The Climate Change Playbook

This post is generally translating “serious games” (games with learning messages) that we normally play in face-to-face settings into versions that can be played in a Zoom or other online evironment. Here I am writing specifically about games in the Systems Thinking Playbook and the Climate Change Playbook, the latter of which I wrote with two co-authors Dennis Meadows and Linda Booth Sweeney.

Recently I attended an online seminar, hosted by the Systems Dynamics Society and Linda, about how to use Playbook games online. These books are great resources for face-to-face workshops, but in Covid times these are virtually non-exoistent. As we all move online, Linda shared how she is using some of the games in virtual environments. We played Arms Crossed, Circles in the Air, and Paper Tear and they mapped over easily and effectively. It got me thinking about how to translate some of the longer and more complex games into Zoom workshops. I fully believe that every game can somehow have a virtual counterpart, with some creativity! Three of my favorite games are Triangles, Speed Catch, and Thumbwrestling. In this blog post I will write about Triangles. In subsequent posts I will tackle Speed Catch and Thumbwrestling.

A Few General Comments

1) Different Kinds of Games

In the Climate Change Playbook, we divide the 22 games into three categories: Mass games, Demonstration games and Participation games. Mass games are those that can be played by very large groups of participants, for example in conferences or during presentations or lectures. People can be seated in theatre style or around tables and everyone plays.

These Mass games translate rather easily into virtual environments as there is a game leader who provides instructions and people follow these. Examples from the books are Circles in the Air, Arms Crossed and Frames. These games are played by individuals, although there can be some that benefit additionally from group play for deriving lessons, like 1,2,3 Go! or Paper Tear.

With Demonstration games, you can get a lot out of them by simply watching – if you have a small group then everyone can play, but if you have a large group then a subset of the group can play and others can watch and learning can come from either role (player or observer). For many of these kinds of games, you can use videos that are already online to show people parts of the game, stop the video, ask some questions, and then go on. Thumbwrestling is one of these. We call it a Mass game in the book because you can do it in an audience by playing with someone next to you, but because on Zoom you don’t have anyone next to you, I will move it to this category for now.

For Participation games, these can be played by larger groups (up to 30 we say) but learning really comes from participation, and “observation only” provides less value to participants. Triangles and Speed Catch are examples of Participation Games.

The games I want to makeover fall into the Demonstration and Participation game categories.

 2) Time for Debriefing

Virtual workshops and meetings tend to be shorter. People are regularly compressing 1.5 day workshops into a 2-3 hours session. As a result, it might be tempting to reduce the games and skip the debriefing. However, debriefing is the MOST important part of the game. The game mechanics show a dynamic that you then learn from through reflection and discussion. So it is really important to preserve the time after the game for the debriefing discussion. During our Systems Dynamics Society workshop we used Zoom breakouts to debrief the Paper Tear game in smaller groups of 3-4 so that everyone could talk (we were around 115 people). If your group is small to begin with, then this could be done in plenary. The key is that you use your powerful debriefing questions to do some mining of the game experience for the key messages and lessons you are trying to surface.

3) Consider the Environment

If you are doing a Mass game, for example, that depends on your demonstrating something (asking people to draw a circle on the ceiling, or cross their arms, etc.) you need to consider your own environment, camera angle, your distance from your video camera, etc. so that people can effectively see and hear what you are doing. As such, you need to test this, with your camera on, in advance so that you can see what other’s are seeing. You need to make sure you are not crossing your arms too low and out of the camera view (Arms Crossed), or that you are not too close to your camera for people to see your arm making a gesture towards the ceiling, that you want others to make (Circles in the Air).

Consider also that people may be connecting from different devices. Some people might be with you on their mobile phones, or on an ipad, with a smaller screen. As a result, it is important to speak the whole time you are showing people what to do – describe vividly what you are doing, so that even if they cannot see you well, they can still follow you.

