How To Run an Un-Conference

How to Run an Un-Conference

Organizing events is a community effort, especially events as open to interpretation as an un-conference. I first sat down with a small group interested in Responsive Org events in 2015. Of that initial group Steve Hopkins was a founding member of the Responsive Org movement, Dori Rutkevitz was an active organizer in the related Reinventing Organizations community, and all of us were enthusiastic to learn more. Steve’s initial proposal to organize an un-conference was met with enthusiastic support by everyone at the table, followed promptly by “What’s an Un-conference?”

In the two years following that first meeting, I have produced and directed more than a dozen un-conferences and several more formal events. This short article is the playbook I wish I’d had when I began organizing events.

What is an Un-conference

An un-conference is any event where the agenda is set by those who attend. The rules of an un-conference are simple:

Rule #1: Whoever shows up are the right people
Rule #2: Whatever happens is fine
Rule #3: Whenever it starts is the right time
Rule #4: It is over when it’s over

In less flowery language this just means ditch expectation and don’t try to control the experience.

Flow of the Day

After attendees arrive, an empty conference agenda is posted on the wall with time slots and a variety of meeting spaces. Leaders share a theme or question they would like to discuss and post it in a time slot. If you post a topic, it is your responsibility to turn up to that session and introduce your topic or question. If you are not hosting a session, you are free to attend whichever of the sessions you are interested in.

Attendees are encouraged to adopt any of a number of roles:

Leader — who is facilitating each breakout
Scribe — is someone responsible for taking notes for each group
Nomads — give attendees permission to move between break-outs

The Law of Two Feet

Everyone at an un-conference is encouraged to practice the law of two feet. The law of two feet says that if you become uninterested at any point, you are encouraged to leave and join another session. In an un-conference you are also invited to take breaks at any time, with the idea that it is sometimes in the breaks that the ‘A-ha’ moments arrive.

Roles & Responsibilities

There are three main components necessary to a successful event — recruiting, production, and a strong facilitator.

A Word on Recruiting

In my experience, it is helpful to have an extended network to help with recruiting, not just a single person. All other logistics can be handled by a single person.

Production

Among the organizers, someone has to be in charge of logistics, including:

— Venue sourcing and on-going communication
— Setting the date
— Attendee arrival emails
— Day-of logistics
— Recruiting

Facilitation

A strong facilitator can make or break any event, but especially one with as fluid an agenda as an un-conference. Facilitator on the day of the event. It is essential to have one strong facilitator overseeing each un-conference, to welcome attendees and provide context for the event.

How to Facilitate an Un-Conference

Here are some tips, most learned the hard way over hundreds of hours of practice in the last two years.

1. Stay Centered

Despite having spent a fair amount of time on stage, I found myself getting nervous and feeling rushed in the hours leading up to a day-long un-conference. My single biggest piece of advice for a facilitator is to arrive with plenty of time to spare so you won’t feel rushed. You are responsible for the framework within which the attendee experience takes place. As such, staying grounded and centered is the single most important thing you can provide, even though in the moment it may feel like it is more important to make sure the space is set up or the coffee is ready.

2. Don’t Participate

This one might seem odd. It can seem like the entire point of organizing an event is to participate. In my experience, doing so decreases the ease with which I was able to coordinate new sessions, lead an end-of-day wrap-up, and refocus attendees when necessary.

In my view, the facilitator of the un-conference is there in service to the attendees. I have found it gets in the way of the attendee experience to actively participate in sessions and workshops that occur throughout the day.

3. Practice

The facilitator should practice before the beginning of the un-conference. Review these guidelines for a successful un-conference and be able to describe un-conference rules from memory. Practice your welcome speech.

4. Incorporate movement

I have always found it very useful to incorporate movement into events. When we have short periods of movement interspersed with other kinds of learning, we shortcut the passive sit-and-absorb tendencies we all learned through the education system, and which have carried over into most events. Read this article on the importance of movement within events.

Conclusion

Events are a lot of work, and sometime I have learned to produce of necessity. However, in this hyperactive digital age, I’m convinced of the value of what Tony Hsieh calls “spontaneous collisions” — the value of people spontaneously cross paths. If you’re considering putting on an event of your own, I encourage you to do so. When we create a container — an event or gathering — we create the opportunity for emergent possibilities to fill the open space.

Interested in learning more about the un-conference format or the Responsive movement? Join our Future of Work mailing list or check out my new book Responsive: What It Takes To Create A Thriving Organization, which comes out tomorrow!

*Acknowledge: This un-conference format is derivation of Open Space Technology, founded by Harrison Ownen.

