Author Archives: Peter Straube

About Peter Straube

educator, event producer, experience designer, and explorer

The Boiling Frog & Climate Change: is it time to jump?

frog.boiling-pot


Is it just me, or is it getting really hot in here? I think I might be one of those boiling frogs I’ve heard about.

In case you’re not already familiar with it, the Boiling Frog Story is a metaphor for how people are usually slow to react to changes that occur gradually, or to significant events which have become commonplace. Here’s how it goes: If you throw a live frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump right back out. But frogs are cold-blooded creatures and naturally adjust to gradual changes in the temperature of their environment. So if you place that same frog into a pan of cold water, light the burner on your stove and slowly bring the water up to a boil, the frog will be content to stay in the water until it slowly boils to death. Whether this account is scientifically accurate or just an urban myth, it’s still useful for trying to understand human behavior. 

When it comes to climate change, we are the frog in the story–at least so far. The problem is that we don’t recognize climate change, as profound as it is, as an immediate threat. Our survival instincts are geared towards detecting sudden changes, not gradual developments. So while most of us would agree that we’ve got a problem on our hands, we don’t perceive it as something we need to deal with today, or even next week or next month. So maybe the most important question here is not really “Is this something we need to take action on?”  Maybe a better question is, “Do we need to do it right now?” Our perception of time–not just the facts or the stories we tell–is often the driving force when trying to change minds and move people to take action.

On the other hand, the coronavirus pandemic has certainly gotten our attention.  The pandemic easily fits the definition of an “event for change”–it’s a shared experience that has moved millions of people to make significant changes in the way they live their lives. The fear of immediate danger is the most powerful motivating force in human behavior. Not so much with climate change, though. We may be concerned, but so far we’re not alarmed enough to take bold action. 

coronavirus climate change tweet

I know, I know…many of us have already taken at least a few small steps in the right direction. As comedian/podcaster Marc Maron points out in his recent Netflix comedy special, maybe the reason we’re not more upset about the collapse of the environment is that, deep in our hearts, we know we’ve done everything we can. After all, we started bringing our own bags to the supermarket! And now there’s a movement to do without plastic straws in our take-out beverages.  But the truth is that for most of us, just like that frog in the pot of water, we make a few minor adjustments but otherwise just sit around while things get hotter and hotter. And I know this to be true because I see myself doing it, too. When it comes to climate change, what will need to happen to get most of us to jump out of the water, with as much force as our response to COVID-19? 

The coronavirus pandemic can act as a wake-up call, an event that inspires change. When the pandemic begins to recede, do you see your life going back to pretty much the way it has been in the past? Will you slip right back into that same pot of rapidly heating water we’ve all been soaking in? Or is there a different way of being, changes you can make that will aid in remedying the healing of our environment as well as our community of humans?  

I’ve been struggling with the answer to these questions myself and I know that many others are, as well. So far I’m still just getting started. My partner and I bought into a community solar array a couple of years ago that now produces most of the electricity for our home. We’ve been composting for years. The next time I buy a car, I’m committed to making it an electric vehicle. And I’m writing this blog post, in the hopes that it will get a few more people to think more about how they can start making the jump in their own lives. But none of this comes close to the lifestyle changes I have made due to the coronavirus, and I did all of that in a couple of weeks.

I’ve been looking for advice on what other actions I can take that will make more of a difference. There are plenty of constructive ideas on the Internet, but here’s a great  article from the David Suzuki Foundation that I found helpful and concise:

>>  10 Ways You Can Stop Climate Change

Beyond making changes in our own lives, it’s really important to talk to lots of other “frogs” about this. In the next week, you can email or call your city, state and US representatives to ask them what specific actions they are taking to address climate change. They are the ones who can make a huge impact on the system level, and you’re the one who can make sure they know this is a high priority, right now. Start conversations with your friends and participate on social media. Share ideas and spread the word about what you’re doing and what you see others doing. Just like in the Starfish Story, we can all make a big impact. But we need to start right away.


climate change treeWhew–in the time it just took you to read this article, I could swear it got just a little bit warmer in here.
What ideas do you have about how to help get us all out of hot water? Feel free to add your thoughts below.

 


Baby Boomers: Time to listen more, talk less

This was the headline at NPR.org, 4 days before the election: “Polarization And A Lack Of Productivity Are Likely To Reign After Election Day”. The article stated that, “with no clear mandate likely coming out of 2016, there is little reason to be overly optimistic that the next Congress can escape the cycle of unproductivity and polarization that has gripped Washington in recent years.”

I can’t say for sure exactly how we got here, but I have noticed that as the Baby Boom generation assumed more and more control of the direction of our country, we have become increasingly polarized as a nation. Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. The Boomers emerged on the scene in the 60s and 70s and from the get-go, part of their generational personality has been to divide the world into “us and them”.  You’re either Democrat or Republican. Liberal or Conservative. Pro-life or Pro-choice. You’re expected to choose a side and then dig in and fight, believing that if you shout loud enough and long enough and carry lots of big signs, eventually the folks on the other side will magically change over to your way of thinking. Because after all, we’re “right” and they’re “wrong”. Compromise? That’s seen as a weakness.

Full disclosure: I’m a Baby Boomer myself. I hate to say it, but I’ve actually become embarrassed by my own generation. As a group, we’re really not very good at trying to understand people who see and experience things differently than we do. The Trump & Hillary campaign made that even more painfully obvious. It’s no wonder that, together, we have elected a completely dysfunctional congress—and the result has been gridlock. There are signs that members of the younger generations, particularly the Millennials, haven’t learned to think in such a polarized way.  My hope is that as more Millennials and Xers gain influence, a more collaborative approach will emerge. Until that plays out, there is little evidence to suggest that things will improve.

