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!Creativity, Facilitation, General, Learning | Comment (0)
Johnnie and I made this little video that describes our approach to facilitation training. It also includes some footage from our Creative Leadership workshop at King’s College, Cambridge – coming in February 2017 to Melbourne.General | Comment (0)
First, two confessions. I’d never read, or listened to any of David Whyte’s work. And I didn’t know what genius loci meant. Nor did I know to what extent both might influence me.
After yesterday morning, neither is no longer true.
I was impressed with the rhythm of David’s performance, the strength, and loudness, of the silences, and the way he would regale his audience with story, to slip seamlessly into poetry, and whammo – reveal a line that connects the story and asks a question that “is an invitation to the imagination that the strategic mind doesn’t know what to do with.”
Repetition. Repetition, I now know, is not a part of his written work, but is certainly a huge part of his performance. And it’s very effective.
Gesture. David Whyte gestures a lot. He points and waves and pokes and prods and underlines his words with gestures.
Silence. The silences would begin as short, two-beat silences, and gradually increase to ten times as long. Powerful. And loud!
And then there’s his use of language. Not surprisingly, I’ve been a fan, a student, a user, and sometimes, an abuser, of language. Not surprisingly, a poet uses language well. The work that Johnnie and I are immersed in right now is also imbued with language – trying to find just the right word, getting rid of jargon and meaningless adjectives – trying to use language to explain the unexplainable.
Here’s some of the memorable lines from my morning with David Whyte:
“The ground makes no sense without an horizon. An horizon may also be internal.”
“Poetry is language against which you have no defences.”
“Be impatient with easy explanations.”
“When you show up you can be seen, you can be found, you can be touched. And when you can be seen, you can be hurt. So we create abstractions to avoid being seen.”
“I don’t have to have all the conversation at once. Just begin.”
“The person you are just about to become is a stranger to you.” I’ve just finished reading Cathy Salit’s book Performance Breakthrough. She writes about her experiences of using performance and skills from theatre directing to help people discover parts of themselves they never knew could, or would, ever exist. “The person you are about to become is a stranger to you.”
“Stay in this place until the current of the story is strong enough to float you out.” Johnnie hosts Unhurried Conversations, an approach that explores a different way of being in conversation with others. “Stay in this place until the current of the story is strong enough to float you out.”
“What would it be like to be the ancestor of our own future happiness?” Indeed.
And genius loci? Genius loci is the spirit of a place – the type of conversation held there is shaped by place. I’ve always known this. Even before I knew it.Conversation, General, Leadership, Learning | Comment (0)
There’s an activity I did once at an applied improvisation conference about the assumptions we make about other nationalities. We were a large, mixed group from a dozen or so different countries. The Dutch amongst the group sat out and watched as the rest of us mimed and charaded our interpretations of Dutch culture. There was the inevitable bicycle riding, cheese eating, and tall, loud men shouting. The Dutch then responded with what they thought we had got right and what was wrong, or left out. Inevitably, there was a LOT left out. Despite our cumulative knowledge of Dutch culture, our views were narrow and stereotypical.
This came to mind as I was reading “Letters Left Unsent” – a compilation of essays drawn from blog posts written over the years by J, a career humanitarian. Ask anyone outside of the aid industry what aid workers do and there will be the inevitable responses of providing emergency assistance after disasters, building schools and health clinics, working with the poor and disenfranchised, and travelling to places most of us have never heard of. All of this is true, of course, and also narrow and stereotypical, just as our interpretation of our friends’ Dutch culture.
Aid, development work, humanitarian work, disaster response are all a part of it – and so is sitting in front of a computer screen, drafting grant applications, entering data into spreadsheets, answering emails, and having Skype meetings with colleagues at all times of the day and night. And, working out of Geneva, or Washington, or Nairobi. Humanitarians also struggle with conflicting demands – the demands of the job, the demands of friends, and of family, as J. writes in one of the more personal essays: Never Here.
J. also touches on some of the everyday dilemmas of doing humanitarian work as perceived by others: the glamour of travel (versus the reality of dingy airports, dodgy planes, and inevitable queues) and the wide-eyed interest in your latest deployment, that is soon replaced by glazed looks as you try and explain where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing, especially when that work and those places are far removed from the everyday reality of suburban life in a high-income country.
As interesting as these stories and insights are, it’s the description of the differences between good and bad aid that, I think, is the power of this book, especially for any readers outside of the aid industry. Or for anyone contemplating an aid project, or starting their own NGO, or even considering a career in aid. These insights are invaluable, especially in understanding why it’s not good aid to collect used bicycles and ship them off to a poor community somewhere in the world.
The essays in this book will enlighten, they will make you cringe, sometimes cry, laugh out loud, wish for a career in aid, and be thankful you don’t have a career in aid. That’s quite an accomplishment. It is testament to J’s writing and storytelling skills, and deep understanding of the aid industry and what it means to be a humanitarian.
Disclosure: I once had a beer with the author and asked many of the dumb questions he mentions in the book. He graciously answered my questions, without making me feel at all dumb, or stupid for asking what, for him, must have felt like, “Oh, not again!”
Disclosure 2: I once subjected the author to my facilitation in one of the many Very Important Meetings that he has to attend.General | Comment (0)
1st of February – it’s when the new year ‘really’ starts here in Australia. The kids are back at school, most people are back at work, we’re all planning our next holiday…the weather is great. It really does feel like the new work year has properly begun.
And you’re stuck in a meeting!
Johnnie Moore and I are working on some great new stuff, building on our Creative Facilitation work of recent years. People often tell us how much they dread meetings. If our meetings are uninspiring, then so is our organisation. We believe that it’s in our meetings that we create our culture. Is it possible to set a different standard, and create meetings in which we are challenged, surprised and engaged?
I’ll be exploring this in some detail at my next public Creative Facilitation workshop in Melbourne on February 25/26.
It’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.
Creativity, General | Comment (0)
My favourite form of mindfulness is rock balancing – introduced to me years ago by my friend Chris Corrigan. His advice about how to balance rocks still stands – you simply have to believe it’s possible.
Mongolia is a great place for rock balancing. And mindfulness.
General, Rock balancing | Comment (0)
I’ve had a break from blogging. Time to restart. Mainly because I forget things, and spend too much time searching for that idea, quote, reference, or activity.
I’ve had a mini break (three weeks) from all forms of media too: no internet = no email, blogs, Twitter, Facebook. Nothing. During that time I was travelling through Mongolia.
It helped me to remember who I am.
The constant status games on social media, one-upmanship, and happy, smiling faces is, frankly, demoralising. Everyone’s life just seems so much better, more successful, and happier than mine. The truth is much more nuanced.
As the Mongolians would say: “Do not start if afraid, once begun do not be afraid.”
General | Comment (0)
Training 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.
Creativity, General, Learning | Comment (0)