08 February 2021

Develop People and Connection with Book Clubs Q&A Call

Stacia Garr
Co-founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • In this Q&A call Stacia Garr is joined with guest host Steve Arntz, CEO of Campfire.
  • They take the best parts of a book club and incorporate them into a discussion-centered learning experiences that optimize for learning, reflection, connection, and application.
  • Learn how to facilitate and solve meaningful problems around manager effectiveness, leadership development, and culture activation.
  • What is defined as reading?
  • How to host a Book Club that doesn’t suck.

Q&A Call Video

TRANSCRIPT

Introduction

Stacia Garr:

Alright. Well, if we're going to go ahead and get started. So we want to first say thanks to everybody for joining today for this first Q and A call here in February. For anybody that I don't know who may watch the recording later, because I think I know everybody who's here today. I am, Stacia Garr Co-Founder of RedThread Research, and today we're doing a little bit of a different type of Q and A call in that we have a guest who's going to be leading the conversation with me and that Steve Arntz in I'll let him introduce himself in just a minute more properly. But the conversation today is around book clubs. And part of the reason that we we've actually been wanting to do this conversation with Steve for a long time. And part of the reason for that is that we've seen book clubs start to, to rise in popularity.

Stacia Garr:

And we have some hypothesis about why that is many of them related to the pandemic, but we think that this is kind of an interesting way to think about connectivity and learning and really kind of the social aspects, and fulfilling social needs that people have right now. So we have invited Stephen, he's going to tell us all about book clubs and everything he's learned as he's launched his company Campfire, and hopefully we'll come out of this knowing a lot more. And also, I think we were talking about maybe seeing if there is some appetite for starting a book club. So with that, for those of you who don't know who RedThread is, I want to go ahead and just remind you, we are a human capital research advisory membership, and we're focused on a range of things most relevant for today, learning and career, but a whole bunch of other things, as well as you see here.

Stacia Garr:

And so folks can check us out on RedThreadResearch.com. So with that want to go ahead and let Steve introduce himself. And actually Steve is going to get to do much of the sharing, but like I said I want to express my appreciation to Steve for being here. He has a lot going on including a brand new baby. So we're excited that he made a little bit of time for us today. And we're also just in general, grateful for the friendship and the partnership with Steve. As we were launching the RedThread membership, he helped us do a lot of the thinking around it. And we're just very thankful for that. So, okay, Steve, over to you.

Steve Arntz:

Thank you. Stacia a very kind introduction. I do have a little baby girl born December 8th. And so that's been very exciting, good change for us. We had two boys before that and six and a half years, and then we had a little baby girl and Founder of Campfire and Campfire started as a book clubs company. But one thing I want everybody to know is that we don't, we don't really service corporate book clubs in the same way that we used to we're we have now pivoted towards just building man effective manager training basically. And it uses a lot of the same mechanics from book clubs, but as we share the research and the thoughts that I'll share today about book clubs, just know that that's not really our core business. It might have a slight bias to it cause I do love book clubs.

Steve Arntz:

But hopefully I can share it in a, in a more, less biased way than you might hear from a vendor. Who's trying to sell you a software and things like that. So I really appreciate Stacia having me here today. And I don't know how much more of an intro you'd like Stacia? I spent five years in the talent management space working on a suite, a platform called bridge, which was talent performance, career development, learning management, all of those things. So stuff that the RedThread audiences is very interested in and so spent a lot of time with talent leaders in the space. And so that's why I've really enjoyed so much the association friendship and relationship with RedThread, and Stacia and Dani.

Stacia Garr:

Thank you. Well, shall we dive in?

Steve Arntz:

Sure. Yeah, that'd be great. Let me, so I'll share my screen now.

Stacia Garr:

So one thing I should say, cause I don't know that Steve's been on, on one of these calls in the past, but these are highly interactive. He has some slides, but we're a small group and the whole point here is to have a conversation. So you jump in, I do have at the kind of end of what he's prepared, a few slides that have been submitted or a few questions, excuse me, they are on slides that have been submitted, but just jump in like this is a conversation,

Book Clubs are having a moment

Steve Arntz:

Love it so much. And I have slide six. I'll kind of force you to talk a little bit more, but jump in in any slide and that, that's awesome. That's very welcome in my mind. Very different than typical webinars. Webinars are kind of hard to try that energy sometimes because you're just talking to a, a wall sometimes. So as Stacia mentioned, book clubs are having a moment a little bit. There's some evidence of that here. You can see all of, I mean, I just grabbed a few when I searched news yesterday to get some more new stuff, it's just tons of stuff out there. I really liked this one. I changed the search parameters to just be in the last week and you can see stuff from different news sources. Literati is a great little company that does book clubs for kids, as well as for adults now raised $40 million for their business.

Steve Arntz:

You've got all of these different things happening around book clubs. I actually got this in the mail advertising a book club in a box and then I love Simon Sinek and he hosted his own book club at the B towards kind of the beginning of the pandemic saw that as an opportunity and a moment to help people to connect, which was really cool. I stopped searching for stress results because there were just so many articles on the social isolation side. The number I was able to find is that 42% of people are still working remotely at this point in the pandemic. It's predicted to be down to 21, 22% by the end of the year. I think that's probably optimistic. On the stress side of things, what we're seeing is just a dramatic increase in antidepressant prescriptions and all of these different indicators of a mental health challenge that we're having.

What can Book Clubs provide

Steve Arntz:

And, you know, it's, it's probably a little bit I don't know, ambitious to say that a book club could really dramatically impact these really meaningfully challenging hard things. But book clubs do provide a little bit of an antidote to those things. So an article from HBR talked about how it can provide calm. So if you just take a break in your day, read for six minutes, it can reduce stress by 68%. And so I've, I've worked that into my day to where I take reading breaks between meetings. If I have time between meetings, one of the common things that you can do is just go scroll your LinkedIn feed. I've replaced that with just grabbing the book that I'm reading, reading a couple pages and getting back to work and it helps to center me and bring that calm. And then the connection side, I love this quote by Patti Digh, the shortest distance between two people is a story.

