Category Archives: Facilitation

Are we learning, or just grinding?

This article on how the brain learns rounds up evidence suggesting conventional ideas of study aren’t really that conducive to learning. School primed my generation with all sorts of questionable ideas about how to learn, favouring the linear, the laborious and the highly structured. It reminds me of grinding from the days when I was addicted to World of Warcraft: laborious, repetitive and motivated by extrinsic rewards with little in the way of discovery.

I think organisations default to running their meetings in the same way, with too much faith in fixed agendas, the delivery of information and a general desire for compliance rather than being open to surprise. Longer breaks, variety, changes of pace, going for walks… these ideas are resisted as if they are indulgent or inefficient; I suggest they are quite reasonable efforts to support genuine learning.

Some meetings may quite rightly be about co-ordination and compliance, but often what’s needed is a spirit of enquiry and discovery. For that, we need to shed our school day habits.


Geoff Brown looks at a model for getting people engaged (or not) in meetings or movements. It’s called SCARF, standing for…

Status – a lot of trouble is caused when people feel the need to defend their status.

Certainty – people like to have some!

Autonomy – people like to feel they have choices

Relatedness – balancing autonomy, people like to feel connected to others

Fairness – trouble brews if people sense this ain’t happening.

Geoff thinks of a few interpretations. I’d say status has a pretty big impact on meetings. Set ups that confer high status on some particpants (chairs, panels, keynotes…) set up for some fairly dysfunctional exchanges, either of pseudo-compliance or aggressive acting out.

Relatedness is worth thinking about too. You can support it in all sorts of ways. One of the best ideas I had on a two day workshop was to suggest a self-cooked barbeque on the middle evening. I had to fend off hotel staff to stop them helping… by cooking the meal together, people got related better. They tended to break their organisational status too… there’s something primal about the act of cooking and eating together than can be powerful. It can help create relatedness even when people have huge disagreements elsewhere.

I wonder if I’d go for the word “agency” over autonomy…. the latter sometimes suggests a kind of isolation, whereas agency is more about feeling connected to action. Again, cooking a meal together gives everyone a bit of agency…

In the detail…

Jon Miles-Thomas facebooked this great video:

Edgar Wright – How to Do Visual Comedy from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

It’s about the difference between typical comic movies scenes, and others where visual creativity has been applied. As the commentary points out, improvised performances typically slide towards people just talking to each other, and nearly always more drama is created with movement.

I think this is a great example of seeing opportunity in things that are seen as mundane and inconsequential. For facilitators, it’s so easy to allow business as usual and miss the opportunity for something more memorable.

Magic Feathers

The second video in this series of reflections on working with people. We sometimes create magic feathers, things that seem to trigger more effective behaviour. But we risk turning them into idols at the expense of taking risks and making new discoveries.

Reflecting on trying to impress

I’m making some more little videos reflecting on the business of working with people. This first one was prompted by looking at the sales pitches of training companies at a conference/exhibition. I describe the event as exciting, but in a boring kind of way.

It got me thinking about the urge to impress, and how it can affect the way we talk and create together.