On being a novice – again


August 18th, 2014

edge.001 300x225 On being a novice   againThere’s an activity I sometimes use with groups to find out what expertise is lurking amongst the participants: it asks people to nominate themselves as a novice, practitioner, expert or ninja for a particular skill or knowledge of a particular topic.

There’s a lot of kudos given to being an expert yet for me I revel in being a novice. That’s because it means I’m learning something new. It also reminds me what it feels like to be a novice. I’ve written before about the Curse of Knowledge here and you can read/see an explanation here. When I’m training people in facilitation skills, it’s worth remembering what it’s like to be a learner, to be unsure, and a bit tentative.

I’m learning a new way of facilitating ‘inhabitable’ games. I’ve read a lot, I’ve taken part in the games, I’ve attended training, I’ve spoken with others, I’ve gathered my materials, written my own notes. I’m now ready to do it – the only way I know to really learn something new.

It’s both exciting and daunting to be a novice – again. And I love that feeling of being on my learning edge. That’s where all the greatest discoveries happen.

Onward!

 

Change, and strategy, and creativity – another take


July 29th, 2014

I love this! Change as creating. Did I mention how much I love this?

Congratulations to Karen Dawson, Julie Huffaker, Ian Prinsloo, Sarah Moyle, Andrea Grant and Leonardo Spinedi, and Laila Woozeer. Lucky people to have had the opportunity to work and play with each other and at the fabulous Banff Center in Canada. Jealous? Just a little icon smile Change, and strategy, and creativity   another take

The games we play


July 10th, 2014

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of games, play and movement. Recently I attended a MASHLM Humanitarian Summer School in Lugana, Switzerland. It was three days exploring games for humanitarian and development work led by Pablo Saurez from the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre and Eric Gordon from the Harvard University Engagement Game Lab. And a special callout to Paulo Gonçalves, Founder and Director of MASHLM, who made it possible for me to attend.

Imagine sitting around a table playing a game with your friends – preferably a fairly complicated game requiring you to make decisions without knowing the consequences. You take turns, maybe throw the dice, pick up cards, make choices, invest valuable resources aka beans. There’s time pressure – make a choice NOW! You have to stand, or stay seated, according to your choice. No going back. No changing your mind, no prevaricating. There’s winners, and losers, each round, and sometimes you get stuck with nowhere to go – you’re out of resources or out of options.

Now add a facilitator, a games master, who keeps the game moving, counts down the time left for your decisions, and occasionally offers options, that might, or might not be helpful, depending on your situation. Add a time limit for the whole game – say 10 rounds, representing 10 years. It’s not a race-to-the-end game (first past the post wins), this is a more subtle game, where there are still winners and losers at the end, some more so than others. There’s an element of chance, of luck, and there’s an element of understanding the consequences of our decisions. And it’s fun.

This type of game is known as a system dynamic modeling game that helps us to understand complexity. The game I described above is called Paying for Predictions and is a game about the cost, value and use of early warnings. It forces players to grapple with the shifting chances of disaster as they decide whether or not to invest in forecast-based flood preparedness.

Compare that to a powerpoint presentation on the same topic.

The important thing about this game, and many of the others developed by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre – dubbed participatory games for the ‘new normal’ – is that they are based on the underlying science. They are not just ‘made up’. They reflect what really happens in the world. Post-game discussions are inclusive and reach depths rarely seen in more traditional approaches to sharing complex scientific principles, not the least because the game provides participants with a shared experience and a shared language to talk about abstract concepts such as predictions, probability, preparedness, risk and resource allocation. It also levels the playing field between experts and practitioners, and I suspect, opens up pathways for more constructive dialogue. And it’s emotional. You feel, in a real, visceral way, what it’s like to make choices.

While this type of game can easily be lumped with all other games, especially by nay-sayers, it’s quite a different experience to playing games on-line (even multi-player games) or playing physical games that facilitate interactions and discovery.

