Following my last post and Frédéric Domon’s points about the social nature of learning and how “80% of learning is unexpected, unplanned and informal”, I was happy to fall across this post from Sam McNerney as I was doing a little curating

McNerney on his site, Why We Reason, differentiates between the benefits of solitude when getting on with work and the necessity of a ‘coffeehouse’ setting to enlightened idea generation.  As an aside, I really loved this image that Sam used to illustrate his post.

Coffeehouse picture per Why We Reason

The reality of great ideas is that they require other people.

He goes on, with reference to Steven Berlin Johnson, to dis brainstorming – a process not without critics since the late 1940s.

The problem with brainstorming is its tendency to treat people and their ideas too kindly. Criticism and error are essential in the formation of good ideas after all; brainstorming simply doesn’t facilitate this.


Quoting Charlan Nemeth and others testing the “potential value of permitting criticism and dissent”

The exchange of ideas amongst people is good, then, but an overly agreeable brainstorming session is certainly not”.

So, ideas are best generated amongst groups of people

  • in social and conversational environments
  • who gather informally – over lunch, coffee, sitting on the floor, shooting the breeze, banging tankards on the table
  • in an atmosphere where criticism, debate and turning ideas on their head is encouraged and supported
  • who take responsibility for being in the mix of ideas and helping them develop

Here’s to the unexpected and informal.  And to minds and hearts open to a bit of robust debate and movement in the way we think about the world.


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I have owned Gamestorming – A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers for two weeks. Already I know it is going to join my go-to ‘flip and dip’ reference books, as opposed to the occasional ‘flip through and wonder why I bought it in the first place’ book.  A collaboration of Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo, this compilation of games and activities is one of the best I’ve seen.

Experienced facilitators will be familiar with much of the content.  Yet it works really well as a reminder of oldies but goodies and for introducing new ideas and adaptations.

For those not so experienced, it has enough substance and clarity to guide you through your first time with any one of the activities.  The addition of time frames and ranges for the number of participants is also useful. Most of the items acknowledge the originator of the concepts thus providing great source references for those who want to explore more of the same.

Last week I was looking for a way to gently introduce a story telling session at a workshop.   I found it in Gamestorming.  It worked a treat with some adaptations to suit the circumstance.

Head over here for the Gamestorming blog.

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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’m putting a menu together for a future workshop.  Lately I find myself using the word menu rather than agenda as it seems to assist me (the facilitator) and those in the room to approach the gathering in a position of choice.  Some parts of the menu are blank.  Carrying the metaphor a little further (and perhaps a little clumsily), it allows anyone or all to ask if there might be something else that might emerge from the kitchen.  Only in this kitchen, everyone is a chef.

In this case, the invitees are eager for information.  Many of them have already posed questions for which they want answers.  This presumes an expectation of the experts in the room.  It sets a scene that, without a big stir of the pot (sorry!), will too readily turn into a question and answer workshop.  And that is not what I’m after for them.

The experts (the client) are keen to share their knowledge.  Fortunately they are also keen to avoid setting up dependencies – both during the workshop and into the future.

I have some thoughts about how we might begin.  I’m wondering if anyone has any stories of workshops where experts shared their knowledge in a group without resorting to the pulpit.

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Say yes in response to an invitation to spend the day walking and talking.

Show up at the appointed time and place.

Try something new to remember people’s names.

Spend a day without a plan.  Start anywhere.

Make mistakes. Laugh off the signs you miss.

Keep moving. Change your vantage point and refresh your mind.

Pay attention - to names, to stories, to landscapes and weather.

Take care of each other - the small gift of a spoon may mean the difference between breakfast or no breakfast for someone.

Look for ways to play together (and notice the joy it brings to those who may be watching).

Welcome newcomers who drop in.

Be committed – finish what you start and do it with style.

Be average – don’t even think about it.

Wake up to the gifts - of art, of conversation, of each other.

Go home a new way.

With thanks to Matt Moore and Johnnie Moore who made the offer and to everyone who showed up to share the ride.

HT to Patricia Ryan Madson for excerpts from her book Improv Wisdom – Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up.

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Further to yesterday’s Perfection sucks, I have found some older and recent posts about failure that I’d saved.

Tom Fishburne  nails fail fear with his Wall of Failure post (and cartoon).  Tom’s blog is routinely one of my go-to reads.  Here’s his post on blame-storming too.

William Hall suggests ways to recover from failure at Improv Notebook.  The conversation thread on this post is worth a read too.

Johnnie Moore is planning to get together for a discussion to explore what failure means in an upcoming barcamp in London.  I’d really like to teleport myself across the seas to be there for this one.  So much to chew on.

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Some years ago, I was working with a group of managers in a manufacturing company.  One day, I asked  “how comfortable are you about saying  “I don’t know” around here?”

They weren’t.  At all.  Saying “I don’t know” was a symptom of a fear of failure that was endemic in their culture.  That fear paralysed some very talented individuals and was getting in their way big time.  They had lost the ability to summons the courage to have a go, to fall over and get back up again.