Making Over Games to Virtual Environmets

Making “over” games is similar to making them in the first place. You have to think first about the message you want to get across, then think about a dynamic that can do that (with debriefing questions), and then you make the game. It is not always easy to do that, game design is a skill. In translating the following games into a virtual environment, I started by thinking about the games I wanted to redesign in this way.

What follows below is not a complete game description, for that you have the book (hopefully!) but will get you started thinking about how to do this, and maybe give you some ideas of how you can make over some of your own favorite workshop games.

Triangles: Makeover for Virtual Play

The Triangles game shows, among other things, how interconnected players are and how they form a system. It sets up a system in which you (the game administrator) intervene and can show how a change in one part of the system may or may not impact another part of the system (depending on the rules), and it can show delays in that things may change gradually and unexpectedly and not all at once. It helps explore leverage points – places where you can make large changes (if that is your goal), or no changes to a system (if that is your goal) – illustrating high or low leverage.

In the face-to-face (F2F) version of this game, people initially stand in a circle to set up the game. They select two reference points (people) around the circle and, once the game begins, are instructed to stand equidistant between those two people, making a triangle as needed to maintain equal distance. People move and the system starts to move. People laugh and try to maintain equidistance even when others continue to move and shift. Eventually the system settles and the game administrator can make changes to the system (moving selected individuals) to see how it reacts.   In the F2F version, you can add instructions at the start for people to select some characteristic (“pick someone with glasses as one of your reference points”), or NOT to select another characteristic (someone wearing red). So that you know when you move these people there will be a large change or no change.

How on earth could you do this virtually when people are sitting all over the world behind their computers???

Here’s one way:

Using a Google Jamboard or Miro or another white board tool on which people can interact. Set up a page in advance (or if people are used to the tool, they can create their own “avatar” post-it) with one post-it for each person. Start in the circle.

When you set up the Jamboard in advance, you need to change the settings so that everyone with a link can edit. Then you can share the link in the chat window during your workshop, have people click it, and then they are on your Jamboard and can participate, and are still connected with Zoom (for example).  At this point I would ask people to unmute themselves so that you can hear what is going on while people are playing (laughter or frustration) but you need to tell people that they should ideally not talk while playing the game.

Now you can provide the same instructions as in the F2F version, with some modifications. Once the game starts they will move the post-it with their name only when you say “Go”. They first need to pick two reference points (two names on post-its in the circle) and not tell anyone. Once you say “Go” they will need to move the post-it with their name (their “avatar”) so that it is equidistance between their two reference points. You can also add some qualifiers BEFORE people pick – e.g. make sure one of your reference points is orange, and don’t pick one that is yellow. I would say not to “personalise” it too much by using people’s names (same in the 3D version of the game).

When you say “Go” people will start to move their post-it avatars and things will get messy for a while. Then the system will settle probably spread out all over the Jamboard or Miro board. Once it has settled you can reinforce this by saying “STOP” and tell people that you, the game administrator, will intervene and make a change in their system and that they should just let this happen and not move anything. You now make a change (tell the person that you will be moving their post-it) – then move one of the post-its to another part of the Board. Then you ask them to again be equidistance between their two reference points. If you have selected one of the colours that no one has chosen (yellow), then nothing happens. If you choose an orange post-it, then chances are that everyone will have to move again. You can observe delays, where people initially don’t have to move, but eventually their two reference points are affected and they do. The general dynamics of the game should show up as you intervene a couple of times and in different ways. The debriefing can follow the book at this point. What real life behaviours does this exercise remind you of? Where have you seen high or low-influence individuals or policies in your own organization? etc…

Curious? Try it and leave some comments on your experiences.

I have also thought about a way to run Speed Catch and Thumbwrestling which I will write about later, this post is already pretty long!

