Why does the brain like to dream? Take two

Story-Strategy, Act 2 Episode 5 – The Journey: Possibilities 2

The Walking Exercise

Around the edges of the room chairs, materials and personal belongings have been pushed aside to make space in the centre. In this central space people are walking around randomly.

Facilitator : “Walk around the room like gas molecules filling an empty space. When I clap my hands, stop and look around to see if you are evenly spaced. When I clap again, you can start walking again.”


Everyone stops. Here and there people have clumped together and in other places there are large open spaces with nobody in it. “Let’s try again, see if you can space yourself better. Oh and by the way, no talking.”


They start moving again. The third time he claps, they are spaced much better. The facilitator tests them 6 more times with varying intervals of time between each clap.

“Well done”, he says, “now you will do exactly the same thing: stop and start at the same time as a group, but without my clapping.” He waits. One guy, obviously a manager, claps and the group start moving. Facilitator: “No-one else is allowed to clap either. See if you can sense as a group when to stop and when to start.” There are whispers and sounds of reservation. “Oh, and please remember, total silence:.

They start again. Apart from a few giggles, there is silence. Seemingly as one the group starts moving. After about 5 counts, they stop. Again they start and stop. If you look carefully, you can see that every time they stop or start a different person initiates the action. It becomes quieter and quieter in the room. You can hear a pin drop. “Well done” says the facilitator, turn to the person closest to you and share with them what was interesting about this exercise.”

What was different between the two rounds: 1. When I clapped, and 2. When there was no clapping?”

Some answers: The second time, there was no hierarchy.”

“The first time I was in my own head, the second time, I noticed everyone else”.

“WE shared control without being dominated”.

“We feel into a natural rhythm and I could begin to anticipate when we would stop or go. The first time, we were at your mercy.”

Having created the gap with his two rounds, the facilitator moves in to give the Call to Adventure: What if it could work more like the second time in your company…?

When you want someone to buy into a new idea, one of the steps you take is to let them dream of new possibilities. You paint a picture of what it can be like if they accept your ideas/model/product.

The same thing happens when Cinderella gets an invitation from the prince to his ball. People begin to hope that things can be different in a good way – that just maybe their dreams can come true.

What happens in the brain when people dream of new possibilities?

Why does the brain like to hope?

The answer lies in the effect expectation of reward has on the brain. Hope is an expectation of something positive being fulfilled in the future. This expectation of reward releases dopamine into your brain, the same stuff that gets released when you laugh and exercise.

What is extra interesting here, says Dr. Ward Plunet, is that studies show people with higher status is mmore prone to hope in relation to people in lower status positions. This is because they have more hope of getting the pick of the crop in terms of food, shelter and sexual partners. A sense that you have power to choose then adds to the feeling of autonomy and certainty that you will not go hungry, cold or deprived.

If you therefore combine this step in Story-Strategy with Applied Improvisation games (see ImprovSense) that increase Status, Certainty and Aautonomy (SCARF model), the effect of your invitation to dream and hope for a better future triples.


How do I use the power of stories for my talks and workshops?

Once upon a time in the Bushveld of South Africa lived a dragon who thought he was a springbuck. He ate grass like the buck, hid from the midday sun under the trees like a buck and ran from the lions like a buck.

One day another dragon flew overhead and saw this dragon behaving like a buck. He swooped down, picked up the younger dragon and flew with him into the clouds.

“Fly!” her bellowed as he dropped the young dragon.

“No, no, no noooooo!”, shrieked the young one closing his eyes as the ground came up to meet him. But before he hit the earth, the older dragon scooped him up again.

“Fly!” he bellowed as he let go a second time, then a third and a fourth. On and on the same routine until the young dragon could not stand it anymore. Angrily he began to protest and struggle, but still it went on. The young dragon became angrier and more indignant still, until finally he had had enough. As he was hurtling towards the earth one more time he opened his mouth and roared: “I am not a DRA-GON!!!”. As he did so, flames burst from his mouth, his wings shot open and he caught an up draft narrowly escaping being smashed to the ground.

