Tangent Consulting

Archives: 'How Stuff Spreads & Changes'

May 1, 2013

A story of changing habits

I’ve fallen out of the habit of blogging and I write this (quite eco-centric) post dressed in a theatre gown. I have an hour to wait before being “wheeled” unconscious into surgery for a 3rd episode of dental surgery (on the same tooth!!!). So here goes …

3 things have just come up for me:

1. I am feeling privileged that I can even afford this intervention

2. Like my wiser friends have warned me, “You’re in your 40’s Geoff!” They are right. At 42 I’ve racked up x4 operations on a dodgy molar and dicky right knee. I vow this to be my last procedure until my 7th decade of life!

3. My habits have changed drastically since this 40 year old body began to fall apart …

A Story of Changed Habits

Firstly I’ve always been active, physically fit and healthy. I was still 39 when I tore my medial meniscus (aka cartilage). During the rehab phase I learned that it tore because I’d lost strength and tone in my VMO’s – the big muscle that runs on the inside half of the thigh. It tore so badly that I needed surgical removal of 2/3’s of the essential “shock absorber” in the knee that prevents ‘bone-on-bone’ deterioration. If I don’t look after my knee (and strengthen the muscles around it), I’m staring down a total knee replacement in my 50’s or 60’s!

Fuelled by a determination to stay pain free, out of the dentist chair, remain surfing and avoid major knee surgery, I have been slowly transforming my daily habits. Here’s just some what’s changed, including a bunch of things I’ve had to let-go of …

1. I ride my bike practically everywhere!

  • I have given up running for trains and walking long distances with heavy backpacks – anything that involves jarring the knees
  • I avoid car travel whenever I can – it’s the sure-fire way to stiffen my knee and back!
  • I’ve joined Melbourne Bike Share and transformed the way I get around Melbourne when working – this also means being prepared to show up to meetings with messed up hair and a bit sweaty!
  • I’ve replaced lots of little, local car trips trips with the bike
  • I’ve NOT turned into a lycra-wearing, competitive bike rider – it’s a lifestyle thing.

2. I ‘sit-less’ and ‘move-more’

  • I avoid my computer wherever possible because it usually means sitting … or standing in the one spot – both activities don’t do me any favours
  • It’s anti social, but when the TV is on at home, I’m in the studio stretching or exercising
  • I avoid driving any distance beyond 50km unless I absolutely have to

3. I floss regularly and avoid sugar

  • After 30 years of trying to form regular flossing habits, finally the threat of dental pain has transformed me!!!!

4. I PAUSE before I lift or move anything!

  • The other day a neighbour asked me to help him lift a really heavy workbench off his ute … I politely refused … we found 4 extra people the next day and potentially back/knee breaking activity was made easy
  • This habit extends to everything in the garden, in the house and at work when re arranging chairs/tables in workshop spaces

5. I’ve lost my mojo in the home garden ;-(

  • I used to be the most passionate home gardener I know … but instead of gardening I now go surfing!?

6. I’ve given up Karate … for good this time!

  • 12 months post surgery and after a dedicated 12 months of rehab, I briefly returned to the dojo. One night my knee flared up with swelling and it scared the shit out of me. I all of a sudden realised that this might prevent me from surfing, riding my bike and remaining pain free … just like “that”, I turned my back on an activity that I dearly loved.

In Sum … 

During this journey to change my lifestyle and remain pain free and active in the longer term, I’ve unintentionally let-go of some rock solid habits like sitting down to blog and picking up the guitar. I still love these activities, but it’s now an effort to get to them. And if I do them too much over a period of days (which usually involves longer periods of not moving) I feel the effects in my back and knee. Instant feedback!

The home vege/fruit gardening is the most compelling example of forced change. Before my knee injury, growing food at home was everything to me. But for months of rehab I simply couldn’t do it – it hurt too much. The hours I used to spend plating, tending and harvesting were directed elsewhere (in the surf on my SUP). Now that I’m strong and fit again, it’s bloody hard to rekindle the same passion!

I’ve taught myself to be much more “body aware” and I do not put up with aches and pains, niggles and sprains like I used to! If I feel knee joint stiffness coming on, or a dull lower back ache upon waking, that my signal to do more of what’s good for me. Go for a ride, stretch, go for a SUP or make an appointment with the Osteopath.

I’ve tasted the pain of surgery and felt the fear of losing my physical capacity to do the things I love. Funny how we humans struggle to make lasting, lifestyle changes before we start to breakdown.

GeoffBrown | How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Story | Comments Off on A story of changing habits

October 10, 2012

There is NO lever!

I love this latest cartoon from Hugh McLeod at Gaping Void

Hugh writes about it by saying …

“This cartoon was inspired by my friend, Mark Earls’ new book, “I’ll Have What She’s Having”.