Pablo Saurez explains why gameplay beats powerpoint: “There needs to be an obstacle. Games can plant a level of confusion (huh?) and provide a sequence of interesting choices that builds curiosity, leading to the joy in the brain of figuring it out (Ah-Ha!). Powerpoint gives you nothing to guess about – the work has been done by the presenter.”

I still have lots to learn, and I’m excited about the potential of these sorts of games, especially when there is a big power differential in groups, when there’s no one ‘right’ answer, and the concepts are wrapped in impenetrable language.

As part of the course in Lugano we developed our own games, and that too was an interesting experience. We quickly learned that what makes sense on paper, or in our heads, may not work in practice. We discovered that too many rules make it harder to play. We discovered that too much realism can get in the way. We were exploring an uncertainty/complexity game around climate change and had focused on farmers. We kept getting stuck in conversations about what farmers would/or would not do in reality. We were going around in circles seemingly getting nowhere (I actually suspect this is an important part of game design) until we decided to ditch the farmers and focus on squirrels! It was a throw-away idea that saved the day – a classic example of yes-anding. We still had investments in infrastructure, diversification of crops (in this case, nuts), we still had external influences, and making decisions with limited knowledge, as well as climate probability data, in the game. It’s just that it was about squirrels in the forest, collecting different types of nuts, building nests and being threatened by deforestation and climate variability.

Other teams developed games on sustainable fishing quotas, and coordination of humanitarian providers after a disaster.

Fun games about serious topics? You bet!

Questions and answers


May 18th, 2014

Finding the right answer, or even the best answer, was rewarded when I went to school. Admittedly, that was a long time ago. I’ve spent the rest of my life learning how to ask questions. Answers can be satisfying (giving and receiving) – in the same way that sugar is satisfying. They provide fleeting satisfaction, whereas questions can linger for years. Good questions, probing questions, questions that challenge, even scare us, can nourish us for a lifetime.

I’m spending some time in Oxford and Cambridge – places that are infused with questions. There seems to be a right of passage, from studying, exams (getting the right answers), graduating, celebrating (there’s a lot of that going on right now) and then some enter research. Researching in science and the humanities, asking unanswerable questions, looking for answers anyway, surfacing new questions. Insights, even some answers, seem to emerge from curiosity and operating at the edge, looking for, or more likely, stumbling across, intersections between disciplines.

“Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world…they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds — justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind.”
Anne Rice

Onward.

Who me? Yes. You are your own best resource


May 16th, 2014

Over the years I have learnt and collected lots of processes, activities, a few frameworks, ideas and games. When facilitating, I draw on these choosing what I think might be best for this group at this time to do this task. Here’s the question I get asked most often: “How do you choose?” The answer, which is somewhat underwhelming and I suspect disappointing, is that I am guided by what’s happening, what people are saying, the questions they are asking, and what I suspect might be useful at this time.

My greatest asset is believing in myself – and that I will know what to do when the time comes. I believe I am my own best resource. As are you.

Bringing a festival mindset to conferences


March 26th, 2014

P3251146 300x132 Bringing a festival mindset to conferencesIt seems that conferences are as popular as ever. Yet many of them are stuck in some kind of conference void, wherever any innovation or creativity is talked about rather than enacted. Why do gamification / improvisation / creativity conferences and events, mostly, not use the principles they espouse for others in their own event design?

As I  sat in a crowded room recently listening to John Hagel  talk for about 45 minutes about the Power of Pull followed by a question and answer session, I pondered what an event designed around pull would look like. It seemed to me that a talk, as good as it might be, followed by Q and A, is a push model.

People are still flocking to conferences, to talks, to celebrity chef presentations, to book readings, to Do Lectures, to The School of Life, and TED talks. We are hungry, but for what? Ideas, engagement, connection, a good old-fashioned chin wag? I suspect we want this, and more.

photo 300x224 Bringing a festival mindset to conferencesThe other growth area is festivals. Opportunities to have a shared experience. White Night festivals, Burning Man, music festivals, Mardi Gras, street parties, comedy festivals, Improv Everywhere and all manner of flash mobs.

