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Archives: 'Yes!And Improv'

March 19, 2012

A truly extraordinary moment of community & music

Please watch the full 3 minute video below … you will be moved, as we’re the 1000 people watching! Once Sam get’s singing it really takes off!

But first, let me set the scene with a story about Community …

It’s the Monday morning after the 5th annual Aireys Open Mic Music Festival and our community has celebrated another magical festival – with the tag line “It’s All About The Music”.

This festival attracts thousands of music lovers, but it’s not the numbers that’s important … the vibe and sense of community it supports is amazing. This time last year, the Aireys Inlet Pub closed it’s doors. Our festival was on shaky ground – with it’s infrastructure and facilities we couldn’t host this many people. Everyone wondered what Marty Maher (the idea man who dreamt up this event and runs 90% of it) would do in response. As it turned out, Marty let others respond and save the festival.

Then one day, a local consortium banded together, pooled their resources and skills and bought the pub. For most in our community, it felt like the whole town had taken ownership of it’s iconic hotel. Our festival, our main meeting place, part of our history and soul was reclaimed.

Then in October last year co-publican, Tim Wood (who features in the video below) orchestrated one of the most remarkable building projects I have witnessed. Over a frantic 10 week period, he brought together scores of local tradies to completely rebuild the inside of the pub and give the shell a transformational facelift. Our community was excited, but skeptical that they could even get close to a pre Christmas opening!

We were wrong, the pub had it’s local opening night in mid December. Not everything was done, but they had rebuilt and staffed a large kitchen, rebuilt 70% of the inside, transformed the exterior and jumped countless of licensing and red tape hurdles imaginable. Opening night was abuzz with excitement and pride. This was ‘our place’.

Since Christmas, Tim and co. have continued the rebuild. The back-room is now a full band room with a capacity to seat over 250 for dinner and many more without tables and chairs. Their is a vision to make this room an iconic live music venue on the coast … I have no doubt it will be realized.

This year’s Open Mic Music Festival was (again) a huge success and staged 180 acts on 9 stages across our town – with 20 separate acts in the back room on Friday and Saturday nights. To get a feel for what it looked like you can see pics at our Facebook page and our Twitter stream

In past year’s, our mystery guest acts have been the big highlight. They have included Colin Hay and band, Dan Sultan and this year’s mystery was none other than Tim Rogers. All were generous and performed brilliantly. This year Tim managed to captivate everyone with his whimsical charm, lyrics and unique voice.

BUT THIS YEAR … THIS ACT CAME ALONG!!

Inspired by the Gotye cover featured here on You Tube (by band Walk off the Earth), Tim Wood’s youngest son (Sam), inspired dad and older brother (Luke) to work out their own version … then perform it at our festival.

All 3 boys are humble, gracious, superbly talented and are motivated by 1 thing … an absolute love of music, family and community. The feeling in the Main Stage Marquee was joyous. Everyone was smiling (some moved to tears), beaming, shining and uplifted by a performance that drew everyone together in a single breath.

Thanks to Paul Barry who posted this recording to You Tube today!

GeoffBrown | Community & Belonging, Creative Stuff, Music, Yes!And Improv | Comments Off on A truly extraordinary moment of community & music

February 2, 2012

The ‘lighter’ side of ‘yes’

Last week I worked with a small team of people working within a rather large organisation. During the afternoon session, I introduced them to Improv Theatre – we played a little and explored how they might apply Improv Principles to the way they work. I also used the totally brilliant Improv cards that Viv McWaters has produced – read about a few of the principles here at Viv’s blog.

I started the workshop by inviting participants to share something about the New Year … more specifically, sharing any thoughts they had on new year goals, resolutions, themes – BIG-do’s, little Do’s, achievements, changes, start-ups and even things to bury-with-honour. As they were talking, it got me thinking about my hopes for 2012. Two words came to mind … “Light” and “Yes”.

The word ‘enlightened’ used to scare me a little … until a Buddhist friend of mind pointed out the word “light” in the middle of it. In his teachings, the light-heartedness part of being Buddhist is fundamental.

The ‘Yes‘ is not about agreement. It’s about listening to others more and being open to their ideas and opinions. “Yes” is also about not saying “No” so much of the time – particularly to my kids when they ask me something! It comes directly from the improv principle of Accepting Offers – Yes!And.

So these 2 little words have become questions that I will attempt to hold in 2012. These questions may change but I have them in places I can refer to and reflect on.