How do you go about creating a Pecha Kucha? Well, growing experience with them is teaching us that the process is often quite the opposite of what we usually see when people begin a traditional PowerPoint presentation. Are you among those who start by annotating blank slides with key words and messages and then let the presentation grow from there, hoping the logic will somehow make it work? If so, you’re not alone, and like many if you try and fit this to a Pecha Kucha format you may struggle to match your messages meaningfully across to the 20 x 20 second timed slides. How about trying a different approach? Begin by writing a story. Then match your story across to slides for a much more compelling narrative with visual support. Here’s how.

In preparation for a recent event at which we demonstrated techniques for engaging groups in thinking, learning and working together, we asked one of our favourite clients (thanks Mark!) to help us. We challenged him to create and deliver a Pecha Kucha and he was happy – if a little daunted at first – to oblige. This blog post shares his valuable, pragmatic approach.

Step 1: First determine your key messages – what do you want your audience to think, feel and do as a result of your presentation – and write your story to get your key messages across. (Click here for our blogpost on storytelling.)

Step 2: Practice telling your story aloud and tweak it until it tidily fits into 6 minutes – making sure to breathe, leave pauses, allow time for the audience to absorb what they are hearing and so forth.

Step 3: Once happy with your story, it is time to divide it into 20-second chunks. Literally read and time it out, marking into your script every time 20 seconds passes.

Step 4: Create a table with two columns and twenty rows (for the twenty x 20 second slides you will eventually have). Cut and paste each the 20-second chunks of script into twenty rows of the table. At this point, you may choose to again tweak the text so that it fits more comfortably with the slide breaks.

Step 5: For each 20-second chunk of script, find an image or select one or two key words that best support the content. Enter these into the left hand column of the table.

Step 6: Convert the left hand column of your table into your twenty slides. And, with a little practice, you are ready to go!

Now, a little anecdotal experience… if all of sudden your presenter can’t make it, they may just be able to hand the whole thing over to a trusted colleague! With a timed script ready to go and clearly linked across to the slides, a little time to read and digest was all that was needed for someone else to come to the rescue and do a truly superb job. Pecha Kucha preparation pays!


For more on Pecha Kuchas, see our many earlier blog posts (enter ‘pecha kucha’ in the search box – left column. Here are a couple of our favourites:

Taking the Long Elevator: 13 Tips for Good Pecha Kuchas

The End of Boring: Borrowing, Mashing, Adapting for Facilitators

Let’s take an example. Imagine you want to have a conversation about future meetings in a large team or organization with a view to – no surprise here – improving them. You likely have opinions about meetings and how they need to improve in the future. All well and good; but in order to get others on board with this change, you need to explore their opinions about meetings and what improvement might look like. So you decide on a quick and easy way to explore what is and what could be.

On A3 sheets around the room, you have converted some statements about meetings into spectrums. On one, for example, is a spectrum with two axes. At one end of the y-axis it reads: “We always get the task done” and the other end it reads “We never get the task done”; and on the x-axis: “We always feel great about the result” and at the other end “We rarely feel great about the result”. On another sheet, you might have a spectrum related to the quality and quantity of participation. On others, a grid question addresses the amount of time spent in different thinking modes (with the thinking modes – critical, creative, etc. – as the column headers and % brackets in the rows – 0-25%, 25-50%, etc.) and a multiple-choice question is about the efficiency of time spent (with different rows from not efficient to very efficient).

With your spectrums in place, you give participants sticky dots and invite them to tour the room independently, placing their sticky dots in appropriate places on the spectrums of various formats. In the first instance, they should place their sticky dots to describe ‘what is’. Next, either using the same spectrum or an identical one stuck on the same board, repeat the exercise but this time using sticky dots of a different shape or colour to describe ‘what could/should be’.

Once everyone has contributed, it’s time to look at the results. You could choose to do this in plenary, but I recommend taking it a step further. Divide the group up into a number of smaller groups (corresponding to the number of spectrums) and provide them with a flipchart template to complete. Give each one spectrum and ask them to complete the template: (1) briefly describe the results; (2) analyze / suggest reasons for the results / assumptions behind them; and then (3) suggest how to get from ‘what is’ to ‘what could/should be’. Allow them 15 minutes to do this work, and then have each group report back to the rest, providing opportunity for others to then react and provide additional ideas.

