Archive for the 'improvisation' Category

Jun 27 2016

#SKiP16 – My Crazy Experimental Offering on Space, Media and Constraints in Visual Teaming

IMG_20160624_142629841Last Friday was a GAS! I spent the day at Sketching in Practice, an amazing offering from Simon Fraser University and led by the incredible Jason Toal. In my next post I’ll recap more of the event as a whole, but I had an amazing time offering a one hour experimental session in the afternoon exploring the impact of the arrangement of space, offering of media and provision of (or not) of task constraints in how a group works together using visual practices. This is part of my preparation for the workshop Michelle Laurie and I are offering this September in Rossland, BC, My Pens, Our Pens: engagement through participatory visualization. More and more I want more than the visual harvest of graphic recording. I want to really dig into the practices that use collaborative and shared visuals for doing real learning and work. So this was a great opportunity.

Here was the description of the session along with my initial planning sketch:

Session title: What if? An experiment to explore if/how structure, format and media influences our interactions

IMG_20160627_074439769_HDRSession overview: Are you ready to be the principle investigator and subject for a short experiment? Join us in this hands on, fingers dirty, experiment on the impact of structure, format and media influences on our interactions with each other. You will be assigned a cohort upon entering the room, with some degree of instruction and materials. You will participate for 20 minutes with that cohort. Then we’ll do a gallery walk and debrief of the experience. Magic or mayhem? Or both? Let’s explore.

As people entered the room (about 35) I assigned them a number. The stations were preset around the room with a number showing on a card. I gave the briefest of brief introductions, as I wanted this to be about the experience, not explanations. The teams dispersed and upon “go” they turned over their cards which provided a brief set of directions (or lack thereof.) The teams then had 20 minutes. The stations included:

  • Station 1: On the floor, a rich assortment of media, and task of simply drawing with no talking allowed. Media included regular markers, pan pastels and crayon markers.
  • Station 2: On a table, no specified task and use only the media provided (dark and light chocolate bars in a bag!)
  • Station 3: On table, provided media (regular markers and crayon markers), no task specified, team can only communicate by singing
  • Station 4: On table, plan a trip from Vancouver BC to Seattle using only images/no words (but you can talk) with regular markers
  • Station 5: Chairs in a circle, flip chart and pens nearby, task to identify a peer’s challenge and offer peer consultation.
  • Station 6: On table, no directions or other constraints.

It was fascinating to watch. The table with just singing as the team communication directions quickly became a pretty frustrated set of people. One person made an effort at singing, but no one else joined in. The table paper became covered with words and images of frustration, along with some comments on their appreciation of the squishy markers that go on like lipstick. The trip planning team talked about their task. When one person put down the latitude demarcation, the whole flow just burst forward and everyone started drawing. The chocolate coloring folks, after a few moments of disbelief, jumped in and we all smelled the chocolate. (I have to admit, after a while the bars looked less like chocolate than some other substance…) The no directions team started out slow but got into the swing of things with a fairly broad and abstract image.  The peer consultation group did not pull in the flip chart until I mentioned it halfway through but they appeared to be deep in conversation.

After the 20 minutes, teams had a few minutes to identify their key insights, then we did a gallery walk to each station to share insights. It was really interesting.

  • IMG_20160624_142639563Station 1: People for the most part stuck with the area of paper they started with, and did beautiful, amazing images. One participant worked bigger and provided some marks that offered opportunities for connecting the individual areas. The team felt that if they had more time, this integration direction would have really kicked in. There were some comments about how yummy the richness of media were. (PAN PASTELS!!)
  • IMG_20160624_142746673Station 2: The chocolate team had really dirty fingers! Despite the early disbelief, they embraced their medium. I think they also ate a bit of the chocolate, which seemed like a smart thing for me! Again, the initial marks by one member provided the start, role modeling that “embracing.” As we walked from station to station, this sense of the role of the “first person to make a move” proved very strong.
  • IMG_20160624_143702970Station 3: The singing only table had a fascinating discussion about the fear of singing in public and we contrasted that with the fear of drawing in public. We realized that the fear of singing made the fear of drawing seem less intense, so maybe moving people WAAAAY beyond their initial comfort zones (to singing), then stepping back (to drawing) might be a way to frame and reflect on our fears. That said, there were some lovely individual marks on the paper. AND a lot more text than I’ve seen when I’ve done this exercise before.
  • IMG_20160624_142247972_HDRStation 4: The trip planners said they really bonded as a team. They were worried they were going to be broken up to other teams and did not like that idea. Of all the teams, there was the greatest sense of “team!”
  • IMG_20160624_141959599_HDRStation 5: The consultation team had to pull in some additional chairs which were higher than the initial comfy chairs, raising the observation about power as manifest in the set up – the higher chair people felt they had to lean in more, and the lower chairs were perhaps more quiet. That said, they had a productive peer consultation. Visuals appeared to be a minimal part of their experience. It made me wonder about how explicit we need to be with both the provision of visual tools and suggestions for use. They don’t appear to be a default.
  • IMG_20160624_143218959Station 6: One tweet out of the no directions group cracked me up – something to the effect of “this is my favorite kind of direction!” They noted that there was some sense of wanting direction or leadership, but after one person made some marks, again, things flowed. However, they wanted chocolate, so they traded some markers with the chocolate folks.

