Yesterday when I looked up, this is what I saw.  Today and tomorrow and the next day it will be different.

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I read Atul Gawande’s book Better: A Surgeon’s Note on Performance a couple of years ago.  Today, I came across some scribbled excerpts which still resonate.

Two years on, I remember an easy read full of engaging stories.  Mostly I remember that when hand washing stops in hospitals, infection rates rise.  He wrote about the importance of collecting evidence, especially when seemingly working against the odds of other people’s response to your theory or view.

My notes are a summary of the book’s Afterword – Suggestions for Becoming a Positive Deviant.   The five suggestions are for those times when you ask yourself the questions – how do I really matter ? – how do I make a real difference?  Although these were specifically written with the medical profession in mind, there are applications to facilitation in each of these.

1. Ask someone an unscripted question.  Something they’re not expecting.  Something that will help you learn something about that someone.  [And something that will help them learn or rethink something about themselves.]

2. Don’t complain.  It’s boring, it wont’ solve anything and it will get you down.  [This applies to all of us no matter what we do - not to downplay the usefulness of the occasional polite, appropriate and well placed complaint.]

3. Count something you find interesting.  Collect the data.  If you count something interesting, you’ll learn something interesting.  [Data and evidence can be critical for many groups.]

4. Write something.  It need only add some small observation about your world.  Don’t underestimate the power of your own contribution, no matter how modest.  [Be average - notice what's obvious.]

5. Change.  Make yourself an early adopter.  Be willing to recognise the inadequacies of what you do and do something different.  [Try something new every time you work with a group.  Every time.]

“… so find something new to try, something to change.  Count how often you succeed and how often you fail.  Write about it.  Ask people what they think.  See if you can keep the conversation going.”

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney- business and strategic planning – team conversations

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iStock-internetClay Shirky is an academic, writer and analyst of social and other impacts of the Internet.  These videos got me thinking.  Thanks to @Scott_Drummond for alerting me to Cognitive Surplus via Twitter.  The second more recent video is available on

Shirky notes the confusion caused by the industrial revolution and the sedative role that gin played to mask the pain of transition caused by moving from the known (agrarian communities) to the unknown (over‑crowded cities with little or no infrastructure in place).

No less confusing (and painful for some) are current changes to media and communication dispersal.  We are no longer passive consumers. New technologies are helping us all to consume AND produce AND share ideas and information. Many are using the hours once spent passively watching television to contribute to the conversation. “Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for”.

Shirky uses the site as an excellent example of an invitation to participate. Barack Obama gets why it’s called social media. Other politicians are still working out that social media is not about having new vehicles to push through the same old same old.

It is more often than not messy and complex. There may not be the need for gin (unless you’re heavily invested in print media). The quality of our contributions will be patchy. Yet out of confusion, wonderful ideas can emerge.

That’s what resonated for me in my role as a facilitator. The phrase ‘convene not control’ is a great intention to bring into a room of people whether the room is real or virtual.

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney

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“Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent.  When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on the open sea.  That is called pentimento because the painter ‘repented’, changed his mind.  Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again.”                                                                                                                                                        Lillian Hellman

From time to time, I have the thought of boxing up  some old books and dropping them off at the nearest charity centre.  That thought is never acted upon as I am, how shall I say, easily distracted.  There is no better way to distract oneself than to rediscover writing that resonated with you at another time in your life.

It was in one of those deliciously distracted moments the other day that I found an old favourite on the shelf.  Pentimento is a collection of short portrait pieces by Lillian Hellman.  The essay Julia was source material for the 1977 film in which Jane Fonda played Hellman. (As an aside, it featured Vanessa Redgrave and was also the first screen appearance of Meryl Streep). The story was a controversial one. There were questions about the identity of Julia. Did Hellman write about a friend of hers or fabricate the story on the basis of someone she had heard about?

Lillian Hellman was a playwright, screen and memoir writer.  Her writing revealed personal layers beneath the surface during times of great tension. For example, Scoundrel Time is an account of the McCarthy period and the price many paid for courage and truth.

Re-reading old favourites reminds me of what excited and changed me when I first read them. To paraphrase Hellman in the last piece of her foreword to Pentimento – the opportunity to read (and now write) about what was there for me once helps me clarify what is there for me now.

Photo: iStockphoto

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