Embracing your inner fool

It is natural to not want to look foolish, but we could be missing out on the power of embracing our inner fool? We like to use our foolishness to uncover wisdoms and ideas that can pass us by unnoticed.

It seems an obvious truth that being the fool in a group or team will mean we are in a low status position within that group or team structure. This is not necessarily true. We can embrace the position of the fool and find that this position has great power.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

The first time I embraced my inner fool

As a younger man, I worked in recording studios as a recording engineer and producer. I often worked with young bands, often a group of young men full of testosterone and posturing. If you imagine a recording studio as a smallish room (I was never an engineer in one of those huge studios, you might see on TV, like Abbey Road) that you pile equipment and people into in close proximity to one another, that was the environment I was working in.

Now a lot of the time I worked with bands that had not worked in studios too often.  The group may also have constraints of a limited budget which translated to limited time. This then translated to a higher than average possibility for disagreements to become conflict. The way I sometimes dealt with this was to take on a persona of allowing myself to be deemed the fool in the room and allow the band to create a relationship with me that did not automatically put them into a lower status than me, despite me having the studio expertise and experience. This allowed me to put forward suggestions, ideas and resolutions that would be considered without instant dismissal.

This is just one illustration of how using the persona of the fool allowed me to exert an awful lot of power in this type of situation without being overly authoritative and courting conflict.

What are some benefits of being the fool?

There are a number of possible benefits of embracing our inner fool. These could include:

  • Being able to say something that others view as taboo or unsayable
  • Adopting the power of play by following a naive curiosity, seeing things as if for the first time
  • Allowing ourselves to ask questions without judging the question before we ask
  • Offering a set of checks and balances on power within a team or organisation
  • Being able to be the outsider, this is why it is often the place of consultants and facilitators like me to take on the role of fool.

Get in touch with us and we can create workshops that help you to explore and embrace your inner fool. Let’s play!

Shared Values, How do we Create them

Have you ever shared your values with your colleagues or partners? What about creating a shared set of values? Many organisations have never attempted to do this.

Creating shared values could be key to creating a harmonious team and recruiting the right members to that team.

How values make it easier to team up

Over a decade ago, Adidas teamed with the Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus. Through working with Yunus’s micro-finance organisation Grameen Bank, Adidas was part of one of the most successful Corporate Social Responsibility programmes I have seen. The idea was to provide good quality footwear to people in India who had limited means to ordinarily access such products.

The project spotted how shared value can be built to bridge between the social need of the end customer and the business needs of Adidas.

How can we use Shared Values in our businesses?

Knowing the values you have enables you to take advantage of them to:

  • Create simple principles to work to
  • Recruit others who share your values
  • Find new opportunities that align to your values
  • Collaborate with other organisations
  • Check your decisions to make sure they align with your values

Playful ways to explore your values

We provide numerous ways to explore your values via playful facilitated workshops using games and story sharing. Using these techniques commonalities can emerge and be built upon to find the right shared values for you.

These can include:

Get in touch with us and we can help your organisation and teams explore Shared Values and how they can help your work. Let’s play!

Are we what we do?

On Wednesday the 24th of November I had a long conversation with Matthew Bellringer on his Webcast Delightful Dissent. We tackled the subject “Are we what we do?” and we also looked at that from the reverse of allowing our professional lives to be defined by who we are. It is a discussion born out of our shared curiosity and is wide-ranging taking in elements of curiosity, complexity, creativity and of course how play fits into all of these areas.

I have had many wonderful conversations and discussions with Matthew in the years we have known one another. As a result we have developed a mutual respect in the curiosities of our different avenues of work. We also support one another where our work intersects.

Some of the topics brought up in this discussion include:

For more of Matthew’s webcasts with various other participants on wide ranging topics surrounding Neurodivergence within the workplace see the Delightful Dissent YouTube channel here.

Get in touch with us and we can help your organisation and teams explore Creativity, Divergence, Curiosity and how they can help your work. Let’s play!

Make your ideas greater by embracing Yes, And…

Yes, And. The groundwork for all improv as it is the seed that aids in building something from the ground up and provides a frame that everything else hangs from. Am I mixing metaphors too easily? You bet I am, because I used the principles of Yes, And to start this article. But can Yes, And help in the serious world of work?The elephant in the room

Work doesn’t have to be approached as seriously as we tend to. Approach it with intent and purpose, for sure, but as a great villain once said: “why so serious?”

