Even after the call ended, discussion continued online, returning to both crowdsourcing and leadership as subjects.
by Esther D. Kustanowitz
This is the second part in a two-part series on how second-screen experiences relate to Jewish leadership and programming.
On Sunday – or perhaps Monday, depending on where and when you read eJewishPhilanthropy – I wrote a piece about the second-screen experience in television, how today’s fans aren’t just spectators, but active participants in the culture, mythology and longevity of a show. Even though that piece appeared first in this series, the truth is that the events described in part two came first, and inspired both pieces.
A few weeks ago, the Jewish Communal Service Association sponsored a free conference call on Jewish leadership with Dr. Misha Galperin, The Jewish Agency’s President and CEO for International Development and author of Reimagining Leadership in Jewish Organizations. (You can listen to the recorded conference call here.) At some point early in the conversation, which was moderated by Wexner Senior Philanthropic Advisor Larry Moses, someone noted that “a vision for the future cannot be crowdsourced.” Given my involvement in the social media sphere, I thought it might be interesting to test that theory by crowdsourcing responses to this statement on Facebook.
The responses were fascinating – coming from Jewish professionals who were simultaneously on the conference call and following other conversations on Facebook and Twitter, as well as from those who had never heard of JCSA and didn’t know about the conference call but were able to access and participate in the conversation via social media. Because my list of Facebook friends even includes one or two people who don’t work in Jewish leadership (go figure), the conversation had an even wider reach, and those “civilians” also weighed in on the definitions of “vision” and “crowdsourcing,” and on some of the challenges surrounding the concept of “leadership” today. The Facebook conversation also gave us the opportunity to interact with each other, a privilege that couldn’t be granted to conference call participants who were necessarily muted, to avoid audio chaos. Call participants were able to submit questions electronically, so some of our words and questions did reach the call’s featured speakers. But our voices, themselves, did not.
Here is a rundown of the conversation on our Facebook “second screen” (comments have been shortened for space, and typos have been corrected).
Carin Goldberg Maher, Talent Acquisition Executive at JFNA, agreed “Vision is a communal thing. The broader the net cast on ideas for a vision, the more buy-in and potential for impact there is.”
“Leadership collects, refines and perhaps massages the message,” I added, “but should reflect the opinions and experience of the people they’re leading, or they will cease to be the leaders.” “Having your own vision is GOOD … leaving room for others to come onboard and modify the vision to make it stronger is GREAT,” said Adam Pollack, the west coast director for Birthright Israel NEXT.
Jodi Berman Kustanovich (different surname spelling, no relation), Executive Director at Synagogue 3000, took a different tack, opining that “feedback from the crowd informs, but leaders create the actual vision, crafting the plan and implementing. The crowd never really comes together for decision-making, action plan generating, etc. – all of the things that require actual leadership.”
“Vision comes from leaders,” added Haleh Rabizadeh Resnick, a college friend of mine who’s now a lawyer who wrote a book on health advocacy. “Good leaders have a pulse on who they are leading. Crowdsourcing can be used to learn how vision can best be transmitted to the community.”
Liz Polay-Wettengel, Director of Marketing and Communications at Aviv Centers for Living in Boston and co-creator of JewishBoston.com, said that “crowdsourcing opens everything up to unique thoughts and ideas.”
“Haven’t we been crowdsourcing vision long before the internet?” asked Yechiel Hoffman, past executive director for LimmudLA and incoming director of Youth Learning and Engagement at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, launching a new branch of the discussion focusing on defining “crowdsourcing.”
“If the objective is to gather as much information in response to a specific question, and pick out which of the data to assimilate that is one thing,” Hoffman continued. “But vision crowdsourcing is about listening and building ownership, which makes online crowdsourcing an unlikely tool for effective visioning work – it needs bounded time and space on a platform with a facilitator.”
Kustanovich, too, was thinking more about how she previously thought that crowdsourcing was good for things like “asking for a good plumber or for a good Talmud quote for a talk you’re giving. It’s asking to draw on experience and knowledge of other people.” Her vision of the concept of vision “is more like appreciative inquiry and engagement and requires relationship and personal touch to really be able to distill what should be part of a vision for the future and what shouldn’t. I think it requires two-way discussion and consideration, and not just an act of commenting on a question.”
At this point, the conversation veered away from crowdsourcing and toward leadership styles. Kustanovich invoked Steve Jobs’ vision: “You don’t give the people what they want. You give the people what they don’t yet know they want. I think that’s what leadership is – it’s not doing what the people want, it’s doing what’s right and bringing the people with you.”
Although she also agreed with Jobs, Rabbi Alana Suskin noted that leadership “isn’t actually guiding the crowd – it’s figuring out what the crowd wants already, not changing what they want. There’s a difference between providing a product and making social change. And that difference can easily slide into arrogance. There are a privileged few who get a lot of press for their ‘fabulous ideas’ and ‘leadership’ -most of which don’t ever really go anywhere in the long term – they get their fifteen minutes and then it’s over. Real change comes from working with people from the bottom up, not providing a product that they can consume. Real change and vision has to treat its constituents as though their thoughts and ideas are important and relevant; salesmanship, on the other hand, lasts as long as the next big thing, but doesn’t really require deep empathy.”
