Research, MOOCS and what’s next?

September 29th, 2014

While I blog to keep track of my own thinking and ideas, I’m conscious that there’s others out there who read what’s here.


It was nearly exactly (I know, that’s nonsense and what I really mean to say is ‘almost’) a year since I decided to do some research, the reasons of which are still obscure even to me. I’ve blundered around exploring ideas, reading, interviewing, spent some time at Oxford, met lots of great people, am becoming more and more curious, and less and less focused. I think.

It’s odd, this feeling of ‘isolated connectedness’ – that’s my term to describe how it feels. Maybe it’s how all researchers feel.

Anyway, this post is to alert you, and remind me, that I often make sense by writing, and writing here on my blog is where I do that. So I won’t be offended if you find something better to do.

I’m excited by the intersection of three MOOCS I’m doing, all offered on the FutureLearn platform. I can feel a whole lot of threads coming together, in fact, I’m impatient for that to happen, and grateful that the weekly pacing of the MOOCS enforce a much slower pace. I’m practicing patience, and giving my brain a chance to make connections that I’ve yet to think of. Impatient, excited, uncertain. Yes.


Questions and answers

May 18th, 2014

Finding the right answer, or even the best answer, was rewarded when I went to school. Admittedly, that was a long time ago. I’ve spent the rest of my life learning how to ask questions. Answers can be satisfying (giving and receiving) – in the same way that sugar is satisfying. They provide fleeting satisfaction, whereas questions can linger for years. Good questions, probing questions, questions that challenge, even scare us, can nourish us for a lifetime.

I’m spending some time in Oxford and Cambridge – places that are infused with questions. There seems to be a right of passage, from studying, exams (getting the right answers), graduating, celebrating (there’s a lot of that going on right now) and then some enter research. Researching in science and the humanities, asking unanswerable questions, looking for answers anyway, surfacing new questions. Insights, even some answers, seem to emerge from curiosity and operating at the edge, looking for, or more likely, stumbling across, intersections between disciplines.

“Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world…they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds — justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind.”
Anne Rice


Committing at last!

October 20th, 2013

Commit YourselfOne of the cards that we use in workshops says COMMIT YOURSELF. It’s a call to take a stance, to step in, to stand for something. It’s the opposite of hedging your bets.

For too long now I’ve been hedging my bets with my work – espousing the edgy nature of games and improvisation, and, to be fair, I have been incorporating both into my work. Yet not quite committing. Holding back just a bit. As any improviser knows, reluctance may afford some level of safety, and it also leads to missing opportunities. Missing the moment to step in and contribute to or even change the scene.

With the benefit of a four-month break, I’ve noticed how excited I get at the potential of games and of exploring the relationship between games, improvisations, applied improv, decision-making and leadership. It’s time I stepped boldly into this space.

How to get there

December 4th, 2012

 This cartoon by Michael Leunig tells you all you need to know about how to get there. I think it’s brilliant.

Sometimes people ask me how I got to be doing what I’m now doing (I think they mean the work, and not sitting here at a computer writing a blog post). Sometimes I ask myself the same question (about the work, and about writing blog posts).

It relates well to my latest mantra: Show Up. Let Go. Jump In.

Or sound advice given by my humanitarian aid friends: Proceed until apprehended.

Just keep on with it. Good advice, don’t you think?

Especially for someone like me who likes beginnings, but not endings.

What’s becoming clear to you?

October 10th, 2012

This is one of my favourite debrief questions when I’m facilitating a group. In truth, it’s a go to question when I have nothing else to ask. It’s open, it’s broad and it allows people to answer it any way they like. It creates conversation, it surfaces ambiguity and yet more questions. In short, it’s a ripper of a question.

You’re welcome.

I found myself answering it this morning as I reflected on a workshop I participated in last night (that’s right, I had no role in facilitating it). I noticed I completely let go of any interest in process, leaving it entirely to the facilitator. Okay, there was one moment where I thought, ‘oh, I’d do blah blah blah’ and I caught myself thinking that and let it go. That felt good.

