Flying Pig for February: Aligning with Associates

Flying pig

What are the values that bind us?

How do these values help us grow the pie and share it?

 

Face to face Pig Catching in Johannesburg
TOPIC: Aligning with associates – The values that bind us.
DATE: 23 February
TIME:  8:30-11:30 – Experience – stay afterwards for more coffee and afterglow.
PLACE: Emakhaya Foyer 19th floor University Corner Building Corner of Jan Smuts and Jorissen Braamforntein.
FACILITATOR: PetroJanse van Vuuren
DRESS: Comfortable clothes you can stretch and move in
RSVP: by  Wed 21 Feb to petro@playingmantis.net

COST: R280/ $24   Pay with paypal: 

Online Pig Catching
TOPIC: Aligning with associates – The values that bind us.
DATE: 23 February
TIME:  14:45-16:00
PLACE: Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/406130239
FACILITATOR: PetroJanse van Vuuren
DRESS: Comfortable clothes you can stretch and move in
RSVP: by  Wed 21 Feb to petro@playingmantis.net

COST: R280/ $24   Pay with Paypal:

More about the topic

In view of my wanting to grow Playing Mantis as a resource for facilitators, it follows that some of these facilitators, as have already happened, would fall in love with the processes, make it their own and want more and more. This means that you can then become part of a network of people who use SNE to serve client needs, while Playing Mantis serve yours.

I have changed my mind a little since I sent out the muse-letter two weeks ago: I will be looking specifically at the ethical principles that we all want to build our work on and if we can agree on what they mean?

So, whether or not you have received the SNE training  you are welcome to chip in with your thoughts. If you have received the training, but we have lost touch, come too and maybe we can find synergy with where we are now.

Figuring out a new business relationship that is mutually beneficial AND where parties agree on the underlying values that the work should embody, can sometimes be like catching flying pigs – especially when money is scarce. Let’s grow the pie and share it – there is enough to go around.

RSVP: by  Wed 21 Feb to petro@playingmantis.net

What moves you?

Star fish

I want to change the world for good – in both senses of the word: for the better and in a lasting way. To do that you and I have to be moved – moved to tears, to laughter, to action. Moved from being stuck and stressed to being present and flowing in our genius.

You know that nauseating story about the starfish?

The one about the man walking on a beach awash with thousands of starfish dying in the scorching sun? The one where he sees a little girl bending down every so often, picking up one starfish at a time and tossing it back into the waves to be saved?

I hate that story. It makes me want to vomit. Let me tell you why.

If you don’t know the story, the man goes to the little girl and asks her: “There are thousands of dying starfish. You pick up one at a time and toss it back into the water. What difference can you possibly make?” This is where the little girl picks up another creature, looks at it lovingly and, as she sends it sailing into the surf her says: “For that one, it makes a difference.” And this is where the audience goes: “Aaah” clasping their hands to their chests in waves of gooey sentimentality. Yuck! It’s where I raise my eyebrows and go: Really? If you are going to make the effort to bend down, why not scoop up a handful? Heck! Why not bring a bucket to the beach with you? And how do we know she tosses them far enough? Won’t they just wash out on the beach again tomorrow?

I am not moved by this story, sorry.

“To this one it makes a difference” indeed. If I was going to make the effort, I want to change whole groups of people, whole societies, or at least impact the one damn starfish that will impact a community of starfish around him.

Let me hand out buckets, let me bring along some bulldozers and get a bunch of drivers to shove the whole lot into the water.

Of course, this depends on whether or not the starfish want to go back, or if it is good for the environment as a whole for them to go back. And here the metaphor breaks down. We work with people, not starfish. People don’t take to being bulldozed, bamboozled or otherwise manhandled or manipulated. They want to have a say, they want to debate the benefits and risks of going back into the water. They want to make sure they stay with their friends and families and that they get to the place they choose in the water, not the one they may end up thanks to the meddling of some old fool or well-meaning philanthropist.

I spent nine years working in organisation and leadership development playing saviour to the poor starved souls on the bleak beach of office work, monotonously tapping away at their computers in their cubicles yes-ing and no-ing to the poor soul in charge. All slowly trying to make it to the front where the waves are splashing. Until one day, six years later, I discovered with a shock: There I was thinking myself to be the saviour with the bucket, the hero, the enlightened guru — only to realise with a Copernican jolt that I was just another starfish gasping for a drop of damp. My time on the beach turned me into one of them. I watched wave after wave sloshing onto the beach nourishing the lucky buggers at the front while the rest of us starved. Once the industrious little star thrower nearly squashed me under her sneaker picking up the gal next to me. Another guy was not so lucky getting stuck to the underside of her shoe, turning into mince bit by bit with every step. I needed to get away from there!