Steve Arntz:

People read so that they can connect. They have a common place to now share a conversation. And so they can take this book and have a conversation with each other, but also with the author and it provides that opportunity for connection. And so that's what I, what I think is kind of behind this book club movement is people need both of these things desperately at the moment. And so we we've seen them in, in corporate as well. And so this is that first place to have a little bit of a conversation. And so I like to give people a chance to just sit and think, even though it's awkward on calls, but just think for a minute, I'll be quiet. I promise I'm not going to try to fill the awkward space about the bestest group discussion you've ever been a part of. Just, just sit and think for a minute, see if you can come up with something.

Best group discussion you have ever been a part of

Steve Arntz:

Because the group is so small. Is there anybody that has a group discussion that's come to mind that would be willing to come off mute and share?

Steve Arntz:

Speaker 1 ready?

Speaker 1:

There's several that come to mind. And as we said when I started when we were starting, I am in a book club. So that one comes to mind. I've been with that group for a long, long time. It's a meditation studies group. And so during the pandemic, we switched to book club because it was just something else that we could do. But how did it make me feel? And that thought made me think of my past. And so the feeling of connectedness, the feeling of talking about something that's in common and in our club, we, we sort of collectively choose, you know, someone puts out a list. And so we've, we've had some investment in what, what it is that we're talking about. But it made me think about my past when I was a facilitator and I would travel around to different offices.

Speaker 1:

And so I was the stranger, it was their home ground and the feeling of having a really robust conversation about who they were, what they were doing, which troubles they were having, you know, what we're going to talk about as I was teaching the class, all those things was the feeling of being connected and being helpful and working to together towards solving the problem. And so whether you get it through a book club or a facilitated workshop or a business meeting, it's really to me, I think that sort of productivity feeling like we're doing something important, working together, sharing like a common ground, a common reason for being there.

Steve Arntz:

That's amazing. Thank you for sharing. I love that. Does anyone else have anything that comes to mind?

Speaker 2:

Well just the, the thing that you did before with just being quiet, it just reminded me when I was in college, the program I was in we'd have lectures once a week, but then mostly it was like 20 or so people in seminar rooms and one of my seminar leads was a Quaker. So she's used to sitting in church for like two or three hours, just like silence until somebody had something to say. So she, it was very jarring at first, but she would like pose a question to the group and then she was just happy to sit there until somebody had something to say. And it's just there is a you know, there is a social and a brain process that happens when there's silence because, you know, somebody will get uncomfortable and to jump in and have something to say. So just as a, as a technique to kind of get people to open up and start a discussion, I just felt, it just reminded me of that.

Steve Arntz:

Awesome. Thanks for sharing. A group discussion that comes to mind is actually I was at a, I was at a dinner in San Diego, with someone, who's on the call here was actually there with me. And we had an hour long discussion around one question, which was, what's the one thing that we could change about ourselves that would make all the difference in our marriages to our spouses. And we sat for an hour talking and that was that's the group discussion that came to mind for me. And the reason that it came to mind is because there was safety, psychological safety is a big, massive component of book clubs and discussions that we have.

Steve Arntz:

And we were able to talk about, I think, like you mentioned, of meaningful change in wanting to improve and do better and all of those sorts of things. So is there anyone else that has something that's come to mind? I'm going to take the Quaker technique again, be quiet.

Speaker 3:

I'll chime in, and I have one other to throw in there. This is a runner up to the, to the discussions I had with Steve, because that one was obviously the best one, but in, in the other group discussion I had, it was, it, it was differing opinions and but it was intentionally. So, so when the group was formed to have the discussion, it was the understanding that, Hey, here's this book that, that it was political. This is where I lean in. It's kind of more of a historical, let's all weigh in on it.

Speaker 3:

And like, so everyone read it and gave their opinions on it, but it was all from different perspectives, all with the intent to understand what the other was saying. So it was more like it was, cause it was literally trying to build connectedness and understanding around something that, that it could be more difficult you know, with, with polarization. So that was having that, that intentional, you know, psychological safety going into it. Everyone knew that, that they, they, they were one was going to be actively listening and trying to understand from the other perspective, instead of kind of waiting for their turn to speak. And so that's kind of what, what was my runner up to one of the best conversations I've had as well.

Steve Arntz:

That's cool. Thank you for sharing.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. I had one more, just what Chris was saying, and I'm doing it as we talk. One thing that I'm noticing for sure, as we're digital talking about it, the, the, the idea of the go round, right. You know, one person talks and then in the classroom when we're digital, it's, it's different, but it still happens the same that as one person talks, then the next one says, Oh, that makes me think of something in the next person. And I'm surprised by that happening on digital, but I think it's to what you were saying that we're psychologically safe in, within a a well-grounded or parametered discussion you know, we're here for a purpose to do it. So please speak. And I find, and I'm curious if others are, are also, like, I just would have never expected us to be so comfortable getting into those kinds of conversations. Look, I'm pointing at Speaker 3 he's right here on my screen that because people just want to talk, people want to have that shared experience and they want to be able to express then as people share more and more, the safety becomes more and more. So I, I find that super fascinating.

