Some of us are coming up to our first major break of the year, after a busy flurry of January, February and March. The nice long spring break, when email slows down a little and our work obligations are put on temporary hold with our out-of-office messages, creates a welcome breathing space which encourages us to reflect on what has happened so far and what we might want to strengthen or do differently in the coming months to make 2019 overall a productive year.

First of all, how are your New Year’s Resolutions going? It’s April! Whether you believe in New Year Resolutions or are someone who just thinks about the “clean slate” that a new year provides, you might ask yourself how its going. Are you successfully doing-it-yourself or do you need to get some help?

I have been enjoying reading Marshall Goldsmith’s book Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be which offers some easy-to-implement tools for behavior change including Daily Questions. These are questions that you create and ask yourself every day. To get started he has a set of interesting initial questions (e.g. Did I do my best to set clear goals?) and advocates using the “Did I do my best….” stem for each question rather than asking yourself how well you performed so that you are measuring effort rather than performance. Doing this daily helps keep your goals – the most important things you want to engrain as habits – front of mind, and helps you see trends. Although you can set up an accountability “buddy” for this process (and of course there’s always an app), you can effectively do this yourself.

Another way to go about this is to get some help. This might include engaging a coach – peer (e.g. in your workplace) or external. If getting a coach sounds good, its helpful before you start to think through your motivations for engaging outside support and your own commitment level to the doing the work that comes along with it (yes, this too involves work!)

Here are some considerations we can offer from our experience with coaching that might help think through what’s best:

    • Start with your own reflection about the coaching process: It is tempting to think mostly about what you want to change about your behavior – be a better team leader, manage your time or productivity more effectively etc. – but don’t forget to think about the coaching process itself. Ask yourself some questions about this such as: What individual challenges will I face in this coaching process? What should my coach know about me as a partner in the coaching process? How will I embed this coaching process into my current work (both the sessions and the practice)? Write this down somewhere.
    • Prepare to work outside the coaching sessions: For coaching to be most effective, you will need to do some work in between the coaching sessions and you will need to agree with your coach what you will do and honour your commitments to yourself. This work might include reflections on past behaviours, observations in situ, testing new tools or approaches, videoing a demonstration, etc. This takes us back to question 1 – are you already over committed? Will you have time to focus on this?
    • You will be getting some feedback, is that ok? As a part of the coaching, there will be some diagnostic elements, this might come from you, your coach or others (for example 360 degree feedback). As you try things, you will also get feedback. The questions asked to you can be highly appreciative and based on what is working and what you could be doing differently, and still, this might challenge in unexpected ways your current paradigm of yourself in your workplace. Your coach will work to create a safe environment, and still, think about this – will it be ok? Prepare to share some of your thinking about how you respond to feedback with your coach and what you might want/need to make sure this is effective.
    • Things will be changing, so write things down: In coaching processes, many things are changing simultaneously. You will be trying new approaches, as a result your external environment might change, and therefore what you need to do next in your coaching might change. This can be a very dynamic process, and probably not linear. Even with a good outline for your coaching process, the process needs to be responsive to your needs and in the end might look very different to what you or even your coach expected. This also depends on the period of time over which you have your coaching – if it is a longer period then it is more likely that this change will occur. How and where will you record your thinking, new ideas, and plans? Your coach might give you a manual or journal, or you might set up one of your own. It is helpful to try to keep things in one place so that you can look back at the changes, and see the trends. A blank book can work, but you might also consider making yourself some templates that you can use in all situations. These could ask questions like: What exercise did we do this week? What did I get from this/what were the key points? What will I do for my homework? When will I do this? Your coach might keep a similar record and use that to engage with you. It’s worth writing things down as these processes often produce subtle changes that are hard to pick out and remember in the sometimes deafening thrum of our daily work.

Whether you do-it-yourself or engage a coach, both have the potential to be incredibly instrumental for helping you make the changes you want to see in the future. Both do take effort on your part and at the same time aim to ultimately make things better, more effective, and more enjoyable. As you take your first steps up this ladder of change, looking out at the rest of your year, keep the vision firmly in mind of this next version of you!


No matter what your financial or calendar year looks like, there’s always time for planning!  Woo hoo! What are we going to do next year?

You certainly have some options – you could do it strategically or unstrategically.

What exactly is unstrategic planning? Here’s how you might go about doing that…

  1. No big picture thinking needed: Don’t bother to think about the bigger context of your programme, project or process. Imagine that you are operating in your own little bubble, safe and sound, and that you have complete control over everything.
  2. The future starts today: The past is messy! Thankfully, you don’t need to think about anything that came before. Try really hard not to be bogged down by learning from the past, what worked or what you might do differently in the future. Imagine your process is a white board and that everything starts from today!
  3. Do-it-Yourself: It is hard to coordinate everyone’s schedules, so just do the planning yourself, or with anyone available. No need to bring in the people that your plan might affect or consider what they would like or think about it. Just consider what you want to do. You can always check in with them later while the plan is being implemented. They will understand!
  4. Time is precious: Anyways, people are super busy, so make sure it is nice and short – something you can do in a couple of hours max. People can’t devote too much time to this as they need to go back to whatever they were doing that was not related to last year’s unstrategic plan.
  5. Capacities can expand: You don’t need to consider the capacities of the people that will implement the plan, or whether they have time to implement the new ideas. They are great people and they will find the time!
  6. Talking and planning: In your planning session, don’t bother to write things down, you’ll all remember what was discussed! And no need to have a time plan, or milestones (things will happen when they happen). If you do want to write a little report, sit on it for a few weeks, then people won’t remember what was discussed leaving you a little wiggle room for tweaks…no one is going to read it anyways!
  7. If we plan it, funds will come: You don’t need to gather information in advance about budget, or need to know how much is available. Actually you don’t even need to talk about budget. If you want something enough, funds will show up.
  8. Risks, shmisks: No need to talk about risks or Plan B, C or D. These plans are basically thought exercises anyways, right?

These are some of things that can make your planning unstrategic. Of course if you want your planning to be strategic, do the opposite!

  • Do think about the bigger system in which your project or programme is embedded.
  • Try to learn from what has happened before – what worked and what didn’t and use that to inform your next plan.
  • Make sure all the right people are in the room and make sure anyone not in the room has been consulted if you planning will implicate them.
  • Strategic planning takes time, you can’t rush it. A day or even two days might be the appropriate time to get through all the steps thoughtfully, comfortably, with creativity and enough discussion for agreement.
  • Consider the capacities of the team members implementing this, how does it fit into their current work, will it be a part of their work plans? Reflected in their performance assessments?
  • Make sure you document the process and make it available immediately (a google doc perhaps?)
  • Make sure to include time plans, realistic budgets and roles and responsibilities so when you are not in the room together everyone knows what to do.
  • Have a conversation about risks – what might be the risks to implementing the plan and how might you mitigate those?

What more would you add here?

Unstrategic planning is relatively easy. Thankfully this is an alternate universe to ours. We all understand how important it is to make sure our planning is strategic and that it sets us up on the best possible trajectory for the highly anticipated new year ahead.

So Happy Strategic Planning and hoping your year is full of exciting, well-planned initiatives and activities!!

One of the hardest things about using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method (LSP) is just getting people to try it!

Imagine walking into the workshop room and sitting down at  your spot to see, with your water glass, pen and paper, a small mixed bag of 48 LEGO® bricks – a LEGO® Exploration Kit. What’s running through your mind?

You might fall into two categories of people, the first one who says “Cool! Let’s play! No PPT – finally, not your ordinary workshop!” or the other one who says, “What? This is serious business, and time is scarce. Skip this silly stuff and let’s get to work!”

But before you even get into the room, there is a whole discussion that needs to happen with the workshop host in advance, where the Facilitator might get one or the other of those reactions after proposing LSP. During this conversation the Facilitator will need to explain the benefits, and give a little of its background…

Whose idea was it?

In the late 90’s, confronted by the tidal wave of video games that were taking kids away from their bricks, it was LEGO® itself who founded the LSP process, with a couple of IMD business school professors, to help the company think creatively and re-imagine itself.

The method worked, beautifully. Today LSP has a growing community of certified LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method facilitators connected together in an Association of Master Trainers, of which I am proud to be one!

Who’s using LSP and why?

I would say that LSP is becoming fairly well known in the private sector, many of the facilitators I met at the recent LSP community meeting in Billund, Denmark – the home of LEGO – worked with businesses, but not all. It seems to be just beginning in the NGO and inter-governmental/United Nations world, where I find myself working most. I’ve run LSP processes now with a number of first-time user groups, here are three illustrative examples of the organizations and what they wanted to achieve:

  • a large international conservation NGO’s resctructured leadership team was undertaking a visioning process, and wanted to understand the features of a successful team in the future structure;
  • a global reproductive health supplies team wanted to identify organizational priorities and explore efficiency and effectiveness in delivery;
  • a small sustainability Think Tank wanted to focus on building excellent internal and external communications, and identify capacity and skills needed to do this.

The applications of LSP are vast, from strategic planning, design thinking, product development and marketing, rapid prototyping ideas, work process re-engineering, prioritization, as well as softer goals such as identifying what makes a good team member, how to build trust, and how to resolve conflict.

How can you do THAT with LEGO®? Thinking with your hands

The basic LSP process involves four steps:

  1. Asking a question
  2. Building a model (with the bricks)
  3. Sharing and explaining your model
  4. Reflecting on meaning

This four-step process happens over and over in an LSP session, with various other rules and parameters sometimes added. The process provides the builder the opportunity to think about her/his answer to the question (and the questions can be incredibly complex or blissfully simple), and then to use their hands and the bricks to build a metaphor that illustrates their answer (not a literal answer, but a metaphorical answer). Often people build as they think, they re-build, they explore their answer as they think and layer meaning onto the bricks. This process, of turning thoughts that might have started out rather vague, into 3D objects, helps people become more concrete about their thinking.