The ‘light’ question(s) … “How can I live a little ‘lighter’ in 2012?”. “Where could a more smiling demeanour and softer approach show up this year?”. “What would it look and feel like to bring a lighter side of myself to even the most serious of conversations and issues?”.

The ‘yes’ question(s) … “What adventures would come my way if I said yes more often?”. “How can I remind myself of Yes!And, particulalry when my initial reaction is No!?”. “If I make a habit of saying ‘Yes’, I wonder what effect that has on those around me?”.

If I manage to take even a few steps toward the ‘lighter side of yes’, I think I’ll be happier … as will those who surround me.

GeoffBrown | Yes!And Improv | Comments (2)

November 30, 2011

Vulnerability and Applying Improv

I have written about Vulnerability before, in the context of change and mental models. In this post titled Our Mindset, Mental Models and the Human Condition, I pointed to a great TEDx talk be Brene Brown on Vulnerability. I invite you to watch it if you haven’t already.

Recently I attended the Story Conference in Melbourne – hosted by the wonderful Andrew Rixon. At the conference I was fortunate enough to have my story played back me by Melbourne Playback Theatre. My story fitted the theme of taking Creative Methods to our work and I revealed my inner fears about the first few times I brought improv methods to group facilitation. My story was about being vulnerable, leaning into my own fears and confronting my assumptions.

Last night at the Queenscliff Music Festival I had a realisation (or a re-realisation!). I noticed that the performers who stood out (the ones with that little magic), allowed some human frailty to creep in. They probably had a set-list of songs, but they wandered from any kind of script. When the audience made an offer, they accepted it. In their conversation with the audience they revealed their human side and didn’t try to cover things up when they forgot the words. My wife described them as being authentic, rather than polished and professional. I think these rare performers have grown comfortable with revealing their own story and their own vulnerabilities – even when it’s in the moment on stage!

As an audience at a music festival, we respond to a musician’s authenticity in the same way we respond to the ‘humanness’ we sense when an Improv Troupe co-creates a story without a script. When most people imagine themselves on stage improvising without a script, they say things like, “I could never do that! The thought of that is terrifying!” But, as we know, with a little practice, anyone is capable of improvising.

My friend Chris Corrigan recently wrote something that could be applied to any practitioner – facilitator, leader, performer, whoever …

“Action comes from accepting offers. When an offer comes to you you can accept it or block it. Blocking it kills the action. Accepting it moves it forward. When we are working in complexity, waiting for the failsafe plan leads to inaction because there are more blocks than acceptances. In contrast diving into a safe fail mindset means committing to action and refining it as you go.”

When you are in the spotlight, Accepting Offers takes courage and it might make you feel vulnerable – and open to criticism. Don’t worry though, people watching you might just glimpse the authentic-you. Accepting Offers, vulnerability and authenticity are intwined and create fertile ground for empathy and connection between minds.

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

October 17, 2011

5Rhythms & Flow

Last Tuesday night I went dancing! Not to a nightclub and not to a structured form of dance like Flamenco, Ballroom or Swing. It was a practice of dance known as The 5Rhythms. The classes have a host/facilitator to hold the space and invite participants to move, play and interact. In my case, the facilitator is a long time friend of mine, David Jurianz.

Whilst I am intensely interested in the application of improv, movement and music to my facilitation work, I didn’t attend this workshop to figure out some magical formulae of how I can “apply it”. I showed up to have some fun and learn something about myself. Simply letting-go and noticing what my body has to offer is a beautiful zone. But, my inner voice (the ego, self 1, whatever …) was loud at times, telling me that I couldn’t dance and questioning whether I was ‘doing it’ right. How much better life would be if we could learn to trust our body, our gut, heart and instinct … rather than the judging, rational self.

So here’s more of what I experienced …

Picture this, you walk into a very large (and beautiful) hall. People begin to drift in and some are talking, but most are stretching and moving around the space on their own. Then within minutes, you look up from your own stretching and the place is nearly full. The music starts – almost nightclub volume but the choice of music is both intriguing and catchy. David, looking like a DJ behind a music desk, encouraged us to move, dance and use the space however we like. Then the session really begins.

So far so good. Like I said above, I admit to feeling nervous and at times a bit awkward with my own movement. “Am I doing it right?” I heard myself saying. Soon after some calming words from David (things like), “There is no right or wrong … go at your own pace … move how you feel and stay open to change … know that everything alive has a dance, and your only task is to find and express yourself. And remember, excessive seriousness may slow you down!”

