Our inscrutable self-delusion

I’m cleaning up draft blog posts. Can you tell? Some are just terrific quotes worth posting and amplifying. This is one of them!

We understand ourselves in the first person, and because of this we address our remarks, actions and emotions not to the bodies of other people but to the words and looks that originate on the subjective horizon where they alone can stand.

This mysterious fact is reflected at every level in our language, and is at the root of many paradoxes. When I talk about myself in the first person, I utter propositions that I assert on no basis and about which, in a vast number of cases, I cannot be wrong. But I can be wholly mistaken about this human being who is doing the speaking. So how can I be sure that I am talking about that very human being? How do I know, for example, that I am Roger Scruton and not David Cameron suffering from delusions of grandeur?

To cut the story short: By speaking in the first person we can make statements about ourselves, answer questions, and engage in reasoning and advice in ways that bypass all the normal methods of discovery. As a result, we can participate in dialogues founded on the assurance that, when you and I both speak sincerely, what we say is trustworthy: We are “speaking our minds.” This is the heart of the I-You encounter.

Hence as persons we inhabit a life-world that is not reducible to the world of nature, any more than the life in a painting is reducible to the lines and pigments from which it is composed. If that is true, then there is something left for philosophy to do, by way of making sense of the human condition. Philosophy has the task of describing the world in which we live — not the world as science describes it, but the world as it is represented in our mutual dealings, a world organized by language, in which we meet one another I to I.

Source: If We Are Not Just Animals, What Are We? – The New York Times

Can we role model graphic recording? Part 3 in the series

logo_gfrasBackground: This is the third of three posts about some recent visual experiences at the  7th Annual GFRAS Meeting in Limbe, Cameroon, where I was invited as their graphic recorder! As I noted in Part 1, it is a huge investment of resources – theirs and mine – to have me there for the meeting, so I asked if I could also run a short “introduction to graphic recording” the before the event kicked off, and then we could have the participants fan out across the breakouts and field trips to capture sketch notes. The second post in the series shares a few stories and artifacts from the workshop participants about their sketchnoting at the meeting and after they returned home. How are they using their new skills? This third part shares the graphic recordings I did with a little reflection on my own process and the element of role modeling graphic recording skills – particularly the listening and synthesizing skills. 

The #GFRAS2016 Annual meeting started on a Monday afternoon, had a full day on Tuesday, field trips on Wednesday and a final day on Thursday. My graphic recording charge was a chart for Monday, Tuesday and what was needed for Thursday was “emergent.” The field trips were “harvested” by our newly-trained sketchnote artists from Monday’s workshop. (You can see the agenda here.)

Day 1 – Opening


nancyrecordingby keerthiraj siddapuraAs one might expect in Cameroon, there is still a strong sense of formality and meetings being opened by dignitaries. In my experience, they often arrive late. This time they were EARLY and we scrambled to get in the room and set up. There was a very small window for set up, but it was so cool that the Fine Hotel made a recording board for me. You can see how lovely and BIG it was in the photo by Keerthiraj Siddapura at right. (Thanks, Keerthiraj – also one of our newly minted graphic recorders. You can see his full set of photos here.)

The formal opening was in French and the sound was VERY difficult, so the contents of the formal opening were … um… brief. The fact that Limbe is known as a “town of friendship” was the key piece for me. Graphic recording through translation is a tricky proposition at best. The second part of the opening was a conversation between the outcoming and incoming secretaries of GFRAS… the handing of the baton.  So overall, it was a pretty light piece for day one. You can visually see I still battle my “right hand downward tilt” as I record.

What was super fun was that for many in the room, this was their first time seeing graphic recording in action… including most of Monday’s workshop participants. So there at the back of the room I got a lot of attention between sessions and during breaks with people asking me “how do you DO this!” When the new GR’s passed by, we did a bit more analysis – what was working for me, for them and more importantly, what was challenging.  It was a good place of learning.

Day 2 – Keynote and Conversation on Agripreneurship


I was very luck to share a cottage with Day 2’s keynote, Dr. Merida Roets of South Africa. As we chit chatted over shared chocolate, I learned more about her, her work, and this strange new concept to me, Agripreneurship. (Know that this is a hard word for me to spell. I had to keep practicing.) After her talk, a panel came up to comment and their input is on the left. There is still a bit of jargon in here, like RAS (rural advisory services).

Merida had never had her talks recorded, so this was a fun new experience for her as well. Remember, she also took Monday’s workshop, so I could see the wheels turning in her head when she came by afterwards at my request to see if I missed or got anything wrong. In the end, she took this piece home with her, with a clear idea of where she was going to hang it in her offices. It turns out that while Merida and her team have been promoting and building agripreneurship capacity with rural farmers in South Africa, they had never heard of the term before either! 😉 Language is a funny thing.

