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June 10, 2012

Fruit punch czar
Posted by Teresa at 02:16 PM * 210 comments

This is about the exercise of power. It’s a recurring rant of mine. At one point I wrote it all down as part of a comment. Since then I’ve had several occasions to refer to it, and others have done so as well. This will probably keep happening, so I might as well make it a standalone entry.

There’s a process I’ve seen in many times and places, where people mistake a thing one does for a thing one is.

I first spotted it in clubs and concoms. In the beginning, you have a task-based system: “Okay, Ferdy’s running the huckster room and Lulu’s doing hotel and banquet. Mo’s just about got the program pulled together. We’re not doing a daily newsletter, so Felix, your work is finished when the pocket program’s delivered. Think you can take charge of the fruit punch in the consuite in the evenings? It’s just a little bit more than Margie can handle.” Felix says sure, no problem, and does fruit punch duty at the convention. As a joke, someone sneaks the line “Fruit Punch Czar: Felix” into the published committeee list.

The job’s not a lot of trouble — arrange for fruit punch, keep an eye on the punchbowl, police the area — and it gives Felix a reason to hang out in that end of the consuite in the evening. This works out well. Felix is an amiable soul, and a lot of people wind up hanging out in his area. The “Fruit Punch Czar” thing gets immortalized when Felix wades into an incipient fight, and one drunk and belligerent would-be-combatant says “Who the bleep are you?”

Felix instantly replies: “Fruit Punch Czar, with powers of High and Low Justice anywhere within fifty feet of the punchbowl.”

“Oh,” the drunk says meekly, and subsides. So after that everyone refers to Felix as the Fruit Punch Czar. But really, that’s just the way Felix is. If he were given the job of hanging out in the main corridor holding a rubber duck tied to a string, Felix would do it — and would still be wading in to stop fights and sort out problems, and would still accrete a random group of cheerful conversationalists around him.

(Why sort out other people’s problems and adjudicate disputes? Felix would say it’s because it’s a good thing to do. He’d also say that anyone can do it, which isn’t true; but it comes naturally to him, so he thinks it is.)

After a few years, the job is up for grabs. Felix and spouse have had their first kid, and are busy. This is where the saga of Yorick begins. Yorick is no Felix, to put it mildly, but he has a flaming yen to be Punch Bowl Czar, dispense High and Low Justice, and be at the center of the coolest gathering at the convention. At the annual committee meeting where everyone settles out who’s doing what job, he and his like-minded crony Jan make a real push for the jobs of Consuite Coordinator and Fruit Punch Czar. Margie says fine; she’ll run the Green Room instead. Someone else takes on publications.

Yorick is way into being Fruit Punch Czar because he thinks it makes him Felix. Do I need to describe the whole dysfunctional sequence of events that follows, winding up with a bitterly destructive committee fight four years later because Jan and Yorick are upset that plain convention attendees have been “usurping the powers” of the Fruit Punch Enforcement Squad — members of which wear matching FPES t-shirts and have, according to Yorick and Jan “paid their dues” by working as gophers and dogsbodies for the Fruit Punch Department?

Isomorphisms: I’ve had some interesting conversations about moderation with Ken Fisher, community godfather at Ars Technica. I mentioned a bizarre phenomenon I’d seen on various forums: longtime regulars being sharply reprimanded for explaining local customs to newbies. The term used to describe this supposed misbehavior was “backseat moderation.”

Ken said he certainly didn’t agree with that policy, but he knew what prompted it: busybody users running around on boards playing pretend-moderator, telling other users that You’ve Been Bad, and The Moderators Are Gonna Get You For That. It tended to happen, he said, in forums where the moderators were a separate class from common users.

That made sense. If users see moderation as a high-status role rather than a task, some of them will inappropriately imitate that role, instead of helping each other create community and good conversations by imitating what they’ve seen moderators do.

I know a similar principle from conrunning: if you get a volunteer who only wants to do security, the last place you should assign them is security. Odds are you’ve got someone who wants to be in charge, but doesn’t understand that authority is 95% responsibility and 5% action, and that power is a transient role in events.

Comments on Fruit punch czar:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 03:54 PM:

I'm sorry, but the title "Fruit Punch Czar" immediately makes me think of this.

I apologise for the instant derail.

#2 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 04:04 PM:

I was thinking there had been a hiccup. Then I recalled I am about to re-run my rant about habeas corpus.

#3 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 04:09 PM:

This dynamic has an interesting resonance with something that I see happening between the first and second generations within start-up companies: the first generation, who chased a crazy dream into money beyond reason didn't do it for the money, but for the sheer insane joy of the dream itself. The ones that come after rarely understand the dream--if they did, they'd be off chasing their own--they only understand the money.

That's how you go from "Think Different" to "Resolutionary."

#4 ::: Kurt Montandon ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 04:25 PM:

This is why I miss the good old days of Usenet, where you were judged by your merits, and there were no moderators - people who weren't up to a group's standards were simply shamed into not posting, thus eliminating both the Old Guard policing and the dedicated trolls in one fell swoop.

... and I actually managed to typed that without bursting out into hysterical laughter.

#5 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 04:29 PM:

I managed to open this post at the same time as the Sidelight "Why Elites Fail" and it's.... yeah. That. What they said. From the sidelight article:

Michels’s grim conclusion was that it was impossible for any party, no matter its belief system, to bring about democracy in practice. Oligarchy was inevitable. For any kind of institution with a democratic base to consolidate the legitimacy it needs to exist, it must have an organization that delegates tasks. The rank and file will not have the time, energy, wherewithal or inclination to participate in the many, often minute decisions necessary to keep the institution functioning. In fact, effectiveness, Michels argues convincingly, requires that these tasks be delegated to a small group of people with enough power to make decisions of consequence for the entire membership. Over time, this bureaucracy becomes a kind of permanent, full-time cadre of leadership. “Without wishing it,” Michels says, there grows up a great “gulf which divides the leaders from the masses.” The leaders now control the tools with which to manipulate the opinion of the masses and subvert the organization’s democratic process. “Thus the leaders, who were at first no more than the executive organs of the collective, will soon emancipate themselves from the mass and become independent of its control.”
#6 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 04:38 PM:

Fragano @1, see, I thought it was maybe gonna be about the Fruitviking. (Very not-safe-for-work! Also the middle of a long plot arc; may not be comprehensible on its own.)

#7 ::: Elaine ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 04:50 PM:

I think this goes along with "Anyone who wants to be President shouldn't be..."

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:12 PM:

Terry Karney: That's interesting. What's the occasion?

Elaine: Electing the self-confessed politician and public servant who's spent most of his life learning things pertinent to this job, who understands it and nevertheless wants it, seems to me no bad idea.

I don't mind putting people in jobs if they understand and want to do the jobs. The problem is people who see it as a role, and think it will turn them into someone they fantasize being.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:15 PM:

Fragano: I can see it now: a cage match between the Fruit Punch Czar and the Emperor of Ice Cream. The FPC is carted off in pieces.

#10 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:41 PM:

TNH @8: That distinction between job and role is a very nice one, and useful.

(There's a related phenomenon in art/craft/makin'stuff, but it's still percolating in my brain and hasn't formed into words and sentences yet.)

#11 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:44 PM:

Thena #5: That's Michel's "Iron Law of Oligarchy". It's inherent in the nature of organisations that leadership will perpetuate itself over time, even if the organisation is committed to democracy. Democratic moments occur only when leaders retire and at times of crisis.

Nevertheless, Michels strikes me as too pessimistic, and his turn to fascism because the Social Democrats weren't democratic enough for him (so democracy couldn't work) seems to me not only a counsel of despair but just plain nuts. He may have been one of Weber's favourite students, but Weber wasn't always right.

If you look more closely at how democracy functions, then you'll realise that the key is not the organisation (social organisation, trade union, political party) but the overall functioning of the political system/social structure. That is, is the structure as a whole democratic? Does it guarantee rights to all? Does everyone have a chance to participate? If the answer to those questions is yes, then the issue of bureaucratic inertia at the top (that is, of a permanent or semi-permanent leadership which stays in office because of its expertise and thus constitutes an "oligarchy" for Michels) becomes less important.

What has to be done is to ensure that the structure stays honest; that is that the checks, balances, and rules keep functioning.

#12 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:45 PM:

TNH #9: As long as the deal dresser is not damaged, I'm for it.

#13 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:46 PM:

Avram #6: *snort*

#14 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:48 PM:

Fragano @12: Well, there are three knobs gone already, but we could keep an eye on the rest of them.

Probably want to put something over those fantail-embroidered sheets, though, if there's going to be fruit punch and ice cream flying around.

#15 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:53 PM:

Something I've noticed about some of the would-be community moderators: if asked to consider becoming a "real" moderator, they usually refuse.

I find myself wondering why.

Because then they have to learn when to let the group self-police? Because then they really have to be accountable for what they say when they post moderator-type stuff? Because there's more to being a moderator than saying "these are the rules"?

#16 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 06:20 PM:

Melissa Singer @15: Because officially taking on the role means spending significantly more time and mental energy at it, instead of just doing it when they're already around?

A lot of my friends are of the "stop me before I organize again!" type, and once they have learned to say 'no' more than occasionally I see a lot of this. It's still almost impossible for them not to step in and help when they see something that needs it, but they avoid overburdening themselves with official responsibility because they know that they don't have the time and energy to do it as a job the way it really requires.

#17 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 06:35 PM:

Where was this version of Usenet where the dedicated trolls were eliminated?

#18 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 07:03 PM:

Another point in all this, which I've noticed on various self-perpetuating boards, is the importance of term limits. One of the steps in Teresa's model is the point where the person who is naturally good at it becomes unable to do the job, and there isn't another person wandering around who is obviously naturally able to do it. Term limits makes people plan for this particular problem: we know that X job is going to become vacant in a few years, and we need to be planning for who's going to fill it. This is hard to do in a lot of organizations because "there's always a shortage of competent people" -- which is related to the oligarchy problem over in Patrick's sidelight and that Fragano points to. There really is always a shortage of people we know will be competent; in the original post's story, people didn't know Felix would be competent in the Fruit Punch Czar role as it came to play out (though they might have guessed). With knowing that cycling has to go on and that people will have to take at least a year off at some point in the near future, there's a lot more incentive to train and generate more competent people. And someone who isn't competent, or doesn't really like the job, doesn't have to keep doing the job because a culture of turnover is what we're working in. A lot of groups give this kind of turnover lip service, but not that many actually practice it. It can make for robustness (and badly done, it makes for failure, like most models).

I don't know how this works with online moderators. Is it something you've thought about, and what are your thoughts (T, and others as well -- open question here).

#19 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 07:16 PM:

Elise #14: Oilcloth.

#20 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 07:36 PM:

I see Tom Whitmore already said pretty much what I was going to say.

Let me expand on that - getting in new blood by active recruiting is damned important to any organization that does not want to ossify, and hiring someone who you hope could be your replacement, or possible manager should be a goal of anyone in management.

That said, my connish experience has me pretty burned out on running a food services section, so I'm GAFIAting for a while. Cooking for 700 people, and doing it in such a way that the majority of food sensitivities are considered, and making what I think was tasty food from wholesome ingredients is fucking exhausting.

#21 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 07:39 PM:

Melissa @15:

Something I've noticed about some of the would-be community moderators: if asked to consider becoming a "real" moderator, they usually refuse.

I find myself wondering why.

Because then they have to learn when to let the group self-police? Because then they really have to be accountable for what they say when they post moderator-type stuff? Because there's more to being a moderator than saying "these are the rules"?

All that and what Kevin said and then some.

If it's a paid position, the hourly rate is probably a pittance, and you'll always spend more hours than the official estimate. If it's unpaid, you're suddenly responsible for all the threads or subforums you find boring. You can't walk away from problem interactions, no matter how frustrating you find them, and you can't casually disappear for a week without making some kind of arrangement for a fill-in. You become the person everyone complains to, and the person malcontents complain about. You have to be fair and understanding to major subfactions, even if you think their heads be fugged. You have to act even when you don't have a clue what to do.

Being an informal moderator is a lot more congenial.

Jim @17, read it again. He woofed me too.

Tom @18, there's not enough history yet.

Filling empty positions gets easier if you have a large pool of potentials: who has choices need not choose.

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 07:40 PM:

Josh Jasper @20: Convention staff-catered food function for 700? Which convention does that?

#23 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 07:41 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 19:

I swear I heard the Tin Woodsman muttering that. Must have gotten caught in a punch downpour.

#24 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 07:51 PM:

TNH @21 -- "There's not enough history yet." But there's some. And you've been making it, and in part you've thought about it as you manage the process of bringing in new moderators as this community grows. I'd bet you have as many as two or three people that you're thinking about as potential moderators here if someone has to go missing (in a "best" scenario, gets The Job of a Lifetime and just can't put in the time here any more). You've got enough redundancy right now to muddle through for a few months (another good management point, I think John Jasper would say). But I know your backbrain well enough to know that you (and Patrick as well) aren't counting on that. You both remember some shared experiences too well to do that.

#25 ::: Richard Hershberger ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 08:14 PM:

@ heresiarch #3:

My brother used to peg it at the third generation of family-owned companies: pharmaceutical outfits in particular, because he was an organic chemist who professionally paid attention to such things, but the same principle applies to family companies in general.

The founder built the company from three employees up. Because of this, he knows it inside and out, and it is a labor of love. The founder's children watched their father build the company. It isn't quite the same when they step into executive roles, since they weren't sweating blood themselves, but they saw what it took. The third generation grew up wealthy, with all the tacit assumptions that go along with it. They understand that the company is the source of their wealth, but it is nothing more than that to them. They will have no qualms about selling out, or gutting it for short term gain and investing the capital accrued some other way.

There are exceptions, of course. The second generation might be idiots. The family might manage to build an enduring tradition. But he applied as a rule of thumb that you look at the family history, count the generations, and form expectations accordingly. If it is up to the third generation, don't count on any long-term thinking.

That being said, a third generation family firm is still better than a publicly traded stock corporation, which is very prohibited by organizational logic and nearly by law from long-term thinking.

#26 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 08:58 PM:

I'll confess to sometimes having been a backseat moderator. Not because of status, but because it seemed the right thing to do even though I'm no good at it.

#27 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 09:20 PM:

Tom@18ff: I was trying to generalize another side of the Fruit Punch Czar problem, and my wife (who has organized many more events than I have) finally solidified it for me:

A related (but different) phenomenon to the sequence Teresa described is the "cult of personality" problem. Let's say that the full "Fruit Punch Czar" role Felix performs is something that actually needs to be done. (If it's not, let's talk about another role that is.) Felix takes it on because he's naturally good at it, and, because he's created the role, it becomes identified with him; soon, it's hard to imagine someone else doing it. Here's where two different problems happen: first, Felix, feeling responsible for the role, keeps doing it past the point of burnout. Now there's a general sense that things aren't as good as they were, because he's not really doing as good a job, but no one is going to be the one to tell Felix to stop. Then, as in Teresa's scenario, Felix eventually does stop doing the role. Now we're at the point you describe: no one has really broken down what the tasks are that make up Felix's job, and no one can imagine any single person taking on Felix's role without being Felix. Several things can happen here, including Teresa's scenario, and most of them aren't good.