This nuanced work would be hard with a pile of only the traditional rectangular and square bricks, so the LSP brick sets are full of metaphorical pieces in addition to these – flags, mini figures, animals, flowers, propellers, etc. – to release the creativity of the builder. You still have to get familiar again with how things snap together, and even working with metaphor, so a skills building component is always included in an LSP session.

A number of Core LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® application techniques have been developed by the Association of Master Trainers. These are illustrative of some of the most commonly used and thus most documented applications, and build on one another:

  1. Building individual models and stories
  2. Building shared models and stories
  3. Creating a landscape
  4. Making connections
  5. Building a system
  6. Playing emergence and decisions
  7. Extracting simple guiding principles

These generic techniques can be applied widely to different team and organizational goals, and are customised through the framing and question that is asked (What are our blind spots? What will our organization look like in 5 years? What does a perfect co-worker look like?), and normally involves some sequencing, where models are built and deconstructed (also a good lesson in letting multiple ideas come and go) with a strategic set of relevant, thoughtfully framed questions.

What changes in the individual? 

There is some nice research underway exploring the value of LSP in working settings, and the changes that can occur in the individuals and teams participating. Some that we heard about and discussed at the LSP Community Meeting included:

  • helping people enter a more reflective and thoughtful state, rather than getting off-the-cuff answers that might be the first ideas that pop into your head, thus the easiest ones, and perhaps not the most creative ones;
  • helping people appreciate other perspectives – building the different models individually and sharing them helps people see what other people see (literally);
  • helping people explore sensitive issues – building a model and using the model as a metaphor, even holding it or pointing to it as one speaks, helps to externalise the issue from the builder, making it easier to explain and less risky. The thinking has already been done, so people are not trying to think and talk at the same time;
  • helping people develop more creative confidence – to feel more confident being creative in the workplace, especially in a rapidly changing environment where innovation is needed, both at the organizational level, as well as in terms of products and services.



It definitely takes courage to try something new, but I can report that all the groups that I’ve worked with using LSP have loved it, for the uniqueness of the process, the fun and engagement it provides, and ultimately for the deeper insights and creative results it produces.


Last week I had the great pleasure to play a trial of the new Green & Great Game with Piotr Magnuszewski.

(In case you want to know more about the kind of interesting people who develop useful learning games like this – based on computer models –  you can look up Piotr who is a faculty member of the Centre for Systems Solutions,  a Senior Associate of the AtKisson Group (as I am), and a Balaton Group Member  – a network of systems dynamicists and modellers, systems thinkers and sustainability advocates. )

Green & Great is a new simulation game that helps players explore the “business transition to sustainability“. The game can played online or preferably in a room with multiple teams, face-to-face, with computer assistance. Up to 6 teams, with 1-5 members each, can play simultaneously and the game takes around 2 hours to play the five 1-year cycles of company strategy and decision-making.

In the simulation, the teams run consulting companies that are advising businesses working in the energy and finance sector (currently, more sectors are being added). The teams go through the decision making cycle of bidding on projects, hiring people with specific competencies, developing internal projects and making staff assignments (and other HR decisions such as training).

The results of these decisions are reported using the Compass (N=Nature, E=Economy, S= Society, and W=Wellbeing) which gives you progress indicators for your company as well as information on your competitors. Teams also get market information annually, about how the sectors are changing, upcoming legislation, what is being expected by consumers regarding environmental reporting, etc.

Teams run their companies for 5 years, and all the usual things happen: people may quit (but of course you can do something about job satisfaction – training or green benefits anyone?), reputation is important (and again the choices on external and internal projects can affect that – what about that CSR reporting project?), sectors change as certain consumer and government demands around transparency change), companies make money (or don’t) based on the decisions they make and the impacts of their projects on those compass points (some projects may not be available to you, as in the real world, if your reputation in that area is below a certain accepted level). There’s a lot to manage and monitor, but then that is the nature of successful businesses and including those moving in and around the sustainable development space.

My two hours with the game flew by and I really enjoyed playing Green & Great. I found the game very thought-provoking, complex but not overwhelming, and fun! (Which is one of my top criteria for games!)

I played my company team on my own, which is always going to be easier, as I only had myself to convince for decision-making. Because we were trialing it, we talked quite a lot with Piotr and among the competing teams, which might be less in a real game. I can imagine however playing it with a team and the rich conversations which would surround our choices about what kind of projects to take, how to build up a committed workforce, to take our sustainability values seriously and still make a good income. I was delighted that I ended up with high scores around Nature, Society and Wellbeing and towards the top for Economy (not the highest, but a satisfying result – we didn’t go broke keeping our other three compass indicators high – not even close!)

The game is great for consulting company teams, or for businesses who are working towards and trading in the sustainable development field. It is also an excellent way for people in the NGO or public sector to learn more about their private sector partners and the environment in which they are working. The game gives good opportunities for insight into how business is transforming and can help enrich the dialogue with business that you find in public-private partnerships.

It’s available now to play, and you can either play it with your own teams internally, with mixed sector teams if you have a joint project, or if you are a game administrator/facilitator/trainer you can play the game with your clients. They are continuing to enhance Green&Great and are happy to have feedback (which I was also happy to give – it is nice when a game is constantly evolving.)

Curious? If you want to try it out for yourself you can sign up for a demo and free trial on the website: Green & Great

I was very honoured tonight to be able to speak after Melinda French Gates, Graca Machel, Hans Rosling, and Mechai Viravaidya at the TEDxChange event, hosted by the Gates Foundation. Well, this is technically true, although I was speaking on the TEDxGeneva local stage, which followed directly after the simulcast of the New York event.

Lizzie, representing tonight the Hub in Geneva, curated the event brilliantly. It started with the simulcast, a break and then four local speakers including Dr Robert Newman, a pediatrician at World Health Organization and Director of the Global Malaria Programme, Cheryl Hicks an independent business advisor in Geneva who spoke about the power of networks using CSR Geneva as an example, Patrick Keenan – one of the co-founders of the Movement, and me

I spoke about the power of systems thinking to help social change agents be even more powerful. How can we use the systems around us, close up feedback loops, and get systems to “do our work for us”? During my short talk (10 minutes!) I adapted a demonstration game called Living Loops, from the Systems Thinking Playbook. I used the game to demonstrate the difference between relationships that are linear and take an enormous amount of effort to change, and between systems that have feedback loops that are self-sustaining and can help you reach your goals.

The game helped me tell the story of my brother-in-law, who is working in Mutale in the Northeast of South Africa, and his community’s efforts to start, among other things, a tomato growing business for income generation. When childcare issues threaten to challenge the sufficient engagement of the local labour force to make the business work (many families are run by a single head of household due to absentee parents working in the nearby mines), connecting the profits of the tomato business with creche management and maintenance helps to make this initiative self-sustaining – it satisfies the community’s desire for income and parent’s desire for secure and quality childcare while they work. We played the game demo using a tomato picked from my garden instead of a ball.

After hours of preparation, it’s over now – whew! I enjoyed speaking at the TEDx event, although the quality of all the TEDTalks are so high, that it was extremely nerve wracking to prepare for and then to walk on that stage in front of 100+ people at the University centre in Geneva. We had one of 82 of the parallel TEDxChange events globally, all focused on the 10th anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals and The Future We Make. Big topic, big event, big night – just coming down off of my endorphin rush, and happy I did it!

Just published by Fast Future is a study commissioned by the UK Government’s Science: So What? So Everything campaign on the Shape of Jobs to Come .

The study produced a list of 20 jobs for 2030, which I thought I would share because Rohit Talwar, from Fast Future, keynoted at the International Association of Facilitators European Conference in Oxford last September. His presentation, “Dancing in the Dark: The Future Business Environment”, thoughtfully provoked us all consider how we as facilitators might keep up with the game as the institutions we work with, and the profile of people in them, potentially change.

In that context, he had us imagine a participant group with, for example, age ranges fom 18-200. He questioned how will we structure our sessions, breaks, marketing, preparation, when everyone has global internet exposure and is hyperconnected? How will we work in an extremely resource constrained world – green our events, dramatically reduce costs, save time? When there is incredible ethnic as well as other diversity in the room, how will we celebrate that as well as continually work on issues of difference and potentially tolerance? And so on. For some, parts of this future are already here.

I received this list of future jobs this morning and blogged it because I thought it was interesting to consider how facilitators and learning practitioners might flex methods now for working with all kinds of change in the future (whether it is with body part makers or not!):

The Shape of Jobs to Come list of 20 future Jobs in 2030 (taken directly from their list published on the links above today):

1. Body part maker: Advances in science will make the creation of body parts possible, requiring body part makers, body part stores and body part repair shops.

2. Nano-medic: Advances in nanotechnology offer the potential for a range of sub-atomic ‘nanoscale’ devices, inserts and procedures that could transform personal healthcare. A new range of nano-medicine specialists will be required to administer these treatments.

3. ‘Pharmer’ of genetically engineered crops and livestock: New-age farmers could be raising crops and livestock that have been genetically engineered to improve yields and produce therapeutic proteins. Possibilities include a vaccine-carrying tomato and therapeutic milk from cows, sheep and goats.

4. Old age wellness manager/consultant: Specialists will draw on a range of medical, pharmaceutical, prosthetic, psychiatric, natural and fitness solutions to help manage the various health and personal needs of the ageing population.

5. Memory augmentation surgeon: Surgeons will add extra memory capacity to people who want to increase their memory capacity. They will also help those who have been over-exposed to information in the course of their life and simply can no longer take on any more information thus leading to sensory shutdown.

6. ‘New science’ ethicist: As scientific advances accelerate in new and emerging fields such as cloning, proteomics and nanotechnology, a new breed of ethicist may be required, who understands a range of underlying scientific fields and helps society make consistent choices about what developments to allow. Much of science will not be a question of can we, but should we.

