TRAVEL LOG #9: ASSIGNMENT 12.1

Socrates Cybercafé

I love challenging norms, defying logic and asking “why not” question. This past week wasn’t any different. One of the assignments we had in our Creative Leadership course was to organize a group of 5-15 people and lead a Socratic Inquiry session. [Note: This is based on Socrates Café®, as presented in http://www.philosopher.org/socrates-cafeacute.html].

While it was hard to get complete strangers to sign up and participate, I found it harder to organize a group of friends to commit to same date, time and space. Understandably so, we all have busy lives and more important things to do. However, one thing we all have in common is the use and importance of technology in our lives. Our phones, IPads and laptops are like digital extensions of our beings. Each offers a window into our lives, a third eye that finds answers to questions we have, a platform to sell or say something we have to offer to the world.

So I thought to myself, would I be able to lead a successful and meaningful dialog online? A Socratic Cybercafe? Is it risky? Yes! Should I do it then? Why not??? There is always more to learn and gain than to loose.

I created a closed private group on Facebook and invited 11 women ages 34 through 60. All college educated, some holding multiple degrees and are professionally active in variety of industries and professions. All women have lived, currently live and frequently visit other countries. They are very well immersed in different cultures and advocate for others in the workplace or their communities. I grew up with two of them back in Bosnia, the others I’ve met throughout different stages of my professional career.

The trick was to conduct this exercise online and make it meaningful. I explained the rules and expectations. Round one was open 2 days and participants were to generate questions. Round 2 was also 2 days, we polled which question/s to have a dialog around. And round 3 was the dialog.

The subject I wanted to discuss with the group was Women’s right. Participants jumped on this subject matter, and each had a different take. Some tackled women’s right in US, some in third world or strict rule countries like India and the Middle East. Others focused on education, reproductive issues and some on business and leadership. Interestingly enough, most have voted for questions related to the women’s leadership gap. The final questions we agreed to discuss further were:

  1. What are the fundamental biases that could be defined in the workplace?
  2. If we were to evaluate someone’s skill set and performance metrics without visibility to their gender, how would the person be evaluated?
  3. How would the results vary if we altered performance metrics and manipulated the gender of the candidate?

By now you can tell that my choice of all women participants was strategic. I wanted women to focus on women’s issues and see if and where we can make a difference or take ownership. I was pleasantly surprised to see how we didn’t challenge each other to change assumptions (even though some have different political and social views). Instead everyone listened and drew parallels between similarities. The biggest surprise of all however was the fact that we did this online and succeeded! Everyone participated at some stage and everyone followed the rules. Sadly, we didn’t resolve the issue at hand.  However, collectively we did learn how to remove personal biases and assumptions, listen and ask better questions in order to have more meaningful conversations in the future.

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