Burlesque, red dust, sexual and mental health, fun, connection – and cocktails!


December 7th, 2014

photo 2 225x300 Burlesque, red dust, sexual and mental health, fun, connection   and cocktails!While I’m on about inspiring, how about this? The Channel Country Ladies Day.

Also on ABC’s Landline. You can watch it here.

Women who live and work in isolated communities and properties in rural Queensland come together for a girls’ weekend. There’s everything you’d expect from a girls’ weekend: pampering, cocktails, talking, eating, shopping – and a whole lot more: burlesque dancing, body painting, talks about sexual and mental health. Plus I get an excuse to use a pic of an espresso martini in a blog post.

I love the idea of this.

I love how it’s a bit edgy.

All that’s missing is some improv!

The power in performance


December 7th, 2014

josh01 The power in performanceJosh Arnold is a country music singer, songwriter and seemingly all-round good Aussie bloke. His story was featured on Landline – an ABC program that features stories of Australian agriculture, and rural life. You can watch it here. 

He brings music into classrooms – at all levels – helping kids connect to music, gain confidence, write songs that are relevant to them, and to perform. He’s developed the Small Town Culture workshops to celebrate small town culture. There’s even a Small Town Culture YouTube channel.

How great is it that kids, in school, are learning about music, about celebrating their local lives, and about performing?

Inspiring.

The meaning of words


December 3rd, 2014

Wordle Applet 1024x563 The meaning of wordsMusing over the meaning of these words – play, playfulness, game, activity, ice-breaker and warm-up – I invited others to share their understanding. Even with a sample size of 14 responses*, there’s some interesting insights regarding word meanings and the use of language when facilitating. here’s what i discovered.

Some people gave meanings for each word, others took the words as a collective and said what they mean to them: eg “Fun, sharing and the unknown”; “getting together and learning from having fun”. So there’s my first insight:

Even instructions are interpreted differently

That’s not to say everyone should interpret instructions the same way (unless it’s the safe operation of a chainsaw). There’s something interesting and unexpected about what emerges from different interpretations of instructions. Plus, who am I to know the ‘best’ or ‘right’ way of doing an activity?

A word with no context can be taken many different ways

Play, for example can be a verb (activities done primarily for leisure or enjoyment), a noun (a theatrical performance), or an object (the button you push to start a DVD player). This really drove home the point for me that, as facilitators, we may use words that mean a certain thing to us, but may be interpreted quite differently by others. It’s a clue, I think, to talk less, and do more.

There was no agreement on what these words mean, because ‘meanings are slippery’

Thanks to the person who alerted me to this. I understand what I mean when I use a particular word, you may understand something completely different. I remember an animated argument I once had with a US journalist about ‘organic’ agriculture. After a while, I asked him what he meant by ‘organic’ and we discovered that what I understood to be ‘organic’ he understood as ‘biodynamic’: related yes, but somewhat different. We sometimes need to clarify and negotiate what we mean when we use various words. And sometimes we need to be open to accepting a different, or changed, meaning to the one we had in mind.

Our experiences and influencers shape our understanding

“I didn’t come all this way to play games!” said a manager in one of my workshops. In his mind ‘play’ and ‘game’ had a particular meaning, and place. And it certainly wasn’t in a facilitated workshop. A colleague is very clear that a ‘game’ is something that has rules, winners and losers. If it’s a collaborative, group game then, in his mind, it’s not a ‘game’, it’s an activity. A hunter would have a different understanding of ‘game’ eg a wild animal; and game can be used as an adjective ‘are you game to do that?’

Language is an abstraction and representative

The words I type here reflect my thoughts, they are not my thoughts. The word ‘chair’ is not a chair. At least a chair is a concrete object that I can point to, touch, feel, and sit in – even though there are many different types of chairs. Abstract language, which crops up a lot in workshops, is even harder to deal with: communication, strategy, best practice etc. and is fraught with danger.