Tom mentions term limits as a way around that, forcing the community to think ahead. Josh Jasper mentioned the "hire your successor" approach, choosing and training another person who can do that role. Another approach I've seen used successfully in community-run events is to start early on to a) expand the "organizing committee" beyond what's immediately needed; b) explicitly separate out the individual tasks; and c) delegate as soon as possible to as many people as possible. (a) has the obvious benefit that there are more people to get things done; (b) makes it easier to do (a), by spreading out the work; and (b+c) makes an early start at breaking the mapping between personalities and roles. I've seen this work very well in local events, resulting in smooth transfers of responsibility, but a) only when it was done from the start and b) only when the initial organizers actually wanted to (and worked hard to) avoid being the center of a "cult of personality". (The latter, in particular, often isn't the case; when things are starting up it can be really nice to be the center of attention.)

I don't know how, or if, this maps at all onto the tasks of moderation. Does it?

#28 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 09:26 PM:

David W -- I doubt it maps onto the tasks of moderation, but I think it maps onto the roles of moderators.

#29 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 09:54 PM:

Tom Whitmore @ 18: ...There really is always a shortage of people we know will be competent...

One of Intel's employee benefits is a 1-month sabbatical every 7 years. This is, of course, perfectly splendid for the individual, but it's also great for the company. Given that you don't qualify until you've been there 7 years -- or 14 -- there's a good chance that the person is in a lead or manager role. They often can't leave it empty for a full month. But it is just one month, so they are often willing to gamble and give one of the subordinates the role. People usually show that they do have what it takes to step to the next level, and that puts them on deck for a future promotion, and reduces the tendency to look outside the company for someone who has the "necessary qualifications."

#30 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 10:14 PM:

David Wald @27: I've seen this work very well in local events, resulting in smooth transfers of responsibility, but a) only when it was done from the start and b) only when the initial organizers actually wanted to (and worked hard to) avoid being the center of a "cult of personality".

Yep. My personal practice is:

The first year: found it, and run (or co-run) it.
The second year: work on it, but do not run (or co-run) it.
The third year: attend it. Do not have any kind of formal position. Helping out around the edges is OK, but only the way any other at-convention knowledgeable person would.

It works pretty well. More than that, it permits the people who run it after you do to make different, sometimes riskier and better, choices. (One of my gladdest moments in convention-building was when a con committee of something I had founded made a decision I strongly disagreed with. I made my argument against it to them; they thanked me, went ahead and did what they wanted to do, and it worked out extremely well. I was delighted to say, "You guys, I was flat-assed wrong, and I am so happy to find that out! Well done! Awesome!") An organization or institution that cannot survive the loss of its instigator -- well, there are some, and there are good reasons for some, but those aren't the sort I want to build, generally. I want something more community-based. Being invited back as one of the guests of honor for the 20th of one that I co-founded was pretty darn cool, this spring; there's something really wonderful knowing that a place and its people are continuing and thriving and becoming things I can't even imagine. I like being surprised that way.

Anyhow, I blather, but you know what I mean, yah? There are other ways to do it, of course. This one's worked twice for me. Don't remember who I learned it from, but I'm grateful to all the people who taught me it.

(The latter, in particular, often isn't the case; when things are starting up it can be really nice to be the center of attention.)

It can be tempting, but it's not nearly as satisfying as building something together with a bunch of people and seeing it grow into an amazing shared thing.

(Dang. Now I have to go find a copy of The Gift Economy, if that's what its name was. Seems like everybody in fandom was reading that back in, what was it, '87? Seems like it's got some pertinence to this discussion.)

#31 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 10:49 PM:

TNH @22 - I should have said 700 meals, perhaps I think that might be closer. I did food services for Arisia's staff den and green room last year, and just green room for 3 years before that.

Arisia has (had?) a policy of having real food at all hours those rooms were open. The food budget is pretty big.

#32 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 12:35 AM:

MileHiCon used to have a real food thing, but as time went on and costs went up and hotels started to make a fuss about catering and laws it eventually turned into separate groups hosting the consuite and showing up with food. I have not been in a while so I do not know if the hotel still makes a stink about non-professionally prepared food. Which to be fair is a risk depending upon the competence of the people preparing the food.

#33 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 03:10 AM:

Melissa @ 15

I also note that having modded/managed some extremely toxic groups, I have a hard time seeing myself wanting to revisit those stress levels anytime soon. Every time I think about what I walked away from, I think how much better my life is without that stress. Without people constantly challenging my integrity. Without having to deal with the constant sexism and college-age drama. And with all the extra time I gained back as a result.

Certainly there are groups that manage to avoid some or all of those tendencies. But moderating is still a hard, often thankless, expandingly time-consuming job.

I have so much more rewarding, interesting things I want to work on right now, and I'm trying to find ways to clear enough time to do them, without adding a set of responsibilities that... well, frankly, they take away a lot of my ability to have fun by turning it into a work obligation.

Occasionally, I'm tempted to start something up again. But mostly not.

#34 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 04:40 AM:

My experience here, for what it's worth...

When Patrick IM'd me to ask if I'd like to join the front page on Making Light, it hadn't even occurred to me that such a thing was possible. (Given the reactions to my first front-page post, I was pretty much alone in that. Ah, well.) I'd realized that thing I'd been doing for some time might be considered "backseat moderation", and I'd fallen into the habit of emailing P & T when I felt that there was something that might benefit from their attention. But I didn't see moderation on Making Light as either a role or a job, because those are generic. What I saw was simply particular relationships between particular people and the community, and those were therefore as definitionally unique as every relationship is.

What Patrick's IM gave me was (a) concrete feedback that what I was already doing was good, and (b) a way to deepen and broaden that relationship. It took me a while to be confident in the use of my new powers, and in the way that the community's perception of me changed.

And my relationship with Making Light continues to change and evolve. It takes discernment to figure out what it is at any given time, and we go through periodic times of stress, distance, and fretfulness as well as long stretches of delight and fascination.

In short, I don't think Making Light has moved beyond the Felix stage. "Moderator" here is not a role or a job. It's simply one form of relationship between an individual and the wider community. This is a contrast with, say, Absolute Write, which is large enough to have a defined Mod Squad, with traditions and customs and rules.

Mind you, I could be wrong. I have been before.

#35 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 04:55 AM:

elise @10:
There's a related phenomenon in art/craft/makin'stuff, but it's still percolating in my brain and hasn't formed into words and sentences yet.

Is it at all related to the uses and abuses of the word "artist"? Because there is something in there that's shaped the same way, in my experience.

Tom Whitmore @24:
I'd bet you have as many as two or three people that you're thinking about as potential moderators here if someone has to go missing

I haven't had any conversations with Patrick and Teresa on the subject. I'm therefore free to say that I can think of a number of reasons why, if this is the case, it might not be a matter that gets discussed onstage.

Serge @26:
I'll confess to sometimes having been a backseat moderator. Not because of status, but because it seemed the right thing to do even though I'm no good at it.

You do fine. And we on Making Light explicitly encourage and value backseat moderation, as we do everything that makes people smarter, wiser or more joyful.

#36 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 07:49 AM:

Urp. Erf. Yeeees.

I (well, not alone, I had a co-conspirator) once hi-jacked the "snacks and drinks" stand at a gaming convention in my home country and it took me, what, four years (I think) to get rid of it again.

Of course, I only stepped in because the chap who had Always Done It had stepped down and the concom decided (in their infinite wisdom) that running that was something they could take turns at doing.

At least we had plenty of volunteers who worked shifts selling (and restocking) things, so when I finally folded, there was plenty of people who could take over.

Also, I am never ever again volunteering for a board position in a non-profit (at the peak, I was the chairbeing of three boards, a member of the board for another two and doing the annual audit for a sixth, plus pulling WAY too many hours of work; never again).

Last I went to a con, I was, I must admit, volunteered to be security. But, then, I've done security for that con every time I have been and is one of the few people who doesn't flinch gently talking down outraged con-goers having issues with "weapons policy". But I don't volunteer to do it, it just sort of happens.

#37 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 09:17 AM:

abi @ 35... we do everything that makes people smarter, wiser or more joyful

I'm trying not to hear those words as if they were the opening narration of "The Six Million Dollar Man".
:-)

#38 ::: Rob Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 09:36 AM:

Teresa,

May I have permission to use "Authority is 95% responsibility and 5% action" as a all-purpose quotable? It seems apt.

#39 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 11:00 AM:

Serge@37: I'm trying not to hear those words as if they were the opening narration of "The Six Million Dollar Man".

And now, so am I.

Well, no, I'm fine hearing them that way; I'm just trying to figure out the rest of the implications.

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 11:19 AM:

David Wald @39:
I'm just trying to figure out the rest of the implications.

Of a Six Million Dollar Man/Making Light mashup? I'd be interested to hear what you might come up with. No, strike that. Fascinated.

Of the smarter/wiser/more joyful thing? In case you missed it, have a look at this comment, point four. Note that these are just guidelines, in a Pirate's Code kind of way, for making your relationship with this community a happy and healthy one. They outline common failure modes. They're things I, personally, think about when things look edgy.

#41 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 11:40 AM:

abi@40: a Six Million Dollar Man/Making Light mashup? I'd be interested to hear what you might come up with. No, strike that. Fascinated.

INTRO MONTAGE: A test post crashing and burning.

MODERATOR ONE: Steve Austin, commenter. A man barely coherent.

MODERATOR TWO: Colleagues, we can inform him. We have the tools. We have the capability to make a productive member of the community. Steve Austin will be that person. Smarter than he was before. Smarter, wiser, more joyful.

That's as far as I've gotten so far. I will not assign actual names to the moderators; anyone who wishes to assume one of the roles is welcome to do so.

#42 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 12:35 PM:

abi 34-5: Well, IMO you are definitely Felix, not Yorick, in Teresa's scenario. And this doesn't get said nearly often enough: what you do is valuable and we all know it is, and I for one appreciate it deeply. On particular occasions when I'm the one who needs reining in, I may not like it! But once I calm down I realize that those occasions prove to me that you really are being fair and managing the conversation, that I just don't think you are because you agree with me.

And while I was pretty sure "backseat moderation" was allowed and encouraged here, it's nice to have it reconfirmed once again. Thank you.

David 41: Nice! And that use of 'colleagues' has uses way beyond that mashup. Never thought of it, but it's the perfect genderless substitute for 'gentlemen' in that context. 'Ladies and gentlemen' doesn't work, because the word 'ladies' is so steeped in sexist implication that it sounds like either a) you're talking down to the group or b) you're a circus ringmaster. I'm going to use 'colleagues' a lot, and I doubt I'd've thought of it, absent this post. Joyful++.

#43 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 12:35 PM:

Six Million Dollar Man

Of course now it's Twenty-eight million dollar man.

Inflation, you know.

:-)

#44 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 12:48 PM:

Then they had the spinoff "The Ironic Woman", who needed her joyful-coment mechanism repaired.

#45 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 01:22 PM:

Serge@44: Then they had the spinoff "The Ironic Woman", who needed her joyful-coment mechanism repaired.

Yes, after a terrible incident when she parachuted into the middle of a thread. The repairs also gave her a new ear that was much better at picking up conversational tone.

#46 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 01:40 PM:

elise @30

The first year: found it, and run (or co-run) it.
The second year: work on it, but do not run (or co-run) it.
The third year: attend it. Do not have any kind of formal position. Helping out around the edges is OK, but only the way any other at-convention knowledgeable person would.

My version of that is "Never perform any office, responsibility, or task three times in a row that you are not willing to do until the day you die." I think it's a more general case of your rules because it can cover anything from making the office coffee to chairing a major convention. I make an allowance for doing something twice on the theory that one should have the chance to apply lessons learned and see what happens. But if you do it the third time, people conveniently forget that anyone else is capable of doing it. (And you forget that "doing it differently" is not the same as "doing it wrong".)

#47 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 02:11 PM:

Richard Hershberger @ 25:

Did this generational sketch make anyone else think of the sequence:

Brutal and capable
Merely brutal
Neither brutal nor capable, just a good accountant in the wrong job

?

(In paraphrase because I don't have those books any more, and the passage isn't anywhere on the intertubes that I have been able to find.)

One important issue here is that this, of course only covers family businesses that last to the third generation. On the volunteer side I've been part of the management of a couple of enterprises that were both dysfunctional and moribund; never quite sure, though, whether the dysfunction caused the decline or was caused by it.

#48 ::: Steve C, ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 03:11 PM:

That was from Foundation and Empire, describing the three generations of Indburs who served as the mayor of Terminus. One of my favorite Asimov books.

#49 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 03:34 PM:

David Wald @ 45... coughgagsplutter!

#50 ::: wkwillis ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 05:23 PM:

I think I read this in Mechanical Engineer.
First generation is engineering, make the product better.
Second generation is accounting, make the product cheaper.
Third generation is sales, make the product pricier.
There can be a fourth generation if they sell products from first generation companies as a core competence.

#51 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 05:26 PM:

David Wald, you are wicked funny.

Xopher @42:
Thank you. You're kind to say it.

I value your contributions to this community. You lose your temper sometimes, and shout at the clouds from time to time, but you're always honest and honorable. I can't express how much I value that.

Also, you make wicked puns. I'm still chuckling about the one you made six months ago, when we last met in person.

#52 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 07:11 PM:

Interesting post. I love reading your take on community culture/politics.


I'm hoping for a sequel: How to be a Felix when you're just a Yorick.

#53 ::: Abby N ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 07:56 PM:

Heather Rose Jones @ 46: My version of that is "Never perform any office, responsibility, or task three times in a row that you are not willing to do until the day you die." I think it's a more general case of your rules because it can cover anything from making the office coffee to chairing a major convention. I make an allowance for doing something twice on the theory that one should have the chance to apply lessons learned and see what happens. But if you do it the third time, people conveniently forget that anyone else is capable of doing it. (And you forget that "doing it differently" is not the same as "doing it wrong".

My sub-corner of con-running (tech, specifically tech for Arisia, but also other northeastern cons) has an unofficial three-year term limit for tech-directors. The zeroth year, you assist the previous TD. The first year, the previous TD (ideally) assists you. (This may not be a formal relationship). The second and third years, likely next-TDs are assistants.

Three years, for this project, seems to be enough to avoid re-inventing the wheel every year (there's a *lot* of accumulated knowledge), but because everyone else working that div expects this cycle, it doesn't seem to creep into infinity in the same way...

p.s. Hi Josh Jasper! Thank you for feeding me last year!

#54 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 08:54 PM:

I wonder how this relates to the invitation-only thing-- I find I've done this a lot in the past, where I don't sign up or volunteer for things because obviously, it's not something I get to do. Impostor syndrome only with a side of social cliquishness thrown in. I don't think I'm the only person in the world who often assumes that I can't volunteer for something because only the cool kids get to do it.

#55 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 09:06 PM:

As a serial volunteer I find that one difficult to wrap my head around, Diatryma. Thank you for pointing out its existence; I'll have to remember to compensate for it some when I'm looking for volunteers!

#56 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 09:09 PM:

There's another assumption here which is nowhere near universal -- that some people will generally volunteer, and that a lot can get done with volunteers. I recently had pointed out to me by a delegation from Mumbai (inspecting various local US festivals with an eye to taking some of our methods) that there really isn't a volunteer culture in Mumbai. And this is probably true in many parts of the world. Which might make exporting the model just a little more difficult....