This process is a great way of generating and quickly analyzing large amounts of information in a highly interactive, participatory way. The outputs are very visual, making great reference material throughout the event that follows. It is really valuable for clarifying perspectives on what is and what could/should be, the direction that the group want to head in, as well as beginning the conversation about how to make change in the desired direction. Try it and let us know how you get on.

If you’d like to keep up with my highlights from TEDActive 2011, I’m tweeting @lizzie_BGL. Blog posts to follow once the dust settles!

We wish everyone a wonderful holiday season!!

I can say “we” officially now, as Lizzie (my co-blogger here since 2006, and former IUCN team member) has joined Bright Green Learning and will start on 1 January. She will bring her innovative learning and facilitation abilities, incredible creativity, and no doubt her “Maximiser” skills to our work. Welcome Lizzie!!!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

When preparing to give a presentation, how do you get started? A list of bullet points? Opening a PowerPoint and jotting down a key message for each slide? Browsing your folder of favourite images to highlight your ideas? Or perhaps like me: with a large table, a big blank sheet of white paper, and an array of colourful pens, sketching out visuals, words and key symbols, with circles and arrows highlighting the connections and helping navigate about the page?

If you are like me, then you’ve probably struggled with the transition from your sheet of beautifully animated paper to a series of PowerPoint slides. All of a sudden, the dynamism, the creative flair, the energy seems sucked right out. Despite your best efforts, clicking through the slides you are disheartened by the linearity, and frustrated by the challenge of retaining the contextual frame for each of your interestingly connected points – a frame which leapt from your one pager. If this speaks to you at all, I have just the presentation tool you’ve been waiting for: Prezi. Check it out here: It’s very intuitive to use, and makes a really refreshing change. Systems thinkers especially – this is absolutely for you!

Let me know how you get on.

Remember how you learned to walk? Most of us don’t. For the large part of our lives, we take for granted our bipedal fluency having forgotten the process that first got us there. Observing children learning to walk may remind us. Or watching the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Scarecrow is taken down from his perch. Falling, hobbling, lurching and then learning to step with fluidity, Scarecrow’s bipedal journey begins… and then, as he perfects the flow of out of balance movement between one foot and the other, he even finds himself able to dance!

To address the toughest social challenges of today, Adam Kahane, speaking at the SoL Pegasus Conference, argued that we needed to learn to be bilingual in two “languages” in much the same way as we learned to walk. Drawing on the work of Paul Tillock, he provided two definitions of the essential driving forces behind these languages; 1) The drive of every living thing to realize itself; and 2) The drive towards unity of the separated. Summarizing these into two familiar words, he spoke of our need to be bilingual in the languages of power and love, and be able to dance between them with fluidity. The key, for Kahane, is focusing on the transitions between one and the other.

At this conference, the summaries at the end of sessions are made in different ways – one is with music. Just before the coffee break between conference sessions, two musicians, Tim Merry and Marc Durkee, introduce what some called the universal language of music, distilling the essence of the presentation with spontaneous Brit slam poetry and groovalicious guitar. The chorus of their song for this presentation… Here we go, we gotta learn to dance like scarecrow. Are you and your organization dancing?

Everyone waits for the other guy to change before changing themselves. You first my dear Gaston! After you my dear Alphonse! – reads the cartoon by Frederick Burr Opper. Not so in the case of Vanessa Kirsch, founder and president of New Profit, Inc., as we learned from her and Diana McLain Smith, partner at the Monitor Group consulting firm. Speaking of how relationships make or break performance, this dynamic duo told of the essential readiness needed for reflection and a relational perspective, as relationships are built not born.