Steve Arntz:

I love that. I love that so much. And you, you called attention to the fact that we're all remote now and this environment, like I'm surprised it works in this environment. It makes me think of an idea. It's a little meta now, because you said you know, an idea, it makes you think of an idea. And,

Steve Arntz:

And you're talking about remote distributed teams and groups. And what's been fascinating to me is to challenge ourselves as a team at campfire. How is it better because of the pandemic? What can we learn from the pandemic that'll help us to to do better than we did when we were all in person and one of those ways. So here's something that's a little off script is that as we've learned about how to help people to create psychological safety and connection in groups that are distributed and sometimes large, one of the techniques is we have people move back and forth between zoom and Slack or Microsoft teams, depending on the tool that they're using. And as a facilitator, we'll, we'll prompt with a question we'll put that into Slack or teams, and we'll have everybody quietly type the response to the question. And then they create these threaded discussions very quietly.

Steve Arntz:

It's, it's like a loan together as a, a way to phrase it type of a technique. And what's fascinating about it is just as one example, we had the question who is the best manager you've ever had. We were talking about manager effectiveness. So we put that into the chat and we were able to have 20 people respond with a paragraph about the best manager they've ever had. And then we all quietly read those responses and reacted to those responses. And in a matter of seven minutes, we had had a go around discussion. Like you're talking about Speaker 1, that typically would have lasted a full 45, maybe a whole hour, just for the one question. And so there are some ways that the pandemic that the remote remote tools that we're using have made things easier and better to create that safety, that connection, help people to have these discussions. So I appreciate that comment for just a number of reasons.

Stacia Garr:

I think you see someone on our team smiling, because that's what we do in our round tables.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. We started doing it in. So Speaker 1 and Speaker 2 are both familiar with that technique because we started doing in our round tables.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. We can all write faster than any of us.

Stacia Garr:

Well, and we're in an era where inclusion is just mattering more and more and more as it should. And it's, it's a much more inclusive technique because as you can tell, I like to talk, but it type it's all about, we all have the same amount of space to fill, and then we all can read together. And so everybody has that same voice at that point, which is really cool. So, and Speaker 4 taught us that technique, by the way, she facilitated several books for our team and has done a magical job of, of getting us to connect other thoughts. It looks like Speaker 5 turned her video on, I don't know if that's, because she's wanting to share, don't want to put you on the spot.

Speaker 5:

I wasn't planning on sharing, but I can yeah, you made me think I do, we call it a book club. It'd be more accurate to call it a podcast club because the most we can get In as a podcast throughout the week. But the, yeah, so, so I get together with a group of girlfriends every week, virtually. And we just, we just talk, you know, we go anywhere from discussing the, the merits and flaws of capitalism to talking about our weeks and checking our, you know, like this last week, some of us have had some uncomfortable situations. So we wanted to check our instincts and kind of check ourselves on that. But I always walk away feeling alive. That's, that's always kind of the it's invigorating. It makes me feel alive. There's something about that connection, but also just that expression of yourself as well in a group that accepts that and wants to participate with you as a, as a thinker, as a person. That's just really, yeah. I just keep on thinking every time I walk away, I feel more alive.

Steve Arntz:

That's awesome. I love that. I'm interested in people's thoughts about why a book or a podcast or a piece of content can bring people together. Speaker 3 mentioned earlier about how you can get people from different political viewpoints, for example, to somehow have a, a discussion that can be, you know, friendly, amicable, even if their viewpoints differ, because they are kind of centered on this piece of content. And so I think that there's something to that with what you're talking about, Speaker 5 as well of having a place to start is something that's very, very powerful regardless of whether you agree with the piece of content or not, it brings you together and you can start that discussion and then those discussions end up helping you to feel, I like how you put it alive. With your permission, I'll go back to the deck here and share some more things.

Steve Arntz:

So, you know, our, our brand is purposeful. This is the only time you'll see our brand, but we believe that Campfires are a bit of a symbol of what it means to connect. If you think about group discussions, they sometimes model the way a campfire is built. You have to collaborate to find pieces of things to burn and stick in the center. And then this, the fire starts really hot, and there's an intensity to it that keeps you apart. And then you start to cook things over the fire, and then the fire dwindles, and you have to get an even closer to warm your hands by the fire. And that closeness, that, that change in closeness brings people together and the discussions that are had and those types of things. And I think it helps us to think about how we might model those discussions in our organizations as well.

The research and the selection

Steve Arntz:

We did a lot of research on book clubs, and I don't know if it would be research that would pass the bar of RedThread research. They're phenomenal researchers, and we are kind of product researchers, which is a different bar. But I want to share with you some of the research that we did first, we did some secondary research and I love Davina Morgan Witts. And she's done phenomenal work in researching this from a consumer side and surveyed 5,000 book clubs. This report is incredible. If you want to download it, if you need some insights into how to maybe leverage this for your organizations, this is a great resource. She talks about books selection in her research. And so there's just tons of books. I think the most common mechanic for choosing a book for a book club is basically to just look at the New York times bestseller list.

Steve Arntz:

Somebody picks one off of it that they like, maybe they're going to be the facilitator and they just show up and say, Hey everybody, do you want to read this book? They might pick two or three, and there's a voting mechanic on it. One of the things that Davina found in her research is that book, selection matters quite a lot. And the biggest thing that matters is that everyone is excited and willing to read the book which, you know, seems obvious, right? But I think that people often think that, you know, just choosing one of the bestseller books, people will just show up and they'll, they'll read because they're in the book club. What we found is that if you, if you give people several options, then that helps what helps even more is if the group can decide together on a purpose for reading a book and then select together a book that fits that purpose.

Steve Arntz:

So specifically when we're working in our organizations as talent leaders helping people to identify those problems and challenges, and then choosing a book that will help them to solve that challenge is, is very helpful. And so we worked with a marketing team that read the book Upstream. And the reason they chose Upstream is because they were trying to figure out ways to be more creative and solve problems in advance of those problems, existing, sometimes preventative maintenance type things. And because the team chose that book together, 85% of the participants read the book. Whereas in their previous book club attempts only twenty-five percent of the people had read the books. And so having that shared purpose can be really meaningful and choosing the book and then moving through the content together. What did Davina find that is important about a book? So the, the key indicators of whether a book is great for a group is it gets people talking.

