Third best job in the world

October 13th, 2016

ImproventionMy job – working with groups, helping them come alive, unearth their creativity and make discoveries – is the third best job in the world. Sometimes I’m called a facilitator, but facilitation is only part of what I do – it’s a skill that helps me be useful to all those groups I work with.

What’s that? You’re curious about #1 and #2.

The second best job in the world goes to – drum roll please – Alan Alda. Yes, he of MASH fame. Alan works with scientists (and I have a particular soft spot for scientists) to help them tell the story of their scientific research. What makes this the second best job in the world is that he uses improvisation to train scientists. Yep, pretty damn good.

And the best job in the world? That goes to Richard Fidler who hosts Conversations on ABC Radio. Honestly, who wouldn’t want a job where you can do long-form interviews with interesting people, asking well-researched questions, as well as responding to the surprising things that people say? Yep, best job in the world.

I could write ad nauseam on what’s common to these three great jobs, but I think I’ll leave that up to you.  You’ll figure it out! I’m happy with my third-best job in the world, unless someone wants to offer me a go at Alan or Richard’s job.

Birdwatching from my desk

November 18th, 2014

Grey FantailGlancing just a little to my left of my computer screen, I can see, through my office window, one of the bird baths in our garden. It is an endless source of joy for me.

This morning I saw four different species using the bath at the same time: Grey Fantails, Red-browed Finches, Brown Thornbills and another unidentified SBB (small brown bird). When the New Holland Honeyeaters come to the bath, they frighten all the others away. They often come in raucus groups, all sitting on the edge chittering away madly and diving into the water. The much larger Red-wattle Bird visits alone, perches on the edge, looking around and then dives in sideways for a single dip and flies away. It will return a few times, repeating the procedure.

Crimson RosellasThe Crimson Rosellas nearly always visit in pairs or family groups. There seems to be a hierarchy. The highest ranking bird will bathe first while the others hang around calling and waiting their turn. The Blue Wrens visit whenever they want, and when the Magpies decide to splash vigourously in the birdbath, it quickly empties of water. Nothing compares to the sound of the Grey Shrike-thrush as it calls from the nearby trees. And if the Grey Butcherbird decides to visit, with it’s clear, melodious call, and treacherous beak and murderous intent, all the other birds take cover.

Simple pleasures.

The introduction to a book I never wrote

November 19th, 2013

I wrote this in 2007, and published it in my blog in 2012. I found it again today, re-read it and thought to myself that I really should blog that. Luckily I checked before blogging it again.

Here’s what I left out of the blog post:

“This book explores what facilitators can learn from improvised theatre and the role of spontaneity in facilitation. We’ll explore what improvisers do to hone their skills, how they apply their improv skills and some of the ways these can be applied in facilitation.”

Here’s how my focus has shifted since then: just replace ‘facilitators’ and ‘facilitation’ in the above paragraph with whatever your profession is.


A peak inside aid

July 13th, 2013

A whole bunch of luck, certainly not planning, means I do quite a bit of work with aid organisations. Well, one in particular, but it’s so large and diverse, it may as well be a number of smaller organisations. I have no illusions. I’m not an aid worker, or a humanitarian professional. I hang out on the edges of their profession, occasionally bumping up against aid workers (figuratively, not literally – and never in the back of a Land Cruiser returning from Bur Amina!) I like aid workers (mostly) – their mixture of cynicism, and BS-metre straightforwardness, their humour and willingness to share bits of their world with outsiders like me.

Most of what I have really learnt about their work has been in bars or at breakfast in conference venues from Thailand to Armenia. Stories. They tell lots of stories. One of the best storytellers is J. author of two humanitarian novels: Disastrous Passion, and his latest, Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit.

Despite the jargon and acronyms (which give a certain sense of authenticity), it’s a good read. J. makes the dilemmas of aid work accessible, explaining the paradoxes (or is that paradoxi?), the compromises, the camaraderie, the occasional danger, and the isolation (no matter where on the planet aid workers happen to be – in the field or at ‘home’, wherever home is).

If your understanding of the aid world is only through occasional TV footage, fundraising campaigns or righteous indignation at how ‘aid’ money is spent, then read this book. It will throw you headfirst into the moral dilemmas – both personal and political – that are part and parcel of this profession.

Waking up in Cambridge

July 9th, 2013

This morning I woke up in Cambridge. That would be Cambridge in the UK, my home-away-from-home for the next three months (with a huge thank you to Johnnie Moore for providing said HAFH). Just in Cambridge itself there’s lots to do. I have a bike to get around, some familiarity from a short visit last year, maps (just in case) and oodles of daylight. I am loving the long hours of daylight. Then there’s London, less than an hour away by train. And there’s all the people I’d like to catch up with. Oh, and espresso martinis – I have the challenge of discovering the best espresso martini in London (for the record, the best in Melbourne can be had at Nobu Bar on Southbank). Of course, I take these challenges seriously and have co-opted Kay Scorah to help with said search. (Who wouldn’t co-opt a conspirator who has a web site called Have More Fun!?)

