Entries by Gillian


How Deep Are Your Neural Pathways?

Before you read this post, grab a pencil and piece of paper. Now without thinking too much about it write down the first thing that comes into your head when you read these words: ColourFurnitureFlower What did you write down? Well, I did this exercise, which is called Mind Grooving (from The Systems Thinking Playbook […]

Systems Haikus

I am doing a few days of systems thinking training and one creativity exercise we did this morning, on day 2 of the training, was to write a systems haiku (5-8-5 syllables). Here are a few interesting ones: (thanks to the Questions of Difference Team for these!) If a systems loop has an impact on […]


Facilitators’ Notebook: Using Powerful Questions

You might remember Gregory Stock’s “The Book of Questions” (1985) which was a small book of 200 short, provocative questions that you can think about yourself, or use at dinner parties or other social situations. I have used it in the past to create rather disruptive questions to ask participants in workshops on ethical decision-making, […]

My Life as a Car (or Cart, depending on where you live)

I sat down this morning to design a workshop agenda for a group that I now work with frequently. Looking at their goals for the afternoon brainstorming session, the same techniques came to mind that I often use for this kind of thing. They are interactive, productive, create great artifacts for recording, and participants love […]


Teambuilding Without Holding Hands

We had a very productive retreat last week and at the end of it, there was a palpable sense of identity as a team. That was one of our goals, to build this team, along with the imperative of the design task that precipitated the idea of a retreat in the first place. When a […]


Focus AND Perspective in One Hour or Less?

Some days go by in a blur. Meetings interspersed with small chunks of desk time, interrupted by phone calls, nature breaks, and impromptu visits by interesting colleagues, an SMS from home, the background bing of email dropping into your in-box. Interruptions, as welcome as they might be, unweave the fabric of your day. The focus […]


It’s OK to Be Invisible

Blogs are great because they can be used for so many things. This is an exercise in reframing… There are many professions that have as a feature of their creative work, being rather invisible in the final product. Editors find this, ghost writers certainly, even advisors to high level people have the opportunity to provide […]

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Time, Technology and Tangibility

Last week I had the opportunity to talk to Frits Hesselink, who has recently completed a Toolkit on Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) for the Convention on Biological Diversity. Toolkits are very much the fashion right now and we were interested hear more about what Frits had learned in his process, which featured over […]


No “Thanks” Needed

Every time I watch Merlin Mann’s Google video on Inbox Zero, I get a little more out of it and gradually the idea of a Zero Inbox is capturing people’s imagination in our institution. We have now run two 60 minute staff sessions where we projected the video, had some stories from current users, and […]


Am I This Stuff?

Here’s a puzzle, what do the following things have in common? Analysis of green areas per person in the Metropolitan Area of Mexico City 1950-2000 Description of a process (1994-1997) for capacity building to promote multi-stakeholder dialogue on the environmental problems in a peri-urban hot spot and the capacity needed for its management Report on […]

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A Day is a Thousand Social Contracts

Many years ago I was a part of a distributed project team designing a workshop that combined teambuilding, with systems thinking and sustainable development. It was lead by Dennis Meadows, one of my mentors, and at one early point in our process where we were taking on individual roles and responsibilties, he asked us to […]

It Takes A Village…

I have just had a heartening experience in my office. As it is the holiday season I thought I would share it on this blog. We have an incredibly complex internal knowledge management system for recording our programme plans, budget etc. as many large international organizations do. Not being someone who is gifted in using […]


You Have the Right to Remain Silent

This week we are hosting a 5-day workshop, “Beyond Facilitation: Intervention Skills for Strengthening Groups and Teams”. We have 19 people here from within our institution and other facilitators working around the world, from the UK to Zambia. We are using Group Process Consultation (GPC) as our foundation for learning more about how we can […]