#57 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 09:12 PM:

Xopher, Abi, and Serge (assuming I'm interpreting the sputter correctly): Thank you. Serge can claim as much credit or blame as he wishes for earworming me with Richard Anderson's voice in the first place.

#58 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 10:33 PM:

David Wald @ 57... Why, thank you. I think.

Good old Richard Anderson... Remember that in "Forbidden Planet" he said "Any quantum mechanic in the service would give the rest of his life to fool around with this gadget", after which the Monster from the Id smeared him all over the ship's controls? This would suggest that Morbius's subconscious hated bad puns.

#59 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 10:36 PM:

Teresa: I've been stewing about the NDAA shit for some few weeks, and just recalled I have a canned rant, which I think I've reposted twice, but know I've done at least once.

#60 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 11:43 PM:

Tom Whitmore, now I'm curious -- there are amazing festivals in India, who organizes them? Families? Guilds? Religious groups? Government? Something I haven't thought of?

#61 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 11:58 PM:

No idea, clew! You should probably ask someone from there. I agree that it's a good question.

#62 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 01:10 AM:

Sean Sakamoto @52 said: I'm hoping for a sequel: How to be a Felix when you're just a Yorick.

You're missing the point, rather. You shouldn't be trying so hard to be a Felix when you're already a perfectly good Yorick, if only you could see yourself. You can learn to do the JOB Felix was doing, but if you try hard and hard to BE Felix you'll only become unhappier and unsuccessful. Be Yorick with your full heart and see what that means you can bring to your community; don't try to be a secondhand copy of someone you admired when you were a newbie.

#63 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 01:17 AM:

I had to restrain myself rather hard in #62 to avoid referencing a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode, but WOW are the first few Cutie Mark Crusaders episodes perfectly pertinent right about here!

For those interested, they're viewable without watching the rest of the series, and they're on Netflix streaming. Episodes 12 ("Call of the Cutie")and 18 ("The Show Stoppers") of Season 1 are the ones I had in mind, most especially that second (though the first explains the 'Cutie Mark' worldbuilding in greater detail -- it's a rather amusingly direct menstruation metaphor, something a lot of bronies miss).

#64 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 01:39 AM:

Elliott Mason, while I'd normally agree that it's a bad idea to try to be someone else-- it's already taken, for one thing-- in this example, Yorick is toxic and Felix is magnificently useful. Is there anything to learn on an individual basis beyond 'know your strengths' and possibly 'be sure to know when you're outside them'? The post itself is about group dynamics, but does anything transfer?

#65 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 01:54 AM:

Diatryma @64: Hrm. The way I read the fable, Yorick looks a the totality of Felix's existence as The Fruit Punch Czar, and performs two wrong inferences:

-- First, the fundamental attribution error (Felix is an awesome central person in our community because he's just innately awesome and superior)
-- Second, cargo-cult magical thinking: "If I perform the ritual exactly as Felix does, I will be/have all that Felix is/has."

What Felix is DOING as Fruit Punch Czar is complex and many-layered.
-- He dishes punch: anyone can do that.
-- He uses his social intelligence to keep an eye on the nearby vibe; many people can learn to do that, but it's not always obvious that it's being "done".
-- He is proactive and wishes to head off problems before they become big squee-harshing nasties for the room at large; this is a common desire and many people feel it.
-- He has the skills necessary to break up potential problems, and the judgement to discern when to use them; this is the hardest thing to learn, IMHO, assuming you can learn the second one.

Yorick's tragic, hubristic flaw in this parable is to think, "If I dish punch, I will *SHAZAM* suddenly be a central, useful, beloved figure in our social group!"

There's a lot more to the services Felix is providing than just serving punch, though that's the most obvious piece. And not every Yorick will be suited to the rest of the WORK that Felix is doing ... especially if they don't see it being done, or value those skills if you talk about them separate from Czardom.

Felix became indispensable by doing things he's very good at, somewhere where those things were needed. Yorick presumably has skills and strengths, but he's ignoring them (and the fact that there are non-punch-dishing duties being performed at that station) and trying to jump straight to "Step 3: Profit!"

#66 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 01:56 AM:

To paraphrase myself much shorter (though I had to say that so I could say this): Yoricks become as useful as Felixes when they keep the loud internal "Be loved! Find something to force people to love and value you!!!" voice from drowning out their more thoughtful urges.

#67 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 02:15 AM:

Elliott: trying to jump straight to "Step 3: Profit!" *snrch* Yeah.

Also, Czardom is only the true beneficial-to-the-community Czardom if he doesn't clutch it desperately and without humor. Taking the job seriously is generally conducive to community goodness; taking the title (or, maybe, the role) seriously can be fatal to it. The less Yorick speaks his own title in something other than amiable jest, the better chance he has of avoiding that "matching FPES t-shirt" future and the destructive committee fight four years later.

#68 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 02:38 AM:

Elliot @ 62

Yeah, but can I just say -- it sucks being a perfectly good Yorrick, when everyone around you spends all their time bitching about how you're not Felix, and Felix was just pretty frickin' amazing, and why can't you just do things the way Felix would...

I feel like some of the responsibility in the parable is on Yorrick to manage the social situation, sure. But some of the responsibility is on the community, not to insist on smooshing a perfectly good Yorrick through a tiny Felix-shaped hole.

#69 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 03:00 AM:

One problem is that other people may expect Felix's qualities to be transferable along with the punch spoon. Leaving Yorick aside for a moment, assume Felix and Felicia have their little bundle of joy and are out of the picture. So then Diogenes, who is looking to help out wherever he is needed, offers to take up the role. But Diogenes is no Felix either; he doesn't hear the quarrels until they're audible.

He has other gifts, of course: that section of the consuite was always a little shabby and sticky by the end of the weekend, but Dion tends to wander around collecting abandoned cups before they spill and stain. And he's good in one-on-one conversations, so the punch corner becomes a quieter place, where intimate, important things get said.

But people keep expecting him to be Felix, and keep telling each other (in his hearing) that the punch bowl just isn't the same since Felix left.

That's a hard one. Humor is one answer, I expect—if you have the spoons to deploy it.

I once ended up with a job that had been created and shaped by a particular person. Although there was a job title (TSA, which stood for Technical Support Analyst to management and Technical Smart-Ass to everyone else), the real job description was "be PJP". I knew it. We all knew it. But PJP left the company and it fell to me.

So I got around the problem by keeping my tongue firmly in my cheek. Peter was notable for many things: his geekiness, his wisdom, his facial fuzziness, and his height. Thus: "My job? Why, I'm PJP." Then I'd stand on my tippiest tiptoes, stretch my neck as high as I could, raise my chin, even raise my eyebrows in an effort to be taller. "How'm I doing?"

Once that was established, we were in touch, and I could go do the job as I needed to do it. It worked out well, party because I did good work, and partly because I tackled the expectation at the start.

But not everyone will understand the problem at first glance. I wonder if there's going to be some turnover around the punch bowl, or whether the con is going to have to entirely reconsider how it deals with punch.

#70 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 03:04 AM:

KayTei @68: I agree extremely. I think a key moral of this story is thus: People are not Lego bricks, perfectly interchangeable but for color and rough dimension. People are much more complicated than that, and anyone who wanders around treating others as if they were lego bricks is cruising for a fall, somewhere; it's just a question how many others will be hurt when they go down.

#71 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 03:05 AM:

Annnnnd my post gets un-gnomed, changing numbers below. For those curious who read the thread while it was invisible, it is currently post #63 and involves My Little Pony.

#72 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 03:09 AM:

Elliot Mason, newly released @63:

I was thinking of the Cutie Mark Crusaders too! Particularly how they completely miss the things they're actually good at in the process.

#73 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 03:13 AM:

Heh - KayTei cut to the heart of the matter in 68 while I was laboriously typing up 69.

#74 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 03:14 AM:

Elliot Mason @71:

And that's why we encourage gnoming message alerts. It gives us something to unpublish so that we don't have to muck with all the numbers.

#75 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 07:00 AM:

Not much to say but that I'm following this thread with great interest, looking for wisdom I can apply to a situation in which I am called to make some decisions I was really hoping would be someone else's problem.

(The bit @62 and following is particularly close to home. My organization is losing a Felix. We don't expect to find another one, and are hoping to find a Diogenes instead of a Yorick. Part of my role is to make sure we don't expect the successor to become Felix, and part of it is to figure out what exactly Felix was doing in addition to the obvious tasks of the job, and work out how those are going to get covered.)

I've been in the same role for threeish years now, and am consciously looking for a successor, because I don't want the role to ossify around Thena. I'm pretty sure that my successor, when I identify them, isn't going to be doing the budget and policy work that I've ended up taking on because it's work that I -can- do and it needs done, even if it's not in the original job description.

Leadership is a bitch.

And I need to go vote this morning.


#76 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 07:28 AM:

Isn't Yorrick a man of infinite (fruit punch) juice?

#77 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 07:39 AM:

Serge@76

Although he did go overboard with the skull theme...

#78 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 09:40 AM:

Elliott, KayTei, abi:

Yes to all of this so far; and also...

On the one paw, I've known Yoricks who were perfectly good Yoricks lacking only Dion's self-awareness; but then again I've also known a few who, entrusted with any given punchbowl, would always with time discover some new and surprising way to become the turd in it. What Yorick is best at is, taken in context and as a package, not always anything anybody else wants - even Yorick. Certainly Yorick shouldn't try to become Felix-by-fiat. But he may or may not need to become Yorick-plus-or-minus-X before having more to offer than good-willing gophering. Which last, given his view of such things as unpleasant dues-paying on the road to deserved status, is something he may not yet have to give either.

On the other paw, a lot of the reason Felix is inimitable is that he doesn't come over so much as having skills as grace. He's "just Felix": that's part of why it works, and - more problematically - it's more likely to be valued than some duller-seeming and more definable skill, which everybody knows anybody 'could' do, even if they themselves can't. Yorick on another tack might contribute at least as much as Felix to the convention as a whole, if he can do something thoroughly boring but essential. But is Meticulous Yorick going to get either the same credit or the same enjoyment out of it as Magic Felix? My experience says no, even to the credit. And that is a problem, unless people go out of their way to stop it happening and/or make up for it. This Is Difficult.

#79 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 09:42 AM:

My parents did a lot of volunteer work in India and in Indian diaspora organizations in the US, so maybe I can help with Tom Whitmore's & clew's questions.

The idea that there is no volunteer culture in Mumbai seems absurd to me (though I've only spent about 7 days total in Mumbai; my parents are from Karnataka). Indian volunteers organized and executed a big Wikimedia conference in India last fall, for instance. That link goes to a postmortem that should be partially intelligible even to those who don't have intimate knowledge of the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikimedia movement in India.

"Families? Guilds? Religious groups? Government?"

Yes, those groups organize events in India, from my understanding. Also: political parties, magazines and corporations and shops, student groups, and educational institutions. People also start activist or public service organizations, sometimes secular, sometimes religiously affiliated. And then there are more fluid efforts like Clean India.

If you asked a random middle-class Brahmin in Bangalore, "do you do any volunteer work?" she might say "no" because she doesn't think of any of it as volunteer work. When she writes an article for her friend's magazine, or teaches a session of her sister's class, or helps arrange chairs and sort out the catering for her cousin's art festival, or so on, that's not really volunteer work, is it? (she might think). It's just being friendly.

I think it is accurate to say that India has less of a tradition than, say, England and the US of nonreligious organizations that publicly accept and encourage volunteer work from all comers. I believe India also has less of the norm that celebrates giving your time to a bureaucratized organization for free. Wikimedia, in outreach encouraging Indians to edit Wikipedia (in their local languages especially), runs into this; it seems like a foreign institution is asking them to work for free to benefit people they've never met. (By the way, despite those obstacles, the Kannada Wikipedia turns 9 today!)

One Indian-American's impressions.

#80 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 10:03 AM:

Gray, I agree with a lot of that; in this thread, people want Diogenes and Felix, not Yorick, because there is no place in the organization for someone who destroys everything he touches and turns previously good situations toxic. The accidental is valorized too, as you noted.

I think some of my Yorick-defense is because when I think of things I want to do within the genre community, obviously the only reason I want them is that they will magically give me higher status and turn me into a person worthy of having that higher status. To keep from destroying the things I love, I have to accept that I will never be able to do what I want-- in these parables, Felix falls into the role because he's already done his actual job and Diogenes steps in because no one else is available at all. Yorick's the only person who actively moves to get what he wants.

Some of this is undoubtedly still backlash from my realization that people can just edit anthologies. You don't have to be asked by a publisher or be acknowledged as famous. If you don't make a gigantic push to do it, you will never get to do it. Gigantic mental tangent there. I don't expect anyone else to take responsibility for it.

So yeah, a lot of this is internal noodling-- how do you know you're a Diogenes, and thus allowed to ask for more responsibilities you want and think you'll enjoy?

#81 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 10:06 AM:

And actually, I realized my whole big thing is tied in with the the whole dysfunctional series of events Teresa need not describe in the original post. I can envision the series of events, but my version relies on Yorick being unredeemable. Does anyone have time to montage it for someone who doesn't have Felix's intuitive-or-nearly-so grasp of community dynamics?

#82 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 10:27 AM:

abi @72: Especially pertinent, I think, is the way Sweetie Belle acts in the second of those episodes. It's not just that she wants to take on a role that doesn't suit her talents, and avoids the one that does; it's that she specifically wants to do so because she's trying to imitate someone older and respected who she admires deeply.

There is a particularly tragic type of failure state that comes from someone ignoring their own talents out of sheer admiration for those of someone else who they love. It doesn't make either person any happier.

#83 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 10:34 AM:

Anyone know of a way for me (and more importantly, I suppose, my daughter) to watch My Little Pony in the UK without simply stealing it?

#84 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 10:37 AM:

Sumana Harihareswara @79

For some kinds of volunteer work, the "just being friendly" mode may actually function more effectively than a formal volunteering structure. One of the ways that some Yorricks get to be Fruit Punch Czar is by moving that the decision of whom to appoint to vacant czardoms be referred to a committee composed of equal proportions of all stakeholders who have maintained good standing by attending no less than 67% of previous meetings, and conducted strictly according to Robert's Rules of Order, of which Yorrick just happens to have a copy in zir pocket.

(Yes, lack of formal organization has its own formalities and other problems.)

#85 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 10:55 AM:

paul @84: You have invoked Robert's Rules of Order, and a whole swath of my life is now passing before my eyes. Also, you are absolutely right about the situation you describe. Brrr.

Not that Robert's Rules is a bad tool for a bunch of tasks, but... well, like the Ani DiFranco song said, "Every tool's a weapon / if you hold it right." And that's very visible sometimes around good old Robert's Rules and committee meetings and such. (I am resisting mightily a digression on D&D "rules lawyering" from the Robert's Rules thing, but those of you who have been there are probably already nodding or wincing.)