Relationships along organizational fault lines are all too often too fragile to withstand today’s pressures, stated Diana. We don’t have the time to play the waiting game. One step at a time we need to reflect on the anatomy of our relationships and the patterns of behaviour, and the quick step may well be what is needed. Whilst we’re not talking Strictly Come Dancing, videoing our performance (our oral and body language) as we go may be the key…

31 out of 40 workshop organizers prefer quick reminders two days before a deadline – or so my learning from last week tells me.

In preparation for a week of ‘Learning Opportunities’ during the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, October 2008, I am in regular contact with 40+ organizers of workshops. All are busy people in jobs spread worlwide, offering to share their skills and build the capacities of others to use them.

Over the course of the remaining 4 months – as we put together an online application system for participants, prepare the official Congress programme, develop detailed agendas, collect biographers and supporting materials and make these available on the web – there will be a lot of communication between us. I need to make sure that they continue to cooperate and make my life easy. And I need to help them to help me.

Last Friday was our second deadline (revised titles and session descriptions please). I sent out the request and some guidance two weeks ago. Little back by Wednesday, so I had a decision to make. Sit tight, wait and – come Friday evening – send emails chasing all those who had failed to reply with an impassioned plea and the threat of exclusion from the applicants system? OR a polite, ‘quick reminder’ that afternoon to those i’d not yet heard from. Needless to say, I chose the latter and happily, moments later, in came responses: “Thanks for the reminder – much appreciated!” By Friday evening all had come flooding in. The lesson: help people keep to agreements – it feels good all round.

“The new Al Gore presentation on climate change at Ted’s talk is an inspirational, bright and optimistic approach worth a look at” wrote Nicole Thonnard Voillat – and so I did online at World Changing.

I really appreciated his comments on optismism being not about belief but behaviour which goes beyond our choice of lightbulbs to active citizenship in our demoncracy, mobilizing political will and resources. Stimulating a hero generation with a sense of generational mission is an exciting challenge that I would like to hear more from him on – in terms of what he thinks it will take to do this. Reframing the ‘terrible burden’ on our generation as a fabulous opportunity which we should respond to with profound joy and gratitude is an interesting start…

I wonder how we might use appreciative inquiry to explore examples of past hero generations and learn about how best to leverage another for the future? Thought provoking. What do you think?

Whatever else it is, Weight Watchers is fundamentally in the behaviour change business. It is a business that has been working for 40 years and they say they have changed the lifestyles of millions of people around the world. Now there are Weight Watchers meetings from Brazil to South Africa. And even where there are not formal meetings, there are Weight Watcher Meet-ups, like all over Mexico. This is becoming a global phenomenon all about reducing consumption and adopting a healthy lifestyle which is about more fun (activities) and less stuff (fuel).

Weight Watchers has come a long way in how it tries to get people to change their lifestyles, and how it supports them on this journey (and support is the operative word). They don’t say “You need to stop consuming so much -It’s really bad for you. Here are a few tips, now get on with it.” They promote a programme that is individualised and incremental. But it wasn’t always that way.

In the 1970s being on Weight Watchers was a hardship. There were very strictly regulated menus, few options (either on the programme or on the market), you had to weigh out everything on scales and keep strict track of sizes, portions, etc. Much of the time (although they said this should not be the case) the dieter was hungry. Dieting was equated with deprivation. It was all you could do to stick to the programme. And although the social incentive system was already in place – you got rewards for increments, group meeting were lively and supportive, there was weekly monitoring and evaluation – the effort it took to keep track of your consumption patterns would not easily translate over into a lifestyle change. To make matters worse, everyone’s goal was standardised -your goal weight was calculated as though every person of the same height and gender should ultimately weigh the same thing. There was not much flexibility for the diversity (like metabolism, age, build, genetics) that exists in our human population.

