The Fence of Fear

donkeyFear has played an interesting role in my life. Or better said, confronting my fears has given me the opportunity to do things I would have never done before. For example I was afraid to go to Brazil as a 16 year old exchange student for a year, but it was a life changing experience – for the better. I have been afraid to be “unknowing” and vulnerable when facilitating groups, but those have often been pivotal moments. (By the way, the picture is of me there, many many moons ago!)

But fear within groups and between members has never shown up  generatively. It seems to create tight fences between individuals in the group. Then I read Shawn Callahan (of Anecdote) recent post  about An indicator of group fear in organisations and a wee insight arrived.

First of all, click away and read the post AND take the time to view the video. Do the little exercise. It is worth the 30 seconds of cogitation.

Shawn’s conclusion is that fear is killing creativity. He writes:

Ed Catmull, the CEO and co-founder of Pixar made this point clear in his recent book, Creativity Inc., that this biggest killer of creativity is fear.

I’d say that fear blocks more than creativity. It blocks aspects of collaboration, cooperation, knowledge sharing, learning and even the simple pleasures we CAN have working with each other.

I’ve worked with a number of organizations where fear is palpable. Sometimes it is in the more day to day relationships between team members. Sometimes it is hierarchical, but not always. It isn’t always “the boss” we fear. It may be someone on the team who is bullying or harassing (consciously or unconsciously – most the latter in my observation.) Sometimes it is the very culture of the organization, often from the top, that permeates everywhere.

Slight side note: I want to make a clear distinction that I do not equate fear directly with dissent, diversity or critical thinking. They may show up together. But the absence of fear is not necessarily bland indifference, ok?  In fact, when fear is not present, I think we can better use our disagreements and diversity. So I don’t want to fall into the false trap of surface “niceness.” That kind of niceness can be a response to fear to cover it up and that doesn’t work well either! I’ll also state for the record that being “nice” as in using compassion and respect is something I’m all for. The word “nice” is a tricky one.

What really interests me are the people who seem to be resilient to fear. They don’t let fear of being dismissed, or not “liked” keep them from their own personal brand of excellence.

I find it hard to combat top down fear, so maybe I should pay more attention to those “positive deviants” who seem resilient. Have any clues on why they are that way? How we can nurture more of the resilience?



Learning from the “Rules” of Etegami: It is fine to be clumsy

From DosanKodebbie's Etegami Notebook
There is so much to learn from the THE THREE “RULES” OF ETEGAMI, a Japanese style of painting. I could write so much more, but it could not add to these three amazing rules.

1 The motto of Etegami is “It’s fine to be clumsy. It’s good to be clumsy.” What matters is whether or not you have put your heart into your painting, not whether the painting is a fine work of art. Your earnestness communicates to the person who receives the card, and touches his heart. Each etegami should express something of the character of the person who painted it.

2 Etegami is a one-shot deal; there is no underdrawing or practicing on another piece of paper before doing the actual painting. Every time you paint an etegami, you are, so to speak, “broadcasting live.” There is no concept of a “failed” or “ruined” etegami. Every etegami you paint should be placed in the mail box and sent on its way to someone else.

3 Unlike many other forms of traditional Japanese art, there is no “model” etegami painted by a master for you to imitate. The flowers and vegetables created by the hand of God are your best “models.” Observe these models closely before you begin to paint them.

via dosankodebbie’s etegami notebook: a review of the “rules” of etegami.

And because it is Monday and it has been so long since I posted a Monday video, here is Etegami in practice:

My Harvest from a Half Day at Seattle #Kaizencamp

Thanks to a serendipitous conversation with friends im Benson (@ourfounder), Tonianne DeMaria Barry (@sprezzatura), I was able to pop in for 1/4 of the Seattle #KaizenCamp. If I were pitching a Hollywood script, I’d say “Open Space” meets “Lean Coffee” meets “Liberating Structures.” A group of smart, engaged people conversing about ways of working in a lovely place (The Foundry) with good food and coffee.