We can approach work without an insistence on a serious demeanour, with a more playful attitude, and still attain and expect a purposeful, carefully considered outcome. These two things are not incompatible. In fact, in certain points in any project, a playful attitude and playlike actions can be entirely beneficial, and more than that, desirable.

Play, when used well, can lead to a wider selection of ideas and a more collaborative team.

So what is Yes, And?

Yes, And is more of a principle or mindset than a rule. It doesn’t really mean having to say yes to anything offered to you or asked of you, as that could be detrimental in so many ways. What the principle allows us to do is bypass that mechanism in our brain that judges an idea as soon as we have heard it, allowed it to breathe, added to it and nurtured it into something brilliant.

A small example of Yes, And in action

I am reminded of how my daughter and her friends played when they were 3 or so. I would often hear them saying to each other:

  • “Pretend I have a shop and you want to buy some sweets”
  • “Yes, and then pretend we can eat the sweets and play in the park”

There have been many scenarios like this where each child builds on the others idea to create a play-space that is richer and full of the product of more than one imagination.

As an aside, I am reminded of one particular time when my daughter was playing with the little boy from over the road. She was, very much, into her dolls and he was, very much, into Star Wars at that time. Their conversation went something like:

  • “Pretend, I have all these babies to look after”
  • “Pretend I am a Jedi with a light saber”
  • “Yes, you go off to work at Star Wars, while I look after the babies, I’ll see you when you get home from work”

Now, gender roles aside, this is an interesting negotiation that uses Yes, And well. At first, the needs of each child might seem incompatible for a coherent game to develop but the key is that they found a way forward by both accepting the reality each other had offered.

The benefits of Yes, And

The image used at the top of this article is entirely purposeful. You see, I love a hot chocolate, so if anyone offers me one I am totally going to say yes. But recently I went to a local café and they had hot chocolate on the menu, but they’d yes-anded(?) themselves by offering a hot chocolate with maltesers and cream and little bits of flake, dusted with chocolate powder. I was all like “Yes please”.

My point is they’d said “yes” to an idea, the hot chocolate, and then added the “and” to create something even greater. That is the brilliance of yes and, it prompts us to create better. (I must confess, I felt a little sick afterwards, but I know I’ll have another one next time I’m in that café).

This is not the only benefit of adopting this transforming mindset. There are many more, I am sure more examples are surfacing all the time the more we adopt the mindset in different contexts. Max Dickins from Hoopla Impro wrote in his excellent book Improvise! that:

‘yes,and’ can help make you more creative at work, have better conversations at home and be more adventurous everywhere.

Other benefits of the ‘Yes, And’ mindset include:

  • Resolving conflict and disagreements;
  • Negotiating a way forward (as the example above shows);
  • Being more creative by allowing for more ideas to be considered;
  • Delaying judgment of other’s contributions or offers;
  • Listening with intent to understand.

There are more as secondary benefits occur. Since I adopted the ‘Yes, And’ mindset my relationship with my family is generally a lot more fun and this means I feel a lot lighter in myself. So you can see it has been good for my own mental health and strength.

A word of caution

I have previously mentioned that ‘Yes, And’ does not mean you have to agree with everything offered or say yes to everything. This could lead you into dangerous territory or ridicule. Saying ‘Yes, And’ is a way to explore and allow your curiosity to grow. It is not having to agree to everything. You can still say no, even when adopting a ‘Yes, And’ mindset. Part of making good creative decisions is to converge on the good and useful ideas and this means part of creativity is knowing what to say no to.

So, let us explore ideas before we use our default editor to shut them down. But also. let’s keep ourselves and our teams safe by knowing we can still use no to protect ourselves against the bad ideas and the darker manipulative ones.

In fact exploring ideas using ‘Yes, And’ can help us figure out when an idea is likely to be problematic even when it seems a good and harmless idea when taken at face value. Exploration and curiosity is key and ‘Yes, And’ helps us explore and follow our curiosity.

How to ‘Yes, And’

This is a short exercise you can try to introduce ‘Yes, And’ to your team, colleagues or family.

