Accepting the Invite…

Sorry that there was no entry last week folks – my first gap in this weekly blog. The reason? I’ve been busy in Bethlehem and Ramallah. I was there with the British Council to give an overview of our University’s recent developments in the context of the particular themes of fostering graduates with entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial skill sets and attitudes. It’s something with which universities in the region are currently grappling.

I haven’t been to this part of the world before. It’s instantly fascinating. In reflecting on the four and a half days spent out there, my immediate impression is reinforcement of the opinion that, whilst our news channels may not necessarily lie, they certainly don’t tell the whole truth. I think it’s too complicated to fit into news-sized bulletins.

And the whole place is beautifully intoxicating, friendly and curious. It’s a heady mix of ancient influences, jaw dropping architecture with echoes carrying for two millennia, car fumes, winding roads, wheeling, dealing, jasmine scent (in blossom at the moment) and seemingly endless construction and roadworks – every development backs onto scrubland or another plan/ SME in the making.

And in the background is the wall. A dividing undercurrent – concrete, barbed wire and oh so noisily silent, affecting all conversations. Checkpoints abound. A car journey that should take 15 minutes can take more than an hour because of the checkpoints. Little signs on the vehicle registration plates give, or deny, quiet permissions. Underlying tension bubbles and then erupts in places.

On arrival, after a very hectic day first day of conference presentations (including my own) meetings and the beginning of setting up business for the next day (I went to Ahliya University, Bethlehem University on Tuesday and then BZ on Wednesday to give two more presentations) and after being awake for about 30 hours, I decided to take a little wander out in the dusk of Bethlehem.

I trundled for about an hour and took meandering ancient streets to Manger Square, walking along cobbles that are centuries old, now blackened by car tyres. In Manger Square itself, kids playing football jostle for space in a central car park which also has street vendors selling biscuits and black tea from battered flasks. In the background there was the call of the mosques competing with the music from stores and car stereos, itself a jarring cultural mix of influences. I passed one shop selling wooden trinkets and fabrics and there was a jamming session in full progress. Several old men were sat on stools with a number of stringed instruments (not guitars, sounded like sitars, but not) all playing chords and music unfamiliar to my ears. It was fast moving and intricate. Along the way, small details I came across in the architecture jumped out at me – little signals of huge tectonic stories. A particular cross here, or an inscription on stone there, and everywhere a meeting of Arabic, Jewish and Christian influences. Take a look at this little flickr album for some photos and a (very) short video.

I slept (very well) on the first night with the balcony doors open. I fell asleep, and woke up to the humming haze of the city. As I wrote the early part of this entry I could hear early morning car horns and what I think were church bells alongside the call to prayer from the mosques. A digger also started singing its tune in the day’s building works. A true meeting of cross-cultural influences in every sense.

Again, as with several of the previous posts on this blog, I think what I’m writing about here is being alive to, and accepting, the invite. If I’d taken our UK news channels (paper/ media and any other) as the gospel, I don’t think I would have stepped out the hotel room. Of course there are risks, of course there is danger, of course there are people out to take advantage. But it’s the same everywhere and there is also always a huge potential for discovery, growth and generally Good Stuff. The key is recognising when an invite has been given. Most of the time, really, most of the time, there is one there; it’s just a case of seeing it and having the will (courage?) to openly say yes. (And thank you).

Taking my own advice, I was with a guy called Samir on the second day. He was driving me across Bethlehem from one appointment to another and through conversation he offered to show me a place that grinds really good coffee – a take home for the office (they mix it with cardamon here – amazing). He offered to take me there the next day – its a place called Nazeem’s and apparently Nazeem’s mum is the one to speak to if you want the best. What a beautiful invite. I graciously accepted (and said thank you).

See you next week.


Problematic Wading and Creative Running

Our new Strategy at the University of Salford signals a really, really different way of working. Central to this is the idea (enabler/ catalyst) of co-creation. The phrase was made popular in the early 2000s by  C. K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy in The Future of Competition. Writing from a business perspective, Prahalad and Ramaswamy have defined co-creation as;

“The joint creation of value by the company and the customer; allowing the customer to co-construct the service experience to suit their context” (Prahalad and Ramaswamy, 2004, p. 8).

