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.

Joy and delight

December 9th, 2011

Wouldn’t you like to have more of whatever it is that’s making the people in this pic react this way?

You bet.

The cause of all this joy and delight is bubbles.

The sort of bubbles that you blew as a child, and that you thought you’d outgrown. Seems none of us outgrow the pleasure  we get from watching someone blow bubbles.

This is the secret that Dr Froth aka Andrew Suttar knows only too well. For about the same time that I’ve been in business, Dr Froth has been blowing bubbles and developing his amazabubble performabubbles and his unique view on life known as Bubbleosophy.

Let’s face it – I’m jealous. Who wouldn’t want to see people reacting this way to your work?

And who wouldn’t want more joy and delight in their lives? This is something for me to work on methinks.

Here’s another pic of Dr Froth at work at the Hub Melbourne Christmas Party and if you want to see him in action, watch this video.



How to be more playful

November 29th, 2011

I’m always banging on about bringing playfulness – which can be an attitude, a point-of-view, an approach – to work, to problem solving, to meetings, to life. “But how?” I hear you asking. Here’s a few ideas:

Have a play space – a space at work or in a conference for people to play: shooting hoops, hopscotch, just tossing a ball around… It doesn’t have to be fancy, just somewhere to get the body moving.

Have materials available (see the pic) They don’t have to be used, although they might be. Just having these available might encourage people to explore visual thinking, or ideas might emerge from looking at a problem from the perspective of a fish (yes, really).

Can’t quite figure out what to focus on? Try haiku. The limitation of a haiku (3 lines, 7, 5 and 7 syllables) encourages creative thinking. Make lots. Here’s one – it’s not very good (and that’s the point) Like chocolates, it’s hard to stop at one.

Playfulness gets a bad rap
Why? Play is fun and
helps us do our work better


We have serious work to
do. We can’t waste time
in play! That is sad.

Or try Essence, to get to the heart of something – especially if you are trying to describe something quite complex. Essence is a Thiagi activity, and while it does create a product at the end, the real benefits come from the conversations people have. In small groups get people to write (a description, proposition, elevator pitch – anything really) in exactly 16 words. Hear them all, then ask them to rewrite using exactly 8 words. And then 4 words. You can continue to 2 words and 1 word if it’s helpful. Depends on the circumstances really.

Paired Drawing is another favourite activity to get people playing with their thinking. In pairs, draw a face, taking turns, one line at a time. Silently (except for the laughter, of course).

Improv warm-up games. These games are designed to build a bridge between the day-to-day work that actors have been doing and getting ready for the stage (and after all, most actors have day jobs). The games might be simple physical warm-ups, and they might help get people out of their heads (and whatever might be worrying them) and into their bodies, they might aid in concentration, in focus, in empathy, in noticing. There are literally hundreds of these games. Often, any will do. People will make meaning according to what’s important for them. Games can also be a circuit breaker if a group is stuck in a certain pattern of thinking or looking at a problem. Games can provide metaphors, they can illuminate behaviours, and they can simply make us laugh. Sometimes we all need a good laugh.

All very well for creative thinking and problem solving you might be thinking to yourself. What about sharing important information? Surely nothing beats a good presentation, followed by a robust Q & A? Maybe – if the presenter is actually good. I’ve never seen a satisfying Q & A session, either there’s not enough time, too few dominate, it provides opportunities for grandstanding and soapboxing. Ah, don’t start me. Let me share some alternatives.

You’ve got a Very Important Report to share and want comments. Rip the report apart (especially if it has lots of pages). Give each person a page with the page numbers obliterated (of course) and get people to organise themselves into chapters, and then identify the key messages in each part.

The Board has just met and come up with some statements about the organisation that you have been charged with sharing with the staff. Sound familiar? Print out the statements on small cards and leave lying around the office for a few days. Feign ignorance if anyone asks about them. After a few days do some follow-up activity.

Staff have to learn a new procedure that’s to be implemented in the next financial year. Plant clues on your web site and in other electronic places, and on social media sites that your staff use, and create an on-line scavenger hunt.

Some key information has to be shared, and understood, by people. Use 35 (another Thiagi activity).

Many of these activity embody the improv principles that underpin playfully exploring serious issues: letting go (of limiting beliefs, of old patterns of thinking, of pre-conceived ideas); accepting offers (working with what’s available, building on each other’s ideas, silencing the judgmental inner and outer critic); seeing mistakes as opportunities (trying something lots, throwing out what doesn’t work, doing more of what does, small tilts to see the effects – some call this fast prototyping); being average (that’s right, letting go of the need to be seen as competent, polished, professional and opening up to new ideas and creativity).

