Reviewing the Past Decade, and Visioning for the Next Decade

The core of a regular forum meeting is monthly updates.  How am I feeling about what’s happened since we last met?  What do I dread and anticipate that’s coming up? When you want to zoom out to a much longer time horizon, consider doing this exercise.

Questions to reflect on in advance of the forum meeting:

Review of the Past Decade:

  • What difficulties/hardships did you face? What did you learn?
  • What, if anything, would you do differently if you had the chance again?
  • How did you change? What did you gain? What are you willing to let go of?

Vision for the Next Decade:

  • Where am I in two years?
  • Who is around me? How am I feeling (differently than today)? What am I creating?
  • Two years from now, how will I think about where I want to be in eight more years?

In the forum meeting, there are two options on how to share depending on the available time:

Longer version (two rounds)

  1. Each person takes 5 minutes (timed) to reflect on the past decade. Then open up to general discussion for 10-20 minutes. What coming up for me as I hear others? How am I feeling as I hear the ways that others have answered the questions?

Repeat in the same fashion, looking forward to the next decade.

Shorter version (one round)

  1. Each person takes 5 minutes (timed) to reflect on both the past and next decade. Then allow an additional 15-30 minutes to reflect further: What coming up for me as I hear others? How am I feeling as I hear the ways that others have answered the questions?

Source: Kerim Baran, member of an HBS Alumni Forum in San Francisco with original credit to Ciela Wynter, an executive/CEO coach and founder of Joan of Sparc, an innovative platform for empowerment and transformation through self-inquiry.

What should I share during my forum update?

I was recently asked by a new forum member:  When we share our monthly updates, are we supposed to just pick one thing or several or one from each category (business, family, personal)?  Can you provide any guidance for how to choose?

My response:

  • Don’t overthink it. Go with what’s deepest, most challenging, what carries the most emotional weight for you, what keeps you up at night (worry/fear) and/or gets you up in the morning (excitement/joy).
  • Questions you might ask yourself to help prioritize how to use your limited update time:
    • Which of these issues are deepest and most significant for me?
    • If I would like to look back three years from now and say my forum has had a life-changing impact because they helped me with an issue, which issue(s) would you choose to share with the forum?
  • Other questions that might help you select what to share:
    • What is the toughest relationship challenge (personal or professional) that you are facing now?
    • What is the toughest leadership challengeyou are facing now?
    • What is the greatest fearyou have now? What key transition is coming up in your life that you are most scared or uncertain about?
    • What is going on in your life right now that you have not spoken with anyone about? What are you hiding?
    • What are you complaining about, blaming others for,or notice yourself playing the villain, victim, or hero?
    • What are you not sharing because you don’t want to seem perfect? (You will feel like you are bragging about your good fortune.
    • What are you not sharing because you don’t want to seem imperfect? (You will feel inadequate compared to your forum mates or to others in your life.)
    • What is something that you don’t like about yourselfthat you are working on?
  • You might end up focusing on one key issue or several, and they can be drawn from any and all parts of your life (business, family, personal).

Meeting with a potential new forum member: What do we discuss?

If you are considering adding a new member to your forum, it’s ideal for two or more members to meet the candidate for coffee.  The current members can then compare notes after the conversation.

Your meeting agenda can include:

  • Sharing your forum’s constitution/norms, both to educate the candidate and to encourage their own questions about forum commitments and principles.
  • Describing your forum’s typical meeting schedule (day, time, location) to see how that fits with the candidate’s schedule. Ask yourself whether the forum would be willing and able to adjust to accommodate the new member’s needs?
  • Asking about the candidate’s previous experience as a member of a peer support group. What are the candidate’s objectives in joining?
  • Without breaking forum confidentiality, sharing some themes and types of issues your forum has explored. Ask what topics the candidate would like to explore in forum.
  • After explaining and committing to forum confidentiality, doing a short icebreaker exercise where the current members share a past experience or current challenge that might come up in forum, and the candidate shares some aspect of their life. This can help spark a conversation about how forum supports its members.

At the end of the meeting, be clear with the candidate about next steps, and when they can expect to hear about being invited to an upcoming forum meeting.

Where would you “seat” yourself today?

The New Yorker recently published a cartoon that shows a host at a restaurant about to seat a couple.  He asks them: “Do you want me to seat you in the ‘Had sex this morning’ section or the ‘Had a fight this morning’ section?”

All-in-one, the cartoon is funny, sensitive, and revealing.  And as a icebreaker question, it may have nothing to do with sex.  Share the cartoon at the beginning of your forum meeting and ask everyone to respond:

Where would you “seat” yourself today?  Are you in a good frame of mind, or are you cranky, sad or angry?  Or are you somewhere in between, some mix of thoughts and emotions?

Mixing up your updates: High, Low, Medium, Rocky

Thanks to Melissa Weiksnar for sharing this idea.

Inspired by a grade school jump-rope game, “High, Low, Medium, Rocky,” try mixing up your updates with this approach:

Since we last met, what was:

  • your highest high,
  • your lowest low (could be a sadness or a profoundly deep realization)
  • a totally mundane update that nevertheless tells something about you
  • your rockiest, most turbulent issue

For each of the four categories, try to describe what it felt like to be in that state.

Melissa reports that members took up to 4 minutes each, and people really liked the way this format helped hone in on the emotions, and avoid the “travelogue.”

Needs and leads

Every member of a forum will over time have needs for a referral, introduction, expertise, new investment, or ideas on hiring, technology, or some other personal or professional issue.  At the same time, other members can often offer direct or indirect leads to help the first member.

Consider incorporating this “Needs and Leads” into your meetings on a regular or occasional basis:

  • The moderator sets up the exercise by explaining the objective and giving an example. “I’m looking for distribution channels in South America” or “touring ideas in Italy” or “a science tutor for my son.” Note that even if you can’t personally provide a direct connection, you might know of others who could help.
  • Go around the room, and each member states a need (or two) in under a minute.  If any other member thinks they can help, they raise their hand.
  • It is up to the members with “needs” to follow up with any members who provide “leads.”

“Tweeting” your update

Shakespeare opined that “brevity is the soul of wit,” and Pascal observed “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

In that spirit, try one of these three approaches to concise updates, preferable with advance notice so members have “the time to make it shorter.”

  • If your update this month was a movie title, what would it be and why?
  • Share your update as a six-word story, and then “unpack”/explain the story. For more on this rich approach, inspired by a famous challenge to Ernest Hemingway, see this website.
  • Prepare your update as a “tweet” (i.e. 140 characters, including spacing and punctuation), trying to include feelings. At the meeting, everyone will read their “tweet” (you don’t actually use Twitter!), have a thematic discussion, and go into more depth where needed.

Melissa Weiksar, who suggested the last option, reports that in her forum, everyone had a slightly different interpretation; perhaps the most interesting from someone who did his as a string of noun/verb/feeling updates. People appreciated how they had to truly distill what was most important.