Sometimes I’m asked how I know about various facilitation approaches, how I know what to do, and what not to do, that sort of thing. One of the ways is to put myself in the shoes of a participant and notice my own reactions, and also learn from the others I’m with.
I’ve signed up for a week of doing this. I’m part of a group of 25 people (all strangers to me) who have come together to grapple with their own small and large questions, to reflect on what we do and why, how and with whom – that sort of stuff. It’s quite a shift of focus to be a participant. Here’s some of my Day One reflections.
I understand the principle of organic connecting, allowing people to meet each other as the day unfolds, and as the day unfolded I warmed to it a bit. Yet I was still left wondering who these people are, and who they are connected with. In fact, I think it’s the connections between people that interest me the most. It soon becomes obvious that some people know each other, or the facilitator knows some of the participants, so I think there’s some value in making that explicit. I’m not quite sure why yet. I just noticed that I missed not knowing that.
We did a cool activity that really resonated for me. We were asked to imagine ourselves as lead actors in our own movie and to think about the journey, or story arc, of our week on this course. We were asked to come up with a title for our movie, a genre, and a strap line. It was a brilliant way to get all of us thinking differently about our expectations of the week.
I also really liked the idea that sharing something of yourself with a complete stranger can throw a different light on that idea or thinking. This feeds another (as yet unpublished) blog post I’ve been writing about the advantages and disadvantages of showing up with others (where there’s an element of safety, sharing and connection) and showing up on your own (where there’s a greater element of risk, and vulnerability, and the potential for surprise).
“We need to have a courageous conversation with ourself and others about our needs, desires and promptings.” - David Whyte, poet
This is what today was about – beginning to have those courageous conversations. It was a good start.
Conversation, Creativity, Edges | Comment (0)
There was a moment last week at the Applied Improvisation Network Conference where I felt particularly despondent.
We’d been listening to people talk about what they are doing in taking improvisation skills and practices out of the theatre and into the world. We’d heard of using improv to treat post-traumatic stress in war veterans, in training firefighters, for teaching language skills in Thailand. And more. Amazing work by amazing people.
I felt I had nothing to offer. It’s all being done, and done much better than I could ever hope to do it. Instead of being inspired, I found myself feeling dejected.
Later in the day I was sitting in the sun talking to my friend Eric Nepom, an amazingly talented scientist, educator and improviser, and passionate about finding ways to bring improv and science together. This is a passion we share so we were doing some evil planning on how we might make that happen.
It was then that perspective kicked in. I’d been sitting with about 200 people passionate about the value of improv in all walks of life. There’s a lot more people out there in the world who know nothing (yet) about the potential of improv. And there’s so much that needs to be done in the world, that there’s space enough for all of us. The shift in my perspective came from a shift in my circumstances, going from being part of a roomful of people receiving information, to a picnic table outdoors and a rich one-on-one conversation.
I realised I’d fallen into the old trap of being in an echo chamber – hearing only the voices saying the same thing – and taking a scarcity view of the world. The scarcity view is fed by competitiveness and a belief that there’s only so much to go round, so you’d better get in quick or be the best at something to get some of the action. The abundance view – that there’s more need than is being met and space for everyone to bring their unique talents, skills and perspectives to change the world – is far more hopeful and nourishing.
Conferences, Conversation, Musings | Comments (2)
Some of us are better at noticing than others. Facilitators get a lot of practice at noticing. Noticing is not the same as knowing. I might notice someone frowning, but that doesn’t mean I know the reason why. I need to ask, and there needs to be enough trust for the person to answer honestly.
Unsurprisingly, this is true in life as well. We can therefore all be facilitators of each other’s well-being.
This Thursday, September 13, is National R U OK? Day in Australia.
In case you’re wondering why there needs to be an emphasis on asking each other if we’re okay, here’s two blog posts you should read: Mark Pacitti has documented his journey with depression over the last 12 months. It’s an insightful, sometimes harrowing, and illuminating read. And MadameInsideOut has written A Letter to the Black Dog. Another amazing story of fear, and struggle, and hope.
So if you notice someone close to you acting in a way that might suggest they are NOT OK, please ask. You won’t make it worse, especially if you just listen. Listening to someone who needs to be heard is a gift we all have the capacity to easily give, even if it causes us some discomfort or unease. And yes, it can be hard to stop talking and just listen. And it could make a difference in someone’s life.Community, Conversation, Culture | Comment (0)
This post falls in to the old and grumpy category, so you are warned!
I’m fed up with lists, discussion groups and everything else that purports to be a vehicle for conversation (albeit, on-line conversations) being hijacked by advertisements for this course or that workshop. Oh yes, I’m guilty too. Couldn’t we just have more conversations, about the topics that matter to us, without having to be interrupted by the on-line version of the intrusive advertisement?