Steve Arntz:

It's well-written. We like to add to that a little bit of, for, for talent leaders specifically, and in our organizations it's well-written and it is research backed. I think a lot of times we can pick kind of the pop business, the pop psychology books, they're fun to read. They create great conversations. I wouldn't say that they're bad to choose. What's even better is one that's well written and well-researched, it's enjoyable to read. An example of that Shawn Achor wrote a book called The Happiness Advantage, and he's he's a psychologist from Harvard, who's studied positive psychology, done a lot of great research and work. And he also writes books that are fun to read. And so it checks a little bit more of the boxes for us that might be a really meaningful book for a club to choose. Stacia, it looked like maybe it came off mute, so I wanted to see if you had something.

Stacia Garr:

Oh, I was just going to exclamation point the Shawn Achor book. I love his work also. Adam Grant's work in terms of being easy to read, but also research based.

Steve Arntz:

Absolutely. And Adam Grant came out with a book yesterday, or it's this week. I can't wait. Okay.

Stacia Garr:

Yeah. Recently I thought it was a couple of weeks ago, but yeah.

Steve Arntz:

Okay. It's the power of knowing what you don't know is what it's about. And I'm really excited to read that book. So does anyone else have thoughts on, on that book selection.

Speaker 4:

On the, on the note of research backed, it was interesting. So, so just as background for the rest of you, I I did a couple of book clubs with the Campfire team the internal book. So we did a sort of internal book club, and it was very interesting to know that there was a lot of energy around the first two books cause they were very, very relevant to what we were, what the team was trying to do. And then the third book we chose was not research backed. It was more sort of anecdotal and a little bit more of a pop psychology, and it wasn't particularly relevant to what was going on for the team at the time. And it, it, it was really interesting to note just how the energy dropped in terms of being in terms of wanting to participate in that book club.

Steve Arntz:

And Speaker 4 is being generous, we cut it off early eight chapters in, and we're just like, nah, forget it. I'm doing this. And, and I think that's actually a useful thing to know, like if a book's not working for a team bail on it, pick something else, you know, this is a powerful mechanic and it can be powerful in both good and bad ways because you're bringing people together to discuss and, and over a topic that needs to be relevant, interesting research backed, going to provide meaningful results for these teams. So,

Stacia Garr:

And it really just goes back to adult learning principles, right? We, we need things that we're going to use in our lives. And if, if we don't, aren't getting it, we're not going to spend the time.

Steve Arntz:

And that's not to say that they all have to be research backed. And I agree with that Stacia for sure. We're currently working with a company that's reading the book, I am Malala, and they're doing that to have an example of one of their values, which is do good. And so they have this value do good in their organization. They're trying to build culture. The purpose is, is not to change behavior or take action necessarily it's to bring people together around a story, get them to have conversations about what it means to do good in the context of their company. And so, you know, narrative and memoir can be a powerful mechanic for that, but you just have to be purposeful about what you're choosing for what reasons, if it's behavior change, choose something, research backed for sure. If it's conversations that you want to generate, you might be able to get away with choosing stories and narratives and memoirs and that sort of thing to help start the conversation.

Steve Arntz:

Any other thoughts observations before I move on?

Speaker 3:

Is it alright, if I pepper you with a quick question, Steve?

Steve Arntz:

Absolutely.

Speaker 3:

I'm curious, cause you know, one of the things I thought of actually as I remembered a group shortly after high school and college, where they gathered around you know, fiction books and literature, and that actually brought them together and they would and one of the books that came to mind was one called Islandia, which was, you know, kind of kind of mysterious kind of fantasy type book, but it was very cerebral and everyone was trying to figure out what it means and they all share the perspectives and what they thought was what, and that was part of the, the intrigue and the interest there. So my question is is just, have you seen like fiction books play a part in this and do you see maybe a combination of a hybrid between books that are, are intentional to kind of create purpose and culture? And then some are just, just the enjoyment factor to create connectedness?

Steve Arntz:

I think fiction is very powerful and can be a real positive experience. There's a strategy team that we worked with that read Ender's game together. And I think that there's a lot of strategic principles in that book. I don't know if you've read Orson Scott Card's book. I I think that when you choose fiction, it's even more important that everyone has said, yes, I want to read this book. I think that you know, that's, that's the place where you might find the most drop-off in a business setting. And so if people aren't committed to reading that book and they don't have purpose behind it, you're going to find a really low participation rate in terms of number of people who are actually going to complete the book. And so, you know, I think there's value. I think that stories bring people together. I think that, that they build empathy. You can relate to characters and you can start to learn from different perspectives, but it's just really important that people are all committed at that point to saying yes, yes, yes. We're all excited about this book that will create a lot of energy and a lot more success.

Speaker 3:

Right. Makes sense.

Picking the right book for your team: "What book could we read together that would help us the most right now, as a team?"

Speaker 5:

Hey Steve, can I ask another question? Sure. This is awesome by the way. So I just started a unofficial book club where I work. And so I did a little survey and asked people sort of what are, what are like the high level topics that people would like to talk about. I'm wondering how you've seen, like, what are the best methods you've seen for getting people to agree to what the purpose is or what the book is because I I'd like to get as many people excited about reading as possible.

Steve Arntz:

I love it. So we have a survey for choosing a book that we've used with customers and the survey is, is eerily similar to an engagement survey that you might use as a talent leader. And what's fascinating is that choosing a book for a specific team can be a safer, sometimes more interesting way to find the problem on that team than using your traditional kind of talent management engagement survey that you might use with like a provider like Glint, or, you know, these different providers that have these engagement surveys. When you get a leader with you, let's say a team of six, eight, 10 to say, Hey, like what book could we read together that would help us the most right now, as a team, somehow that's a safer question than like, what's the problem with our team right now? Can you guys take the survey?