Yes And Friend

In small groups (4 or 5).

The scenario is you are all colleagues talking about another colleague, friend or family member  who is not present. You all really like this person. You all start to make statements in turn about this person. For example:

  • 1st person: Ashley has settled into the new team really well.
  • 2nd person: YES they are a real joy to have in the office, AND they make great coffee.
  • 3rd person: YES Ashley makes great coffee AND they can adjust the AC with the power of their mind.
  • 4th person: YES they can adjust the AC with the power of their mind, AND they help to elevate the standard of all our work…

A couple of things are happening within this exercise. Firstly, we need to listen intently to be able to repeat what is added each time. Secondly, we are accepting each addition and not negating or blocking the offer. The fictional colleague being described can have qualities you’d really appreciate in a team member and, as they are fictional, they can have supernatural powers, or just great social skills like making good coffee. The point is not what is said but how it is accepted and built on by each person. Give it a try.

Note, nobody is attempting to control where this is going.

There are numerous exercises and games we use to help teams adopt a ‘Yes, And’ mindset. We run workshops on this for organisations and teams large or small in the public or private sector.

Get in touch with us and we can help your organisation and teams explore ‘Yes, And’ and how it can help your work. Let’s play!

What type of player are you?

]We have spent a lot of time reading the work of the founder of the National Institute for Play in the US, Stuart Brown MD and especially his book Play. In the book Stuart outlines the 8 different play personalities. It is likely that we are a mix of all of these but we may favour one over the others. Let’s explore what the 8 Play Personalities are…

Stuart Brown MD says in his book that as we grow older, we develop preferences for the types of play we enjoy.  Within his observations, he has found that each person has a dominant mode of play that falls into one 8 types he has identified. He has named these the Play Personalities. They are:

The Joker

This is the personality we first ever engage with. It is marked by the use of nonsense and playing the fool. Note though that playing the fool is not a low status move in play. The fool can hold an awful lot of power, but that is the subject of a future article. This personality includes practical jokers and that class clown you all laughed with in school.

The Mover

Stuart Brown actually titles this on the Kinesthete, but I have chosen to use the simpler term the mover. The educationalist and thinker, Sir Ken Robinson, wrote about the choreographer Gillian Lynne in his book Epiphany. He also tells the story in his TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? (the most watched TED talk in all time).

The phrase he uses is “People who had to move to think” which sums up this play personality. The dancers, athletes, and gymnasts are all likely to be dominant in this personality.

The Explorer

Along with the Joker, we engage with the explorer as a baby. We spend a lot of time exploring where we start and end, how we use the appendages hanging off of our body, and so on. Exploring becomes a dominant play type for many people, and they will be those who find fascination, in exploring new areas through travel, their imagination or through new experiences. Writers and researchers most likely have this personality as a dominant. But, we can see that the varying personalities can complement one another. The top snowboarder, Jeremy Jones, says:

The attraction of snowboarding is the freedom it gives you. With a snowboard on your feet, the sky is the limit. You can do anything and go anywhere. This is not just for pro riders, it is for everyone.

Now undoubtedly, Jeremy Jones is a mover. Some of the things he can do on a board are astounding. But he is also something of an explorer too. Most top athletes need to be, as they are driven to move but also to explore what their bodies can do.

The Competitor

This personality type is exemplified from those who find play in the joy of winning a game with rules, in other words a finite game (For more on finite and infinite games see this article). This is most often seen in competitive sports people or “gamers”. We are talking about football players, ballers, Esports players, and so on. They can also be seen in business and socially by people who like to keep score, how much do you earn? What watch do you wear? What car do you drive? Whether this is constructive is a different matter and is explored in our article: What are Finite and Infinite Games?

The Director

This could also be titled the planner. This personality type thrives on the planning and execution of an event or scene. They want to organise everything, and that is great, how else are we going to have a party? But there can be a dark side too. What if a director wants to plan everything, even down to what we are allowed to talk about, dress in and eat or drink? The party just doesn’t seem so much fun for everyone else anymore.

The Collector

This person finds play and fascination in collecting things. Whether it be a tangible object, like stamps, coins, all the albums and singles by Bruce Springsteen, or something less tangible, such as spotting rare birds or noting the numbers on specific trains, or travelling to every US state capital.