7. Space pilots, tour guides and architects: With Virgin Galactic and others pioneering space tourism, space trained pilots and tour guides will be needed, as well as designers to enable the habitation of space and other planets. Current projects at SICSA (University of Houston) include a greenhouse on Mars, lunar outposts and space exploration vehicles.

8. Vertical farmers: There is growing interest in the concept of city-based vertical farms, with hydroponically-fed food being grown in multi-storey buildings. These offer the potential to dramatically increase farm yield and reduce environmental degradation. The managers of such entities will require expertise in a range of scientific disciplines, as well as engineering and commerce.

9. Climate change reversal specialist: As the threats and impacts of climate change increase, a new breed of engineer-scientists will be required to help reduce or reverse the effects of climate change on particular locations. They will need to apply multi-disciplinary solutions ranging from filling the oceans with iron filings, to erecting giant umbrellas that deflect the sun’s rays.

10. Quarantine enforcer: If a deadly virus starts spreading rapidly, few countries, and few people, will be prepared. Nurses will be in short supply. Moreover, as mortality rates rise, and neighbourhoods are shut down, someone will have to guard the gates.

11. Weather modification police: The act of seeding clouds to create rain is already happening in some parts of the world, and is altering weather patterns thousands of miles away. Weather modification police will need to control and monitor who is allowed to shoot rockets containing silver iodine into the air – a way to provoke rainfall from passing clouds.

12. Virtual lawyer: As more and more of our daily life goes online, specialists will be required to resolve legal disputes which could involve citizens resident in different legal jurisdictions.

13. Avatar manager / Devotees Virtual teacher: Avatars could be used to support or even replace teachers in the elementary classroom, for instance, as computer personas that serve as personal interactive guides. The Devotee is the human that makes sure that the Avatar and the student are properly matched and engaged, etc.

14. Alternative vehicle developers: Designers and builders will create the next generation of vehicle transport using alternative materials and fuels. Could the dream of underwater and flying cars become a reality within the next two decades?

15. Narrowcasters: As broadcasting media becomes increasingly personalised, roles will emerge for specialists working with content providers and advertisers to create content tailored to individual needs. While mass market customisation solutions may be automated, premium rate narrowcasting could be performed by humans.

16. Waste data handler: Specialists will provide a secure data disposal service for those who do not want to be tracked, electronically or otherwise.

17. Virtual clutter organiser: Specialists will help us organise our electronic lives. Clutter management would include effective handling of email, ensuring orderly storage of data, management of electronic IDs and rationalising the applications we use.

18. Time broker / Time bank trader: Alternative currencies will evolve their own markets – for example time banking already exists.

19. Social ‘networking’ worker: Social workers will help those in some way traumatised or marginalised by social networking.

20. Personal branders: An extension of the role played by executive coaches giving advice on how to create a personal ‘brand’ using social and other media. What personality are you projecting via your blog, Twitter, etc? What personal values do you want to build into your image – and is your image consistent with your real life persona and your goals?

Whether you agree with this list or not, it is still interesting to consider how things change (both with the people and the context) as a learning practitioner and facilitator, and consider how you notice this, and how you adapt your practice to work with it.

All week I have been working with a mixed Private Sector/ Not-for-Profit group (the latter from one conservation organization) in a joint learning exercise about partnerships between these two different sectors. It was structured in an interesting way, the first two days were internal to the conservation organization, with headquarters staff joined with their regional and national office counterparts. The third day invited a wide range of interesting and interested multi-nationals, and the final day featured a more intimate meeting between those private sector partners with a more formalised relationship with the NGO, and the relationship managers from both organizations.

This was a marathon meeting for some, and almost more so because of the highly interactive nature of it – no sitting and vegging out during hours of plenary presentations. At the same time, this intense interactivity in a workshop – working in pairs, individual reflection with Job Aids, trio Peer Consult walks, Learning Cafes, Graffiti Boards, Carousel discussions – all has accelerating affects on the group development process. And if you succeed and get far enough in developing trust, open communication and comfort around authenticity in the group, what that often means is that at one point in the agenda, the group kicks out one of the exercises. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

That happened in our meeting, and while my counterpart (who had picked that session to facilitate) was a little distressed by this, I saw it as a strong indicator of success.

How can it be successful if a group decides to not play along with an exercise, but instead tells you that this is not the right question or activity, and proposes another one? That sounds scary from a facilitator’s point of view, and this might sound counter-intuitive: if you are a good facilitator you need to be ready for that.

When a group kicks out a session, it can be a sign that the group, the network or team that you are building, is making its own decisions. It knows where it needs to go, and is comfortable enough with the relationship they are building together, and with the facilitator, to articulate that (in the nicest possible way as we experienced). The group exerts its independence and drives the conversation in another direction. Potentially this new direction involves the Elephant-in-the-Room question – that might have been perceived to be uncomfortable or unsafe early on in the relationship building process – and for which resolution is critical to overall long-term success.

For the facilitator, the right reaction, like in good improv theatre, is to say “Yes!” and go with it. Seeing a decline in dependence on the facilitator at the end of a workshop is always a good thing, and can even be built into the agenda, as the group will continue on its own afterwards, and manage its own processes. So it is an excellent thing if this independence can occur and be practiced in the safe, face-to-face environment of the workshop.

So if a group throws out your exercise, think about it, it might be a sign of a job well done!

Vision fatigue? Many groups involved in change processes over time claim they just can’t do another visioning process. They have done it so many times. What is a creative way to engage this kind of group?

Instead of trying to design their process, why not design an inquiry process where they do the fundamentals of design?

You might start with attention grabbing questions (group or individual):

  • If I were going to send you an email inviting you to a visioning process, what would it have to include for you to enthusiastically say “Yes!”
  • If you were going to participate in a vision process that really energised you, what would be some of the features of this process?
  • If you were going to participate in a visioning process that created a profound vision, who would be doing something differently at the end? What would these people be doing differently at the end? What would you be doing differently at the end?
  • If you were going to say that the visioning process created lasting change, what would be some of the necessary conditions to make this vision stick?
  • If we were going to give this process an innovative name, what might we call it?
This inquiry process doesn’t focus people in on their past, potentially less-than-satisfactory visioning exercises. It focuses them on the positive future and involves them in creating it and answering questions about what it will take to make it work (differently) this time. The energy that these kinds of questions creates is very different than that from a problem-focused approach, and just may get people to the table with a different attitude and intent, and that might make all the difference.

Gillian, I decided to write a little poem,
To mark this time, whence from IUCN you are going,
To new bright and green pastures and beds,
That I know, for you, lie just ahead,
As you take to your garden with gusto and strength,
Whilst flourishing as Balaton Group President,
Sewing new seeds of learning,
As round each corner turning,
And taking inspiration from the toys and joys,
With your rambunctious growing boys!

Sad to see you go, we take heart,
That coming here daily in your little Smart,
You have changed much behaviour over time,
And set in place trends for a workplace better aligned,
To think about ‘process’ and the people who make,
Essential ingredients of the IUCN cake,
Using Strengths Finder to help us identify talents,
Getting Things Done à la David Allen,
Innovating with e-tools as part of your ‘flow’,
And challenging the status quo.

Now Alaska calls and into summer we step,
Remember us well. I’m sure we’ll be calling for help!
But more importantly, as friend, daughter, mother and wife,
Enjoy the next phase of your journey through life,
Keep up the ‘play’ and do write that blog,
So we can keep track of your latest inspiration from frogs,
Or whatever else is under the rock you upturn next,
As you strive to learn with twitter-ful zest,
We will miss you, but know that when islands separate,
We need only remember to – communicate!

Active support for change can take many forms. Each act touches some group of people, potentially changes the way they think and (hopefully) what they do, and promotes the change further, connecting tiny points of light until a blanket of light shines out at us. When the actions are all taking us in the same direction, how powerful can that be? From a big city on the west coast of the USA to a rural village in eastern Switzerland, what innovative ways did change supporters get people’s attention and support for change last week?

For weeks before the inauguration of President Obama, Little Rae’s Bakery in Seattle has been selling the “First Family in Shortbread”. More than the good conversation that the cookies themselves produce, James Morse, the owner of Little Rae’s, explained on their website how this creative initiative demonstrates the bakery’s support for the new President and his change programme, encourages exchange, and takes the additional step to support community action. Here are some excerpts taken from their website (as is the photo):

In a few short weeks the nation will come together to celebrate the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States. As the country begins to understand the extent of the damage to our economy, the new president and his family are going to be looked to for leadership. The kind of leadership this generation has never seen – or needed.

At Little Rae’s Bakery, we’re bakers. That’s what we do. We decided to honor the entire first family to show our support and hope that when we stick together, when we lean on those closest, we are strongest. We’re pleased to offer you the First Family cookies. They depict the new President, the First Lady, the Obama children and even the family’s mystery dog. Since the Obamas couldn’t adopt a dog from the animal shelter due to a variety of allergies, we’re donating a portion of every sale to the Humane Society. We’d love to hear what you think of the cookies and have the chance to share the story behind them with you.

Creativity seems to be fundamental to raising awareness, getting people talking, and thinking differently. First Family cookies no doubt made an innovative contribution to this conversation, which was also going on where we live, some 5257 miles away.

We had a spirited discussion with our children last week around the inauguration due, as far as I can tell, to the action of the cantine workers at the local elementary school, which services a rural community of 2000 people in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Cafeteria workers made a whole week of “American” lunches to draw the children’s (and by association their parents’) attention to the inauguration and celebration of change in the US. Every day I had delighted reports of hamburgers, brownies, chili con carne, hot dogs and doughnuts (for full effect, say each with a thick French accent), the like they had never had before. I am sure the cantine staff enjoyed putting that menu together made up of clearly crowd pleasers. And I heard lots of good things about Obama and America from my 5 and 7 year old, and no doubt all the other parent’s in our community did too.

There is so much noise in the system, and so much to do. Getting people’s attention, focusing them on change, and getting them to try different things – whether donating to a local charity, exploring a new culture though its food, or even (like in our organizational change process) taking time to attend a World Cafe, and identify ways to contribute to organizational effeciveness and renewal – it all benefits from creativity and innovation in approach. It gives people something to talk about. And aims to help people to get interested enough to take it that one step further. We can go for big change, little by little.

This morning our Director General invited the headquarters staff for a World Café on our institution’s Organizational Development and Change process. Fifty-four of us met in the cafeteria to participate in the process. Here are some of our “hot” reflections on the event.

World Café is an innovative way to think collectively about an issue, with conversation as the core process. In our case, 12 conversations happened in parallel, and after each of the four rounds we took some highlights from these conversations. With interesting, rather iterative questions, you could feel the energy build as people made connections and meaning for themselves and others. Here are the questions we used:

  • What is your vision of a highly relevant, efficient, effective and impactful IUCN?
  • What underlying assumptions have you had about how we, in IUCN, work? How might these need to shift?
  • What can we do to help identify and embrace opportunities for IUCN’s organizational development?
  • What patterns are emerging from the three earlier conversations? What are the implications for you and for us?

The results of the discussions will feed into our organizational development and change process, through the people in the room, their teams and our individual action. Additionally the process itself will help us move towards some of our articulated goals around creating a culture of dialogue, interaction, and an enabling environment for innovation and cross-pollination of ideas.

Since we (the Learning and Leadership Unit) are the ‘process people’, we captured some of our learning about holding a World Café in our institution. Here is what we thought went well, and what we would do differently next time. We are also sharing our learning with the World Café online community at the request of David Isaacs, one of the authors of The World Café book. (More knowledge resources on The World Café can be found on the Society for Organizational Learning’s website here.)

What worked well with our World Café:

  • The process brought lots of positive energy to a conversation about change;
  • People appreciated being listened to;
  • Mixed groups combined different teams and levels within the organization and gave opportunities to get to know new people (when we asked the group if this process had given them a chance to speak to someone they did not know, almost every hand went up);
  • It was hosted by the Director General and connected to a real internal process where people had questions and a desire to contribute;
  • It linked with an in-house tradition – Wednesday morning sponsored coffee – a weekly coffee morning for staff supported by our Learning and Leadership unit and the Human Resources Management Group to promote internal dialogue and informal learning;
  • We held the World Café in our cafeteria, so instead of trying to transform a formal space (like a meeting room) for informal conversation, we went right to the organization’s kitchen literally for these conversations, which changed the interpersonal dynamic. There was kitchen noise and the sound of coffee machines making it all the more real;
  • We did not use a flipchart to take down the “popcorn” ideas between each round. We wanted to avoid to externalising the ideas and actions too much and directing the focus away from the group. Instead the comments came from within the group, were given to the group (and not a flipchart), and stayed with the group. We did, however, record them all for future use, which we will share with participants, among other ways through the use of a wordle (take a look at this application that creates beautiful word clouds, if you have never seen one)
  • We distributed an “ideas form” to give everyone the opportunity to share some of their top ideas with us afterwards. We handed this out just before the end and also sent an email for people who wanted to send us some ideas electronically. People did a great personal prioritisation for us and themselves, and the act of writing it down also helped people to go through the synthesis process and create a set of potential next actions that might help them remember what was most useful for them.
  • We put flipchart-sized graph paper on all the tables as grafitti sheets. People used them for recording ideas. Added benefits: the gridded paper (instead of plain) made it seem more like a checkered table cloth, and the white paper reflected on people’s faces making the photos better!

What we would do differently next time:

  • In a room not made for speeches (i.e. a cafeteria), accoustics can create challenges for facilitating and hearing ideas from the tables between rounds. To address this we used a soft whistle to get people’s attention and asked people to stand up when sharing their ideas. Next time we would get a louder whistle (!) and we would contract lightly with the group in advance to quickly conclude their conversations when they hear the whistle.
  • In our briefing, we would emphasize further that the host is responsable for ensuring interactive conversations, but not necessarily for recording or reporting back. At the beginning, making this clear would have helped our host volunteers come forward more quickly.
  • Whilst the vast majority of participants stayed throughout, a few people trickled in and out due to other commitments, which was fine. We might have created better messaging to ensure a crisp start. Only a few people had participated in a World Café before, out of our 54 participants; now that people know how it works the next time we might not notice this.

We got some terrific ideas and comments out of our World Café, including many thanks for running such a process internally. People seemed to be happy to take this kitchen table approach to connect and make new meaning together around our organization’s future. And this open process provided plenty of opportunity for everyone’s ideas and concerns to be laid on the table – besides the kitchen sink – which was nearby anyway.

We are here at the Society for Organizational Learning’s Annual Conference in Boston and will be writing a bit this week about what we are learning.

Yesterday I had David Isaacs, one of the founders of the World Cafe, sign a copy of “The Art of Powerful Questions: Catalyzing Insight, Innovation and Action” and we have noticed that in this community asking powerful questions (rather than the answers) often gets the most applause in the plenaries. In fact, there seems to be no particular expectations on the part of SoL members to answer all the questions – they celebrate the good ones. Here are some of the good ones Lizzie and I heard yesterday during a panel called “Purpose Beyond Profit”:

  • What if educators had the same attitude that car manufacturers in Europe have, that they “owned” their students for life. How would they educate differently?

This question was inspired by Peter Senge’s comment about how EU regulations are requiring European automobile manufacturers to take back cars that they build, so they build them differently. After students leave educators’ classrooms they then become parts of educators’ communities – they might leave their seat at the front of the classroom, but they never leave their life.

  • What is the current US Administration’s analogy of putting a man on the moon?

When Kennedy came into office, he dreamt of a man on the moon in 10 years and set this as a challenge to his scientists. 8 years and 2 months later, there was a man on the moon. At the time, the average age in the NASA control room was 26 (meaning they were on average 18 years old when the challenge was put forward). What will be Obama’s man on the moon? And what and how can we learn about best tapping into today’s 18 year olds to make this dream come true?

  • What is in our system that we don’t know the long term effects of yet?

This was a great question asked by Darcy Winslow, founder of Designs for a Sustainable World Consulting with over 20 years experience working at Nike. Her presentation inspired a question from the audience:

  • When businesses cut costs are they really cutting them – or are they just moving them into customers or into the community?

When taking a systems viewpoint, cost-cutting exercises take on a whole new meaning. The archtype called “Shifting the Burden” comes into mind. A similar question can be asked by institutions and project teams.

These questions provoke many lively conversations and ideas which connected people and their experiences and really demonstrated how asking great questions can add energy to a process, help people think differently, and get things moving.

The Pegasus Conference 2008 kicked off last night with a World Café session led by co/founder David Isaacs. Joining newcomers and regulars to the conference, we took seats at small, round, red gingham cloth–covered tables, each with red carnation, accompanied by a duo of Novascotian musicians and visual artists decorating our surroundings.

Using the well-known World Café dynamic, in three rounds we inquired into three questions –

1. What do we hope to learn during this conference?
2. What we do hope to contribute, give, share?
3. And what is the question we need to ask connecting what we hope to learn and what we hope to contribute?

My answer to the concluding question came to this –

What will we do to (en)courage ourselves to more fully and consistently apply the thinking and tools with which we coach others, to create the highest performance in our own work?

Who coaches the coaches? Who is the psychotherapist’s psychotherapist? These were the questions my café table friends contributed, understanding my plight. Well, attending this conference is our first step and over the next few days we hope that, following engagement with this community, we will return to our work place (en)couraged for our highest performance!

We have just finished facilitating three internal retreats in the last 10 days as a part of our organizational development and change process. Two were with new Groups that are being constituted by combining smaller internal teams for greater synergy, effeciency and “network-based delivery” of our institution’s conservation goals. The learning that has occurred through these facilitated Group discussions, about how things work and change in our organization, has been incredibly valuable for both strategically planning action and building these new teams. Our Learning and Leadership Unit will also become part of a new Group in the next couple of months and will no doubt have a similar retreat. The question is, do we facilitate or participate?

Facilitators have many opportunities to influence the outcomes of the processes in which they are involved, if that’s what they wish to do. Before the process, they help to design the agenda and frame the key questions; they pick the sequence that might highlight one issue over another (what gets the after lunch slot?); they identify the technique and capture method used (does the discussion create an artifact for further use or not?) During the process they choose how to brief an exercise; they choose what to highlight in the opening and closing reflections; choose the order of the speakers (including the Q&A); and influence who gets a few moments more airtime and who gets reigned in. After the process, if the facilitator is helping with the reporting, comes a whole raft of other opportunities to influence the outcomes of the process. At all of these points a facilitator is making a decision (albeit a shared decision) that influences the process somehow.

And of course what makes a great facilitator (and one who gets chosen and invited back) is someone who does this incredibly responsably, with fairness and equity, the best intentions of the group in mind, and with an eye on the common higher goal. A facilitator who contributes can be very beneficial. For example, a facilitator who knows a group well can address key interpersonal issues gently and consistently, one that is experienced can provide great added value by incorporating their learning over the years about leadership and good practice; and one well-connected internally can contribute by tapping into larger institutional issues across many parallel processes. So a facilitator at some levels can facilitate and participate.

However, there are clearly limitations to a facilitator’s participation, especially on the relationships and team building side of these processes. For example, as facilitators it is not appropriate to work through your personal relationship issues with team members, or devote time and energy to helping the team really get to know you, your opinion about issues, and how you like to work. In retreats forming new Groups and aggregating existing teams, getting to know one another, sharing hopes and dreams (and maybe fears) as full participants in a shared process are criticial features to success.