Mark (@herdmeister), a former hot-shot London advertising planner, came to the conclusion that advertising needed to worry less about the usual buzzwords swishing around the industry, and more about the hard science of human behavior.

He calls it “Herd Behavior”. People are hyper-social creatures who behave en masse, not individually. And there’s a lot of new science to back it up.

Which renders a lot of old-school, command-and-control ideas about marketing and business rather misinformed at best, completely wrong at worst.

Marketers love to be lazy, love to think that humans beings are predictable… that if you only say the right thing in a sweet-sounding and clever enough voice, people will magically fall into line. Like some magic lever, just waiting to be pulled. Alas.”

If you want to have a conversation with Mark Earls and hear what he has to say about CHANGE (and how stuff spreads through communities), he is coming to Australia very soon! I’ll working alongside Mark and the 3 Pillars Network at their 3rd Annual Behaviour Change 4 Sustainability Congress. You can register here. 

In my own consulting work with clients this “Tyranny of Control” remains a pervasive force and one I find myself challenging constantly. When it comes to my practice of designing for and facilitating group conversations … there is no mechanical lever that sets off a nice, neat set of predictable outcomes. Viv McWaters and Johnnie Moore have written some great stuff on this and they call it the Tyranny of the Explicit. Here’s a little of what Viv has to say …

“Building your commitment muscle takes a leap of faith, often into the unknown. If you need to know what it will be like before you commit (which on the face of it seems reasonable) you will be forever stuck in what Johnnie and I refer to as the Tyranny of the Explicit – needing to know yet more information before acting.

Trailblazers, leaders, innovators all share a willingness to commit without knowing the outcome, without knowing if it will be worth it, without having done a risk analysis. They bust free of the Tyranny of the Explicit.”

So what are you trying to control at the moment? I’ve a got a few thing I need to ‘let-go’ of myself 🙂

GeoffBrown | How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Presentations & Slideshows, Sustainability | Comments Off on There is NO lever!

June 28, 2012

Gift Economy

Giving your ‘stuff’ away is the new economy. We have moved way beyond a world of production and protection where we sell everything to consumers. Most of us now produce stuff … we share it (for free) … we consume and remix stuff from others. Here is a classic example …

A few months ago I drew this picture – it’s simply a network of how I use and visualise my knowledge flows and social media.

And then someone (Laura Pearle) spotted it on Twitter. Laura had a presentation to give at a conference about uses of social media for personal archiving and she requested to use it. “Of course” I said. So a few months later Laura sent me a link to her presentation. Check out slides 7 and 8. Laura used my picture to ask her audience a question about their own map of personal, online archiving. So my little picture has come back to me in within a context that I can now from. That’s the Gift Economy right there!

Personal digital archiving

View more presentations from Laura Pearle


GeoffBrown | Creative Stuff, How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Presentations & Slideshows, Vizual Thinking | Comments Off on Gift Economy

May 8, 2012

Graphic Harvest with Narration

I am currently facilitating a series of conversations between a group of people who have joined the 3 Pillars Network Active Learning program. The core purpose of this program is to connect people from all over Australia who work in the field (if you can call it  field?) of behaviour change for sustainability. The idea is to promote learning between practitioners, researchers and those in policy.

Last week I drew a map of the key things I remembered from the conversations. I love creating these maps after reading books and listening to TED talks. It helps to make links between ideas and create a story. Yesterday I shared my map with a participant who couldn’t make it to the session. I took her through the map, piece by piece, and wished I had recorded it.

Today, I did record it … it a first take and I have no idea why the video is compressed into half the screen?

Here’s the map …

And here’s the video – a 10 minute watch …

GeoffBrown | Brain Science & Research, Creative Stuff, How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Sustainability, Vizual Thinking | Comments Off on Graphic Harvest with Narration

May 7, 2012

Graphic Harvest – from chat to dialogue

Last week I was part of a learning conversation with practitioners, policy makers and researchers, all interested in diving deep into the complexity of behaviour change. We started by helping each other out with current problems, challenges and questions about our work – this was highly practical stuff and focused mainly on principles and practices.

At the end of the conversation we created a map of the group’s current thinking about behaviour change in practice. I felt we were able to go beyond ‘talking’ and enter the realm if Dialogue … we were thinking together. Here’s the map I drew to summarise …

GeoffBrown | Creative Stuff, Facilitation, How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Living Systems & Complexity, Vizual Thinking | Comments Off on Graphic Harvest – from chat to dialogue

March 1, 2012


I am heading to Vancouver in June to work with friends – Chris Corrigan and Steven Wright. We are currently designing a series of World Cafe conversations for the World Indigenous Housing Conference. You can read all about WHO is behind this gathering by clicking on the Conference Logo.

One of the crucial parts of the design is the Invitation (Chris writes about Inivitation here and here).