At Salford, we’re using this term as a means to define a mode of doing whereby the doing is not done in a silo and then presented to all stakeholders for input, rather the doing is done by a interdisciplinary, or cross institutional team from a range of internal and where necessary external stakeholder groups who start by co-defining the issue or problem and then co-create the solution together. The outcome, or eventual output carries with it a sense of co-ownership which creates a sense of pride and achievement – ‘We made this!’, rather than ‘You made this and then gave it to me – its not entirely what I wanted…’

To undertake this process, as has been alluded to in previous posts on this blog, is to live in messy space, as ideas and thoughts are contributed from all sides and the working group tries to find its way, develop a shared language and get going – just those stages can take some time.

And therein lies the issue – If we are equipping our staff to be able to co-create, we need to build this process of understanding with them and do it co-creatively – in essence, use the values and attributes of co-creation to create an understanding and institutional working practice of co-creation – something of a catch 22.

It’s going to take a considerable amount of time, effort and different thinking to make this happen, not least because the alluring, siren-like pull of habit is oh so very comforting. However, we have compelling, well founded reasons behind needing to make this shift, not least the recognition that interdisciplinary collaborative working for our staff and students allows us to develop innovative, creative solutions, skill sets and attitudes which are valued by a global industry marketplace. It also offers the opportunity for exciting research, learning and teaching to evolve in symbiosis.

In true co-creative spirit, I’ve been working on this problem with a cross-institutional group of staff from PS and academic areas to begin to try and crack it. The group was originally about 25 and now has become a core collective of about 12-15 of us. It’s taken a while for us to arrive at a meaningful problem definition and the experience has, as the title of this post suggests, been a little like wading (uphill through treacle in winter time). Very much fun, but there’s been an underlying sense of nailing mist to the wall at times… But this is a necessary part of the process. However, two things have just happened, and have been achieved by this group which, yesterday, for the first time, gave us the sense that we might be able to start running.

The first is that we’ve started Loomio. It’s a great online tool for collaborative decision making – we’ve started using it to shape decision and interactions between our monthly face to face sessions. What’s really helpful is that Loomio focuses on a decision process, rather than a comment-thread process (although that is there.)

Secondly, in yesterday’s gathering, on the back of significant pre-meeting loomio discussion, we somehow broke through the wading and by means of iterative suggestions and comments, each of which built on or expanded those preceding it, managed to create something, the sum of which is greater than the parts. Still ideas at this point, but now we are able to start doing with a clarity of purpose – the commonality of thinking and direction between this group and other groups in the University also pointed to coalescence for the first time (something of a relief). Interestingly, I don’t think we’d be able to run as we’re about to without a significant amount of wading having taken place. Again, I’m reminded of the creative journeys described in Keith Sawyer’s Group Genius.

See you next week.

Meddling in the middle

So, I’ve been writing a conference paper on how the skillset and attitudes associated with intrapreneurialism (like entrepreneurialism, but in the context of a large company structure) are systematically fostered as part of a higher education learning experience. (This is why this post is a couple of days late – the date of a deadline divided by the number of fingers I have to type with, and then multiplied by my ability to multitask through one screen = lateness – there’s a workable formula there somewhere…)

Anyway, in writing this paper, I re read some of Erica McWilliam’s work. I actually stumbled on her words in another article on this site – a great treasure trove of thinking on the practice and study of creativity in higher education teaching and learning.

In having my mind wander in the direction of this blog, I was (re)struck by McWilliams’ description of the tutor working in heutagogical connectivist practices as the ‘meddler in the middle’. Stepping beyond the social connectivism of the ‘guide on the side’, I love the idea of the tutor engaging with their students’ learning as ‘meddling in the middle’ of things.

Here’s why.

I think meddling is a deliberate act of subversive, disruptive intervention and, at its best, generosity, sacrifice, perseverance and invention.

