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June 10, 2014

Interact first … then decide what to do!

I am about to step into a large workshop with my 2 Rusty Brown team mates. Despite having clarity about the overall purpose of the gathering, we struggled to pull together a coherent design for today’s workshop. Our Skype call featured lot’s of ideas and periods of silent reflection with me filling the space with more ideas – that’s what I do when self doubt creeps in!

After watching the latest Game of Thrones episode and a great night sleep, I reflected on yesterday’s struggles. Some events, no matter how thorough the planning and briefing is, are impossible to pre-design in any sort of detail. This is where we rely on sound principles and practices to get through and serve the groups we work with.

A room of 60+ individuals (who have just been part of a re structure) is a complex system made up of many, connected parts. It is not possible to ‘know’ which are the best moment by moment processes ahead of time. When we start interacting with the system (in about an hour from now), we will get feedback which will inform our decisions and the processes that follow. It feels messy and challenges our need for certainty and detailed plans … but that’s facilitation for you!

And to throw in a distantly connected piece by Johnnie Moore (Game of Thrones & the stories we tell ourselves), Johnnie says about the stories we tell ourselves

We love them, but we get tripped up by them. Something to remember when working with people.”

Re listening/watching Johnnie’s latest reflection (at the link above) has helped me to focus for today’s event.

Geoff

GeoffBrown | Facilitation, Living Systems & Complexity, Yes!And Improv | Comments Off

May 19, 2014

Excited by Possibility

Much of my recent work has been with Russell Fisher and Suzie Brown. Under the banner of Rusty Brown, we have combined our skills and blended our experience. As we learn more from the doing together, we are remixing the way we work and our offering to the world. Personally, I have a renewed passion for my work and a clearer purpose than I did when flying solo.

Rusty Brown

Last week I was co-facilitating with Russell and there was a moment when I repeated a set of instructions exactly as Russell had just given. Russell and I have a relationship where feedback is valued as a gift and, in a quiet moment, he rightly asked me why I had repeated his instruction. I wasn’t even aware of it and initially his feedback caught me by surprise!

On reflection, Russell illuminated a blind spot that I often get tripped up by – and a very good reminder to re-read a post called “The Art of Giving Instructions” by Chris Corrigan. Russell’s feedback is always perceptive and I am grateful for the opportunity to further hone my craft. Even when I work on my own, as I did on Friday and again tomorrow, I am able to draw on Russell and Suzie. Our collaboration provides me with an intangible kind of confidence and company when I need it most.

For the first time in my consulting career, I am investing in building something beyond my own solo-practice. It feels right and I am excited by the possibility.

GeoffBrown | Facilitation | Comments Off

May 18, 2014

Excited by Possibility

As the title suggests, much of recent work has been with Russell Fisher and Suzie Brown. Under the banner of Rusty Brown, we have combined our skills and blended our experience. As we learn more from the doing together, we are remixing the way we work and our offering to the world. Personally, I have a renewed passion for my work and a clearer purpose than I did when flying solo.

Last week I was co-facilitating with Russell and there was a moment when I repeated a set of instructions exactly as Russell had just given. Russell and I have a relationship where feedback is valued as a gift and, in a quiet moment, he rightly asked me why I had repeated his instruction. I wasn't even aware of it and initially his feedback caught me by surprise!

On reflection, Russell illuminated a blind spot that I often get tripped up by – and a very good reminder to re-read a post called “The Art of Giving Instructions” by Chris Corrigan. Russell's feedback is always perceptive and I am grateful for the opportunity to further hone my craft. Even when I work on my own, as I did on Friday and again tomorrow, I am able to draw on Russell and Suzie. Our collaboration provides me with confidence when I need it most.

For the first time in my consulting career, I am investing in building something beyond my own solo-practice. It feels right and I am excited by the possibility.

GeoffBrown | Facilitation | Comments Off

March 27, 2014

SCARF for social activists

I am not a huge fan of ‘ACRONYM’ models, but this framework – called SCARF – from neuroscientist David Rock is one of the more useful ones.

As many of us, within the Anglesea and surrounding communities, unite to SHUT DOWN the Anglesea power station, we discover that some people see the world differently to us. It’s easy to take the moral and intellectual high ground and say “We’re right and they’re wrong!” … but that sort of thinking will never unite a diverse community of divergent views. Applying the SCARF framework to our engagement strategy will help.

