By Duong [Team 10 participant]
The 3rd weekend of Knowmads was just over, and I am here, starting to write the blog post that I promised to do as a harvesting practice since the 1st weekend. Every time I sat down to write, I didn’t know where to start. It’s been one heck of a ride for me. I have left in Knowmads laughters, tears, confusion, fulfilment, frustration, joy… This is the education that I have always dreamt of – a place where I am accepted for who I am, where I can speak up my mind without any fears of judgement, where I start to connect deeply with myself and collaborate with others with mindfulness.
I remembered me crying my eyes out during the check-in of 2nd day Knowmads. Our check-in question was “What is one time you felt depth gratitude?”. As usual, we sat in a circle, anyone ready would take the talking piece and pass it to the left once they finish sharing. If you don’t know what to say yet, just keep passing it to the next person and the talking piece “will eventually come back to you” – thanks to the miracle of the “circle” that we use a lot here in Knowmads. I sat in silence, trying to search my memory for a time that I feel very grateful, and suddenly my train of thoughts brought me back to that very morning – just an hour before I arrived in Knowmads.
“I feel grateful for having my family and loved ones who care for me and protect me no matter what. I feel grateful when this morning I woke up, I saw my mom in the kitchen preparing my lunch, my dad in the yard washing my motorbike, and my boyfriend picking me up and drive me here even though the weather was very hot and the ride took more than 1 hour”.
I felt teardrops falling on my face. I never thought one day I would cry that much in front of strangers. Indeed, I had just known these guys for only one day… I kept crying for the thought that I had taken my loved ones for granted for quite a long time – a sense of guilt kicked in and I couldn’t hold back the tears. Then I felt hands on my shoulders – those are hands of strangers who listened to my story in silence and respect, who were willing to comfort me and give me love and care. I was absolutely touched. Knowmads is such a miracle – a place where like-minded people gather and hold a safe space for others to be their authentic self, to be true to their emotions and express them without any fears.
From that moment, I know for sure that this journey is going to be life-changing…
Building pyramids, going to the moon, running a business. Whether big or small, each time a project requires the involvement of several people, it is a small miracle when it actually happens.
The most common structure to get things done we are all familiar with is the hierarchical one - the pyramid. Some people at the top give order, and the chain of command goes down to the bottom for execution. Those at the top have control, and those at the bottom have clarity.
It has proven efficient for thousands of years in simple system and in some complicated system, but it seems today irrelevant for the complex adaptive systems we are operating in.
First of all, the amount of information and parameters to take into account for wise decision, especially in a fast-changing environment, makes it impossible for a few people at the top to know everything, and even more to decide as quickly as it would be necessary.
Moreover, for the people at the bottom, being deprived of the decision-taking power and the ability to make things move forward might become a strong source of frustration, and lead to a massive waste of energy and potential.
Last but not least, it is a structure whose purpose is explicitly to get things done. It does not exist to grow relationships, create engagement or bring meaning - hence it does not resonate with what today’s young workforce is actually looking for in an organizations.
Where can we go from there? Is it possible to imagine a structure that would not only enable us to get things done, but to actually do it with flexibility, engagement & happiness?
One framework that we have been introduced to by our friend and mentor Steve, and that we rely a lot on is called the “Circle – Triangle - Square”. We have been using it for Knowmads, as well for organizing Art of Hosting Training and launching The Learning Hub.
The “Circle – Triangle – Square” model.
Or : Conversations are great, but getting shits done is even better.
The Circle represents the organization as a whole.
In a circle as in our organisation, there is not hierarchy and everyone sits as equals. Since there is no boss, we all share ownership and responsibility -which creates an environment that encourages participation, engagement and trust.
With no explicit leader, what actually leads us is the purpose of the organization, that everyone committed to work for, following agreements and principles that have been decided together.
The “Circle” (that represent the organization as a whole) is a form that invites for deep listening, for collective intelligence and for reflection, and that holds a few crucial roles:
It is first of all the guardian of the purpose and principles, calling everyone back to it when necessary.
On a practical way, it is also the place for coordinating all the actions happening - the multi-headed project manager.
And much more than that, it is also a place for reflection on learnings, a place for constantly refining and revisiting the purpose and a place for processing any disturbance in the organization - coming from inside or from outside.