So I think that when it comes time to have our own Group retreat, we might help out with the agenda and report, but for the actual event, we will be looking for a good outside facilitator. Then we can be more of ourselves and help our new colleagues get to know us as future team members, including our opinions about what would be best for all of us as fully vested partners in our process. We need to be a part of the change – to facilitate and participate (but not always at the same time).

If we have 1500 staff members, what are 15 of them doing together that creates an interesting micro-trend in our organization that we should be paying attention to?

I enjoyed reading Mark J. Penn and E. Kinney Zalesne’s Micro Trends: Surprising Tales of the Way We Live Today (Penguin 2007), and found this intriguing paragraph to capture the essence of the book:

Today, changing lifestyles, the Internet, the balkanization of communications, and the global economy are all coming together to create a new sense of individualism that is powerfully transforming our society. The world may be getting flatter, in terms of globalization, but it is occupied by 6 billion little bumps who do not have to follow the herd to be heard. … In fact by the time a trend hits 1 percent , it is ready to spawn a hit movie, best selling book, or new political movement. The power of individual choice is increasingly influencing politics, religion, entertainment and even war. In today’s mass societies, it takes only 1 percent of people making a dedicated choice – contrary to the mainstream’s choice – to create a movement that can change the world.

…or an organization? I have the exciting challenge to facilitate a four-year, system-wide organizational development and change process in my organization. Many teams will be involved in this evolving process. At this early stage we are thinking about how best to inform and engage people so that they see and feel their own potential to catalyse change in their areas of concern. I have been thinking about how to get the majority on board, but reading this book makes me think that, in fact, there may be no “majority” in the organization. Maybe, just like in the outside world, as MicroTrends proposes, people are going hundreds of small directions at once, quickly.

So how can we harness that energy for this process? Where are the niches within the organization? Maybe trying to unify people around one macro-slogan, tagline, or end point, is not the most effective way to go. Maybe we need to make lots of customised, personalised products and processes that speak to and build tolerance for the different choices that people are making (like going to staff picnics and not going to staff picnics, or coming to free coffee or not coming to free coffee.) The book talks not so much about identifying Communities of Practice, but Communities of Choice.

We need to start micro-trend spotting – what are those 15 people doing right now?

Watch Mark Penn’s GoogleTalks Video on YouTube.

I am at the annual Balaton Group meeting this week and we have been talking about, among other things, how to motivate people to change their behaviour – in this case, towards more sustainable actions.

One of our speakers on change agentry put up a slide titled, “Obstacles to change,” which included all kinds of reasons people give for not adopting more green behaviour (such as “my company needs to make a profit, my small contribution will not count for much, I can’t afford it”, etc.) Someone asked the quesion – are these obstacles to change, or rationalisations for not changing behaviour? Here was the argument:

People know what they want to do. When you encourage them to do something differently, they can easily come up with rationalisations of why they cannot possibly do it. Action emerges, it was suggested, in the right side of the brain. Action is vocalised, in the left side of the brain. Models, data, causal loop diagrams, and so on appeal to the left side of the brain. They can help people logically see what they should do and say so. In the right brain however, where the stories, emotions, images lie, is where the motivation to do something is initiated. The left side of the brain picks the song, but the right side of the brain dances to it.

If we want people to dance, to change their behaviour (for example after our systems visioning workshops), we need to do something that leaks over into the right side of their brain. We can’t just give them rationale, data, causal loop diagrams to get them to do things differently. That will help them find their direction. It will be the games, the images and maps, great questions and the heated discussions, that will get them to do something differently after our workshop. Let’s dance!

Like tectonic plates, our understanding of different concepts in our world of work slowly, collectively shifts. Like in the natural world, parts may move at different speeds, and change may be initially imperceptible from some perspectives, but things are moving nonetheless. Changes in terminology often accompany these shifts; yet may be offhandedly dismissed as jargon by those who have not been involved in, or perhaps agree with, the new shift in thinking.

Behind jargon however is something; some conceptual change, and it is interesting to sift out the nuance, past the new words, to see how the community is growing and deepening it collective understanding for better applications and actions.

One shift I have seen over the last decade, in the environment and development community at least, is the change from training to capacity building, through capacity development to learning. We have seen this evolve in papers, conferences, programmes, departments, and it has even manifested itself in people’s titles. Take mine for instance. In the last 15 years of work (3 different institutions), I have gone from the Director of Training, to Director Capacity Development, to the Head of Learning. And this has not just been in words on business cards only; the way I work and my orientation has fundamentally if gradually changed.

15 years ago, capacity building was mostly about training, it was an extension of the academic environment and the realm of experts imparting useful information on participants and students, whether in a headquarters meeting room, or an extension office. It was for the most part workshop or event-based, intensive, and had lots of reading materials. When it existed, curriculum development was based on university outlines, reading lists and lecture notes, with discussion questions. Models like Train X were used to develop lesson plans for training (now I cannot find any mention of this methodology on the web, interesting). What participants got out of it was ascertained in exit questionnaires, much of it however was not repeated very often. It was focused on what people had to know to do something, starting from the ground up.

Capacity building took over from training, with more of a focus on application and a fuller understanding of the professional in his/her environment. Somehow capacity building was a broader, more integrated concept. Capacity development became the vernacular after about 10 years of building capacity, and with the increasing acknowledgement that professionals brought with them their own capacity, and often LOTS of it. So no longer were we building it (e.g. from scratch – with empty vessel-like connotations) but that we could strengthen and further develop into areas of excellence within people. Capacity development also came out of the classroom to many different in-situ environments – complete with more individualised applications and practice.

This subtle shift began to focus the process on the individual. More needs assessments, better understanding of what the people needed to DO with the information, helped to tailor and refine the input, which was now not only an event, but adopted a longer term approach – and more intervention opportunities – shadowing, mentoring, peer-learning, networking, work-place learning, preparatory e-conferences, post-activity advisory services, etc. And the whole process can be fun.

The newest shift to learning is an interesting one. Now it is all about me (well, not me personally, but all of us). No longer do I necessarily need my own learning and development to be moderated by some outside person or group, or include too much formal instruction, training or otherwise. I may want that for something specific, but I can develop my own pathway for improvement and updating to match what I want and need. Learning can happen anywhere and at any time. As we have read in Jay Cross’ book Informal Learning, 80% of workplace learning happens almost without our awareness – at a Sponsored coffee morning, in meeting discussions, in reading notices posted in the staff toilets, in our web searches, in our evening experiments with Second Life. Now a Learning Director has every spot in and outside the workplace to play with, and practically every hour of the day.

The end result is the most important and it is mostly determined by you, the learner. What do you need to do a great job? What do you need to learn, and what medium (or better, media) works best for you – and how many different, interesting, energizing ways can we help you to gather or create your knowledge, analyse it, test it, apply it, learn from it, and then keep at it. Now its lifelong learning, slowly moving, shifting and changing, just like those tectonic plates.

(Note: This post was inspired by my current reading of colleague Nicole’s “Opportunity Plan” for a leadership programme of ours. Apparently Business Plans are out, now they are called Opportunity Plans – I’m curious about the conceptual shift in thinking that’s behind this change.)

My hopeful answer to this is “well, maybe.” I get my evidence from a recent experiment that I conducted quite by accident.

Two month ago I took the Meyers-Briggs test and felt the results were accurate (self-validated). The instrument I thought had captured fairly my preferences on the four dichotomies. One of my preferences at that time was “P” – Perceiving rather than Judging. Perceivers are spontaneous, go with the flow, they make lists and lose them, they complete tasks at the last minute or late rather than well in advance.

Well, in today’s world with no speed limits on the information highway, this particular species is likely to get run over. So I have been working on this. One month ago we invited David Allen to come and address our staff on Getting Things Done, an approach which (check previous GTD tags) provides a system to help you keep alive in the organizational jungle. Many of us after his seminar have adoped this appoach and it appears to be working.

Now back to my experiment, yesterday I went to an MBTI training course and for that I had to take the instrument again, just a few months after my first test. I was amazed at the change. Everything was the same, except that my preference on the “outerworld orientation” dichotomy moved from Perceiving to Judging – with unfamiliar words like planned, structured, decisive, scheduled, makes lists and uses them, as descriptors.

I can only imagine that this difference in such a short period of time could be influenced by the GTD experience, which is still very fresh. Hopefully this change will last. I wouldn’t want to lose any of my spontaneity, and at the same time a little more structured follow-up and information management would not go amiss. Maybe just half of the spots could change? Would I then become a GMO? (GTD-Modified Organism?)

Imagine that you have spent two years developing guidelines for engaging with some key corporate issue. Or you just undertook a major survey with an important stakeholder group and wrote a 6-page summary of the central findings. You are finally finished and you send around your laboured document as an email attachment. Do people read it, do they understand it, do they do something differently as a result of this heroic effort?

How can you best broadcast essential information to a staff of hundreds?

It might not be enough to just send out your email message and hope that people find it in their in-boxes and have the time to read it (the 6-page summary mentioned above took me 1 hour to read carefully). Or might not get everyone’s attention at the monthly staff meeting in your 3 minute report. How can you get people in the “room” either physically or metaphorically?

We have been speaking to a couple of internal units about this in the last weeks and some interesting ideas have come up revolving around taking a campaign approach to internal communications, using a combination of existing structures/processes and creating some new information sharing opportunities. Here are a few steps that might be helpful:

Step 1: What staff gatherings already exist? In our organization we have a monthly staff meeting, a bi-weekly management meeting, our weekly Free Coffee mornings, and an ad-hoc series of “Brown-bag lunches” which can be programmed. Each of these activities is more or less optional (although for some attendance is more strongly encouraged than others). Each seems to attract a different segment of our internal population, and numbers are usually not very high (staff meetings are the highest, but also the shortest, and most jammed with information.) Matrix those gatherings out with the type of people who go and the rough numbers – how far does that get you?

