Tangent Consulting

Archives: 'Leadership'

December 10, 2014

How to work with a complex system – lessons from an Osteopath

Much of my work over the past 12 months has been helping clients and teams of stakeholders to lead the transformation of systems (like food and health systems) and to discover new ways of working and being together – ways that serve us well in the context of complexity and uncertainty. This post weaves together a personal story of with lessons from my work.    

Recently I’ve been struggling with an injury sustained whilst doing a simple stretch at home. When my sterno-clavicualr joint popped out, the effect was an immediate spasm of all the intercostal muscles around the my rib cage. It appeared that the disruption of this single joint caused my whole musculo-skeletal system to seize up, resulting in significant breathing problems and widespread pain. When the joint miraculously ‘popped’ back into place, the relief was as immediate as the onset.

When I look at the diagnosis of this injury through a simple cause-effect (or mechanical) lens, the diagnosis and treatment path would/should look like this …

Over-stretch causes Sterno-clavicular joint to pop-out –> Pop the joint back in and allow any damage 4 to 6 weeks to repair –> Fixed! Simple right?

That makes sense doesn’t it? It’s mechanical after all, like when we break a bone … bone fractures –> have the limb cast (or even plate & screwed for more complicated fractures) –> bone repairs over 6 to 12 weeks –> resume skateboarding!! Well, it’s been 4 weeks since the injury and my progress hasn’t felt quite so simple and linear. Technically, the above linear pathway showing [cause –> effect –> remediation] is an accurate reflection of what has happened. But, I have since learned that the ‘underlying’ cause of the Sternoclavicualr joint injury is far more complex!

The complex process of treatment and rehabilitation begins …

After a couple of session of observations, conversations about pain sites, work habits and past physical/medical history, my Osteopath discovered a complex pattern of underlying, causal factors that contributed to my injury. Together, these factors (like tight hamstrings and assymetrical posture) interact with each other to create an emerging pattern of dysfunction. Translated to English = the many little problems with my body mechanics create weaknesses that make me more vulnerable to injury.  So, like in all complex systems (watch the Wolf in Yellowstone National Park video below) the underlying cause of my sudden injury is not that clearcut. The remediation of these multiple factors is even more complex.

In the field of Complexity, we call these factors ‘Multiple Interdependent Variables’. Multiple being the ‘many’ parts/factors. Interdependent meaning the mutual dependence between parts/factors such as general posture, muscle flexibility/stiffness and even mental state. In my Occupational Therapy career, I discovered long ago that there is great deal of interdependence between our psychology and physical functioning.


Osteopaths understand how to work with complex patterns of physical dysfunction

Now that my Osteopath has a better understanding of my particular challenges, she has begun hands-on treatment supported by a home exercise program. The first thing she said was that there is “no quick fix for you Geoff”. She also said there were many ways of tackling my problems and that she would start with a combination of interventions including deep tissue massage, dry needling, passive & active stretching/resisting exercises. She explained her theory using anatomical diagrams and it made good sense. But she also admitted it was impossible to know what effect these multiple interventions would have on my pain levels or postural/structural alignment – “We’ll have to watch closely and see what happens” … “What works with 1 person doesn’t necessarily work with another” were some of the things I heard her say.

Recently, after a series of stretches and dry needling, I hear her say “Oooh look! That did something … your hips are now more aligned in standing, but in lying they remain imbalanced? Ok, let’s now try this …”

In Complexity (using the language of Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge), my Osteo was probing my system (i.e. my body) with a few safe-to-fail treatment options to see/notice what would happen. They are safe-to-fail because if dry-needling doesn’t appear to work,  I’m not going to be left incapacitated and we try something else. This way of working is rapid and iterative and produces immediate feedback loops. This allows us to sense if something works (or doesn’t) and from that learning we quickly respond by trying something else or doing more of the same.

In sum … my Osteopath’s way of treating my complex set of interdependent problems is to Probe -> Sense -> Respond … then Probe -> Sense -> Respond … and so on. This iterative process can happen within a single treatment session or across a few sessions.


Applying this way of working to other arenas of life

No therapist can predict what difference a specific treatment (or set of treatments) will have on complex problems like the one I have described. There is no strategic plan and we don’t know the outcomes in advance. The only way to make progress is to ‘do something’ and interact or disrupt part of the system (my body). That action (no matter how small) produces some sort of emergent effect or change – it’s emergent because of the relationships between the different parts of my body. The task is then to watch closely and quickly measure/discover what happens. Armed with a better understanding of the system itself you then respond.