The Circle operates with processes that invite conversations between team-members. It is those conversation that actually allows people to feel engaged, tapping into their need for connection and meaning. It is a place where every voice can and will be heard, spreading the power and using collective intelligence.
The Circle is definitely a wonderful place, but the danger is to get stuck in it. Because unfortunately you don’t get things done by talking about it.
That’s when the Triangles get into to the pictures.
The Triangles are groups of people working on specific parts of the project (marketing, finance, legal, this or that specific project,...)
Once a Triangle has been formed around a task, it is fully empowered by the Circle to do it, in support of the shared purpose and in accordance with principles established in the Circle. For the sake of efficiency, the invitation is for the Triangle to self-organize independently and to take full ownership of its mission.
In exchange of this full trust, the Triangles are responsible to the full Circle for their area of work. If something comes up that makes it critical, it is their responsibility to ask for support or clarification. It then goes back to a shared responsibility within the Circle to figure out a solution and adapt accordingly. With practice, triangles become increasingly skilled at recognizing when to act independently and when to check in with the circle; this is part of the art in this style of working.
The word “trust” keeps coming back here. Trust is indeed the fuel that keeps the whole thing running, and the oil that prevents it from breaking.
It then all come down to a simple question: how do you build trust? How do you create a frame where people feel safe enough towards each other to be able to put their energy in the work, instead of in anxiety, control and silent resentment?
The last part of our model, and the one that is so often overlooked is the Square - the frame around the organization / project / team, that will hold it together.
In our case, this frame is the result of a never-ending process of nurturing our relationship with each other, and slowly building trust and clarity by having the conversations that matter.
What is our collective purpose? How do our individual underlying purposes support the collective purpose? Who are we all? What are our strengths hopes, dreams, fears? What do each of us need to work well with others and to be fulfilled in his/her work? Where do we want to go in one month, one year, 5 years, individually and collectively? How can we deal with our resources - what do each of us need, what do each of us consider as fair?
These conversations do not happen magically, and are usually constantly pushed back by the emergency of the task-doing. Maintaining this dynamic on a regular basis requires a full conviction that talking to each other is often the most important and urgent task of each day: if trust & connection are the fuel of our whole model, it has to be constantly nurtured, and nothing matters more.
All the practices described previously, all these things that we do, are nothing than more than our fuel production system. The outcome is fully intangible, and also the most precious asset of all.
Knowmads Amsterdam is Knowmads Hanoi's dutch big sister. Here, tribes [teams] of students embark on a 6-month learning journey. This is a story about Jonathan, 23, from Venezuela and his thoughts about Knowmads, life purpose, feedback, freedom and community.
I wasn’t sure about the things that I wanted to do [in life]. Before Knowmads, I was studying psychology; I was having a one-direction life. I spent five years in the university, later on getting work. It was not fulfilling for me; I was doing this work because I thought maybe society or my family wants this for me. I was not really doing the things that I like. And [the trick to this] is that you can really do the things that you like, but of course with the correct tools not to fail in the process. So that’s why I applied for Knowmads. Now I’m discovering these tools for the project [and] life that I want.
I will put my hands to work (learn by doing), so that I can get experience and later on reflect, “I’m doing this”, and understand why they told me what they told me. If I fail for any reason (because we are humans), they give me this sense of feedback.
This is one of the things missing in traditional schools. You fail, and they tell you you’re doing it wrong, but they don’t tell you what you’re doing wrong. Here in Knowmads, [this feedback] actually happens. When you do something nice or get something wrong, they really explain to you what is going on in the context, in the core of this action. And you can improve like this.
I would commend firstly, the freedom you have at Knowmads. The freedom of expression.
Freedom doesn’t mean that it’s just a group of rebels, that they want to get out of the system; that they don’t want to follow guidelines. It’s not true. I feel that freedom gives you the tools to have a very authentic, creative, fresh thought [process]. So this is what I think you really need for encouragement later on in life, to create something new; to put something new in the world. Here at Knowmads, I’m sure that you can discover this.
I feel that the sense of partnership, of leadership; friendship, described by the name that they call your group, Tribe, that we are correlative, interconnected to each other; it really makes a difference. I love it here, really.