Want to Learn More? Take this Quiz…

Imagine that you need to inform people in a workshop setting about your organization (or another topic for that matter.) Option A: You can make a PowerPoint presentation for 20 minutes and have a Q&A discussion after it for another 10 minutes. But how much will people learn about your subject and how much will […]


We All Have a Second Life

(This post was inspired by a conversation I had a few days ago about the possibility of holding a major Congress in Second Life as opposed to F2F. There were worries that people would not be themselves and that that would affect the quality of discussions.) We all have a Second Life. Every time we […]


News Flash: Team has Zero In-box for One Month

In the past, doing email has never been a source of energy and delight for our team. Now it is. We use to spend hours a day sifting through hundreds of messages looking for actionable items, or scrolling down a long, complicated taxonomy of folders trying to accurately file something. Going away on a holiday […]


Creating Physical Memories

There is certainly some significant debate about how much people remember from different training or workshop experiences. I just read a provocative blog post from Will Thalheimer refuting the various data, pyramids and cones that have helped the experiential learning community substatiate its methods for years. However, he does not necessarily refute the fact people […]

Can You Compare Great Speakers to Great Criminals?

About twenty minutes ago I was driving to work when out of the bushes and into the middle of the road jumped two Swiss Policemen in bullet proof vests, they practically stopped my car with their bare hands. They wanted my permit and papers NOW. My hands were shaking, and I couldn’t think while I […]

“We Deserve the Leaders We Get”

I have spent the last two days with the British Council team who is working to roll out an innovative leadership programme called InterAction. The programme started in Africa and has run for four years and trained over 1000 African leaders, and 40 African facilitators. I was very happy to have been a part of […]

Learn Something New About: Water

Do you know where your water comes from? For the first few years after moving to Switzerland, we filtered all of our water, and bought bottled water frequently. Having lived in other urban areas around the world I tended towards doubt about water quality from taps. Our local council last week sent out a simple […]

Web 2.0 Meets Traditional Art Forms

This very random thought was inspired by my learning recently that text on the WWW is measured for value not by column inch but by the density of hyperlinks… If a haiku has hyperlinks within it is it still a haiku?


Tales of the Black Swan

Children’s stories are cautionary tales that help to relay messages of right and wrong, good and bad, and somehow our hero always pulls through. Yesterday in a presentation at our Balaton Group Meeting by Dick Barber, a Duke University oceanographer known for his work on El Nino, we heard a story about black swans, which […]

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Anyone Not Here Please Raise Your Hand

We opened our network meeting yesterday with a workshop on new media, Web 2.0 and social networking tools, and an exploration of applications for learning and sustainability processes. This network is the Balaton Group; a group of systems dynamicists, systems thinkers, and sustainability advocates founded by Dennis and Donella Meadows, who have been meeting by […]

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Having F.U.N.* with Vance Stevens

Vance Stevens, of the Petroleum Institute (Abu Dhabi) and founder of Webheads in 1998, gave a two hour Un-Workshop this morning at our Arab Region New Learning for Sustainable Development Workshop that he titled F.U.N. * Fair: Computer Mediated Communications Tools for Distributed Social Learning Networks. This was a face-to-face un-workshop, a veritable souk of […]

Talking About Tagging: Finding Our Event

We are in Day 2 of our New Learning for Sustainable Development in the Arab Region conference at the Library of Alexandria, Egypt. Vance Stevens spoke in our morning session titled, “Motivating Change: New Learning in Formal Education for Sustainable Development.” During his very interesting presentation (which I will blog more about later), he introduced […]

An ISO Standard for Plenary Speakers?

We have been talking about standards for social impact analysis today in a small discussion group. Has anyone thought of an ISO like this yet? That would be really helpful to those who are organizing workshops and for speakers as well.


Are Formal Networks Pre-Internet Artifacts?

This strikes me as a rather explosive question, and it would be interesting to hear different viewpoints. Several years ago I think I would not have considered it as plausible as I do today. Formal networks now are competing with personal networks that people set up for themselves, both social and professional. Why join a […]