I moved.

I began to wiggle towards the water laboriously making my way a centimetre a day and just as I nearly made it, a wave picked me up and tossed me back up the bank.

When I lay gasping and scorching in the midday sun once more, delirious from the heat, I remembered something I saw as I was soaring through the sky: a small rock pool somewhere to my right. Slowly and with hardly any hope or energy left, I began moving.

Centimetre by eternal centimetre I made my way to the pool and six months later I passed out on the edge of the pool where helpful friendly arms pulled me into the cool life giving water.

This was a few years ago when I received a post-doctoral research grant from the University of the Witwatersrand. Going back to academia was a revival for me especially getting back into the field of applied performance. Applied performance is a young field that studies the methods and effects of drama, theatre and improvisation when used in contexts outside of the theatre to effect social transformation, to educate or to heal. Applied performance gave me the buckets and skills for handling the machinery that can bring about change for good: a canny integration of planning, story and action. What it did not provide was the survival skills I needed to run a business and thrive in the sun – predominantly the ability to comply to the rules of the beach. Now I live a dual life sharing the tools and skills with starfish (not people) who do know how to work the beach and thrive.

It is us starfish that must do the moving ourselves.

Four days of the week I work at Drama for Life, the applied performance department of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Here I train facilitators in the techniques and skills needed for social transformation and healing and I co-ordinate the PhD programme wherein applied performance practitioners develop their thinking and their tools.

The fifth working day I spend here on this blog sharing my research, by questions, my inventions and my thoughts on changing the world for good with those of you who are working the beaches with a higher survival rate. I have combined the ideas of planning + stories + action into a model that I called Strategic Narrative Embodiment TM, or SNE. I developed this model over the nine years when I was an applied performance practitioner working as a consultant in organisation and leadership development. All the IP I developed during that time will now become available on this blog and in books, manuals and articles that I will systematically upload here.

If you are a coach, facilitator or other kind of grow guide, you may find tools, techniques and frameworks here to help you be moved to change the world for good too.

Complete your success story spiral this Friday with Susan

Flying pig

Join us for Part 2 of:

How do I find time for meaningful focused work in the midst of living and surviving?

You are invited to catch flying pigs with us

Face to face Pig Catching in Johannesburg
TOPIC: Doing focused work amidst the business of living
DATES: Part 2 Fri 1 Dec. (Part 1 not needed to enjoy Part 2)
TIME: 8:30-11:30 – experience (Please come on time for coffee or tea, we start at 8:30 sharp.)
11:30-12:30 reflecting on the methodology
PLACE: 21st floor University Corner Building Corner of Jan Smuts and Jorissen Braamforntein.
FACILITATORS: PetroJanse van Vuuren and Susan Williams
COST: R350 for Part 1 only
R500 if you book in advance for Part 1and 2
DRESS: Comfortable clothes you can stretch and move in
RSVP: by  Wed 29 Nov to petro@playingmantis.net

Note on the online course:
We did not have enough interest in this version of the course to justify it. We will go back to the drawing board and try again with a different format. Let me know if you are interested so tht I can let you know when it happens. Thanks.

More about Susan Williams, my co-facilitator

Susan has an MA in Philosophy through Pretoria University. In her dissertation, she provided a perspective on ethical agency in complex adaptive systems through sense-making methodology and storytelling. She entrenches arts-based methods in her ethics practice to help organisations develop a culture of responsive accountability.  As a facilitator and strategic organisational storyteller, she uses her skill and experience in coaching, facilitation and training to engage organisational leaders and departmental teams to grow as individuals and value-adding employees, who fulfil their own and their business’s potential.  She says that SNE, together with other methods, provides her with a toolkit that works for every situation.

Susan Williams

Susan’s encounter with SNE

I met Petro several years ago on a cold, overcast winters day over a cup of coffee in Melville, and we told stories to each other. To this day, no meeting happens without at least two stories being shared.

Being a storyteller, the concept of SNE has intrigued me since that first encounter.  Strategic narrative embodiment processes are used to get diverse and unconnected people together in an interactive space in which they use their whole body to explore beliefs, feelings, and thoughts. Through these interactions they make connections between themselves and others, and with bodies in the world through which they move.

Movement and play become the vehicle for deep exploration, reflection and learning, which often result in a deeper understanding of oneself and the relationships that are co-created in a shared environment. This understanding, and subsequently, the questioning of the known and safe spaces, is the first, tentative movement towards transformation and living a life of integrity.

More on the topic

At the previous pig catching session we covered stages 1 to 4 of our plans to do more meaningful work in spite of our struggles to survive. Usually, as you try to make the plan happen, you hit obstacle after obstacle. Now it is time for step 5 to 7. Join us as we guide our success stories through failure, disappointment and procrastination.