The whole point of this post is to point our that most of our big challenges like tackling obesity and creating resilient communities are highly complex. Complex social challenges are defined by 3 characteristics:

The situation is emergent (1) and as a result … there is constant flow of information (2) to negotiate and this means … actors are constantly adapting their behaviour (3).

Too often we treat these complex challenges as if they are complicated or simple. We assume that we know the outcomes of our actions and we pay little attention what is really happening in the system itself. Many clients I work with have little time for experimentation and work in risk adverse cultures where failure is taboo. Funders of project teams tackling complex challenges still want to know plans and how actions will produce desired outcomes. And at the end of the project we (play the game) and write reports back to funders that somehow shows how our project lead directly to the pre determined outcomes.

Deep down, we all know that the emergent, unexpected impacts of our work are often the most important things to pay attention to. If we are lucky, we will have a funder that allows iterative changes to our plan as the project unfolds. In very rare cases, funders will even allow the pre determined outcomes to change in response to our early project learning.


What else to read & watch

This post was inspired by Chris Corrigan’s post –> Back from a Cynefin Deep Dive.  If you want to learn more about complexity and a very cool decision making model called the Cynefin Framework, dig into Chris’ post and the embedded links to other goodness.

Also, please watch this video on how Wolves change the course of rivers in Yellowstone National Park. Taking the wolf as a metaphor … what could the ‘wolf’ represent in the system that you work in?



GeoffBrown | Leadership, Living Systems & Complexity | Comments (1)

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 – – 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.”



GeoffBrown | Brain Science & Research, Community & Belonging, Facilitation, Leadership | Comments Off on SCARF for social activists

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 on Teachings and lessons from life on the road

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.


GeoffBrown | Facilitation, Gone Supping, Leadership, Yes!And Improv | Comments Off on Settling in to a new pattern of living

February 7, 2013

When you lead … criticism follows

Being an active contributor in a small community is a fascinating subject! You could write a book about it!!

Over the past 12 months I’ve dived into the Parent Committee at our local primary school (aka Parent Club) and taken a co-lead role with 3 mums. As with much of my working life, I find myself the only man actively involved in the community building space.

Last year our new committee found our feet, tightened up some policies and, like in previous years, took the lead on some important initiatives and fund raising activities. The co-leadership idea that I pushed hard for worked really well. There was always 1 person to step and lead when others became too busy with life. We did good … without being great. We changed some stuff, and as you’d expect, copped some flack from others in the community. As Seth Godin says in one of my favorite posts … “If you are not being criticized, then you are not leading!” Criticism and leadership are intertwined like innovation and failure.

One area of intense criticism and community ‘rumor-milling’ that I did not expect was our effort to set up an After School Care (ASC) Profram. Identified as the #1 need by large parts of the school community, a small group within Parent Club (and others) worked tirelessly to broker a deal with Camp Australia, the Surf Coast Shire and the Aireys Community Hall. After more than 1/3 of families at the school ‘showed up’ late year to a registration session, it starts next Monday!

So why is school care needed in Aireys Inlet – a small, coastal village nearly an hour from the nearest big town (Geelong)? And why has ASC created rumor, innuendo and dissent in our community? I don’t have answers, but I have a few opinions.

So why is ASC needed down here? Ok, imagine you are a young mum with 2 children in prep and grade 2. You are desperate to gain a university qualification so that you can have a career in your 30’s and beyond. Your husband works and school pickup (at 3pm) 2 days a week is not possible with your study timetable. Or imagine you are a single mum struggling to make ends meet. You’ve got one child and have an opportunity to work 3 days a week in Geelong to help make ends meet. But your job finishes at 5pm. Without a reliable and accountable ASC Program, neither woman can pursue their goals.

The examples above are fiction, but very close to some local truths. The fact is, very few families down here have family support for the 1 or 2 days they need their kids picked up from school – those that have family support are blessed. And this is a community that, more than most, sees friends step up and look after each other’s kids when needed. I love that local support about this community and I’ve written plenty about it in the past. However (and this is my opinion), you simply can’t rely on friends 2 days a week, 40 weeks of a year so that you can work or study.

As for the rumor mill and criticism … it comes with the territory and I’m not going to even share my opinions because they are probably wrong and based on false assumptions! In Parent Club last year, it is clear that we did not communicate clearly enough or often enough. The program funding model evolved and underwent many iterations … and met its share of roadblocks going through school council. It’s re-taught me how tough communicating something new like this is. On the surface it seems simple, but it is complex and felt like a journey of 3 steps forward and then 3 steps back. Little by little, with perseverance and commitment from a select few, ASC is now a reality for this little community.

