Creative Facilitation in Melbourne Nov 26-27

October 4th, 2015

bringingYou might be surprised by the variety and depth of ways to engage people,especially if you’re stuck in a meeting rut, listening to others drone on, and rarely having time to discuss what really matters.

I make my living from facilitating, so I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and better, more creative, and more engaging ways to get the best out of people in a meeting.

I’m hosting a two-day Creative Facilitation workshop in Melbourne on November 26 and 27. You’ll be able to share your reactions and insights with other professionals grappling with the same issues that you are. You’ll spend very little time sitting down, a lot of time doing; and while our appraoches are grounded in behavioural science, you won’t be bombarded with theory. You’ll leave with practical ideas to try at your next meeting or event.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Beyond the traditional ‘facilitator’ role - What does leading a meeting mean in today’s workplaces? How to avoid the mistakes that traditional education teaches us about how people share, learn and interact.

Participatory approaches – Ways of sharing information, gathering ideas, and making decisions that helps a group connect and engage with the content. How to create an environment of open-ness and trust, and getting people to work together.

Beyond words – How to get beyond wordy, and worthy, sometimes meaningless, words to unearth what’s really going on – using photos, action and story.

Bravo! You as a performer – While the group, and the processes you use, are important, what about you? How do you deal with challenges, stage fright, a crisis of confidence? The second day of this workshop focuses on YOU and gives you tips and tools to manage yourself, especially when things go wrong.

Rock balancing for mindfulness

September 2nd, 2015

My favourite form of mindfulness is rock balancing – introduced to me years ago by my friend Chris Corrigan. His advice about how to balance rocks still stands – you simply have to believe it’s possible.

Mongolia is a great place for rock balancing. And mindfulness.

Rock balancing Mongolia



How to start meetings on time

September 2nd, 2015

I’m asked this question a lot.

Meetings start late, and run over time. It becomes the norm, expected even. Everyone knows, and everyone compensates in their own way – generally turning up late. It becomes part of the way the organisation operates.

If this is true for your organisation, or your group, there’s an easy way to change it.

Finish on time.

Every time. No exceptions.

Keeping it fresh

September 1st, 2015

With lots of Creative Facilitation training under my belt, the challenge is to keep it fresh. The danger is complacency. Two things happened in today’s training that helped with the freshness. Actually, one happened even before I arrived. I’d decided I’d done enough preparation, so on the train to Melbourne, decided to read the paper on-line. Skipping through politics, economics and sport, I landed on this article about research that reveals the predictors of a successful relationship.

Here’s the crux of the article:

“Say you look out your window one evening and see a huge full moon bobbing just above the horizon. Flushed with wonder, you turn to your partner and say “hey sweet cheeks! Isn’t the moon beautiful tonight?” This, according to Gottman, is a “bid” – a request for a response that will hopefully lead to a small connection between the two of you – an understanding that, on this particular topic, you share the same worldview.

Your partner now has a choice to make – they can look up and say “wow! It is beautiful!” or something similarly agreeable. The Gottmans call this a “turning toward”. (Seasoned improvisational artists like Tina Fey call it the part where you say “yes, and …” to keep a scene moving.)

Or, they can keep eye contact with their computer device and mutter “mm hmm”, or worse, remain silent. That would be called “turning away”.”

Ah-ha, you can see where I’m going with this.

Relationships are at the heart of everything. We might like to ignore relationships in favour of the ‘real’ work. Please do – it will keep me in work for years to come!

Not noticing, ignoring and actively blocking offers is a fast-forward to trouble.

Seemed relevant to the group I was working with today, so I rejigged the non-existent agenda, and incorporated a few activities around making and accepting offers. You can’t plan for this.

And secondly, the flip chart paper I’d planned on using wasn’t available. Rather than stressing, and worrying, I simply decided to do something different. It resulted in a new approach to an activity that I’ve done a squillion times.

Can’t plan for that either.

Seemed appropriate for a workshop on the uses of creative facilitation in innovation.

Back on the horse

August 31st, 2015

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I’ve had a break from blogging. Time to restart. Mainly because I forget things, and spend too much time searching for that idea, quote, reference, or activity.

I’ve had a mini break (three weeks) from all forms of media too: no internet = no email, blogs, Twitter, Facebook. Nothing. During that time I was travelling through Mongolia.

It helped me to remember who I am.

The constant status games on social media, one-upmanship, and happy, smiling faces is, frankly, demoralising. Everyone’s life just seems so much better, more successful, and happier than mine. The truth is much more nuanced.

As the Mongolians would say: “Do not start if afraid, once begun do not be afraid.”

Good advice.



Nothing is Written – Learning is an Adventure now available

June 1st, 2015

NIW-CoverTo celebrate a whole new month Johnnie Moore and I are releasing the PDF of our new short book, Nothing is Written. It shares eight simple ideas that guide how we work.

Nothing is Written
Emotional connectedness
Experiences over explanation
Shared peril
Avoiding the teacher trance
The value of loose ends
Getting out of our heads
Getting over ourselves

We think it’s possible to create more engaging training that plays to human strengths and avoids many of the cliches found in training rooms worldwide. We hope you enjoy it. It’s free and available from here.

Once you’ve read the book, if you’d like to experience for yourself how we work, we have workshops coming up in Melbourne and London. There’s more information here.