IMPORTANT: You do not need have attended the previous session to get joy and value from this one.

You may read in the place of ‘meaningful deep work’ any of the following: time for studying further, time for writing, for painting or designing a new process, or just remembering what gives you courage and significance.  Perhaps you are making a career change and you need time to strategise and execute new ideas.

quil and writing

For the past 10 years my husband, Gerhi, have been figuring out how to write the elusive novel and this year he is cracking the mystery. During the same time I have produced a PhD and published a number of research papers. Through all this we have raised our children and worked either on our own businesses or on teaching. We have tried and failed in so many ways; we have also found ways to succeed. What the course shares with you are the narrative heuristics that will allow you to improvise your own strategies for accomplishing your meaningful work.

The pig catching experiments will become part of my own journey towards writing the online course and perhaps a book on the subject. For now I call the process: ‘The success story spiral’ and I would love you to come and experiment with me while at the same time focusing on your own meaningful work.

Book now to secure your place by sending me an email petro@playingmantis.net

About Pig Catching

Pig catching is what coaches and facilitators do when we chase the moment of insight that brings shift and transformation in our clients.
Please note: No pigs get harmed, our pigs are purely metaphorical and they have wings.

WHO SHOULD ATTEND?

Coaches, facilitators, game changers, thought leaders like you who can accept the following:

  1. This is not a showcase or sales event geared to impress or win you over. If you come, you already believe that metaphor, embodiment, improvisation and imagination are powerful, fun ways to bring about transformation and you want to know more about using them in coaching and facilitation.
  2. Experimentation and mistakes are part of the process.  You must be willing to play with ideas that may not work or may be a bit uncomfortable, but that could lead to new heights of freedom and insight.

Join our group on Facebook:

Upcoming dates: Fri 25 Aug and Fri 1 Dec.

WE’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO BEING INSPIRED BY YOU. OINK!

We need new moves to move our people

The fall of Babylon; Cyrus the Great defeating the Chaldean

The need for story and embodiment in leadership training and development

In a VUCA world that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, where change is increasing exponentially, people feel overwhelmed, unsafe and resistant to more change. Their brains react with threat responses: wanting either to fight (I will not comply), flee (I will avoid it) or freeze (I don’t know what to do), and so we disconnect (Leave me alone).

Yet as organisational development practitioner, coach, change manager, leader and facilitator, you know that shift is not just inevitable, it is desirable. How do you get your people to shift with the shifting times?

In order to thrive in such a world we need to be more adaptive, innovative, engaged and integrated. To achieve this, the brain must function optimally, not in survival mode but in creative mode.

Yet audiences, trainees, participants and teams have become more and more distracted, demanding and opinionated. Some are resistant to new input and tired of change. Others want highly customised, personalised and individually relevant input.

We need new moves to move the people we serve.

Lectures where information is simply transmitted, like feel-good motivational talks, and games like paintball and potjiekos competitions (team cook-ups), all lack one or both of the essential ingredients for programmes that maximise the potential for shifting your clients or participants. These two essential ingredients are learning design and creative participation.

Learning design is the art of turning information into a carefully sequenced and well-crafted learning experience. Here the content does not dictate the design, but the facilitator decides how best to shape the content so that people accept it. Often stories, pictures, audio-visual stimuli, like props and videos and interactive techniques, are employed to unfold the material and enliven the presentation. Speakers, trainers and teachers who add this component to their material significantly increase the potential for shift to happen, since it creates more brain connections for participants and draws them into the ‘story in the room’ (the content presented).

Creative participation is the art of creating structures that invite participants to contribute their ideas, thoughts and actions to the material. This kind of experiential process allows participants to bring their own ingenuity to the conversation and discover tacit knowledge that they did not know they had. Programmes and interventions that use games, interactive processes, conversations and liberating structures also greatly enhance the potential for shift, since people are able to connect their own stories to the story in the room.

With the explosion of the internet, everyone can be an expert, everyone can personalise and customise their programmes, profiles and preferences and everyone can choose what information they want to allow in their headspace. In addition, given the shaky state of world economies and the uncertainty created by political shifts and health threats, people are increasingly weary of solutions that would waste money or cause more uncertainty.

Lectures

Old-fashioned lecturing does not work any more. On the one hand, lectures are content-driven and the content dictates the design and flow of the presentation. On the other hand, the content tries to be a one-size-fits-all solution that is not customisable and adaptable for every individual particularity. Furthermore, lectures do not leverage the power of human connection and emotion as a way to drive messages home and make them ‘stickable’.