So, as the Parent Club AGM approaches and I put my hand up to co-lead once again, my 2012 experience of success and failure makes me a little wiser. One thing is for sure, I’ll be sticking to my main principle for working in committees – learned by working alongside the wonderful Viv Mcwaters – “By working together and supporting each other in this committee, we will have fun, make each other look good and we all end up closer friends at end than when we started.” Now that a principle to live into!!

GeoffBrown | Community & Belonging, Leadership | Comments Off on When you lead … criticism follows

August 2, 2012


How well do you listen? It’s a practice that I have to continually work on in all aspects of life – as a parent, partner, friend, family and consultant. Like with most of us, my attention tends to drift toward my thoughts, ideas and next thing I want to say. With discipline and practice I have learned to really listen when facilitating groups. Here are some other people and ideas who have taught me about the art of listening:

Chris Corrigan and listening – I have developed some habits and techniques that turn my attention toward the group. Lately I’ve been practicing this simple breathing technique that Chris Corrigan writes about here. Chris’ technique helps me to tune into the “sound” of the group conversation and provides another way of reading the dynamics between people in the room.

Herman Hesse and listening – I have just read Hermanne Hesse’s Siddhartha. A character named Vasudeva the Ferryman teaches Siddhartha the art of listening. Siddhartha feels the joy and connection that comes from being listened to. I just love Hesse’s words in this passage …

“Vasudeva listened with great attentiveness. He took in everything as he listened, origins and childhood, all the learning, all the searching, all the joy, all the suffering. This was one of the greatest amoung the ferryman’s virtues: He had mastered the art of listening. Although Vasudeva himself did not utter a word, it was clear to the one speaking that each of his words was being allowed to enter into his listener, who sat there quietly, openly, waiting: not a single word was disregarded or met with impatience: Vasudeva attached neither praise nor blame to what he heard but merely listened. Siddhartha felt what a joy it was to be able to confide in such a listener, to entrust his life, his searching, his sorrow, to this welcoming heart” p. 88 

Theodore Zeldin and listening – I have been learning a lot about listening by applying a principle to every conversation I’m in. The principle is this … “I am willing to emerge a slightly different person from this conversation with you”. When you start a conversation with this principle in mind, it is amazing what you hear from the other person. This mindset helps me to be still, quiet and attentive. There is a richness to the conversation that is lacking when I am swept up by my own thoughts and inner voice. I learned this principle in working alongside David Gurteen who shared this quote by historian Theodore Zeldin

 “The kind of conversation I’m interested in is one in which you start with a willingness to emerge a slightly different person.” Theodore Zeldin.



Johnnie Moore and listening – A few years ago friend and co-conspirator Johnnie Moore taught me a phrase that has stuck with me … Notice More, Change Less. It’s the idea if limiting your interventions and not playing the role of outside expert in trying to make stuff happen. Johnnie has taught me to simply “support what is emerging from within the system, not operating on it as the cold outsider.” In his Change This manifesto with James Cherkoff, he builds on this idea of a willingness to be changed in our interactions …

“In the world of improvised theatre, which inspires a lot of our thinking, the player who tries too hard to drive the narrative is accused of scriptwriting. The one who tries to tell jokes is encouraged to stop gagging. The real skill in performance is to fully take on the offers of the other players and be changed by them. Then what you offer back is likely to develop the drama.”

Viv McWaters and listening – A willingness to “emerge a slightly different person” opens up learning possibilities in every interaction. It’s not about agreeing with everything either … sometimes the lesson is simply that other people hold a different point of view to me. In Applied Improvisation we apply the principle of Accepting Offers. Saying ‘Yes And’ builds on what the other person offers. It means that others walk away from conversations knowing they have been heard and understood. This “knowing I’ve been heard” outcome is critically important in building relationships and trust. Viv McWaters writes about this principle here and says

“Adopting a ‘yes, and…’ mindset is all about accepting offers. You don’t need to like the offer, or even follow-through. It’s about the initial moment of acceptance rather than rejection. It’s about seeing that there’s more to making a choice than it’s either this or it’s either that. It’s about noticing the offer in what others say and do. Sometimes it’s hard to notice an offer – it’s a small offer, or it’s tentative, or it’s hidden amongst a whole lot of noise. Make big offers yourself. Notice the offer in what others say and do.

To accept is such a gift. To be accepted is such an honour.” Viv McWaters

So, here’s my offer to you and reminder for me … during the next conversation you have with someone (anyone), experiment with these listening principles. I’d love to hear what you notice and learn from this!