But nlisten-moreow that the campaign circus has finally left town, we all have a choice to make: we can go even deeper into our corners and fight even harder with each other, or we can go out of our way to really listen to the people who appear to think so differently than we do, to try to understand why they have come to feel that way, and to seek constructive, inclusive solutions. Doubling down and fighting even harder won’t accomplish anything more than hardening the us vs. them paradigm even more than it already is. We should have learned that by now.

Over the course of the campaign, I was struck with how many times I heard people on both sides of the political spectrum say, “How could anyone possibly vote for her/him?” It wasn’t just that people disagreed; it was that they literally couldn’t imagine where the other side was coming from. There is something very important here: the power to change hearts and minds doesn’t start by insisting that you have all the right answers. Instead, it starts with seeking to understand the hopes and fears of the people who, on the surface anyway, are on the opposite side. No, you may not ever agree on the best methods to get results, but my guess is that if you ask honest questions and really listen to the answers, you’ll find that we aren’t really that far apart after all. In the months and years ahead, I’ll be looking for opportunities to do just that. I hope you will, too.

 

 


5 Ways Improv Tools can pump up your meeting or event

The Engaging Event Series, #6

Much as we might like to control our day-to-day existence, the fact is that we live in an unscripted world, where we are constantly called upon to think on our feet–in other words, to improvise.  Most of us usually associate “improv” with comedy and theater.  Some have described it as “organized chaos” (not that different than life in general, when you think about it).  But it turns out that Basic Improv Techniques can provide us with opportunities to encourage bonding, collaboration, brainstorming and creative problem-solving–pretty common objectives whenever you get a group of people together.

This time around, I’m featuring a Guest Post by Jenise Fryatt, who’s one of my favorite bloggers about new ideas in event experience design. Among other things, Jenise creates content at Engage365 , Sound & Sight and EventProv.com.  In this post, Jenise shares a few things she learned about using improv while attending the 2011 Applied Improvisation Network Conference  in Baltimore last June.  In Jenise’s own words:


Here are 5 things I learned about how improv skills, games and concepts can enhance and even transform events and meetings.

1 – Help people connect and have fun
Be it a small group session or a large general session with hundreds of people, there are improv-inspired games that can get people smiling, connecting, bonding and having fun. Sometimes they were as simple as a game called Back to Back that helps people get to know each other in a fun, musical chairs way, or the Diamond Dance, in which participants stand up next to their (theater style) seats and mimic the dancing of the person in front of them.

2 – Teach communication skills for better learning, networking
Improvisors are EXPERT communicators who are trained to use much more than words in connecting with others. They learn these skills through games like Zip,Zap,Zop; Red Ball, One Word Story and much more. Nearly every game that improvisors use is an exercise in effective communication. Practicing such games at a conference is a fun way to teach skills that will not only help attendees get more out of your event, but will help them in the situations they return to at home.

3 – Create your presentation with your attendees
What if you became comfortable with taking your presentation in a different direction than you had planned. What if you actually co-created it with your attendees?

Time after time sessions at the AIN conference followed this non-structure. It wasn’t about the presenter imparting knowledge alone. The attendees played a great role in what direction it took. In fact, I often got the feeling that the presenter learned as much from the attendees as the attendees learned from the presenter.

Improvisors learn to be very PRESENT oriented and because of this, they are much more aware of learning opportunities and are quick to seize the moment. So what if the original plan gets dumped? As long as attendees are finding more value, it’s worth it.

4 – Work together to solve a problem
Crowd-sourcing is a great way to get information and it’s used widely on the internet through surveys and polls. But an event where you have them all in one room presents an opportunity for doing this that won’t take days or weeks. You can do a lot in under a 1/2 hour.

The AIN conference organizers wanted to use the group to help create better branding. During a session of nearly 30 people, they had individuals take turns sharing one word he or she felt defined AIN. The words were written on flip charts.

After each person had shared two words, the group was divided into smaller groups of 4 people each. Each smaller group choose 6 of the previously chosen words. Each group reported what their words were and a dot was placed by each word. Then the words with the most dots were chosen to be used in crafting a branding statement about AIN.

I was impressed by how well this quick process got to the heart of who the AIN attendees are and what they care about.

5 – Practice dealing with difficult situations
One of the general sessions employed a game (invented at the conference) for applied improvisors to address obstacles they face in selling their services. All 100 participants chose stations labeled either AIN or the name of one of our ideal clients, i.e. event planner, business schools, etc.

Each client group invented a persona and identified some of the obstacles they face. Then each person in a client group (of about 3 or 4) took turns facing off with an AIN member who was selling applied improvisation services.

It was very illuminating. Some of the insights gained included; how important it is to understand and use the terminology of potential clients; establishing a relaxed, friendly rapport is extremely helpful and practicing such conversations can really help to address issues ahead of time. The whole exercise took less than 1/2 hour.

Being around people who have in common a love of  “making stuff up”  was energizing and inspiring beyond words.  I hope to give you more of a feel of it in future posts.  But something that I think all of us AIN conference attendees also share, is the conviction that improv isn’t magic.  The tools that make us highly creative are tools that can be used successfully by anyone. AIN is an organization dedicated to spreading the word and I’m very proud to be associated with it.

(To view this post in its native habitat, follow this link to Eventprov.
Thanks, Jenise!
)

How have you used or seen improv techniques applied to your own event experiences?

 

For 10,000 Bonus Points:

  • For improv ideas, check out this laundry list of Improv Games (oddly enough, some of them double as drinking games…)
  • You might also be interested in this TED Talk by Stuart Brown, exploring the serious subject of Play:



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