Playful Facilitation


November 14th, 2008

After watching Tim Brown’s (CEO of Ideo) TED video on creativity and play, I started thinking about playful facilitation and what we can learn from Tim’s video. As with most things to do with facilitation, there’s two distinct angles: what can I learn about facilitating (an external focus) AND what can I learn about myself as a facilitator (an internal focus).

You can watch the video here. 

Here’s some of the messages that stood out for me.

We fear (or care too much) what others people think of us and that generates conservative (or safe) thinking. This is a form of self blocking. When facilitating it’s easy to rely on tried and true approaches, something safe that we know will work. Trying something out of the ordinary has consequences – it might fail, we might look like we don’t know what we are doing, we might look foolish, we might stand out, it might work, we might discover something amazing. Playfully trying something new takes the edge off and invites the participants to experiment with you. Let them know it’s a new idea or approach, you’re not sure how it will work out and that you’d like their comments. It’s an invitation to be playful together.

The importance of friendship – how we can be more playful with our friends, and take creative risks. There’s mutual trust.  Building trust with a group is important. Being friends with them is just too big an ask. However, for those people I collaborate with, co-design, co-deliver and generally want to work with more often, I want to be friends with first. I had the joy of working with two of my best friends for many years. We were amazingly creative, had lots of fun and now share lots memories for reliving. And when we’re together, we’re still creative. And still have fun.

The need to re-learn playfulness and have the tools at hand all the time. Tim shows the difference between materials available in pre-school, in secondary school and in the office. With few exceptions, office environments don’t support, encourage or facilitate play, playfulness, and hence new ideas, creativity and innovation. This is tricky. I’m happy to fill my own work space with playful things. I’m less likely to spread such materials around a workshop. Sometimes they can create a barrier. You’ve seen the people who walk in, see the coloured pens and paper, maybe pipe cleaners, or lego blocks, or juggling balls, roll their eyes and say “so it’s going to be one of those workshops!” I tend to have these things available and use them if and when it’s appropriate. If people have lost their playfulness, it can’t be restored with simply a few materials. I suspect people will need to be reintroduced gently. A few well selected improv games can work wonders!

The desire to be original is a type of editing. Too right! I recognise this in myself often. And exactly what does ‘original’ mean? When Janis Ian released her 2004 Album Billie’s Bones, the title track reflected her gratefulness for the legacy left by those who came before, and acknowledged that what we do today builds on what was achieved by those who came before us. This is true of facilitating too. 

BILLIE’S TEARS FALL LIKE DUST 

FROM THE AIR INTO MY EYES 

SEEPING IN BEFORE THEY RUST 

SPILLING SECRETS WORDS CAN’T HIDE 

I AM STANDING ON THE BONES 

OF A MOUND TOO HIGH TO CLIMB 

SELLING SECRETS TO ATONE 

FOR A SONG THAT IS NOT MINE 

 

 BILLIE’S BONES ARE WHITE AND BLEACHED 

 PILED HIGH AND HARD TO REACH 

 AND THE TOP LOOKS COLD AND BLEAK 

 BUT I SEE FARTHER WHEN I STAND 

 ON BILLIE’S BONES IN BILLIE’S LAND 

Construction play, where ideas are made concrete, enables thinking with your hands.

Play has rules – it’s not anarchy. Just look at kids in a playground. Rules abound. We need rules on ‘how’ to play and ‘when’ to play. Facilitators can hold space for playfulness by providing the rules on ‘how’ and ‘when’ to play.

Tim summarises with:

Exploration – go for quantity

Building – think with you hands

Role Play – act it out

How do you bring playfulness into your own practice as a facilitator?

What suggestions would you have for ‘being playful’ and ‘using playfulness’?

Update: Johnnie Moore also has some comments, and so does Garr Reynolds. Both worth a look for their perspectives.

 

 

 

 

6 Comments so far

  1. Stuart Reid on November 14, 2008 7:49 pm

    Great post Viv. I’m doing my best to have more fun at the moment, both in my work and when I’m not work. I think what I mean by that is very similar to what you mean by play and playfulness.

    Both my three year-old and five year-old boys are very into making up imaginative games, with complex rules that grow more complex very quickly. Playing with them reminds me of the ‘yes, and…’ theme in improv, which you didn’t mention. There is a delight and a joy in seeing someone else take an idea of yours and push it further or build on it – in doing that they are paying you a compliment and letting you know that they have listened to you. When my children accept an idea of mine and include it in their game it makes me feel closer to them.

    Thanks for the post,
    Stuart

  2. Viv McWaters on November 14, 2008 8:06 pm

    Thanks Stuart, for reminding me of the power of ‘yes,and…’ These days I tend to hang out with people who subscribe to ‘yes,and…’ It comes as a bit of a shock to come face to face with blocking. Last week I received an email from a friend offering a week in a farmhouse in rural France. My first response was Yes! And now, how can I make this happen! The partner of another friend kept saying ‘but this…’ and ‘but that…’ and providing all the reasons why it wouldn’t be practical. Very demoralising and a good reminder of how deflating this can be. When facilitating I’m always on the look-out for the ‘buts’, and playfully, try and turn that around.

    Good luck with having more fun – sounds like your boys are a great source of playful inspiration

    Cheers

    Viv

  3. Heather Davis on November 16, 2008 6:57 pm

    Just had a ‘yes, and’ moment here seeing your fab post on playful facilitation. I think I may have steered you to this video via a recent ‘tweet’ and so yes it is indeed a joy to see someone run with an idea and push it further and connect their experiences to the original context, as Stuart mentioned above.

    Ken Robinson also has a great TedTalk on creativity in education that you may have also seen? If not, I heartily recommend it for its content and brilliant delivery. I never tire of watching it.

  4. Viv McWaters on November 16, 2008 8:28 pm

    Thanks Heather
    Ken Robinson’s talk is one of my favourites too. And I’m finding more and more cool links through Twitter. Thanks for pointing me to this one.
    Cheers
    Viv

  5. Mike Wagner on November 19, 2008 10:07 am

    Thanks for the Janis Ian’s lyrics! New to me.

    We stand on the shoulders of others.

    Keep creating…today’s masterpiece,
    Mike

  6. Facilitation - Evaluation - Beyond the Edge - Viv McWaters on December 2, 2008 8:05 pm

    […] I wrote a post about standing on the shoulders of others. You can read it here. So much of what we do we owe to those who have come before. Yet sometimes we can be caught in an […]

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