Mini rant over. As you were.Conversation | Comment (0)
It’s National Science Week here in Australia. I’m quite fond of science and scientists: I’m married to a scientist; I even studied science once; I dabbled in science communications; I failed to get a Churchill Fellowship to explore science communications; and I love just about anything to do with space exploration. I’m a big fan of science fiction and I’ve been known to read New Scientist at the hairdressers (I bring my own). (Credentials. Tick.)
It dismays me how scientists – so full of passion and creativity – sometimes make the wondrous mundane, and the story of their work stripped of emotion. It’s no surprise to me that many scientists I know have a hobby in the creative arts – music, painting, photography, art. Most scientists I know are also human, with all the emotions that humans possess. They want, just like the rest of us, to love and be loved, for compassion, for connection and for their stories to be heard.
The structures and protocols of science communications provides both a shield and a barrier – a shield from criticism by outsiders, and a barrier to sharing knowledge and meaning. It’s left to the media stars of science communications – like Prof Brian Cox – to do the heavy lifting.
So what about the everyday scientist? The ones spending hours at the bench; the ones analysing mountains of data, how can they share their story, their piece of the puzzle, their contribution (maybe not even with the big wide world, just with friends and family)?
Improvised theatre appears to be the antithesis of science. Science is all controlled and documented, improvised theatre is spontaneous and ephemeral. Yet science is full of spontaneity, surprises, and serendipity. Ask any scientist. And improvised theatre is full of structure. Ask any improviser.
So I’d like to offer these communication tips from improvised theatre to any scientists out there wanting to share their story. And we want to hear your story, your struggle and your delight.
I know, I know. Science is all about excellence. And yes, it is. But not to the rest of us. We mere mortals have no idea what you’re doing. We don’t know the importance, we don’t know where it will lead. You don’t have to impress us like you might think you have to impress your peers. To us what you are doing is already extraordinary.
Story is not a dirty word
Ever had the advice to just stick to the facts? Don’t embellish, strip out the emotion blah blah blah. It’s all rubbish. Stories, and storytelling, is part of our human DNA. Then I hear things like, “I don’t know where to start, or what to say.” (See be average above). Here’s an approach that’s pretty universal for structuring stories.
1. Establish where and when your story takes place.
2. Describe the normal state of affairs.
3. Tell us what the catalyst for change was – the need, the want, the search for understanding…
4. What happened, and what were the consequences.
5. What happened after that, and what were the consequences.
6. Depending on your story you might repeat this step a number of times.
7. The resolution – what happened in the end (or what do you hope will happen).
8. And finally, how are things different (or will they be different).
In other words, this is known as a Story Spine. In more general terms it looks like this…
1. Once upon a time…
2. Every day…
3. But one day…
4. 5. 6. Because of that…
7. Until finally…
8. And ever since then…
Improvisers use this framework all the time to ‘make up’ stories on the spot. It makes improvisers look much cleverer than they really are! It’s the structure of The Story Spine that is the brilliance.
Colour – Advance
There’s a thing called The Curse of Knowledge. It reminds us, whenever we become an expert at something, that it’s just about impossible to remember what it’s like to be a novice. And when scientists devote their lives to something, like scientific research, they gather LOTS of information. What, then to share, and what to leave out, when communicating? After all, communication is not a solitary activity – it involves someone receiving your message, no matter what medium you use to send it.
Colour – Advance is a really useful way of testing your message. It works really well with someone who is not familiar with your work. You invite them to listen to, or read, something you want to communicate. They can give two instructions only:
1. Colour. This means provide more detail, go to greater depth.
2. Advance. Move the story forward. I want to know what happens next.
Notice what they want more of, and where they want the story to move forward. Adjust accordingly.
Happy Science Week everyone.Conversation, General, Improv, Language | Comment (1)
“Tell the story – the more times you tell it, the better off you’ll be.” This was the advice given to Brant Webb and Todd Russell, survivors of the Beaconsfield goldmine disaster. They were trapped underground in a small wire cage for 15 days after an explosion on 25 April 2006. Webb says that advice was absolutely true, and he only wishes more trauma survivors would take the same advice.
Steven Amsterdam, writer and palliative care nurse, writes about the pervasive use of a military metaphor to describe illness and death, (e.g., he lost the battle) and how this contributes an added burden to families and friends coping with grief.
“Fear must be made to look like fearlessness. This is not a cure. All of the masking hides feelings and leads to isolation. Instead of a close, supportive connection among family and friends, it steers everyone towards bravado and inauthentic cheer,” he writes.
There seems to me to be a common thread in these two stories – sharing our real emotions. So often I see people hiding behind the mask of how they think others want to see them. Oh yes, I’m guilty too. Leaders in particular in organisations seem to struggle to maintain the mask of invincibility, of knowing what is unknowable, and presenting a positive face to the world in the midst of uncertainty, confusion, even sadness.