[Blogpost from Knowmads Amsterdam]
I wrote my name on the opportunity board: Blogpost – Kani. I’m not good at writing. When I wrote my name, I thought maybe there’re some guidance or templates for me to follow and I dared to do it. But after that my facilitator said I have all the freedom in the world. And after nearly 1 month, I’m still writing. It’s harder than I thought. So after a long time writing with Tra’s support, I end up a blog post with some questions, answers and some drawings.
How do you think about the program?
Surprise and heartfelt. Surprise because what I expected was very different from what I experienced. Heartfelt because the support from the facilitator team and the moment we cried, laugh and shared.
Did you receive what you expected from Knowmads?
I expected something and I received something else. Along the 6 weeks with Knowmads, besides valuable knowledge and exercise, I also had some surprise and heart-touching experiences.
Could we make the world better and earn money at the same time?
Too long business has been seen as maximizing improvements financially opposite to social and environmental well-being. Now that’s the false dichotomy, you don’t have to be one or the other and there’re lots of overlaps. Knowmads showed me the way to build a business sustainably. At the same weekend, we also had a workshop with Julian – founder of Unbound and organized a field trip to KOTO, a successful social enterprise.
What do you think about your teammates?
Awesome! That was one of my reasons to join Knowmads, because I know some really cool people that are Knowmads members. When I met people from other teams at the Opening, I was quite excited. The more I learned and worked with members of Team 9, the more I admired them. Koyo is talented, confident and beautiful. Long is hilarious. Dung is interesting. Ploy is thoughtful and full of ideas. Trang is cute. An is talkative and positive. Megan always works with 100% of her energy and I learned a lot when I worked with her. Tra is always busy with different works but she’s quite patient and helpful.
What is the most memorable lesson to you?
It’s the calling challenge. I wrote down the names of the people I admire, the reasons I admire them, how I feel about that… Then Hoang gave us a challenge: Call that person! I was shocked. WTH? I had to say they were really big people, busy with their important works and would not have time to talk to me - a young, stupid and small person. But the challenge is what we have to get over. I called my boss. At first, she was quite surprise because I had never called her like that before. I actually rarely use my mobile phone. She thought that something must be wrong when I called. It took all of my confidence to tell her how much I admired her. It was super difficult. I wrote down a lot, wanted to say a lot, but what I actually said was just a few silly words. And when she said what she thought about me, I cried. At that moment I realized I admired her not only for her talent and her job, but also her personality and how much she cared about me, her employee. I didn’t know this challenge was that tough, but it was truly meaningful.
The most awkward moment during the program?
On the first day, we wrote a letter to our future selves. On the last day, I received it. At first I didn’t realize the letter was from me to myself. The letter was quite funny and short. I made a list of what I expected to experience during the Knowmads program.
The most meaningful lesson?
Sometimes I think I’m inept, sometimes I think I’m talented. That’s my problem, I’m interested in tons of things, and I can’t focus on one thing and make something proper. Everything I’ve done is so tiny and trivial. In the lesson Rediscover your Talent, we had to jot down our talents and draw the lines to show how long and consistent we’ve done each one. It made me realize I’m really talented, and everyone is talented. Our talents are the things we have been spending a lot of time doing with energy and engagement. At that moment I decided I needed to focus for a long time and develop my ability if I wanted to do big things.
What have you changed after the program?
As Tra says: I hated pineapples. Now I eat 1 box per day.
By Megan Rees
This past weekend was Team 9’s 5th week of our learning journey and we dove deeply into our projects.
We have been working on our projects via Design Thinking, which is a new way of thinking for me. I’m having a hard time truly defining it, because I’m still in the process. The picture above shows the five phases. The phases are Discovery, Interpretation, Ideation, Experimentation, and Evolution.
Last weekend, I found it rather frustrating because we had to start with a question rather than an answer. My groups question last week was, “What can we do to help people overcome their fears of speaking out?” This whole process is the Discovery part of Design Thinking. Towards the end, we were given homework to do Empathic Research.
This is where you interview different types of people and take the time to really listen to them. It wouldn’t be Knowmads if you didn’t go outside your comfort zone...
For my homework, I had the opportunity to interview 8 different people. This part, by far, was the most amazing part of the Knowmads program for me. I love to make connections with people and this really allowed me to do so in a smart and imaginative way. People love to be listened to, but how often do people actually listen?