I remembered this interaction this morning when I read Garr Reynolds’ post – Before success comes the courage to fail.  “An old Japanese proverb says “Even monkeys fall from trees.” (Saru mo ki kara ochiru — 猿も木から落ちる.) Somehow knowing this allows us to push past fear and to participate more fully as we embrace or own imperfections, even as we work to improve.”

I wonder how much we contribute to the fear of failure in others and paralyse them from acting – looking for the mistakes, ‘helpfully’ pointing out what they could have done better and building error rates into performance management (eg targets).  Perfection sucks.  Really it does.  It’s not achievable.  It is not real.  It is not human.

Last year Alexander Kjerulf posted his Top 5 Reasons to Celebrate Mistakes.  It includes this photograph of a poster in the offices of Menlo Innovations, an IT company in Ann Arbor, Michigan:

Make mistakes faster

Alexander says “Yep, it says “Make mistakes faster”. They know that mistakes are an integral part of doing anything cool and interesting and the sooner you can screw up, the sooner you can learn and move on.”

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney, Australia

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I often dip in and out of my library resources for inspiration – thoughts that might add a spark or element to a workshop that may or may not be useful on the day.  This morning I opened  Margaret Wheatley’s Turning to One Another and found an extract from a poem.

don’t establish the



the squares, triangles


of preconceievd


and then


life into them, trimming

off left-over edges,

ending potential:

A facilitation application?  Of course.  I started thinking about templates as boundaries.  I have found and do find templates can be useful at times** - particularly in large scale – empty and open – waiting to be filled as thinking develops in the room.  These short lines prompted some ‘cautious thinking’ about their future application – a need to understand what one might be preventing by introducing boundaries, however apparently slight.

I went on the hunt for more information about A R Ammons.  Among other sources was a 2006 Poetry Daily item.

David Lehman edited A R Ammons: Selected Poems in which he noted that the long poem –  Tape for the Turn of a Year – was “a diary in skinny lines which he typed on a roll of adding-machine tape, the width of the tape serving as the arbitrary but fixed restraint determining the shape of the poem.”   He apparently stopped writing this daily chronicle when he got to the end of the tape.  Hmmm.  “abitrary but fixed restraint”……

My take?  Boundaries are everywhere.  Notice if  I am applying them and understand their potential impacts and / or benefits.

**  I am reminded of the oft repeated words of Sam Kaner in one of his workshops – “It depends”.

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney, Australia


I really like this post from Chris Corrigan on giving instructions to groups, and finding that balance between clarity and getting out of the way.

Giving instructions poorly leads to confusion and chaos and can quickly erode the trust of a group.  Being too direct can shut people down and create a sterile meeting.  The art is finding the space between the two.

Chris outlines seven practices for giving instructions.  Here is a taste.

Shut up sooner than you think you have to. …. When I have given the instructions, my role is to get out of the way, cleanly, clearly and fast.

People are more capable to be in confusion than you think they are. ….. Let people be a little confused and they will discover that they can get the clarity they need from each other, and they can get to work on the real sources of fear and confusion in the group.

I find it very useful to unpack how we do what we do.  Sometimes  apparently simple things happen instinctively without us really considering the impacts of our smallest actions.

As Viv McWaters wrote in December, “I’m reading Bill Isaac’s book Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together.  He writes: “We need to become conscious of what we are doing so that we can refine and share it. This does not mean that we must make a theory of dialogue formal and explicit, but that we in some fashion make it understandable and usable to others.”

Thanks Chris for doing just that.

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney, Australia

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How good does this  look ?  It feels like the perfect landscape to be spending a few weeks at the end of a busy year.   Tomorrow a journey to Laos begins and with it comes time to relax and reflect.

This year I’ve been privileged to work across a wide range of sectors including education, housing, local government, entertainment, infrastructure, retail, warehousing and many amazing not-for-profit organisations.   I’m also grateful for the opportunity to work in association with Professional Facilitators International aka Shoshana Faire and Alan Bassal.

I’ve been reflecting on holding space and how important it is.  It’s particularly critical when the content is emotional.   For me, holding space isn’t a conscious or necessarily obvious ‘thing’.   Sometimes, though, the circumstances are such that I find myself seeing it happen, almost as if I’m an outside observer.

It was like this at my most recent facilitation.  A trust emerged very quickly as people introduced themselves.  I can’t really analyse it other than to notice I was aware of a stillness and a letting go of any supposed time constraints as each person shared their stories.   There was anger and fear, weariness, cynicism and hope.  Through all of that individually expressed emotion, there was grace.  I can’t explain it in any other way.  Sometimes it felt very difficult and there were views expressed that perhaps everyone might not be able to come together.  But they did.  And this one gathering of many gatherings in 2010 is why I love what I do.

I’m excited about this trip to Laos.  And I’m looking forward to coming home to a new office – a space fresh with new paint and a garden view. I’m ready to hit the ground running in January and open to more offers to facilitate, to collaborate and to learn.   If you’re up for all or any of the above, drop me a note or give me a call.

Cheers till 2011.

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney, Australia

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