When he looked up to see where the other dragon had gone, he was just in time to see him disappear into the distance.  He had to work like mad to catch up. Now he lives with the last remaining pack of dragons in the Drakensberg. (Adapted from an old Chinese tale “The Roar of Awakening”)

Which of the two dragons do you identify with most? The younger one, or the older one?

Why? Take a moment to write your answer down.

I have just demonstrated two way of using  a story as part of a talk or workshop:

1. Tell a story

2. Let the people in the room reflect on the story in a way that connects their own life stories to the story in the room.

The most effective way is to let them reflect on it by themselves for a moment, then share in pairs and then feed back to the larger group on a voluntary basis.

The first works because stories can address all four the requirements of the AGAES model. This model explains the four elements that are needed for the brain to remember messages: Attention, Generation, Emotion and Spacing.

Attention: Because of their visual nature and ability to make abrstract concepts concrete and simplify highly complex ideas, stories capture attention. A well tole story also keeps it. This is especially true if the audience finds personal relevance in the story for their own experience.

Generation: Stories help the brain to make numerous new connections because it involves pictures, symbols and emotions and connecting all these to abstract concepts.

Emotion: A good story allows the audience to empathise on one level or another inviting them to link emotion to the message. This signals to the brain that the message is important based on the intensity of the emotion.

Spacing: If the message can be linked to clear symbols in the story, it means that it will be recalled in the future every time the audience sees something that reminds them of the message. The recalling after a space of time entrenches the message further.

If you then add the second kind of story-strategy i.e. letting people connect their own story link with the story in the room, you now double the effect of all four aspects of the AGES model. The sense that the story is personally relevant captivates more Attention. Sharing this with someone else and hearing their story Generates more connections in the brain. The social interaction itself signifies importance to the brain, because relating your story to others’ story satisfies the brains deep need for relating and belonging. This increases the Emotional response and adds another Spacing opportunity, because you will recall the story and its message every time you meet this person.

The third way of using story, however, can increase the effectiveness of your message exponentially. 3. Using story as a design principle for your entire talk or workshop.


A case study of Story-Strategy in action: Customer Service Training

The Beginning

Here is a real life example of how we structured the beginning of a Customer Service Training workshop. The customer service training was part of a change intervention of a large-scale South African wine farm providing a variety of tourism and hospitality services. The intervention was planned as consisting of training in three half-day modules: (1) customer service training, (2) knowledge training and (3) sales training. By the end of the planning stage all three modules were integrated into a single Story-Strategy, even though we were only responcible for the customer service section of the training. Here I will sketch how we outlined the beginning part of the training.

Story Strategy was chosen as a methodology to underpin the  design of the workshop so that participants could journey from customer conflict to customer connection, from seeing the contradictions between themselves and their customers to seeing themselves as partners to their customers.

The first stages of Story-Strategy is especially focussed on captivating Attention by drawing participants into the ‘story in the room’. In our case serving customers. A story does that in three specific stages:

1. Sketching a picture of the current reality (Once upon a time there was someone in a certain fix)

2. Issuing a Call to Adventure  (then one day something unusual happened)

3. Making room for debate and doubts (But there are obstacles and questions)

What we have illustrated, though, is that  there are two cycles of these steps because there is a ‘double journey’ at stake. First people must be drawn from outside the room to inside: not just physically, but also with their attention and emotion. Secondly, once willing to be ‘here’ they must be drawn from their current understanding of the issue in the room (customer service) to a new understanding.

At Spier Wine Farm we did it as follows:

1.  We did a presenceing exercise to help people bring their attention inside the room –a pair discussion relating to what is in the front of their minds right now? (current reality)

We also organised that the knowledge segment of the training precede the customer service section. This meant  that staff members had a heightened understanding of their current reality i.e. the Wine Farm they work for. This took the form of a knowledge quest where they were taken on a tour through the entire farm and given information by various managers on all the features and offerings.

Our presencing question was therefore:  What about the knowledge quest is in the forefront of your mind right now?

