Doesn’t really matter what it is, when I see something I really like, a great idea, a new use for something, I invariably wish I’d thought of that.
I do understand that most good ideas are crowd sourced, or group generated – Keith Sawyer did a great job in his book Group Genius in debunking the myth of the lone genius. Still, it’d be nice to think of something that no-one had ever thought of before. Maybe our tribal origins (that’s pre-internet, pre-technology for those who are wondering) means we are always inventing and re-inventing for our own context. I’ve always thought this might be a reason why learning from others’ experiences is a bit dodgy – our own experience is a much more reliable source of learning, hence we need to make the same mistakes as those who came before us.
My latest target for idea envy is Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate. The hard copy version is bad enough (for envy, that is) – taking one of my favourite adaptations of the Hero’s Journey by Christopher Vogler and applying it to presentations, but the on-line version, the one I just downloaded onto my iPad is frigging awesome.
Until now I’ve been happy enough to live with a foot in both the analog and digital camps when it comes to books. This on-line book with it’s videos, and interviews, and ‘behind-the-scenes’ notes, capacity to highlight and take my own notes, and to apply what I’m learning as I go, has probably tipped me right into the digital camp.Creativity, Geeky Stuff, Innovation, Presentations, Story | Comment (0)
This TEDxHarlem talk by Jake Barton describes how we can move beyond the traditional (and mostly dysfunctional) public meeting and mobilise the community to be involved in creating a better future.
As well as the messages about “re-imagining public participation” this talk highlights a few other things as well. Jake Barton uses story-telling to good effect, and he demonstrates the spark-line approach suggested by Nancy Duarte in her book Resonate. He describes what is, what could be, what’s at stake, how, and a call to action. All in less than 8 minutes.
I also love the way this project combines individual needs, community, government and technology. It’s what change looks like. It’s also what the future looks like.Collaboration, Community, Innovation | Comment (0)
Watch any young child learning something new. Generally, there’s lots of false starts. Surfing is a big industry around here. On any day, there’s groups of people learning to surf – young kids, teenagers, adults. There’s no short cut to learning to surf. There’s lots of false starts. Yet every time someone misses a wave, they learn something, and next time they try something else. It’s incremental. Gradually, with lots of practice they start catching waves, start standing up, start surfing.
This sort of failure is okay. It’s how we expect to learn something new. Yet we’re sometimes expected to do something we’ve never done before at work – to innovate – and to also be sure it will work, first time. Seems like a big ask to me. And what happens? People stop trying anything remotely risky. If they can’t be absolutely sure it will be successful, they don’t do it. This can be disastrous for any sort of growth, innovation, or creativity.
Let’s look more closely at failure. What sort of failure is not okay?
Tim Kastelle describes a useful hierarchy of failure:
- System failure (the collapse of communism)
- System component failure (stock market crashes)
- Major firm failure (Enron going out of business)
- Start-up failure (pets.com going out of business)
- Product failure (New Coke tanking)
- Idea failure (Apple Navigator prototyped but never launched)
Idea failure can happen in many different ways too – prototypes, assumptions, hypotheses and guesses can fail to work as anticipated.
When people react against the idea of failure, they are usually thinking about higher levels of failure than ideas. And it is really bad when entire systems fail.
So how do we become comfortable with idea failure? How do we keep going when every time we try to catch the wave, we fail?
Part of the answer is in persistence and experimentation. When I watch people learning to surf, or when I’m out there with my own boogie board, it’s all about trying something, seeing how that works out, modifying it or trying something new, and keeping at it long enough for a breakthrough.
An aside: This brought me to wondering about the difference between persistence and perseverance. It seems perseverance is sticking to a belief or an idea, while persistence is sticking to a course of action.
A perfect example of this for me is rock balancing. I believe it’s possible, and persist with trying to make the rocks balance! And another example for me is applied improv: I believe that it’s important to the way we relate to each other in all walks of life, and I’m willing to persist with bringing the principles and practices of improvisation to life for people.