I try my best to be an active listener to everyone, but I probably fail more often than I succeed. This opportunity allowed me a purpose to just sit there and listen to what people, who graciously gave me some of their free time, had to say. By the end of both interview sessions, with a few new Facebook friend requests and phone numbers, I felt empowered and energized. One of the interviewees even made a joke and said, “Thank you for the free therapy session.” I encourage anyone who is reading this to go out there and take the time to actually listen to someone. The results may surprise you!
By Saturday, I was excited about sharing the results of my findings and hearing what my other group members found as well. After answering our check-in question, it was time to start phase 2 of Design Thinking, Interpretation.
In the morning, we gathered with our groups and shared our findings via post-its and had to form a new question. My team’s question became, how might we use different theater/performance methods to bring confidence and overcome fears of speaking in front of others? Then, after a group brainstorming session from ourselves and other group members, it was time to take a vote. We only had three votes each. My group chose Group Spoken Word. This led to the Ideation phase of Design Thinking.
Since I have taught Spoken Word in the past, I had an idea for a prototype right away. We did a 5 word song game that I had found in my teaching journey. The other groups created books. One of the groups is focusing on less plastic straws and created an interactive book to reduce the usage. The other group created an interactive book to help families communicate better. Then, as usual, we had to take our products to the streets of Hoan Kiem Lake and test them out. This was the Experimentation stage.
As usual, most of us seemed nervous about having to approach strangers yet again. My group got lucky, we targeted a group of teenagers, who had many friends. It was quite fun to get out there and interact with people.
Our check-out question, “Who have you learned from in this room?” ended our session on a heart-warming note.
Now, as Knowmads we will continue onto the Evolution stage. How will our products evolve? How will this journey end?
It is hard to believe that we are so close to the end of the program. I have gotten used to waking up early every Saturday to hang out and learn with a group of amazing people.
I will surely miss it when it’s gone.
By Ngoc Le
If we are not some kind of anti-social, we will definitely do some things in collaboration with others. If you are a student, the chance of teamwork is even higher, since as students, we hang out, study, and even do exam and test in team for some occasion.
When we can choose our teammates, things seem to be much more enjoyable since we can work with people we like. But when we have no choice over who to team up with, teamwork can be a nightmare if the bond and harmony of the team is vague. Miscommunication, unequal workload and conflicts within team are common place if we are not with our dream team. However, as a matter of fact, most of the time we end up having to work with people we don’t expect. How can we cope with that? Will the scenario of a few person handling the majority of the workload while the majority of the team doing the minority always be the case?
Do not expect beyond the classroom give you the formula for successful group work, since there is no such things. However, the environment offered by the program can somehow enable you to share, open your heart and soul to collaborate and grow with others, and from which, you can find your own way to effective team working. We believe that whether you are young, enthusiastic and adventurous like Nemo, caring, insecure and overprotective as Marlin, or absent- minded and careless as Dory, you can still do wonder in team, when you know how ;)
A reflection from Beyond the Classroom's student about personal development.
Things we do that might hinder our process of learning and growing
1. Not looking back
Growing up doesn’t mean we just keep going on the road of development. We often take no notice of how we grow: what happened. Even bad experiences make us who we are today. We cannot choose where we come from, but we can choose where we go from there.
2. Taking in too much information
We all have the fear of missing out. As we take in too much information, we find it harder to process it all and actually apply it into our lives on a daily basis. Simultaneously, by absorbing too much info, we cannot have deep understanding about anything.
3. Lacking self-awareness
“I don’t even know what I am good/bad at” is a common thing we all think of when we talk about our strengths and weaknesses. Having no self-awareness prevents us from having effective personal development and hinders our ability to find the right orientation for our lives.
Sustainability is one of the main topics that we discuss often in all of our programs.
Here are some reflections we’d like to share with you after much learning and reflection.
It is not just about the environment
There are actually 3 main pillars in Sustainability: Social, Economic, and Environments. True sustainable solutions therefore have to take into consideration of all these 3 areas together. For example, one of the biggest environmental challenge we are facing today is the amount of plastic being dumped in the ocean; it is estimated that there is a garbage truck of plastic entering the ocean every minute of every hour of every day. And yet we cannot hope to fix this problem by simply clean everything up. Check out the surprising systemic solution by an organization called The Plastic Bank; their approach incorporates aspects from all 3 areas for a true sustainable solution!
