Social intellectual physical reflective

Imagine you divide your day into four kinds of activity:

–      intellectual or cognitive (like thinking or writing)

–      physical (working out or digging the vegetables)

–      social (not socialising per se but interacting with others – e.g. meetings)

–      reflective (meditation, yoga, prayer, walking the dog)

How would your day divide up?

My idea is that a balance is important, not just over time (though I am sure that matters too) but within each day. When I watch myself, I realise that I do better thinking when I haven’t been thinking all day. Physical activity calms the mind and helps me help me think (and sleep) better.

Some activities, perhaps the best ones, combine several or all of these categories at once. I don’t play golf myself but I find it easy to imagine that golf has all of these elements. Which is maybe why it is so popular. At the moment we are harvesting the olives here – which is physical, social and reflective (not much intellect involved) and lovely for it.

Most people leading an office bound city life spend most of their time in social activity of some kind, predominantly meetings! The aptly named ‘social’ media, put ever more pressure on time to think (intellectual) and physical activity gets relegated to (twice weekly?) visits to the gym or sport at the weekend. Reflective rarely gets a look in, since it doesn’t count as ‘do-ing’ anything. This imbalance can’t be healthy, for individuals or for society. The leaders I work with often seem to regard reflection as a delightful luxury, yet if they are making significant decisions, surely it ought to be a daily necessity?

I first drew up this idea (as a four box grid, of course) about a decade ago and still find it a useful compass. It reminds me of the need for a daily variety of activity and of how easily I get locked into one mode.

One of the things I adore about living in a rural area is that the reflective is much more to hand (all you have to do is look up at the mountains or the stars). And physical activity is woven into things – so much needs mending or tending, harvesting or feeding. I wonder if there is some way to weave the physical (and for that matter the reflective) into city life, so that it doesn’t become yet another thing on the to do list….. (take all the escalators out of the tube perhaps?).





How are things?

Where I live people are really struggling. There is little work and less prospect of work.  And yet I have had a good year. Which is a bit tricky.

For most of the year I have tried to be positive (without gloating) and to do what little I can to spend money locally and employ local people. Whilst being sensitive to what’s happening around me, it also seemed important not slip into negativity myself.

And yet now, as the year draws to a close, I find myself doing so anyway. I have noticed that I am starting to interpret the (completely normal) end of year slow down negatively, and even misrepresent the prospects for next year to myself! It’s reminscent of the something Keith Johnstone (improv guru) calls ‘joining’ where two actors, if they don’t make an effort, end up doing exactly the same thing.

I am wondering why this happens. I suspect it is partly because I am much more permeable than I imagine, much less an individual and much more a node in a web and so when the web to which I am physically connected is suffering, I interpret things in such a way that I suffer too. Sustaining a different interpretation is hard because it creates too much cognitive dissonance perhaps? Maybe it’s a time of year thing, the year drawing to a close, onset of winter and so on? Maybe its because in the last few months I have seen people lose hope that it will get any better soon?

Whatever the explanation, I find it striking that reason and knowledge have little power over my emotional state. I have plenty of reasons to feel positive, at least for myself, but I don’t. It reminds me of visual illusions. The fact that you know (because you have been shown) that two lines are, say, the same length, doesn’t help you overcome the impression that one is longer than the other.

Which I suppose is what people mean when they say ‘context is everything’.

So, where’s the offer in this eh?  Well, I think it is to start to ask creative questions. If this isn’t working, or, if it feels like it isn’t working, what could I do or make that would feel better. And interestingly, merely articulating that possibility seems to make a difference….




How to cultivate conversation

Recently, I was working with friend and colleague Marshall Young at Green Templeton College, Oxford.  We filled three enormous whiteboards with scribbles, which I always think is a pretty good sign. We were thinking about how conversation works and what the underlying conditions or dimensions (many of them physical) that shape conversation are and what you would seek to vary or manipulate if you are endeavouring to create a series of rich conversations.

There’s scale – group, triads, pairs. Duration, or structure in time. Periodicity as well.  Iteration is another one (i.e. you can create series of conversations). Space and physical layout, including proximity and position (do you talk to someone next to you, or in front of you, do you stand or sit). There’s constraint (a given topic, or rule or procedure) and stimulus (an input of some kind).