I have a friend who collects Les Paul guitars (you know, the type Slash in Guns ‘n’ Roses plays). He now has 14 in his collection. There is little discernible difference in sound between many of them or how they feel to play. He can only play one at a time but he loves to collect them. It seems fairly solitary, but he is also involved in a few social groups for people who collect guitars, so collectors can also be highly social.

The Artist/Creator

This one seems fairly obvious, as we can most readily see the output of artists and creators. They love to make. My wife is a creator, she loves to make so much that she has made making part of her work. She runs classes in sewing and develops sewing patterns for sustainable clothing. When she is home and wanting to relax she will build a new bench for the kitchen or design and develop our wonderful garden. I know many makers and crafters who fall into this category and indeed I am one, although I wouldn’t say it is my dominant play personality. I once spent a year relaxing after work by working in a luthiers workshop (under expert guidance) in order to build my own Mandolin. One day I will learn how to play it.

The Storyteller

Lastly, we come to my dominant play personality, the story teller. These are the playwrights, the cartoonists, the screenwriters, the novelists and the authors. Most of my articles on this site have little vignette stories woven into them. Tell stories, and reading them has been where I find I am in Flow. I am part collector and find ways of using stories I have found in my own work. I am also a member of an improv team and we tell stories through our improv skills.

The storyteller makes quick and ready use of the imagination, and this can be brought into almost any activity. The best sports commentary is when a storyteller is commentating, using their imagination to build the drama within the sport taking place.

Play personalities in our teams

It is useful to be aware of the various personalities we have within our teams. As is the case with most team building a good balance is likely to be desirable.

Get in touch with us and we can help your organisation and teams explore the play personalities and how they function. Let’s play!

What are Finite and Infinite Games?

The language we use about life and specifically about business is often playful. We talk about things in terms of games. But that language also indicates that we are often confused about whether we are playing a finite or infinite game.

What do you mean Finite and Infinite Games?

The concept of Finite and Infinite Games arose in the 1980s with the work of James Carse and the book he published in 1986. The definition of each goes something like this:

What are Finite Games?

A game in which the rules are fixed, players are known and objectives are agreed on prior to play. Sports often fall into this category. They are characterised by having a start (Kick-off in football), middle (where the action happens) and an end (the final whistle where a winner or draw is declared).

What are Infinite Games?

A game in which rules can be changed during the game, we can choose how we play, players can be known or unknown, and the objective is to keep the game going. Much of life falls into this category, whether it be business, geo-politics, education, relationships or actually life. We are all players in many infinite games.

Looking at the differences between those two definitions we can see that there is no winning in an infinite game. We can even see that it is clear whether we are in a finite game or infinite game. Nobody wins at geo-politics. Perhaps approaching our political discourse as if we are in a finite game is hurting us and forcing us into these ever more binary positions within our political dialogues?

I’m not so sure it is that clear…

I acknowledge there are areas where it can be confusing whether we are in a finite or infinite game. For example, education.

Nobody wins at education, you can succeed and there is a defined beginning and end in our statutory mandated education. But these are false beginnings and endings put in place by a system we have created, they are a story we have written. It can be argued, we all started our education in life in the womb and continue to the point of our eventual last breath. This means even if you came top of the class at school, you didn’t win the game of education because it did not end there. The game continues to perpetuate and exists to further the prospects of all not just a single person.

The same is true of our businesses and industries. We can not win as the game carries on. We might declare ourselves to have won, especially if a player leaves the game, but there is no winner when a game is infinite as it continues and new players may join.

What we may have done in both education and business is mistaken the idea that we were in a finite game when we were really in an infinite game.

So we’ve been focussing on the wrong type of game?

In a word, yes. In “being the best” and “beating our competition”, we are talking from a finite game POV and not the true situation.

  • What are we basing the idea of beating our competition on?
  • What time frame?
  • How are we measuring this?
  • What objective is our competition trying to achieve?

If we aren’t all attempting to achieve the same objective, then nobody will beat anyone, as that is not the game each player is focusing on.

So what happens if we start thinking of the game we are in as an infinite game?

What occurs when we approach an infinite game, such as business or interpersonal relationships as a finite game to be won, is a decline in collaboration, trust and innovation.