You don’t need me to tell you the difference between conferences and festivals.

We want more than ideas – we want adventure, experiences, to challenge and be challenged, and to act on our own ideas, as well as others’.

What would an event that combined the best of both look like?

 

Turn taking


March 25th, 2014

The advantage in doing some research into applied improv is that I’m reading a lot – especially books that have sat on my bookshelf, largely unread for a long time. The disadvantage is that i get distracted easily and end up writing blog posts!

In The Improv Handbook by Tom Salinsky and Deborah Frances-White, subtitled The ultimate guide to improvising in comedy, theatre, and beyond (no shrinking violets here) I was struck by a comment on turn taking.

Children approach playing games, or doing exercises or being given the chance to try something new, very differently from adults. Children approach these situations with one mission, and that mission is to have lots of turns. They sometimes actually rate their success that way, saying something like “I had four turns and Charlie only had three – I win!”

Adults are very different. We want to sit back, assess – from our seats! – whether we’d be any good at the task in question. If we think we’d be successful at it, then and only then will we want a turn. If we think it is something we would not be good at, we usually prefer to have no turn at all.

Children want lots of turns, but adults just want one perfect turn.

This is worth remembering. I don’t have any answers to this dilemma. It’s another interesting question to emerge from researching applied improv.

It doesn’t take much


March 24th, 2014

It doesn’t take much to do things differently. It doesn’t take much to influence others. And it doesn’t take much to break out of entrenched habits.

It just takes a nudge.

Forget advice. Forget complicated instructions and planning. Just nudge, yourself, or others, to try something a little different.

Here’s a few for you to try to bring your next meeting to life.

Turn off the data projector. You know your stuff. Talk with the audience, instead of at them.

Having a small group discussion and it’s not going anywhere? Are you sitting down? Stand up. Are you already standing? Walk around.

You’re stuck in a plenary vortex. Ask people to talk in pairs, then fours, then in groups of eight. Encourage people to talk with each other.

Use all parts of the room. Do one activity from the ‘front’ of the room, the next from the ‘back’ of the room or another corner.

What nudges have you tried?

 

But what would you do instead?


February 19th, 2014

That hoary (yes, I like to use archaic words sometimes, it sets the scene for the post I’m writing) old saying (and yes, I know hoary and old mean the same thing and so this is a tautology – it’s about emphasis) , “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is often used as an excuse to not change something. When it comes to meetings, workshops, conferences the saying might as well be “If it is broke, don’t fix it.”

I guess whether something is broken or not is a matter of opinion.  I’ve noticed that many people want to do something different but don’t know what or how. These are some approaches that I think are definitely past their use-by date, and some suggestions on alternatives.

Breaking into small groups, doing some task, then coming back to a plenary session and reporting back. Argghhhh…(and yes, there have been times when, against my best judgment, I’ve agreed to this. It’s usually when I’ve been worn down and lost the will to live. And if that wasn’t quite true before reporting back, it certainly is afterwards!)

This comes from school. The teacher has a responsibility to check the work done by her students, and it’s a good thing to learn to be able to stand up in front of a group and speak. Workshops are not school. What’s that? The reporting back allows everyone in the group to hear what the other groups have done. There might be something really important. What do you notice about your own reactions when in this type of session? Depending on the circumstances there may be no value to any reporting back at all. Ask yourself why is there a need for reporting back? How will it benefit the group? How will it benefit the reason the group is meeting? Johnnie has written about the perils of the plenary here.

Instead – send someone from each group to ‘spy’ on the other groups and bring back their ideas; pass one group’s work onto another group to ‘peer review’; post on the wall and do a ‘gallery walk’; ask each group to provide a headline only on the most important thing that emerged; do nothing, and follow up with a break; ask each person to write down on a card one thing that emerged from the small group work that’s relevant to <insert topic> then do another process like 35 or Cardstorming or Survival of the Fittest.

