Where ‘YES!’ leads

November 18th, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarly 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…

Viv, Nicky, Marigo, LeeSaying 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.

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 🙂

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.


A few thoughts about what it’s like to be a free agent gleaned from John Hagel’s talk

February 17th, 2014

photoWhen John Hagel started speaking about the dark side of technology as mounting performance pressure, the inevitable comparison with others and the pressure to keep up, I found myself nodding in agreement.

John Hagel, co-author of The Power of Pull and co-founder of the deliciously paradoxically-named Deloitte Center for the Edge, is back in Australia for a conference and a whirlwind series of talks in Sydney and Melbourne. John is the current darling of the social entrepreneur set. With good reason. He speaks to the dilemmas that free agents and changemakers face.

The central premise around The Power of Pull is a shift from a push-based model  to a pull-based model. The dominant push-based model assumes you have a question, or a problem, that needs resolving, and that you can meet that demand for answers by allocating resources, tasks, timelines, milestones, key performance indicators (okay those last few is me editorialising). Businesses and organisations are modelled around push because it’s easier to organise within an organisation than across organisations.

The pull-based model draws out people and resources when and where you need them and is often based on not even knowing what questions to ask.

There’s something I can relate to!

Pull is also about our ability to attract others, and particularly, serendipity. John suggests we can shape serendipity and increase the quality and quantity of those encounters. That’s why I joined The Melbourne Hub and try and live by the mantra of Show Up. Let Go. Jump In. (The very reason I was at the event last night where John was speaking) Co-working for me is the epitome of accelerated serendipity.

John started talking about passion and I started to tune out. The word passion has become a victim of its own popularity. I think it’s over-used and a catch all remedy for all sorts of underlying darker stuff we don’t want to talk about. Just find your passion and all will be okay. Sure. Whatever. Meh.

And then he talked about the passion of the explorer and I perked up again. This sounds interesting, I thought, and I also had an inkling that he was talking about me (and the other 30 or so people in the room!) Johnnie and I often talk about exploring, adventure and serendipitous discovery in our Edges of Work projects.

I can’t recall the context to the passion of the explorer (because, as I said, I’d tuned out). He mentioned accelerated learning and surviving and thriving in the increasingly complex and uncertain world. Good so far. And then this – three attributes:

1. Deep, long-term commitment to a domain, to learn, and to make a difference – and not just once, to continue to learn and to make increasing difference over time.


2. A questing disposition, so when presented with an unexpected challenge, what’s your reaction? Excitement. Wow. How would I do that? People with a questing disposition actively seek out new challenges, and get bored easily.


3. A connecting disposition, so when faced with above challenge, doesn’t hunker down in a hovel somewhere to nut out the answer (and knows there isn’t an ‘answer’ per se) but seeks out others who can help, who can work with us on the challenge.


There was other good stuff about the role of narrative in nurturing and catalysing passion. I liked John’s description of narrative: open ended, no resolution (compared with story), the direction depends on the choices I make, and I will shape the outcome of this narrative. People ‘buy in’ to the narrative, e.g. religion, wars, Apple, Nike were the examples he used. Narratives are shared by many people, and are very personal, they are long-term, offer many possibilities and huge challenges. “Every successful social movement is driven by narrative”.

An interesting side note on narrative – it’s not the same as the company story. And it’s not provided by the PR Department!

And finally (if you’re still with me, thanks for reading this far) John talked about extreme sports. I took no notes, yet I have a vivid memory of what he said. Suddenly I was really engaged, not just listening to an engaging and knowledgable speaker, but relating at a different level.

Let me digress for a bit. The Winter Olympics are on at the moment. You may not be interested in the competitive, commercialised, control-freakery nature of the Games, yet there’s lots to admire, to marvel at, to laugh at, and be confused by. Why would anyone do a sport like Skeleton? And what’s with the Double Luge? Watching the competitors in the Women’s Slopestyle and the Women’s Super G, it was great to see how they support and encourage each other and even send information back to the start line to help their competitors. The roll call of injuries, broken bones and even deaths from these sports is staggering. The risks and rewards are great.