All these things make a difference to the kind of conversation that you have and though they don’t have straightforward, linear effects, you can know that varying them will make a difference, even if you can’t predict what that difference will be. And, to build on an earlier entry, the craft of conversation, at least in a setting like a workshop, lies in combining these elements.

In a way, this is all that improv exercises do as well, though they are fairly extreme forms.  An improv form is a structure that conditions the kind of interaction or conversation that is created.  What interested us in this was the notion of how you create a rich field for conversation, without dictating where that conversation would go. Rather like hosting a party really – you work on creating the conditions and allow people to flow through the ‘system’ (fuelled by food and drink on a social occasion) and interact as they will.

Do Do’s

Had a couple of great bits of feedback from the Do Lectures.  One was John of Brainjuicer, another of the speakers, who decided as a result of my talk to run a board meeting with no agenda.  And Amanda Blake, who wasn’t even at the Do Lectures but listened to a recording of one of my practice runs and was inspired enough to come up with four principles of the kind of work she wanted to do  (which were – time flexibility, financial viability, helping to build a world you believe in, and collaborating with cool people).  Nice.

It’s amazing what you forget

On the way to the Do Lectures I was reading ‘Everything’s an Offer’ and I found it a little depressing to discover quite how much of my own work I had forgotten.  All that effort and how little of it I recall.  Makes me wonder what else I have forgotten….

The craft of improv

Just got back from the Do Lectures.  Quite the most extraordinary four days I have ever had I think.

One of the highlights was a conversation about craft and where the craft of improv lies. It was one of those conversations where I heard myself saying things I hadn’t ever thought before, which was what I liked about it.

It seems to me that craft resides in how you set up and explain games and exercises, how you carry yourself physically, what you pay attention to as they unfold, the questions you ask and the connections that you make visible for people.  There’s also craft in design, not just of a workshop but of a process or way of working, which is the area I recently got interested in (see The Copenhagen Interpretation).

The craft of conversation perhaps.  A lot to think about here.

The Copenhagen Interpretation

In July we were in Copenhagen.  We were with my friend Helene Simonsen at one of the open air jazz concerts when she bumped into someone she knew.  I remember he was wearing some very cool glasses and looked like a bit of a boffin.

My new found friend asked me how I knew Helene and I sketched out a connection that lead from Oxford, via Peter Hanke and his work with conducting and leadership to an Arts and Leadership conference at Bramstrup and thus to Helene.  I also mentioned my own work with improvisation.

This struck a chord.  It turned out that my un-named friend worked for IBM and he started talking about ‘Agile Project Management’ and ‘Scrum’.  I remember finding it a bit uncomfortable because Helene hadn’t actually introduced me (I later discovered this was because she couldn’t remember his name).

But what he was saying was fascinating.  It struck me how the improvisational practices seemed to be almost designed into the structure of the way of working he was talking about and later that day I checked out ‘Agile Project Management’ and ‘Scrum’ on the web.  It wasn’t as interesting as what he had said, but still, provided some food for thought.

A few days later we were in Henne Strand in Jutland, out for a long walk on a wild and windswept beach and my unconscious mind had obviously been snacking on all of this because I suddenly realised there is a huge hole in the work I have been doing.  I love it when something becomes clear that has been in plain sight all along.  I enjoy the feeling of “how could I have been so stupid?” (quite easily is probably the answer).

So, as a result of this fabulously serendipitous and unlikely sequence of events with a man with no name in a square in Copenhagen I can see that I have, for about a decade now, leaped straight to behaviour.  There’s nothing wrong with running workshops that aim to help people become more adaptable by adopting improv practices but it would be an awful lot easier if you actually designed the organisation or team in such a way as to promote that behaviour in the first place.

So what I am interested in now, and what I am going to spend some time working on and thinking about is how to design for improv, as it were, in both process and structure. Because process, being time based, is really narrative, which means that all the story tools and frameworks and ideas could fit there.  And improv forms have micro and macro structure, as does a show and the theatre itself.  And one could create feedback loops between all of this so that the design of structure and process to promote improvised, agile, creative behaviour could yield changes to the structure and process so as to create more chance of yet more of the same kind of behaviour, and so on.

I am very excited about all this.  It feels like it could give my work a whole new lease of life, which is very timely.  I am going to call it the Copenhagen Interpretation, in homage to Nils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg whose interpretation of quantum physics also bears the name of a city that is, apparently, the only one in the world with too many bicycles.