Can you make it more playful and more serious?

picture by Donald Zolan (and, by the way, not my child) http://abstract.desktopnexus.com/wallpaper/430791/

picture by Donald Zolan (and, by the way, not my child) http://abstract.desktopnexus.com/wallpaper/430791/

What? Everything.

Keith McCandles of Liberating Structures asked me this question when I shared my instructions for the use of network pattern cards with him. He proposed to make it more serious by inviting a group to explore a shared problem and to make it more playful by asking: “What is the pattern you would need to choose if you really wanted to mess this up?” And only after that the group would pick the pattern they think will make them succeed. This follows the idea of the liberating structure TRIZ.

His question stuck with me – way beyond the concrete discussion of how to facilitate a group experience. Now it has a place of honor on a post-it on my office wall: “Can I make it more playful and more serious?” How would my life and work be, if I made it more playful and serious.

When I am with my kids, could I have more playful openness and laugh more about things that just aren’t that important AND have the mindful focus of someone who knows that this is serious, that these few years of closeness run by quicker than you think and that every moment matters.

At my work, what would happen if I played and improvised more freely, inviting myself, my colleagues, our clients to use play for experiencing the changes we aim for in an nonthreatening environment – it’s only play after all. And what if at the same time I was much more serious about my aspiration, much braver about naming and claiming the changes I really care about, allowing myself to really care about them?

What are the things in your life that could be transformed by being more playful and more serious? Are you taking steps in that direction already?

Can a high school drop-out find a job with Net-Map?

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(Picture copyright Lydia on flickr)

Karen is an 18 year old high school drop-out with a criminal record for shop-lifting, some limited work experience at McDonald’s, a boyfriend she rarely talks to and no idea how she can start earning enough money to move out of her mother’s place and start a more independent life. Will drawing a Net-Map help her understand who can help her make the next step, who she needs to avoid, what issues she has to tackle next and where some unexplored opportunities lie?

It seems like the answer is yes. Well, kind-of… Because Karen is the role one of our Net-Map training participants played, she isn’t a real teenager, but rather the aggregate of a number of girls our colleague has worked with. To figure out if this method could possibly work in untangling the web of family, friends, parole officers, minimum wage employers etc. that may influence the next step forward for a girl like Karen. As the role play went on it became more and more involved and somehow felt real. The most powerful part of it came at the end, when “Karen” started considering how to change the influence of different actors in the network. What it would feel like if some of the influence was taken away from her boyfriend and transferred to her. What would it take? Could you make it happen? What is stopping you?

I am excited to see that we, as a community of practice, are expanding what Net-Map can do, working with it as a tool for personal counselling and working with younger audiences. As some regular readers might know, my youngest Net-Mapper was my daughter, at age three, when we mapped out “Who loves who in the family.” And I am convinced that understanding the power of your networks, both positive and negative, can be a game changer for teenagers at the cross-roads. So, if you do have a teenager at hand who is willing to try it out, it would be wonderful if you could Net-Map their future with them. Not the whole wide expanse of all of their future. But a challenging and concrete next step that they need to master. And please, share your experience.

 

Network Mapping for personal development – a retreat for women

 

If you allow the wind to lift you up, you can fly (picture by Dan Markeye)

If you allow the wind to lift you up, you can fly (picture by Dan Markeye)

I have been exploring the power of Net-Map for personal development and happiness for a few years now. Because I am convinced: When it comes to living life fully, the network you are embedded in plays a great role, both supporting you and holding you back at times.

So, it is with a big smile on my face that I can announce: I have found two wonderful ladies who will take this to the next level with me and we will be offering our first personal development and network mapping retreat this fall.

Merianne Liteman

Merianne Liteman

Merianne Liteman is a seasoned facilitator, whose creative facilitation training changed my life (but that is a different story).

Paulina Escobar

Paulina Escobar

Paulina Escobar is a transformational life coach, who is most attuned to the energy in the room. And both of them are the cheerful, warm people who I was waiting to meet to make this retreat come true.