If we instead adopt an infinite game mindset then all those metrics become markers on the road that help us see where we have travelled so we can beat our true competition, ourselves and follow a purpose that goes beyond amassing a fortune and contributes to the perpetuation of the game. 

Some of the most innovative organisations are focused on improving what they do and what they offer the world. They see the bigger, infinite game they are in. Organisations such as W.L. Gore who we mentioned in a previous post are leading the way in a more purpose-driven world intent on perpetuating the game.

Get in touch with us and we can co-create new strategies that can help your organisation and teams be ready for whatever comes around the corner. Let’s play!

We need some slack in the system

It is curious to me that we have begun to worship efficiency above all else. I have touched on this before when looking at working effectively. But the question is have gone too far? We are damaging our ability to be creative, experiment and innovate. In a word, we are not leaving time for curiosity. We need more slack in the system.

Climbing to the top

As a much younger person, I enjoyed climbing. I have climbed in indoor climbing centres, as well as outdoors in Scotland and Wales. Back then in the late 80s and early 90s all my climbing experiences were roped in. Then I grew older, stopped climbing and did many other things including having a daughter. My daughter embraced climbing of her own volition, she started courses in Brighton at Boulder Brighton and continued after we moved to the North West at the Climbing Hangar and The Boardroom.

These Bouldering places allow you to climb without being roped in and my daughter loves it so much more than roped in climbing. My wife and I have both become converts too. You see, the whole experience is freer, and allows us to be more adventurous and creative in our climbing. I find myself pushed further by finding different ways to climb laterally as well as up. This is  much more playful way to climb and encourages me to experiment, which in turn is good for my Neuroplasticity keeping my brain sharp. Contrast this with my first experiences of climbing when I was all but pulled up the wall as the rope was kept so tight that I could not experiment with different routes and holds.

How can slack in the system be embraced by organisations

The story above illustrates the advantages of embracing slack (particularly the ultimate slack of having no ropes when climbing). But how does this translate to our organisations?

W.L. Gore & Associtates is an organisation that was founded over 60 years ago. Many people know them best for the product Gore-tex, a breathable, yet waterproof fabric membrane (great for those of us who like to climb in wet places like Wales or Scotland). Gore has a way of building slack into the system to allow them to have become recognised as one of the most innovative workplaces attaining 2nd place in Fast Company’s List of 100 best workplaces for innovators.

W.L. Gore and the guitar strings

What Gore does can be seen in the case of how Elixir Guitar Strings became a new business.

Gore has built some slack into their system to allow for curiosity to thrive. This in turn has allowed some fantastic innovations to come about with new products becoming established and even new small companies started under the W.L. Gore umbrella.

Small projects can grow out of the laboratories and tools Gore has at  it’s disposal. The culture in the organisation allows the creative engineers to follow their curiosity. If they start a project that others elect to join then that project continues. Once a project reaches a tipping point of interest (I’ve seen figures quoted of a team of 50) then that project spins out as a small business of it’s own. This way Gore is able to reap the benefits of a large organisation while still being able to act upon the curiosity within and move like a much smaller agile organisation. This can largely help protect Gore from disruption by enabling the system to allow for curiosity to take effect. The system does not even insist on who takes leadership roles on projects, if your project attracts enough followers then they have endowed you as the leader (or Source as my friend Tom Nixon puts it in his book Work With Source).

In this way, Elixir Strings was born in 1997. With over twelve iterations of the string coating formula and the ability to follow their curiosity, the engineers have found a coating for guitar strings that have a longer lasting tone than others and are played on by artists from all over the world, including one of my favourite legends, Richard Thompson.

Slack doesn’t mean slacking off

The term slack in this article is deliberately provocative. But, it doesn’t mean slacking off. It means allowing for a wider view. A view that allows curiosity to take place and teams and organisations to experiment and create in an agile way. Creating the right conditions for this is of paramount importance and managing the system rather than the people within it is a key mindset to adopt.

Get in touch with us and we can co-create new strategies that can help your organisation and teams be ready for whatever comes around the corner. Let’s play!

Don’t trade the effective for the efficient

Is it always the best policy to chase efficiency above being effective in our work? Sometimes we are guilty of trading away effective working practices in favour of efficiencies and this leads to problems providing our products and services to the best of our ability and can be short-sighted. The reason it can be short-sighted is that it can be less efficient in the long-term, even though we see short-terms gains.