Shows

Motivational speakers liven up presentations by turning them into more of a show. Through showmanship they artfully present their content using stories, emotion and clever presentational gimmicks like props, visual aids and performance skills. In addition, motivational speakers are high-impact but low in time investment. And while the really good speakers are expensive for the time they put in, a once-off payment is still cheaper than a process that unfolds over time and consumes both time and money.

Yet traditional motivational speakers cannot bring about shift that lasts. They get a high rating from people attending their talks, but a very low rating in terms of creating real shift. What is lacking is the ability to help people connect their own individual stories to the story in the room. A grand show still offers a one-size-fits-all solution that cannot shift the individual. Many may enjoy it, but only 5% will experience something like shift.

Games

Team-building exercises and gamification programmes step into this gap by offering game-like solutions. A game is not meaning-driven, it is structure-driven. Within the confines of the game, people have some control to manipulate the rules to their advantage. A game can be individualised. A physical game, like soccer, is also good for connecting people and building relationships, something that often enhances emotional connection by awakening competitiveness or by leveraging people’s feeling of belonging. However, unless games are structured around meaning that can bring about change, people often leave a team-building experience feeling ‘warm and fuzzy’ but without a lasting shift that will be seen in the workplace.

Shift

If lectures, shows and games do not offer lasting solutions that can bring about shift, there must be a fourth option – and that is a solution we simply term Shift. For Shift to occur the talk, workshop or intervention must both be designed for learning to happen and involve participants’ creative participation. This means there is maximum potential for understanding the material as well as for participants to apply it to their own contexts and contribute to creating meaning and significance.

When you want to increase the potential for Shift to happen, story-strategy helps you retain perspective of the big picture while improvisation skills help you navigate your actions in the moment. Between the two, you create the conditions for Shift in the lives of your team members, workshop participants, customers, employees and, of course, yourself.

Join the next Strategic Narrative Embodiment training course

Or Sign up for the muse-letter to stay updated.

Online Facilitation of Applied Improvisation Exercises

A black squirrel from the side

Nine things I learned from Gwen Gordon and Erica Marx

After Christian and I facilitated an online session at the Applied Improvisation Network’s conference some weeks ago, Gwen Gordon contacted us to say that she also learned a few lessons doing this work – would we like to play together. On Tue this week, Erica Marx and I joined Gwen for a session of mutual learning. Here is what I took from the session:

  1. Zoom is a great platform, especially when used on a laptop. It offers various tools to play with including white board and breakout sessions. It is essential, though, that everyone plays on a laptop, rather than a tablet because the latter’s functionality is limited. For instance: I could not change my view from speaker view to gallery view (it may just be my own ignorance or inexperience). Gallery view is essential so that all participants can see each other.
  2. It may be fun to rename participants with playful names. Gwen likes to allow people to choose alternative names for themselves and use the zoom rename function to do so. This helps with distancing. As mentioned in our blog on online embodiment work, online processes can become very intimate and make participants feel vulnerable because the screen finds you where you are in your private home or office.
  3. Games where you pass on something from person to person work really well. Examples of this kind of game are the sound/energy ball and the gift circle. Because people do not appear on each other’s screens in the same order, Gwen gives each person a number and adds it to their name when they rename themselves at the start of the session.
  4. It works well to give people numbers as a way to establish an order for each exercise. Because you cannot organise people physically, establishing a response order is crucial. Christian and I usually establish an order by simply saying who goes after who (see a previous blog on online facilitation). Gwen cleverly uses numbers. The constraint of this is that, as someone who does not see well, I am better at remembering names than at following numbers that only appear visually on the screen. Still, it is worth trying, especially, as Gwen pointed out, when you have 22 people in the Zoom room.
  5. Games that build on each other are more fun and create greater connection across virtual space. We played ‘Yes lets’ in this way. Buttons (Gwen) would suggest an action ‘let’s melt’ and as we all melt, Squirrel’ (Erica) would suggest the we begin sizzling in the pot, and then Sideways (me) suggest that we begin to pop the corn etc. For some reason, I never played the game as one that builds, but rather as one that introduces a new action every time, but the building makes much more sense.
  6. You can use the features of online rooms to spark the invention of new games. Gwen invented a game where she asks all participants except two to strike a pose. The two remaining participants then comment on the gallery of images as though they are looking at a collection of artworks. In paired rhyme form, they then comment on the exhibition taking turns. This was hilarious
  7. Online processes can feed back into face to face sessions. Erica enjoyed commenting on how she might use the experience in the class she was about to teach after our session. The interplay between off line and online processes is a growth area. The switching between the two enriches both as we see well known exercises from a fresh perspective.
  8. The strategic edge offered by the SNE (strategic narrative embodiment) model. Applied Improvisation exercises are used by Gwen, and possibly many others, mostly to shift energy or to create a certain mindset for other work. I asked about the strategic use of the exercises as a way to work with content, and this seemed like a novel idea to my fellow players. Granted, we did not have a lot of time to get into it, but I know that in my own work, I use applied improv exercises to generate ideas for the very content we are working with, not only as a mood setter. We may, for instance, use the gift circle to name the gifts we received from a give session as way to reflect on our learning. Other times I have used the props game to generate ideas around solving a specific niggly issue. This strategic element stands out as being particular to my work. Want to learn more?
  9. Applied improvisation fits into the larger story design of a session. Another particular feature of my work that interested Gwen and Erica was the narrative nature of my session designs. I asked about how exercises might build on each other twards landing particular content. Again this seemed to my fellow players to be a new perspective. I think it is my applied drama training that has influenced this way of working. I design every session, on or off line, as a story arc. Starting with participants’ current realities, through moments of transition, tests and trials and sometimes playfully coming face to face with our own nemeses to return to the now, reflecting on our learning and thinking about the elixirs we are brining home. Want to learn more?

