Shit facilitators say

Dave Snowden talks about Nancy Dixon’s challenge to his recent speech at a KM conference.

Nancy Dixon in response to my keynote yesterday expressed a preference for getting people together to talk about things rather than gathering narrative into a database which “spits out the patterns”.

He goes on to talk about her and David Gurteen’s, arguments for conversational approaches.

The same preference was clear in David Gurteen’s slides for his talk today. There was a picture of excited happy people in a knowledge cafe, followed by one of people slumped in boredom or asleep in a lecture theatre. I suspect he was trying to argue for the former over the latter. Now I’ve seen as many people going through the motions in a workshop as I have asleep in a lecture. I’ve also seen people animated and excited in a lecture (both as receiver and giver). There isn’t one right way I’m afraid, its a little more subtle than a crude dichotomy.

I myself have at least one foot in the Gurteen/Dixon camp but I think Dave makes a fair point. Conversations can be awesome, but they can be pretty tame and tedious too, much depends on the risks participants feel willing or able to take. Equally, I sometimes get lost in the detail of Dave’s more elaborate diagrams and strongly suspect his workshop participants do too, but may not want to admit it. Does that mean he should dumb it down? Not necessarily…

All facilitators are prone to having their favourite approach and to championing it. But every intervention casts a shadow. It if does some things, it will prevent others. We should probably practice acknowledging the downsides of our favourite methods. And try to resist resorting to defences like

1 It would have worked if it had been done properly

2 It would have worked if people had done it for long enough

3 It would have worked if someone hadn’t sabotaged it

4 Ah, all those terrible short term effects just a small price to pay for the long term benefits that all my other clients have seen

I’m sure you can add others of your own.

I suspect no method can be as smart or creative as the people in the room. And a facilitator who is certain of his approach is almost certainly going to come across as patronising to the crowd.

Like several friends, I have to cringe as well as laugh at the twitter hashtag #shitfacilitatorssay. Almost everything we could say might fit in here. I suspect the real evil is not the words, or the technique, but the attitude of a facilitator acting like they are really in control of things.

Similarly, we can probably also avoid donning sackcloth and ashes on the occasions things transparently don’t go to plan. To paraphrase Eric Morecambe, all methods work, but not necessarily in the way intended.

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