As those who are close to me know, I like cooking. I also like meddling; I think the two go hand in hand quite well – playing the deliberate imp to the imposed regulations of the cookbook is a delight. Meddling acknowledges the recipe, it just might not follow it. Why not chuck this in, or that in, or why not add wine to the mix appearing in the pan (actually, that happens quite a bit.)

And it’s really rewarding. When I take a recipe and then meddle with it, or twist it, to then serve it up to guests and receive compliments on the taste its a little nudge to go a little further next time. Of course, there have been the losses and the mistakes (chocolate chilli pear crumble, was, at a conceptual level, an exceptional idea. Sadly, on reflection, this verve did not translate into an experience I would wish upon those I hold in high regard. Or indeed, in any regard at all.) But these momentary set backs are more than an adequate price to pay for the general direction of travel, which is a personal sense of success and reward at having meddled, invented and come out with something good.

The meddler charmingly dismantles the pre-ordained system, the foregone conclusions and the comforting blanket of certainty, but, deliciously, does this with a playful purpose that unseats. At its best, meddling also creates an outcome which no one on their own could have created. The solitary endeavour towards excellence pales into insignificance besides the creativity which comes from meddling. Life (learning) is simply too perfect, too uniform, too predictable without a little meddling.

Crucially, I think, is the intention behind the meddle. I think if one is to have positive intentions, then, as Mcwilliam indicates, the middle is the place to be – far more risky, far more at stake, but in this position, the meddler has to follow mouth with money, so to speak.

Being in the middle whilst meddling also infers a co-ownership of the item, or task, or path, or route – the thing being meddled with – between the all of the meddlers. If meddling from the outside is politics, (ooohhh) meddling from the inside is a concerted, generous activism – there’s personal stakes and a vulnerability at play there – the potential of a price being paid which is intrinsically and inextricably linked to the outcome of the meddling for all involved.

Meddling can also be profoundly uncomfortable at times, especially when working with students in the realm of a shared endeavour towards an outcome which (hopefully) gains clarity through the doing. The possibility for failure is always present, but the reward for co-produced success is a profound sense of achievement, learning and growth.

So in the interests of continuing to help create and steer the development of the learning journey for our students at the University of Salford and in the interests of creating a profound transformative journey which is, at times unpredictable, disruptive, playful, uncertain and generously spirited, I shall actively meddle from the middle. I’ll leave you with a short clip of with a commentary on two of the most gifted meddlers of all time. I think this video says more about the learned skill craft of productive disruptive ‘meddling from the middle’ than I ever could.

See you next week.

Tough Mudder running: Getting Out Of My Head, Part One

This is going to be the first part of a two-part post – the next post on this topic is going to be coming in August sometime…

I did a Tough Mudder run on the weekend with a friend. I like to think he was persuaded to undertake such activity due to our longstanding friendship, his trust in me and his own desire to try new challenges and get a little fitter. In reality I’d have to admit that I may have prodded a glass or two of wine in his direction in the rosy cosy glow of Christmas cheer and slid the website under his nose when I saw a moment of weakness. Still, it all paid off and for better or for worse, I had found myself a companion for Tough Mudder London West, the first in the 2015 UK season and my 5th Mudder. As I’m now, according to my friends, a fanatic, and, according to my work colleagues (two of which I press-ganged into action for my 3rd TM) a bit of a weirdo for wanting to not only do this kind of thing, but do it more than once, its becoming increasingly difficult to find running companions…

However, this doesn’t matter because of the nature of the TM run; team work is essential, the camaraderie on the course is exceptional, and one’s run time is secondary to the task of pulling/ pushing/ lifting other runners over/ under/ through various obstacles, a certain amount of neck deep mud (no, really) and other similarly inviting terrain.


For those of you unfamiliar with Tough Mudder runs, here’s the lowdown….

It’s a 11-12 mile cross-country obstacle course, with the unifying theme of mud. The obstacles are designed to promote cooperation – some aren’t possible to complete without relying on others. The competitive thread running through many cross country running events is swapped in favour of teamwork and, as mentioned before, a great sense of camaraderie. Overall the accent is on fun-with-a-dose-of-endurance, rather than elite performance. There’s about 20-25 obstacles over the duration of the course. These involve jumping off stuff into stuff, high walls, barbed wire, deep water, submerging oneself in ice, mild electric shock, crawling, tunneling and mud. Lots and lots of mud. I tend to finish the course in around 2:30 – 2:45 – I’m a bit of a plodder. The courses are set all over the world – Tough Mudder is a worldwide movement.