My sense is that most of the people enjoyed the experience in the end, even if they experienced frustration or remorse that they were not in a particular group. There was a lot of interest in both the dynamics of the space/constraint/media question, but the new element that came up for me was the role of the first mark, who makes it, and how they make it. This sets the tone.

If this intrigues you, consider joining us for the workshop My Pens, Our Pens: engagement through participatory visualization.

Here is the photo set on Flickr:

Exercise: Implications of medium, space and constraints

One response so far

Mar 03 2014

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:

2 responses so far

Mar 19 2013

Simple CoDrawing Exercise

I use this improvisational co-drawing exercise a LOT and get asked about how to do it. I learned it from Johnnie Moore who learned it from  Alain Rostain. It is very simple. So as a quick refresher…here is a quote from Johnnie’s blog… again!

The exercise is simple: you’re going to draw a face, together. It won’t be a familiar face (probably) but one you’re making up between you.

You need a pen and paper (we made do with a paper napkin from the cafe we were in).

Once you’re ready, you work silently. Resist the urge to discuss the picture as it develops and don’t comment on each other’s ideas. You probably won’t be able to suppress laughter though.

The first person draws just one feature of a face. It’s up to you what it is: it could be an ear, an eye, a nose, a tattoo, an eyebrow… whatver. Rule of thumb: when you lift the pen off the paper, you’ve finished your turn. And remember, as you’re working silently, don’t explain what you’ve drawn.

Then your partner takes the pen and they draw a feature. It may be another ear/eye whatever, or it could be something else. Whatever it is, you then get the pen and carry on. Even if you’re not sure what it is they’ve drawn.

If you don’t know what on earth your partner has drawn, don’t ask! Just carry on adding features as best you can.

Keep going like this for a few turns, each adding a single feature with each turn.

When someone gets the pen and hesitates about what to do, this means the face is finished. So that person now puts down the first letter of the name of this character. Keep adding letters until someone hesitates – when that happens, you’ve finished. And again, don’t comment on what your partner writes, whatever you may think!

Here are some sample pictures

And a quick video-in-action…

4 responses so far

Feb 01 2013

Listening and Acceptance as Core Facilitation Skills

I’m preparing for what might be a challenging facilitation gig this month involving a very complex domain, diverse perspectives, at least three languages and rooms where the tables are nailed to the floor. I actually love the first three things. The tables nailed to the floor asks for every bit of my creativity and ability to improvise with space, sound and time. So in preparation, I’m keeping my radar attuned to things floating in front of me. This is how I get inspired. It is like a magnetic field for ideas. Here is what came across the radar today, via a link from the Applied Improvisation Network‘s Facebook Page.

Lives In Progress: Listening And Acceptance: Improvising Our Way To Relationship With The Pre-Contemplative Person.

Acceptance of their offer, even if it is tinged with hostility or hoisted by layers of defensive projections about me and what I represent to them, is absolutely essential to engagement with the group. Acceptance of their offer is most often acceptance of their worldview, which most of us will freely share with others who listen without judgment. That is the hard part. To listen without imposing our will on another person even when it seems abundantly clear that their worldview can wind up killing them. Listening and acceptance of the offer of another person’s worldview are power tools in the improvisers toolkit, the builders of meaningful connection. Because why should anyone collaborate with me about a difficult, usually painful and conflict-inducing process of change if I fail to understand the way they see their story? How can I become a part of someone’s story – and no amount of intellectualizing or information-giving influences a person’s choices unless the new message and the messenger become part of his/her story – if I set myself apart from it?

The author, Jude Treder-Wolff. goes on to quote Daniel Pink, from his new book, To Sell is Human.

“The first principle of improvisation-hearing offers-hinges on attunement, leaving our own perspective to inhabit the perspective of another,” he writes. “And to master this aspect of improvisation, we must rethink our understanding of what it is to listen and what constitutes an offer.” Digging into the meaning of improvisation exercises designed to cultivate these skills, he concludes that “once we listen in this new, more intimate way, we begin hearing things we might have missed. And if we listen this way during our efforts to move others, we quickly realize that what seem outwardly like objections are often offers in disguise.” (p. 192)

Then, of course, the magnetic field continued to strengthen and I came across a couple of Facebook posts from the amazing Kat Koppet, who probably doesn’t know that I regularly open her book (Training to Imagine) to some random page and, with that magnetic field, find inspiration and knowledge. She posted a scan of a letter that Robert Lowe sent her which contains some amazing advice to us that resonates with this idea of listening and acceptance. With permission, here are the two pages of the letter.



In my work with international development agencies, people are passionate about solving global problems, feeding the world, saving the planet. With this passion can come an almost blinding form of advocacy, to be heard, to be validated, that can cripple listening, idea creation and collaboration. We SO want to be right and solve the problem, but this can become the problem. There is so much value placed on data, on solutions that we forget to listen for context and meaning. So I’m going to think hard, or maybe better yet, open my mind to what possibilities I can weave into my next engagement that seek space for listening and acceptance as the ground for working really hard, well and with joy on tough, intractable problems.

Any advice to share?


Edit, just a few minutes later… I see this Tweet from Linda Stone:


5 responses so far

Jun 19 2012

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!

4 responses so far

Next »

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.
%d bloggers like this: