This is the first in a series of blog posts that will summarize my experience and takeaways from the Mozilla Summit 2013 Planning Assembly that took place in our Paris, France office on June 14-17, 2013.
We are a group of very smart people. Don’t ever doubt that for a second. We are a hit-the-ground-running bunch of doers who really like actionable items and clear instructions as well as accountability and deliverables. Oh and throw in some metrics and a post-mortem so we can iterate, please. This makes us very challenging for outsiders to work with, especially when trying to engage a sizable group in open process activities. Turns out we’ll ask a lot of questions to clarify instructions, search high and low for actionable items, and demand deliverables. We’ll interrupt process, we’ll doubt the value of the process, and we’ll assume even before attempting that it is too open-ended to be of value or to generate the tangible items we’re craving as the proof our time was well spent.
If we go too far down that path in this unconference style of meetup, we will lose out tremendously on letting ourselves be changed and engaged by each other.
Love it or hate it, asking each other “is this making sense to you?” or “are we doing it right?”, that uncertainty IS a big part of process. Asking each other questions, being confused together, not knowing what’s coming next together is a form of bonding.
Bonding – which I shall refer to from now on as friendship – typically strengthens over equal parts of time spent together + common interests + shared experience. Sometimes you can fast forward a friendship by just overloading one of those areas. Having a particularly intense experience with someone (eg: riding a roller coaster), spending a lot of consecutive time (eg: traveling together), and connecting intensely on a common interest (eg: hacking) are all examples of ways to ramp up the development of a strong bond with another human. When attending a Summit we are provided a multitude of opportunities to have many of those three with a variety of Mozillians we normally might not interact with, and sometimes with ones we do – deepening connections is the ‘bonus’ to the work we get done when we assemble en masse. My most remembered experiences at Summits, All-Hands’, Moz Camp, and other larger gatherings with Mozillians have always been about the micro interactions which are not part of the schedule. Walking to dinner, sitting on the bus, playing Rock Band – those are opportunities to look at the person or people around you and to try to make sure you’re getting to know even a little bit about them.
In the very earliest part of our process for the weekend of discovery and digging into the meat of what should drive our Summit planning a question came up about whether we could affect the decision to have the Summit in 3 different geo-locations. Just that one little detail was something many people were tripping over and wanted to discuss and it was clear our dive into the weekend’s process would be held up until there were answers. What ended up happening was Mardi explained how logistically they had looked at previous Summits & large gatherings and had determined that 600 people seemed to be the largest number of Mozillians in one place where there still could be a ‘cozy’ feeling that allows for the kind of bonding previously mentioned. Once Mardi said this, I was changed. I, too, had wondered about the dispersal but now it made sense to me that the importance of connection between Mozillians had been placed before the need to put us all in one location and I appreciated getting this new perspective on what the process had accomplished already.
Mitchell then spoke about how sometimes we get hung up on comparing one thing to another and are quite vocal if we find it wanting. It’s important for us to have this gathering, this alignment exercise for the project as a whole, and if we don’t want to call it a ‘Summit’ because it’s not everyone in one physical space then call it something else in your head. I found her point to be very inspiring and concluded that it’s important to go to this 2013 gathering – at whichever location – and BE there. Do not waste time comparing it to other events, attend the event you’re at and reflect later. For me, this was when I knew I could trust the weekend’s activities would lead to great things and more changes of my tightly held beliefs I came into the weekend with. There will be more about this in future posts.