At various points in the course it splits and Mudder Legion – participants who have previously completed an event- get to do a slightly different route, usually involving a different obstacle or task.

The course ends at the same place it started – a base camp with an atmosphere more akin to an outdoor festival than an endurance event. There’s music, food, stalls and various sponsors selling their wares. As one crosses the finish line, a team of Mudder Marshalls greet you, giving you the famous orange head band, some water, a finisher’s t shirt and, the crowning glory, a pint of cider. Despite not personally liking cider, after 12 miles of mud, it remains one of the best drinks I’ve ever had. Similarly to the different coloured belts given for grades in martial arts, Mudder Legion will also collect an additional headband of a different colour which signals the number of events they’ve completed. Everyone covets the black band received at 10+ events… I’m getting there.

What I enjoy most about the Tough Mudder events is that they awaken the body. Even as a seasoned cross-country runner (I run in the hills at least twice a week) and an experienced Tough Mudder runner, I find that the viscerality of the experience is beautifully extreme. One is shocked (quite literally at a couple of points on the course) into a different state of being, wherein one experientially grasps an embodied frame of reference far removed from the everyday. For instance, one can’t really learn about, understand or cognitively prepare for sliding into a neck deep bath of ice, having to then navigate several barriers that require the participant to submerge themselves (this obstacle is lovingly titled the Arctic Enema) – one only learns in the doing – It’s a reawakening, a test of mental stamina and resilience and an utterly absorbing connection to physical sensation through intense physical experience – embodied poetry and hums in the extreme. I find this is a welcome antidote to the relatively disconnected physicality of the digitally blended everyday.

Actually, pausing there to speculate for a moment, I think that’s why such events (there is a proliferation of similar endurance events across the UK and beyond) are gaining popularity. They are an equal and opposite reaction to the life lived by our digital selves; they are sensorially connected, visceral and embodied in the extreme, championing physical cooperation.

Perhaps they are also a reminder that we are fundamentally corporeal beings. Our bodies are the interface through which our consciousness encounters and creates our world as we need to have it appear for us. As Damasio pointed out, central to our existence is the embodied feeling of what happens…

So basically, I’m hooked. I’m doing number 6 in August and possibly number 7 in September. For those with similarly whetted appetites, or conversely, as a cautionary tale told by pictures, here’s a slide show of my Tough Mudders to date…I’ll be adding to it.

Next time, however, I’m taking a chilli-cam. Part Two of the blogpost on this subject is going to give you a 1st person video perspective…

See you next week.

Boxing Clever…

At the University of Salford we are investing heavily in people development. It sounds a blindingly obvious thing to say, but systems, processes and infrastructure aren’t innately intelligent and don’t tend to do stuff – its people that do stuff. Consequently as we start to put our new Vision on the ground and make it happen, we’re making sure that we’ve got people who are able to embrace and use the thrust of the Vision to continually embed positive change and growth in how we do what we do.

One such event that contributed towards the realisation of this landscape happened this last week. The session – Leading Change for a High Performance Culture was run by a company called Bridge. The whole day session was focused on beginning to embed a leadership culture across the organisation and is going to be run in various guises with colleagues across the university who are working at various levels. Importantly, this isn’t just aimed at ‘leaders’, but recognises that fostering what are commonly seen as leadership qualities in colleagues across the university will be beneficial for all. Consequently, the session positioned everyone as a leader in their own right; whether leading a single module, a service area, an academic team or a workflow, the inherent encouragement is towards a recognition of the personal power, responsibility and autonomy to affect positive change.

One aspect of the day I found particularly interesting in the context of the wider musings of this blog was the idea of a set of assumptions, thought patterns and consequent behaviours through which one essentially shuts oneself down, and conversely, the assumptions, thought patterns and behaviours that encourage open dialogue. The session gave this binary the terminology of ‘being in the box/ being out the box.’