And now quoting from the session handout I picked up at the front door …

The 5Rhythms comprise a simple movement practice designed to release the dancer that ;lives in every body, no matter its shape, size, age, limitations and experience. To find your dance is to find yourself at you at your most fluid and creative level.

The five rhythms are: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. They come together to create the Wave, a movement meditation practice. Rather than having steps to follow, each rhythm is a different  energy field in which you find your own expression and choreography, thereby stretching you imagination as well as your body. Each rhythm is a teacher and you can expect to meet different and sometimes unknown aspects of yourself as your dance unfolds and your practice of the rhythms deepens over time.

In sum … I had a great night! I felt physical worked and realised how fit dancers are. As I walked away, I also felt a ‘lightness’ and a fluidity that I didn’t have when I arrived a few hours earlier. I want to go back for more.

On Reflection … the application of movement to work

Viv has posted this about what The New Scientist has to say about the importance of movement – Your clever body: Thinking from head to toe (paywalled). Johnnie chimes in here with his own analysis and says …

“It (The New Scientist) lists lots of experiments that demonstrate how powerfully our thinking is linked to feelings and challenges the conventional idea that our body is there to carry out the preconceived notions of our brains.

It looks at a series of curious experiments, including one that suggests the physical act of smiling is more a cause of our feeling happy than the other way round.

It’s further evidence that having meetings where people mostly sit still and listen to presentations is a shocking use of our potential; movement can significantly change the way we think.”

So, Johnnie and I are both with Viv when she says …

“So in designing meetings, we should be thinking about how to accommodate our bodies, as well as our brains; how to intersperse periods of thinking and struggling with ideas and solutions, with movement and activities.”

I’ll go a step further

I agree that designing movement and games into our meetings, workshops is important – the scientific research is saying the same! However, we need to extend this notion to the broader culture of our workplace (and our lives).

I still fall into the trap of separating out the ‘deep thinking and struggling’ workshop processes with movement-based activities. I think we have some notion that they are a good warm-up or ‘brain-gym’ activity for the brain. Maybe its the integration of movement/play with rational/serious thinking that is needed. It’s why I am fan of simple activities like Walking-Talking meetings.

This integration of physical movement, activity and play also needs to be extended beyond the realm of the ‘facilitated workshop’. Our workplaces need it built into the spaces and the way we run our businesses.

5Ryhthms in Melbourne

By the way, if you are interested in trying this out for yourself, here are the contact details:

5Rhythms Dance®

Tuesday nights : 7.30pm – 9.30pm

St Brigids Parish Hall : Corner Nicholson St and Alexander Pde, Nth Fitzroy

Off street parking is available (enter off Nicholson St) and tram no 96 stops out the front. Bring a bottle of drinking water, layers of clothes and soft dancing shoes.

$15

Meredith and David
5Rhythms Dance®
dance5rhythms@bigpond.com


GeoffBrown | Being Present, Creative Stuff, Facilitation, Yes!And Improv | Comments (4)

September 19, 2011

First time parenting

How much can you prepare first time parents for the journey that lies ahead of them? How useful is ‘having a plan’ for the first 12 months of your baby’s life? These are 2 questions that came to me as I thought about our journey (the trials and tribulations so far!) with 3 boys.

We did make plans and we definitely stuck to some plans that we should have abandoned. But, for whatever reason, most of our plans were like a sand sculpture at the beach. We could change them ourselves in response to what was happening, or the incoming tide (external forces) would reshape them anyway. When it came to balancing our time between work and home, knew that our plans (and goals) were like little experiments and we expected them to change – this approach became our mindset.

We also had contingencies and exit strategies. When it came it finances we built-in worst-case scenarios. For instance, when we borrowed money for the home renovation (when our first child was 15 months old), we assumed that we would only have 1 income and interest rates could go as high as 12%. We only borrowed as much as these contingencies allowed.

In reality, Ingrid was able to go back to work a day or two a week between children. However, you just never know what card will be played next … you can’t connect the dots into the future. Sick toddlers and ill health or lack of child services were a couple of ‘incoming tides’ that we couldn’t predict.

So whatever your plans are, for whatever part of your life, chances are your plans will change in response to what’s going on around you. Healthy doses of humility, reflection and openness will provide a great platform. Go ahead and plan for the future … at times you have to! But always assume that ‘shit will happen’. Invite in the ‘unexpected’, stay open to ’emergence’ and learn to ‘improvise’.

