Creative Facilitation workshops in London Nov 6 & 7

October 1st, 2014

After our success in Melbourne and Amsterdam, we’re now bringing our Creative Facilitation workshops to London.

There’s two one-day workshops on November 6 and 7. Do one. Do both. They stand alone, and they complement each other.

Bringing meetings to life: The Basics! We cover the basics of getting more from meetings, with lots of ideas to get people engaged, active and productive. Facilitation as Performance explores 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.

Early-bird registration until October 10th.

Planning workshops

September 30th, 2014

We’re often asked about designing workshops – how to, what processes to select, how to estimate timings, what works, and what doesn’t. Everyone eventually develops their own approach. Whenever I’m doing something new, I write it out – long hand (not on a computer). This slows me down and I can visualise each step. It helps me to be clear about what I can do, and what I’m still unsure about. Once I’m familiar with a process, I can do this in my head.

I do name processes – it helps me to remember them. If I make something up, I give it a name. It becomes my own personal jargon – a shortcut in having options to choose from.

If there is one thing we have learnt about planning workshops is that the plan will not survive contact with the group.

Here’s why.

Imagine a game of Rock Paper Scissors, or any other game that you’re familiar with – it could even be football. Now imagine a way in which you could modify the game – some change in the rules of play. Play the game in your head with the new rules. Imagine what would happen. Write it down if you like. Make a drawing.

Now play the game for real, with your modified rules. Chances are, your modified rules will not survive first contact with players. At some stage, something will emerge that needs to be changed to accommodate the new rules; or the new rules will lead to something unexpected, that you hadn’t thought of; or the players will complain, or maybe come up with ideas of their own to modify or improve the game.

What makes sense in your head doesn’t translate to working in the real world.

This is true of designing workshops too.

This is because a group of people in a workshop is a network and exhibits the characteristics of a network: complexity, emergence and self organising. Try pushing against that! Better to notice what is happening in real time and respond.

Plan by all means – it’s part of being well prepared. And be prepared to throw the plan away when faced with the reality of facilitating a complex system aka a group of people.

Cognitive biases in decision-making

September 30th, 2014

Wow. Who knew there were so many cognitive biases?. This article summarises them nicely.

Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in a certain way.

Raises lots of questions about working with groups, don’t you think?

Facilitation and equilibrium

September 30th, 2014

Some beliefs and theories in facilitation have always bothered me. What appears to be sane and sensible on paper, in reality, just simply don’t stack up when working with a real, live group of humans. One of these is divergent thinking and convergent thinking. It presumes that people will engage in divergent thinking (coming up with different ideas etc) and then, after a period of struggle, will converge on a smaller set of ideas that are acceptable to everyone. What’s always bothered me about this can be explained by the principle of preferential attachment in networks (and yes, a group of people in a workshop is a network). Basically, people are attracted to the more popular ideas (it’s the rich get richer phenomenon). What if the really innovative, radical, game-changing idea is not one of these?

Exactly. It gets lost, and business continues as usual doing much the same as before with little or no disruption. Everyone leaves happy, but probably feeling a bit dissatisfied.

Until recently, we have believed that equilibrium is possible, and preferable, in biological (including human) systems. However, research is now showing that convergence to equilibrium in now the exception rather than the rule. Is it time to rethink our systems of facilitation and let go of the unrealistic equilibrium states some clients yearn for?

Research, MOOCS and what’s next?

September 29th, 2014

While I blog to keep track of my own thinking and ideas, I’m conscious that there’s others out there who read what’s here.


It was nearly exactly (I know, that’s nonsense and what I really mean to say is ‘almost’) a year since I decided to do some research, the reasons of which are still obscure even to me. I’ve blundered around exploring ideas, reading, interviewing, spent some time at Oxford, met lots of great people, am becoming more and more curious, and less and less focused. I think.

It’s odd, this feeling of ‘isolated connectedness’ – that’s my term to describe how it feels. Maybe it’s how all researchers feel.

Anyway, this post is to alert you, and remind me, that I often make sense by writing, and writing here on my blog is where I do that. So I won’t be offended if you find something better to do.

I’m excited by the intersection of three MOOCS I’m doing, all offered on the FutureLearn platform. I can feel a whole lot of threads coming together, in fact, I’m impatient for that to happen, and grateful that the weekly pacing of the MOOCS enforce a much slower pace. I’m practicing patience, and giving my brain a chance to make connections that I’ve yet to think of. Impatient, excited, uncertain. Yes.


Kinetic type AND language AND Stephen Fry

September 28th, 2014

In my last post about interests, I mentioned that one of them was kinetic type.

This can be traced back to early days in my career when I worked with a hugely talented graphic artist, Frank Moore, who taught me the ins and outs of typography (not to mention layout and design, pre-internet no less). On a recent visit to Oxford, a highlight was a visit to the Oxford University Press Museum to see early examples of type and book production.

So I obviously love this Stephen Fry  kinetic type video. Its topic is about another love of mine; language. Enjoy.

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And if you enjoyed that, you might also like this one I made a few years ago about facilitating. Maybe it’s time for a new one?

What are your interests?

September 24th, 2014

Let’s overlook the fact that the question seemed irrelevant, it nonetheless brought my flow of answers to a screaming halt. It was a simple question, but where to even begin answering it?

Reading. Travelling. Nature. Nah, too generic.

Kinetic type. Interpretations of culture in science-fiction movies. Astronomical photography. Nah, too obscure.

Feminism, politics, mental health, climate change. Nah, too existential.

The question doesn’t allow for shifts either – my interests are always changing, being influenced and affected by those around me. I bet yours are too.

Play, improvisation, games,complexity, behavioural research, photography. Hmmm.

How about birdwatching and street art?

That’ll have to do for now.


Language matters

September 24th, 2014

It matters more than you think. The language we use reveals a lot. The language I use as a facilitator reveals a lot about me (so much so that Sascha Rixon did a whole PhD on facilitation language) and the language you use can be like an open door, welcoming me into your world, or like a barrier, holding me at a distance so as I don’t get too close. Many of us use language without giving it a second thought.

This article by Hannah Jane Parkinson in the Guardian about what not to say to someone with bipolar disorder, has one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever read. Yes, it’s about language. It’s the difference between ‘is’ and ‘has’ – such small words, such a world of difference.

Hannah writes: I think it is more polite to say someone “has bipolar” than “is bipolar”. You wouldn’t say that somebody “was cancer”. You wouldn’t say: “This is Maya. She is diabetes.” But people will talk of someone “being bipolar”.

This, I think, is true of anyone suffering any mental illness: they are not depressed, they have depression; they are not anxious, they suffer anxiety; they are not bipolar, they have bipolar.  This helps me situate mental illness where it belongs, as a recoverable illness, not as a defining characteristic of a person.

I’m also supporting the ABC’s Mental As initiative for Mental Health Week 5 – 12 October. It’s worth checking out the huge variety of stories people tell about mental illness. It’s all part of breaking down the stigma.

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.



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