Steve Arntz:

I want to check against these eight factors about where we need the most help as a team right now and magically you as a leader, get to see what the team thinks is the biggest problem. And so there's a roundabout way of answering your question, Speaker 5, but you can use similar approaches that you might use for an engagement survey to say like, Hey, what's the problem on our team? What's the thing that would bring us the most benefit. What's the opportunity on our team? If we could do this, just this one thing really, really well, what would that be? And if you tie that back to using books to kind of choose a that thing, it becomes a very safe way to find those opportunities, problems, threats to the team that you might want to surface. And then it's a lot safer way to then go and address it because now it's not you the leader saying, Hey, I think we need to solve this problem.

Steve Arntz:

It's the team saying we need to solve this problem together. And we've chosen this book. We've chosen a guide to help us through the problem. That's not our leader. It's not the leader now lecturing on how to give feedback. It's maybe you know, a research back book on feedback, giving a lecture on how to give feedback and then the leader being able to help support that conversation in a direction that helps solve that problem. So I don't know if I'm answering your question fully Speaker 5, but like, I think you're doing the right thing by identifying, you know, questions that you can ask and seeing how, how the group can give input into the book that they might want to read. And you might also think about how you can tie that to the problems, opportunities, threats for teams, that'll help them to solve the most urgent problems in the context of your business. So

How do we connect with one another through reading

Speaker 6:

Hi Steve.

Steve Arntz:

Hi.

Speaker 6:

Hi. This is, this is good. Thank you. So I was just listening to these because I joined these because I've been one of the people that never really liked book clubs. I have, I've been an avid reader since I was young, but I read for that enjoyment of just isolating myself and sitting with a good book. So for me, trying to be part of a good club, kind of defeats the purpose. Like I don't want the pressure of read three chapters before you come. And then we have to talk about what we read. It almost feels like school. So I never really was interested in a book club until I joined my first book club this month. And the reason is because we had a trivia with the organization, we had a trivia game and it was sort of like a jeopardy kind and informal networking get together virtually.

Speaker 6:

And then we got to talk about this book and there was a lot of good conversation and just people talking about different books that they had read and some of the perspectives and the team is working on health equity. And so then it ended up spinning off from two months ago into a book club where somebody, you know, started it, picked the book and told everybody, you know, if you're interested, we're going to read this. And for me, the reason why I joined it is because it brought up two things for me is I wanted to read more this year. And that's also a book that I want to read because I'm learning, I'm going to learn so much about that book. And then I'm going to talk to people who make it reading that book, which is not a really a fiction reading that book by myself. It will be hard work and you will probably be harder than talking about it with people. So for me, that made the decision easy. Is that, what am I going to get from these? And then what support am I going to get from that group? So I can see the way the statistics you shared at the beginning. I can see why it's going up because I've never been a book club fan. And I find myself joining one and joining this call because I wanted to learn more about that. So

Steve Arntz:

Thank you for sharing Speaker 6 and I have, I have a suggestion for you about a book club to try in the future. Based on your feedback. One of the, my favorite experiences with a book club was one there, there were some women on LinkedIn who posted about wanting to have a book club and I commented on the post and said, it looks like I'm the only, I'm the only male would you guys be willing to let me join anyway, is that okay? And they said, we'd love to have you. And I was thrilled. And so there were a dozen women and me and we show up for lunch at a place and they asked my thoughts. What do you think about choosing a book? And I hadn't gotten into book clubs yet. And I said, well, I, I don't like book clubs very much.

Steve Arntz:

I just wanted to meet other women in the workforce here. And I was excited to learn from all of them and get a new perspective. And, and they said, well, what do you think we should read? And I said, well, I think we were all reading, right? Like, let's go around the room and say the books that we're already reading. And so everybody went around the table and talked about the books they were reading. And I said, well, like, let's just not stop reading the books. We're already reading. Let's meet again in a week around the lunch table. And let's just bring all the insights that we have from the things we're already reading. And what was fantastic about it was that the first person shared about the book, they were reading the insight they gained. And then somebody was like, that relates to my book and they started to share and, and shared an insight there.

Steve Arntz:

And then someone else. And then by the time we were done, all 12 or 13, people had connected every bit. Like these books, all connected, like we're all connected. These books, all of these are connected. There's this like, as we've, as we've been cataloging, all these books for our customers and things, we've been finding that like through the taxonomy we've created and the way that we've created relationships between these books, they're all connected. And so Speaker 6, something that you can do, who, you know, is one that loves to just read what you're reading. You can have a book club with other people who just like to read and then find the connections between the things that you're reading.

Speaker 6:

Yeah. That sounds so much like me right now. What you just described. I love it. Thank you so much for sharing that because I think that's been my struggle with reading. It's like, I read good books. I get excited, but it's like, I can't talk about it with anybody because nobody, I don't know anybody else read it, but I would love to also hear what other people are reading and what they are getting from me, as opposed to putting the pressure on me, to do some reading and come answer some questions about the reading. So thank you.

Steve Arntz:

You're welcome, Speaker 6. Thank you.

Stacia Garr:

I think the thing that's amazing about that is it's kind of the rethinking of what a book club could mean. Right? Historically, it's just been this idea that we, we read one book, everyone reads the same thing, like what Speaker 6 was, was saying. And and that puts a lot of, a lot of pressure. But if instead, it's, you know, whether it's with what Speaker 5 was talking about about the podcast or, or whatever, but then maybe bring some content, some thoughts on some interesting content that you have consumed in the last, you know, week, month, whatever, and share that. And then kind of build a conversation around that. So, I mean, the, the book is just one of many, you know, content mechanisms really. And so this idea of expanding it into a different approach, I think is really attractive.