By the way, the colors in these images are not very good. The lighting was difficult in the space. They look a little dull here. But as I was doing some coloring with Pan Pastels, it was also a time where our new GRs used the materials and tried shading and coloring on their sketch notes. So in the end, my space ended up as a little graphic recording lab at the back of the room for the full meeting.

In the afternoon I facilitated one of the four break out sessions and as part of my duties, created visuals for the report out on Thursday. I used Paperby53 to create a base image, then built on top of it to break out each of the elements for our presenter to share.

img_0483 img_0485

Day 4 – Harvest and Network Assessments

Day three people fanned out across the region to visit agripreneurs, farming cooperatives and other locations to see the work in action. Then on Thursday, the morning was the harvest of the Tuesday breakouts and Wednesday field trip reports. The field trip reports are at the bottom and the four breakout reports at the top. I used the metaphor of weaving basket threads together…sort of.


My intention on this chart was to allow individual parts of the image to be pulled out in close up photos so that they could be woven into the meeting documentation. You can click on the thumbnails below to see some examples. All the images were provided digitally to the GFRAS team.

Next there was a network assessment activity led by Kevan and Alexa Lamm. Most of this session was work in groups, so I briefly captured their introduction on my iPad and then animated the sequence. This was done simply by saving the image as different files along the way. (Let’s see if the animated GIF plays correctly in the blog post. If not, you can find it here. )


I had made a few other iPad images as a way to demonstrate some electronic graphic recording.

There were some other paper sketches I made… nothing really worth sharing… but to empathize with our team that sometimes it can be hard to really pull something of substance out of short and informal presentations.

It was a great experience working with the GFRAS secretariat and all of the participants. I took MANY pictures with people in front of the images… lots of smiles. It has been a while since I did straight up graphic recording and not only was it fun (and sweaty – did I mention the aircon mostly did not work?) but it was a great way to link the workshop on Monday to real practice, to be able to reflect together on our work, and of course, to always remember how much more there is to learn!

Can we learn graphic recording in 4 hours and actually DO something? YES! Part 1

Rarely do I get to go to an event with graphic recording as my primary duty. It is often an “extra” that I include in my facilitation practice. This year I was invited to the 7th Annual GFRAS Meeting in Limbe, Cameroon as their graphic recorder! Because it is a huge investment of resources – theirs and mine – I asked if I could also run a short “introduction to graphic recording” the before the event kicked off, and then we could have the participants fan out across the breakouts and field trips to capture sketch notes. I can’t be everywhere at once so this gave us some immediate practical coverage, but more importantly, I wanted people to see that this is an accessible, practical and usable practice. This first post is about the workshop itself. Part 2 will share a few stories from the workshop participants about their sketchnoting at the meeting and after they returned home. How are they using their new skills? Part 3 will share the graphic recordings I did with a little reflection on my own process. At the bottom of this post are links to other visual artifacts from the week in Cameroon.

The Workshop

img_20161003_103006995_hdrWhat can you do in just under four hours to help people master the basics of graphic recording? It turns out, you can do quite a lot. I love starting with the fabulous paired drawing activity I learned from Johnnie Moore.  In the debrief it always raises so many useful aspects about how we pay attention to and communicate with each other. It creates some fun and some comfort with taking risks. And drawing for and in front of people can be a huge risk for many of us.



Then we got into the practice immediately. My graphic recording and graphic facilitation workshops (short or long) always start with liberating our inner artist using an exercise I learned from the fabulous people at the International Forum of Visual Practitioners (I took their GR 101 course years ago!).

The “I Can Draw” img_20161003_112308329_hdrexercise introduces people to simple, body-based ways to draw circles, lines, use color, write clearly and, for extra fun, how using different materials can change and bring a sketch to life (yay chalk and pastels!) It never ceases to amaze me how such beautiful creations emerge, and how empowering this is. The exercise also loosens people’s bodies up to use bolder strokes, bigger lettering and to explore how color can change a visual experience with very little effort.


img_20161003_121758496Next we dug into specific skills of drawing people, icons, metaphors and ways to arrange images on one’s paper or note-pad. Because all the work I do with communities, agriculture, development and such, EVERYTHING I work with involves people. And it STILL intimidates me to draw people. We face this head on with simple ways to draw people. Stick figures. Bean people. Star people. Spring people. I loved how Merida immediately riffed on her people to integrate them into the sustainability work she is doing. WINDMILL people!


img_20161004_133510By now people were getting excited, so this is when we started playing with icons, particularly icons that relate to their work, world or context. I have a card deck of silly icons I made years ago. I asked everyone to grab one that they attracted them, and then sketch that icon a number of times to build some comfort. People observed each others’ drawings, swaped cards and iterated. I encouraged people to take pictures of icons – theirs or others’ – that resonated for them. This is so often a practice of “see, imitate, iterate and THEN evolve one’s own style”. Some people have a style right away, like Raj. You can see it in the first sketch note he produced the afternoon after the workshop.