So for learning, and for innovation, we need perseverance (a belief that things can be different or improved) and persistence to try something over and over, and learn from our mistakes. I’d also add the principle of letting go. And the wisdom to know when to keep persisting with something that’s not quite working, and letting go and trying something else.
Using the principles and practices of applied improv can help us do this. I remember one of the first applied improv conferences I attended, there was a group of about 10 of us standing in a circle trying out and creating different games and warm-ups for improvising. Someone would make a suggestion, and we’d inevitable start talking about it until someone else would say “let’s just try it!”. And that’s exactly what we’d do. We’d try it and if it didn’t work so well, someone might incorporate a new idea while still playing the game. It accelerated learning, was a lot of fun and kept us all engaged.
When using improv activities with a group to explore different behaviours, some people may become impatient when the activity has been done once or twice. It’s interesting to persist with the activity. We’ve noticed that interesting things happens after a while of persistence – the group gets into a flow state, individuals start to recognise patterns in their behaviour that they were unaware of, or the whole system might completely break down. No matter what occurs there’s a great deal of leaning to be gleaned from such experiences.
Having ideas and sharing them, talking them through, thinking how they might work is all good – and at some stage the idea needs to be tested, experimented with, assessed, modified, improved. All this can happen in a short time by improvising.Improv, Innovation, Learning | Comment (0)
After September 11 in 2001 in New York strangers started saying hello to each other. There was a yearning for community, says Matt Meeker, co-founder of Meetup. Today meetup.com facilitates off-line group meetings on any imaginable topic, now in 101 countries.
I’m new to Meetups. I participate in two Meetup Groups in Melbourne: The Creative Performance Exchange and The Collaboratory Melbourne. I have met the most amazing, talented and inspirational people, and learnt so much from them. It’s fair to say I’m a huge fan of Meetups.
Generally, I’m not a joiner of groups, especially if there’s even a sniff of agendas, minutes, and traditional meeting procedure. Nor am I a fan of meetings per se. They tend to be a way for people in organisations to legitimately gather together, and looking in from the outside, seem to be out of control. I know people whose days are just full of meetings, and their email full of meeting notifications. They complain about these meetings. A lot.
Compare that with a Meetup. There’s an invitation, a host, and one or more featured presenters of a particular topic that is described in quite a bit of detail. The ones I attend start and finish on time. I can see how many other people are attending and who they are. There’s often a follow-up post with pictures and further information. There might also be an accompanying Yammer discussion leading up to and after the Meetup.
Imagine if organisations created internal Meetups instead of meetings.Community, Innovation | Comments (2)
I’ve started a little research project to explore the edges of how we work.
When facilitating workshops with many different groups and organisations, there is sometimes a disconnect between what people want to do and how it is expected to be done. Approaches that were once just fine are now struggling in the face of complexity, unpredictability and demands for creativity, innovation and agility.
To find out what has traction I’ve come up with a series of short, free workshops that explore some of these edges. I’m pretty excited about this. You might be interested in taking part? If so, check out the offerings over on my dedicated web site, Transforming the way we work.Creativity, Culture, Innovation, Play | Comment (0)
I really liked this article about the improvisational brain, based on research of musical improvisation.
A couple of things stood out: we learn words, then phrases and then grammar that eventually enables us to recombine them all to communicate our thoughts. That’s language. And we can learn notes, cords, and progressions that eventually enables us to recombine them all to express musical ideas. That’s music. This is how we learn different forms of literacy.
So far, so good.
Then there’s the Road to Improvisation. Part of the journey is learning new skills with a combination of exposure, a toolbox and practice. If improvisation is part of the journey, then an improvisor’s MINDSET is needed for the next phase. However, the budding improvisor is prone to rely on a safety net, just in case spontaneity lets them down at a crucial moment. At some point (and here’s where it gets fuzzy for me) there’s a decision to CHOOSE improvisation – a conscious choice? – and the necessity to LET GO (I’m reminded here of a trapeze artist letting go of the bar or a skier letting go of fear and leaning down the mountain) which culminates in what Aaron Berkowitz calls the ‘creator/witness phenomenon’.