Steve Arntz:

That's awesome. Stacia thanks. And you can do that by topic. You can say everybody reads something about feedback. Everybody reads something about communication. Everybody reads something about performance management and we'll all come together and share those things. Or you can do it kind of the anti topic of like read something off the beaten path, something that's not in our normal literature, our normal, you know, canon of, of our discipline and then bring those collisions back to the group. And there's just so many different ways that you can choose these books, the content, the topics, but the important thing is that you create purpose around the discussion. And then when people come together, they can have those meaningful interactions.

Stacia Garr:

Yeah, it's interesting. My my master's, my first master's degree was from the London school of Economics and the British approach is very much so like that they call it, you read a degree, not that you like take a degree with predefined things that are in the curriculum. They literally, I remember the first day I got a syllabus that was like this thick, and it was just like, here are the 10 topics we're going to cover in this, this course. And here are all the books we know about in, on these different topics, but you could use else, just read three or four of them and come to class and have something to say. And I remember feeling just completely unhinged, like, what is this going to be like these conversations. I was incredibly nervous and they were some of the best conversations I've ever had because there were so many different perspectives and connections like, like we're talking about. So I think we have to be willing to be a little bit afraid potentially of the lack of structure, because I think the structure will appear.

Steve Arntz:

That's awesome.

What do you define as reading

Speaker 6:

Well, I have one more point that I was going to make about your suggestion of topic. I think it also aligns with, because I think for awhile, I beat myself up because I felt like I wasn't reading. Like I wasn't reading enough, but then I realized I've been going through a phase where all I'm reading is articles. So I'm not reading books as I'm used to, but I've been reading like lots of articles online and research articles. So I think when you, when you make it by topic, it kind of gives people room to be flexible. You know, are you going to pick a book? Are you going to pick an article? Is it a podcast? you listen to, you know, just what have you consumed in the last, whatever you define that you want to talk about? .

Steve Arntz:

Oh, man, two things I want to call attention to first off is the, the term book guilt. Everybody has it. Speaker 6, we all have book guilt. People often ask me if you read all those books behind you and like, what do you think is my response usually? And it's because the answer is no. Like, no, we like to be surrounded by books. We don't read all of them. It's still great to be surrounded by them. We all have book guilt. The next thing is I got to spend some time with the head of the New York public library in New York at one point and asked that person what do you define as reading? And he said, what do you mean? And I, I said like, you know, is, is an audio book reading. And I was there with a friend who I had basically like tried to make feel guilty because he didn't like to read books.

Steve Arntz:

He liked to listen to books. And I said, that's not reading. And so I was asking to kind of prove my point to this friend in front of, you know, the head of the New York public library. And he said, Oh, we, we constitute any consumption of content as reading. You want to look through a picture book, that's reading. You want to listen to a podcast, an audio book that's reading. So I think that what you've just called attention to Speaker 6, is that we need to kind of redefine that for ourselves as well. I've just a kind of interacting with a piece of content that can challenge your perspective, change your view. Any kind of content is great. It's reading, let's, let's call it what it is. So it sounds like somebody came off mute and maybe wanted to share something.

Speaker 5:

Yeah, Steve, I was going to have the same conversation with my Grandma. So she loves physical books and I love audio books. And she, she said, you're not reading.

Speaker 5:

And I said, I said to her, Grandma, if you go back, you know, 1500 years, you know, the printing press wasn't invented. So how did they, how did they transmit ideas through stories? It was orally passed down. So actually I'm doing the authentic way. Anyway, that's my response to your argument.

Group size and participation

Steve Arntz:

If you guys ever want to, if you ever want to see notes on books that are comprehensive and helpful, you'll look at Speaker 5's notes. He's got some pretty intense notes on these audio books that he reads that if you were to read them, maybe you wouldn't even have to read the book because they're so great. I'm going to keep going, talk about group size. So, you know, in a corporate setting, in whatever setting we're having these book clubs, what's the right size for our group. So Davina did some research, eight to 12 is the sweet spot in the consumer area in this remote world that we're in, in the pandemic. Like we found that four to eight is sometimes even better, creates a lot of space for people to have discussions. And it's kind of hard to create the psychological safety and all the conditions needed for a really great vibrant discussion when you get too large.

Steve Arntz:

But I think that it's really about, can you create space for people to share? And there's a lot of interesting dynamics tools that you've, that we've learned, you know, the threaded discussions, like we've talked about that Speaker 4 mentioned you using the roundtable discussions. There's a lot of different ways that you can create that safety in that space for conversation. But the research that she has suggests that eight to 12 is where the highest engagement level occurs. Really quick notes on this. We like to use the phrase, include all the verts introverts extroverts, ambiverts. You've got, if you've been in a book club, you've noticed people who like to talk a lot, like to hear themselves. And then you've noticed people who are just really quiet.

Steve Arntz:

How can you create an inclusive, inclusive environment? The biggest killer of a book club is having an extrovert that's just way too far in terms of how much they want to share. And so if there's somebody who's just always wanting to share, everybody likes to check out and maybe not come back. And so she had done some research on the types of people that get kicked out of book clubs as well in these just kind of private social book clubs. And it's the extrovert that most often gets invited to leave. And so as a facilitator, you can manage those personalities. And then again, like with zoom and with Slack and with teams and all these tools that we have, we have ways to create inclusive environments where people can all be heard and all share regardless of personality. So these are some of the other things she researched.

Book diversity and facilitation

Steve Arntz:

If you want to look into the research, I won't read them all to you. There's a whole bunch of different that go into having a good and effective book club. These are the three that I've decided to focus on. So frequency in a corporate setting every other week seems to be the best from what we found in the private book club setting, it's monthly, usually monthly tends to get people to lose interest in a corporate setting. And weekly tends to get people to say, I'm too busy for that. And so there's this balance somewhere into every two to three weeks or so to be able to have those conversations book diversity is something I'm pretty passionate about at this point. I filled my, my Amazon cart with books about six months ago, and I got to checkout and I had eight books in my cart, and I looked through all of them.