The session was helpful because it provided additions to the lexicon that I’m trying to establish/ identify around co-creative behaviours. It’s giving (more) language to this train of thought, and helps in establishing an institutional behavioural terminology.

In thinking about ‘in the box/ out the box’ in relation to the notion of playfulness I explored in the last post, a state of ‘in the box’ does not permit playfulness; the potential for a meaningful dialogue with the world disappears as we focus in on our own internal, (more of than not negative) self-narrative – one that continually confirms our position and reinforces itself through a continuous cycle of agreement. However, the allure of that internal space is so seductive… Its easier to control, there are very few variables and we reign supreme over whatever is unpacked in there, as there is no one else to present a different point of view. Decision making is swifter – no need for consultation, collaboration, debate – just get on with things and go it alone. How easy! How simple! What an attractively clear-cut and dependable oasis of isolationism in an increasingly unstable, uncertain external landscape.

But when it is unpicked and really considered from the perspective of personal reward, meaningful, nurturing engagement, a useful sense of ones purposeful place in the world and an understanding of the contribution one might make to the grand scheme of things, it just ain’t fun.

Yes, being ‘out the box’ is more troublesome, it takes more focused effort and energy as one resists the voice of inner sirens luring us onto the rocky doubting shores of the inside, and yes, its messier. Interaction and remaining open to suggestion is, by definition, messy, unpredictable and exposes our vulnerabilities, requiring compromise, cooperation and a constant determination to develop ones behaviour to invite a good outcome.

But paradoxically, knowing we have the choice, the free will to choose ‘out’ rather than ‘in’ gives an inordinate amount of autonomy and power. Why? – because if one realises that there is always a choice, its almost impossible to lose… What might we do if we knew we couldn’t fail?

And, to draw it back to the wider topic of this blog (stay with me folks) it’s in the messy spaces that serendipity, that playful jouissance exists. The possibility of the unexpected occurring can never arise whilst ‘in the box’; there simply isn’t the wiggle room. If we are to encourage serendipity and work towards systematising it and recognising its place as a useful, consciously employed, creative driving force in the culture and behaviours of a large organisation such as UoS, then it seems to me that the fundamental place to begin, is locally; with our own ‘in the box’ internal narrative.

So, are you in or out? Your choice, your move.

See you next week.

Sunshine, a playful attitude and some imagination

I’ve been thinking about attitudes this week and how they colour ones approach to, and receipt of, well… everything. The thing that nudged me in this direction was an evening walk in beautifully golden sun in the fields and woods near my house. The sunlight was just fantastic and literally coloured everything.


This led me, in my tangential manner (you should all be used to this – this is post 10) to think about how an attitude of playfulness is necessary. This, my lovely readers, is where I went…

Eva Karczag described the way she approaches the act of dancing; ‘playing lightly, with complete absorption, utter conviction and intense pleasure, I enter and inhabit emergent worlds of the imagination and abandon myself to the physical delight of moving’ (Karczag, cited in Claid 2006: 209). Interestingly Karczag also notes the involvement of the imagination in her reflections upon her experience.

Karczag describes ‘emergent worlds’ and a ‘physical delight’; a wonderful description of dance as an imaginative and creative ludic activity, which brings together the possible and the actual into one sphere of being: a merging of the psychic and the objective domains. However, what’s striking about Karczag’s description of what she does, is the implied attitude of the performer during these periods of time. There seems to be a deliberate attitude adopted by the performer in their work, which invites in play. When action is imbued and therefore transformed by this attitude, it becomes played – the attitude of approach is playful and colours everything, like the sunshine from my evening walk. So it seems that the creativity and activated imagination of the individual engaged in play is an essential part of that which makes the activity itself (whatever it is) playful.