Here is a summary of this document by David Rock – http://www.davidrock.net/files/09_SCARF_in_2012_US.pdf – I have taken direct quotes and added a little of my own interpretations as well …

The SCARF model is a framework that can activate a reward or threat response in social situations. SCARF can be applied in any situation where people collaborate in groups such as at community lead rallies and information nights. The SCARF model involves 5 domains of human social experience: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. Here’s a brief description of each domain with a footnote … advice for any community leaders who are trying to SHUT DOWN a local coal mine and power station.

Status is about the relative importance to others. If people feel left out, or in a minority group at a social gathering, the associated drop in status generates a strong threat response. When threatened people often defend a position that doesn’t make sense to avoid the perceived pain of a drop in status. If leaders wish to influence other’s behaviour, more attention must given to reducing status threats in social situations.

Certainty concerns being able to predict the future. The human brain craves certainty so that it can predict the future. Without being able to predict, the brain uses far more resources and energy to process our experiences. So, as our community lobbies to SHUT DOWN the local coal mine, it opens up new and uncertain future scenarios. Large uncertainties like this one can be highly debilitating and cause people to stop listening and snap judgements. This is why we must communicate and discuss plausible and relevant future scenarios that don’t include a coal mine.

Autonomy provides a sense of control over events and a sensation of having choices. As soon as a participant at a community event feels a reduction in autonomy (with no sense of control), the experience can be threatening. When inviting people to take action, statement like “this is what you have to do now!” should be avoided at all costs. Providing people with a choice between different options can shift the perception. The set up of the room and types of processes used also plays a significant role in the experience people have.

Relatedness is a sense of safety with others, of friend rather than foe. In the absence of safe social interactions, the body generates a threat response. People naturally like to form ‘tribes’ where they experience a sense of belonging. So, as Anglesea attempts find a community voice, we should be tapping into this tribal sense of belonging. For those opposed to the SHUT-DOWN campaign … no matter what ‘we’ do or say they won’t change! Neurologically, we are wired to adopt messages from those who are ‘like’ us … from the same tribe.

Fairness is a perception of fair exchanges between people. The need for fairness may be the driver behind the formation and energy of the Surf Coast Air Action group and the SHUT IT DOWN campaign. Members of our tribe experience internal rewards for doing this volunteer work to improve our community – born out of a decreasing sense of fairness in the world. For our upcoming event in Anglesea, we need to be completely transparent about our purpose and our mission to rally support Shut the Mine down.

I’ll finish with a couple of quotes from philosopher Theodore Zeldin about the deeply social nature of the way our brains are wired together and connected in social networks …

“When will we make the same breakthroughs in the way we treat each other as we have made in technology?”

“The kind of conversation I’m interested in, is one in which we are willing to emerge a slightly different person.”

Geoff

 

GeoffBrown | Brain Science & Research, Community & Belonging, Facilitation, Leadership | Comments Off

January 28, 2014

On being part of the problem …

Co-conspirator of mine, Chris Corrigan, has shared a post he titled – Dealing with your slaves and seeing the world. This piece is a timely reminder about how we perceive the world around us. For me, it’s a little challenge to my own perspective … and to the stories I make in my mind about any problem that I am tackling.

I’ll only focus in on 1 angle of Chris’ post here. This quote from Adam Kahane is at the core of his post …

“Bill Torbert of Boston College once said to me that the 1960s slogan “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” actually misses the most important point about effecting change. The slogan should be, “If you’re not part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution.” If we cannot see how what we are doing or not doing is contributing to things being the way that they are, then logically we have no basis at all, zero leverage, for change the way things are — except from the outside, by persuasion or force.”

When I hear people (and myself) talking about any problem – communication at the local school, device/screen addiction in their kids, the Alcoa Coal mine – the image in my mind looks like this …

on being part of the problem

 

Imagine if we could really see our own part in every complex problem we perceived – local or global. I think this self perception would fundamentally change a lot of conversations. A deeper understanding about our part (and the parts other’s play) in the problem helps to build up a better picture of the whole. You can apply this to different scales – individual, team and organisational, national.