Participants will map out their personal development Net-Maps (ConnectionsMaps), explore their meaning and dig deeper with creative exercises, mind-body work, conversation and quiet introspection. This will prepare them for the next step of drawing a new map, charting their future path to healthier and more supportive networks.

We will hold this first retreat on October 24-26 at the Loyola Retreat Center in Baltimore, MD in a beautiful light-filled space. Please find more detail and sign up information here.

Make your own oracle – or just use mine

RWS_Tarot_02_High_Priestess

I am fascinated with card decks that help you think, discover, work in groups, get unstuck. I have talked with some amazing people about their cards: Keith McCandless one of the creators of liberating structures,  Dave Pollard of the team behind group works deck, Tom  Wambke who is in the process of turning the compass online facilitation resources into a card deck – in an great google hangout facilitated and convened by Nancy White of full circle associates.

What brought this conversation on is a card deck on network structures that can be helpful or harmful to the success of a project, which I am working on the moment. An unintended effect came a few nights after the hangout, when I had one of those moments of inspiration (of the “rainy season in Namibia type“) and created a daily question deck. It’s extremely simple and – as I am observing my first guinea pigs – quite powerful all the same. Each card has a question for you to ponder. That’s it. The way I am using it at the moment is: Every morning you draw a card and that is your question of the day. You put it in your pocket, on your desk, on your kitchen table and while you are going through your day as you normally would, the question is there, sitting there patiently, waiting for answers to bubble up. These are a whole range of questions, such as:

  • Who has your back?
  • What would happen if you said the truth?
  • What would a 4 year old recommend?
  • What would you do if you knew the answer?
  • What don’t you see?

I have formatted them so you can download them here (daily question cards) and print them on standard pre-perforated business cards and start playing right away. Go ahead: Print and play. Add your own. Tell me how you use them. What you learned. Do you work with other facilitation card decks that you find inspiring? I’d love to hear from you.

When creativity hits you, drink it like a camel before a desert crossing

The craziest stuff starts to bloom once the rain hits (picture by Andesine on flickr)

The craziest stuff starts to bloom once the rain hits (picture by Andesine on flickr)

I don’t know about you, but for me creativity is like the rainy season in Namibia: two months of hoping for the crazy rains that fall from the sky with the force of a waterfall and turn the desert into a psychodelic sea of flowers – after ten months of blue skies and barely a drop of water to be found. So, what I have learned when I am on a roll, when the ideas come flooding in and I could develop a new project every minute, to go with the flow, drink it all in, not be scared or ration it.

Oh yes, I’d love to turn my creativity into something that more resembles the moderate climate of Germany, where you get a little bit of rain every month, so floods are rare, nature is accustomed to having a whole spring, summer and fall to complete a growing circle and everything is in well organized order. But for me it doesn’t work that way. And I cannot tell my mind: Wait, stop having all these ideas, moderate yourself, keep some of them for next month.

So all I can do is fearlessly let them come out like a waterfall, capture and share what I can. I send some out in the world, by sharing them with people who might be interested in and capable of implementing what I only treat as a passing thought. And I capture some well enough that I can keep on working on the idea, tinkering, testing, perfecting it during the dry season. Because a new idea is a nice thing to have, but to turn it into something (an innovation, a project, a work of art) requires far more than the initial inspiration, there is a lot rather un-creative hard work required.

But if I tried to slow down and ration the ideas that come to me, to turn inspiration into a more orderly process, I would have one of these terrible dry rainy seasons I have seen in Namibia, where nothing follows the first torrential rainfall, you look at the sky in desparation every day, some clouds might build up far in the distance but all you get is wind and dry thunderstorms.

Is perfect really perfect?

