Back in the early 80's, I, with friends started a user group called the "Culture Club" as a safe place away from our respective employers to discuss issues important to us in our work -- how to ensure that technology had a positive impact on people and their organizations. At the time I started this, I was a management systems consultant at SRI International -- one of the first women to join a group of older men, most of whom had been CIO's in major corporations. They weren't willing to just have free-flowing discussions about what really works when introducing new technologies. We needed that safe, non-judgmental place where we didn't have to be experts, but could truly explore and develop our thinking. The group was comprised of practitioners, product people, lawyers, researchers, and consultants from Apple, Bechtel, Institute for the Future, Intel, HP, McKesson, SRI International, Stanford University and more from Silicon Valley in the 80's. The picture below was a typical scene of our discussions at a members' home. A few members: Jim Bair (SRI and later Gartner), Paul Saffo (IFTF), Bonnie Johnson (Intel at the time and later Interval), Dot Allen (IDC), Charlie Hoerner (McKesson) among others. Since most of us now are in our late sixties / early seventies, sad to say not all still living but still a part of my memories.
I can't tell you how valuable this group was to me -- started in 1983 and lasting well into this century, although it did morph from the Culture Club -- focused mostly on technology implementation to the Learning Community -- focused mostly on organizational learning and systems thinking. What made it work so well, I think was that we were truly a collaborative discussion group -- no leaders, no sales pitches, no speakers, no smoking, and as the article says no chicken divan. We always had an administrator who kept it running with monthly notifications, collections of dues (not much but funded our parties), maintenance of the mailing list, and postage (yeah....we didn't initially use email), etc. We talked, we ate, we drank, we learned from each other and took our learning back to our respective jobs. We even got speaking gigs and spun off at least one consulting / training group (Catalyst).
We were all techies, but deeply concerned about key technology issues, some of which never change as a focus although the technology has changed: literacy (about continuously and innovatively adapting evolving technologies to evolving needs), ergonomics (back in the 80's that was a key topic as people who didn't use technology turned more and more to desktop computers and had to design effective work spaces), integration (back then, a lot about the issues of early networking and integrating data and text), and change management. And mastering change and it's impact on people was the key theme that concerned us most -- some things never change, eh?
Click on the two pages to actually see the entire article. Good stuff in there for today too with the last refrain being -- we will always want more high touch and less high tech, and we all got it from each other.