My friend Alex Megelas has been organizing a monthly Geek Out event that I’ve had the joy of going to a few times over the past year. The idea is pretty simple: gather a bunch of interesting people and a bunch of games and crafts in the same room on a wintery Saturday afternoon and let them loose on each other for 7 straight hours. It’s a beautiful thing.
A little while ago, Alex asked me if I’d like to do a short presentation on Organization Unbound at one of their gatherings. I jumped at the offer because I loved the idea of bringing a conversation about organizations and social change into such an informal, fun-filled space. At the same time, I had doubts as to how many people would want to stop their games to engage with me and of those who would, how many would connect to the themes that I was excited to share.
In the end, I found the experience to be quite fun and thought-provoking. What sparked my thinking the most was the interest some folks had in exploring how expressive change relates to more grassroots social change initiatives- informal volunteer-driven groups that organize without all of the burden of formalized mission statements, budgets, policies, grant-writing, and strategic plans (like Open Source groups, Hacker spaces, or even Geek Out itself).
Rennie and I have spent most of our time thinking about and with more formal organizations because they are the kinds of social change initiatives that we had both personally experienced and felt disenchanted with. However, informality is a big part of what Organization Unbound is meant to explore. It is the formalities that have been built up over time as “just the way things are done around here” that seem to separate us from the deep meaning and messiness of social change work. So it is the informal spaces that exist in organizations that we’re interested in nourishing and creating more of. The question of how expressive change relates to groups that are primarily informal in their structure and processes is a question that I’d love to explore. Our experience thus far suggests that even the most informal group of people can function in ways that are vastly incoherent with their deepest values and that some of the more institutional settings you can imagine can feel quite vibrant and engaging. I don’t think form is a determiner, although it can certainly hinder or help our movement towards a more expressive state.
Pondering the relationship between informality and social change got me thinking of a TED talk video my friend Sarah suggested I check out. It’s a fascinating story of a group of writers in San Francisco who bought a space to house a publishing business, and before they knew it had, in quite an organic way, brought to life a strange hybrid organization that interweaved a publishing company with an after-school tutoring program with a store that sells pirate paraphernalia for kids. I love how emergent and creative the process of developing the organization was…an organizational improv of sorts: Check it out…