Finally, we put everything together and I challenged everyone to graphically record a short talk I improvise on the spot about preparing to graphically record. Granted, I talked slower, repeated things and even offer a few hints, but really trying to graphically record real time for the first time is VERY HARD. It challenges us to a) listen deeply and carefully, b) identify what points are important and should be captured, and finally, c) actually draw them on the paper. The group did amazingly well for such a short introduction.  Afterwards we toured each of the examples, identified strenghts and looked for something new for them to try the “next time!”

Here are some examples of their work. Click to see larger images.

IJHTS: 9 questions you can’t answer when not visualizing your work

I Just Have To Share: From Jim Benson, image by @toddaclark

@toddaclark’s visualization of Jim Benson’s List

I book marked this over a year ago and meant to blog it. It is still worth sharing. And as a bonus, I’m slowly chipping away at my blog draft backlog. 🙂

Source: 9 questions you can’t answer when not visualizing your work | get LIT from Jim Benson’s post.

The website or the people who make them?

holdingcenterI was attracted by the title of a 2015 opinion piece in the Observer by Thomas Oppong @Alltopstartups,  33 Websites That Will Make You a Genius. If only! Apparently so were many other people because if you search on the title and first sentence, you will see the article republished all over the place. I had tucked the url into a draft blog post that I’m finally getting to today! (Note: there are actually 34 on the list. Brainpickings did not get a number. Brainpickings, by the way, is one that I’d prioritize reading!)

Why are people interested in these lists? Are they really going to go out and working on getting smarter? Does anyone have time to read them on a regular basis? For me it is an interesting reminder that there is so much interesting stuff out there we must both use it and not let it overwhelm us. Or let lists limit us because the diversity is much richer than can ever be boiled down to 33 or 34.

The question I sit with is WHY are these 33 websites considered so valuable? Is it the website, the artifact, or the people who make them, individually, collectively and everything in between! What if instead of listing these sites, we had a chance to sit down and have a meal with the people behind them. Now THAT would be WONDERFUL! Here is the list with Thomas’ annotations – and thank you Thomas! At the end I leave you with a question similar to the one Thomas left at the end of his article.

1. BBC — Future — Making you smarter, every day.

2. 99U (YouTube) — Actionable insights on productivity, organization and leadership to help creative people push ideas forward.

3. Youtube EDU — The education videos that don’t have cute cats in boxes — but they do unlock knowledge.

4. WikiWand — A slick new interface for Wikipedia.

5. The long read (The Guardian) — In-depth reporting, essays and profiles.

6. TED — Great videos to open your mind on almost every topic.

7. iTunes U — Learning on the go, from some of the world’s top universities.

8. InsightfulQuestions (subreddit) — Intellectual discussions that are not necessarily genre-specific.

9. Cerego — Cerego helps you build personalized study plans based on your strengths and weaknesses to retain knowledge.

10. University of the People — Tuition-free online university that offers higher education in multiple course streams.

11. OpenSesame — Marketplace for online training, now with 22,000+ courses.

12. CreativeLive — Take free creative classes from the world’s top experts.

13. Coursera — Partnering with some of the top U.S. universities, Coursera offers massive open online courses for free.

14. University of reddit — the product of free intellectualism and is a haven for the sharing of knowledge.

15. Quora — You ask, the net discusses — with top experts and fascinating back and forth on everything.

16. Digital Photography School —Read through this goldmine of articles to improve your photography skills.

17. Umano—Explore the largest collection of audio articles powered by real people. Dropbox has acquired Umano. Brain Pickings is a great replacement for 17.

Brain Pickings — Insightful long form posts on life, art, science, design, history, philosophy and more.

18. Peer 2 Peer University or P2PU, is an open educational project that helps you learn at your own pace.

19. MIT Open CourseWare is a catalog of free online courses and learning resources offered by MIT.

20. Gibbon—This is the ultimate playlist for learning.

21. Investopedia — Learn everything you need to know about the world of investing, markets and personal finance.

22. Udacity offers interactive online classes and courses in higher education.

23. Mozilla Developer Network offers detailed documentation and learning resources for web developers.

24. Future learn — enjoy free online courses from top universities and specialist organizations.

25. Google Scholar — provides a search of scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources, including theses, books, abstracts and articles.

26. Brain Pump — A place to learn something new everyday.

27. Mental Floss — Test your knowledge with amazing and interesting facts, trivia, quizzes and brain teaser games.

28. Learnist — Learn from expertly curated web, print and video content.

29. DataCamp — Online R tutorials and data science courses.

30. edX — Take online courses from the world’s best universities.

31. Highbrow — Get bite-sized daily courses to your inbox.

32. Coursmos — Take a micro-course anytime you want, on any device.

33. Platzi— Live streaming classes on design, marketing and code.

If you had to suggest one website that presented a more diverse perspective or represented views that don’t often make into lists like the ones above, what site would you recommend I look at?