Playfulness appears to be a ‘mode of doing’ which must be entered into willingly by the player – it’s a common complaint of artists across disciplines that creativity cannot be demanded, or produced ‘on tap’ – it’s a voluntary state of being into which one enters voluntarily. There’s an element of freedom from the norm in this luxurious space which allows us to move away from the everyday and step into what I’ve touched upon in previous entries here as a liminal space. Conversely, to be creative to order feels a lot like working. I think working play is wholly different from the creative play of a player playing, because working play then becomes work. I always think of this when I accidentally see professional football on the TV (It’s always by accident as I’m channel hopping on the way to somewhere else – I’m not a fan…). Professional football is, to me, just watching people do work. I see teams playing tactically, players playing for the match win bonus, for the accolade, material and otherwise, and I see a game plan unfold driven by league tables and match results. Essentially, I see the deployment of considerable skill and energy in pursuit of extrinsic goals. Very rarely (fingers on one hand time) have I seen the players and the manager forget all the extrinsic motivations and become so absorbed, so engulfed, so drawn in to the game that it ceases to be work. On the rare occasions when this workfulness disappears, the players have room to play, and from a genuine position of loving the act of doing and being absorbed in this, enter a state of playfulness. At the other end of the sporting skills spectrum, I’ve had the fortune to watch several of my friend’s young children play in their Saturday league football matches. These matches, largely bereft of skill, finesse, tactical playing, or more often than not, anything resembling concerted team coordination, are riveting. Every player is totally wrapped in the action, playing with all their might, heart on sleeve. Totally absorbed, totally playful.

In a different but related vein, and thinking about my own discipline background, theatre creates the beautifully paradoxical situation at the heart of systematic playfulness. This is the situation whereby the performer is asked to enter willingly into the game of performance at the same time every night. Whether the player enters playfully into the game or not is part of the perceived difference between a performance that flows and one that does not – work and play again…We’ve all seen electrifying performances and also ones that are just…. flat. The creativity of the performer will engage when they allow themselves to be taken and actually be played themselves by the game, playing it as if for the very first time, in order to uncover, in Viola Spolin’s words ‘personal freedom when we are faced with a reality and see it, explore it and act accordingly. In this reality the bits and pieces of ourselves function as an organic whole. It is the time of discovery, of experiencing of creative vision’ (Spolin 1983: 4). Similarly to Spolin, another performer, Kirstie Simson, in reflecting upon her attitude in performance, explains aspects of playfulness:

‘It’s about honesty. The work is in opening to what is genuine. I try to create an open space that lets people in. The big challenge is in letting myself be who I am. It is very scary to go out there,physically go out there, letting go of everything that fixes. So that is my work, to create an atmosphere of open-ness, so the audience and I can trust the moment of play that is happening.’

D.W. Winnicott (1971) describes this creative playful state of being as a ‘colouring of the whole attitude’ towards actuality. So it seems that the attitude of playfulness and the act of creation is an imaginative sublimation of reality. We are able to see and experience our environment, whatever that might be – an idea, a landscape, a sculpture, a football game, a theatre piece – as new, recreating it as fit for the playing. The activity of make-believe involves a psychic re-appropriation of one’s surroundings in order to create a state of being that is intrinsically motivated – is driven by worth in and of itself. So, using an example of make-believe, or theatre, the player stands on the upturned bucket as a runaway marooned on an island. This ludic act is fun, through and through.

It’s this playfulness, this intrinsic sense of fun that we need find within our endeavours at Salford as we co-create the implementation of our new strategy and build the exciting strategic priority of our Industrial Collaboration Zones. As has been said before, the differentiation is in the how, as much as the what…

A little longer blog than usual, but that’s what a good dose of sunshine does.

See you next week.

Not a meeting…

I had a great meeting at work recently. Actually, ‘meeting’ is the wrong title for such a, erm… meeting. However, ‘session’ sounds a bit too much like we were making free-form jazz and ‘brainstorm’ describes a wholly unproductive use of time in which several people chase ideas along a single thread, where one person could probably do nearly as much.

It was a… gathering (nevermind) of several people, without formal agenda, but with a clear idea of the territory we would be exploring, but without a predetermined idea of outcome, ok?