If you are interested in the strategic narrative aspects of improvisation, you may want to take the SNE course for coaches and facilitators. Our next face to face course is now in Oct 6-7 Oct for Module 1 and 13-14 Oct for Module 2. It happens in Johannesburg.

Alternatively, join us for our next online Flying Pig Catching series starting 16 Nov in the Zoom room near you.

Many thanks to Gwen and Erica for such fruitful playing!!

Also read:

Principles for doing online facilitation and embodiment

Change how you coach and facilitate with SNE

Where does Strategic Narrative Embodiment Techniques (SNETs) come from?

The heart of Strategic Narrative Embodiment (SNE)

 

Pig catching online: How do I find time for meaningful focused work in the midst of living and surviving?

You may read in the place of ‘meaningful deep work’ any of the following: time for studying further, time for writing, for painting or designing a new process, or just remembering what gives you courage and significance. Perhaps you are making a career change and you need time to strategise and execute new ideas.
Together we will embark on a journey, where Petro and Christian support you, to define your most important goal to design and evolve your individual and successful Story Spiral towards it.

You are invited to catch flying pigs with us

DATE: Thursdays: 9, 16, 23 & 30 Nov, 7, 14 & 21 Dec.
TIME: 20:00 – 20:45
PLACE: a ZOOM room (we will send link)
FACILITATORs: Petro Janse van Vuuren and Christian F. Freisleben
COST: $25 per session for 7 sessions or
$150 for the entire series of 7 sessions
RSVP by 2. Nov petro@playingmantis.net

More on the time structure
The online process will take 7 sessions over seven weeks to allow you to implement your Success Story from week to week, so it is a commitment.
We would like your permission to video record all the sessions. We would also like to use the material to populate the course and the book – keeping your identity confidential, of course.

Who should attend?
Coaches, facilitators, game changers, thought leaders like you who can accept the following:
This is not a showcase or sales event geared to impress or win you over. If you come, you already believe that metaphor, embodiment, improvisation and imagination are powerful, fun ways to bring about transformation and you want to know more about using them in coaching and facilitation.
Experimentation and mistakes are part of the process. You must be willing to play with ideas that may not work or may be a bit uncomfortable, but that could lead to new heights of freedom and insight.

We’re looking forward to being inspired by you. Oink!

(This inivitation as pdf and an and on on Pig Catching and the Story Spiral .

Triggers, curious questions, and judgement –

OD practitioners making a circle

Reflections on the IODA/Flourish conference in Stellenbosch 6-8 Sep 2017

 
I am posting this one day earlier than usual so that the conference goers who may read it can do so before they hit the bustle and business of Monday’s return to work.

  • Trust me to make mistakes
  • Trust me to make them boldly
  • Trust me to reflect on them (if I am liucky enough to spot them)
  • Trust me to say I am sorry
  • Trust me to make the same mistake again.

 

Disclaimer:

This post may trigger you, provoke some confusing feelings or cause you to judge me or some of the others in the story. I apologise if it doesn’t.

Reflections on the IODA/Flourish conference in Stellenbosch 6-8 Sep 2017

Day 1, Episode 1

It is the session before lunch. We are facilitated through a process of visioning. The method includes systems mapping and embodiment .Three quarters in, after mapping the problems concerning diversity in our organisations, we are asked to take a position that expresses our desire for the future of OD (organisation development). The large majority of people go into kumbaya mode: holding hands, or standing arms on each other’s shoulders in a circle. I don’t want to be locked into this picture, and I don’t want to be separate from the group, so I stand against the circle where people are clumping and packing themselves tight in order to get into the circle. Accross from us the circle is thin and people are reaching across furniture unable to reach each other’s hands. The woman behind me nudges me and tells me to go and help them. I say “no thank you, I like it here.” She accepts it.