Me, I rather want the job of hanging out in the main corridor holding a rubber duck tied to a string, but that's probably because it sounds darned close to working Microprogramming at Minicon during the glory loopy days. Which gets at a couple of the uncatalogued but group-beneficial functions of Felix by the punch bowl, but had the happy side effect of keeping who did it more or less anonymous and irrelevant to the general convention-goer. Only the result, the strange unexpected wonderful surreal result, mattered. It was interesting. And the anonymity gave other people ways to build on it. Which they definitely took.

#86 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 10:59 AM:

Diatryma @80 & 81:

I think there are deep questions here about Yorick's inherent value and the responsibility of the community for the emotional security of its members. In many ways, I chickened out of tackling this by introducing Dion. I felt like some of the people in this discussion have written Yorick off: he was the Iconic Failure, present for contrast. It was easier not to get into the question of his redeemability when I had another point to make.

But many of us have been proto-Yorick at one time or another: not sure of our own value, looking for some way that our efforts and contributions will be valued by the people we care about. This is entirely human. What Teresa's post points out is that Yorick, wanting to be valued, aims for the wrong thing: being Felix.

It's easy to condemn Yorick for that tactic. He's certainly exhibiting behaviors that we'd rather he didn't. But you can also see why he might fall into the trap. As Gray Woodland points out, it's possible that being Yorick doesn't lead to many strokes or much validation, even if he's in a role where he contributes to the group effort. And it's also possible that he spends a lot of time getting yelled at, if he's one of these guys who, entrusted with any given punchbowl, would always with time discover some new and surprising way to become the turd in it.

Alas, poor Yorick, in a hole and digging deeper.

But on the other hand, we're trying to run a convention here, and Yorick's behaviors are going to cause friction and cost energy.

Generalizing back out again: one of the constant stresses on organizations is that people are always going to want to do things they don't turn out to be capable of. They apply for jobs beyond their capacity, volunteer for things they can't manage, make commitments they can't keep. People are at times over-optimistic, weak, vulnerable, depressed, low on self-esteem, and defensive. And sometimes dealing with that becomes an emotional pit and a time-suck, and risks rewarding neediness instead of the effort of overcoming it. And yet, if you can get those same people turned in the right direction, valued, supported and rewarded for the right things, you can get many wonderful and shiny things done.

I don't have an answer. I don't know if there is one; if there is, I wish it were more widely known.

when I think of things I want to do within the genre community, obviously the only reason I want them is that they will magically give me higher status and turn me into a person worthy of having that higher status. To keep from destroying the things I love, I have to accept that I will never be able to do what I want

Forgive me if I'm being hlepy, but this sounds more like Tapes to me than an objective assessment of your motivation and ability to contribute constructively to the community. In case you're wondering, the word "obviously" is the tell, because it's not obvious at all. Who among us does anything for only one reason in real life?

You're allowed to want status. You're allowed to long for the confidence that you deserve that status. Yorick's fatal flaw is that he doesn't seem to want anything else, or want anything even more than he wanted to be Felix. He never worried about destroying the punchbowl.

in these parables, Felix falls into the role because he's already done his actual job and Diogenes steps in because no one else is available at all. Yorick's the only person who actively moves to get what he wants.

Which is a deep flaw in the parable. Because people are allowed to chase their dreams. These things don't have to plop on their heads like birdstrike, or be granted as an award for finishing their boring work early or being conspicuously idle. Indeed, the worthwhile things are the ones we do strive and stretch for.

#87 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 11:02 AM:

Abi @ 86... I chickened out of tackling this by introducing Dion

Warwick, I hope, and not Céline.

#88 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 11:06 AM:

KayTei@68, abi@69: I found your two posts, together, really useful.

elise @30, Heath @46: re. doing things three times: that's made me look again at a role which as volunteer coordinator, I keep giving to me - because other people seem not to like it and I'm happy with it - and realise I ought to get other people to do it more often. Thank you.

Diatryma @54/Tom Whitmore @55: I've always been like Diatryma indicates, in the past, but in the last year have been asked to do a big volunteering role and taken it on and got a lot out of it (as well as putting a lot in). I think I'm more likely to volunteer for other things now (if time allows). But in times past I certinly felt like that

#89 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 11:17 AM:

That makes a lot of sense, Abi. Thanks. And you're right about the Tapes, but it's hard to figure out when the Tapes are right*. I have a lot of figuring-out to do with things people do, why they are allowed to do them, relative status/fame and what that has to do with it, where I fit in, who decides comfort zones, et cetera.

*As a friend of mine said of avoiding social situations, "Instinct, or anxiety disorder?"

#90 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 11:20 AM:

Serge @87:
Warwick, I hope, and not Céline.

Dionysus Warwick? Add an appropriate middle name, and you have a viable candidate for the gnomes.

Dionysus Algernon Warwick.

(You do know we recruit partly based on names, right? We find that growing up with a sufficiently unusual monicker forms the character in ways that turn out to be useful for dealing with spammers.)

#91 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 11:27 AM:

abi @72, Fade Manley @82: Oh, phew, I thought I was the only one. MLP:FiM is so carefully written (and written specifically to be an emotional-intelligence manual for socially challenged kids who have no idea why others have friends and they don't, I suspect) that I find myself citing it in genre conversations all the time ... and then people give me a weird "But it's a KID'S show, why are you WATCHING a KID'S show??" look.

Rocky & Bullwinkle was a kid's show, too, of course.

#92 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 11:43 AM:

Elliott Mason @91: MLP:FiM is so carefully written (and written specifically to be an emotional-intelligence manual for socially challenged kids who have no idea why others have friends and they don't, I suspect)...

I used to joke that I learned how social interactions worked by playing The Sims. ("Oh, you need to maintain contact with friends to keep them as friends?" was a big one. And "Oh, you can't jump directly to high-level social interactions with new acquaintances! You need to build up to them!" was another.) But the new MLP is starting to fill that niche as well.

Have you seen the episode "Lesson Zero"? (I'm not through second season yet.) The spouse jokes that Twilight Sparkle is my spirit animal, and that episode captures a lot of why. Missing deadlines is likely to send me into a completely unreasonable tizzy; not being taken seriously by my support group because "It's just one deadline, it'll be okay!" just makes it worse.

...but I digress. I agree that--while not perfectly--the show does seem to be putting some serious effort into modeling positive behavioral roles between people of very different personality types and tastes. When Pinkie Pie, jokester for every occasion, goes, "Wait, we can't play this prank on this person, her feelings would be hurt!" that's actually significant, because it allows for both "Pranks can be fun!" and "...but know your audience." And it keeps modeling conflict resolution; people get upset, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad reasons, and by the end of the episode, they need to figure out how to make up and be friends again. Or, in some cases, determine that someone really isn't worth the effort, and move on. (Hello, Glinda!)

I could go on about this at more length, but it's a bit off-topic. Still! I like the way you put it. I have often bemoaned the lack of a Social Interaction For Dummies book that could be consulted at need, and it's nice to see a show that's actually tackling some of that, in a more nuanced manner than "Be nice!" and "Yay, niceness!"

#93 ::: Fade Manley, Beset By Gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 11:43 AM:

I can only assume that the gnomes are having a lovely tea party with the ponies, given the gnoming trends in this thread.

#94 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 11:51 AM:

Elliott Mason @ 91...

I want the Ruby Yacht of Omar Kayam.

#95 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 11:54 AM:

Elliott & Fade:

My kids are fans, and they got me into it. I haven't watched it systematically, but I certainly appreciate the stuff I have seen.

("You aren't a bad dragon. You just made some bad choices.")

You know that there's even a MLP:FiM fan group that started on 4chan /b/, right? The /b/ronies. I am not making this up.

#96 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 12:07 PM:

Anyone who tells someone that MLP is "a kids' show" does not know anyone of high school or college age.

I personally have low tolerance for MLP--it's too bright and squeaky in ways that can activate my headaches--but my 16-yo and many of her peers (male and female), from 14-to-mid-20s, adore it.

On topic:

IRL I can be kind of Yorick-like, but only until someone Tells Me What To Do. Then I can be surprisingly Felixish, if I understand the role correctly.

I've done programming (wouldn't do that again; I have no real talent for it). I've run parties, start to finish, tended bar, been the door-demon, stepped in to moderate when a moderator didn't show up, helped out at a dealer's booth . . . mostly stuff around the fringes of con-com work. I often enjoy it and since people sometimes ask me back, I'm guessing I'm decent at it.

My largest volunteer experience is out in mundania, with my synagogue. I came at it mostly from the angle of "parent of child in religious school," which had the advantage of allowing me to self-limit: I would only do things that had direct bearing on the religious school. Which was a lot, actually.

I followed the path frequently cited upthread: volunteer to work the event/project first; after a year or two, run it for a year or two; hand it off and go back to working the event (or a different one). I hated being co-chair of anything, often because co-chairing usually meant that one person did the work and both people got the credit, but if the person who didn't work was the only chair, the event wouldn't happen.

The hardest thing was not taking back over when I was no longer chairing; if I got to the event and something Was Not Right, I was always tempted to jump in and Fix It. Most of the time I resisted, unless it was tech-related (like when no one could get the cash register to work for the bookfair). Because often Not Right just meant Not My Way, and I had to relax about that (which is very hard).

The second-hardest thing was dealing with entrenched Felixes--people who had taken over a particular sub-task and did it well, but would not teach anyone else how to do it. That's deadly, and caused more than one problem over the years. In one case, we had to resort to having the head of the religious school oust a long-time volunteer who would not accept help nor provide explanations of her work. Since she was in charge of the kitchen and the food, it was very important that her knowledge be shared. And once that was done, we discovered a couple of better ways to handle some of the food-related tasks, which made the long-time volunteer's job much easier.

Socially, I am of the "fake it till you make it" school--a lot of my hail-fellow-well-met skills are things I studied and practiced for years before they began to feel natural, and there are times they still don't. I have also learned that other people don't perceive the falseness, so I must be "doing it right." I don't feel like Felix but apparently I look enough like Felix to convince others that I am Felix, and that, over time, has made me more Felix-like.

#97 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 12:09 PM:

abi @86 following on diatryma @80 and 81

Diatryma said
in these parables, Felix falls into the role because he's already done his actual job and Diogenes steps in because no one else is available at all. Yorick's the only person who actively moves to get what he wants.

And abi said:

Which is a deep flaw in the parable. Because people are allowed to chase their dreams. These things don't have to plop on their heads like birdstrike, or be granted as an award for finishing their boring work early or being conspicuously idle. Indeed, the worthwhile things are the ones we do strive and stretch for.

A flaw, perhaps, but not a deep flaw. Some years ago when I was working on research on career decision making and career counseling, a shorthand we used was that any job that was a good fit required two things: you needed to make a contribution to the organizations, and you needed to get satisfaction from it. It's not sustainable long term if both sides aren't getting something they value out of it (not, note, something the other side thinks they ought to value). This is as true of volunteering as it is of paid employment. Yorick's problem is not that he wanted satisfaction and went after it. It's that he didn't think (or didn't think deeply enough) about the reciprocal nature of the interaction and what he could contribute to the organization and those around the punchbowl. Or, as abi said, he didn't even think about destroying the punchbowl.

It's unfortunately true that recognition doesn't always follow contribution. But demanding the recognition first, without having made the contribution, seldom works well.

The obvious advantage to small-scale volunteering - gophering, paying your dues, doing the unsung tasks at a con, or perhaps interning at a business - is that you meet people. The less obvious advantage is that it puts you in a position to observe the needs of the organization and therefore to pitch in when those needs match your skills or talents. And that is what would set Yorick on the road to becoming, not a pseudo-Felix, but a valued member of the community in his own right.

But of course it's not that simple to steer Yorick in a more positive direction. It presupposes most of all his interest in having the reality rather than the fantasy of making a valuable contribution. And it presupposes both the ability to recognize the situation and spoons to deal with it on the part of people who see it happening. And, in fact, if done poorly it risks being overly officious or intrusive on the part of the one trying to help poor Yorick, because as abi said some time ago in the context of mods shaping behavior, you are not his parent.

I think half this stuff boils down to being able to really see the other person. For Yorick to be able to see the other people around the punchbowl and their needs (not just the adulation they owe him). For the other volunteers to be able to see Yorick clearly enough to identify some strengths that can legitimately be recognized.

#98 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 12:23 PM:

abi @ 86: "What Teresa's post points out is that Yorick, wanting to be valued, aims for the wrong thing: being Felix."

But is it in trying to be Felix that Yorick errs, or in mistaking what it is to be Felix? Yorick thinks being Felix, earning the bennies that Felix does, means being the Fruit Punch Czar--and misses the subtle exercise of social influence that is actually the heart of being Felix.* If Yorick had figured that out, had actually attempted to emulate Felix's arete, would we end up with the same problem? After all, emulating the virtuous is a time-honored strategy for the pursuit of virtue. Even when that pursuit of virtue is in pursuit of social approval.

* Of course, that Yorick fixates on the trappings of power rather than the subtleties of which it truly consists is symptomatic of his general lack of such subtlety.

#99 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 12:32 PM:

heresiarch @98, agree that imitation of virtues is often a good thing. The devil is in the details.

And in general, I'm going to have to hunt up MLP:FiM for my kid who (a) loves ponies and unicorns and (b) could use some help with the social skills.

#100 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 12:39 PM:

Well, Rocky and Bullwinkle wasn't exactly a kids' show. It was a family show of the kind that really no longer exists AFAIK; there was a story simple enough for very young children to follow, a layer of irony for adults, and puns and cultural references sufficient to satisfy the most sophisticated viewer.

I have not watched MLP, so I don't know for sure that it's not multilayered in a similar way, but most of the kid-appropriate programming I've seen in the past couple of decades has had little or nothing for adults, and sometimes seems intended to actively repel them (Barney is the most egregious example I can think of).

As for MLP itself...the colors turn me off, and what I've heard about it doesn't incline me to check it out. Not a criticism of adults who do like it; I don't enjoy comedy either, and couldn't watch Game of Thrones, though the bits of the latter that I've seen have made me think I might benefit from being a little tougher!

And if I may briefly wander a little further OT, this 'bro-' morpheme is an interesting phenomenon. When combined with the name of an activity that would ordinarily be considered unmanly, it seems to mean "regular guy who nevertheless is into X." I'm not sure whether I find this more interesting or more annoying. Instead of undermining the idea of manliness (which needs and deserves undermining, where it implies that only "manly men" are valuable), it simply expands the activities that are acceptable for manly men.

So it's OK (in some circles) to be a brony (a manly man who's into MLP), but an effeminate football fan is still a figure of derision.

It's even infected the gay community. I saw a site recently for "bromos." It proclaimed itself as being "guy stuff for guys who like guys." Obsessing over European Football, AND drooling over the players, for example. See, cooking or writing don't count as "guy stuff." Meh.

#101 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 01:15 PM:

This post and discussion are interesting, helpful, and nudging me to write the "decision-making methods categorized scientifically, with failure modes" post that I've had percolating for awhile.

It seems that there's a bunch of possible Yoricks.

First, is the "given a punchbowl, will always with time discover some new and surprising way to become the turd in it" category. There's not much to be done, by the time someone gets to that point.

