You have to take care of the individuals as well as the process

I read an awesome book last month, Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Connor Grennan that made me realize that in addition to saving the world and solving big problems that affect millions of people, we also need to make sure everyone has a champion.

Little Princes is about this guy who decides to quit work and travel around the world. In order to look less like he’s on a boondoggle, he decides to stop in Nepal and volunteer at an orphanage. While there he falls in love with the kids and makes a personal commitment to several of them. He also discovers that many are not really orphans but rather children whose families are trying to save them from being recruited as soldiers.

When he finds out that 7 of the kids he promised to help have gone missing, he starts a nonprofit, raises money and goes back to find those 7 kids. He sees hundreds of needy children, but he hunts for those 7 kids. (He also opens an orphanage and does a ton of great things along the way.)

I struggled with that for a while – his ability to continue hunting for 7 kids while tons of others could have used his help. He passes hundreds of kids who need his help and focuses on finding those 7. At some point, I think I would have given up and gone to work fixing the political system that caused the problem. Trying to fix it for just 7 kids would have felt pointless. Then I realized that I fight every day for the 2 kids in my house. I help hundreds of kids indirectly through my work but I am a champion for the individual kids that live in my house. And they have not just me but their dad and a huge extended family of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

So everybody needs someone who is fighting for them as an individual. And all of us need to fight for the individuals we believe in as well as the causes.

So what does this mean? I think we need to focus more on relationships, not just causes. In the open source world, we do this a lot through events and blogging. We do it when we say we’re a “meritocracy” and each individual earns their role. We value the individual and form tight bonds that aren’t dissolved when someone changes roles or gets hired or fired. The individual is more important than the role. The project is made up of individuals.

I think there are also opportunities for a different kind of mentorship. A much more accountable, visible mentorship.

Mozilla is a community of do-ers!

The Mozilla Summit is coming! On June 15th,  50 Mozillians got together for a planning session and I discovered just how much Mozillians focus on getting great things done!

We met to help shape the Mozilla Summit (a 2,000 person conference happening later this year) in a way that would move Mozilla forward. We spent the first day talking about top issues and the second day planning out the topics and sessions.

Photo sent to me by Shez (But Shez is in the picture so not sure who the photographer is!)

Photo sent to me by Shez (But Shez is in the picture so not sure who the photographer is!)

Of all the trips I’ve taken this year, I think the Mozilla Summit Planning Assembly was the one I looked forward to most – a chance to help shape the future of Mozilla and have great conversations with people who are passionate about the same things I am! I also admit I was really worried that we were too big of a group to get anything done. Turns out I was not alone. We all showed up ready to set the content and agenda for the Mozilla Summit.

A day of tough discussions and building trust

We had some excellent conversations Friday night and Saturday. We did a number of different exercises designed to start conversations and pull out key themes. For example, we started out  Saturday with an “unpanel”. Four people sit in the middle of the group. They have a conversation. There’s an empty chair as well and whenever someone in the audience wants to join the conversation, they slide into the empty seat and one of the four sitting there self selects to go back to the bigger circle leaving an empty chair as an invitation for the next person. While at first it didn’t seem very different than a big group conversation where you passed around the mic, it turned out to be a great way to keep the audience engaged in the conversation. Every one was listening hard. The topics we covered were varied but a lot of it centered around non paid staff vs paid staff relationships – culture and responsibilities. We also talked about things like whether there’d be technical roadmap decisions made at the Summit, how people like to communicate, etc. One of the key takeaways for many of us was that we were all worried about similar issues!

Over the course of the day, two themes arose:

  1. Old timers and new hires are having a hard time trusting each other at Mozilla. I’m sure I didn’t get all the nuances but it felt to me like old timers think new hires might not have the “Mozilla DNA” and might not have an appreciation for our mission and open source methods. And new hires think old timers are stuck and so concerned with consensus they aren’t always getting things done.  Over the weekend, I think we made great progress in killing that stereotype and building good relationships that bridge the gap. (Lukas Blakk wrote about this experience as well.) I have to admit that personally I’m not sure where I fell on this stereotype other than feeling rather annoyed at both groups and some how personally responsible for both stereotypes. As a hiring manager, I’ve hired many of those new people. As a long time open source community member, I feel like it’s my job to make sure the “open source” way is considered and well represented.  I also think that part of the problem is how members of each group introduce themselves and represent themselves to the world – more on that later.
  2. Mozillians like to get stuff done! By the end of the day, we were all extremely uncomfortable with all of the discussions, panels and world cafe exercises with no clear idea of how it was going to produce an agenda for the Summit. Luckily our leaders and the Unconference organizers heard all of our concerns and when we turned up the second day, we got to create a rough outline of an agenda and topics for the Summit!

Getting down to work

On the second day we did a “World Cafe” exercise. We had about 7 rooms and 3 time slots and everyone wrote in the topic they wanted to cover in one of the slots. We then did some consolidation and managed to squeeze everything into the ~20 slots.

The idea was to cover themes or topics we thought should be covered at the Mozilla Summit. Each session was to identify Session Title, Goals and Outcomes, People for Followup and What has to happen between now and the Summit. They were all captured in etherpads.

All the sessions I went to had great conversation. It was rather tricky to focus on how that topic would be covered at the Summit instead of just discussing the topic. We tried to focus on how the conversation would best happen at the Summit: what type of presentation it would be, how much should be a proposal vs a discussion, if it was one presentation or a theme, etc. Some times the topic you signed up for was not the topic your group ended up proposing. I attended discussions on communication, diversity (Dino and Lukas have a great diagram for a starting conversation!) and helping companies that aren’t used to “open” work with effectively with us.

Then Mark, Debbie, Mitchell, Kate and Mardi grouped all of the topics into themes – interestingly “People” had the most topics. Other themes included Strategy, Product, Process and Purpose.

So now we have themes for the Summit. And a lot of proposed topics.

I found it really valuable to spend this time as a group planning for a big event. When you are going to bring 2,000 people together (in groups of 600) I think it’s essential to spend some time uncovering what the real issues that we need to discuss are.

My take aways:

In addition to the bigger goal of planning the Summit, I took away a few more key things:

  1. It’s important to work together, preferably in person. We built a lot of trust over the weekend – trust that would have taken much more time to build during our regular day-to-day lives and over the internet. I hope we can take that experience and bring it to the Mozilla Summit.
  2. Mentors. After a conversation with Gandalf, I came away thinking part of the solution might be holding mentors more accountable and some how measuring their success over time. We also discussed short term mentorship projects too.
  3. How you introduce your self matters. With a few exceptions, most of the volunteer Mozillians introduced themselves as being “a community member” or a “Rep”. Most of paid staff introduced themselves by their functional role or team, “Firefox for Android”. This is natural as while we all feel like part of the greater Mozilla community, paid staff has in general been hired to do a particular role. But I feel like it’s a big part of the disconnect.
  4. Lots of communication formats are needed. Lawrence Mandel pointed out that not everyone does well speaking in front of large groups at conferences, so whatever format the Summit takes, it needs to enable lots of communication vehicles, meetings, parties, irc, etherpads, newsgroups, … a way for everyone to find enough of their comfort zone so that they can be comfortable enough to participate fully.

The Mozilla Summit Planning Assembly was one of the trips I was most looking forward to attending this year and it lived up to my expectations! I’m very excited for the Summit now! (And for all the planning that still has to happen before then!)