If it’s a big event, consider using Playback Theatre as a plenary session – improvised retelling of moments and insights from the event. I’ll guarantee this will be more memorable than anything else you come up with.

Guest speaker followed by Q and A. What could possibly be wrong with this? Anyone who has sat in an audience will know what’s wrong with this. Let’s assume the guest speaker is great. Let’s assume there’s enough time for Q and A (I know, BIG assumptions). You know what happens next – statements posed as questions, the speaker get’s into a one-on-one argument about some detail, you never get to ask your question, you’d love to ask a question but what if it’s stupid and you end up just looking foolish? I could go on. I’m more interested in the alternatives.

Instead – use Poll Everywhere or something similar. Geoff Brown wrote about it here. While the speaker is speaking you can text your questions as they occur to you. They all come into a single web page where someone familiar with the topic can quickly scan them, see what themes are emerging and identify a few questions to ask the presenter, AND the presenter is emailed all the questions and asked to respond. This can then be sent to everyone present. A great way to get a range of questions, and answers, or new areas to be investigated if there’s no answers – and it’s all recorded for secondary analysis if that’s your thing. Make those highly-paid presenters work for their fee!

If the group is smaller, ask people to write comments and questions on cards or stickies, collect these, do a quick affinity grouping and then get the speaker to respond.

Capturing everything. The whole event is recorded. Does anyone ever do anything with those recordings? Someone is responsible for taking notes aka minutes. Who said what, and when. Every bit of paper that’s written on is collected and written into a report. “We’d better keep this, just in case.” Just in case of what? Rarely is it necessary to capture everything. Just because it’s possible to capture everything doesn’t mean we need to.

Instead – plan in advance how you want to share what happened with those who were not present, and allocate some time in the process to synthesising. For example, engage an illustrator or cartoonist to capture key moments – someone like Simon Kneebone can really capture the essence of an event. Some people specialise in graphic facilitation. One of the best around is Lynne Cazaly. Capture pictures, video, sound bites, do a Storify with tweets, encourage blog posts.

Sitting people at round cabaret tables. Arrrgggggghhhhh….I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (because people keep doing it – the most recent reason was because it ‘looks more professional’), get rid of the tables! Those big round cabaret tables are good for, oh, maybe cabarets. They’re not conducive to conversation.

Instead – have chairs that people can easily move into a conversational setting, or stack at the side of the room for activities, or arrange for a World Cafe conversation, or an un-conference process like Open Space or Trampoline.

We’ve always done it this way. Yep. That’s probably the biggest barrier to any change. Someone has to make a decision to do something differently. Yes, that involves some risk. Yes, that means you’ll be vulnerable.

Instead – don’t go it alone. Find others in your organisation willing to share the risk with you. Find collaborators from outside who can bring in new ideas. You can start with anyone I’ve mentioned in this post. Good luck.

 

Facilitation training workshops


February 18th, 2014

Back by popular demand is Creative Facilitation: Bring Your Meetings To Life, a one-day workshop on Tuesday, April 29th, full of processes and tips on how to get people involved and keep them engaged. If you’re frustrated with standard meeting procedure, come along and find simple ways to enliven meetings and workshops.

And – drum roll please – a brand new, never before offered, workshop: Creative Facilitation: It’s Not About You! It’s All About You!, another one-day workshop on Wednesday April 30th. It’s all very well to have lots of processes to use with groups, but what about you? How do you deal with challenges, stage fright, a crisis of confidence? This is a paradox of facilitation – you are there to serve the group but who’s looking after you? In this training we’ll explore some of the ways to keep your cool when in front of a group, how to calm your nerves, and what to do when you don’t know what to do.

I’m offering these workshops back-to-back so as you can choose either of them or both of them (with a great discount for booking both). There’s more information on the content and pricing here and here. Hope you can join me.