This post builds on previous post along a similar theme …

Improv when parenting

GeoffBrown | Yes!And Improv | Comments Off on First time parenting

September 11, 2011

The Status Games we all play

Here’s a little post I wrote when away on a remote island in Fiji recently …

Last night I witnessed a classic example of how ‘status’ can get in the way of daily interactions we have each other.

The Set Up

Whilst sitting at a table eating dinner and noticed a tall western man (let’s call him Andrew) and a Fijian resort worker (let’s call him Tevita) almost collide with each other at a doorway that they were both walking toward – they were both blindsided.

The Initial Reaction

As witness, I nearly dropped my fork as they almost collided … Tevita carrying a very large stack of dinner plates and glasses. Both men stopped with fright, teetered for a moment and then smiled at each other with relief. I must say, I shared their relief as I watch this event unfold.

After you … No no, after you!

I couldn’t hear the exchange of words from my table, but their body language made it clear. Here’s what happened next …

Tevita said, “After you” with a typically broad, Fijian smile. Andrew replied, “No no, after you” – All was still friendly so soon after the near collision.

A this point, the mood shifted and became a little uncomfortable – again I could sense this shift from the other side of the room.

Tevita took a small step away from the door and again said (something like), “It was I who could not see, after you my friend.”

Andrew’s body language shifted dramatically at this point and it was clear that he was not going to walk through the door first. He also took a small step back from the door and his then arms folded across his chest. He spoke briefly and probably said, “No … I insist, after you.”

Status Games

By this stage, the status game was in full flight. I had embodied the tension of the exchange and I’ll admit to muttering under my breath, “Just go through the doorway first … he is just doing his job!”

Andrew’s shift in status was quite dramatic. His body language and posture started out just like Tevita’s. But he (for whatever reason) decided that Tevita was to accept his offer to go first. It appeared to me that Andrew had turned this into a win-lose exchange where the loser goes first. As he folded his arms, deliberately and slowly, he also gain an inch or two in height. His light, smiling face became sterner and his eyebrows raised.

Tevita could see the change as well. His own body language revealed a man in conflict. His shoulders slumped as Andrew’s stiffened. His smile remained but his face had that ‘backed into a corner’ look about it.

Soon after, Tevita walked through the doorway first, smiling and I saw him mouth the word “Vinaka”, which means thank-you. Andrew’s arm remained folded and he nodded as Tevita walked through the door. Andrew had the look of a man who had won a battle … his body language said it all and more.

My reflections and interpretations

Witnessing this 30 second exchange actually got me quite worked up. I felt sorry for Tevita and some resentment toward Andrew. It appeared to me that Andrew was incapable of walking in Tevita’s shoes and see the situation from Tevita’s viewpoint. Had he done so, he would have humbly accepted Tevita’s invitation to walk through the doorway first.

The next day, Andrew and I happened to be at the bar ordering a beer at the same time. I sparked up a conversation and discovered that Andrew is the General Manager of a big dairy business in New Zealand. When I revealed my profession, he turned his gaze to the ocean and politely indicated (and I quote) “we have tried that facilitation stuff in the past but it just doesn’t work for us … we know what we want.” And with statement, he appeared to lose interest in me and said, “Enjoy your beer”.

Wow! This guy really knows how to make others feel worthless! I’m glad that Tevita and myself don’t have to work for him.

I’ve learned a lot about the concept of Status from Improv Theatre through Viv McWaters and Johnnie Moore. These lessons are observable in every day interactions … the holy grail is learning to observe and reflect on our own status games. Like many, I have some significant blind-spots here.

GeoffBrown | Being Present, Uncategorized, Yes!And Improv | Comments (1)

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!”

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

June 29, 2011

Working at the edges

Viv McWaters has been my mentor, colleague, co-conspirator and friend for many years now. Viv has a knack of seeing beyond the ‘established norms’ of facilitation and create new ways of working from out beyond the horizon – its quite inspirational.

Viv is a pioneer of Open Space, action methods and in the application of Improv Theatre to facilitation (and life).

In recent times, Viv and Johnnie Moore have been breaking new ground in world of facilitation and facilitation training. Together, they have been working at the edge and applying lessons from improv theatre, neurological sciences, psychology, systems biology, design thinking and a host of other fields. We know from quantum physics that when fields (which are intangible) intersect, new stuff (tangible and observable) is created. We can’t control it, predict it or know when/where the new stuff will emerge … and that’s the discomfort of being at the edge.

