According to the movie Happy (and many others), cooperation makes people happier than competition. I totally believe this, and got to experience it recently when twelve of us came together to try something new, called Krypton Community College. Last Thursday was our last class of the first course entitled Go: How to Overcome Fear, Pick Yourself, & Start a Project that Matters, from the work of Seth Godin, and it was a remarkable experience.
Huh? Let me explain…
It all stared two months ago when I received an emailed blog post from Seth Godin which said he was launching a new project call Krypton Community College. The idea behind the project was to merge on-line learning with group learning, with a simple premise: We learn better when we learn together. I was intrigued, so I signed up to learn more, and a week later I got another email with some details of how it would work. I would need to sign up to organize a class, then invite 8-11 friends or co-workers to be part of the class, we would meet once a week for four weeks, and make our way through the coursework. The coursework, based on the previous work of Seth Godin, involved reading blog posts, listening to pod-casts, watching TED talks, writing down thoughts to related questions, and then coming together as a group to discuss the ideas – kind of like a book club. The course objectives listed in the syllabus were as follows:
- Come to understand why the brainstorming techniques you are using aren’t working and develop new techniques that acknowledge fear while producing valuable new ideas
- See the resistance and learn to dance with it
- Explore the edges of a frightening new idea and bring it to announcement and then ship it…
My lizard brain said don’t do this, nobody else is interested or has time, but I knew I had to. It was a great opportunity, plus it was free. So I signed up to be an organizer, drafted an email to twelve of my friends, and, with a few butterflies in my stomach, hit the send button. I knew I could count on at least two of my friends to participate for sure, but I wasn’t sure how it would be received by everyone else. But over the next few days I got so many enthusiastic responses. My friends were excited to try it too. Hooray! But now this was real. (Yipes.)
Eleven people, including myself, were on board to try the class. I decided to have it during the day – noon-ish to one-ish, because I thought it would be easier to stick to business and to work with people’s schedules. I invited only people I knew could probably slip away during the middle of the day, and who were either thinking of starting something new career-wise, or had recently embarked on something new. Then I found a conference room that I could use for free at the Ballard Neighborhood Center. Okay, we were all set.
The homework for the first class focused on fear and failure, and the assignment was to interview someone who “has brought something new into the world. It might be a speech, a new product idea, a performance or organization” and there were specific questions to ask about success, fear, mastering new skills, etc.
Before I knew it, “Krypton Thursday” was here and it was time for our first class. As the organizer I had a syllabus slightly different from the student version. My version had ideas, touch-points, and activities outlined to help guide me through facilitating the discussion. I got to class early, and I was nervous. Really nervous. I didn’t expect to be this nervous because these were all friends of mine, but I was. So I Googled, “How to get over nervousness” on my iPhone and the first thing that came up said “Stay focused on your objective” which I really tried to do, but I also called my sister as a distraction. But soon enough I had to hang up on her because people were arriving and it was time to get started.
Most everyone knew each other, but we still did introductions, and then talked about our interviews. Everyone had a lot to say about fear and shared so much – not just from their interviews, but from their own experiences. Before I knew it our hour was up. Darn it! I felt like I hadn’t managed our time well and hadn’t accomplished everything Seth outlined in my organizer syllabus. Like we were supposed to create a list of tactics for dancing with fear. I did not feel like I had done a good job.
But as I had more time to reflect on the class, I realized I was being a little hard on myself. This was, after all, the very first class and I was new at this. Plus, a lot of great stuff was discussed even if we didn’t cover everything we were supposed to. Finally when I got a chance to look at my notes, I realized that even though we hadn’t made a formal list, we had in fact discussed a lot of great ways to “dance with fear”. So I typed up the list, sent it to the group, and started feeling better about the first class. Now I was ready for the next one.
The focus of the the second class was on things that are broken, and this was really when the rubber hit the road. We’d moved past the slight awkwardness of the first class, and our discussion had much more of a book club feel to it. We talked about Seth’s great post on off-roading, then chose something we felt was broken, then brainstormed, or edge-crafted rather, ways to fix it. We chose to talk about how hard it is to start something new, by yourself, when you don’t have all of the necessary skills to get it done. Like a researcher who has to manage a ton of data but knows nothing about databases, or an entrepreneur/craftsman who knows nothing about bookkeeping or technology. We could have talked about this for hours, and our ideas were vast and varied, definitely approaching the edges. Fun.
The purpose of this exercise was to start thinking about how to solve a big problem – someone else’s big problem – because it’s safer to solve someone else’s problem when fear isn’t a factor. Seth wrote, “By beginning with the vicarious thrill of going to the edge of someone else’s problem, we open the door to solving our own.”
For the third class, however, we would be discussing our own ideas on fixing something that is broken, and the purpose of this class was to understand what it means to commit. First we talked about not giving up and making it through “the dip“, and then we broke into two smaller groups, giving each person a chance to share their project idea. What I loved about this exercise was the excitement and support everyone showed for each-other’s projects. This wasn’t just a lot of saying, “Love it! Great idea!” – this was real feedback and hard questions that came from a place of caring and experience, and that’s when it hit me: we need to do this type of thing regularly. This is important. We need to support each other and share our experience and expertise, no matter where this Krypton Community College might go. Again our time was over too soon, and just one class left.
The last class was all about “The Shipit Journal” and filling it in. The premise behind the Shipit Journal is that if you write down, in pen, what your project is, and when it will ship, it becomes real. It becomes a statement. It becomes important. Good intentions aren’t enough. You need to get uncomfortable early, make hard decisions with rigor, and “conquer the voice of the lizard brain” – the resistance.
I asked everyone to print out the document but not to fill it in yet because we would be doing that in class. But just how were we going to do this? The document was 26 pages long and there would be eleven of us. Turns out there were only eight of us on this last day – real life had kept some away – so we broke into two groups of four and chose one journal to focus on in each group. Again, the support, expertise, and having other people make you talk frankly about your fears seemed invaluable. We only tackled a few pages, but some very important pages. It was surprising to me that people really wanted to work on other people’s journals. But quickly it became clear how much you can learn about your own project when working on someone else’s. And oh shoot, again time slipped away from us, and it was time to wrap up our final class. I couldn’t believe it was over.
So now what? We had such a great group, I’d hate to lose momentum, and I think we still have so much to offer each-other. So I’m considering two options, and think we might do both. The first is to continue working through the Ship It journals – one at a time – for whomever has a project they are ready to get busy on. The second is to continue with the next courses offered by Krypton Community College. They were just released, and although they are not based on the work of Seth Godin, they look really interesting.
So even though the first class is over, I can’t help but feel that this is just the beginning, that things are just getting started, that things are going to get really interesting around here. I hope so! I have a project of my own that I want to try, and after hearing what other people’s projects are, I want to see them ‘ship it’ as well.
Thank you Seth Godin for lighting this fire!