GeoffBrown | Being Present, Facilitation, Gone Supping, Leadership, Yes!And Improv | Comments (1)

May 29, 2012

An Invitation to Thrive

At it’s heart, the Thriving in Uncertainty Conference is a collaboration between Melbourne Playback Theatre & an international community known as AIN (Applied Improvisational Network) – the first regional conference to be staged in Australia.

Our hosts and diverse array of presenters will be sharing their vast knowledge and experience sothat you can explore the power and transformative nature of improvisational approaches.

It’s a two-day conference to inspire, educate and enthuse – in your workplace and community.

When – Thrs 12 & Fri 13 July, 2012

Where – Amora Hotel Riverwalk, Melbourne AUSTRALIA
649 Bridge Road, Richmond, VIC 3121

The premise of Thriving in Uncertainty

If we embrace the idea that an organisation is a living ecosystem, rather than a mechanistic model, how would we work with that larger consciousness? Paul Plsek likens this difference to that between throwing a stone and throwing a live bird (1). The trajectory of the stone can be calculated precisely using the mechanical laws of physics. The trajectory of the bird is emergent and far less predictable! The question is whether we can genuinely embrace this shift in perspective and add a layer of living tissue to the organisational machine.


(1) T.Bentley and J.Wilsdon 2003, ‘Introduction:The Adaptive State’, in T.Bentley and J.Wilsdon (eds) – The Adaptive State— Strategies for Personalising the Public Realm, Demos, London, p. 26.

The good news is that we don’t need to abandon everything we currently do. When dealing with technical problems, we still need efficient management, expertise and best practice processes. But on their own, rational, linear and individually-generated solutions are not up to the task. It’s not enough to just bring our brains to work. We need to access and apply our whole intelligence to problem-solving, creativity and innovation, especially in the face of global and local social and environmental issues.

The premise of this conference is that Applied Improvisation is a key driver for business and organisational success during times of uncertainty and change. Ironically, we all know how to improvise, but most of us spend too much time planning and never get to the improvisation part! And when you look at the cutting edge of business today, the most pioneering and successful companies are moving in exactly that direction. Their leaders know that innovation comes from a careful balance of planning and improvisation. By applying improv, their people are cultivating strong relationships and are being creative with limited resources. These organisations are deeply fulfilling to work with, enrich the communities they serve and are able to thrive in uncertainty.

Since being introduced to Applied Improv 5 years ago, it’s principles have reshaped the way I facilitate, parent and live life. In practice, applying improv has connected me to a deeper self, an authentic part of me that I never knew existed.

Some of my clients have joined me on this learning journey and a couple are coming to Thriving in Uncertainty on July 12 & 13. This gathering will bring together leaders, executives and managers, entrepreneurs, learning and development facilitators, trainers and educators, consultants and coaches – I can’t think of a better way to discover our inherent leadership capacities and go to the edges of our learning and development.

My Part in this Design

I have played a part in the design this conference with the Applied Improv Network (AIN) and Melbourne Playback Theatre. I am also offering a conference workshop titled Re-imagining Organisations as Living Systems.

I invite you to learning laboratory that explores questions like:

  • What if we think of organisations as living ecosystems? How would that change what we do and how we lead?
  • How can we learn from each other and our own experiences?
  • What can applied improv offer us as we try new ways of thinking and interacting?

These same questions are being explored in Montreal (Canada) in June this year. Thrivability Montreal brings together business leaders to explore new ways of thinking about and working in organisations. Our group will learn directly from the Montreal conversations. In fact, the design of this workshop is a collaboration between me and the Thrivability Montreal Network. I will integrate the key insights and examples of how organisations are applying improv to thrive in uncertainty and change.

Belina Raffy (below left) and Michelle Holliday are the hosts of the Thrivability Montreal Camp next month. I recently interviewed them and recorded this podcast. In the 3rd part of the podcast, we talk about the links between Thrivability Montreal and Thriving in Uncertainty. The key insights from Montreal will filter down to this workshop in Melbourne.

Belina’s Pecha Kucha presentation is also a good one to watch. In 6 minutes and 40 seconds, she describes her provocative proposition that Improv Can Save the World!

GeoffBrown | Leadership, Living Systems & Complexity, Yes!And Improv | Comments (1)

December 15, 2011

Leading from within community

There is lot’s happening in my local community and that’s where my energy has been directed lately. It feels like there has been an explosion of local, community issues. Wonderful ideas have also emerged and I have noticed a great deal of leadership from within our community – I have been working at the edges in whatever way I can.