Steve Arntz:

And for whatever reason realized that they were all white male authors. And I was a little bit frustrated with myself and I dumped the whole cart and I went back and found books by people of color and by women. And I think I filled the entire cart with that and said, I am going to, from this day, make sure when I buy books, half of them are from women, people of color and maybe half are from white male authors at, at worst. And I'm going to try to diversify my bookshelf. So I think that this is something we need to be very conscious of in our books in a corporate setting, but in life, generally, these are the perspectives we're challenging ourselves with. I love this book. I don't know why it came to mind, but Invisible Women.

Steve Arntz:

And it's a, it's a research backed book on data bias in a world. designed for men and reading through the, just the first chapter of it, it, it brought tears to my eyes, a thinking like just how much more I need to do to, to challenge my own perspectives and to bring more diverse perspectives into my bookshelf. It's a, it's a space. I control that. And so, you know, I can create a diverse space there. And so think about that as you're bringing books into the workplace especially in, in challenging your teams with these new perspectives and then facilitating makes a huge difference. What we found is that a really, truly great facilitator can create space and bring people into a room if you're not a truly great facilitator. The research even suggests that it might be better to like not try to facilitate, but to just maybe move people through activities and not try to speak and instruct and facilitate because you can actually do more damage as a bad facilitator.

Steve Arntz:

And so, you know, just kind of being self-aware, am I a truly great facilitator, or am I someone who just needs to bring people together around a topic, pose a few questions and be quiet, that can be better in, in many cases than trying to kind of control the room if you will. And then we did our own research. These are all the people we talked to. We've talked to three times as many companies at this point. And all of these companies we talked to about their corporate book clubs. So companies are doing this, it's a, it's a wide-scale mechanic, like a lot of reasons for that. Sometimes these in fact, the most common reason that surprised us was I'm doing this because I don't have a leadership opportunity in my organization. And so I needed to create one for myself. And so I needed to stand up and say, Hey, I'm having a book club who wants to join and then people join.

Steve Arntz:

And then I get to help create structure and meaning in this group and facilitate a discussion and they get to stand up and say, Hey, look, I can be a leader. And that was a really interesting thing. And so, you know, rather than having to have that happen organically, how can we create those opportunities for people, those leadership opportunities and help them to identify something that's a problem to solve, and then maybe organize a book club around that and lead those, those groups together is really meaningful and cool thing. So we basically just started with tell us about your book club. And we got a bunch of stickies, did our qualitative research, and then we organized the stickies and we found out, you know, why are you doing this? And like I said there's learning and development good for the work environment.

Steve Arntz:

And then there, the opportunity to lead improve my leadership skills. We found out why they fail. Maybe they chose the wrong book. We found out about scheduling. So people were meeting, you know, one meeting per book, monthly meeting, one book per quarter. We learned about facilitation tactics, pacing, group selection, book selection. And I'm not gonna spend too much time on all of this. People were using Slack and in tools like Teams and things to help keep the conversation going between sessions. A lot of the effectiveness comes from, you know, are we doing this for a reason or not? And so many of the book clubs were not purposeful other than, yeah, we just need something fun to do in a way to connect. If you can add another layer of purpose, you'll get the fun and connection because the mechanic is fun and it helps you to connect, but doing it with a purpose helps to to amplify magnify those benefits of fun and connection as well.

How to host a Book Club that doesn't suck 

Steve Arntz:

Plus people will stay engaged. The place where attendance was the greatest was when there was an engaged facilitator. And so the facilitator cared, followed up whether or not they were truly magnificent at creating space in a discussion was less important than whether they were engaged in caring about the thing happening and making sure everybody knew it was important. And so, you know, I did a webinar that was how to host a corporate book club that doesn't suck. And so this was the slide in that webinar. Okay. Just tell me how to run one that doesn't suck. And this is one that isn't great. You pick the latest best seller. So I just go to the New York times bestseller list, pick one in the top 10. That looks interesting to me, ask if everybody wants to read it with me, and then I invite everyone to join.

Steve Arntz:

I put bold on everyone because inviting everyone can be good. I think that in the, in the case where I said that the company is reading, I am Malala together. It's because it's a corporate value it's because they all need to get a perspective and an opinion on what it means to do good in the workplace. If, if that's not the purpose, then you might consider a different invite list. There's a book by Priya Parker called The Art of Gathering. That's fantastic. And, and she emphasizes the importance of who you don't include. And so there are powerful and meaningful book clubs where women get together to develop a perspective on how to be strong women in the workplace. And so maybe they exclude men from that book club and that's okay. But be purposeful about that invite list and think about who you want to join based on the purpose of the discussion that you're trying to have the most common question is what did you think about the book?

Steve Arntz:

And that's the quickest way to get off, off purpose and topic? You might have somebody who lands specifically on what that purpose was. And I would call that luck. It's better to ask a purposeful question that brings people into the room. One of my favorite examples of questions is when that Speaker 4 came up with, for our book club and we were reading the book How to Be an Antiracist after the, the events that occurred in the spring of last year. And the question that she asked the group was when was a time that you felt more than, or less than someone else. And can you share that? And we all thought for probably about five minutes and then shared those experiences about when we felt more than, or less than someone else. That is a much better question than what did you think about the book?