John spoke about another extreme sport – big wave riding – surfing huge waves with tons of water behind you just ready to swat you aside. People who do big wave riding function differently – they function with the passion of the explorer. They share information on the water, on the beach, on-line. They seek out greater and greater challenges. The have a deep connection to big wave riding, worldwide.

What distinguishes people involved in these sports is a marathon approach, rather than a sprint mentality. They’re in it for the long haul. Yet a lot of our society is caught up in “dysfunctional threat-based narratives” reinforced by urgency. Our political discourse is an example. Organisational rules, regulations, procedures and competencies are another. Do this, be this, or else. Opportunistic narratives are less common. Maybe this is something for me to explore around my applied improv project.

Those of us working on the edge could do well to support each other in the same way. It’s hard to sustain working at the edge. We need – I need – an antidote to the dark side of technology and the inevitable performance pressure. Abundance instead of scarcity. Vulnerability instead of assuredness. Courage instead of playing it safe. Sharing instead of competing.



Researching applied improv – a project for 2014

December 19th, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven a cursory look at this blog will reveal my interest in improvisation. It started with Playback Theatre and ranged far and wide around different improvisation styles. Most improv happens on the stage, in theatres and bars. I enjoy this type of improv performance AND I’m also interested in how it can be applied off the stage – in communities, organisations and companies.

The biggest misunderstanding about improv is that it’s all about humour, about being funny.

The biggest secret about improv is that anyone can learn the approaches that underpin it.

The biggest fear about using improv is that you’ll look foolish in front of others.

The biggest untapped use of improv is helping people to do their work when they don’t know what’s going on around them.

The biggest question about improv is…

I don’t know.

That’s why I’m starting a research project to uncover some of the questions about applied improv, collect some data through interviews, identify some themes and questions that emerge from that and then see where that leads me. Maybe I’m developing a new form of research: improvised research (though most researchers I know would argue that all research is improvised). My friend Bob Dick gave me this advice: “It seems to me that researching an under-researched area is like managing complex change.  I therefore assume that wherever I start will be the wrong place, because I don’t yet understand enough to know where to start.  That indicates that my best strategy is to start anywhere promising, and make it up as I go along.”

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m starting, and I’ll make it up as I go along.

Feel free to add any questions you’re curious about, or let me know if you’d be up for a free-ranging chat about applied improv.



Better meetings

December 9th, 2013

Better Meetings - Creative Huddle-2As I write this, it’s Monday morning in my part of the world. Have a look at your diary for this week. How many meetings are scheduled? Are they all necessary? Are you looking forward to them? Will they be worthwhile? Do your meetings look somewhat like this picture?

Maybe you can cancel just one meeting and take part in our on-line course for Better Meetings. There’s lots of good ideas that you can use straight away, and other ideas you might want to keep up your sleeve. No matter what you do, any small modification can result in better meetings.

Click here for the on-line course


If you use the promo code earlybird20 you’ll get a 20% discount just for reading about it here 🙂

Your hosts are Johnnie Moore and Viv McWaters with James Allen behind the camera and providing the creative genius to bring this on-line course to life. We cover expectations and invitations, setting up the room, challenging hierarchy, sharing information, movement, playfulness and reflection, and how to end a meeting. And lots of handy tips.

Better Meetings - Creative Huddle-1If you’ve read our free on-line Creative Facilitation book you’ll find lots of similar ideas. We’ve tried to make the on-line course complementary, so you can read about our ideas, see us talk about them and hopefully be inspired to go and try something. Maybe your meetings can look a bit more like this?


We really do believe that amazing things can happen when people meet.

What I’ve learned about life from “Guy Dangerous”

October 3rd, 2013

My father-in-law was a keen card player. We’d sit around and play cards as a family. This was new to me. I wasn’t from a card playing family, so I had to learn quickly. At the end of each hand, he’d peer at me over his glasses and ask me something like why I played the the red Queen in round three. I’d stare back blankly, struggling to remember tricks and melds and wild cards and everything else, let alone when, and why, I’d played a particular card. Even then, I knew that talking about the game after it was over was unlikely to help me. What I needed was immediate feedback, practice, and a lot of it.