We reflect on our experience and I tell my reflecting partner (call him X) how I did not want to conform and how I am very weary of being peer pressured into conformity as an answer to dealing with diversity. . He tells me to ask myself a curious question about my response. Immediately I am triggered. I feel irritated by his remark. I notice the feeling, and do not react on it.

Day 2, Episode 2

It is the last session of the day – an integration session meant to help us all reflect on our experiences of the day. It is set up as a thinking space. It starts and ends at specific times and we all sit in a circle, but there is no other structure. Anyone may speak about an experience or where they are at. I am one of three new people in the group. The others had all come to this same integration session the day before.

There is silence and a few contributions. Then one participant, call her A) reflects: “I would have liked to build on what we did yesterday, but I do not want to exclude the new people. So I am saying nothing.” One of the new people say that she came precisely because she heard yesterday was so meaningful, and did not want to derail the flow of that. I say I don’t mind if they pick up from the day before, I did not mean to intrude. Participant A responds: “I did not mean for my words to make you feel like intruders.” I smile and respond: “So, by trying not to exclude us, you made us feel like intruders?” Immediately another participant (B) cuts in: “That is your interpretation.” “Yes, I own that.” I say, and again I feel triggered in the same way as the day before.

I notice my response and sit with the feeling, stewing, while others offer more contributions. When there is another lull, I say: “May I say something uncomfortable?” Having obtained permission, I say: “I have been triggered the same way a few times now and I want to talk about it.” I explain how B’s remark irritated me. “The phrase ‘that’s your interpretation’ made me feel shut down and like my interpretation was invalid. We judge judgment with phrases like ‘that’s your opinion/interpretation as if we have a choice as humans not to judge. Judging is what humans do. I did not mean to be judgmental, though, I meant to summaries what I heard A say – yes, offer a perspective and therefore a judgment, an interpretation.’ I saw some vigorous nodding from others in the room. There were a few more remarks and the session ended.

Day 3, Episode 3

We are 5 women in a van on the way to a site visit. One from Chilli, four South Africans – two coloured, 1 black and 1 white (me). Yes, I name the races because race plays a role in every South African story. The black woman is sharing an experience in a session the day before. She tells how the presenter said in a passing remark “we all learned these things in Grade 8.” The black woman tells how she put up her hand and said that we cannot assume that everyone here did Grade 8, or that they learned the same things.”

After the session, while she was reflecting and writing in her journal, one of the white participants came to her with her ‘coachy-coachy voice” saying “My colleague and I are curious about what you said. You seem so angry. We wonder why you offered such an unproductive remark. Would you like to talk about it?”(My paraphrasing). The black woman felt irritated at the interruption and even more irritated by the sense of judgement coming from the woman. She responded that she did not want to talk about it. The women renewed her invitation saying that they are available if she changed her mind.

The next day (day3), the white women’s colleague approached her, the black women. Again she was interrupted by the white woman while she was in an engaging conversation with someone else. Again she was invited to talk and again she declined. Sitting in the van we all talked about how we use the phrase ‘I am curious” as a judgement, instead of being truly authentic and curious. We also talked about white people’s need to understand what black people mean and how they try to avoid discomfort, requiring black people not to rock the boat.

Judging is what people do. Everyone’s judgement is a valid perspective. Our judgements are informed by our experiences and they are our stories. As coaches and facilitators our job is not to judge judgement, but to accept every contribution as a contribution. We have only two kinds of curious questions that are useful:

  1. The kind you ask yourself of your own triggers. What has made me feel this way? Act this way?
  2. The kind that is genuinely interested in another’s point of view, authentically asked because you really do not know.

We cannot use curious questions to be helpful to someone else and in the process judging their judgement as being judgemental.

Graphic of White work and black work

Note to white people:

For heaven’s sake do not interrupt black people, it is rude. When you do talk to them, do not do so in order to make them explain themselves so you can understand. It is not their job to help you with your fragility. If black people always have to explain themselves and in doing so be careful not to upset you, they will never be free to voice their experience, tell their stories and air their judgements. Go and do your own questioning and reflecting, that is your work, not theirs. Also, dear white people do not try to understand everything black people say, our attempts to understand are too often renewed attempts to control. While you are at it, don’t do any of these things to anyone else. If you do, reflect, say you’re sorry and try again. You will fail often, but don’t stop trying.

Thank you to the two coloured women for enabling the space for this conversation, for your compassion and contributions in the discussion. Thank you too for your humour. Without you, it could not have been possible.

Thank you to the Chilean women for your silent witnessing and curious attention that contributed to the holding of the space.

Thank you to participants x, A, B and the black woman for helping me see clearly what I only saw vaguely before.