Meaning can be sucked out of words

Don Watson, in his book, Weasel Words (2004), talks about ‘sucking the meaning out of words’. “This is a language without possibility. It cannot convey humour, fancy, feelings, nuance, or the varieties of experience…This dead, depleted, verbless jargon is becoming the language of daily life. The death of language is not being brought about by absent commas, and misplaced apostrophes, or even by neglected grammar. Foolish as that neglect is, the real disease is in the system…it is there in the cant of competitive advantage and human resources management, transparency, accountability: in the clichés, consumer, client, key, core, going forwards, at the end of the day, outcomes-based. It is there in the pompous lunacy of management jargon which reaches from the world’s biggest corporations and government agencies…to primary schools where children now use PowerPoint in English presentations and are taught to call the conclusions of their history essays product.”

We can have an emotional reaction to particular words

And usually it’s not a good reaction – these words close us down. You probably know what yours are. If someone tells me in a workshop that ‘communication is the problem’ I inwardly sigh and immediately wish I were somewhere else; if someone suggest a SWOT analysis I want to scream. These words trigger a response in me. They may be completely benign to others. In his recent AFN post, Peter Rennie, talks about ‘taboo’ words and muses as to what makes them taboo. Is it because they are ‘shadow’ words, words that remind us of something we’d rather forget or ignore? Interesting question.

What’s all this got to do with facilitating?

Language is a form of power. Don Watson (2003) again: “Public language that defies normal understanding is, as Primo Levi wrote, ‘an ancient repressive artifice, known to all churches, the typical vice of our political class, the foundation of all colonial empires’. They will tell you it is in the interests of leadership, management, efficiency, stakeholders, the bottom line or some democratic imperative, but the public language remains the language of power. It has its origins in the subjection or control of one by another.”

As facilitators we need to cultivate our ability to sniff out weasel words and to challenge them. In a workshop someone suggested ‘business as usual’ was needed. This is a meaningless term to me, so I probed a bit more. What they really wanted to say was ‘we need to honour our existing commitments’. Still not great, but at least better than ‘business as usual’.

And we also need to be aware of our own facilitation weasel words. There’s a great hash tag on Twitter #shitfacilitatorssay. I cringe every time, seeing myself using ‘facilitator’ language.

It pays to be vigilant – to notice the language others use, to notice the language we use, to be aware of the power of language, and to sometimes let go of language altogether and tap into more embodied experiences of sharing.

* To be perfectly clear, this is definitely not a scientific study – it was a random on-line question to facilitator groups with the invitation to share what these words mean to them.

References

Don Watson (2003) Death sentence; the decay of public language, Random House, Sydney.

Don Watson (2004) Watson’s dictionary of weasel words, contemporary clichés, cant and management jargon, Random House, Sydney.

Where ‘YES!’ leads


November 18th, 2014

Dice 300x187 Where YES! leadsEarly mornings are not my best time. People I used to work with joked that no-one should talk to me before 10 am. Bit rough, I reckon. So you will understand that dragging myself out of bed at 5 am to attend breakfast meetings in Melbourne, was, well, a touch out of character (this included about 2 hours’ of travel). There was a group called the Creative Performance Exchange hosting events each month that were edgy, different and intriguing. Unsurprisingly, it also attracted some very interesting people. Fast forward a couple of years and four of us who met at these meetings remain good friends. Despite different backgrounds and trajectories, we all find ourselves in a similar space right now – specifically interested in new and different ways of doing business. We’re all enthusiastic about games in their myriad forms: physical games, on-line games, improvisational games, participatory games, serious games, drinking games. Okay, maybe not drinking games…

PC070708 300x248 Where YES! leadsSaying yes to coffee, years ago, after a CPX gathering has led to this: a collaborative offering of a half-day experiential games event in Melbourne. That’s the four of us who will be hosting the event in the picture.

Will you say ‘YES’?

Games hold huge potential – for engagement, for tackling undiscussibles, for creating, designing, innovating, all while having fun. Alexander Kjerulf has been an advocate for happiness at work for a long time. And has built a successful business around just that.

Pablo Saurez works in the serious world of humanitarian aid. He uses games to ‘wake people up’ and to make some of the complexity around humanitarian decision-making more accessible. He describes it as moving from ‘Huh?’ to ‘Ah-ha!’

Don’t take our word though, or their word.

Come and find out for yourself what all the fuss is about games in business.

Thursday, December 11th. Book here.