Today, Weight Watchers has learned a lot about what it takes to help people make these changes more permanently, to have fun and feel good in the process, without the feeling of deprivation and hardship. The new programme is much more participant driven. There are lots of well-developed options throughout the programme (one option is a No Count option, that helps educate people to accurately estimate consumption – and it still works) and more fundamentally each person’s goal is calculated individually. The support side of Weight Watchers is still excellent and has been further enhanced through various Web 2.0 social networking tools. Here are some features of Weight Watchers today that reflects their learning about what works :

  • People who are trying to reduce their consumption commit themselves to go to weekly meetings to join a community of others who are doing the same, there is a leader who gives ideas, tips and new information, and people share in conversation what they are learning in their effort to change their lifestyle. People help each other to achieve their goals. (Today there is also an online option, with vast internet interactive capabilities and communities.) Weight Watchers research shows that people who go to the meetings and interact with others are much more likely to succede than those who try to go it alone;
  • Each person has their own goal which is calculated by WW, and based on the results of a self-assessment. There is a weekly check-in and monitoring of progress to reach this goal. The goal and actual number is confidential to the member and the leader, but the rate of change is shared and celebrated, or advice given on how to do better next time;
  • Reaching the goal is not presented as something you do must achieve quickly through heroic effort. In fact, slow and steady is the recommendation, with just a small reduction per week considered to be optimal. The premise is when change is made slowly then it is more likely to stick. Once you reach it, there is another whole programme devoted to maintenance.
  • There is a culture of “You can do it” and the literature and language is all about Success Stories; the leaders are former WW participants, and everyone administering the programme is someone who has successfully gone through the experience and changed their behaviour permanently.
  • No one speaks of deprivation, as that is not thought to be motivational. And there is nothing anymore that you cannot consume; however it is about quantities, and trade-offs. If you want your chocolate cake, be prepared to make a choice about other things for the rest of the day/week. People are in control of their experience, and they still have an overall end-goal in mind, and a set amount of caloric energy that they know they can consume each week that will help them reach it. Weight Watchers insists that people consume their allowance each week, if people try to speed up the process then the feeling of deprivation might result in quitting or splurge.

Now if you thought of people’s carbon diet, how would this translate? Aren’t we trying to do the same thing? Help people who overconsume energy calories to reduce and maintain this? And to want to do it and potentially have some fun doing it? What can we learn from Weight Watchers? So many of our communications about reducing energy consumption is about Save the Planet, and guilt for overconsuming, and giving up luxuries that we cannot always imagine giving up. I think that messaging works for some people. At the same time there can be more than one way to engage what is an incredibly diverse global community, with different goals, aspirations, needs, motivations, abilities. Might such a programme, a Carbon Diet, be another way to help change behaviours permanently? I took a paragraph off the Weight Watchers website and adapted it – I think it just about works for me…

Who We Are- Our Philosophy

Energy Watchers has always believed that energy reduction is just one part of long-term sustainable management. A healthy body and earth results from a healthy lifestyle – which means mental, emotional and physical health. Energy Watchers does not tell you what you can or can’t consume. We provide information, knowledge, tools and motivation to help you make the decisions that are right for you about energy needs and use. We help you to make healthy energy consumption decisions, and we encourage you to enjoy yourself by becoming more active.

To provide motivation, mutual support, encouragement and instruction from our leaders, Energy Watchers organizes group meetings around the world. Meetings members often become meetings leaders and receptionists, sharing the story of their personal success on our Carbon Diet with others. At Energy Watchers, carbon management is a partnership that combines our knowledge with your efforts. And trust us, your efforts will pay off! We help you on your journey by:

1) Helping you make the positive changes required to reduce energy;
2) Guiding you to make positive behavioral changes in your life;
3) Inspiring you with our belief in your power to succeed; and
4) Motivating you every step of the way.

Anyone want to join me on a Carbon Diet?

‘The old adage “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” may be true, but what do you do when your “acorn” days are far behind you? How do you continue to grow and flourish? Mentoring apprentices and protégés has been a part of business as long as we’ve had crafts and professions. But when you’ve put a few growth rings under the bark, consider the flip side. Sometimes what managers really need is a mentor from a younger generation to inform and inspire.’