Second, though, is the "Meticulous Yorick;" does the assigned job well, but gets no credit and no satisfaction. Instead of having an interesting group of conversationalists while keeping up with the punch, he always spends the entire evening buttonholed by a monomaniac[1], who regales him with his world-understanding in which John was Jesus' son, and Peter was merely the regent, and explains (in painstaking detail) how this explains 500 historical mysteries, most of which Yorick has never heard of and the ones Yorick has heard of his button-holer gets wrong.

And then there's "not as Clueful Yorick;" he is good at punch, but not good at recognizing tension before it escalates, and not quick enough on his feet to defuse it. He spends the entire evening dreading the next brawl.

And don't forget "Invisible Yorick." He makes really good coffee, keeps the cups picked up, helps out with moving chairs, rinses the coffee-pots and sets up the coffee-maker for the next morning, fetches ice for Felix when he runs out, and (since he's focused on making things as smooth for everyone else as possible) never gets any opportunity to do what he'd really enjoy, which is talk to some fellow fans.

1) This person was my fellow-vendor at the farmer's market.

#102 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 01:17 PM:

The bronies phenomenon is...interesting. And complex. And the sort of thing I could write bright-eyed praise of or fairly angry invective about, depending on my mood that day and which end of the spectrum I've come across recently. (Because it really does range from "We're going to love and tolerate you!" to "Why does this awesome pony cartoon keep making toys for KIDS and GIRLS instead of for MY superior male adult tastes?" Plus other things.)

And the bro- thing that Xopher mentions is part of that. There's a special male-tagged named for being an adult fan of the show with no accepted female equivalent. So a show that's about female characters, and aimed at female viewers, ends up with a vocal online fanbase that's explicitly marked as male, with women getting to tag along and be "one of the guys." Again.

...and yet. It's a show that really does have some excellent lessons (and a few cringe-worthy failures, but fewer than most shows!) about being yourself while respecting others, appreciating the unique talents of a variety of friends, and so forth. My dubiousness about some aspects of the adult fandom aside, it's a grand Social Skills Lesson wrapped up in brightly colored ponies.

#103 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 01:18 PM:

Xopher @100:

I'd point out that the term for a female MLP fan is "rony". So "brony" may have the "bro" prefix, but it's less of a linguistic wrench than "brogrammer" or "bromo".

#104 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 01:29 PM:

OtterB @97:

It feels like a deep flaw to me, because it's tripped up a number of people throughout the thread. It pings the "if you want the role you shouldn't have it" meme, which is, as Teresa @8 points out, is an oversimplification.

There's a linguistic tool that comes to mind here. A "minimal pair" is a pair of words that differ by only one sound, but still have a different meaning. They prove that that those sounds are different in that language. (An English example would be "thy/thigh").

A parable like this kind of sets up a minimal pair. It certainly sets up the expectation of one. But it turns out that there are several differences between the two guys that could explain the different outcome. One of them is the point of the story, but when another of them sends too many people down the wrong path, it feels like a deep flaw to me.

But that gets into semantics: what makes a flaw deep or shallow in a parable? And that's not really that interesting a discussion. I simply wanted to explain where I saw the flaw and why I phrased it the way I did.

#105 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 01:37 PM:

abi, where did 'rony' come from? The '-ony' is obvious, but why 'r'?

I hadn't heard 'brogrammer'. Oy.

#106 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 01:38 PM:

abi and Xopher: my daughter identifies herself as a brony, as do others of her female friends. They use the term to divide themselves from child-fans of the show.

Not sure how that pertains to what you're saying, just that in some corners at least, there's subversion going on.

#107 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 01:50 PM:

Xopher @105:

I had thought it was just cutesy-speak, but researching further, it appears to be a back-formation from "brony", and less common than I thought.

Bah.

#108 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 02:06 PM:

Xopher@100: There's been a bit of discussion of "portmanbreaux" in comments on Language Log and in more depth on Arnold Zwicky's blog. In general, I hear the construction less as "regular guy who nevertheless is into X," and more as "X modified, presumably via a cootie-ectomy, into something that it's ok for a regular guy to like." (I have no sense of the connotations of "brony"; I'm talking here about more general "bro-" and "man-" constructions.)

#109 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 02:06 PM:

One of my female, 30ish coworkers* describes herself as a brony.

*She would fit in well here, but so far she hasn't picked up on my subtle hints.

#110 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 02:24 PM:

Really, though, you have to applaud brogrammers for asserting their masculinity in such a feminized profession. Excuse me--brofession.

#111 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 02:29 PM:

I keep wanting to read "MLP" as an acronym "meta-linguistic programming".

Also, this conversation reminds me that I need to actually watch a bunch of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic eps if I'm ever going to write that fanfic mashup between it and A Fire Upon the Deep.

#112 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 02:56 PM:

elise, #85: My personal observation about Robert's Rules of Order is that their primary effect is to turn any given meeting into Entmoot. We had someone who insisted on them in the early stages of starting up our local con, and because of him it took us two entire meetings just to pick a NAME for the con. Fortunately, he got tired of receiving insufficient adulation from the rest of the concom and left (and has only attended the actual con once).

I remember making a post to the associated e-mail discussion to the effect that RRO was an inappropriate model for what we were trying to do, and proposing instead that meetings be run along the lines of a student seminar, with a leader/facilitator who makes sure everyone gets a chance to talk but a much less formal structure. (What I was actually thinking about was a chaos filk with a good moderator, but I knew nobody else would get that metaphor.)

OtterB, #97: any job that was a good fit required two things: you needed to make a contribution to the organization, and you needed to get satisfaction from it

Yes. I do a lot of volunteering at the Houston Bead Society's annual show, and I've been allowed to carve out several areas for myself:

1) I place the directional signs out on the street, to let people know that the event is happening and where it is.

2) I help distribute the lunches (we feed our vendors via catering from a local sandwich shop).

3) I'm a "floater", who wanders around the event making sure vendors can get restroom breaks, bringing them drinks, etc.

In return for this, I get into the event for free and I'm willing to take on other jobs as needed (for example, sitting a shift on the admissions table if somebody doesn't show up). And yes, I will admit that I get a lot of warm-fuzzy out of being recognized as someone who does a lot to help the event, but the really important thing is that these are tasks I don't consider onerous and therefore take some personal satisfaction in doing well.

This discussion has made me think, though -- I'm not the only floater, and lunch distribution is easy enough that anyone could do it, but I really ought to ask for an assistant to learn where I put the street signs (it's not as obvious as one might think due to the location of the event). Because one of these years I may not be able to help, and someone else should know.

SamChevre, #101: And because the monomaniac is there monopolizing his time, other (potentially more interesting) people become reluctant to visit the punchbowl because they don't want to get sucked in. Or one of them turns out to be a "WRONG on the Internet" type who has some knowledge of the topic and is perfectly willing to spend the entire evening arguing with the monomaniac... but never thinks about moving the argument somewhere else.

BTW, my sympathies about the fellow-vendor. Among other problems, that sort of thing will drive away potential customers.

#113 ::: Lee has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 02:57 PM:

I have no idea what they would have found so delicious about that post.

#114 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 03:11 PM:

One company I worked at had a "hit by a bus" wiki policy. That is, if you were hit by a bus tomorrow, there ought to be enough instructions on the private company wiki that other people at the company (not new hires, but someone with at least passing familiarity with the job) could take over the position until recovery happened or a replacement could be trained. Not perfectly, or as quickly or as well, but...adequately.

I don't know that this state was ever actually achieved, but it was a nice goal to strive for. And it was good for reminding people to actually document their work process, especially if they were doing some fiddly little job that had fallen to them for years, and which no one else at the company actually had any experience with. I figure any organization large and complex enough to have actual job titles should probably make a vague stab at something similar, in whatever form (mentoring replacements, writing down processes, telepathic imprinting) is appropriate for the group.

#115 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 03:20 PM:

My late friend John introduced me to the concept of a project's "truck number," which is the number of people who, if hit by a truck, would guarantee the project's failure. And you're allowed to specify them, so if a random person's encounter with such a vehicle wouldn't kill the project, but Joe Expert's would, that's still a truck number of one.

Poorly-organized (or small) projects have a truck number of one, whereas really good (and large) ones have higher numbers.

Of course, some projects have a truck number of zero, but that's another story.

#116 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 04:22 PM:

Rony? Hadn't heard that one yet. Mostly I've heard pegasister.

heresiarch @110: !!! And agreed, very much.

Avram @111: Also, this conversation reminds me that I need to actually watch a bunch of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic eps if I'm ever going to write that fanfic mashup between it and A Fire Upon the Deep.

Holy Wah. OK, color me stopped in my tracks. And I want to read that.

Lee @112: My personal observation about Robert's Rules of Order is that their primary effect is to turn any given meeting into Entmoot. That is so going into my brain-based quotefile. (And I value RRO when used for good, but... yeah.)

Also, rycto SamChevre, BTW, my sympathies about the fellow-vendor. Among other problems, that sort of thing will drive away potential customers. It sure can. So can certain other things, some perfectly well-meaning. I've been known to offer pairs of people who are leaning on my tables, exchanging extended-and-intense recent personal history downloads, a couple of seats behind and to the side of my dealers' room tables, because they obviously need to connect, but their intensity means that the people whose potential view of the shinies they are blocking do not want to interrupt them to ask them to make way. I try to give the download-exchangers out-of-the-way perching for a few minutes, in hopes that everybody can accomplish their goals more easily then. Sadly, this rarely works when it's like what happened to Sam.

#117 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 04:41 PM:

Please may I note, in defense of my (former) fellow-vendor, that he was a professional and sold awesome icecream. Thankfully, he saved his buttonholing for fellow-vendors, during takedown; while the market was open he was busy selling ice-cream.

#118 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 05:01 PM:

That makes it a bunch better, then, at least from a commerce standpoint. (By which I mean that if a person is worried about making a certain amount in order to pay bills for the next week, the guy didn't directly threaten the income.) But still.

#119 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 05:09 PM:

Hm, now I'm wondering if "brony" is similar to "dude," in that it's becoming more commonly used to and by women. For example, I said something in class last year which surprised one of my female students; she said, "DUDE, REALLY?" The class was shocked that she'd said it, not because I'm a woman, but because that's the kind of thing you say to peers. (Although I have been known to say it to male students, particularly when they have done something boneheaded. They generally react by looking embarrassed and promising never to do it again.)

#120 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 05:17 PM:

abi @104 But that gets into semantics: what makes a flaw deep or shallow in a parable? And that's not really that interesting a discussion.

I think it's interesting, but I do see your point. It's a map-is-not-the-territory argument. If the failures in the map occur only if you believe it covers every particular, then it's a perfectly adequate map. If the failures in the map send some significant percentage of people who use it over the edge of a cliff, then it's not the right level of abstraction.

This particular one falls in a gray zone, I think. There's a fruitful discussion going on because of it, but also some well-worn paths into didn't-mean-THAT territory.

#121 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 05:23 PM:

Xopher, my teen is also something of a brony, with the word being used in a gender-neutral fashion. As for where the show falls on the kid/family appeal spectrum, I have two words: Sondheim pastiches.

#122 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 06:42 PM:

Lee @ 122: "My personal observation about Robert's Rules of Order is that their primary effect is to turn any given meeting into Entmoot."

Robert's Rules, I think it's important to understand, are designed to enable decision-making for (or enforce upon) groups of people who might much prefer ripping each others' throats out with their teeth. In my experience, it's actively hostile to consensus-building: the goal is to pass resolutions, not make people happy about it. Like most systems designed with an eye towards foolproofness, it's also extremely cumbersome outside of the high-pressure environment it's built for. Using it to direct a casual, friendly planning meeting is like wearing a diving-suit to the swimming pool.

All this is to say: the most important thing to know about Robert's Rules is that you can suspend Robert's Rules from within using a vote.

#123 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 06:53 PM:

Rikibeth @121: The one that impressed the hell out of me, but was nonobvious enough I didn't notice it until someone did a side-by-side video at a con panel: there is a YAY OUR PROTAGS WON THE BIG PLOT THING scene that is a shot-for-shot, precisely timed pastiche of the "Leia pins medals on Han and Luke" scene at the end of A New Hope. There is no WAY that was an accident. :->

Nor was the ep that is an extended Rear Window reference, I'm sure.

#124 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 07:02 PM:

It seems to me that the key to understanding Teresa's parable is simply to recognize that Felix wasn't just the Punch Bowl Czar -- he was also acting as an IRL moderator, in which capacity he was using social skills well beyond what you could expect from a "random volunteer".

Felix would probably have done much the same if given any other job involving a central post at a gathering, though having some sort of "official position" probably helps. And upon his retirement... well, if you want your Punch Bowl Czar to also be a moderator for the surround, you need to find someone with the skills and temperament to do that. (Unfortunately, it's hard to test for such talents....) But again, that person could do much the same from almost any little stool of petty authority, or perhaps mere prominence.

#125 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 07:41 PM:

Xopher at # 100: It's even infected the gay community. I saw a site recently for "bromos." It proclaimed itself as being "guy stuff for guys who like guys." Obsessing over European Football, AND drooling over the players, for example. See, cooking or writing don't count as "guy stuff." Meh.

That makes me queasy. I'd better reach for the Bromo-Seltzer.

#126 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 08:10 PM:

Lee @112, my suspicion is that the best way to get things done in any formally-organized parliamentary organization is to work up alliances and agreements outside of the formal meetings.

#127 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 08:35 PM:

Allan, did I ever tell you I like you? WELL I LIED.

#128 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 08:52 PM:

Xopher @100: It was a family show of the kind that really no longer exists AFAIK; there was a story simple enough for very young children to follow, a layer of irony for adults, and puns and cultural references sufficient to satisfy the most sophisticated viewer.

Adventure Time is the currently-running example that springs to my mind. The Powerpuff Girls is recent, if not current. There are probably more, but those are the two I'm familiar with.

#129 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 08:55 PM:

Honestly, the weirdest part of the bromenclature is that 'bro' is a subtype of 'man' in my culture. A bro is a fratboy only more obnoxious. Terms like 'bromance' are useful-- one friend used it to explain homosociality to her students-- and 'bronage a trois' is great for watching drunk undergrads. I almost feel like the 'bro' part of 'bronies' is meant ironically.

#130 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 09:13 PM:

Xopher, I'm going to have to remember 'truck number'.

Some of the stuff I do at work would give me a low truck number, not so much because I'm the only one who can do it, but because I'm the one who can do it best (and I wish that part of it was teachable, rather than being a sum-of-experience thing). Like last year's project, locating 14000-some meters, where the special experience was knowing exactly how the information had gone into the database originally (25 years ago), and what some of the entries mean.

#131 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 09:18 PM:

SamChevre @101:

Ouch. I used to work really hard at being Invisible Yorick. And resented the heck out colleagues, bosses and acquaintances for not noticing.

For this I blame NASA's apollo-era PR department: for a kid of the right age, newspapers were full of human-interest stories extolling the unsung heroes of the space program, from the middle-aged ladies weaving the lunar rover's gold-plated tires to the clerks who shuffled paper so that every nut and bolt could be traced back to the people who had touched it from rolling mill to final application of threadlock. Unsung hero seemed like a fine and wonderful thing to be.

Only much later did it become clear that if you aspire successfully to be an unsung hero (as opposed to just doing your damn job well or doing something you enjoy) no one will actually sing your praises. Ever. (Unless you work for a large organization that needs to influence hundreds of legislators and millions of voters, in which case they will, and then make dock you for the time you spent on the air.)