Learning is an adventure

May 30th, 2015

ExperiencesTraining is on my mind at the moment. I’ve always believed in the importance of helping others learn to do what I do with facilitation, and more, rather than build a dependence. The next couple of weeks are chocker block full of creative facilitation training – one of my favourite things to be doing. So it’s appropriate that Johnnie Moore and I are about to release our new book. Here’s a snippet. Oh, and I just love the illustrations created by the amazingly talented Mary Campbell.

Experiences over Explanation

In his book, Friends in Low Places, Dr James Willis describes research in which two groups of people were shown a photograph of a face. After seeing the photo the first group was asked to recall details of the face. The second group didn’t have to do this.

Later, each group was tested to see if they could remember the faces they had seen in the photos.

The second group – those left to use only their innate and wordless ability to remember a face – were twice as likely to remember it.

By attempting to make people’s learning more detailed and explicit, we may be getting in people’s way.

Malcolm Gladwell relates the studies of tennis coach Vic Braden. Braden would ask top tennis players the “secret” of their technique. He found that although they had detailed explanations for how they did what they did, these descriptions were inconsistent and often false. Famously, Andre Agassi insisted that he would roll his wrist as he hit his forehand shots. In fact, stop motion photography showed that this simply wasn’t true. The fancy term for this mistake is confabulation.

Our rational mind invents a plausible explanation for a behaviour, and believes its own propaganda.

Fresh experiences beat old explanations.


Creative Facilitation – New stuff. Yay!

April 23rd, 2015

CF-2day2015Flyer.pdf (1 page)How does a facilitator announce new stuff? A musician brings out a new song or album, an artist has an exhibition of their latest paintings, a writer releases a new book or poem – and a facilitator announces…”I have new stuff to share with you.” Sounds a bit lame really.

Nonetheless, I DO have new stuff to share with you – gleaned from a trip to that other hemisphere where I took part in an improvisation retreat and a learning village, hung out with some seriously cool people, finished a project that’s been on the go for a couple of years, explored street art in Shoreditch (oh, I’m getting distracted now).

It’s boring to talk about this stuff – much better to do it. So I’ll be sharing my new stuff on June 17 and 18 at my favourite venue, the Donkey Wheel House in Bourke Street Melbourne. I hope you can join me. Use the promo code newstuff2015 for a 20% discount. Yay!

Honor Among Thieves: A Review

March 23rd, 2015

Edges are interesting places. Unpredictable stuff happens there. Much of what many of us take for granted every day – belonging, security, understanding – can be missing, or at least fleeting.

61Jhq52WqYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In his latest book, the second in a trilogy, J. explores these themes through the eyes and experiences of humanitarian workers and the people they are striving to help. Most of his protagonists live at the edges – between one place and another, never really belonging, often knowing that there’s something else, just out of reach, even if they don’t know what that something else might be.

J. weaves themes about the reality of humanitarian work into the story, giving the reader rare insights. Set in Cambodia and Washington, DC, the story evolves around Mary-Anne, whom we met in the first of the trilogy Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit. In fact, we met Mary-Anne in the prequel, Disastrous Passion – a romance set in aftermath of a Haiti earthquake. The books track Mary-Anne’s journey at many levels – her growth as a person, her understanding of her place in the world, her increasing awareness, and sometimes dismay, of what it means to work ‘in aid’.

The title of this book is telling: it explores the sometimes muddy ethics and behaviours that underpin humanitarian decisions, the trade-offs and the sacrifices, the wins and the losses, the idealism and the pragmatism. J. does this very well indeed, weaving the stories of different characters to explore many of the inter-relationships and experiences that make up the ‘big’ picture of humanitarian work. Occasionally, he slips into the territory of too much humanitarian jargon and too much detail, but this is a small quibble in a thoroughly entertaining, and believable book.

J. knows his stuff too. He has lived and worked in the countries in which the book is set, he knows what it’s like to juggle the demands of a humanitarian career, he knows what it’s like to sit through endless ‘very important meetings’, to visit places many of us have only heard of, to travel endless miles in dodgy vehicles, to talk with people who simply want a chance to make the most of their lives. He’s not alone. There are many, many people who will recognise themselves in this book, and the themes it explores. What sets J. apart is his ability to share these experiences with those of us who are not humanitarian workers, who think we know how it ‘should’ or ‘could’ be done, who have opinions based on good intentions and little awareness.

This book will be widely read by those in the industry. It should be read by everyone who proffers an opinion about aid, NGOs, and humanitarian workers. It might just open some eyes, and hearts. Get it from Amazon

Language, please!

February 4th, 2015

It’s not what you’re thinking. I have no problem with bad language, swearing, cussing. Fuck no. My friend Kay Scorah wrote a brilliant piece recently about all those words you probably shouldn’t be using. As they say, be warned, strong language – and now go read it. I’ll wait.

Johnnie Moore found this gem too on the Ad Contrarian website. I couldn’t watch the video to the end. I was done after about a minute. Go have a look. It’s about McDonald’s philosophies, I think. I couldn’t get past the jargon and cliches.

Jargon. Cliches. Rhetoric. Weasel words. Obfucations.

I’m done with them.

Don’t tell me you’re a thought leader. I don’t want to hear about your innovation incubator. I don’t believe the answer to all your problems at work are to clarify roles and responsibilities. I certainly don’t care about your open and transparent dialogue. Business as usual is so overused it has its own acronym.

I want to hear plain language. Solid words. Anything ending with ‘..ion’ is probably an abstraction. Sounds fancy. Means not much.