An adventure into the Enspiralverse with a group of 18–28 year olds in Sweden

Participants and teachers of the Youth Initiative Programme sitting in circle listening to one participant (Hyosun) present her practical project.

Last week (at time of writing: April 2018). I had the joy and pleasure of hosting a week-long deep dive into the Enspiral universe with fellow Enspiral colleague, Silvia — who landed straight from her plane from New Zealand into the Youth Initiative Programme in Sweden where I am a residential organiser for 3 months.

Silvia and I catching a moment of Swedish sun over a kanelbullar (cinnamon bun)!

The theme of the week

The theme of the week was “Enspiral” although in the end perhaps only a fifth of the content was literal Enspiral content. The rest centred on how to build a livelihood as a conscious, social entrepreneur or freelancer in purpose-driven projects.

As Enspiral is a network of freelancers, entrepreneurs and ventures, the workshops were as much about life as a freelancer/entrepreneur and personal storytelling as it was about the network itself.

Some of the questions we explored ranged from: How to stay true to your values within work and business? How to grapple with money and putting a pricetag on your hours? How to explore and open to your relationship with money instead of shying away? How to build a network of support, trust and collaboration and what are the online tools to do that?

It was fantastic to have Silvia’s 7+ years of experience in Enspiral and more generally in project and venture work to really speak to the challenges, struggles and highs of being a purpose-driven change agent in business!

What is Enspiral? — busting myth and jargon

My creative expression of the “What is Enspiral?” question…

When it comes to Enspiral, I always find it extremely helpful to be forced to try and explain my current best understanding of our network, and what our aim together is in the world. Through really getting back into the shoes of someone who is new to Enspiral, and new to all of our processes, ways of doing things and jargon, I regain my perspective on how things could be different.

One participant spoke to the challenge of understanding the Enspiral beast, and coming to an understanding through the ecology of things that make up the Enspiralverse.

What is Enspiral? This question [en]spiralled chaotically around our course last week… Alongside our freely moving understandings of social enterprise, money management, network, project incubation and community culture.

This exercise also always reminds me of how easy it is for a community and culture you are swimming in to eclipse your noticing of cultural jargon that may make no sense to someone outside of the community.

It was wonderful to read of one participant’s experience of coming into contact with the software-developer lingo that has stuck with the network since its early days of being majority freelance coders. It’s something I hadn’t even consciously noticed!

What makes Enspiral truly unique, it seems, lies in the eye of the beholder. From my perspective, one particularly unique quality is their jargon: the Enspiral community applies software development terminology like ‘refactor’ and ‘fork’ to projects way beyond their computer screens. I haven’t been quite sure how to fit my computer science background and my YIP experience together thus far, but last week I felt at home when Silvia started sharing her challenges with “merging into the master branch.”

We also made sure to focus heavily on the bits of being a freelancer and entrepreneur, and being part of a “non-hierarchical network” like Enspiral which aren’t so glamourous. People burning out, strange power dynamics and “shadow hierarchy” and a lack of certainty and regularity all came up. It was important to give the full picture to young people who are considering the way they want to do their career, and had real choices ahead of them.

Teaching as practitioner — practising together

Participants in a break-out group

In speaking about Enspiral, I’m also forced to do something I love doing which is to bring complex matters to life and relevance for someone who is trying to wrap their head around something completely new and foreign.

And beyond that, get my hands dirty in “teaching” about subject matter which is extremely practical and not theoretical. This asks for a completely different way of teaching.

As a teacher-practitioner, you stop “standing at the front of the room” and get into the practice of co-learning and co-inquiry with the participants in your workshop.

Often what is most helpful is to create space for participants to go through the motions or actions of the practice or tool you are describing, using each other for support and harvesting common questions which you can then address at reflection/digestion points.

We created a schedule where there was a mix of story-telling, Q&A discussions, case studies of projects and ventures that would demonstrate different learnings and processes, and practical workshops. The mornings were more theoretical and discussion based, and the afternoons were practical and focussed on trying out tools and swinging to action.

Focussing on projects, impactful work and livelihood

Enspiral is a network of people who work on ‘stuff that matters’ and launch projects together. This collaborative entrepreneurship is imbued with the culture of Enspiral — and many, if not all, the Enspiral Ventures (companies and projects within the Enspiral Network) are purpose-driven and socially conscious.

Practically speaking, Enspiral is just as much the impactful projects and ventures and purpose-driven livelihoods of its Members and Contributors, as it is about how itself operates as a network.

Of course, the most important part of Enspiral is the people and the way we choose to be with each other, and in the world. But in the context of this workshop, we decided to focus heavily on participants’ personal projects, sharing tools and practices that could help develop plans and visions into reality.