If an Invitation to a gathering was a small plate of nuts that needed to be cracked … then one of our key organisers has just cracked a few open! He has built a relationship with Mike Holmes – a well-known TV host, housing expert and philanthropist. Not only is Mike a keynote speaker at the conference, he has produced this video. They present a story that gets to heart of what an Invitation should. It speaks of the Need (the compelling reason why?), it’s Purpose (what we hope to achieve) and the People (who this is for).

Mike also says this …

“Everyone is bringing to the table, what each of us knows, so that we can make it right together.”

This little quote is at the heart of our design of the group dialogue and conversations which will feature on Days 2 and 3 of the conference. It acknowledges that no single person, group, culture or organisation has the answer to solve indigenous housing problems – they are way too complex and interconnected! Instead we need the ideas and perspectives from the whole field, brought together into conversation, to accelerate change.

I am looking forward to the conversation before, during and after this Vancouver gathering.


GeoffBrown | Facilitation, How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Story, Sustainability | Comments Off on Invitation

February 22, 2012

The social spread of SUP’ing

Stand Up Paddle boards (aka SUP) are growing in popularity and I am a self confessed enthusiast. I’d love to see the growth numbers of this past time … it must be staggering.

What is abundantly clear is the social nature of their spread and uptake. We got into SUP’ing because friends introduced us … actually they spruiked it like salespeople and we caught on 18 months ago. We now have 3 boards in our quiver and get out in the surf and river at the least 3 times a week.

20120222-140512.jpg 20120222-140315.jpg

Ingrid (my wife) & Griffin (eldest son) SUP’ing over coral reefs in Fiji last year

I have noticed how much people are talking about SUPs and SUPper’s. Those who don’t surf are intrigued and wonder if it’s is easier or harder than traditional surfing. They ask loads of questions at the surf breaks. Surfers are a mixed bag but most look down their noses at anyone on a Stand Up Paddle board. Some see it as a danger – as many SUPper’s have no idea how to control their big, heavy boards. Some surfers fear that too many SUPs on the waves will just add to the crowds – I share this concern because I do both.

The SUP Board has become a remarkable Social Object – it is the object of people’s attention and get’s ‘remarked’ on everywhere I go. The practice of paddling these versatile craft is also highly visible – When you look down the coast, SUPPer’s stand out above everyone else. A group of SUP’pers on the same break identify with each other and tend to talk and share waves – we have formed a tribe who share a single passion.


Quite apart from the pure enjoyment and relaxation that comes from paddling these craft, the physical benefits are quickly apparent. When you use the right technique, paddling in the standup position is an amazing core workout. It builds muscle quickly and, in the surf, is a cardiovascular workout like nothing else. Older surfers with neck and lower back issues caused by years of prone extension (lying on a surfboard), can surf ‘standup’ pain-free! (I emphasize the ‘standup’ bit too … you can surf these things in BIG waves, small waves, beach breaks and long, slow rollers).

Photo Source

You can take SUP’s out in any water and any weather – except for high winds when your body becomes a sail. Rivers, lakes, estuaries, bays, surf and even rapids! It doesn’t matter how cold the water is either … because you are completely dry most of the time. Booties are mandatory when paddling in Iceland though!

So what’s the reason for the rapid spread of the SUP across many parts of the world? There are many and I’ve touched on just a few above. For me though, the social nature of the spread through stories, rumors and conversations between friends, family and strangers is the biggest attractor. The identification that comes with doing something that others (including the world’s greatest surfers) are doing is also a big one – many would argue this point but I tend to agree with Mark Earls’ Herd theory and the premise of his latest book “I’ll have what she’s having!”.

And by the way, the ideas behind this post came to me when I was … you guessed it … out for a paddle on Sunday 🙂


GeoffBrown | Gone Supping, How Stuff Spreads & Changes | Comments Off on The social spread of SUP’ing

November 13, 2011

Reflection piece #1 on this week’s BIG gig

Last week I had the priveledge of working in Sydney with a very large room full of people who are passionate about their work. Mostly, they are change-agents in the environmental sustainability space. Some were from health and others from policy. They came from government, private industry and NGO’s. 150 people in all.

This gathering was called the ‘Behaviour Change for Sustainability – National Congress‘ and was hosted by the 3 Pillars Network. Next year it will be staged in Melbourne and my vote for the conference name would be something like … ‘Beyond Behaviour Change: Finding the new edges in our work’.

This week’s event was at the traditional-end of the conference spectrum. Speaking truthfully, I felt there was an overdose on presenters and opportunities for the group to go deep into questions were a bit limited. However, most of the presenters were really good and they kept to time. The facilitated activities were designed to nest between presenters and topics. Group processes like ‘150 Tweets’ and ‘Jumpstart Stories’ helped to build energy (when the group needed it) and they added another dimension to the learning experience.

This event marks the first time I have worked with a team of social media scribes. Their role was to tweet everything they saw/heard and have conversations with participants. Their presence and activities did not distract from the main focus. Mostly, they were invisible and I’ll writing a more detailed post on this aspect of the gathering very soon.

One of the most tweeted moments was this video on flocking Starlings called Murmuration. Matthew Parnell and I designed a quick presentation on Living Systems and Complexity and this video (after a game of Sun & Moon) kicked off our efforts … it’s like magic!

GeoffBrown | Facilitation, How Stuff Spreads & Changes | Comments (4)

June 30, 2011

The 1 and only email newsletter I actually read

As communication via email continues to decline in my world or work, so do the number of email subscriptions. In fact, I take great pleasure in unsubscribing from email lists … it’s almost cathartic!

The DO Lectures have a newsletter that puts the subscriber first. Kindling is simple, elegant and integrates across to Twitter and Instapaper – so when something looks interesting and you wish to ‘Read Later‘, you just click the button. For each article it also gives you a ‘time commitment‘ so you know what you’re in for. This is one newsletter that I will not be unsubscribing from!

Screenshot from my email inbox

Of course, none of this would matter if the Do Lectures were uninteresting and superficial. They offer the world something that is both unique and valuable. Check them out here. Here’s what they are about …

The aim is to spread the knowledge as much and as far as possible. My feeling is that knowledge needs to be shared. Ideas need oxygen. Good ideas spread quickly. Great ideas spread even faster. I believe in ideas.DAVID HIEATT

GeoffBrown | How Stuff Spreads & Changes | Comments Off on The 1 and only email newsletter I actually read

March 24, 2011

Our Mindset, Metal Models and the Human Condition

For the last few years I have been learning more and more about the human condition, our mental models and the mindsets that shape our behaviour and decisions.

Chris Corrigan provides a very nice description of ‘mental models’ in his paper on Participatory Engagement

“Mental models are those frames of reference that define our thinking and how we view the world. They are frames that we take for granted, and to view our own mental models is a bit like trying to see the color of our own eyes without a mirror.”

Because our own models of world are so obscured, we are pretty good at leaving them unexamined … to us they speak the truth. However, for transformational change to occur, the process of questioning our mental models (and underlying assumptions) is a critical step. It’s a process and a conversation we need to engage in more honestly, with ourselves and in groups.

Lessons from Castlemaine 500

Between 2006 and 2008 I lead a community, behaviour change project called Castlemaine 50. You can read about it here.

Because we failed to reach the project energy reduction targets, my own mental models and assumptions about human behaviour change we challenged! For a while the results turned my world upside down, but with wise people around me, I began to ask questions and look for new ways of understanding human behaviour and how stuff spreads and changes through communities.

It’s our mental models and underlying assumptions that need to be challenged and focusing on the behaviour change tools will only produce more the same. So, our project report included a whole section on mental models and mindsets and the headings looked like this …

In this chapter we introduced the concept of ‘Complexity’ by using Dave Snowden’s Cynefin Framework. We explored a different model of change in viewing people as a social species driven to connect and be influenced by those around us – often subconsciously.

3 years on, I am still learning. I am continuing to challenge my own worldviews, which has re shaped the way I facilitate, the way I parent and has increased my ability to pay attention and notice what is happening in the moment. In my consulting work I am challenging clients to explore their own mental models, assumptions and principles. I am supported in this journey by those around including Viv McWaters, Chris Corrigan, Anne Pattillo and Johnnie Moore.

Here are some of the latest videos that have reshaped my own view of the world around me …

1. The 2 Loops Model of How Systems Change from the Berkana Institute

Chris Corrigan introduced me to this model and we ran a session together at the 2010 Show Me The Change conference on this and complexity models. Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze have also written a great paper that explores ‘Emergence’ through Networks, Communities of Practice and Systems of Influence – Titled: The Lifecycle of Emergence

Two Loops: How Systems Change from The Berkana Institute on Vimeo.

2. TED Talk by Brene Browne on The Power of Vulnerability

I loved this presentation and it opens up so many questions about ourselves, our teams and the way we lead.

3. TED Talk by David Brooks on the Social Animal
David explores new insights into human nature from the cognitive sciences with massive implications for economics and politics as well as our own self.

4. Ted Talk by Barry Schwartz on Using our Practical Wisdom
A classic on why ‘Principles and Practices’ are needed in the complex space, rather than the ‘Tools and Rules’ which are effective in simple and complicated spaces.

5. Matthew Taylor explores 21st Century Enlightenment

The focus on our collective ’empathic’ capacity stood out for me in this animated lecture. How do we nurture this capacity in ourselves and in others?

GeoffBrown | How Stuff Spreads & Changes, Lessons from C500, Sustainability | Comments (3)