“At this level of musical cognition, the improviser often achieves a seamless trade-off between his conscious and subconscious knowledge. He knows he’s creating the music and feels very much in control, yet he also feels as if he’s watching himself play, a paradox that Berkowitz calls the creator/witness phenomenon. “They’ll be playing and something happens that they didn’t quite expect,” Berkowitz said. “Then they react to that and it kind of starts this dialogue where the improviser is steering the ship, but is also being steered by the ship.”
Which brings me back to the question of improvisational facilitation. I think one of the greatest skills a facilitator can develop is to be spontaneous – to notice what’s happening and respond in the moment. In other words, to improvise. This is not the same as being unprepared. There’s a solid background of exposure to various forms of facilitation, a toolbox full of methods and techniques, and practice. Lots of practice.
I think just about anyone can learn to be a competent facilitator. My interest is in what does it take to develop an improvisor’s mindset as a facilitator, how to ditch the safety net (the plan, for example) and be always in choice when facilitating to become truly improvisational.
Due to a solid grounding in traditional facilitation plus exposure to improvisation, I’ve developed my own capacity as an improvisational facilitator. The hardest part has been learning to let go. It doesn’t always work, but when it does – wow! My challenge is to unpack how that happens so as I can help others learn how to improvise when facilitating. This is edgy, exciting work that I have a real passion for.Facilitation, Improv, Innovation, Learning, Music | Comments (2)
Sometimes I find myself trying too hard. Trying too hard to impress, or to keep the peace, or to come up with a brilliant idea. And this despite that I know that I can’t do all or any of those things even some, let alone all, of the time – and certainly not on demand. It’s when I catch myself trying too hard that I try to become more playful. And that’s where it gets tricky, because it’s hard (ironic eh?) to be very playful on your own. Much easier to get sucked in to the prevailing mood. It’s remarkably easy to forget playfulness in the midst of all the serious stuff of life (read tedium) – paying bills, catching trains or planes, standing in queues, or (God forbid!) attending meetings.
Why be more playful? I think it opens opportunity. I think it’s fun and when I’m having fun I’m more likely to try something new or adventurous and who knows where it might lead? I also think it helps others to relax too. I was chatting with a friend the other day who played an improv game with a group of his colleagues. He said he learnt more about them in that few minutes than in years of regular meetings. He saw who jumped straight in, who opted out. He saw a different side to his colleagues. I wondered if it was a ‘different’ side, or whether he was seeing the ‘real’ person, rather than the work persona?
A few weeks ago I ran a workshop with a group of people using improv games for much of the time. Later, the feedback I received was that people felt “challenged, inspired, confused, excited and energised”. All from being playful! I’m reminded of the 80s when the management mantra was to leave your personal life at home and not bring your personal self and problems to the work place. Always seemed bizarre to me as to how I was supposed to split myself into the ‘work Viv and the ‘home’ Viv. Seems some people have taken this to heart though and still see work as ‘serious’ and play as well, something else that’s not really appropriate in the world of work. Thankfully this is changing, and there are lots of commentators who talk about the benefits of play and of having fun, yes, even at work!: Keith Sawyer, Alex Kjerulf. And it’s not a new theme for me either. I’ve written about it before here and here.
So, how to be more playful? As well as the usual paraphenalia I carry with me, I’m going to try and find ways of actually being playful more often. Maybe I should dig those juggling balls out of the cupboard and have them in my bag? Which brings me to the question of whether I need things to be playful? Or other people to play with? Or whether playfulness is a state of mind? I guess it’s all of the above.
My challenge is to be true to my own convictions: I know that play, and laughter, releases endorphins. I know that play triggers different parts of the brain. I know that the way we act when playing games is a window to how we act in other situations. I know that I’m more open when playing games. I know I have more ideas, and even if I don’t, I have more fun anyway. And I also know that I stress over what people will think of me when I suggest a game in lieu of a more serious, more conventional, approach.