As a ‘young’ professional reading this from the much-loved ‘silence car’ on the train from Zurich early this morning, I smile. It comes from a wonderful book – The Ten Faces of Innovation: Strategies for Heightening Creativity – by Tom Kelly with Jonathan Littman, IDEO.

‘Reverse mentoring can help counter your company’s natural tendency to be over-reliant on its experience. Consider seeking out younger mentors to provide insights and initiative about what’s happening in the world today’ (pp 86).

Whether the relationship is formalized or not, most of us tend to have mentors. Yet how many of us have or are ‘reverse mentors’? What does your reverse mentoring landscape look like?

Within the headquarters of my organization, around 30% of our staff are under the age of 35. We are, somewhat controversially, referred to as the ‘young professionals’. Having already gained considerably greater presence, visibility and voice in the last four years, we are now in the process of developing a programme to maximize the value that we bring and receive during our time here. Part of this is expected to be more formalized mentoring. Now i’m thinking that we perhaps ought rather (or at least additionally) be paying more attention and giving more credit to the reverse mentoring at play…? I wonder what our senior colleagues would feel and have to say about that! Any thoughts?

In recent months our organization has undergone some restructuring and our team has accordingly received a new mandate. Whilst continuing much of our existing work, we now have the scope to develop in new areas, including in the area of ‘leadership’. Thinking for some time now about what this might look like, we have been looking at ourselves – as individuals and a team – to see how we might better use and further develop our strengths. In this process, I have been struck by quite how quickly our jobs can evolve. And I have been wondering about the relationship between me and my job. Are my job and I evolving apace? And is there a process of natural selection at work, in which my job has increasingly played to my strengths?

I joined the organization almost four years ago on a short contract as an editor and soon became involved in a number of projects looking at strategic communication and learning. I have since gained valuable experience working with international, voluntary membership networks, developing websites and portals, using web 2.0 technologies, and more recently I’ve added facilitation skills and interactive learning design as ‘feathers to my bow’. In the course of all of this, to what extent have I sought to evolve in response to an evolving job? And to what extent has the evolution of my strengths influenced the evolution of the job? I am not sure of the answer. Nor am I sure of what would be the optimal balance for me and my organization. To the extent that we can influence the evolution of our jobs, how much should we?

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was, last week, host to a couple of talent shows. One was that of participants in the Youth Employment Summit (YES). Amongst others, Dumisani Nyoni was on stage with his guitar performing a medley of songs from across the world – with his audience standing and singing along as he strums something from a part of the world with which they feel special association. Another, quite different talent show took place during the ‘New Learning for Sustainability in the Arab Region’ event.

Fayez Mikhail, an Information Technology Manager from a large, international environmental organization, took centre stage (well actually just off-centre so as not to obscure the images projected on the screen behind) and showed a talent he had never shown before in almost twenty years with his organization. Fayez has a natural talent for speaking in public. Discovery of this talent was quite by accident. He never signed up for a talent show. We needed a speaker on how developments in information and communication technologies have affected learning within our organization and how we are sharing and learning with others. The speaker would be before a largely Arabic audience. Who better than our Egyptian IT Manager! It didn’t take long for us to close the deal and before we knew it Fayez was on stage and displaying a talent he never even knew he had. (Conversely, during the event we were also presented with performances by that highly experienced public speaker who clearly lacks any natural talent at all and who would have been wise to ask another to do the job for him/her – after all if your lyrics and score are great but you can’t carry a tune you’re unlikely to convince your audience that you belong at the top of the charts).

How can we tap into natural talent in our organizations? Would bringing talent shows into the workplace help us discover talents we never knew we had? And would they help us identify others with the talents we lack who could help us for greater impact? If not a talent show, how can we provide other environments in which we can discover these things? Surely our talents shouldn’t go hidden for almost twenty years. And once discovered, how can we make sure we use these to their full potential?

‘Are formal networks pre-internet artifacts?’ – asked Gillian in her post of August 30th. For some time now, we have been dabbling in and experimenting with the ever-evolving networking technologies available online. Working with a formal membership network of over 600 people worldwide, we have been seeking ways to use online technologies to stimulate decentralized engagement and action.