Birdwatching from my desk


November 18th, 2014

photo 1 300x225 Birdwatching from my deskGlancing just a little to my left of my computer screen, I can see, through my office window, one of the bird baths in our garden. It is an endless source of joy for me.

This morning I saw four different species using the bath at the same time: Grey Fantails, Red-browed Finches, Brown Thornbills and another unidentified SBB (small brown bird). When the New Holland Honeyeaters come to the bath, they frighten all the others away. They often come in raucus groups, all sitting on the edge chittering away madly and diving into the water. The much larger Red-wattle Bird visits alone, perches on the edge, looking around and then dives in sideways for a single dip and flies away. It will return a few times, repeating the procedure.

photo 1 copy 300x176 Birdwatching from my deskThe Crimson Rosellas nearly always visit in pairs or family groups. There seems to be a hierarchy. The highest ranking bird will bathe first while the others hang around calling and waiting their turn. The Blue Wrens visit whenever they want, and when the Magpies decide to splash vigourously in the birdbath, it quickly empties of water. Nothing compares to the sound of the Grey Shrike-thrush as it calls from the nearby trees. And if the Grey Butcherbird decides to visit, with it’s clear, melodious call, and treacherous beak and murderous intent, all the other birds take cover.

Simple pleasures.

When improvisation meets Open Space


October 29th, 2014

IMGP3277 214x300 When improvisation meets Open SpaceThere are few things that have influenced my way of working – and way of living – as much as Open Space and Improvisation. And it’s not so much what they represent, as the people they have enabled me to meet, befriend, and learn from.

I also see Open Space as improvisation in action. So I was thrilled to read this from one of the best and most respected improvisers on the planet, Rebecca Stockley. She was writing about a workshop she’s planning for newcomers at the annual Applied Improvisation Conference, coming up soon in Austin, Texas.

“I’m leading the Pre-Conference Workshop for our new-comers and would love to incorporate your ideas. Some of the ideas I am addressing so far include:

Create your own adventure
Learn – bring your Curiosity
Share – bring your generosity
Honor yourself – Law of Two Feet
Connect – Make new friends
Let your partner change you and Make your partner look good.”

Did you see that? “Honor yourself – Law of Two Feet”.

Yes. Yes.Yes.

Idea Bounce


October 19th, 2014

What do you get when you combine a mini one of these with a mini one of these? I call it an Idea Bounce (new process alert).

Inspired by TrampolineDay and Open Space – it’s what to do when you don’t have time for either of those processes. I had about 75 minutes, a group of about 20 people, and an obvious need to talk about lots of stuff. I knew this because, well, I was observant, and also because people kept coming up to me and asking if they could “just have a couple of minutes to talk about X”

I’m not a fan of one-to-many, or whole group, processes, especially when people are physically together in the same space. There’s too much scope for just a few to dominate, both the discussion and the agenda, and to get bogged down in details. Soon enough, the devices emerge and people start to disengage.

I think Idea Bounce is a cool alternative.

Here’s how it works. Mark 3 or 4 spaces in the room (keeping people in the same room maintains the energy, and you don’t lose time walking to other rooms or spaces. Just another reason to have as large a room as possible, and to get rid of the tables!). Decide if you want three 20-minutes sessions or two 30-minute sessions. In this case I chose four spaces (A,B,C and D) and two 30-minute sessions. After all, I’d never done this before so had no idea how it would work.

I drew the grid on a whiteboard and titled it “Stuff I want to talk about…”

And here’s the best bit (that I learned from TrampolineDay). I created a pitch box, designated with masking tape on the floor, just big enough for one person. To get one of the slots on the grid, you had to step into the pitch box and announce your idea. This did two things. First, it made people get up and commit to stepping in and announcing what it was they wanted to talk about, and secondly, only one person could pitch at a time. The grid filled within minutes, and then people got to work.

*pats self on back*

Why I broke up with TED


October 19th, 2014

I’ve broken up with TED.

We had a short, but intense relationship. We never met face-to-face. We’d meet on-line. I devoured much of what TED said. I became a TED Associate. I’d receive gifts in the mail – books that I would never have read otherwise, and games. I used to be so delighted when TED’s gifts arrived. TED knew stuff. Lots of stuff. I couldn’t get enough of TED.