For the week, we each ‘dated’ one of our projects. These initiatives became the case studies on which we applied Enspiral-y practices, as well as the lenses with which we listened to stories of entrepreneurship.
We envisioned our initiatives as social enterprises through the Social Lean Canvas, exchanged our rapid-fire pitches and created financial roadmaps. I noticed my plans becoming increasingly grounded: specific & realistic ideas formed for a series of events to bring together the people, families and communities of Toronto.
Filling out the social impact lean canvas

Key takeaways and highlights

Each day we focussed on a different theme, and each day was different.

On Day 1, we spent the morning storytelling about both Silvia and my journeys to and through Enspiral, offering two very different perspectives. While Silvia has been a Member since almost the beginning of Enspiral (more than 7 years ago!), I have only just joined. We offered this as a way of ‘looking back and looking forward’. It was great to share from two different Enspiral generations.

In the afternoon, we guided participants through an exercise which would allow them to zero in on the project they wanted to focus on for the week. They delivered rapid-fire 1 minute pitches while walking around a room, applying different lenses to how they would pitch.

A key takeaway for participants was how useful it was to practise this non-attachment to their entrepreneurial ventures and projects, trying out new ways of speaking about their project, and changing details in short succession.

After this, we worked through the Social Lean Canvas, developed by someone in the Enspiral Network, adapted from the Lean Canvas (which in turn is adapted from the Business Model Canvas).

What was great to see the transformation of the participants’ responses to the exercise during the afternoon. There was initial resistance from some of the workshop participants to put their personal projects through such a ‘business’ process, manifesting as grimaces and challenging facial expressions! These participants go through a very specific journey of social entrepreneurship, with more of a focus on the ‘social’ than the ‘entrepreneurship’ in my opinion.

Participants begrudgingly agreed to give the lean canvas a go, and brought in some cases nascent visions and unformed project plans to the table. What they found was that the very process of squeezing their unformed idea through the canvas started to give it form and provide them with the right *questions* to be asking themselves.

At the end of the afternoon, each person reported back that they’d found the whole session extremely useful. We moved around the circle reading out Unique Value Propositions from each project/person, and it was deeply gratifying to witness such shape given to form in just 45 minutes.

On other afternoons we held discussions about life as a freelancer, the dangers of entrepreneurial burnout, governance and power and how we tackle these themes in Enspiral, and the global relevance of these tools and practises, which in many ways are euro-centric.

Overall, we had a great time sharing about collaborative entrepreneurship, starting up as a freelancer, practical advice on getting projects off the ground, and developing the “muscle” of collaboration. Some of the YIP participants gave us the feedback that this was one of the most practically relevant, and preparatory-for-the-adult-world weeks they’d had all year. Many of them loved the lean social impact canvas. I’m interested in taking the “Enspiral” session at YIP one step further next year, and focussing on how we can support participants to set up systems that allow them to build a network of collaboration and care that persists after their intensive YIP experience.

Some unfinished thoughts to share too:

Invitation to build your own thing

It also helps me imagine, in this space of open collaborative networks and networks of support and livelihood and collaboration, what is Enspiral able to offer? What is Enspiral not, and where can people find what they need? If what they need doesn’t exist, how can we and existing networks and organisations and collectives support the creation of new models and entities?

Designing learning experiences that lead to change

Within Bloom’s taxonomy of learning, Bloom hypothesises that the pyramid of learning begins with Remembering — Understanding — Applying — Analysing — Evaluating — Creating. This is a steep learning curve to go through in 5 days. My dream is to create an immersive, experiential programme (having prototyped three now) that allows this fast learning curve to happen in this context.

Some questions that arose for me during the 5 days, that I take back with me to the Enspiral Network…

How can we create more specific ways of engaging newcomers?

How can we invite QUESTIONS to new contributors — not just a biography?

  • E.g. What are you bringing to Enspiral?
  • What are your needs / what would most serve you?
  • What is your reason for being here?

What is the INVITATION — make invisible possibilities EXPLICIT. For example, creating new slack channels and kicking off conversations.

How can we provide more support for the process of getting into Enspiral?

Are there certain profession groups within Enspiral? E.g. I work as a scientist, and I want to work differently, how do I get support? How do we self-organise into professional-specific support groups that can then serve as “ins” for newcomers?

Thank you!

As always, you learn as much as your students learn when you teach. Thank you to the amazing Youth Initiative Programme Class #10 for participating so fully in the classes and journey we put together, and also for providing such great feedback and questions to take away. I look forward to next year!