I sat at two rounds of “lean coffee,” one about Storytelling and the Arts, and one about Knowledge Sharing. I made a couple of sketch notes and captured some of the resources and I wanted to get them up and out, tagged and tweeted, before I rushed on to the next thing. (Rushing— sucks!) So here we go…

Storytelling and the Arts



URLs/Resources Shared:


Knowledge Sharing





Safe Fail Experimentation Evidence

I love this piece on the front of the Learning Creative Learning MOOC from MIT.


In Mitch Resnick’s intro his final word is about learning through mistakes. Yeah, baby!

Riffing off of NorthernVoice 12 and Online Community Enthusiasts

Photo by Alan Levine
This past weekend I was up in Vancouver, BC, for two gatherings that I always enjoy, the BC Campus’ Online Community Enthusiasts group (led by the always wonderful Sylvia Currie) and the Canadian blogging/social media conference, Northern Voice. OCE is a place to hang with people who wisely use online interaction, mostly in the learning context.

This year I was once again on the OCE hosting team and my job was to give an overview of the agenda, then facilitate the afternoon’s Open Space. I made a visual agenda, but in a circle it is rather hard to see, so I spontaneously became a human lazy susan. Alan Levine caught me in the act with a still, and later with an animated gif.

We had a great time with Dave Pollard leading us in some exercises using the terrific Groupworks group process pattern cards. They really elicited some insightful stories from the group and I was so inspired, I called an Open Space session in the afternoon to think about how I could use them in a webinar I ran on Monday. Bingo! As always, hanging out with friends new and old was the highlight.

Northern Voice is where I always submit weird session proposals and those crazy Canadians usually say yes to me. Silly them. My supporting role for 2012 was to co-facilitate Moosecamp, the OpenSpace of NorthernVoice, with Brian Lamb. Brian asked me to make a little announcement at the start of the conference about Moosecamp. I had decided on a whim to bring my new uke, and at the last minute decided to improvise a song about Moosecamp instead of saying it. I blogged about that already. 😉

This year my formal submission was a session with Rob Cottingham, Alan Levine and I on improvisation. I have been very inspired by Viv McWaters and Johnnie Moore’s work to bring improv into facilitation.  Our session started with each of us telling a two minute story of where improvisation played an important role, while the other two mimed the story. Then we introduced the group to Viv and Johnnie’s improv cards, which I turned into flip chart images.

We  invited people to go to the flip chart they felt MOST uncomfortable with. They then discussed the why’s and wherefore’s of their discomfort. THEN we invited each group to create a human sculpture that expressed that card. We had eight great, laughter inducing performances.

Alan then showed us his PechaFlickr applications which draws five cards with a shared tag from Flickr and you get to tell a story to go with them. Alan had five volunteers who each added an element to a story illustrated by tug boats! Give it a try yourself here. It could be a great icebreaker!

Then we segued into a classic gibberish improv and our three volunteers blew me away. They dove right in.  I was laughing so hard I was crying.

For us, it was important that this was not just about the performance side of improv, but about how improv can inform our practices every day, help us be more present in every moment. Rob Cottingham gave a insightful, improvised wrap up that inspired us all. We have 1140 minutes every day. We might as well use them well.

I loved Boris Mann’s recap:

Next I went to Improv Me, Baby with Nancy White, Alan Levine, and Rob Cottingham. My basic rule of thumb is “go to any session that Nancy White is involved with”. Of course Alan and Rob are no slouches either 😉 Lots of interactivity and group activity in getting people to participate, and to understand what improv actually means. Rob closed things out talking about how the very best improv can in fact be the result of lots of preparation and practice ahead of time, while still using a “go with the flow” approach to tailor presentations & experiences to the people and energy in the room.

In the Moosecamp/Open Space giulia.forsythe ran a great hands on session about how to do sketchnoting on the iPad and I now finally understand layers. (I’m slow.) She later did a sketchnote of the improv session which I TREASURE! What a great memento/take away!

via Northern Voice Retrospective [visual Notes] | Flickr – Photo Sharing!.image from Giulia Forsythe from NorthernVoice improv session

All in all it was a great weekend – learning, play, improv, music, friends and food! Perfeito!