We are united in our brokenness.

Let’s solve the world’s problems in 90 minutes flat!

IODA Flourish conference 2017

What happens when we change the rules for how we interact with each other?

Industrial psychologist, Burgert Kirsten, and I will be hosting a workshop at the International Organisation Development Association (IODA)) conference in Cape Town this coming week.

The theme of the conference

THRIVING THROUGH DIVERSITY

The role and form of OD in embracing diversity in organisational, systemic and social change

We are planning a high energy action orientated, playful investigation of the systemic powers that perpetuate inequality, othering and injustice.

Our topic is:

Solving the world’s problems in 90 minutes flat – Applied improvisation for Social innovation

Objectives:

  • Creating a climate for risk taking
  • Making it safe to differ.
  • Playing with unusual roles, identities and actions.
  • Taking diversity challenges head on.
  • Moving from conversation that control to conversations that connect.
  • Addressing the systemic forces that perpetuate othering.

Here is a short video to a predecessor of the work we will present at the IODA/Flourish! conference.

The outline of our proposed session is as follows:

S – Setting the strategic intention

What are the problems in the world we want to solve and why are they so hard to address?

Improv rules are used to change how we are together so that we can change default behaviours and become aware of our interaction choices.

T – Transitional exercises’

Applied improv games that push the boundaries of race, gender class etc. in a fun and playful way allowing reflection on our boundaries and how they function.

Choosing the problems (2 or 3) we will take on today. (processes that identify the system of interactions that govern these problems.

O – Open experimentation

Using Strategic Narrative Embodiment techniques based on Boal’s image theatre and systems thinking to build models of the problem systems. Activating them to see how they function and playing with alternatives to try and change them.

R – Reflection

We reflect on the meaning of the experiments for each of us and for our work and other communities.

I – integration

We choose and ‘rehearse’ alternative actions that we can take to change our stories and our systems relating to the problems we see in the world.

Practical information/skills/tools participants will gain from this session

  • How to change the rules of an encounter.
  • Exercises that create conversation about barriers and boundaries between people.
  • A system awareness of power relationships.
  • An introduction to frameworks and techniques that address these barioiurs and boundaries.
  • Tools for moving beyond talking, towards taking action.

We are indeed privileged to present at this conference and looking forward to the collaboration and connection with other OD practitioners.

Principles for doing online facilitation and embodiment

Here are the principles Christian and I shared at the Applied  Improvisation Network Conference in California yesterday.

Here is also a video of people reflecting on one such online facilitation.

(Principles Using Online Rooms – overview as pdf)

Safe environment

  • In facilitating, training, coaching it is crucial to (co)create a safe environment: An atmosphere, that supports participants to open up, to be ready to share their experiences and feelings using facial expression, gestures, sounds or tunes, visualizations, words. An atmosphere coined by intimacy, trust, connection, the willingness to listen and to collaborate.
  • Using online-“rooms” with the help of live-online tools with possibilities to share audio, video, pictures, presentations, the screen of your PC/ Laptop / Smartphone needs some additional considerations related to building / sustaining a safe environment together.
  • What is more, e-facilitation / e-coaching requires in some aspects a different intensity compared to working together in a physical space. This is because there are not four walls that contain the action and the activity. Containment needs to be created in other ways e.g. a strong visual or conceptual frame.

Intimacy and vulnerability

  • People in very different places & time zones can meet and share aspects of their life. They are in their personal spaces, some of which can be seen in the background behind them. This brings a certain intimacy that is not there in offline spaces.
  • The nature of vulnerability that comes with seeing yourself on camera must be acknowledged. This extra important when doing body work.
  • In online rooms, people who are not contributing, more easily ‘disappear’ out of the mindfulness of the group and must therefore be called upon by name for a response.

Here is a video of our AIN session.

Important aspects for preparation:

  • A cornerstone of a safe environment is everyone getting-to-know each other. If possible: start methods to support it sometime beforeh the first session.
  • Some participants won’t use their camera, they should contribute a picture of themselves.
  • You can use props – you can’t pass them around, but you could ask participants to find similar / related props at their places to create the ‘feeling’ of something described / shown.
  • It is often necessary for participants to share information. What is the best way for a person to share files with other participants? E-Mail often is not the ideal answer. You could use Online-Folders, (hidden) Blogs & Web-Sites or learning-management-systems. Neutral public sharing tools are better than private emails.

Technical issues

Stability of internet connections should be tested – and they can be wobbly or fail at any time.

  • Participants should have possibilities to test / play with earphone & microphone and with features of the online-tool.
  • It is advisable to schedule 10-15 minutes extra at the start of a session to sort out any technical challenges.
  • Another technical and planning consideration is designing time slots where participants meet online in pairs or small groups (with or without you). Such breaks are valuable to change the energy, or to do pair work – just as the case may be in offline sessions.