#132 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 12:18 AM:

Avram 128: People really let little kids watch Adventure Time? Wow. I wouldn't let a kid under about 8 watch that. Way too scary.

P J 130: As John used the term, the project has the truck number, not any one person. If you're the keystone of the whole project, and it would fail if you stopped doing your job, the project has a truck number of one.

#133 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 01:19 AM:

A couple of thoughts from reading this:

1) There have been a couple of times when I've taken over something for convenience's sake and then had to talk myself out of being upset when somebody else took it over. For example, I did the programs for my community theater group for a number of years, then all of a sudden the (new) orchestra director asked me if it was okay if he did them instead. I had to fight down my sudden umbrage so that I could remember that I'd only started doing them in the first place because they were doing them in Word and they looked awful, and he was a perfectly reasonable person to do them since he did programs as part of his day job.

2) Some people say there's value in being irreplaceable. I do not agree. When I was pregnant with my first kid, there was nobody to take over my specific tasks when I left for maternity leave, to the point where when I visited to show off my two-week-old, they asked me for help since a server crash had wiped out all of the things I'd put together to tide them through. When I came back and found that they'd hired somebody who could do everything I had done, I was grateful, especially since I ended up being very part-time after that. (Small family company—I love how I can come in for a totally random schedule determined by competing family priorities and don't have to fill out any paperwork, or get any other reaction than "Come in when you can!")

#134 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 02:27 AM:

heresiarch @ #110:

The distinction made is between manly men programmers who have a social life and spend oodles of hours down the gym (frat-boy background optional, but makes it easier, or so I have heard) and spindly, socially-awkward geeks.

I am not entirely sure where in that spectrum a classic "unix beard" falls (probably "outside").

#135 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 06:20 AM:

Ingvar M @ 134... Is one-hour at the gym at 5:00am three times a week enough to make me a manly-man programmer, or am I still a geek?

#136 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 08:22 AM:

Serge, I am not coding, only doing lowly data entry, but I am certain that, whatever your gym habits, you would be welcome on Nerdgirl Row with me and my three work pals.

#137 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 09:13 AM:

Rikibeth @ 136...

Thanks! (I think.)
:-)

#138 ::: Tracy Lunquist ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 12:35 PM:

First post - kindly be merciful. This is a marvelous conversation that is feeding my organizational culture geek appetite lavishly.

Xopher @100 -- Phineas and Ferb is another multilevel "kid" cartoon. Written, best as I can figure, by and for 40-something geeks. It is brilliant. If you've never seen an episode, I recommend you start with the very first one (called "Rollercoaster"), available on YouTube. Subsequent episodes tend to refer to prior ones, so seeing the one that sets everything up is helpful.

SamChevre @101 -- You didn't mention the Yorick I saw, which is "Yorick the power-hungry." Perhaps it's just because of my own particular experience of cons and people who want to run a department in the worst way (and tend to do exactly that), but I interpreted Yorick's hunger for the job as a desire specifically for the power. Probably because of the matching t-shirts, which I associate with the jack-booted thug school of con security. I saw Yorick imagining the Punchbowl Czar position as the source of power and authority to intervene in disputes (both real and imagined), and thus a way to become a Person Of Great Importance To Preserving The Peace And Prosperity Of The Con.

And his failure is in not understanding that (a) Felix's effectiveness in this role comes from embracing the "shoot, it ain't no trouble" philosophy of troubleshooting, (b) Felix sees himself as party host rather than enforcer of justice, and only dispenses high and low justice when it is absolutely necessary (the "shortest path back to fun" corollary of (a)), and (c) what makes Felix the master of the role is that he has defined it by (a) and (b). The role itself and its associated tasks are secondary.

Yorick would be most successful, I believe, if he were to redefine the role (with the help of Felix and other enlightened con runners who could recognize that different != wrong) to match his own strengths while still fulfilling the original requirement, which was nothing more or less than keeping the punch bowl full.

To Fade's point @114 (and others), knowledge management mechanisms like a wiki with a "hit by a bus" policy, mandatory sabbaticals and the SEC's similar policy of mandating extended vacations for anyone in the high finance arena (during which one can check the records for shenanigans) provide a number of major benefits. Such policies remind everyone that no one is, nor should be, indispensable. A number of years ago it became a formal tradition at Capricon that the entire concom is ceremonially fired, effective the last day of the con's fiscal year. While a number of people may be hired by the next con chair into the same positions (or different ones), no one is guaranteed a return to their position the next year. By making it part of the culture, Capricon sets the expectation that things will get shaken up each year, so nobody gets entrenched. And even if they do get entrenched, they don't get to be surprised when they finally do get ousted, because they have been ceremonially fired every single year prior to their re-hire.

I have more on my mind (that's what I get for coming in late) but I'll let others get a word in edgewise first, lest I make a poor first impression.

#139 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 01:13 PM:

Ingvar M @ 134: "The distinction made is between manly men programmers who have a social life and spend oodles of hours down the gym (frat-boy background optional, but makes it easier, or so I have heard) and spindly, socially-awkward geeks."

Gross. Oh, excuse me--bross.

I'm trying to come up with the most hilariously inabropriate bromenclature (fabulous word, Diatryma) I can.

Broby-sitter
Brollerina
Brominatrix

oh god brain explody

#140 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 01:31 PM:

Tracy Lunquist @138:

Welcome to the commentariat. Your only mistake was stopping before you ran out of things you wanted to stay!

Feel free to rectify, if you so desire.

#141 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 01:37 PM:

Welcome, Tracy! Very thoughtful and chewy post.

I also saw the original-parable Yorick as power hungry. As you say, I think it's the matching FPES t-shirts. There are undoubtedly other flavors of Yoricks out there, as well.

#142 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 01:43 PM:

Tracy 138: Thanks, I'll look into that show. FB friends keep posting about it, but I've never watched it.

And: Yay, another intelligent thoughtful commenter delurks! Céad míle fáilte! Don't relurk anytime soon, please. And please don't think all your comments have to measure up to the high standard of your first one, much as that's a good aspiration to have.

You other lurkers: c'mon in, the water's fine.

#143 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 01:44 PM:

I've been in a few organizations where serious problems occurred when a job was passed over to someone who wanted to have the power that came with the position, rather than wanting to do the job. Often to the point of neglecting the job itself in favor of wielding the power that was attached to the job for the express purpose of getting the work done. So I did read Yorick as that type.

I suspect that "want the adulation" has a certain amount of crossover with "want the power" in that setup, and it can be hard to parse which is which. Especially with the unfortunate tendency of certain people in my experience to believe that having power over someone is the same thing as being respected and admired by that person.

#144 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 02:21 PM:

Welcome Tracy! And an especial welcome as a fellow organizational culture geek!

#145 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 02:37 PM:

Fade 143: I've been in a few organizations where serious problems occurred when a job was passed over to someone who wanted to have the power that came with the position, rather than wanting to do the job.

We had a candidate for mayor like that. She talked all the time about why she deserved to be mayor, rather than about what she would do in office—except when she was talking about what an awful person her opponent (also female) was. My comment at the time was that she didn't realize that being mayor was a job, not a tiara and a sash. Unfortunately she had a ton of money, which she used for giant banners (absurd in a small town like this) and attack ads on cable TV. Fortunately, they weren't enough to get her elected.

#146 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 02:43 PM:

Welcome, Tracy!

One of the problems with calling someone "power-hungry" is that it conflates several different attitudes and approaches. Starting from Rule One ("Nobody thinks s/he's an asshole"), there are a couple of directions one can go that lead to behavior that's perceived as power hungry. One of the kindest is "I really know how to do all this and you don't so let me save you the trouble." Another is "If we let people have chaotic fun, all will become chaos OMG EVIL!" A third is "This system is so easy to break that we have to keep a tight rein on it." And I'm sure there are more.

Each of these requires a different approach to the person engaging in the behavior in order to work for a positive change. And not all people engaging in them are difficult to move towards changing. Recognizing who/what one is dealing with is, of course, the big problem. I've had occasions where the only way to solve a problem was to fire someone (as a volunteer) -- not the easiest task in the world. And not all problems can be solved cleanly in the moment -- some require hours and days to resolve. And sometimes even longer. Which doesn't help when the convention is rolling along inexorably.

#147 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 02:48 PM:

Adding to the chorus of welcome for the delurking Tracy Lunquist @138. More comments certainly welcome.

#148 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 04:50 PM:

Re: Adventure Time -- I was only recently introduced to it via this year's Free Comic Book Day installment. I adored it and wanted MOAR. Thanks for alerting me to its much larger existence.

#149 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 08:45 PM:

#18 Tom Whitmore: There really is always a shortage of people we know will be competent; in the original post's story, people didn't know Felix would be competent in the Fruit Punch Czar role as it came to play out (though they might have guessed).

Actually, there is no Fruit Punch Czar. There never was. There are several different jobs of varying importance: Taking care of the fruit punch in the consuite in the evenings, "policing" the area (Teresa's word -- a word I've heard used to mean pick up trash and stuff), be an amiable chatter-with-people in that corner of the room, and break up fights and disturbances. It just so happens Felix was good at all of them, and therefore the other stuff was attached to the role of Fruit Punch Czar when there's no reason all those jobs have to be done by the same person. And maybe the only time they should all be done by the same person is when that person is Felix.

David Wald #27 makes many of the same points.

#3 heresiarch: That's how you go from "Think Different" to "Resolutionary."

I disagree with your apparent assertion that Jobs's generation were in it for the "crazy dream" and Apple today is in it for the money.

But here's what your comment made me think about, which I will put in the form of a parable, a la Ms. Nielsen Hayden:

Once upon a time there was a young man named Felix, who took on a role staffing the fruit punch bowl at cons. He got so good at it that cons around the world wanted him to run their fruit punch bowls too. He began to hire people, and then some more, and pretty soon he had a multibillion-dollar company employing hundreds of thousands of people staffing all the fruit punch bowls at all the cons in the world.

Felix retired. His children had no interest in the business, but Felix had trained a team who understood punch bowls like nobody in the world. Punch Bowls Czars Inc. was run entirely by people who had grown up in a world where Punch Bowl Czars Inc. had always been the most-respected and best-loved punch bowl attendants.

Young people from the best business universities competed for jobs at Punch Bowl Czars Inc. They brought their bosses ideas for innovations. But the bosses dismissed those ideas. "That's not how we do things at Big PunchBo," senior management said.

"But our customers are demanding this," the younger employees said.

"Nonsense," said the wiser heads, adding: "Our customers want what we tell them to want. The punch bowl in the consuite has always been the most important part of the con, and our company has always been the trusted leaders in the punch-bowl attendance industry. Our position is secure. Our customers have no choice but to use our service. Thus has it always been. This will it always be."

#150 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 09:25 PM:

Xopher, I don't know what the project's truck number is - there are a lot of people, and most of the work has more than one person who can, and usually does, do it. I think there are some things that I'm the main do-er though, mostly for reasons of experience (and good Google-fu).

It's nice working someplace where everything doesn't absolutely depend on one person.

#151 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 03:01 AM:

But you know... even though Felix was good when he quit, it doesn't follow that he was equally good when he was just starting out.

I think my other concern with the framing on this topic is that power-hunger isn't inherently a destructive force. I've been in positions where I absolutely wanted sufficient power to halt everything before somebody put out an eye (or broke a limb, or fell off a sixth story balcony...). And I know I looked like a power-hungry killjoy. I also know precisely how close we came on a few near-misses. Depending on what kind of thing was going on near that punchbowl, I'm not sure I'd stick with sweetness and light, if I saw things getting seriously out of hand and people were playing the "You're not Felix, I don't have to listen to you" game. (I realize this isn't apparently part of the context of the original scenario, I just think it's also a relevant consideration. I mean, the situation is very different depending on whether Yorrick has a cell phone or other alert device and/or people around who can more legitimately intervene - and if they can, why aren't they?)

#152 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 07:03 AM:

KayTei @ 151: I think power-hunger is absolutely a destructive force, but I wouldn't characterize your motivation in those positions as 'power-hunger' at all. I have so been there too! Wanting power to stop the shit before it hits the fan means only that one doesn't want everything to get covered in shit. Being prepared to catch a lot of shit in order to get the power one wants is a quite different motivation, and that's what power-hunger means to me. Sick-of-Shit will put the power down with a relieved sigh once the brown stuff stops flying; Hungry-for-Power would rather delegate the dirty work once the power's safely caught.

I suspect I have now met my faecetiousness quota for the rest of this thread, if not the rest of this year...

#153 ::: Tracy Lunquist ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 08:53 AM:

Methinks it may be time to get a bit granular about what we mean when we say "power."

"Power" is, IMO and also according to a lot of leadership guru types (citations for which it is too early in the morning for me to look up *yawn*), a combination of authority and influence. Thus power-hunger, to me, is a desire for authority which is driven by a belief that said authority will magically confer influence.

KayTei @151's assertion that power hunger is not inherently destructive stems, if I'm reading the comment correctly, from an absolutely legitimate position of recognizing that a certain amount of authority ought to be tied to its commensurate responsibility. And that is true -- there is nothing in this world more aggravating than being assigned responsibility without the necessary authority.

But neither responsibility nor authority automatically confers influence. Influence is very much its own sort of magic, and it is the thing Felix had and used in the situation where he defused the now-legendary scene at the punch bowl. It's also the thing Yorick will never gain for as long as he arrogates arbitrary authority, prints matching t-shirts and keeps trying to be Felix.

If one wants to do a job and do it well, and desires for that job and others to run smoothly so that A Good Time May Be Had By All, power, and its necessary components of influence and authority, will come naturally.

As a side-note specific to con running and defusing "situations," sure, certain individuals must have authority to cope with crises (I think it could be argued that the right people with the right sort of influence don't need one iota of "authority" to handle many sticky situations, but obviously some do require medical, hotel security or other professional intervention), but if a crisis is emerging, the last thing I'd want to see is any *individual* attempting to handle it by hirself. Yorick absolutely needs a cell phone/radio, as does anyone who could potentially run across a serious problem at the con. Using said device to get help when needed would be, I hope, something Yorick and others would do without a moment's hesitation, before the problem gets out of hand.

(Oh, and by the way, thanks for the warm welcome! *blush*)

#154 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 10:57 AM:

Tracy, #153: "Authority without responsibility leads to tyranny; responsibility without authority leads to madness." (Where "responsibility" includes the concept of accountability.)

Something we did at Musicon* which worked reasonably well for us was the concept of "The Voice of the Conchair". It seemed as though there were always things cropping up which required an executive decision, and which felt like the sort of things only the conchair could make executive decisions about -- which meant that the conchair (me!) was effectively on duty 24/7 for the duration of the con (including prep and teardown). Not necessarily a good idea, and not just because I needed time to eat and sleep.

So the core concom talked it over and decided that we'd all take shifts on being The One Who Decides Things, and only catastrophic emergencies would be referred upstream from that. And somebody made a bright-red tabard with "Voice of the Conchair" in iron-on letters, which was passed around to whoever was on shift at the time, and we put an explanation in the program book so that people would know to ask the person in the red tabard instead of always looking for me.