Bringing people together, for a meeting, for a conference, for a gathering of any sort requires more than booking a time and a space. It’s our responsibility as leaders to take care of the human dimension too.

And one more important point about playfulness. It’s not a pre-requisite to have any ‘talent’ (though you might be surprised) – you don’t have to be an actor, or a performer, or an artist to be playful. All that’s needed is that you’re human. You are human aren’t you?


There is no point. It’s just fun!

November 15th, 2011

I’ve long been a fan of Improv Everywhere, so it’s no surprise that I watched Charlie Todd’s TEDxBloomington talk on The Shared Experience of Absurdity. If you’ve never heard of Improv Everywhere it will give you a great introduction, and if you have, it will give you some laughs.

Charlie describes Improv Everywhere as “causing a scene in a public place that gives people a positive experience”. And it is inspired by moments – a moment of looking up, for example (watch the video and you’ll know what I mean). Which made me think about happiness. There seems to be an unrealistic expectation around achieving happiness, as if it’s a destination. For me,  happiness happens in moments, and I’d like to increase the number of those moments. Denying other emotions for a constant state of happiness may seem like a worthy goal, or not. The ups and downs, slings and arrows of life, simply make the moments of happiness more luscious.

I’m guessing we all have different things that make us happy. Play makes me happy – when I’m with other people willing to let go of what is expected and to play. As kids, we learn that play is a good thing. As adults, we learn that play is a waste of time. Charlie talks in this video about the criticism of Improv Everywhere that  ‘these people have too much spare time’. He suggests that someone else might say the same thing about watching a football game. The point, he says, is that there is no right or wrong way to play. And for Improv Everywhere, and many other forms of play, there is no purpose, there is no point. It’s just fun.

Hooray to that.

If you can’t see the video, here’s the link http://improveverywhere.com/2011/11/11/ted-talk/

It’s okay to play. Yes, really!

August 26th, 2011

Otters are my favourite animals. Have been for as long as I can remember. It’s their playfulness that gets me every time. Check this out. Here’s the link if you can’t see the video below.

Even the adults like to play. And if that’s not enough, check out this river otter playing with a puppy. Awwww.

I’m inspired by people who can find ways to  have fun, and be playful, with their work – whatever that might be.  Which got me thinking about the benefits of play – especially for adults. Here’s some of what I discovered.

Shell’s Arie de Geus says that organisational learning occurs in three ways: through teaching, through “changing the rules of the game” (such as through openness and localness), and through play. Play is the most rare, and potentially the most powerful. Microworlds [on computers, in workshops] are places for “relevant play”. There the issues and dynamics of complex business situations can be explored through trying out new strategies and policies and seeing what might happen. Costs of failed experiments disappear. Organisational sanctions against experimentation, either implicit or explicit, are nonexistent. Reflecting  on our own and our team’s learning skills can be enlightening and “lightening” (as in “lightening up”) because this reflection can be separated from the risks and pressures of real decision making. – Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline, pp 315

In their book The Leader’s Edge, Charles Palus and David Horth devote a whole chapter to serious play. They quote Kenneth Gergen: “Serious play is a style of communicating that explores similarities and differences, not by deconstructing the other’s point of view, but by playfully exploring new combinations of persepectives for something fresh and useful.” pp 107.

I’ll resist the temptation to refer to what they say about improvisation and skip straight to this brilliant quote by S. Smithers that captures my own excitement around using play to explore serious and important issues: “Play subverts boundaries and opens us, sometimes painfully and against our will, to a wider field of experience and phenomena.” pp 121.


Exploring the edges of the way we work

August 4th, 2011

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.

Let’s playfully change the world!

July 7th, 2011

Wow! Bulgaria sounds like a really bad country to live and work in based on this TED talk by Steve Keil. But hang on, he could be describing your work place, especially if it’s one where you do serious work, have autocratic leaders who are untrusting and controlling, even restrictive – and you’re not allowed to play. That’s right – play. This manifesto is all about bringing play back into our lives, and into work in particular. He suggests we are hard-wired for play, and points out that the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression. And play does not equal frivolous.

It won’t come as a surprise to know that I’m completely on board with his call for a revolution [a drastic and far-reaching change in the way we think and behave] – a play revolution. Yay!

But enough from me – take a break from whatever you are doing and watch this. Here’s the link if you can’t see the video below. http://www.ted.com/talks/steve_keil_a_manifesto_for_play_for_bulgaria_and_beyond.html