I was excited about this, because the frame of the… assembly (Nope. Again; sorry) as well as the topic of discussion, offered the possibility for invention. In reflecting on it, I’m reminded of a simulation exercise I did as part of the Leadership Foundation’s SLP3 programme.

The simulation was fun. The SLP3 cohort – a group of about 20 or so colleagues from across UK HEIs – were split into two fictitious institutional management teams, with each team being given a dedicated room. One team was the management team of a small specialist HEI with a distinct heritage and character, which, whilst being of some prestige, did not, unfortunately make ends meet. This small specialist had consequently entered into a partnership with the local large HEI – represented by the other institutional management team, comprising the remainder of the SLP3 cohort. Fed by ‘real time’ facilitator interruptions and ‘new information’ the task for both teams was to balance the competing demands of the changing situation and arrive at a favourable outcome for all. The simulation lasted about 5 hours. It passed in seconds…

Of course what the exercise was actually designed to experientially examine was working team dynamics. A facilitator was assigned to each room and at the end of the exercise, each team had a detailed plenary and discussion about the behaviours and points that had arisen.

Very useful and insightful… more in a minute, as what I’d like to say needs to come at the end.

Jump back across to the real world …

Myself and three colleagues were having a… get-together (awful descriptor – too redolent of a 1970’s cheese and wine do) to do some creative thinking around aspects of the organisational development aligned to the Education and Student Experience Strategy. It had been a while coming because, learning from the previous experience of myself and one other colleague in the room, we put aside three hours for this meeting (the last one had been a four hour + creative blitz) and finding a slot where all four of us had three consecutive hours available all at the same time had been a feat of outlook acrobatics…

So, the…summit (help me) happened and predictably (or surprisingly depending on your stance) 3 hours again disappeared in seconds, confirming that time has nothing to do with the man made construct of the clock, but is an Individual Thing dependent upon ones attitude to the activity being undertaken. During this time, as was the case in the SLP simulation, the bubble occurred – that absorbing liminal space often found at the bottom of a book, or in the pursuit of crafting something, or practicing something.

My PhD focused on the nature of this absorption, itself an essential component of flow. I’ve discovered through the doctoral study and in further reflections, big and small, that absorption is essentially a kind of conversation between the self and other; instances wherein one loses oneself in the doing and the other kind of takes over a little. In these periods of time, the creative direction of travel seems to almost take on a life of its own and drift somewhat out of ones control.

Interestingly in the context of the creative… session (maybe it is session…) I first mentioned and the SLP3 simulation exercise the absorptive other is both the ideas being generated, and the other people in the room. In contrast to the lone venture of the solitary sculptor (for instance) this flow was communal; ideas were bounced back and forth, interrogated and re-interrogated, understandings were hashed and rehashed and it was the interplay of individual contributions which produced outcomes constituting more than the sum of the parts. This idea of flow as a group endeavour has been explored in Group Genius by Keith Sawyer – great read for anyone interested in this…

So, in thinking about both the idea of the conversation with other, as a part of (productive) absorption and thinking about the two instances of group work – what are the principles, or operating guidelines for this liminal space? What did we do both times? What behaviours were consistent across both iterations? (be prepared for a starter for ten list folks– its not exhaustive…)

  •  We didn’t meet in a ‘normal’ setting – this was a different space for all of us, therefore tacit normative behaviours and assumptions were easier to ignore if one so desired.
  •  We spent some time ‘checking in’ – in both groups the start of the meeting had spacetime for us to leave whatever was not needed at the door.
  •  We trusted, and therefore could say whatever.
  •  There was no hierarchy in the room – everyone’s opinion and thought was valid – people were playing themselves, not their day job.
  •  We drew things and kept things visible–someone took up the reins of scribe early on in each meeting and recorded everything – flipcharts and whiteboards rein supreme – analogue rules.
  •  We kept ideas bubbling between us, not settling or bouncing into groupthink and positive reinforcement of each others ideas, but maintaining a state of what Ronald Heifetz has called ‘cooking the conflict’.
  •  We had plenty of snacks (maltesers, cakes and coffee were a recurrent theme – I know healthier options are available, but; maltesers. Maltesers, people.)

See you next week.