2. Next we explain how the training will work and in what way it will be unusual and different from other trainings. We also give the programme for the day. (Call to Adventure)

3.  Finally, we allow  a conversation about doubts and reservations along with easy first exercises to build confidence (Debate and doubts))

The ‘easy’ exercises consist mostly of continuum, not related to customer service, though. Rather these continuums relate to who you are and how you fit into the group e.g. Who traveled the furthest to get here vs. who traveled the shortest distance and everything in between. When is your birthday?Arrange yourselves from Jan to Dec. etc. These bring an immediate illustration of what we mean by participation, as well as help people to relate to each other.This is because to succeed, people must move their bodies and talk to each other.

Now they are present and attentive to the training space. Next we repeat the cycle with the customer service story:

1. We have  them introduce themselves and share: What are your current customer service challenges? (current reality) This was especially important for us because the staff were from many different departments in the company and needed to connect with one another on what they share and how their experiences differ. They also needed to introduce themselves to ehlp with relatedness.

Building on this we explore the consequences of bad service to customers, the organisation, staff and their families and the wider South Africa. This is done through theatrical tableaux where participants show scenes from lived experiences using their bodies to build statues. (Click here for more detail on the exercise.)

2. To help create the gap between this painful picture and new possibilities, we let them share in pairs stories of success where they had experienced delivering good service in the past and they list the skills they employed to achieve the success. We then ask: How would you like to repeat this success more often? (Call to adventure)

3. We do an example exercise to illustrate how we intend to teach these sckills and have them reflect on its workability. (Debate and doubt) We repeat this for every exercise that introduces a new idea even as we ease into the actual body, or journey of the workshop.

Watch this space for a continuation of this case study.

Exercises for overcoming resistance in your audience

A Couple of weeks ago I was MC at the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa’s Chapter meeting in Johannesburg. There were two speaking slots lined up.

The first speaker was knowledgeable and interactive, but was missing the mark with the audience. While certain individuals seemed to gain from it the overall feeling was of frustration and disappointment.

How did I know this? Because I know the value of voiced experience, I also asked for direct feedback during the tea break.

I knew that these feelings will cloud their experience of the second session and probably of the association in general. So, as the break ended and people settled back into the room (some displaying obvious body language of scepticism), I asked them to tear off a page from their note books and evaluate the speaker the just presented. They could write comments and make suggestions if they choose and it can be anonymous.

I also asked them to volunteer as speakers for future meetings on a separate piece of paper.

At the end of the second session (which was received far more positively) I asked them to comment on their experience of the evening with one word.

Among comments relating to the content of the second session, there were also comments like: I experienced ‘community’. ‘validation’ and ‘see you again’. Overall ratings showed that the meeting was a success in spite of the first speaker missing the mark.

Poles and pie charts

Allowing the audience to evaluate their experience using a pole or simple 5 point scale is a very effective way to let them voice mixed feelings. If you can make the pole or survey public, it  is even more effective. This is because the individual can immediately see where his or her experience fits in with everyone else’s. It is always useful: those who are in the majority feel validated, and thos in the minority can see their experience is different from the others which helps to relativise it. This is only true, of course, if the feedback is anonymous, else people feel put on the spot – this can hurt your message greatly.

But you do not necessary have to poll obvious positives or negatives. It is just as interesting and perhaps more fun to poll things that are neutral and related to your topic: : how many hours do you spend on social media, How many meetings do you attend in one week? Whatever you poll, it is always important to let people comment on where they place themselves, should they choose to. This brings out interesting mixed  feeling responses healthy for the audience and filled with things you can build your message on.

There are a number of great apps that allow people to poll there and then using their cell-phones. An experiential method is to let people create a physical continuum in the room by drawing a line through the centre of the room and asking people to stand on the continuum where they position themselves. Remember to ask if anyone would like to comment on their position. If the poll is really open ended, this creates much connection and debate.

Community Conversation

Peter Block, writer of Flawless Consulting and Community the Structure of Belonging, writes that one of the essential conversations (there are six of them) is the Dissent conversation about doubts and reservations. He explains that the mere question: What doubts and reservations arise for you around this issue? IS enough to help people overcome their doubts. Just like talking about what things in a consulting relationship may cause distrust can build  trust.