I dallied with TED’s offshoot TEDx. It didn’t end well. I felt alone, like an outsider. There were a few moments of “Wow, what a great story!” but in the end it wasn’t enough. Eventually I realised I was just one of many. TED was one, talking to many. I want, and need, more than that.

I still listen to TED occasionally. It’s nice to reminisce. TED seems to be doing just fine without me.

Onward!

The cause, and solution, to all our problems


October 19th, 2014

Tin Can telephone 300x199 The cause, and solution, to all our problemsIt’s inevitable. In every movement, organisation, group, and relationship the villain is often communication. And the saviour.

“The problem is communication.”

“The solution to our problem is better communications.”

I hear variations of these all the time. Hell, I’ve even said it myself.

It means something different every time. While the situation, the participants, and the needs vary, what  I think sits behind the communications paradox is this.

Communications becomes a proxy for relationships. It’s easier to blame ‘communications’, especially if someone else is responsible, than acknowledge an underlying cause. It takes time, effort, and some vulnerability, to build relationships, to admit there’s stuff you don’t know, to listen to a diversity of views, and to be changed by the people you work with. It’s probably not on anyone’s performance plan or stated as a KPI.

Work towards better communications. Yes. And don’t forget better relationships as well.

How to do more of what works


October 15th, 2014

Funny how things come together sometimes – an online course about decision-making in complexity and uncertainty, a book about being an astronaut, a workshop on social labs, and an exhibition on making animated movies. I didn’t plan it this way, it just happened, and now I have something to write about.

I’m reading Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. If you don’t know who Chris Hadfield is he’s a Canadian astronaut who played a modified guitar and sang Rocket Man while orbiting the Earth on the MIR space station.

The gist of his book is to ‘be ready’. He maintains that sometimes, the things we want don’t always happen, but if they do, it’s good to be ready. It enables us to take advantage of good planning, serendipity, the unexpected and luck.

Putting humans into space requires good planning. In fact it requires more than that, it requires meticulous, detailed planning and implementation. Any stuff-ups could result in disaster and loss of life.

Another book I’m reading is The Social Labs Revolution: A New Approach to Solving Our Most Complex Challenges by Zaid Hassan. I went to a workshop hosted by Zaid and he said this: “There are some common characteristics of complex systems: they are emergent and inherently unpredictable; there’s lots and lots of information, making it hard, if not impossible to keep up with all of the information available; and adaptation is needed, we change our behaviour based on emergence and information.” Much of my work is in this realm – I’ve yet to work with astronauts, and I’m ready if they ever come calling! The environment, natural resources, poverty, human rights – these are all complex, and demand the best we can give. Our response to the uncertainty we face is to plan. But we can’t plan fast enough – the situation has changed even before the ink has dried, new information is coming at us faster than we could hope to absorb it.

Should we throw away the plan? Probably not. Though I do quite like that idea. We might want to take a leaf out of the animator’s book instead. What a fabulous, inspiring exhibition at ACMI in Melbourne: Dreamworks Animation. They come up with ideas for a character and then make them, first as a drawing, then in clay, then in wood. Each iteration reveals something new about what works and what doesn’t.  Then there’s storyboarding – telling the story with pictures, each board a minute detail, some survive, many don’t, most change. Again they are physical. There was 100,000 A5 storyboards for the original Kung Fu Panda movie (2008).

If you’re doing something complicated, like building a bridge or sending humans into space, plan carefully. Please.

In this complex, changing, uncertain world the biggest killer to innovation, change, creativity, and maybe even success is the attitude of business as usual and “we’ve always done it this way.” While you’ve been doing things the way you’ve always done them, the world has changed. Try this instead – inspired by astronauts, animators and the Social Labs revolution!

If you’re doing something complex, like community engagement or saving the planet, be ready. Be ready for what might emerge, for the unexpected. Be ready, and flexible enough, to take advantage of serendipity, coincidence and opportunities. Learn stuff. Even if you think you’ll never get a chance to use it. Prototype. Talk about ideas, with anyone who will listen, write them down, AND try them out, see if they survive contact with the real world. If the idea sucks you’ll find out sooner rather than later, before you have invested too much, then you can try another idea. Do more of what works. Stop doing what doesn’t work to make room for more experimentation to find more of what works.