Collaboration is key
Because Sustainability is such a complex problem, no one person or organization or nation can do it all. Partnership and collaboration is key if we want to move toward a more sustainable future together. That is why on September 25th, 2015, the United Nations set a collection of 17 global goals that is called the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals have been adopted by 193 countries and they hope to achieve all these goals by 2030!
Real change start with myself
It is important to recognize that each of us has a part to play in this challenge. At the individual level, it is not about saving the world, it is about changing my own mindset. I have become more conscious of how much plastic I’m using and taking the effort to reduce it. I also pay attention to not waste energy or don’t buy things I do not need. And above all, I’m trying to increase the awareness about this topic. The only way to change the world is for each individual to change themself.
I first came to Knowmads for a Non-violent Communication Workshop. It taught me about one of the seemingly simplest skill that nearly 15 years of schooling somehow never truly managed to: listen, and I was impressed by how welcoming and supporting this place was.
Therefore, when Application for Team 9 was open, I decided to apply.
But the first day was not what I expected at all. I expected to be in a judgment-free zone, but ended up sitting with a bunch of cool creatures: a more-than-12-year-experienced designer, a 5-language learner, an artist, a 20-year-old who tried Pilates and film making, a marathon runner, and a lady who studied Peace & Conflict Resolution on the verge of starting a business teaching improv. My brain’s representative was screaming “How on Earth am I gonna fit in with these folks?” However, the more I got to know these people, the more connected and empathetic my heart felt. I realized it was my own judgment that I had to let go of, as one facilitator told me “No one is better than the next person, we’re just great in different ways”.
So the first morning went by. All I remembered was that my head went from worries, excitement, weirdness to a more relaxed and comfortable state. There was a paper clip challenge, but I can’t tell you about it cuz I missed it :( Too bad.
The second day, we got to draw our life journeys and applied different levels of listening. Some journeys were mathematic-looking with graphs and equations, others full of stick figures and winding lines. Then we danced wearing blind folds, drew blind portraits, meditated and wrote a letter to our future self. My heart jumped and said it enjoyed this. At the same time it was a little sad knowing this journey will one day end. But, instead of looking it simply as a special classroom, I know I’d be better off seeing it as a start, after which I will continue my life journey, empowered and supported.
Some little fun things worth noting down:
5 is a beautiful number, so yeah that’s it!
I can’t wait to find out what’s waiting for me <3
By Ngoc Le
I used to believe that only birds of a feather can be real friends forever. For that reason, I for a while spontaneously surrounded myself with a community of friends who share similar interests, hobbies, and even dressing style. Being with them gave me a sense of security, maybe because of the fact that as we are the same, we embrace each without much disagreement and criticism.
Until when I threw myself in Beyond classroom 101. As it was the first of its kind, there was no review, no feedback, but the aspiration for self-discovering and personal development urged me to just go for it without much hesitation. Not until the first day that I realized that my decision had led me to the strangest class in my 20 years of sitting in a wide range of schools and courses. And strangest classmates as well. None of my classmates ever has nose ring, smokes, shaves her hair short, or suffers from depression for years. I have no judgement, but do I have doubts whether I can get along with them? Yes, a bunch, but just for a while.
When we are packed together to share stories, draw and journal to reflect on past experiences, it dawned on me that it was our difference that created diversity and harmony. It is similar to painting, a variety of color under artistic arrangements would contribute to the overall beauty of the master piece. Just like red brings warmth to blue, white balances the darkness of black, we complemented each other to enrich our experience and broaden our view. A girl living a cheerful, peaceful and positive life now can somehow feel others’ depression and personal, hence distinctive reactions to ups and downs. In the end, difference doesn’t necessarily create conflicts.
After all, one doesn’t need to seek for only like-minded people to be friend with. Now, if someone of unfamiliar styles, traits and mindset passes by, I will greet them to my life with eagerness to share and learn from our difference, rather than doubt and precaution. If you prefer a colorful painting rather than a mono colored one, let’s give it a try ;)