Chris concludes his post with a few questions:

“So, what is your experience in affecting change from inside the problem?  How do you work towards justice while recognizing your complicity in the very problems you are addressing?”

The practice-challenge to myself is a question about how I reframe things in my own mind. Here is one personal example I’ll apply it to:

What is my part (and how am I complicit) in the device-addiction that has crept back into our family life since returning from our 5 month trip last year? And then … how can I affect change from within the problem?

Geoff Brown

 

GeoffBrown | Being Present, Facilitation, Just observations | Comments (2)

January 14, 2014

Viewpoint shift

The line that separates my work and play isn’t really a line at all. Experiences with family and friends teach me as much about myself as time in front of a group. Each serves the other and they are connected. So, the notion of a work-life balance doesn’t make sense to me anymore – I am seeing this term through new eyes … with a new perspective.

In 2014, I’ll be keeping this Pattern Card (from the Group Works set of cards) at the top of the deck. It serves as a personal reminder to step into the shoes of others and listen. I’ll use this card when designing group processes and support individuals, teams and organisations to notice more and see things through other perspectives. And at home this card (like many others in the deck) are a great teaching tool.

 

GeoffBrown | Being Present, Facilitation | Comments Off

December 12, 2013

A story of Text2Cloud that (finally) works in Australia

2 years ago I worked with Chris Corrigan and Steven Wright at the first World Indigenous Housing forum in Vancouver, Canada. With over 600 delegates, a key technical design challenge was about “how to” harvest individual and small group ideas and from a group of that size?! In a long story short, we engaged the brilliant Luke Closs to build us a text2cloud system. Our brief was to enable delegates to text their insights to a central number. We needed to be able to access the data quickly and discover themes using online tools such as Wordle. We needed a ‘digital’ harvesting tool that would capture the essence of (analogue-style) conversation between people.

Luke’s system worked beautifully for our team in North America and I couldn’t wait to use it back home in Australia. I hit brick wall after brick wall and – due to the militant policies of Australian mobile carriers – I just could’t find a way to use Luke’s brilliant code.

Then just a couple of months ago, friend and colleague Fran Woodruff asked for my advice on text2cloud systems after hearing my Vancouver experience. That’s when Fran alerted me to Poll Everywhere – a online service that essentially replicates what Luke built from scratch over 2 years ago. Thank you Fran!

Last week, I had the pleasure of working alongside Viv McWaters and together we experimented with Poll Everywhere at the Game Changer Conference with over 350 delegates. It worked and here is what we learned about using a text2cloud system to harvest ideas from large groups …

1. Text2Cloud is a useful replacement to the traditional (and tedious) post speaker Q&A session

As questions came in from the delegates, our MC and Viv reviewed the questions as they scrolled up their computer screens. The texts arrive in real time and provide the reader with an instant snapshot of the emergent questions that usually remain invisible. For some people their questions never get seen or heard. We were able to synthesise the breadth of the questions and select the most compelling or common questions to ask the guest speaker. Speakers also agreed to provide brief answers to every question after the conference – this formed part of the proceedings. 

 

2. Text2Cloud is a great way of harvesting priorities from group dialogue and cafe-style conversations

At the end of small group conversations, we invited participants to text in the priority ideas and actions. We were able to harvest these easily and reflect them back using the large screens as they ideas came in. 

 

3. Reflecting back the themes/patterns (in real time) from large groups is powerful

 

4. Applications are not just limited to working with groups in the one room. Why not use this system to capture feedback/responses from anyone involved in a project or initiative even if they are geographically dispersed!

5. Everyone (well at least 99+% of people) knows how to text and most carry text-enabled devices with them to group events

6. Poll Everywhere is a text2cloud system that is easy to learn and it does what it claims it can do!

 

Let’s keep experimenting with these new harvesting technologies! When used well, they can be a great compliment to processes involving dialogue and group conversations.