It’s certainly easier, and maybe even safer, to be conventional, to be unexceptional. Challenging the status quo has always been an uncomfortable place to be. I have enough experience of facilitation now that I know how to be predictable, and I know how to use a whole range of processes to deliver perceived outcomes for the client. I know how to use management speak, how to play the corporate game. Problem is, I don’t want to. I prefer to challenge, to disrupt and to take people to their learning edge where something might actually shift as a result of what we do together. It’s unpredictable. It’s sometimes scary (yep, for me too!). It’s one of the reasons I have this blog – to capture these thoughts, to share them, and to find playmates (wanna play?).
For me, and my clients, some of whom do some of the most serious work imaginable, playfulness is a way to seriously explore what they do and how they do it – to innovate even. Guess that’s why my business is called Beyond the Edge.
This, I think, is the work I’ve been waiting to do.
HT to my playmates. You know who you are.
Here’s another cool RSA animation, this time by Dan Pink about his latest book, Drive. If you don’t have time to read the book you can at least watch this 10-minute video. It explores the paradox of rewards – that when we have enough money, more money is not a motivator. What does motivate us then is challenge, mastery and making a contribution. I really like the description of autonomy, and being self-directed, and giving stuff away. That, combined with collaborating, and connecting through social media, describe my current way of working. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
HT – Rob PatersonInnovation, Presentations | Comment (1)
Regular readers will known that I’m involved in a national conference on evaluation of behaviour change called Show Me The Change. I’m excited about this conference for many reasons, but evaluation and behaviour change are not high up there. What? I’ve been known to dabble in evaluation. I’ve even been known to dabble in behaviour change. And they make fascinating areas of study. The reason I’m really excited about this conference is that it’s an opportunity take part in a radical departure from traditional conferences and to demonstrate how meaningful a conference experience can be while allowing the participants to do what they do so well – connect with each other and talk about their own experiences of evaluation of behaviour change including their successes and failures, and come away with renewed insight, inspiration and ideas.
I’m not one to get too excited about many conferences these days. That’s because many conferences follow a predictable pattern of ‘high profile’ keynote speakers, panels, Q & A, workshops that were selected months in advance by a steering committee and are too expensive to attend.
I remember a turning point for me and conferences. It was an international conference on community engagement, in Sydney or Brisbane – I can’t quite remember the specifics. I paid my own way as is always the case when you have your own business. It wasn’t cheap. More than $1000 for three days plus accommodation and travel. There were lots of speakers. So many that they were jam packed three at a time into one hour slots. You do the arithmetic. There was lots of very slick organisation. And lots of very boring powerpoint. There was no engagement. I kid you not. It was a classic case of the only engagement happened in the breaks, and there were so many people spread over a very large, soulless venue, that it was just about impossible to find the people you wanted to speak to. I also discovered a number of people who turned up for their session and then disappeared. So much for connection. But I can’t blame them really, because the form was not at all conducive to anything other than reinforcing traditional patterns of hierarchy and status.
Is it a risk to depart from this traditional approach? I guess it depends on your perspective. And seeing as Show Me The Change is about evaluation, I guess it depends how you measure success. So is success at conferences measured by the number of bums on seats? By profit? By the ‘VIPs’ it attracts? By the keynote speakers? Or by some less tangible measures? The ideas shared? The connections made? The collaborations that ensue?
What makes a successful conference for you?Evaluation, Innovation | Comment (0)
With shared interests in facilitation and open space, and a passion for improv, conversation, and exploring ideas, it was really only a matter of time before Johnnie Moore and I developed a workshop that brings all of that together in some way. It’s called Crumbs! and you can read about it here on Matt Moore’s (no relation) web site.
Matt has invited us to Sydney to offer Crumbs! on May 13.
It’s about the tyrannies that oppress us and limit our capacity to be creative and innovative.
These tyrannies are the Tyranny of the Explicit, or the fear of not knowing; the Tyranny of Excellence, or the fear of not being good enough; and the Tyranny of Effort, or the fear of failure.
It’s going to be fun to explore these with Johnnie, and even more fun to explore how to bust them. We’d love you to come and play.Collaboration, Creativity, Innovation | Comment (0)