In my heart of hearts, I know that Viv, Johnnie and a whole global network of connected people (you know who you are) are collectively cracking a huge nut … disrupting the status quo and creating the conditions for new systems and ways of working together to emerge.

It’s exciting times!

Ever the optimist, Geoff 🙂

PS. Viv, by the looks of both our blogs tonight … maybe we co-discovered our Mojo’s today?

GeoffBrown | Creative Stuff, Facilitation, Yes!And Improv | Comments (1)

May 14, 2011

Divergent ideas form a Convergent whole

My last post described a game called Werewolf that I hosted for a group of people who, collectively, comprise an organisation. I worked with this team of people for 2 days. Day 1 was playful and Day 2 allowed the group to reflect on it’s own purpose and principles of working together.

Here are a set of resources that informed my processes and some of the thinking skills I brought to the group.

On Day 1 we played applied Improv games and learnt through a process of immersion in direct experience

Direct References – these ideas were shared directly with the group

1. Mindsight ideas from the work of Dr Daniel Siegel

2 rules that help to underpin Mindsight

Rule #1
Being open to sensations in our bodies – gut, heart, head is a powerful source of knowledge
These sensations shape the way we make rational decisions
Being open to sub cortical sources is needed for clear mindsight
Rule #2
Relationships are woven into the fabric of our interior world
We come to know our our minds through our interactions with others and act quickly often without awareness
Mindsight allows us to gain clarity about thes rapid sensations and information and gain new clarity about who we are

A podcast with Dr Daniel Siegel describing the Wheel of Awareness

An interview with Dr Daniel Siegel describing Mindfulness and Mindsight

2. Inner Game ideas from the work of Timothy Gallwey

On the tennis court, we practiced the art of ‘noticing’ the ball when throwing and catching in pairs. One group played the famous ‘bounce-hit’ game and another group played the ‘trajectory’ game.

I introduced the Inner Game concept of Self 1 and Self 2 (described further below). These quotes and summaries from Timothy Gallwey’s book The Inner Game of Work provide more insights into this approach to learning …

“There is always an inner game being played in your mind no matter what outer game you are playing. How aware you are of this game can make the difference between success and failure.” -Tim Gallwey

“Learning and performance are the same thing. People who win are those who learn faster. We learn fast when we pay attention to what is happening now – the present moment and for what the world really is and not what it could be. Learning becomes a function of attention and noticing more than instruction. It’s about noticing what is going on around you without judgement, fear. Or the need to control.” Peter Block from the Forward

“Self 1 the voice of making judgements and giving commonds – these are merely activities of the mind and not the true self. Self 1 doesn’t trust Self 2. This self doubt creates a poor learning environment. Self 2 is being spoken to by Self 1 and is the human being itself. It embodies all the human potential and possibly we are born with. It is our innate ability to learn from experiences and it is the self we enjoyed as children.” Chapter 1
“The goal of the inner game is to reduce the interference to ones own potential. The goal of the outer game is to overcome external obstacles to reach our goals (eg. winning a tennis match). Inner and outer games are being played all the time, individually and as organizations and cultures. The outer game gets way more attention and our inner game (individually, culturally) is neglected.” Chapter 1.

My recent post also describes some of what we discussed and practiced here.

3. Complexity and the Cynefin Framework by Dave Snowden

This blog post I did a while back provides many short videos that described the framework and thinking here.

Another post here by Chris Corrigan points to the need for a ‘Safe-Fail’ mindset when working in the complex domain.

4. Marshmallow Challenge

We played the Marshmallow Challenge and it’s lessons link back to the Safe-Fail approach when working in complexity. Here’s the TED Video that describes it in some detail …

5. Features of High Reliability Organisations

Here were the features I shared on Day 2 (Source: Training materials from Bob Dick)

These key features come from the research and (this) book by Weik & Sutcliffe – Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity.

They also have an article on Managing the Unexpected through Mindfulness which explores similar concepts and well worth a read.

Indirect References – these ideas informed my thinking when designing the 2 days

1. Michelle Holliday’s work on the Pattern of Living Systems

2. Gideon Rosenblatt’s take on the Systems Biology of Organisations

Day 2

Processes used to structure Day 2 conversations – there were other sub processes used too … too many to cover here 🙂

1. Chaordic Stepping Stones by Chris Corrigan over at the Art of Hosting

We used a handful of questions from the first 3 stepping stones of NEED, PURPOSE and PRINCIPLES

2. Visual Explorer Cards

This is my favourite set of cards to elicit new ways of thinking and promote conversation between people.

