Followup on the Beams and Struts Salon

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beamsMonday May 7th, Beams and Struts held its first in-person experiment in collective intelligenceas part of the Vancouver Integral Salon's monthly gatherings. Brs. TJ, Juma, and I were the ones who conceived and facilitated this particular evening. Trevor and Bergen were participants in the evening.

We decided we want to try to see if we could replicate, in some fashion, the process of collective intelligence that guides Beams and Struts. This idea flowed out of TJ's TEDx talk on this subject--about how practices we have stumbled into here at Beams might be applied to other arenas than online discourse. Our desire was to see if we could facilitate a process leading towards people getting a sense of some action they could take in the world, get feedback and support on that idea, and encouragement to do it.

The evening began with TJ giving an abbreviated form of his TEDx talk to set the context. I then lead a short guided meditation which helped people first to empty themselves of the business of life, to enter into silence, and then to listen within that silence for the creative impulse to arise within them. What was it that was wanting to come into being through this person? What was that one idea, that one action that wants to happen through a person? As TJ reminded everyone in his talk--we all have such an idea (maybe several in fact). The collective intelligence process aims at trying to work through the resistance to taking action on those ideas and impulses.

We then moved more into the actual meat of the night.

beamsAt Beams various numbers of us meet weekly in what we call STFUAWN (Shut the F#@! Up and Write Night). The premise is simple and profound--we gather and for a few minutes each person mentions what they are planning on writing about that evening. Then we all shut the f#@! up and write. And if someone talks, we gently remind them to shut the f#!% and write.

The focused intensity of the writing brings a deep clarity to the space. I termed it the yoga of writing.

So in our in-person gathering, we had the participants break up into groups of three. They briefly shared about the idea they were going to look into. We gave them each some paper, a writing utensil, and a children's book (to write on--it was held next to a church so we raided the children's church book supply for hard writing surfaces). Then we gave them 15 minutes to shut the f#!@ up and write on their purposed action in the world.

And here was where it got a little interesting. Our original idea--based on the process we follow at Beams--was that everyone was going to pass what they had written first to the person on their right who would then give edits directly on that piece. That person would then pass that piece to their right and a 2nd person would also give edits. Every article or essay on Beams has at least 2 editors on the piece.

At this point some folks in the room expressed some reservations: A)they weren't sure their writing was legible B) some had moved more into a journaling type of writing and were uncomfortable sharing their written work with strangers.

beamsThis was a good moment of learning for us as per the Beams project we all have to be cool with having our writing potentially shredded. Even the best of my pieces require some serious amount of rewriting after I get back the edits. But this is an ethos that is not (it would seem) necessarily widely shared.

So Juma, thanks to his background in consultancy, pulled a brilliant, on the spot course correction. This objection from some of the participants threatened to really grind down the whole evening.

Juma had them stay in their groups of three. Each person was then given a short amount of time to describe their idea in more broad brush strokes. The other two were able to offer some questions in the mode of "Have you thought about X or Y?" Or positive affirmation and so on.

After everyone had a chance to share and receive some feedback, everyone shut the f#@! up (again) and rewrote for a few minutes, incorporating any notes they wanted to remember from the initial sharing.

Then Juma lead the group into a further process of sharing and reflection using open space technology. We had everyone write up their project as if it were a headline--like the titles and teasers we craft here on the site. Those were then taped on the walls in various locations throughout the room in an order.

beamsThere were 19 participants so we had 4 stations with 4 or 5 topics at each station. We read out the headline that was placed first on the wall at each station and then people were free to choose which station to go to. That person then gave a brief synopsis of their topic and received some feedback from the listeners. We did 5 rounds of this process--about 5 minutes in each round--so that everyone had a chance to share their proposal.

This process was, albeit in a smaller fashion, something like the process of publishing and getting feedback from the readers on the site.

At the end of those rounds, we asked everyone to paste their headlines together on one wall. Juma pointed to each one in succession and the person who wrote it named out their project. We then spent a minute or so looking at all of the projects together, looking for any connecting or overarching, emergent threads. This approximates something of the collective intelligence, the meshwork of the site itself--where we link to each other's work, read each other's work, influence and are in turn influenced by each other, enacting a collective space of emerging knowledge and action.

As a final push to get folks to actually take up their ideas and put them into practice, we offered the enticement that anyone who does followup on their idea in real time action and writes about it and/or sends us photos or video, we will post those here on Beams.

beamsWe managed to get all that in in 2 hours. The entire process was quite truncated but nevertheless actually worked. I think overall the experiment was a success and will allow us I think to build off. I can imagine a STFUAWCN (Shut the F@#! Up and Write Curriculum Night) for teachers or similar formats brought together for various disciplines and fields: business proposals, lecture creation, on and on. It was a great learning experience for us. There's a number of points we could refine. For example, we'll need to see if people can bring laptops and from the beginning explicitly let people know that others are going to read their writing--in response to the helpful concerns raised during the meeting. But overall we received really positive feedback from the participants and a thanks from us here at Beams to all those who came out and were willing to be guinea pigs.

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