Geoff

GeoffBrown | Facilitation, Vizual Thinking | Comments Off

September 7, 2013

Principles for Traveling the Offroads

5th Aug. 2013

As I watched the sunset against the northern Bungle Range last night (this post began weeks ago!), I began to imagine myself (for the first time in months!) working with groups and doing what I do – facilitation. Before we left back in May, my friend and colleague Andrew Rixon said, “I'll be interested to read about your reflections and learnings from the road trip”. On a number of occasions I've tried (often too hard) to write a clever piece about the lessons from this trip and how they might relate to the world of facilitation. Early on I even tried to keep up with my favourite blogs. About 8 weeks ago I let go of these compulsions entirely. I've been surprised (and Ingrid delighted) as to how little attention I have given to anything work or home related. I also wonder how on earth we are going to adjust to the routine of life when we arrive home on September 29!?

2nd Sept. 2013

As we travel south toward home along the Queensland coast, Ingrid and I have been reflecting on the people we've met, places visited and family life on the road. Whenever we talk like this, recurring themes emerge … I suppose these are like principles for travelling the off-roads. Here are a few …

Prepare meticulously! Early in the trip we spent 12 days along the Gnaraloo/Red Bluff coast and we nearly ran out of food and drinking water! This was a wake up call. Had something gone wrong on the rough roads out of Gnaraloo, we may have been reliant on others for help. From this moment we prepared for extended, remote trips with military precision and we've learned that you can't wing-it!

Be prepared to abandon the plan! Anyone who has travelled knows this one. We have altered or abandoned many of our well thought out plans. Because the next day (or even the next hour) is impossible to predict, staying open to the unexpected is what makes this quote ring true …

“The zest is in the journey and not in the destination.” Lynn H. Hough


When it's time to move on … move! That feeling of needing to move on is like an itch that needs scratching. After 1, 3 or maybe 5 days at a camp, Ingrid might give me that look that clearly says, “I'm ready to pack up and go.” Or, the kids might sing out together, “We wanna go mum and dad!” When you feel it's time to move … move!


Its in the eye of the beholder! Everyone sees places through their own eyes. We have learned that Caravaners (with Air Cons) give glowing reviews of campsites exposed to intolerable levels of heat and sun. Fellow travellers in camper trailers and tents tend to give better advice … but not always. We've learned to go and find out for ourselves.

 

Finally … let go, connect with each other and find the flow!

With 17 weeks behind us and 4 weeks down the east coast to go, have turned for home. A trip of this length will, more than likely, happen just this once. I know my boys so much better. The boys themselves are thriving and their relationships have strengthened. Ingrid and I feel like we are in our 20's when we backpacked around the world back in the 90's! We have had a chance to be a family … together day in, day out … without school or work to separate us … it has been a gift and an adventure that none of us will forget.

 

GeoffBrown | Being Present, Facilitation, Gone Supping, Just observations | Comments Off

July 13, 2013

Teachings and lessons from life on the road

We have just arrived at Whale Song, a small campground on Cape Leveque, after spending 5 days at Kooljaman – an eco-resort proudly owned by the aboriginal communities of Djarindjin and One Arm Point. More on Whale Song later as I want to share what I learned from Brian Lee. Brian is an aboriginal leader and traditional owner of the land in the area. His Tagalong tour took us into the pristine aboriginal native title land around Hunter’s Creek.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kooljaman is the Bardi aboriginal name for Cape Leveque, 220km north of Broome at the tip of the Dampier Peninsular.

I was privileged to have a conversation with Brian and listen to a small part of the history of Kooljaman. Hearing his perspective on why the resort and surrounding communities have been such a success was like a teaching about 2 local communities taking the lead and standing on their own 2 feet. Brian shares a gift with Lachie Brian was clearly proud of the leadership role that he and others have played over the past 15 years to ensure that all decisions about the running of Kooljaman are owned by the aboriginal communities. He pointed out that Kooljaman has not been reliant on handouts to survive and thrive as a business. Some years ago the decision was made by the Kooljaman board to recruit outside assistance to manage and run the business side of things. When talking about the future of Kooljaman, it sounded like the aim is for the local aboriginal communities to take on the management and running of the whole facility. Sadly, stories like Kooljaman are rarely told in mainstream Australia. I don’t want to dwell on politics and mindset that breeds policies of intervention, simply because there are stories within Australia and all over the world that show we are making progress. Last year I was honored to be part of the 2012 World Indigenous Housing Conference in Vancouver and immerse myself in many of these stories. Each story was like a unique teaching and I remember feeling inspired and hopeful when reading through them. I worked alongside Chris Corrigan and Steven Wright and, as facilitators, our task was to draw out success stories from the 700+ delegates – a mix of indigenous and non-indigenous leaders from community, government and the private sector from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These success stories were about indigenous communities pursuing and realising their own economic development. The stories showed that full participation in decision making promotes ownership and a sense of belonging to community and culture. Many stories pointed to successful models of governance, education and training programs that build capacity. Examples of partnerships between indigenous communities, government and the private sector were in many of the stories. Listening to Brian talk about Kooljaman reminded me of many of the stories shared in Vancouver.