Adam Pisoni and Robin Zander – Live at Robin’s Cafe

This episode was recorded in front of a live audience at Robin’s Cafe with Adam Pisoni, co-founder and former CTO at Yammer, co-founder of the Responsive Org movement, and founder and CEO at Abl Schools.

If you missed it, I recommend starting with our first podcast episode back in 2016!

In conversation from stage and then Q&A with the audience, we discussed founding Yammer, the Responsive Org movement, and his efforts at Abl Schools to revitalize the U.S.education system. Exciting possibilities emerge when we reconsider that even behemoth institutions like the U.S. education system can become Responsive!

Adam has implemented a variety of future of work principles at Abl Schools. He has been very open about the challenges of building a diverse founding team at Abl Schools.

While there is a lot of conversation about fostering an inclusive company culture, very few Silicon Valley companies have an equal gender split between male and female employees, and even fewer have women or underrepresented groups at the highest levels of leadership.

We will explore the challenges and lessons learned at Abl Schools, and tactics any founder can apply in the effort to build a Responsive organization.

Show Notes

4:00 Intentions
7:00 Yammer and Conway’s Law
10:00 Starting Responsive Org
11:45 Theory of Responsive
13:30 Challenges of these changes
16:00 Iterate in the shape of your organization
18:00 Adam mentions:

19:15 Adams transition to education
21:30 Mindsets
24:30 Dropping out of high school
26:30 Education limitations
30:00 Diverse founding teams – podcast and article
36:15 Social emotional skills
40:00 Responsive Org tensions
46:45 Balancing success and time with experimentation
51:30 Egos and fear of failure
53:30 Integrative decision making
57:30 Value of experience
1:01:00 Diversity
1:04:45 Abl’s work in public schools
1:07:30 Measuring impact
1:10:00 Playing with boundaries of leadership and structure
1:15:00 Hiring that focuses on diversity
1:20:00 Purpose of diversity
1:24:30 VC’s reporting on diversity of companies they fund
1:26:15 Robin’s Book: Responsive: What It Takes to Create A Thriving Organization

Don’t forget to give a listen to my first podcast with Adam Pisoni, as well.

If you have enjoyed The Robin Zander Show – which just passed 50 episodes! – or benefited from any of the work I’ve done over the last several years, take a look at my new book Responsive: What It Takes To Create A Thriving Organization.

It is out on Amazon. I’m extremely proud of this book, and it’d mean the world to me if you’d check it out!

Beyond Violence – Fighting, Aggression and My Study of Muay Thai

I took up Thai Kickboxing towards the beginning of 2016, after several years dedicated to the study of ballet. I had wanted more Muay Thai (the formal Thai name for the sport) ever since having tried the form for a few intense weeks in 2013. 

Early 2016 was a transitional time for me. I had just quit my full-time job for the educational company Socos, was exploring what would become the Responsive Conference, and looking for something to compliment my training in gymnastics and ballet. I joined “El Niño’s,” a fight gym in San Francisco owned by professional fighter Gilbert “El Niño” Melendez. Thai Kickboxing is an unusually effective form at the intersection between sport and practical self-defense. I had never thrown a punch and wanted to try.

As is often the case when I begin a new physical practice, I quickly began to take class 3 and then 5 days a week, and to practice ‘shadow boxing’ (sparing without a partner or bag) while on phone calls or in the shower. It was fascinating to see how much the intensity of the martial form complemented the rest of my life, and I found myself wanting more.

Muay Thai is called the “art of 8 limbs” because in addition to kicking and punching, the form uses elbows and knees. In traditional Thai fights, there is a great deal of ritual, followed by some of the most abrupt violence I have ever witnessed.

I have never been prone to violence. Growing up, my mother taught me to believe that violence should always be avoided. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I considered the difference between the concepts of aggression and violence. The practice of a deliberately violent sport was far outside my experience. In Muay Thai we train with heavily padded gloves and pads, and it is still scary to throw my weight into a punch at someone’s head. Above all, my study of the form was as an exploration of fear — the fear of getting hit and of hitting another (albeit, consenting) person.

I’m not proud of everything that came out of my time practicing Muay Thai; I experienced significant downsides. And through my daily study of controlled violence I discovered a level of confidence and courage that will serve me well for years to come.

From 4th grade until early high school, I was an outsider — the “sensitive” kid in a community that valued hyper-masculinity. I sported boy-band long blond hair in defiance of the buzz cuts of my peers. I was called “girl,” which was the biggest insult any of us could think of. I remember one day in 5th grade getting invited to play basketball, only to have the ball thrown at my face, breaking my nose.

Fortunately, I grew out of those years, and it took a decade to find an appreciation of team sports and even longer to begin practicing martial forms. That today I enjoy watching professional fighters compete would have shocked my 10- or 15-year old self.

