Imagine if you were the type of leader YOU would want to follow


December 15th, 2016

Fancy three days of fun, engaging learning on a theme of leading creative teams?

Johnnie and I are bringing our Creative Leadership workshop to Melbourne, February 7th to 9th.

Here’s some reflections from those who came to this workshop in Cambridge earlier this year.

Lots more info and bookings here

The two not-so-secret secrets about Creative Facilitation


October 24th, 2016

bringingThere’s no big secret to Creative Facilitation, it comes down to two things: using creative processes that allow people to really participate, and showing up as a facilitator that people feel able to trust.

The hard part is letting go of all those practices that squeeze the life out of meetings. We are social creatures, fundamentally wired for socialising, playing and creating together.  To release energy into our meetings, we need to disrupt some conventions.

We need to have fewer presentations and more conversations.

We need to free people to move around, rather than remaining pinned to their chairs.

We need to give participants autonomy: instead of telling them what to do, we create choices for them about how to participate and collaborate.

We need to create a more level playing field in meetings, a space in which everyone feels able to contribute, so we don’t just get stuck listening to the usual suspects.

We don’t believe in facilitation-as-usual and therefore don’t do training-as-usual. There will be movement, surprise, emotion, engagement and fun. We learn our most powerful lessons from experience, not from lectures. The greatest value in workshops comes from sharing experiences, rather than taking notes from the “sage on the stage”.

If you’d like to learn more, I have a one-day introductory Creative Facilitation workshop in Melbourne on November 18th.

And Johnnie Moore has a two-day workshop in Cambridge – that also covers how to perform as a facilitator – on January 9 and 10.

Best summer ever!


September 15th, 2016

I’ve just had the best summer. Yet it wasn’t summer. Not here. And I wasn’t here. I was there, in the UK, hanging out with my friend and business buddy Johnnie Moore in Cambridge. There’s many reasons that it was a great summer, and one was the fun and connection we had in making a couple of little videos about our work. Our director, Colin Ramsay, is amazing. He’s calm, professional, patient (OMG, so patient!) and loves what he does as much as we love what we do. I think this comes through best in this blooper reel.

There’s so much to learn about ourselves and others through ‘trying stuff out’. As Johnnie says, “There’s a lot of creative energy in failure, if you don’t take it too seriously…Quite a lot of our training work uses rapid, playful failure as way to learn – a much richer experience than giving out right answers.”

Right on!

Fractals


February 17th, 2016

GobiSanddunesHave you ever been to an event that is talking about being one thing while being something else?

For example, a conference about innovation that uses well-established, mainstream and predictable processes? Or more specifically, focusing on creativity, for example, while sitting in ferried rows listening to an ‘expert’ speaker using poor powerpoint slides? With questions, taken in threes, at the end? Where did that custom of taking questions in threes come from? But I digress.

It’s easy to think about being different, much harder to do. I can think about being fitter, it doesn’t make me fitter. I can think about being creative, it doesn’t make me creative. I’m not advocating not thinking. Heaven forbid, I spend more time in my head than many, I suspect. And inspiring speakers can sometimes inspire us to action. Sometimes.

I was at such an event recently. I started thinking (yes, indeed) how easy it is to slip into talking about being one thing while being something else – to talk about creativity, innovation and change while reinforcing existing norms. Which got me thinking about fractals.

Here’s an explanation of fractals, according to the Fractal Foundation,

“A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Fractal patterns are extremely familiar, since nature is full of fractals. For instance: trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, hurricanes, etc.”

What if our organisations, our communities, our cities, our countries, are also fractal? What if what we do at the smallest scale is representative of what happens at a larger scale? What if we want to transform our company or our community, we start with transforming the way we even talk about that transformation?

What if we started acting our way into a new way of being instead of thinking our way into a new way of being?

 

Serendipity and discovery


February 1st, 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s hard to get back into work mode after the holidays. It’s tempting to put off the inevitable, but today I had a couple of meetings to go to in Melbourne with some spare time to wander the streets. A bookshop beckoned. There’s not many bookshops around these days, so I was tempted. I never really wanted to be a librarian, as much as I admire their work, but libraries. I could lose myself in a library, making  discoveries. I’d sit on the floor, surrounded by books, lost for hours.

I’ve been tinkering with a taxonomy of improvisation. I thought it would be straightforward. It isn’t. I was thinking about this as I perused the cookbook section of this large bookstore, as I tried to work out how they organised the books. Was it by author, or by cuisine, or by course (entree, main, dessert)? As it turned out, yes. All of the above. It was slightly logical, in a confusing sort of way. I haven’t bought any cookbooks for years – there’s enough already on my shelves and Mr Google is my friend when I need instant inspiration. Nonetheless, I walked out with two books, and it was only through a great deal of restraint that I didn’t walk out with an armful. They are so beautiful to hold, to flip through. There’s always that potential for serendipity and discovery.