Pete has already cycled across France and is about to enter Switzerland on his epic cycling tour across Europe. My image of jumping on a cheap flight to catch up with him has been shattered by the reality of last-minute bookings that are not-so-cheap and the lure of train travel (a much more attractive option) that is even more expensive. Sigh. I’ll figure something out.

On the work front, Johnnie and I have just completed a week’s training on action learning. Not your usual training gig. Not your usual training. Lots of thoughts and ideas tumbling about my brain after that. Lots to write about, one day soon.

And who knows what else will come up in conversations, random meetings and while day-dreaming on planes or trains?

Making a difference

April 3rd, 2013

The drive from Jaipur to Delhi took over five hours – 270 kms. My driver, Ashok, stopped at a restaurant for lunch. It was packed. It was packed with Indians, the women all in lovely saris. It was noisy. It was Sunday. Lots of families. I felt out of place,

I visited the bathroom. It was also packed. No surprises there. Everyone in lovely saris – except me and the toilet attendant. As I left, I handed her a few rupees. She brought the notes to her lips, and our eyes met for a moment.

We talk of making a difference. We talk of doing something grand, of doing something that will make the world a better place. It is these small gestures that probably make the biggest difference.

Tom Jacobs says it better than I can:

“Humility. We are each of us brothers. Things might have gone differently. Whether we were born in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time, we owe everything to contingency, chance, and providence. As my high school track teacher used to say before a track meet, when we were all feeling wildly anxious: “everyone puts their pants on in the same way.” I never quite knew what he meant by that at the time, but I think I understand now.

Charles Baxter says something somewhere (in his novel Shadow Play) that our lives end at our fingertips. There is truth to this. There are large gestures and small gestures. Most of what matters in this world are the small gestures. Tipping well; being nice to the cashier; dropping whatever money you might have in your pocket into the homeless person’s cup (or at the very least, acknowledging their existence…saying ‘hello,’ type of thing); letting the car in front of you merge when they need to. These are small gestures. The dramatic and pivotal decision that ramifies beyond our immediate experience is rare, and perhaps not worth worrying about. By all means, vote. Like political messages on facebook. But the actual work of a truly democratic society happens in the everyday, in the dust kicked up by just waking up and existing with others in time.”

HT to Johnnie Moore’s tweet

Remember that time..

March 3rd, 2013

You know that time you felt nervous before you stood up in front of a group?

And that time when you thought everyone was glaring at you?

And that time when you forgot to say something really important?

And that time you wished the floor would open up and swallow you?

And that time something happened that really surprised you?

And that time when you thought you weren’t up to the task, but as it turns out, you were?

And that time you tried something really, really risky and it paid off?

And that time when you tried something really, really risky and it flopped?

And that time when you named what was really going on, and there was that uncomfortable pause, and then a collective out breath?

And that time when you thought to yourself, ‘why do I do this?’

And that time when you thought to yourself, ‘this is why I do this!’

Me too.

The illusion of control

August 6th, 2011

This came to me via a circuitous and interesting route – reminding me of the power of turning up and of serendipity.

You can read the original here, at Zen Habits.

This is important for me to remember.

  • We stop setting goals, and instead do what excites us.
  • We stop planning, and just do.
  • We stop looking at the future, and live in the moment.
  • We stop trying to control others, and focus instead on being kind to them.
  • We learn that trusting our values is more important to taking action than desiring and striving for certain outcomes.
  • We take each step lightly, with balance, in the moment, guided by those values and what we’re passionate about … rather than trying to plan the next 1,000 steps and where we’ll end up.
  • We learn to accept the world as it is, rather than being annoyed with it, stressed by it, mad at it, despaired by it, or trying to change it into what we want it to be.
  • We are never disappointed with how things turn out, because we never expected anything — we just accept what comes.

Hat tip: Nicky Hayward-Wright


April 19th, 2011

I’ve been eating out a lot. Not because I don’t like to cook, or can’t. The simple reason is I’ve been travelling a lot and eating out goes with the territory. I find myself always sighing with relief when the menu is short. And what’s even better than a short menu? When someone else does the ordering.

I remember a meal in Vancouver. It was at the end of an Open Space on Open Space gathering and I was there with my friend Brian Bainbridge and others who had attended the conference. We just wanted to hang out and enjoy each other’s company before heading to different parts of the globe. The owner of the Indian restaurant we chose greeted us enthusiastically, got us comfortably seated, brought beers and wines and water and then said, “Why don’t you just leave the food to me?” Fantastic. We could focus on what we did best: eating, drinking and having conversations while he and his staff focused on what they did best, preparing food.

Tonight I was reading a blog post – you know the sort – x reasons why x does/doesn’t work. The list was so long there was definitely going to be something there for everyone. A bit like a horoscope. Feeling a bit down this week? Never mind, the planets are on the move and by the end of the week you will have received some cheering news, maybe even an offer that will be financially and or personally rewarding.

So rather than long lists I think I’d prefer a bit more depth, a bit of analysis, some context.

Note: This is as much a reminder to myself as well as a plea to others. Please feel free to remind me of this post if my posts start to resemble those anything-you-can-eat menus.


March 31st, 2011

For the next two weeks I’ll be trekking in Nepal – something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. So that means pretty much no contact with the outside world. Play nice while I’m away.