GeoffBrown | Brain Science & Research, Facilitation, Living Systems & Complexity, Yes!And Improv | Comments (1)

May 11, 2011

There’s a little ‘Werewolf’ in all of us!!

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Monday night was dark, stormy and 20 people witnessed the demise of a 6th century village, gruesome attacks by 3 werewolves, public lynchings and arguments between friends. Everyone was looking out for themselves and trust had evaporated. At times it was tense … but mostly laughter pierced the cold night air.

Werewolf is just a game, but it’s so much more than a game … it immerses players in a world of experience. Playing Werewolf takes some to the edge of their comfort zone. Others revel in the uncertainty of a world that, in many ways, mimics real life.

Viv McWaters provides a snapshot of Werewolf here. Andrew Rixon provided me with his beautiful set of playing cards (illustrated by the wonderful Simon Kneebone). I had never hosted a game of Werewolf before and I admit to being slightly nervous, as the group settled into their armchairs with wine glass in hand. I was working with 20 people who had gathered for 2 days of learning. They had no idea what I had planned for the after dinner entertainment!

To give you an idea of the rules, here a nice summary from the net …

(In my group of 20, there were 3 werewolves, 2 seers and 15 village citizens)

The villagers are trying to figure out who’s a werewolf; the werewolves are pretending to be villagers, and trying to throw suspicion on real villagers.

The seer is trying to throw suspicion on any werewolves he discovers, but without revealing himself to be the seer (because if he does, the werewolves will almost certainly kill him that night, since he’s the greatest threat to werewolf national security.) Of course the seer can reveal himself at any time, if he thinks it’s worthwhile to tell the other players what he’s learned. Also of course, a werewolf can claim to be the seer and “reveal” anything he wants.

The only information the villagers have is what other players say — and who dies. Accusing someone of being a werewolf is suspicious. Not accusing anyone is also suspicious. Agreeing with another player a lot is suspicious, and therefore so is pretending not to agree with another player. Never voting to kill a particular player is very suspicious for both of them — unless it’s the seer who knows that player is innocent.

My reflections …

As game host, there is so much to observe. Once I let go of my nerves, established a rhythm to the commentary and instructions, I settled into noticing-mode.

I am left wondering if being a Werewolf helps players to loosen up and relax more? They seemed to be paying much more attention to the dynamics of the game than the Seers and Citizens. Maybe being part of a known team makes all the difference (at night when everyone shuts their eyes, the werewolves, together, point out their next victim)? Not 1 of the 3 werewolves were voted out!

The Seers were desperately unlucky. One was flukily targeted by Werewolves on the first night and the other had 5 guesses before being lynched!

The villagers on the sidelines remained totally involved in watching the game. Some were laughing and others were ‘psycho-analyzing’ … trying to work it all out. Two people approached me after the game and said their mind was a lot clearer from the sidelines compared to during the game itself.

Some people found the whole experience stressful. One said that the concept of being “slaughtered” by Werewolves was quite confronting, even though it was just a game. Others said to me that they were surprised how much the experience ‘played with their mind’ and ‘sucked them in’. Like I said above, games are just games, but our mind is tricked into experiencing something far more real, where real emotions and physiological responses are evoked!

In sum …

Games like Werewolf are not just metaphors for real life … they are ‘real life’. We play games in board rooms, in parliament during question time and when parenting our children. The sad thing is we often engage in life’s high-stakes games with our blinkers on. We fly along in auto pilot, taken over by our inner voice (which are just activities of the mind), noticing little of what is actually going on.

When we loose sight of our own mind, our emotions and bodies, we also lose the ability to connect with others and empathise. By being mindful (with an intention to be present) during games like Werewolf and improv games like Jibberish and 1 Word Story, we become aware of experience as it’s unfolding. Practicing these games increases our state of mindfulness. Through practice, the new neural firing patterns become stronger – ‘what fires together wires together’. Long term traits can then develop because you have altered the structure of the brain. (Source: Dr Dan Siegel’s Mindsight writings)

So next time you are working with a group, don’t be afraid to just ‘play games’! It reveals as much about our human nature as the rest of life.

GeoffBrown | Facilitation, Just observations, Yes!And Improv | Comments (4)

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