When I’m in a new city, or even one I know quite well, like Melbourne, I like to search out street art. The pic accompanying this post is from Lisbon, found in a very obscure, out-of-the way part of this great city. Serendipity and discovery.

Back in my office, I was searching through piles of old notes looking for something. I found myself reminiscing as I’d look at some notes and instantly recall the moment I was taking them – the ICA course I took in Toronto, Canada; the Casuarina Project I was delivering here in my own back yard. I even found an activity, long forgotten, that would explore this whole taxonomy business. The point is, if I did have everything ordered in a way that I could immediately put a finger on what I wanted, (and it’s effectiveness would depend a lot on my memory and my system of cataloguing) I might indeed gain some time but at the loss of serendipity and discovery.

Search engines, taxonomies, train time-tables, indexes – I love them all. And possibly, I love serendipity and discovery even more.

 

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!

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?

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 🙂

The games we play


July 10th, 2014

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of games, play and movement. Recently I attended a MASHLM Humanitarian Summer School in Lugana, Switzerland. It was three days exploring games for humanitarian and development work led by Pablo Saurez from the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre and Eric Gordon from the Harvard University Engagement Game Lab. And a special callout to Paulo Gonçalves, Founder and Director of MASHLM, who made it possible for me to attend.

Imagine sitting around a table playing a game with your friends – preferably a fairly complicated game requiring you to make decisions without knowing the consequences. You take turns, maybe throw the dice, pick up cards, make choices, invest valuable resources aka beans. There’s time pressure – make a choice NOW! You have to stand, or stay seated, according to your choice. No going back. No changing your mind, no prevaricating. There’s winners, and losers, each round, and sometimes you get stuck with nowhere to go – you’re out of resources or out of options.

Now add a facilitator, a games master, who keeps the game moving, counts down the time left for your decisions, and occasionally offers options, that might, or might not be helpful, depending on your situation. Add a time limit for the whole game – say 10 rounds, representing 10 years. It’s not a race-to-the-end game (first past the post wins), this is a more subtle game, where there are still winners and losers at the end, some more so than others. There’s an element of chance, of luck, and there’s an element of understanding the consequences of our decisions. And it’s fun.

This type of game is known as a system dynamic modeling game that helps us to understand complexity. The game I described above is called Paying for Predictions and is a game about the cost, value and use of early warnings. It forces players to grapple with the shifting chances of disaster as they decide whether or not to invest in forecast-based flood preparedness.

Compare that to a powerpoint presentation on the same topic.

The important thing about this game, and many of the others developed by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre – dubbed participatory games for the ‘new normal’ – is that they are based on the underlying science. They are not just ‘made up’. They reflect what really happens in the world. Post-game discussions are inclusive and reach depths rarely seen in more traditional approaches to sharing complex scientific principles, not the least because the game provides participants with a shared experience and a shared language to talk about abstract concepts such as predictions, probability, preparedness, risk and resource allocation. It also levels the playing field between experts and practitioners, and I suspect, opens up pathways for more constructive dialogue. And it’s emotional. You feel, in a real, visceral way, what it’s like to make choices.

While this type of game can easily be lumped with all other games, especially by nay-sayers, it’s quite a different experience to playing games on-line (even multi-player games) or playing physical games that facilitate interactions and discovery.

Pablo Saurez explains why gameplay beats powerpoint: “There needs to be an obstacle. Games can plant a level of confusion (huh?) and provide a sequence of interesting choices that builds curiosity, leading to the joy in the brain of figuring it out (Ah-Ha!). Powerpoint gives you nothing to guess about – the work has been done by the presenter.”

I still have lots to learn, and I’m excited about the potential of these sorts of games, especially when there is a big power differential in groups, when there’s no one ‘right’ answer, and the concepts are wrapped in impenetrable language.

As part of the course in Lugano we developed our own games, and that too was an interesting experience. We quickly learned that what makes sense on paper, or in our heads, may not work in practice. We discovered that too many rules make it harder to play. We discovered that too much realism can get in the way. We were exploring an uncertainty/complexity game around climate change and had focused on farmers. We kept getting stuck in conversations about what farmers would/or would not do in reality. We were going around in circles seemingly getting nowhere (I actually suspect this is an important part of game design) until we decided to ditch the farmers and focus on squirrels! It was a throw-away idea that saved the day – a classic example of yes-anding. We still had investments in infrastructure, diversification of crops (in this case, nuts), we still had external influences, and making decisions with limited knowledge, as well as climate probability data, in the game. It’s just that it was about squirrels in the forest, collecting different types of nuts, building nests and being threatened by deforestation and climate variability.

Other teams developed games on sustainable fishing quotas, and coordination of humanitarian providers after a disaster.

Fun games about serious topics? You bet!