This may only have worked because we were a very small con (100 people max), but it did work.

* The small filk-con I ran during the early 90s.

#155 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 11:57 AM:

I think there needs to be a distinction mentioned between 'power' and 'dominance,' which is what a lot of the people being described as power-hungry in this thread probably really want: Unquestioned dominance, and submissive/adoring behavior from (some) others.

#156 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 12:03 PM:

Lee @154 -- Ruth Sachter and I came up with something similar for the head of Ops at the Texas NASFiC: we started having two heads for the department, each of whom was on-shift for 8 hours and on-call for 4. Because we each knew we could trust the other completely to make a reasonable call in a difficult situation, we could actually let go and enjoy the convention without losing much of the important institutional memory of what's actually happening at this convention right now. Before that, Ops was generally run by one person on the 24-hour model you talk about and it was really burning people out. We implemented this again several times.

Tracy Lunquist @153 -- absolutely agreed on authority and influence. I seem to have a lot of influence, even in situations where I don't have authority (possibly because I don't pretend to have authority when I don't, but people think I make sense -- and I listen to concerns). Getting a lot of experience in different situations has allowed me to learn when immediate action ("Should I call 911?" "Yes - now!" for one example of realtime dialogue) is appropriate and when to use a light hand. The optimum intervention is the least amount of power at the most effective time. This is almost never achievable at the theoretical level, but it's still a good goal to shoot for (and boy, does it feel cool when I can manage something close to it!).

If you like this sort of thing (working Ops at conventions) I highly recommend getting some experience at a much larger event (like the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade or Seattle's Folklife). Dealing with an event of a few hundred thousand people gave me a real perspective about what's useful in certain situations, and when to intervene.

#157 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 12:24 PM:

Tracy @153 again -- and there's a long discussion possible about the apprenticeship model of convention-running and what other models might actually work better (like, training -- we do almost no training). I'm running off to work, so I can't go into that right now.

#158 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 12:40 PM:

Elliot Mason #155: Certainly. Power is the ability to control (literally, you have power if you can get others to act in ways that they would not necessarily have if you had not compelled them so to do). Dominance (or domination) is an ability to exercise power through the possession of greater weight (of wealth, force, or numbers), as opposed to, say moral suasion, eloquence, logical persuasion, or legal right.

#159 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 12:51 PM:

A Starhawkian distinction may be instructive here. Power-over is the kind Fragano is talking about above. Power-with is influence that comes from relationship. Power-from-within is force of personality, and can be used to acquire either of the other two kinds.

#160 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 01:07 PM:

Much like electricity, social power is not inherently bad. It depends on what you do with it. Although I can't think of a direct analogy to Yorick using electricity.

ObSF Cordelia Naismith: "I don't want power. I just object to idiots having power over me." Which is not the same as wanting power in order to do something good or prevent something bad, but seems related.

#161 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 01:25 PM:

Lee @ 154: The Voice of the Conchair. I was managing editor of a college weekly (the college part is moderately relevant, only because it means we had a lot of staff, and many of them were very inexperienced. Other than that it was a weekly paper, serving a community of about 30,000).

My job (a 24/7 sort of job) included being a sort of gatekeeper to the things the Editor in Chief needed to deal with. Lots of people wanted him to make decisions on things that he didn't need to worry about (he had enough things that needed real worry on his part... managing a staff of about 50, and dealing with the pressures of getting a topical paper out the door, etc.).

So I made lots of "voice of the conchair" sorts of decisions. Oddly enough, had I been selected for EIC, he'd have ended up the Managing Editor, so we'd have had a somewhat similar working relationship, if somewhat reversed roles.

It's a useful model, if somewhat limited; since it only works well where there is both a place for the buck to stop, and people whom one trusts to delegate some (not all) of the buck stopping.

#162 ::: Dave DuPlantis ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 02:11 PM:

Re knowledge management wikis and truck numbers: several years ago, I remember proudly telling my younger brother about a project that was all my own at work (sole developer) and being somewhat crestfallen when he sensibly replied that that was not a good thing. (We're both programmers; he's not much younger and has more business wisdom, so he'd already figured out what I had yet to learn.)

Once we'd filled out a wiki to the point that it was usable by our group (sadly, that process hasn't been as robust at subsequent employers), I found that a useful way to increase the truck number on my projects was by not only adding the details for the relevant tasks to the wiki, but by running them solely from the wiki. If it wasn't in the list, I didn't do it. If the task wasn't successfully completed, then I had to update the list ... not always with exact instructions, but at least with enough information to give the next person an indication as to where to start the fix-it process. (As Fade Manley mentions in #114, enough information so that the task can be done, even if not as well as before.)

That was useful for two reasons: it sped up the transition of those projects to someone else, and it made the day-to-day execution easier. Instead of trying to remember what to do, I just went to the wiki. (This is, admittedly, much easier when the task in question can be done entirely from a chair at a computer, but other tasks could be done from printed checklists, mobile devices, or whatever.)

#163 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 07:23 PM:

Elliot Mason @ 155: "I think there needs to be a distinction mentioned between 'power' and 'dominance,' which is what a lot of the people being described as power-hungry in this thread probably really want: Unquestioned dominance, and submissive/adoring behavior from (some) others."

I don't know--while there are certainly people in this world who crave power purely for the immediate emotional satisfaction, I think most want power for much more universal reasons: they need it to feel safe. They need it to prevent it from being used against them. They need it because it will let them do something else that's important. It becomes dysfunctional not because of what is desired, but because of how it is pursued.

#164 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 08:12 PM:

heresiarch @163: Hence why I think we should be talking about the urges separately, as dealing with them requires different strategies.

Even dominance-cravers can be productive and useful, as long as you figure out a way to soothe their squids without getting the tentacles in the way of their job.

#165 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 09:09 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #158: Certainly. Power is the ability to control [...] Dominance (or domination) is an ability to exercise power through the possession of greater weight (of wealth, force, or numbers), as opposed to, say moral suasion, eloquence, logical persuasion, or legal right.

Xopher HalfTongue #159: [power-over vs. power-with]

I'd say both of you are missing an important component, which is "social dominance", a.k.a "pecking order". In humans, pecking order is somewhat situational (and territorial, where roles count as territory) , but there's still a "generic" form that comes into play whenever external power-bases aren't decisive -- and sometimes, it can even override a "formal" power hierarchy.

In general, people with high social dominance can get their way without threats, bullying, or intimidation -- those are mostly the domain of gammas and deltas rather than alphas and betas.

The key thing is, social dominance is a personal intrinsic. It can be learned to some extent, but not quickly... and there are a lot of "naturals" running around, who may not be high on the formal totem pole.. This is a major issue in staffing and management anywhere.... In the original parable, Felix reads as being at least a beta, whereas Yorick reads as low-dominance, potentially (the parable doesn't go into detail) a "gamma bully".

For completeness, there are at least two other issues complicating pecking order. One is gender -- it seems to me from observation, that in mixed-gender (and not clearly female-gendered) environments, females usually have a half-rank (out of the usual four or five) disadvantage on the pecking order. The other is "crazies": Psychopaths, megalomaniacs, obsessives, and other problematic types, often come across with ultra-high dominance. (They also need to be able to "pass" as normal -- e.g. schizophrenics don't usually get this effect.)

#166 ::: David Harmon has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 09:09 PM:

possibly punctuation?

#167 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2012, 11:41 PM:

Gray @ 152
Sure. The point I started out to make was that the two sets of motivations are not necessarily easily distinguished by observers. While I was unofficially lobbying for the role of safety coordinator because nobody else was really doing it and What are they doing with that sledgehammer?!, I know that there were a lot of people who attributed it to my being a pushy broad with control fantasies. Even though I will argue that I was, in fact, a pushy broad with "not having to call an ambulance" fantasies.

Tracy @ 153
Got it in one. But let me expand a little. It's not just that if the post is assigned, you should have the power to go with it. It's that if the post isn't assigned to anyone, and as a result nobody has the authority and responsibility to meet those needs, it often falls to whoever speaks up, even if they're not the person the group would have chosen, and even if they lack those skills and social currency ordinarily. And that's a rough place to be, knowing you're doing a half-way job, but that it's better than nobody doing anything.

But I'm waaaaaay off tangent now, for sure. :)

#168 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 06:06 AM:

Serge Broom @ #135:

I have NO IDEA. If I were a carnie worker, I'd be biting heads off chickens.

heresiarch @ #139:

Interestingly, an umbrella in the UK is "brolly" and "brollerina" conjures up an image of someone dancing, with a brolly as a prop.

#169 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 06:38 AM:

Elliott Mason @164
as long as you figure out a way to soothe their squids without getting the tentacles in the way of their job.

I love this phrase.

#170 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 08:49 AM:

KayTei @ 166

It's that if the post isn't assigned to anyone, and as a result nobody has the authority and responsibility to meet those needs

This.

It's inevitable that some things will need doing that haven't been assigned to anyone, or have been assigned to someone who's not available when needed. It's those places where sometimes, just plain power-over needs to be exercised, for everyone's safety.

For example, a few weeks ago at the end of a big bike race, I ended up bouncing, which needed done and no one was assigned to. I'm 6'4", and 200 lbs, which means that I'm huge relative to most bikers; when a drunken argument broke out, and just kept escalating despite the disputants' friends' efforts, I took the one and just walked him firmly out of the crowd--which was all that was needed.

#171 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 08:54 AM:

Interestingly, an umbrella in the UK is "brolly" and "brollerina" conjures up an image of someone dancing, with a brolly as a prop.

"I'm singing in the rain, just singing in the rain--
What a glorious feeling, I'm happy again!"

Ah, sorry, we now return you to your regular thread...

#172 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 09:36 AM:

OtterB @169: The squids come from a set of extended metaphors I picked up while reading EBear's livejournal. When a writer has fallen so far into writing for the things in their head that insist they be written, sometimes it is so distracting that, were it an in person conversation, you'd have to answer everything they said with "But you have a SQUID in your MOUTH!!" This led to the comment, "(author)'s squids are showing." Then people mentioned that if you had the same squids, squidly writers are very satisfying, which led to the construction "It kicked me in the squids."

Very useful, but not always simple to explain to people who don't know what it means. :->

#173 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 02:12 PM:

Avram @ 126:

if I'm ever going to write that fanfic mashup between it and A Fire Upon the Deep.

My Little Skroderider? Yes!

#174 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 02:14 PM:

My last comment should have referenced #111, obviously.

#175 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 02:20 PM:

Elliot Mason @ 172:

you have a SQUID in your MOUTH!

This phrase has a tinge of horror now ...

#176 ::: Bruce Cohen, speaking of squids, has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 02:23 PM:

My last comment regarding squids has gone to amuse the gnomes. I recommend they read it first before eating the calamari at the lunch buffet.

#177 ::: Tracy Lunquist ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 03:27 PM:

heresiarch@163 and David@165 -- I tend to think of "power hungry" as specifically falling into the "power over" category. There are people who desire some power for a good reason, e.g. having the necessary power/authority/influence to accomplish some goal (a la KayTei@166 andSam@170). And it certainly happens, as in Sam's case, that just being the right person in the right place at the right time with the right motivations will often confer the necessary power -- in fact, that pretty well sums up Felix. (Remember Felix? This was a song about Felix....)

"Power hungry," to me, suggests a desire specifically for authority (which in this context is similar to dominance, not because the words mean the same thing, but because the power hungry type will tend to use the first to perpetrate the second).

Which is a sort of long-winded way of saying I agree. ^_^

And then there was Tom back at 157, who has kindly made me a segue into the other thing that's been on my mind since I was first compelled to post, and that is an exploration of different "volunteer cultures."

You are so right, Tom -- we don't train. And that is a shame, because our volunteer culture is similar enough to an "employee" culture that we really ought to be thinking about training as though our volunteer "employees" need it in order to be able to do their jobs.

I see several different attitudes about volunteers and volunteering, in various contexts. Some are good and useful. Others, not so much.

In fandom, I see the dichotomy of "volunteers are our lifeblood" and "we love our volunteers" vs. poor job descriptions, no training, high turnover in some roles and endless reigns of crispy old-timers in others. I also see the dichotomy of "we desperately need more people" vs. "we don't want THEM" on one side and "I don't know if I'm cool enough to volunteer" on the other.

On balance, it seems like volunteers are a separate species in fandom, either the elite or the help, depending on your point of view, with the net effect that people don't necessarily just do what needs doing without worrying about who's in charge or how many hours that counts toward a membership refund or whatever. The key thing that bothers me about this is that volunteers are seen as somehow different from other members of the con, with the prospective long-term risk being that con-runners expect too little of members, and members expect too much of con-runners. (The "buying a ticket" vs. "becoming a member" problem, which is its own whole post and possibly its own whole thread.)

Contrast the Mumbai phenomenon mentioned waaay back in #79. Babysitting for my sister, etc. is not "volunteering", it's just helping out. "Volunteer" is, inasmuch as it's even in the vocabulary, a verb, not a job title. When Paul Poberezny, founder of the Experimental Aircraft Association, speaks to a group, he concludes by asking each person in the audience to pick up the folding chair in which zie is seated, fold it, and stack it. As you might expect, this causes the chairs to be put away very quickly, without requiring the involvement of a single "volunteer." In that culture, many hands make light work, and picking up after yourself gets half the work done before you've even assessed the job.

I don't yet have a hypothesis to assert based on this data, but it all seems somehow very relevant to the issue of volunteer culture and volunteer organizations, and how we make them work better without anybody having to get nailed to anything.

#178 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 03:43 PM:

Tracy Lunquist @177: The "buying a ticket" vs. "becoming a member" problem In previous decades, some folks have discussed "people now thinking of themselves as consumers rather than citizens." Closely related, if not the same problem.

#179 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 04:09 PM:

Tracy 177

One problem I encounter with training volunteers, and which I would love to find an effective way to address, is that if I make volunteering too much like work, people will bail out. I can't do everything myself (I've run some games that took 40 hours a week out of my life even with support), so I end up cosseting people who would be less than ideal employees, under other circumstances....

(And I am reminding myself that this is why I am not running the really cool game that keeps tempting me. I do not need to give up the next three years of my life to this. Resist. Resist...)

#180 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 06:21 PM:

Part of Training is figuring out how to chunk it into useful bits. Way back when, when Ops was starting out at Worldcons, various people (primarily Ben Yalow) put together a Manual for Ops. This was a loose-leaf binder with 30 or 40 pages worth of really useful information. And the idea was that people working Ops would read it.

Well, mostly we didn't. We skimmed it and used it some as a reference volume when there were problems.

Paying attention to what someone else told me, I condensed the basic info down to two sheets of paper, one for rovers and one for base station operators -- since people will generally read one sheet of paper, where they won't read anything longer. We got a lot better results out of doing that than I expected. I also implemented some 1/2 to 1 hour training sessions including roleplays on ways to de-escalate problems, and when to pass the problem on to someone higher up.

Training doesn't have to be long. It doesn't have to be intense. And it doesn't have to be comprehensive. A great deal of information can be passed in a short time, the primary purpose of which is not to make sure that the person being trained will do the best thing in any situation but that s/he will know the kinds of things to expect and be a bit more likely to know when to move the problem to someone else. Roleplays help a lot. Short notes (one sheet or less) help a lot. And having the attitude of expecting people to start learning helps a lot.