“I find that two key components of leadership are a) to see things from a different perspective (also in part what can be vs what is), and b) to tell a good story (ie craft a compelling narrative),” Keith Krivitzky, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, noted. “I think crowdsourcing can help with b) but not so much a).” Suskin maintains that “a vision for the future can *only* be crowdsourced. Leaders cannot lead any direction that the people are not willing to go – they can guide the curves, but they can’t set the direction.”
Hope Levav, who works at Hannah Senesh Community Day School in Brooklyn, believes that “the best kind of visionary leaders are deeply connected to the communities they lead, informed by and responsive to the needs of the crowd. BUT real vision requires a step back, an appreciation for and understanding of the crowd from a different perspective, a view that allows the truly visionary leader to see what possibilities lie ahead – and to figure out how to get there. It is almost impossible for ‘the crowd’ to do that, and relying too much on the crowd can get a leader stuck in the present with no clear way to move ahead.”
“Do we have those kinds of leaders now?” Resnick asked. “And how do we encourage the next in line to be those kinds of leaders?” added Polay-Wettengel. ”Can people be trained to be visionary leaders? Is it related to innate charisma or types of intelligence? Is it a habit of mind? A skill? Or a muscle that needs to be developed and exercised?” Hoffman queried.
Not surprisingly, the talk of Jewish leadership led to a discussion about women in leadership positions. After a question from Rabbi Francine Roston in New Jersey about how essential empathy is for Jewish leadership, Galperin acknowledged (my paraphrase) that although there are more women in Jewish leadership, the upper level roles go to the “commanding and authoritative” type of leadership vs. “relationship-based leadership,” and that he believes it “is an enormous loss for the community.”
Goldberg Maher noted that many of the challenges for women happen in the interview process, that when discussing accomplishments, women will tend to emphasize the team, whereas men will have no problem taking credit for it.
Even after the call ended, discussion continued online, returning to both crowdsourcing and leadership as subjects. “We can, and should use the ‘crowd’ to inform, if not establish, the vision for the future in certain circumstances, and certain types of organizations,” says Sheridan Gayer, assistant director for Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, citing her efforts with Limmud volunteers, which includes “an ask of what (skills) the volunteers hope to get out of their experience. I think to build strong leaders, we need them to self identify their weaknesses.”
“One benefit of crowdsourcing (if you do it well) is getting outside the inner echo chamber,” says noted social media and technology guru Lisa Colton. “The people talking about Jewish leadership are very inner circle, while the people they are often trying to engage/serve/reach are very NOT. While leadership isn’t all about the ‘boots on the ground,’ having a reality check of the landscape you’re working in/towards is critical.” Or, as Polay-Wettengel put it, “Some of the best visions come from where you least expect it, so stop looking in the usual places.”
By its end, the second-screen experience of the JCSA conference call had also organically generated a reading list, featuring Steve Jobs’ autobiography, Ron Wolfson’s Relational Judaism, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and Debra Frieze and Margaret Wheatley’s article titled, “Leadership in an Age of Complexity.” And let’s not forget Galperin’s aforementioned Reimagining Leadership in Jewish Organizations, and two even earlier documents – as Executive Director of the LA Board of Rabbis Jonathan Freund later noted, “The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both crowdsourced.”
While all of this interaction was sparked by the call, it all happened externally to the call – on a second screen that was technically public, but not officially a designated channel for conversation. Galperin and Moses probably had few if any expectations about discussion outside the “room” of the conference call. But it is precisely that second, unintentional screen that made deeper conversation possible, across professional, denominational and geographical boundaries, involving people who would have otherwise been excluded from the conversation. Who knows, moving forward, how that conversation will radiate from each of those individuals?
There’s a temptation to see second screen as distraction; but the reality is – as the TV industry is beginning to realize – it’s an opportunity for engagement. And that translates offline, too – we all know that a lecture isn’t as engaging as a panel, a panel isn’t as engaging as a Q & A, and a Q & A isn’t as engaging as a one-on-one conversation. Reading a book on your own is great. And reading it in a group gives you more, and lets you go deeper, because you’re multiplying the available perspectives.
At every level of increased intimacy with a product, mission or cause, there’s an opportunity for deeper personal investment, for more connectedness and increased feelings of ownership and responsibility for a project’s success and integrity. We owe it to ourselves, and to the future professionals and volunteers who support our work, to constantly ask ourselves how we can simultaneously widen our impact and focus our investment, and awareness of the “second screen,” whether literal or figurative, is a great start.
Esther D. Kustanowitz, a Los Angeles-based writer, consultant and Jewish communal professional, has written and consulted on Jewish innovation, pop culture and social media for many Jewish publications and organizations. A longtime consultant for the ROI Community of Jewish Innovators, Esther also works part-time as Program Coordinator for the NextGen Engagement Initiative at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She has been named to four major lists of Jewish social media influencers, and blogs at myurbankvetch.com. Esther is currently writing a book about grief as a personal and communal experience, tentatively titled “Nothing Helps (But This Might Help): A Guide to Loss and What Comes After.”