In 2006 we progressed from a traditional website (in Dreamweaver) – editable only by headquarters staff – to an open-source web-portal. The portal provides all network members with the opportunity to login, edit their user profiles, search other members, and share news stories, coming events and resources. And yet already we can see that the speed at which online technologies are developing means that our portal appears a product of the past. Web2.0 social and professional networking tools have taken centre stage, offering ever-more informality, flexibility, functionality and fun. The burning question – What are the implications for our formal membership network? And yet maybe there’s a bigger question that we ought to first be answering…

For me, the question of a network’s ‘form’ (and related used of tools and technologies) cannot be separated from the question: What is the network’s function? (- For we have all heard the familiar ‘form follows function’ saying.)

The World Conservation Union has over 10’000 expert members in six formal networks (otherwise known as ‘Commissions’). What is the key, generic function of these networks? The Union’s website states that these networks ‘assess the state of the world’s natural resources and provide the Union with sound know-how and policy advice on conservation issues’. Is a formal, membership network the best form to support this function? I think this question deserves further exploration. No further exploration is necessary, however, to see clearly that the formality of these membership networks brings to the Union an essential scientific credibility without which the largest conservation organization in the world would certainly lack influence.

When addressing the issue of form following network function – and the related issue of the most appropriate technologies- how can we address (and perhaps reconcile?) these explicit and implicit network functions for greatest impact? I’m hoping that both my informal and formal networks will help me here…

For professional facilitators practised in the art of designing and running effective group processes, skill in reading the underlying dynamics in a group (‘The Orchestrator’) and maintaining objectivity (‘Under the Neutral Flag’) are two of fourteen key competencies described in the June 2007 issue of The Global Flipchart.

I have marvelled at facilitators displaying these competencies par excellence and have no doubt about how hugely this has helped the group to progress and succeed with the task at hand, whilst also enabling some to find a little insight into their ‘Johari’s window’.

My question, however, is: ‘In what contexts do even the best facilitators need facilitating?’ What happens at meetings of the International Association of Facilitators? When doing their strategic planning, who facilitates? When do facilitators need facilitating?

For many bloggers, keeping up their blog is a vocation. They are completely devoted to keeping their blog warm, talk about it incessantly, obsess over their statistics, and celebrate when people comment on their posts. The only thing that can possibly keep a blogger away from her blog is perhaps…….vacation, vacation, vacation!

As I sat in the dentist chair, turning up the volume on my ipod to mask the drills and trying to focus my attention on the lyrics of carefully-selected sunny-day songs, I found my head filled with questions about dental training. When did this surgeon extract his first wisdom tooth? And how did he learn to do so? Did he learn by doing? (“Oh, so that’s how a jaw breaks, better not do that again”).

A couple of weeks ago, Gillian and I attended a three-day workshop: Performance Beyond Borders – Interactive Training Strategies. An interesting discussion arose around the pros and cons of interactive versus more traditional, lecture-based approaches to training, including:

  • Improved ability to recall information is not always correlated with improved ability to apply and transfer learning;
  • Interactive approaches usually result in a better ability to apply and transfer learning than traditional, lecture-based approaches. However;
  • Improved ability to apply and transfer learning is not always correlated with increased confidence;
  • Confidence in learning approaches depends largely on a learner’s self image, as well as their experience and perceptions about learning (most people think that you need to listen to a lecture from an expert, or read a book with the definitive theory, in order to learn something – that builds confidence, but it still might mean that you are not able to apply the knowledge as effectively);
  • A well-balanced, blended approach (both lecture and interactive) is best.

How had my dentist developed the knowledge, skills, ability and confidence to pull my wisdom teeth? From where did he pull his wisdom and how? Unfortunately when I left the surgery my mouth was all mush and I was unable to ask. On second thought, if he did learn by doing, I might be better off not-knowing.