Fast forward, 30+ years. I’m still a crap card player (not enough practice) and now I have lots of games I can play at my leisure. Just now, playing one of the endless running games, I noticed my reaction to killing the protagonist. First I’d laugh. There’s many ways for “Guy Dangerous” (yes, really, that’s what he’s called – I don’t name ’em, I just play ’em!) to die. There’s something quite comforting about a game that makes me laugh at my own mistakes. And then I just play again. And again. And again. Each time I get a little better. Sometimes I’m distracted by a thought, a blog post idea (!), something else going on and poor old Guy Dangerous is crushed, or burnt, or falls or smashes into a hard object.

This is how children learn. I suspect it’s how we humans learn – no matter what our age. Somewhere, somehow, we’re taught that we should pre-plan, prepare, speculate and get all the ducks lined up before we begin, lest we fail. Most often this approach leads to never starting at all. Let’s give each other permission to just have a go, and if we fall over, literally or figuratively, then offer a hand up, and try again.



Better meetings

April 29th, 2013

Better MeetingsThis is such an exciting collaboration – and most of it has happened while I’ve been sleeping!

Regular readers will know that I’m pretty keen on bringing meetings to life, and that Johnnie and I have published a book. We also offer face-to-face workshops to share our ideas and approaches (the next one is in London on July 15th). Now we’re also offering an on-line course in collaboration with James Allen of Creative Huddle.

There’s full details here, including information about a nice little discount.

What’s that? You’re wondering about that sleeping reference. This is one of the characteristics of global collaborations. Johnnie and James are in the UK. I’m in Australia. So while I’ve been blissfully asleep, Johnnie and James have been working away during their day making the introductory video.

Creative Facilitation – the Book!

January 9th, 2013

Exactly two years ago, I spent six weeks with my ankle in plaster after an operation. With nothing better to do, I wrote a book. This week, we’re releasing it into the wild.

Johnnie Moore wrote significant parts that I’d forgotten, edited my clumsy words, challenged my thinking and was there throughout the whole process, providing encouragement and support.

BJ Diamond did an amazing editing job, and Mary Campbell added design brilliance.

You can download a PDF version of the book here.

It’s taken so long to get to this point simply because a book like this can never be finished. It is always in ‘beta’, always a work in progress and no amount of requests for cookie-cutter approaches to facilitation can stand up in the face of the messy, unpredictable and ever-changing world of actual facilitation with living, breathing humans.

Nonetheless, experience might count for something. If our experiences resonate for you – or even if they don’t, and simply get you thinking – then this book will have been worth it. In fact, it’s been worth it simply to gather our own thoughts, to spark some rather interesting conversations and to make our thinking accessible to others.

We’re giving it away, with a liberal Creative Commons licence, because that sits well with our philosophy of collaboration and connecting with people. If you download the book, we like to think of you as a collaborator  and we’d like to hear from you. Indeed the whole process was a global collaboration – between Australia, the UK and USA – made possible by technology, particularly long Skype calls!

The linear format dictated by the book format gave us many sleepless nights. Facilitation is not linear. There may be some obscure logic in the format, but don’t take it too seriously. Start anywhere. Dive in.

The book is divided into five parts.

Part One: Why Facilitation? is about exploring the impact of facilitation and facilitators on groups, the qualities that make for good facilitators and some of the underlying philosophy that underpins our approach.

Part Two: Workshop Basics is about the necessary foundations of facilitating workshops.

Part Three: Beyond the Basics is about providing an understanding of how to engage people and use different approaches.

Part Four: Creative Facilitation explores some of the knowledge and understanding that helps facilitators step into complex, and sometimes difficult, situations. It also explores in more depth, elements of human behaviour and group dynamics.

Part Five: Resources provides suggestions for developing your own “toolkit” with what you learn from experience as well as useful links, resources and other information.

Stay tuned for some smaller companion eBooks that elaborate on our favourite topics.

The essence of every new day

January 1st, 2013

Masai Mara, Kenya

It feels a bit like pressing the restart button, this first day of January.

An opportunity for new beginnings.

It’s both a relief, and a little sad, to say farewell to another year, and also exciting to anticipate a new year. It captures the essence of every new day – to carry forward what we need, let go of what we don’t, and enter unchartered territory. Every day is an improvisation.

My favourite African proverbs captures my hope for us in 2013:

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

How far can we go together in 2013?