Step 2: Where else do people congregate, wait or rest? Can you take a few walks during your work day and notice where people stop and pause? We have our cafeteria, especially the line for the coffee machine (can you put a sign there?), at the tables in the cafeteria (can you laminate the guidelines and leave them on the tables?), at the reception area (comfy couches), where else?

What about the toilet? We currently have one sign in our toilets about cleanliness in French, English and Spanish which has been read, I am sure, millions of times. Everyone in our building can recite “Please flush the toilet” in three languages. What about having some kind of revolving mechanism whereby ads, short papers, executive summaries, guidelines get put up in the toilets and changed weekly? Maybe one item per week so it gets maximum attention? Anywhere else (think of your smokers, where do they go?) You are trying to pick off different segments of your population over time, be strategic!

Step 3: What is the message? Instead of pasting up all 6 pages of the survey in the toilet, or leaving stapled documents on the tables, can you boil it down to one attractive page, with the main action you desire from the reader at the top? Can you use questions to get people’s attention? Remember you are still competing with lots of other stimuli, no matter where you are (except perhaps the toilet). Also think of your segment, if young professionals are the ones that come most to the Brown Bag lunches, and are very interested in building their own capacities, how can you frame your information for them?

Step 4: How can you get a few more people to come? If you have a little budget, perhaps you can do small things that would get a few more people to attend your events. For example, offer pizza at the brown bag lunches (Legal Pizza anyone?) Or before the staff meeting, send out a message asking people for questions (If you could ask the Membership Unit one question what would it be?) then say you will pick two to answer at the staff meeting, and give a prize to the two questions you pick (then tell them about your survey results). Or in the Free Coffee morning tell people in advance that you will run a quiz about your guidelines, (link the URL) and will be awarding free lunch tickets to everyone that answers them correctly – hand out the quiz while people wait in line at the coffee machine, or put on the tables while they chat, and collect them later and send the list of winners out by email (they are now the experts on the guidelines, not only you!)

Step 5: What kind of support and take aways/reminders can you offer? Once you have people’s attention, whether it is in the Ladies room, in cafeteria, or the conference room – what can you give them to remind them of your essential information? Can you make a postcard with top tips that you can give away and they can put it by their desk (include the contact person, and URL for more information), can you put the location on the knowledge network for the full document, can you create an interesting aid memoire (magnet or badge – “I wonder what our Members are doing today?”). Can you follow up with a card offering an hour of your services? Our unit did this for the holidays, we created a holiday post card with a clock on one side saying that we would like to give a gift of our time (one hour), and on the back we put the list of “services” or things that our unit could do, and we sent it to all the different units through internal mail. No one yet has cashed it in, but at least they know more about the kinds of things we are doing, and they probably kept it up somewhere for at least a month before recycling it with the other holiday cards.

Step 6: Keep track of where you are and create your own product bank. Whether you want to do a one week blitz using all these things, a three-month campaign, or want to work over the calendar year, keep track of who you are getting and what you are using. Where are the gaps? Have you gotten the DG yet, or are you missing a few senior managers? Maybe a lunch date or a 10 minute coffee will do. Or maybe the administration is one of the key users of your guidelines, so a special meeting called with them will work. And because of inevitable turnover, can you slip your summary into the new recruits pack with HR? And keep all your supports, papers, take aways, in a central place in a resource bank complete with Frequently Asked Questions, YouTube videos of you answering the different questions, case stories of people who have used your guidelines successfully and saved time and money, and of course your guidelines or survey results.

Next year, just a reminder in the loo might be enough to get people thinking about your issue again.

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 the shores of Lake Balaton to discuss global challenges and change for the past 26 years.

Yesterday during our workshop reflection, we queried our ability to “hear” voices not in the room. How much does our work and avenues of inquiry simply reinforce the messages that we want to hear, rather than minority (or in some cases majority) messages that are completely outside our experience? Network members are well-travelled, culturally sensitive, and primarily reached through electronic means, and now exploring the utility of blogs and podcasting; how much are we able to take into consideration those with whom we do not connect? One of our Members from Indonesia told a story about working with local communities in which they had provided computers for communication purposes. They had recently sent an email inviting people from those communitiesto attend a workshop, and no one responded.

In his recent book, “Stumbling on Happiness“, Daniel Gilbert talks about the view from in here. He puts together a compelling story about how hard, even impossible, it is to remember accurately a previous condition. A more recent experience will always color our evaluation of a past experience. So if those around us are sharing an experience with us, how easy it is for any of us to represent or invoke accurately a completely different context (do we really remember what it was like before we had the internet)?

When such a large percentage of our work is devoted to behaviour change of people that have a potentially very different motivations and contexts to us, sustainability advocates, how close are we getting to really understanding and speaking to the real thing?

In the last couple of days, I have been working with a core team in our institution on a strategic planning process to structure and organize a major upcoming event – a Congress of 10,000 people which will be held at the end of next year. We spent a good deal of our 14.5 hours together building a wall-sized work plan that detailed every aspect of the Congress that we could think of – and tried to understand how these all fit together in terms of sequencing and responsibilities, as well as the kinds of knowledge gaps or risks that we could identify now. The final, enormous visual result was less overwhelming than expected because we knew that everyone understood each other’s individual pieces, and were there to help.

We did not start this exercise with extrapolating what needed to happen from today (that started after lunch). Instead we started with what kind of a Congress we wanted. We talked about what we wanted to achieve in terms of strategic objectives, and our most energised discussions were around how to have a healthy and happy Congress for everyone involved. These Congresses happen every four years, and are increasingly marathon events, with thousands of participants, hundreds of staff, hundreds of different activities happening concurrently, and – because they happen in a different place and with a different team each time- a steep learning curve. Our conversation about a healthy Congress (which is actually one of the sub-themes, although it is meant more in a global sustainable development sense) tapped people in to what they wanted their Congress to look like and be, not only for participants, but for them as the people who devote their lives to it for the two years preceding it.

During those 14 days of the Congress they wanted features both simple and complex. They wanted regular break times and meals, for sustenance and reflection; they wanted fresh air and some exercise (besides running around an enormous conference centre). They wanted clear responsibilities and lines of communication; and they wanted recognition for great work (and not just those emergency calls when things fall apart). They wanted the ability to participate in the substantive discussions to be built into their terms of engagement, so that they also could contribute to the debate. All of these things would help create the Congress they wanted to see, and would give them something to aim for. This is a more normative approach, describing desired future (I read an interesting definition of normative as being “one step beyond normal”). Normal, is what you might get if you use an extrapolative approach – one that infers or estimates the future by extending or projecting known information.

These two choices for developing future pathways, whether using extrapolative or normative approaches, are equally valid whether you are planning a major event, reorganizing an entire institution, developing a new programme, or trying to figure out what you want to do with your life – all four types of conversations I have had with people over the last week. The tendency seems to be to use extrapolation. How far can we get if we tweak this or that? What kind of different outcomes might we get if we experiment with normative forecasting? This might be a better way if your goal is big change.

In a previous post, How is Change Like Strip Poker, we talked through how people react to change processes, and we used a game for experiential learning. See that post if you want to know the mechanics of the game. The basic idea is to have people experience a change process and notice what kind of reactions and emotions they go through while they try to change. Well, today we played the game again with a group of senior managers, who are themselves leading a change process in our institution. Here are some of the dynamics that we noticed as the group was asked to undergo a change process themselves. We also wonder, how might this “laboratory experiment” give us some insights on what is happening or might happen in our institution as we all undergo change?

Creativity breeds creativity and resistance breeds resistance. If your partner, or colleague, is having fun with a change process, you are more likely to find the fun in it too (or at least try). However, if someone is actively resisting change, then those around them are less willing to change, or feel less able to change.

Your willingness to change might also depend on who you are working with. Your reaction to change might be swayed by the observed behaviour around you (so following the crowd) but also with your underlying relationships. If change is perceived as a risk, how much trust is there in the team to encourage this perceived risk-taking behaviour?

Change is a highly individual process. Some people go from fear to delight and others go from delight to fear. People can have different experiences over the same period of time. Most people will question change, but they might question it at different times based on their assumptions of the goals and their perceptions of the results being achieved along the way, as well as how uncomfortable they might become (for many reasons) at different stages in the process.

Change will happen at different levels, and deep change takes time. It takes people some time to stop changing things at a superficial level and to start to think how they can change more fundamentally (like mental models, versus moving your watch from one arm to the other). Everyone will do the easy stuff first, and everyone has a different perception of easy.

Change can make you richer, but you can’t always imagine that at the onset of the process. After the initial assumption about change as loss, and when there is nothing easy left to change, people start to use resources differently. At the end of our process, people tended to have more than they did when they started. They began to pick up tools, resources, other objects, and for the most part, were richer in material terms than when they began.

Looking at change differently. In our exercise one person in the last round actually put on someone else’s shoes – that seemed like a nice metaphor for trying to understand another person’s experience with the change process. This same person also asked, “is someone going to get a prize?”, as though openness to change should be rewarded. The nice part was, that person in both instances, was the boss.

Some months back, Dennis Meadows – a renowned Systems Dynamist and author of ‘Limits to Growth’ (1972), visited our organization and spoke with us about the future of oil. Recently I’ve been referring back to his presentation, and especially to the series of three graphs shown here and illustrating easy problems, hard problems and how hard problems become easy with greater time horizon. These graphs make great sense to me. My question is: How can we most effectively influence decision-makers in expanding time horizons – often beyond their term of office? This is a hard sell, particularly because we often see things get worse before they get better.

I come back to an earlier post in which I wrote about theories of change and concluded that the knowledge → behaviour change theory is not a universal truth (as many smokers, people working on climate change and many others will know only too well). How do we help prepare people to go ‘cold turkey’ for the sake of better longer term health – whether of us as individuals, as institutions or societies, or for the sake of the health of the planet?

At the GAN-Net workshop in any one conversation we manage to go from the personal level (even cellular sometimes) to the global level. Yesterday in our group we had a thought-provoking discussion about teams which did just that.

Overall we are looking at how to improve the impacts of these Global Action Networks in the world, and an optimal way of organizing them to achieve greater social change. One question we were exploring was: How do individual team member limits, limit the team’s impact? How do these limitations affect the quality of the team’s work and “product” movement in their institutions and beyond? Using a more appreciative frame perhaps the question could be: What are the links between personal development issues and the development and work of the team?

We have written quite a bit in this blog about change processes and our theories of change. This takes that one step further by adding the micro-application of change processes into the scope of the discussion. We have our own theories of change within our institutions (explicit or not) and we also have our own theories of change for us as individuals. What’s possible when we put these together for experimentation purposes and learning?

How can we deepen our team’s discussions about this? One participant spoke of the “objectification” of the interior life of a team – just getting this stuff out there to be noticed and discussed. That is not always so easy. How can we articulate and make explicit our own intentions and how they relate to our intentions as a team, and how can we talk about our own fears and how these relate to our fears as a team? (and then link the team to our institution and our institution in the world?) If we think there is a mirror effect, how can we get that out there to look at and discuss?

In our team we try to talk about our strengths and our individual goals and how we can help each other achieve them (we just had our Performance Evaluations, so this is a fresh conversation). However, these things cover mostly the way we wish things to be, rather than the way things are now. It would be interesting to have these conversations together and see how our process for achieving our individual goals link to the process for achieving our team’s goals, and how we can potentially harness those two sources of energy and movement to speed both processes up.

For the next few days I am attending a meeting of GAN-Net outside of Boston. A GAN is a Global Action Network and the people attending the workshop come from organizational development, knowledge management, human development and related fields.

These few days we are discussing the structure, strategy and governance systems of Global Action Networks including how these features could change to make them much more effective in reaching their global missions for social good. Sometimes it seems odd to be discussing fundamental changes in the governance structure or global strategy of a complex organization that has been around for 60 years or has developed a membership base of 10 million people. Surely that organization’s structure must be chiseled in stone? However, as one participant reminded the group on the first night, institutions are created in our imaginations, and they can be recreated there too.

For those who are not reading Winnie the Pooh (like I am at my house), a Woozle is an imaginary creature that Pooh is afraid of meeting one dark night while trying to find his way home with Piglet. He eventually discovers that the Woozle footprints he finds are just his and his friend’s as they have been walking in circles. These Global Action Networks are a little like that; they might seem large, complex and scary, but in fact they are just us. So changing them should be completely within our realm of possiblity (though of course as we are seeing it is not always so easy).

So off we go to explore how to create a new organizing paradigm for the world with this question: How does the world, how do we, and how do I, discuss and address strategy, structure and governance of complex, global multi-stakeholder issues with the precision and scale required to bring about deep societal change? We need to keep reminding ourselves that those huge footprints we are finding are merely our own.

“When the imagination is unleashed, change happens.” This is what John Samuel, International Director of ActionAid noticed throughout his Stand Up Against Poverty Campaign in India and other places where millions of people joined the antipoverty campaign in many creative ways, from concerts, events, and other cleverly branded activities. Speaking at the conference mentioned in the previous post, he encouraged people to “unleash the power of people with a sense of agency.” This is not your typical concert-going crowd, it is one with agency, which is the sense of being in action, or being instrumental in some cause. (

Another speaker, Antonio Campo Dell’Orto, Managing Director of MTV South Europe, talked about the “No Excuse 2015” Voices Against Poverty Campaign, which MTV in Italy has taken on air and into classrooms and other venues in Italy. This essentially youth campaign, has used creative anti-poverty advertising spots, bracelets, pop icons and electronic technology to get millions of Italian young people interested and involved in the Millenium Development goals (

These are two examples of creating social movements for social change, using activities that people want to do, that they want to use their own time and energy to participate in, and that are fun. John Samuel encouraged people to “express yourself through celebration” rather than through complaint or disengagement.

Does this work at all levels of society – even the institutional level?

A colleague and I wait by the large gorilla statue in the entrance hall. Dumisani Nyoni joins us. As part of our Exploring Change Processes workshop, Dumi is introducing us to a game used by Pioneers of Change (

Right, says Dumi, It’s simple. I would like you to go into the room and try to figure out what’s happening. Try to figure out the rules of the game. Speak about what you see and what you think is going on. Keep talking so everyone else has an idea of what is going through your mind. Doesn’t sound too hard.

We return to the workshop room as the game begins and we set to solving this little mystery. We see everyone walking around, weaving in and out of the tables and chairs. The pace changes – sometimes almost coming to a standstill and then speeding up again. People watch others in the room, changing direction. Arms fold and unfold. Hands go in and out of pockets. Something purposeful is going on – but what?

Five minutes later, Dumi thanks us all and asks us to return to our seats. Did we figure out what everyone was doing? Did we figure out the rules of the game? – Dumi asks the two of us. No. And we begin to explore how it felt to be outsiders to the game, trying to figure out the rules.

Eventually the rule is revealed: All thirty people in the room (the players) were asked to secretly select two others and stay equidistant from them throughout the game. (See: How Do You Play Yours? The Change Game).

Now, a couple of days later, I’m wondering – Why didn’t we figure out the rules of the game? This wasn’t a question we really probed during the workshop itself, yet I think it is a powerful question.

In terms of the players: To what extent did the players want us to figure out the rules of the game? What were their objectives? Did they wish to help us understand the system or to prevent us from doing so? And what motivation lay behind?

And more importantly (to me at least right now): What could we – the outsiders – have done differently to increase the likelihood of figuring out the rules of the game?

How would the outcome have been different had we asked questions directly to the players? And what would have been the right questions to ask them? Would the players in the game have been able to answer our questions? And would they have felt at ease doing so? What could we have asked Dumi, the game leader, in order to clarify the rules governing our play?

How would it have been different had we stepped into the game (albeit not knowing the rules) rather than observing from the sidelines? What would the reactions of the other players have been? Would we have learned more by trying to get inside the game as it unfolded?

I won’t know now, but next time I’m trying to figure out the rules of the game I might take a different approach. What approach would an expert change consultant take?

What was your experience? Dumisani Nyoni asks. What did you think and feel as you were playing the game?

The game had been simple. All thirty people in the room were asked to select (secretly) two others and stay equidistant from them throughout the game. Meanwhile two ‘outsiders’, unaware of the rules of the game, would come in and try and figure out the rules of the game. The reactions of the ‘inside’ players were diverse:

• I was simply focused on the task of keeping equidistant from the two players I had selected without letting them know I had picked them. It felt very egocentric and at the same time I found it fun.

• I found the game frustrating. I just wanted everyone to stop moving in the hope that I could stop also. I was frustrated by the effect of the other players on my game.

• Whilst playing the game, I wondered which of the other players had selected me and was trying to figure out what effect my movement was therefore having on others in the game.

• Finding the task simple and a little boring, I considered how the game might be changed and how I might bend the rules in order the achieve this.

• I puzzled over the relationship between the game, my life and work, asking myself how much choice I have and considering the implications of breaking the rules.

I found this really interesting. One game; one rule; multiple experiences. What a complex thing a game can be. Like with most systems in which we live and work, we make sense of it and interact with it in so many different ways. Sometimes we ‘go with the flow’. Sometimes we want the system to change and yet make no effort to change it. Sometimes we try to understand the system and figure out how we can change the system into one that works better for us, or for others involved. Other times we don’t want to be a part and ask ourselves – how can I get out?

How can the game metaphor help me think about the systems in which I am living and working? What game(s) am I playing? How am I playing the game? And what do I think and feel about it?

What’s my game? And what’s yours?

Chuck Phillips, a change management consultant for major institutions and corporations in the USA, was a lively speaker during our recent meeting on Deep Change Processes. He started his presentation with an activity that some people likened to strip poker…

Two people face each other and take an “inventory” of the other person. Look them up and down and notice everything you can about their appearance.

Now, turn your backs to one another and listen. An important client of yours tells you that to keep up with the market, your company needs to change its appearance, and asks you to change five things about your appearance before you turn back to your partner. What do you change? Most people took off their glasses, they took off their watches, their earrings and rings, rolled up their sleeves, and unbuttoned their shirt. When they turned back to their partners, each had to guess what 5 things had changed.

Now, turn your backs to one another again, and listen. This client tells you that the market is extremely tight, and more serious changes need to happen. In order to keep up with the competition, you need to change 5 more things about your appearance. People complain. They struggle to think of what they can change. They take off their shoes (that’s two), they take off a sock (one more), they stop and think – what more can I take off? “Hey, this is like strip poker”, someone shouts to nervous laughter. Now what? Fold up one trouser leg, stick up your collar (that’s five). We turn around again and try to guess the five things that have changed.

Now turn your backs AGAIN and listen…We’re going to go out of business in this current cutthroat business climate, your client says, unless you can change 8 more things about your appearance. Rioting ensues, well almost, as people cannot even imagine what more they could take off, take away, shorten. Then it starts to occur to people – can we change our smile, can we put things on – that sweater, that guy’s hat? Can we sit down or stand up? Yes to all of those!

What is it about change that makes people assume that they need to lose something, cut something, or take something away? Does it have to be like that? How can we get people to see change as an opportunity to add things, to change the way we see the world (sit down, turn around), to get some ideas from other people (what is that guy changing, hey, good idea), or swap things with someone else so we both look different?

As I sat in a different meeting today and heard about budget changes and saw the subsequent taking away – of positions, of projects, of offices – I asked myself what do change and strip poker have in common? And does it need to be like that?