Perfection is a dead end road that leads to a castle with closed doors (picture credit: lamdogjunkie on flickr)

It has become fashionable in job interviews to ask applicants about their greatest weakness. And it has become about as fashionable to answer: “Well, my biggest weakness is that I am a perfectionist.” And to go on explaining how this, obviously, is actually a strength, just hidden behind a humble face and the pretense of “yeah, it’s a weakness that I just can’t help always wanting everything to be perfect.” And who wouldn’t want a perfect employee, right?

Well, the more I work with perfectionnists, the more I realize that yes, indeed, this is a weakness – which might even become disabling to the perfectionnist and his or her colleagues. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we should all just chill and be mediocre. But I think being a good-enough-ist, a get-the-important-stuff-right-ist or a be-great-but-know-when-to-stop-ist can be much more productive, effective, and team compatible than a perfectionist.

Why? What is the problem with wanting everything to be perfect?

Well, it starts with the “everything”: If you need everything to be perfect, you can easily put as much energy, anguish and stress in a typo on the last page of the annex of a report as you put in the bigger picture issues. Which means you have problems prioritizing and, in the worst case, might run out of energy, time and resources before you get to the big issues.

And it continues with the notion of “perfect” in an imperfect world. It is common sense that you use 20% of the energy to finish a task to about 80% and the remaining 80% of the energy to get it to 100% perfection. That is a lot of energy used on incremental improvements. How much of this is really necessary? Well, that depends on what we are talking about (baking a birthday cake or open heart surgery?). But, as we have seen above, when “everything” has to be perfect, there is no way of knowing when the 100% perfection are actually needed and when a lower level is still absolutely fine.

But let me go one step further and just say it: Sometimes it is better not to be perfect! Yes, you have heard me: Sometimes a perfect product, performance or result is worse than an imperfect one. Why is that? Because perfection is a lonely state of affair. A perfect performance invites no-one, it says: “Don’t mess with this!” instead of “Come, let’s grow together!”. You have probably seen cakes that look so perfect you feel you can’t eat them, because that would mean destroying perfection – now, how perfect is that, a cake you wont eat…? So, in any situation where you are aiming at engaging others, thinking together, encouraging them to share, help and contribute (or eat the cake), a perfect presentations sends the message: “I am IT and you are my audience. Now be quiet and listen to my greatness.”

There is another risk in perfection. It encourages stagnation and the end of innovation. If, after all, this is the perfect thing, any change would make it less perfect. So, perfection is like a dead-end, a street leading nowhere but to this one beautiful house with all doors closed.

So, here’s to all the scribbling, speaking as you think, sharing before it is perfect, asking for help and getting stuff done together.

Own it – with a smile

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(Picture by Alan Cleaver on flickr)

How do you deal with situations you are not 100% comfortable with? How do you approach your work and your family life when it gets stressful? Are you quick to blame others for whatever goes wrong? Are you inclined to focus on all the different ways that you have messed it up?

How about owning it with a smile?

What does that mean? I started thinking about this last week, attending an amazing creative facilitation training by Retreats that Work (or, more specifically, Merianne Liteman and Sheila Campbell). They highlighted the power of an honest smile, how it can light up the room, make the most difficult group processes more bearable and convey to participants that you approach them in a positive, inviting manner. As a German I come from a culture where you only smile if you have a reason – and even then, you often don’t. My German friends think I have become Americanized… I am not sure my American friends would agree. There is still a lot of room for adding more smiles, with or without concrete reason. So I just started trying it out: What would happen if I smiled more? Not a “I’m sorry I’m in your way” kind of smile but rather a “I own my own space and invite you to join me here” smile.

At the end of the training I realized that “owning it – with a smile” is a powerful guidance for dealing with things beyond group facilitation. So I have looked at a number of issues both in my professional and private life and asked myself: What would happen if you didn’t blame others or yourself for this, but own it with a smile? If feels like breathing in – in a way that makes your lungs expand and fills you with fresh spring air. Now I’m curious where it will get me. And I’d love to hear from you: Do you own it with a smile? What does that mean to you? And what happens if you do?