Tomorrow night it’s my turn to play a lead role. I am co-hosting a conversation that is centred on a question of Need – “What does our school community need from the Parent Club in 2012?” The other question I like is this one – “What is the need that Parent Club can uniquely meet?”. Beyond the questions, we have invited this conversation to take place at the newly opened local pub. There will be no butchers paper or post it notes or marker pens. I am hoping it will feel like a conversation amoung friends. Whoever come are the right people and whatever happens …

Hosting these conversations whilst inside the content, with my own points of view, will be challenging. I am sure to learn a lot … Just like I did a couple of months ago when I was a participant at a government lead workshop. That experience lead to this post called ‘When facilitation is insulting‘.

GeoffBrown | Being Present, Community & Belonging, Facilitation, Leadership | Comments Off on Leading from within community

September 16, 2011

Watching, learning & subconsciously imitating

I spent some precious time with my dad yesterday, he is very unwell and we shared some memories and stories. We looked through photos of my 3 boys and reflected on family holidays when I was a boy.

Afterwards, I reflected on some of dad’s words and counsel. In his own way, he reminded me that my own boys are always watching me. Learning from me. Imitating my own behaviour and reactions to events – the good, bad and the ugly. We all have a blind spot when it comes to the influence that our actions, no matter how small, have on those around us.

Lee Lefeever pointed this Western Australian road safety advert yesterday (see below). For most of us, there nothing new here but a very timely reminder. We have just come back from 3 glorious weeks away in Fiji. They have something called ‘Fiji Time’ … which is slow, happy and welcoming. We have been home for a week, and I am noticing everything quicken – my thoughts, actions, speech, eating. Rushing here, rushing there. Losing sight of those small moments when my son asks me a question or points to something he has achieved. What does he see in me and my response?

So here are some questions to hold for fathers, mothers, leaders and friends …

Who is watching, learning and imitating you?

What is one behaviour (particularly those automated responses to certain situations) that you are not proud of? One that you wish to change so that those around you see the real you – I can think of plenty.

How do we remember to breathe deeply even when events are spinning around us?

And from Fijian culture … Smile, welcome others and slow down.

GeoffBrown | Being Present, Just observations, Leadership | Comments Off on Watching, learning & subconsciously imitating

July 1, 2011

Beam Me Up Scotty!

Imagine a world where most people think that life’s events are largely predictable. A world where people believe that planning, expert analysis, centralized control and risk assessments will smooth out the bumps of unpredictability … and ensure that predetermined targets are hit. Sound familiar?

Now imagine a world where the universal human tendency is to ‘be prepared for the unexpected’ … because that’s life! In this world, planning is still done, but is balanced by the formation of improvisational teams – teams that emerge in response to what is happening in the moment.

In this world, the term ‘script think’ existed last century … simply because most people and moved on and understand the complexity of life! This universal human mindset creates the conditions (and permission) for experimentation, inefficiencies and duplication. In this world, mistakes are made often and are more common than the hits … but the hits can be exceptional and groundbreaking.

Creative organizations, communities and government agencies are everywhere and society is thriving. When people gather to talk about stuff that matters, they know how to listen to each other and they invite dissent into the room. People know that the best ideas emerge over time and come from diverse groups … and not from clever individuals.

When ideas emerge, groups are happy to act on them even if they are not fully understood. As a result, these groups value the surprising questions that come from inquiry and experimentation. In this world, conferences that discover new questions and problems are highly valued … even if consensus and a clear action plan doesn’t happen.

In this world, BIG, hairy and complex problems remain. The uncertainty of the future is as alive as the world that I write from. Despite the ‘seriousness’

So BEAM ME UP SCOTTY … to a world where improvisation and innovation reign. To a world where authors like Keith Sawyer are household names. Where books like Group Genius have been built upon by a generation of writers, academics and practitioners.

Oh, and by the way, at conferences we turn our lunches into a Social Object – HT to Nancy White for posting this gem of an idea. And here’s a description of TEDx Edmonton lunch …

“Lunch was next on the schedule and as with the rest of TEDxEdmonton it was anything but ordinary. Instead of individual lunches, groups of five or six people were given a wooden box filled with sandwiches, salads, drinks, and treats and were encouraged to eat together. Most groups ended up outside where the sun was shining and the streets were packed for the Edmonton Pride Parade. It was great to see discussions happening all over the place. Kudos to Elm Café andDuchess Bake Shop for the delicious food and the creative presentation!”


GeoffBrown | Creative Stuff, Leadership, Yes!And Improv | Comments Off on Beam Me Up Scotty!