Just do the work

August 16th, 2012

I’ve shared this more than once this week. It touches something deep within me – and it seems, in others too.


July 31st, 2012

While I’m banging on about communication, might as well tell you about my most recent Werewolf experience.

Werewolf is a game for between 10 and 30 people (thereabouts – don’t quote me). It’s not at all physical. It’s played sitting in a circle, either on the floor or in chairs. It helps if all the players can see each other. There’s one moderator.

The premise is straightforward: the game is set in a village where some of the villagers are actually werewolves. By day, they look like any other villager; by night they turn into werewolves and kill innocent villagers. The villagers want revenge. By day, they lynch someone who they suspect of being a werewolf. Who will win? Villagers or werewolves. At night, players are instructed to close their eyes. By day, eyes are open. At night, the game is played in silence. During the day, anyone can speak.

Players are given a random role (either villager or werewolf) at the beginning of the game that they only reveal after they have died.

It’s an easy game to set up – no materials or props are needed, and it’s an easy game to moderate.

It’s not such an easy game to play. Some people adopt a strategy of saying nothing at all (Suze hasn’t said anything all night. I bet that’s because she’s hiding something. I bet she’s a werewolf!), or taking control (Who does Tom think he is? He’s trying to tell us all what to do. I bet that’s because he’s a werewolf!) or pointing out what else is happening (Why is Sarah deflecting us from her? She wants us to think she’s innocent. I bet she’s a werewolf!) or doing nothing at all (Frank looks a bit shifty. I bet he’s a werewolf!).

See, fraught. The game is fraught with innuendo, misinformation, uncertainty, not knowing who to trust and life and death decisions made on account of the way someone is sitting, what they are or are not saying, or who they glance at.

It’s brilliant. It’s fun, multi-layered and a perfect platform to unravel all those grand ideas we have about who we are and how clever we are reading other people.


July 22nd, 2012

What an exhausting and exhilarating couple of weeks it’s been. Improvention in Canberra with lots of really talented improv folk, then hosting AIN Downunder: Thriving In Uncertainty Conference. More on that later. And now I’m at Mt Hotham for a week’s skiing.

I love skiing. I love being in the mountains. Today was a glorious day, one of those days you dream of – a bit of new snow overnight, a clear, bright, sunny day, only a little wind, not many people on the mountain.

So I’ve been thinking about edges a lot. Of course, I’ve been rediscovering the edges of my skis. And Johnnie and I have had many long, rambling conversations about Edges of Work. My business is called Beyond the Edge, and today I skied past this run. Not sure I wanted to be Off the Edge so I skied right on by.

This relates to a theme that Johnnie and I were exploring that we named “I’ve Got Your Back”. As I was skiing alone today – my partner was back in the lodge with a nasty dose of flu – I was thinking about the role of a skiing buddy who’s ‘got your back’. Someone who’s ‘got your back’ is there to support and encourage, as well as poke and prod. Ski instructors often play this role – taking their students into terrain they wouldn’t (and maybe even shouldn’t) ski alone.

Whether it’s skiing, improvising, trying something new at work or in life, experiencing change and uncertainty, leading a group or organisation, or even making difficult decisions, knowing that someone’s ‘got your back’ can be the difference between playing safe and taking a risk. And most importantly, feeling safe to proceed in the face of uncertainty. There’s a lot written about leadership and what it takes to be a good, great, better, the best leader. Maybe it’s the people who support leaders who make the biggest difference, that enable leaders to go to their learning edge and make new and interesting discoveries for themselves and their organisations?

Break down to break through

December 26th, 2011

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.


What does ‘edges of work’ mean?

September 13th, 2011

A long time ago I learnt of a very useful tool called the wave analysis*. It uses the metaphor of the wave to explore elements of any practice. It’s a useful model because it helps categorise practices and the wave metaphor is dynamic and can be taken further to include undercurrents, rips and even whitewater!

On the crest of the wave is established norms – those practices that everyone uses; on the shore are dying practices, things we really should stop doing; out where the wave forms are emerging trends; and way out on the horizon are new edges. The thing about this dynamic metaphor is that one person’s emerging trend could be someone else’s dying practice!

This is one way of looking at the ‘edges of work’. In your business, what are the new edges, and emerging trends that you’d like to move into the realm of established norms? Some of the approaches that we’re excited about include practicing spontaneity, dialogue, serious play, open space technology, story and narrative, and bodystorming. These edges of work are designed to ready us for everyday challenges: dealing with complexity, thinking on our feet and navigating continuous change and uncertainty.

If this interests you, come and join us for a day of exploration on October 5 in Melbourne and stay for the Creative Methods Conference.

*I’ve been unable to discover the original source. If you know, please leave a comment below.