An information/knowledge repository – The Indigenous Housing Gateway – was set up to store and share the stories and lessons learned from the 2012 World Indigenous Housing Conference. It’s full of the stories I have referred to.

In 2007 the United Nations Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted. This declaration sets a standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples. And it is a standard, that sadly, many member countries like Australia have failed to translate into policies that support more aborginal communities to thrive. As I listened to Brian talking about Kooljaman, and the story of ownership by the Djarindjin and One Arm Point communities, I was heartened to hear a success story coming from within my own country. I didn’t get a chance to discover all the success factors and why it’s worked, but clearly something has and we all need to learn from it. As we travel across the top end of Australia, I will be looking for more opportunities to learn from people like Brian and witness communities like Djarindjin and One Arm Point. Like most Australians, I know little about aboriginal history and the complexity of issues that they face in community life. This trip is my chance to continue my education. Geoff  

GeoffBrown | Community & Belonging, Facilitation, Leadership, Story | Comments Off

June 9, 2013

Settling in to a new pattern of living

Written a week ago & published today …

Our family is into it’s 3rd week of 20 weeks on the ‘off-roads’ of Australia’s North West. As a family unit, we have only just found our rhythm with the set-up/pack-down of the tent, 4WD navigation and the discipline needed for home-schooling 3 young boys. You can read about our adventures over here at Camping Feet.

I awoke this morning (at a remote beach under Goulet Bluff just south of Monkey Mia) with a renewed focus after a few days of unsettling (gale force) winds and lack of sleep. It’s taken time to adjust to the change and uncertainty that comes from leaving behind a life of work and school, a house, 2 dogs, a car and a community of friends and family. We have slowly found our roles that contribute to a well oiled camping machine. The kids are learning what they can do (that’s useful) and we parents are learning to let-go of control.

As I reflect on the time it has taken me (and us) to settle into a gentler pattern of living off-road, I started to think about the groups and teams that I work with. Here are some first cut thoughts (as I sit in our 4WD heading north to Carnarvan) …

I’ve spent my life working with groups and I’ve learned that it takes time – days of ‘doing stuff’ together – for a group to find it’s mojo. Time for conversations, playing games, relationship building and time for individuals to get in touch with their own inner game. Time is needed for a group to build a shared understanding of the world (as it is now and how it could be in the future) and co-discover what needs attention … all whilst practicing the art of suspending judgement.

At some point (and not all groups get there) groups/teams naturally start to experiment with solutions and test their ideas for actions. They find a core purpose that builds energy and keeps them on track when the going gets tough. Individuals have a sense of their role and need a high degree of autonomy in order to thrive. They learn to improvise together and they begin to realise the potential of group genius. Collective action toward something bigger than the group may then follow.

These groups may have started as loose networks of people with a shared interest scattered across a community. They might be a newly formed committee or a new team within an organisation. Whatever the context, groups begin to look outside of themselves and serve the greater good. The conversations about themselves and their own practice become a broader conversation with communities and stakeholders around them.

Of course none of this group stuff is linear … it’s messy. How long does it take? Well, it all depends … there are no hard and fast rules, only broad principles and practices as a guide-beside. Questions of leadership crop up everywhere and groups have to face up to their fears and struggle with the questions that keep them up at night. “How do we proceed amid such uncertainty?” … “How do we make sound decisions in such change and complexity?”.

I think I’ve learned to sit more comfortably in that space of “not knowing” … and to trust and be present to whatever emerges next. On this 5 month family journey, we are learning to gently push our adventurous edge, whilst remaining safe. Everyday we are faced with countless choices, decisions and opportunities. Everyday we grow stronger and closer as a family.

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GeoffBrown | Facilitation, Gone Supping, Leadership, Yes!And Improv | Comments Off

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