Multiple definitions exist for the transitive verb ‘to generate’, all of which have to do with positive change and the emergence of something new. When we talk about positive change in the world, we talk of generating new relationships and new behaviours. Yet to what extent are our personal and professional practices generative?

Many of our interactions centre around dialogue – bringing together people seeking to make change through conversation and agreement. Indeed this is the focus of the Generative Dialogue Project (, and on Friday, Bettye Pruitt joined our meeting exploring change processes and ran a session considering the extent to which our dialogue practices are and could be generative.

Following a short breathing exercise to calm and focus everyone after the coffee break, Bettye grouped us into small ‘pods’ of four chairs in a tight circle. She posed three questions:

1) What opportunities do you see for generative dialogue processes in your work? And what are your highest aspirations for what these might produce?

2) What factors are supporting a shift to using more generative dialogue processes in your work? And what are the challenges?

3) What do you personally need to change in order to implement more generative processes in your work?

Within each group of four, we explored these questions, one at a time in rotating pairs with one person in the pair talking for three minutes, followed by the other person in the pair. Returning to plenary, the group then came together to answer a further question:

From this experience, what is different? What new knowledge do you have and how are you going to use it going forward (i) in this meeting; and (ii) beyond?

This was a great, generative exercise for the morning of the first day of the meeting. Why? Because we had the opportunity to get to know one another as we spoke (uninterrupted) and listened to another (without interrupting), sharing thoughts for three minutes on each of the three questions. Because we focused on opportunities, aspirations and supporting factors (very appreciative!). Because we had a space and time for reflection. And, most importantly, because we focused on what we personally need to change.

I found the focus on the ‘I’ extremely powerful and empowering – helping me to see more clearly my personal role in my professional environment and making me articulate what I, personally, need to start changing today if I want my work to be more generative!

The notion of the Trojan Horse approach stuck in my mind following the earlier post. What is the relationship between the way an initiative is framed, the extent to which the objectives are made explicit, and participation in it? And what is the ‘right’, socially responsible approach to take?

Change is constant and we are all participants (whether aware and willing or otherwise) in multiple, simultaneous change processes. How are these processes framed? How aware are we of the objectives? And are we (actively) participating or (passively) being participated ?

The idea of participating or being participated is one that recurred during the World Congress on Communication Development ( I wonder now – How does the framing of initiatives determine our active participation in them and affect the amount of energy and enthusiasm we choose to bring? And how are we framing our initiatives?

“It is not always necessary to frame initiatives as part of a sustainability movement in order to get people to think about the environment and peace” said Junko Edahiro, initiator of the Candle Night Campaign ( which started in Japan in Summer 2003. Turn off the lights; Take it slow are the key messages of this campaign, for which more than five million people in Japan and around the world turn off their lights for two hours on the summer and winter solstices annually. “People are often willing to spend their time and money to become happier – not to become a sustainable citizen. Sometimes the ‘Trojan Horse’ approach can therefore be the best way to communicate with non-experts when seeking environmental sustainability” explained Junko.

I was interested by the issue of framing. How would participation in the Candle Night Campaign have been different had it been framed as the Save Energy or Think Peace Campaign? Would people have responded to these worthy causes as much as they did to the more personal Take it slow message? In a way, it is easier to see the impact of Take it slow than it is to see the impact of Save energy or Think peace? And maybe this is a good way to practice doing things together?

In the next few days no doubt we will be writing a lot about a recent meeting we held on “Exploring Deep Change Processes: Learning from Around the World”. As I work through my reflections, I thought I would start with the discussion about how much choice we really have about how we see our own past, present and future.

One of our speakers was Ulrich Goluke, from blue-way, who is a scenarios and systems practitioner. He urged us to think about the future in a deliberate way and to have the courage to choose and develop for ourselves a set of possible scenarios for our futures. He prefaced his contribution with a short game, described below:

In pairs, take two minutes each to tell the story of your life to your partner as though it was a heroic one.

In the same pairs, take two minutes each to tell the story of your life to your partner as though you were a victim.

For many of the participants, this exercise was a “Wow” (we collected “wows” at the end of the workshop.) Why did this short exercise mean so much to people? It was incredible that with the one data set (our lives) we could frame the same sequence of life experiences so convincingly and so truthfully as both a heroic endeavour, and as a victim. Where one moment we were proud of where we were and our future, and four minutes later, we lamented the fact that we had only come this far due to events that kept us from living to our full potential.

This really showed how much choice we have in how we project ourselves into the world in the present and in the future; how we tell ourselves stories that can either celebrate a life, or despair it. Ultimately, we can choose the story we want to tell, and it can lift us up, or bring us down. It’s our choice…

When I first drafted the opening paragraph of this blog entry, it read as follows:

I was out with a group of friends on Saturday night when a number of supposed non-smokers lit up cigarettes. ‘Social smokers’ – they called themselves. This has always baffled me (not in the least because I believe smoking is particularly anti-social). What makes these non-addicted smokers smoke? I know they all read ‘smoking kills’ on the packet and understand the health risks. What’s more I know they are well-educated, socially oriented individuals and, as the World Health Organization has put it, “the tobacco industry and corporate responsibility are an inherent contradiction”. So, if awareness and knowledge are not enough to prevent this behaviour, what would successfully bring about this change?

Thinking about this, I’m pretty sure that asserting my personal bias is not going to bring about a change in their smoking habits. And knowledge of the risks hasn’t done the trick. So what might work? If I were to make it my mission, what questions should I ask to better understand what it is about social smoking that people enjoy in the first place and what, if anything, might change this behaviour? How do I think people change? If I thought that knowledge changed people’s behaviour, then this smoking case is one that challenges my theory.

“What is your theory of change?” asked Steve Waddell, founder of GAN-Net (a learning network of Global Action Networks), visiting our organization on Friday. Whether or not we’ve studied theories of change at an academic level, we often have a pretty embedded change theory influencing the way we approach the world. For example, I might have assumed that informing people about the serious hazards of smoking (or of damaging the environment for that matter) would be enough to change behaviour. The question is, do we subscribe to one change theory in a no-questions-asked fashion? For example, do we believe it’s as simple as knowledge → behaviour change? Or do we give due attention to diverse change theories and the multitude of other factors influencing change, ranging from beliefs to new technologies?

As seen in the case of the social smokers, the knowledge → behaviour change theory is clearly not a universal truth (those who are working on climate change these days would have noticed this as well). Other theories of change are needed. In what ways could learning about our own, embedded theories of change as well as the diversity of other theories help us change the way we approach the world for greater, positive impact?

In a beautiful retreat forty minutes drive from Boston, two dozen members of the Generative Dialogue Project community ( came together. I was extremely privileged to join the group and, over the course of three days, engage in dialoguing about dialogue.

From the outset we were charged with the following: “Listen to one another with your full attention. Think about what is said, how it is said and the intent behind this. How does it make you feel – physically, intellectually and emotionally – as a participant in this dialogue process? How does it make others feel?” The purpose of this was advancing our understanding of generative dialogue by experiencing it as well as talking about it and examining case examples.

A heightened level of awareness was brought to the discussion by balancing theory with practice in the ‘here and now’. This experiential dimension – the learning by doing approach – set the stage for a wonderful interplay between exploring academic discourse, sharing experiences, and at the same time reflecting throughout on our own dialogue process.

This was a truly inspiring exercise! Joining change and dialogue process experts in this, I was party to a rare space in which professionals listen and inquire with a resolve and integrity too often reserved for outside the professional environment. These were conversations that mattered; conversations in which relationships changed – including my relationship with the ‘art’ of dialogue, the way I will approach dialogue processes, will listen, will inquire and will learn.

There is still much to explore and emerge about the role of dialogue in change processes. Along the way, how can we replicate such experiential approaches in our own institutions for collective learning about the important role of dialogue in change?

As I was dashing out of the door to work this morning, throwing my empty coffee cup in the sink and grabbing my bag, my husband handed me a weekly news magazine. “Read this article”, he said, “you’ll enjoy it.” Settling into my seat on the tram, I glanced down to the article in hand. “I trained my husband like an exotic animal”, read the headline. He had my attention.

Written by Amy Sutherland, author of “Kicked, Bitten and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers”
(, the article considers behaviour change techniques – as learned from trainers of seals and other exotic animals, and seemingly effective with the human too.

As I read this, whilst wondering about quite what my husband was trying to say (not sure whether he thought of himself as the one throwing or catching the mackerel), I began thinking about the applicability of these ideas and techniques in the most exotic of animals – the organization.

In our organizations, how successful have we been in:

  • Identifying the ways in which are own actions may fuel those of others and using this to the positive?
  • Introducing “incompatible behaviours” that make undesirable behaviours impossible?
  • Rewarding the small steps towards learning a new behaviour?

And how can we continue to practice and master these techniques until our practice ‘makes perfect’?

We have conversations everyday. How many of these conversations matter? When did we last have a conversation that mattered? And what was it that made it matter? What defines a conversation that matters from the multitude of conversations that so often fill our world?

We’ve all come away from conversations that have mattered and to some extent (whether we recognize it at the time or not) shaped our lives – conversations that have changed the nature of our relationships, the way we think and the way we behave. Similarly we’ve come away from conversations which have made little (or no) impression on us, and following which business continues as usual.

Having just returned from some wonderful conversations with the Generative Dialogue Project (, I got to wondering: How are the conversations our organization is having changing the nature of relationships and the way people, groups and societies around the world are thinking and behaving? In other words, to what extent are our conversations bringing about the change we seek and helping achieve our objectives? And how can we continue to improve the quality of our conversations to better ensure that they matter?

As yet I don’t have the answers to these questions. I do think that sparking some conversations about them in our organization would be very worthwhile – enabling us to further reflect on and learn from our own conversational practices.