Please join us for our next online course: How do I do meaningful focused work amidst the business of living?

The individual settings

  • Setting of the place, participants use during online session(s) needs consideration.
  • Facilitators should highlight this in a preparation email.
    • Will they be alone there?
    • Is it a familiar place to them?
    • Which background noises could be heard?
    • What is the light in the room like? And is thee participant sitting in front of a bright window?
    • Is it a place, where they can stand up and make some steps / movements?
    • What can be seen in the background, when they use their video – what do they want to show and what not?
    • Has the participant thought of providing her-/himself with a glass of water / brain-snacks? This is important. Because, in offline spaces we can provide this to participants, but online, people need to care for themselves.

Facilitation

  • Online-Sessions shouldn’t last longer than 90 minutes – and you can use breaks (during them participants could be motivated to work on various tasks) and/or combine several online sessions
  • Combine possibilities of contributions via chat, audio, video, any kind of presentation.
  • You can’t point at someone; therefore you could decide about an order who is first and who is next together or you name people.
  • Foster role flexibility of your participants: they can also (temporally) take over tasks like moderation, documentation, presentation… and some of them will need preparation / support to succeed in this task.
  • Role flexibility, real participation and a sustainable learning process is supported by tasks, that are tackled alone and in small groups before / between meetings.

Please join us for our next online course: How do I do meaningful focused work amidst the business of living?

 

How does one use embodiment in online rooms?

Session at Applied Improvisation Network conference

(update: Literatur on Emodiment also in online rooms,  WriteUp of the session; and a video of the session – see this post)

My friend and collaborator Christian and I will be presenting a session at the Applied Improvisation Network’s annual conference next Sunday 27 August. To me it is a kind of dream come true. This will be the third time I attempt to attend the AIN conference in some way. The last two attempts failed because for various reasons I was unable to make the trip. This year, though, Christian and I solved half the problem.

We will be attending the conference from the comfort of our home offices.

He is in Austria, I am in South Africa and we will meet together online and on screen to present a conference session in California!

I say half the problem, because, while we get to present and interact for an hour, we still do not get to attend and connect with all the other wonderful contributors and players. Next time!

Our topic: How does one use embodiment in online rooms?

Over the past two years Christian and I have been offering online pig catching sessions and learned a number of important principles for doing embodied exercises online. I have colleagues who do not believe it can be done and when I challenge them, they say: “I am sure something essential gets lost.”

Well, we have found that there is a unique kind of intimacy that develops online when people play together – a kind distinctly different in quality than when you work with someone offline. Part of the reason is because you see yourself on the screen interacting and this creates a certain vulnerability that adds to the connection.

To engage the imagination through the body  requires some innovation when working online.  We found ways to use the unique feature of online rooms to access the imagination and people’s creativity in fresh and unexpected ways.

We have discovered how to contain the work when there is no physical room within which to contain activities and relationships.

We have found out how to bridge the divides between participants and build playfulness and connection in new ways.

All these insights will be shared at the conference on Sunday morning and I look forward to sharing some of the principles here in a blog or two soon.

For the curious, here is our conference abstract:

An important aspect of Applied Improvisation is using and perceiving the body: your own and those of others in the room. It therefore seems logical, that “room” is a physical construct, a place with enough space to move and also to rest.

In a connected world “rooms” in the World Wide Web are part of the reality of more and more people: 3,6 Billion people have direct access to the internet, which is about half of the world population. Especially in Europe (over 70 percent of the population) and North America (nearly 90 percent) using the Internet is a part of daily life. An important aspect in the still growing numbers of direct users is mobile access to the internet via smart devices.

Internet “rooms” are used more and more often to learn together, to plan projects and them into action step by step. Topics are not only “tech related” – they are also about facilitating, coaching, developing various kinds of people, individually and in groups. Live online tools are often used in these contexts. They enable participants to hear and see each other. Nonverbal communication is a key aspect of Applied Improvisation. It is also a key aspect of live online rooms.

In our contribution we will summarize studies on using embodiment in settings enabled  by technology. We will present different improvisation methods that can be used in online settings highlighting its effects on collaboration and interaction on one hand and  and on personal development on the other.

Facilitators

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren, petro@playingmantis.net, Playing Mantis and Drama for Life, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Applied drama researcher and practitioner, coach and consultant.

Christian F. Freisleben, christian.freisleben@improflair.at, Halftime: St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences (Didactics in Higher Education, E-Learning); teacher, trainer, journalist in the fields of education, health care and social affairs

[1] Http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm (14. 11. 2016)