How can we support each other to more often reveal the real person behind the mask, with all of our vulnerabilities and emotions? How can we be more compassionate listeners of other people’s stories and more willing to share our own?Community, Conversation, Story | Comment (0)
This song, Minnie the Moocher, by The Blues Brothers, came up on shuffle while I was at the gym. I was focusing on the song as I tried to take my mind off running and how heavy my legs felt. The song uses call and response, one of my favourite musical devices. At about 2 mins 24 the audience breaks down into laughter when the scat lyrics (or the vocal improvisations) become so long and non-sensical as to be nearly impossible to repeat.
I’ve seen the same sort of breakdown in improv games. The group will be playing a game when someone figuratively ‘drops the ball’. They make a mistake and everyone laughs. This is intriguing. This ‘breakdown’ seems to be a type of release. Afterwards, everyone seems more relaxed and the game or activity continues at a different level, with more commitment and vigour. It’s as if the breakdown, and the release in the form of laughter is a metaphorical doorway to another way of being, or a different relationship with the activity – and with each other.
Yet many of our conventional group activities, especially in meetings, are designed to avoid breakdown, presumably as this is seen as some sort of failure of the process or of the facilitator/leader. Certainly laughter is rarely present in these situations. In his book, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, Bill Isaacs, talks about the importance of instability or breakdown in group discussions as a condition for moving from polite discussion to dialogue where new thinking might emerge. Too often, when the breakdown happens – an argument, discomfort – the tendency is to return to the comfort and security of politeness. This might maintain something akin to civility yet rarely leads to a breakthrough in thinking or ideas. Our challenge as facilitators and leaders of these group discussions is to hold the group in their discomfort and move towards dialogue. Easy to write or talk about – much harder to do.
I’m wondering if it’s possible to turn such conversations into a game, where breakdown can be laughed at, shaken off and the conversation resumed at a different level?
One of the other barriers to this sort of generative thinking in groups is the expectation that an expert will provide the answers or tell people what to do. Relying on experts enables us to absolve ourselves of the responsibility for decision making. Experts have their place. Yet experts tend to spread existing knowledge – that’s what enables them to be called an expert. And if it’s existing knowledge you’re after, an expert is the best and quickest way to get it. If it’s new knowledge you’re after, this must be done by everybody as a community/group activity. And it takes time, energy, commitment, and good will.
Conflict, Conversation, Edges, Facilitation | Comment (0)
I spent the weekend at Gathering11, with 100+ other people. I found myself at Gathering11 because of connections, generosity and curiosity. I’ve come away with yet more connections, ideas, inspiration and dare I say, a good old dose of enthusiasm.
It’s not often I have an opportunity to be a participant, to feel what it’s like to be on the other side of facilitation. And while that was interesting in itself, even illuminating at times, it was the conversations and the people I met that made the weekend memorable. Conversations with people under 30 who are not relatives; conversations with people working in medicine and science and social movements – not joining social movements, creating them; conversations with artists – stand up comedians, performers, musicians; conversations with geeky types. And then there’s all the conversations yet to be had.Community, Conferences, Conversation, Creativity | Comment (0)
Following up my last post, here’s what actually happened when I had an opportunity to do some connecting activities with the 80+ people I’m working with this week.
As is often the case, 60 minutes became around 40 minutes. Because I believe it’s important to honour the finishing time (in this case a morning tea break where people were itching to catch up with their mates) I adjusted my plans accordingly.
I started with a few words (phatic communication) and a two sentence description of my role as facilitator.
“Thank you for inviting me…You might be wondering why you need a facilitator for this meeting? Good question. Some might say to ‘make things easy’. We have C, T and M to do that. So let me describe my role in two sentences. No need to take notes! Ready?
One: My role could best be described as making the best use of the living, breathing bodies here (you) and disrupting set patterns of thinking and acting.
Two: Or…I could just do it!“
And here’s the activities I did (once I had everyone on their feet and down the back of the room).
* Birthday Clumps
* World Map: where you currently work; where you were born: where you would like to go for a vacation (then pair up with someone nearby)
* Story of Your Name and Speed Dating (4 rounds)
* Back of your name tag (thanks Chris Corrigan for the reminder): I asked them to write on their name tag something they’d like to talk with others about. “Ask me about…”
And then we broke for morning tea.Conferences, Conversation, Facilitation | Comments (2)
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. – African Proverb
Tim Schottman used to work with Starbucks. When he retired he became interested in taking his corporate knowledge and applying that to other causes – such as providing corneal transplants. This talk describes how he learnt the hard way that the best path between point A and point B is not always a straight line.
The bottom line: it’s really about relationships. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Tim Schottman tell his own story.
Oh, you’re still not convinced that you should invest the time to have conversations and build relationships? Good luck with that then.
Hat tip – Nancy White via TwitterConversation | Comment (1)