Why is effectiveness more important than efficiency?

As a teenager at school I was in a band with some friends. This being the late 80s or early 90s we measured ourselves up against some of the biggest bands of the day. So when it came to naming ourselves, naturally our witty wordsmith, Michael came up with the idea to name the band The Prevention so we could proclaim we were better than The Cure (of course we weren’t and we never gigged and only rehearsed a handful of times).

What has this to do with effectiveness and efficiency? Well, it is more effective to treat the cause of a problem than cure the symptoms. Let’s take a look at some stories of where effectiveness has triumphed over efficiency.

How did effective private healthcare save the Netherland’s government money?

Jos De Blok was a nurse employed within the social healthcare system in the Netherlands. But he identified a problem, a problem that a lot of other nurses were worried about too. The mechanisation of healthcare in the community meant that nurses got a lot less time with their patients as time and motion studies were used to timetable their care schedule. This meant they had less time per patient and so were unable to support patients in the way that would have been effective.

This lead Jos to start a not for profit named Buurtzorg. In a study by Ernst & Young Buurtzorg were found  to use less than 40% of the hours prescribed by a doctor to support patients. This was because they supported patients in becoming more autonomous enabling them to be proactive about their care. This also lead to 30 percent of all emergency hospital intakes being avoided. This organisation saves the Dutch Social Security system hundreds of millions a year.

Now that is effectiveness beating efficiency. The time and motion studies prioritised efficiencies, and Buurtzorg prioritised effectiveness. You can read a much better account of this in Frederic Laloux’ book Reinventing Organisations, which I highly recommend.

Getting upstream of the problem

What really happened here was Buurtzorg got upstream of the problem and found a solution that offered a prevention rather than a cure of the symptoms.

It is difficult to make the business case for effectiveness over efficiency, as it is difficult to measure the outcomes. It is much easier to measure for efficiency, as there is usually monetary savings to be made. This is how we get stuck in a cycle of being responsive rather than proactive. We can however, explore solutions to problems using the tools, structures and games we use for problem solving.

Get in touch with us and we can co-create new strategies that can help your organisation and teams be ready for whatever comes around the corner. Let’s play!

The importance of play for building relationships and creativity

Isabel Behncke Izquierdo appeared on the BBC Radio 4 show the Museum of Curiosity in 2014. Isabel Behncke is an eminent primatologist and an adventurer scientist from Chile. During the discussion she had much to say on the importance of play for building relationships and creativity.

The conversation between the guests on the show, including comedian Neil Innes and explorer Dr Bradley Garrett, alongside show creator John Lloyd and co-presenter Phill Jupitus, was circling the idea of play in nature.

Dr Garrett opined that it is a shame that as we grow older, we lose the importance of play. At that point, Isabel Behncke said:

Transcription of clip

“Play wants, cements and builds relationships. It also builds your creativity. Because it’s like you are enhancing your internal repertoire of things and then you are under positive emotion. Positive emotion literally opens your mind.

Play is kind of the chemistry of yes. We like to contrast it to the physics of no. The physics of no is the state that you find very often, especially when confronting health and safety committees and so on. It is just the basic starting point, and play is the chemistry of yes. And then things are possible, it’s the only space where uncertainty is really fun. I don’t know the end of the joke, I don’t know the end of the game. Let’s find out. Otherwise, uncertainty is awful, it’s scary.”

In the work we have done, we have found this is true.

How this relates to our work

Isabel Behncke’s words are interesting as it points to the power of play to allow solutions to emerge in a less scary environment. Play and game-spaces allow us to explore in a safer environment, which in turn allows more ideas and, importantly, more original ideas to come out into the open. This makes play the optimal environment for creativity.

Isabel Behncke also mentions that “play wants, cements and builds relationships”. This again helps to develop a more creative workspace and build that social capital that leads to a team that trusts in each other.

To find out more about Isabel Behncke, take a look at the Wikipedia article on her here. She is doing some interesting research and conservation work, she is well worth paying attention to.

]Get in touch with us and we can co-create new strategies that can help your organisation and teams be ready for whatever comes around the corner. Let’s play!

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