Steve Arntz:

It is on purpose, it's on message with the book. And it brings everybody together into a meaningful discussion that they're kind of United around as opposed to just a free for all around. What did you think? And then, you know, the fire dies in these cases. One that's great is when you declare double purpose. So we are reading how to be an anti-racist so that we can develop our own unique perspectives about the world that we live in, and we can bring that to our work and we can challenge ourselves to do and be better. That's a better purpose than well, we're just, we want to read together, you know, we want to connect with each other. Selecting a book together. We've talked about this already. I feel like you've gotten some insights on how to host meaningful discussions, capturing insights and taking action if the purpose aligns with that. So, you know, some, sometimes it is because we're trying to take action, trying to make change.

Steve Arntz:

We want to be more creative as a team was an example I used. Sometimes it's just because we want to connect. And so you might not want to take notes and take action in those cases. So here, just refresh your gathered with purpose, find or be a great host, owning the space, thinking about the technology and tools that you have available and how you can leverage them, how it can be better than in-person is always my challenge for people. And then include all of the personalities be inclusive in your efforts with these things. So before we jump into the questions on I'll, I'll just stop, pause, see if there's any other thoughts or questions before we talk about the two questions that were in the slides.

Speaker 4:

This is going back a while, but to your point about how this can be better, how it can be better virtually than in person. One of the things that I didn't really think about until just today is that we're all sitting in our own homes in our own already safe spaces which might influence it, could help people feel more comfortable speaking up. There's I noticed with one of, one of my colleagues that she, she considers herself a sort of a private person that doesn't share much. But she, she and I ended up talking about some really personal stuff over zoom that I don't think we would have talked about had we been in the same room physically? And so, so I think it's really interesting in book clubs, particularly in, when you're thinking about safe spaces that nobody is a guest in anyone else's space in this environment, they're already in their own, their own space.

Steve Arntz:

I think there's some powerful ways we can emphasize or amplify that a little bit as well. Everybody thinks I'm in this perfect space, right? It's a color-coded bookshelf, right? And I think that there's a barrier I can break down now and I'll do it right now by showing you the rest of my space. I'm tucked in the corner on a folding table that I got from Costco. That's really cheap and crappy so that I can project this perfect space to you because I own a company that is centered around books and connections. And so I need this backdrop, right. But where am I really well I'm in my basement. There's a TV over there. Books. There's some chairs. There's like a little mattress there that guests sleep on. Sometimes when they come, I've got this white board there, it's really just like this shower board that I bought from home Depot.

Steve Arntz:

And you can see my kids' drawings all over it. And then you can see my closet. That's overflowing with a mess. And I've got like this really crappy parking space here that we haven't replaced. And then here's my desk. This is my real desk. This is where I work a Snickers wrapper. Cause I didn't have time yesterday to eat a good lunch. And I've got this nice elevator desk, like this is a $700 desk. Why am I not sitting at that desk? Well, because I need you guys to think that I'm, you know, a credible CEO of a book space company. Right.

Speaker 6:

I almost feel like what you just showed us is the prop.

Stacia Garr:

Yeah.

Steve Arntz:

Yeah. It's awesome. Right. and so I think like what you mentioned, Speaker 4 is awesome and powerful. And I think when I've done, what I just did with other people it's, it's broken down barriers and created safety and like, yeah, this is my space. This is who I am. What's your status?

Stacia Garr:

Building on Speaker 4's point, one other thing that potentially is a benefit of this virtual environment is you don't have some of the, I think maybe the weird it's not necessarily weird, but the social dynamics that go along like, Oh, I'm going to the book club with Speaker 4, or I don't know anybody at this book club and who am I going to sit next to? And like, what that, what's that going to be? Right. You don't have to deal with kind of that. And I think that for some people particularly kind of, some of us we're introverted folks that can, that can be enough. That would keep me from going to a book club. I'd be like, yeah, I read it, but I don't need to go do that.

Steve Arntz:

I love that so much. And it's it begs questions for me about, do we ask people to turn on their cameras? Do we ask people to come off mute? What are the norms that we want to create there? And I am one who's like anxious when everybody's not on video. Right. And I've over time, gotten more comfortable with the fact that what you just mentioned, like it's safe now to come because I can, I can turn off my video. I can go on mute. I can just listen. Maybe I'm not feeling it today, but I do want, I do want to be there, but I don't want to have to participate today. I'm having a tough day, but I want to listen. Right. And so I think that we need to be careful with those norms and create the right safe space around that. And then, and then we get the benefits that you're talking about, but being able to show up, even if I'm not at my best today or whatever. And then there are, are ways to bring people in when you do need to, so you might say, Hey, we're going to go into breakout rooms and every is going to be in pairs. I would invite everybody to come off mute and turn on their video, at least for this moment. And then when we get back together in the large group, you know, mute it and turn it back off and we can be safe again, that sort of thing. So lots of things to think about in that regard.

Conclusion

Stacia Garr:

Yeah. Well, I know we are at time. Well you, you basically answered all the questions, so that's why I didn't push us to go to the questions. So so I think we, we took care of that. I want to first say thank you to everyone who came today. I think we, this was something that I didn't know much about and have learned a ton from Steve and I hope you did, as well. And then just want to be sure to say thank you so much to Steve for spending some time educating us all. I think we all have learned a lot. We've kind of talked about Dani and me if maybe if we want to start a RedThread book club, but Steve, your comments about like the purpose and why we would do it made me think, okay, well we need to spend a little more time on this and discuss it a bit more. So I think maybe I'll take that as an action item for our team in, see if that's something that we want to do. And then for those of you who are on the line, who are not with RedThread, we'll, we'll reach out and see if you want to want to join. And once we have a clear sense of our purpose, so it seems like that's step number one. Cool. Well, thank you everybody. And have a great rest of your day.

 

 

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Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

Stacia is a Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research and focuses on employee engagement/experience, leadership, DE&I, people analytics, and HR technology. A frequent speaker and writer, her work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as in numerous HR trade publications. She has been listed as a Top 100 influencer in HR Technology and in D&I. Stacia has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

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