All of these take some time, but less than I expected. And it was really hard to start doing them in part because I didn't feel that I knew enough to actually tell anyone else what to do. Impostor syndrome gets seriously in the way of designing trainings. Keeping them short helped a lot, as did having watched some in other situations (like the Gay Pride Parade). And it's hard for me to talk about having done this, because I still feel like an impostor around it.

#181 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 06:29 PM:

Elliot Mason @ 164: "Hence why I think we should be talking about the urges separately, as dealing with them requires different strategies. Even dominance-cravers can be productive and useful, as long as you figure out a way to soothe their squids without getting the tentacles in the way of their job."

That makes perfect sense. I worry sometimes that "oh they just want POWER" becomes a shorthand for "they are Some Other Sort of Thing than ourselves, and we needn't attempt to understand them nor worry about ever behaving like that." That's clearly not what you are doing at all. My apologies!

#182 ::: David Harmon has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 07:16 PM:

Tom Whitmore #180: It's a local commonplace that trolling (and asshole-ness in general) if phenomenological.

I'd just like to point out that so is leadership. (Also teaching, goodwill, and various other positive things.)

#183 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 07:35 PM:

Unfold that a little more, David? Am interested. Thanks!

#184 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 07:41 PM:

Whoops, forgot to fix my header line in last post.

#185 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 07:44 PM:

Also asking for unfolding, with elise.

#186 ::: Tracy Lunquist ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 08:10 PM:

Tom@180 -- all you really need to know to train a horse is more than the horse. You don't even need to know a LOT more than the horse.

A pet peeve of mine is teachers who have gotten the notion in their heads that teaching is the opposite of learning. (I had a particularly bad one in high school.)

As someone who has done training/teaching/coaching for a living, I assert that facilitation, the fine art of holding space for people and letting them learn what they need to learn, using gentle nudges and visual aids only where necessary, is the skill that beats them all hands down. A facilitator is never an impostor, because a facilitator never pretends to have all the answers. As you so astutely point out, role play is a fantastic way to learn. And it's precisely because you have to figure it out as you go -- nobody is telling you what to do, and nobody else could really handle the role play any better than you are handling it because it's a nearly real simulation of life. Facilitators don't have the answers, they just ask the right questions and the collective wisdom of the room works out the solutions.

All this to say you are not an impostor if you are sharing the hard-earned wisdom of your experience in service of enabling the next generation to make new and more interesting mistakes rather than repeating your old boring ones. Never underestimate the value of what you know just because you think someone else might know more than you. (And you especially, Tom -- I've met you. You're brilliant!)

And yes, David -- unfold please!

#187 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 10:24 PM:

Tracy, that's a really good reminder. I'm giving a keynote presentation in a couple of weeks, and you've helped remind me that the point of that is not to be Sumana, God Emperor of Open Source. It is to say interesting and thought-provoking things, and to launch my audience into flight so they can "go make some new disaster," as that new Coulton ditty "Want You Gone" goes.

#188 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 10:41 PM:

Unpacking me at #182: (Also, I had a typo there, "if" for "is").

Being a troll, or an asshole, is "phenomenological", in that if you act like one, you are one -- at least for that moment. (And yeah, most people can be assholes, sometimes.)

What I'm saying is that leadership works the same way: If you're successfully getting other people to do the right things, and not revolt against you, then you are showing leadership, and indeed, being a leader... no matter how insecure you feel about it.

Likewise for teaching... if you're getting someone to learn, you are teaching, never mind classrooms or blackboards. And goodwill: If you're helping people out, or at least trying not to screw them over, that's showing goodwill, even if you're thinking nastiness about them ("dammit, why don't these people look where they're going") while you get out of their way or make sure their forgotten bag is safe.

The point is that these are qualities of action, not of essence.

This despite my comments about pecking order: That's analogous to physical strength, in that it makes doing some things easy -- but there are other ways to influence people. (Notably, leadership skills are learnable in all the usual ways.) A natural delta is going to find it a lot harder being a leader, because they don't have that support from social instinct (yours and theirs), but they can still be persuasive, learn how to manage a meeting, and even use formal power in ways that don't piss people off too much. (Correspondences for goodwill and teaching are left as an exercise for the reader. ;-) )

#189 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 10:50 PM:

Tracy @186: As someone who has done training/teaching/coaching for a living, I assert that facilitation, the fine art of holding space for people and letting them learn what they need to learn, using gentle nudges and visual aids only where necessary, is the skill that beats them all hands down. A facilitator is never an impostor, because a facilitator never pretends to have all the answers. Amen! That describes it so well, especially "the fine art of holding space for people and letting them learn what they need to learn."

The bit about never pretending to have all the answers is a very important thing. In a way, it links back to a thing some of us were talking about on LJ, about technique and people who guard theirs jealously. I had breakfast at WisCon with a friend, and was telling her how I'd met a few jewelry artists and feather mask artists who wouldn't teach anybody their techniques. The friend said, "An artist who won't teach their techniques has just told me that the only thing they have is technique." She had a point, I think. Where it relates to not having all the answers, and also to holding space for people to learn, is where the student's own true style and heart and imagination come into play. I can't really teach somebody to do something like I do; I can teach them things that they can use to help themselves do it like they do, though. To help themselves find out how they do it, and then to do it more thoroughly that way. (Language isn't quite sufficient for what I want to convey; it's got gestures when we're talking about it in person.) I love watching people unfold themselves in the skills and the craft, and I love watching them gain confidence and be able to do things on purpose that accomplish what they want to accomplish, and I love, love, love watching people learn to listen to the materials and work in harmony with them instead of against them. It's like listening to a guitarist who's deep into the music; the person and the art are unfolding simultaneously in real time, and it's a joy to be able to ride along by watching them.

This is all cross-referencing with the "in search of mastery" thread, isn't it? I've been thinking about it a lot, because I'm teaching this coming Thursday and then again two weeks from tomorrow, and I am so looking forward to the classes and to finding out what people what people bring to them, both literally and figuratively.

P.S. You're right about Tom. ;-)

#190 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2012, 11:07 PM:

I'll get my blushing out of the way, then try to move on.

I really love being a facilitator when I've gotten to do it. Deb Notkin and I did a Moderator Workshop at a few conventions, with roleplays, to help people learn how to moderate a panel. We managed a basic orientation and two role-playing sessions with moderators and panelists chosen from the audience -- it was a great deal of fun, and I think people learned something from it. And I actually got hired to facilitate a meeting for a cohousing group years ago, which was also quite a bit of fun: helping people find out what they want to do? Cool!

Knowing how to play the Roberts Rules game is a useful skill -- I'm glad I got taught it way back in high school -- and the facilitation approach to managing a meeting can be so much more fun and effective. But it needs a good facilitator who's going to keep an eye on who isn't getting heard. Often, that's the person with the key point who Changes Everything by quietly pointing out something obvious. And there's so much to learn when that happens!

#191 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2012, 08:41 AM:

#189 ::: elise:

I've assumed that an artist who won't teach their technique (or worse, lies about their technique) doesn't believe they'll ever come up with another good technique.

#192 ::: Tracy Lunquist ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2012, 02:20 PM:

elise@189 -- yes, yes, yes. I get it, even sans gestures. And in the context of facilitation/teaching, it's related to the quote from Tom Peters: "leaders don't create followers; they create more leaders."

And of course that's exactly what you want to do, whether you're an artist sharing your technique or a crusty old fan training young'uns to be effective troubleshooters for con ops. You want to speed them along the way to the fullest expression of themselves, within a framework of generally agreed-upon rules and established success strategies.

To you and also to Tom, I heartily recommend (if you haven't already read it) Open Space Technology by Harrison Owen. This was my source for a deep understanding of what it means to hold space and why anyone would want to do that. I've also come to a belief that the four principles of Open Space (whoever shows up is the right people; whatever happens is the only thing that could have; whenever it starts is the right time; when it's over, it's over) are applicable in almost every situation.

Tom @190 -- facilitation is great fun when it goes well, and is extraordinarily difficult at moments and for reasons you never see coming. It's almost never easy to do well, but totally worth the effort. You are very correct that a good facilitator has to know when to draw out the wallflowers, and also when to gently-but-firmly quiet down the noisy people.

And I, too, am a big fan of "Robot's Rules," as they are called in my household, for situations when no other option will result in civilized discourse. I believe they should be used only as a last resort, and only with a trained parliamentarian, but like so many highly specialized tools, when you need it, nothing else will do.

#193 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2012, 06:54 PM:

I've run a few meetings using Open Space, Tracy, and I'll second your recommendations about it. It is a rather interesting example of self-selection (and it drives some people absolutely crazy).

#194 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2012, 01:50 PM:

*makes a note to ask Tom about Open Space this coming weekend at Fourth Street*

#195 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2012, 03:59 PM:

elise @ 194: Open Space is magic. I go to technical conferences with several hundred attendees where there's no pre-set agenda, no planned speakers. The first hour is comprised of attendees proposing the topics they want to schedule, and the group organizes those sessions into a schedule. I couldn't believe it would work, until I saw it happen right before my eyes.

Of course there is technique and enabling technology involved. You need chairs forming a big circle, several stacks of paper, and markers. People who want to schedule a session write the topic on a piece of paper, then stand in line for the microphone and briefly describe it to the group. Then they walk over to a wall marked out into days and hours using masking tape, with post-its with the names of rooms. They pick a time & room, and tape up the page with their session title. You put your initials on the sessions you want to attend, and people discuss moving sessions around to avoid conflicts, or combining sessions with similar topics.

In about a hour -- ta da! -- all those people have put together a plan, and the first sessions are starting. Some have leaders who have put together a planned session, with slides, or programming exercises for people to do on their laptops, or a game that illustrates a principle. I've proposed a session saying that there was a process that I was struggling with at work, and wanted to share experiences and ideas with others in the same boat. "My" session was well-attended and we discussed what we'd tried, and what worked well (or not) for us.

This conference includes people who are newbies there to learn, people who have years of work experience, Big Names who are paid to present at other conferences, people how have written books and want to plug them, and consultants who need to keep their name out in the world. The most experienced are most likely to propose sessions, but they aren't the only ones. It's a blast.

#196 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2012, 10:30 PM:

janetl@195: Magic indeed! The first time someone described Open Space to me (in a technical conference context), I was, ahem, highly skeptical, to say the least. And then I attended my first well-facilitated OS (Agile Coach Camp in 2008) and my eyes were opened. I have since had OS facilitation training so that I can help make the magic happen for others :). I've met some people really critical of Open Space based on lousy experiences, but in many of those cases I think they took part in events that were 'Open Space-like', where some of the basic principles and practices may not have been sufficiently honoured, resulting in chaos rather than effective self-organization.

Another interesting perspective on Open Space, perhaps better appreciated after reading some of Harrison Owen's work in order to understand how it's all meant to work, is Chris Corrigan's The Tao of Holding Space.

#197 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2012, 10:46 PM:

One of the times I tried to run OST I got handed a room which was entirely the wrong kind of room to do it in (longer story than I want to go into here). This was a real failure, though I tried to work around it. We still got some interesting results, but I didn't make a lot of converts.

#198 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2012, 10:50 PM:

Now I'm wondering how Open Space could be applied to classrooms. Perhaps if the teacher assigned a goal or choice of goals (pick 3 of 5, perhaps), and the students were in charge of making it happen?

#199 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2012, 11:31 PM:

From what I've heard described, Montessori schools are similar to Open Space in some good ways.

#200 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2012, 01:56 AM:

Huh. This is the first time I've run into the *term* "Open Space". The *concept* has been familiar in tech-crowd meetups for several years now. ("Unconference" is the label I see.) It is not perceived or presented as astonishing; it's a prosaic meeting-setup model that works and is fun.

That "Tao of Holding Space" link is... somewhat disorienting. Rather as if someone had written a spiritual tract about... some prosaic thing I've been doing for years. ("Like motorcycle maintenance, for example?" "Yeah, if I knew anything about motorcycles.")

#201 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2012, 10:22 AM:

TexAnne @ #198:

That's pretty much how the class I was in set the schedule for three years (Swedish year 4-6, age ~9-12). There were a few immutable fixtures, like "PE", "lunch", "music" and a few breaks, but the week-to-week subject mix and placement of subjects were negotiated every, uh, either Friday afternoon or first thing Monday morning, in an intreplay between pupils and teacher.

It probably helped that we, pretty much, had a single teacher. We had a different teacher for PE and for music.

We also set goals for week-to-week maths learning in groups, with (IIRC) 7 groups moving at different speeds, with an option of switching from one group to another if the group you were in moved at a pace that was too off your preferred pace.

#202 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2012, 10:40 AM:

Ingvar, 201: It obviously worked! What were the strengths and weaknesses you saw?

#203 ::: Tracy Lunquist ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2012, 04:27 PM:

One of the things I found helpful about reading Harrison Owen's book was that it did a nice job of laying out the requirements (which are not many, and are as simple as possible, but importantly no simpler), the common ways things go wrong, and the kinds of circumstances under which you should or should not use Open Space. It's not the right format for everything, and understanding that can prevent a lot of heartache and chaos.

I look forward to investigating this "Tao of Holding Space."

#204 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2012, 07:28 AM:

TexAnne @ #202:

When we started with the maths-it, I was off ill (repeated bouts of scarlet fever, NOT recommended) and got my maths work book sent home, with a note saying "you may want to be up to problem X when you come back in two weeks" and I interpreted that as "do work as you are eager" (I was, what, 9, and found the maths problems we were at boring).

Other than that, the only weakness I can recall was a tendency to try to not schedule boring but necessary subjects. But, we had a teacher as part of the plan-flow, so those tendencies were moderated. When a sufficient deficit of lesson-hours was in evidence, there were "and we must have at least a few of $SUBJECT that week".

If I remember correctly, we had a Monday->Friday schedule on the wall and for each subject we had cardstock cut-outs with subject name and assorted times. So it wasn't entirely free planning.

#205 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2012, 11:20 AM:

Tom Whitmore, I forgot to ask you stuff about Open Space at Fourth Street. Dang!

On the other hand, I do have photographs of you holding a duck on a string, so there's that.

#206 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2012, 12:57 PM:

We got a lot of other stuff talked about at 4th Street, though (and it was a damn fine convention!). Can you send me the photo?

We also didn't have a Gathering of Light, though we had a lot of ML regulars there. The convention was small enough that we could find each other.

#207 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2012, 02:20 PM:

And I got to hold a rubber duck on a string in the hallway! I'm absurdly chuffed by this.

#208 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2012, 04:10 PM:

I'm trying to remember who all got to hold the duck on a string. I think probably at least the following people:

Edward Oleander
TexAnne
Cally Soukup
Tom Whitmore
me
and possibly Lydy.


Did anybody else?

Here's that photo, Tom.

#209 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2012, 04:13 PM:

*raises a hand* There was a duck. It was on a string. I got to hold it!

#210 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2012, 04:17 PM:

Oh, right, Fade! Excellent.

To be clear about the duck: I received it in the mail before Fourth Street. It came with a lovely note from a would-be duck-holder who was prevented from attending by some urgent punch bowl repairs. There will probably be more duck-and-string business at WorldCon.

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