I remember the first time I felt like a predator at El Niño’s. My fight gym has some world class fighters who practice with us. Merely hearing their exhalations when they strike is enough to make me want to take a step back, and the force of some of their explosive kicks against a bag makes me cringe.

In my first month, I was paired with a fellow — call him Miguel — who was in his first week. He was a few inches shorter and maybe 10 pounds lighter than me. We were taught a sequence of punches, kicks, elbows, and knees designed to help us practice a specific type of attack and defense. It wasn’t especially challenging to hold pads while Miguel executed this series against me. When it came my turn to attack, it was clear that he was tired and bit scared. Like a tiger sensing prey, my aggression spiked and I went after him more intensely. This aggressive drive continued to spiral, until I found myself thinking — through a fog of effort — “I could kill him!” While he was never in any danger, that fleeting thought — that I was capable of causing physical harm to another — rocked me.

I don’t walk around afraid anymore. When someone attempted to steal the tip jar at my café a month ago, I had no compunction about stopping him physically. I was also surprised at how angry I became.

In August 2016 I spent a week camping with my family in the Sierras. One evening we found ourselves in a heated discussion, and I got increasingly angry to the point that I literally punched a tree. My parents were shocked, in 30 years never having seen me angry to the point of violence. I was surprised, too, and somewhat bewildered by my own actions. My bloody knuckles were a useful reminder for the next several days.

This and similar violent outbursts could be attributed to the stress of my professional life — opening the café, running the Responsive Conference — but that would be false attribution. It was tied to the daily practice of violence and aggression. When I walked away from Muay Thai in September, I left behind the intensity of the practice and the anger.

I’m glad not be practicing Thai Kickboxing for the time being, and I’m extremely grateful for the range of experiences, practice facing fear, and understanding of violence I learned.

This post was originally published on Medium. If you’ve enjoyed this article, join my newsletter for a short weekly updates with articles, stories about building culture at Robin’s Cafe, and more.

Spoiled Yogurt and Small Business Fortitude – A Robin’s Cafe Story

It was 8:00 a.m. and I had just received another urgent call. We had just sold yogurt & granola to a handful of customers, and only then did the barista preparing those breakfasts realize that all of our yogurt had spoiled.

I had been quietly drinking tea, and working my way through the morning’s email, but this urgent text threw me into action. Without bothering to shave or finish my tea, I drove to the cafe. On arriving, I found the kitchen in disarray. My manager had spent much of the opening hour sorting spoiled food, and as a result, we were already running low of coffee and other essentials.

I ran to the nearest grocery store and got yogurt, and then jumped onto the line and began preparing orders. Several hours later, I looked up to realize that I had missed several scheduled appointments, including with the City of San Francisco about permitting for our outdoor tables and chair.

This was my first month as a small business owner. In part because we opened Robin’s Café  on 3 weeks notice, I had a lot to learn about running a cafe/restaurant in those early days.

The biggest problem with running a small business (which I’ll define, as does the federal government, as any business with under 500 employees), is that the founder/owner is assumed to do the work themselves. When I walk along Mission Street in San Francisco, and day after day find the same owner/operators at their small shops at 8am and 6pm every single day, I’m amazed. I don’t have that kind of fortitude!

For some reason, there’s the assumption in most white collar jobs that the individual will eventually grow beyond their current role, but this is not held true is small business ownership. Small business owners are assumed to work within their own company, and most do.

Over the months that followed that first experience I continued to struggle relinquishing control of day-to-day operations at Robin’s Café . Obviously, I want my cafe to be a success, and simultaneously am not willing to spend 12 hours/day behind the counter. What’s the solution? It comes down the mindset necessary to love and guide employees, with the ability also to let go – of control of the outcome, and – when need be – of specific employees.

The solution that week was relatively straightforward. My manager and I concluded, together, that he wasn’t best suited for the role. Sorting spoiled goods wasn’t the reason he had signed up to help me build Robin’s Café in the first place, and we amiably parted ways.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve also grown more comfortable not treating every unknown as a crisis. If there is someone else who may be able to handle a situation – like that of our spoiled yogurt – I don’t. And I haven’t missed meetings with the City of San Francisco since.

The challenges inherent in running a small business remain. Small businesses, while a hot commodity for large companies that want to sell to us (I get regular sales calls from Yelp, Square, and many others), aren’t taken as seriously as technology companies that are trying to “scale.”

But for me, there’s nothing more meaningful that being able to brighten a customer’s day with a kind word, or help a member of my staff improve develop themselves. Robin’s Café continues to be – day to day – a more thorough learning experience than any company I’ve ever built. And we’re just getting started.

Robin’s Café is located at 3153 17th Street in San Francisco. Come by and say hello!
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