And what became clear to me is that I see the world differently to many other people – especially many other people my age. And my views, so often kept to myself when facilitating, are just bursting to be revealed. And they might even have some merit.

What also is becoming clear is my continuing search for a way to embody facilitation within something else – to “use facilitation for…”  compared with “being a facilitator”. I think there’s something lurking just out of my reach within the realms of social entrepreneurship.

Perspective and the echo chamber

September 28th, 2012

There was a moment last week at the Applied Improvisation Network Conference where I felt particularly despondent.

We’d been listening to people talk about what they are doing in taking improvisation skills and practices out of the theatre and into the world. We’d heard of using improv to treat post-traumatic stress in war veterans, in training firefighters, for teaching language skills in Thailand. And more. Amazing work by amazing people.

I felt I had nothing to offer. It’s all being done, and done much better than I could ever hope to do it. Instead of being inspired, I found myself feeling dejected.

Later in the day I was sitting in the sun talking to my friend Eric Nepom, an amazingly talented scientist, educator and improviser, and passionate about finding ways to bring improv and science together. This is a passion we share so we were doing some evil planning on how we might make that happen.

It was then that perspective kicked in. I’d been sitting with about 200 people passionate about the value of improv in all walks of life. There’s a lot more people out there in the world who know nothing (yet) about the potential of improv. And there’s so much that needs to be done in the world, that there’s space enough for all of us. The shift in my perspective came from a shift in my circumstances, going from being part of a roomful of people receiving information, to a picnic table outdoors and a rich one-on-one conversation.

I realised I’d fallen into the old trap of being in an echo chamber – hearing only the voices saying the same thing – and taking a scarcity view of the world. The scarcity view is fed by competitiveness and a belief that there’s only so much to go round, so you’d better get in quick or be the best at something to get some of the action. The abundance view – that there’s more need than is being met and space for everyone to bring their unique talents, skills and perspectives to change the world – is far more hopeful and nourishing.



September 3rd, 2012

July 20th 1969 was a school day. It was just eight days before my 14th birthday. I was in Form 2, or as it’s now known, Year 8. My school was large, with over 1000 students. I didn’t like it much, and I was anxious. What if the teachers didn’t let us watch the moon landing? Were there enough televisions at the school? Would I be able to see it? It was history in the making. I HAD to see it. I must have been persuasive enough for my mum to let me stay home from school and watch it with her, on our scratchy black and white television. We shared a love of space travel, of science fiction, and of wonder. We shared watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon.

Fast forward to August 6, 2012. I was sitting at my computer, NASA live streaming, in colour from Mars (from MARS!) the landing of Curiosity. At the same time as I was watching this I was skyping with a friend in the UK. It all seems so natural and everyday.

I’m pretty sure I never imagined such a thing at 14.

Today I’m surrounded by devices that keep me connected, somewhat distracted, and occasionally facilitate work.

Many events – like the moon landing – and many people, have influenced my thinking, the way I work, the person I am. I’ve met some of these amazing people in person or on-line (I no longer make a distinction).

Most of them probably don’t even know what influence they have on me. Or on others.

Which is my point.

It’s impossible to know what influence we have on other people.

Which is all the more reason to do the things that matter, in ways that feel right, with people we believe in.

Community and connection

August 20th, 2012

Is it over sharing or reaching out? This is one of the new skills we have to navigate in this connected world. I think we all crave connection and understanding, empathy and love. Is it possible to get this on-line?

I’ve seen friends reach out on-line and receive an outpouring of support, ideas, encouragement and love.

It doesn’t replace our local human friends and family – it enlarges it to embrace a wider field of humans who can travel with us as we navigate this uncertain world.

Passion is not enough

July 31st, 2012

We hear a lot about doing what you’re passionate about. Good advice. Certainly beats doings something you hate. Finding your passion is one thing – and not always as easy as it seems – and sharing your passion with others is quite another.

I’ve come to realise that passion is not enough.

It’s not okay to be passionate and boring, or passionate and rambling, or passionate and incoherent, or passionate and judgemental.


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?