Some people are allergic to this stuff, see it as a waste of time or cheesy corporate icebreaker sort of thing. Keep an eye on what the engagement/resistance levels are.
The people who will be interested are ones who struggle to come up with ice-breakers that aren’t really boring or complicated.
I suggest saying something like:
When you go to meetings you usually see all the people who know each other clumped together and a whole bunch of people who don’t know anyone wandering around. Those don’t-know-anyones are future leaders, future doers. But if they don’t meet anyone at the ‘meeting’, they often don’t come back again.
That’s a tragedy for the movement. Things like these ice-breakers can piss off established activists, who think they are pointless because they already know half the people in the room. But they can be brilliant for the people who only know one person, or nobody. You have to ask yourself; as a facilitator, who are you there to serve – the ones who are comfortable, who will be coming back again no matter what, or the new people?
Exercise 3 – Novice Lines
This exercise is to help people know where they are, and where they would like to be in relation to a certain skill.
Clear a space so that everyone can line up, shoulder to shoulder, with enough space for them all to step forward as much as four paces, safely. If you’ve got too many people, some may have to watch the others do it.
Announce to the line:
You’re on what I call ‘the novice line.’ We’re going to find out who in the room has what skills, and we’re going to do it really quickly, and it will be fun. Honest.
Let’s take cooking for example.
If you are a novice cook you can just about boil an egg without burning the water.
Hold up the generic “novice” icon, and put it on the ground one pace ahead.
If you’re a practitioner, it means you can cook for 2 or 3 people, following a recipe book and sweating a little bit.
Hold up the ‘practitioner’ icon, and put it on the ground two paces ahead.
If you’re an expert, you can cook most things without a cook book, for a bunch of people, and there’s a fight for seconds.
Hold up the ‘expert’ icon, and put it on the ground three paces ahead.
If the phone rings and it’s one of your activist friends who says. ‘There are 20 of us. We’ve just done this amazing action – turn on the radio!! We’re arriving in two hours and we’ll be really hungry. Three of us are vegan, two are gluten intolerant and three of us MUST EAT meat. There’s 80 quid hidden in the cookie jar.
Can you do it?’
If you say ‘well duh, what else you need doing at the same time?’ then you, my friend, are a ninja.
Hold up the ‘ninja’ icon, and put it on the ground four pace ahead.
Deal with them. The usual one is ‘what if I am not even a novice?’ – answer is ‘stay where you are.’
‘Three things. First this is NOT a judgement – you are under NO obligation to advance your skills. If you are happy as a novice or a practitioner, why should you bust a gut upping your skills, unless you want to?
Second, be honest – don’t boast and don’t be falsely modest. The more truthful you are, the more everyone benefits.
Finally, keep your eyes closed as you choose where you are, so you aren’t affected by other people’s assessments of themselves.
Everyone got it? Right, close your eyes, decide where you are going to move to on cooking, open your eyes, and… go!
There will be a good spread of people. Once everyone has stood where they are going to stand, say the following.
Remember, the person who is best able to help you is probably NOT the ninja – they have forgotten what it is like not to know something. It’s probably the person who is just a step or two ahead of you.
Optional – you can ask the people who’ve stepped forward furthest how they developed their skills, how they keep them fresh, any advice they would offer to youngsters. Only do it if you have time, and if the people who’ve stood far forward seem keen to share.
People tend to instantly get what you are doing, so it becomes super-quick after that first one.
Get them back on the novice line and select one of the white paper sheets (at least someone in the room will be counting themselves as an expert or ninja).
Once you’ve done a couple, announce that you are swapping to the coloured sheets.
If there is nobody who steps beyond practitioner you can say:
Right. Let’s not panic just because there’s no-one in this room with that skill. The movement is – I hope – bigger than this room. I want you all to think for a second about anybody who you know who has this skill who can be bribed or blackmailed into helping other people gain that skill. Got someone? Now step forward to where you think they would step forward to…
If there is time and energy in the room, ask for a volunteer to have a go at running a novice line. I’ve done this a couple of times, it’s gone well, and it’s de-mystified the process, giving people a sense that there’s nothing special to it.
Instruction card (written out)
Big images of the novice to ninja.
Not everyone will have the same hearing. Not everyone will have the same language skills. Not everyone will have the enthusiasm. If people dip out, don’t chase them!