“ If you can’t say no, your yes has no meaning.” Peter Block

Give people a chance to express their doubts and reservations, as a way of clarifying their roles, needs and yearnings within the vision and mission. Genuine commitment begins with doubt, and no is an expression of people finding their space and role in the strategy. Again, this is more effective if you can let them share in small groups or pairs before feeding back to big audience.

An Applied Improvisation  Exercise

A fun and very successful exercise is one we call ‘The Rant’.

Ask participants to pair up and sit in chairs facing each other. Tell them to think of something that really irritates them. Each participant then gets a chance to rant about this frustration for 2 minutes while their partner just listens. Tell them to fill the whole 2 minutes with their ranting. The listener’s task is to listen past the frustration for the underlying value that is really important to the speaker. After the 2 minutes are done the listener responds with the words “I hear you really care about…” The value that the listener listens for must be something positive. For example if the speaker rants about how she hates it when people are late, the listener shouldn’t say “I hear you really care about people not being late”. The right response could be “I hear you really care about respecting someone else’s time”.

For debriefing questions go to http://www.playingmantis.net/the-rant/

Allow people to air their missed feelings about the ideas you propose and you build trust, connection and enthusiasm for your message.

Why does the brain like to air doubts and reservations?

I don’t buy it, I am sorry. I just don’t buy it.

Marius, the Sales Manager from FUNDA Training and Conferencing was shaking his head.

“What don’t you buy?” I asked.

You don’t want to invite negativity into the room, it is not good for learning. You want people positive and spirited. It is good for the brain. You want them to pump endorphins. Don’t you know the story of the car dealership guy whose branch sold 200 new cars a month. When the big boss asked him what his secret was, he replied that he did not allow any negativity into his meetings. Any issues were dealt with outside of meetings with only the individuals concerned. Now you tell me people should air their criticism publicly?

That is an interesting observation, let’s think about it a bit. Is there a difference between criticism and doubts? It seems to me that one comes before the other. If doubts are not aired or at least acknowledged, they turn into criticism and negativity that can poison the water later after you have left. It has to do with the SCARF model again.

If people feel threatened, they go into defence mode. This can happen when you try to convince people of a perspective: they feel manipulated and bamboozled. If you allow them to speak their mind and raise their mixed emotions, you are backing down from the power position and acknowledging that they may think or feel differently from you. This takes the brain out of defence mode and helps it open to your ideas. In other words, it raises the brain’s status.

As an extra bonus it helps the brain feel like it has the power to choose how it (the brain) feels, increasing autonomy. IF the brain had chatted to another brain and discovered that it is not the only one with these thoughts or feelings, it feels more accepted and validated, helping with relatedness.

Hoping to make my point, I turned to Claire: “Do you have any similar doubts to Marius’s?”

No, she said, but I did not appoint him to agree with me. I count on Marius to cover all the basis so that we can sell this concept if we end up buying it from you. She smiled and put a hand on his arm: You are doing well.

Marius burst out laughing: you are full of it, Claire, playing me by using relatedness like that –  seeming not to agree with me and then still making me feel like I belong here.  Throwing in a sprinkle of status raising!

I did not mean it like that, she laughed, but am happy if it works for your brain.

Marius turned back to me: So, does this trick always work?

Hell no, I had a client from Mediclinic who loved our work so much, he got us back to do a follow-up three months after our initial workshop. One of his team members broke into tears at the news refusing to be part of the process. “I hated every minute of it and you can’t let me go through that again. I can not function on that level. If was way too far out of my comfort zone”. It was an Applied Improvisation workshop where we used our ImprovSense games to help them create solutions for strained team dynamics. They were a financial division and used to numbers, procedures and routine. Even all out tricks cannot work for everyone.

Marius’s smile from before deepened. I did not expect an answer like that and I feel the effect on my brain as you lower your status. You are clever.

Also honest, Marius. To take a saying from Peter Block: We do work, not magic. Sometimes our best efforts still fail.

It is working for me though, he answered. Can you give me more ways or exercises to stimulate the airing of mixed feelings?

It was my turn to smile. “Sure”.




How do I overcome resistance in the room?Story-Strategy

Act 2 Episode 7: Debate2

The facilitator, Burgert Kirsten, looks at the group sitting around the circle. He takes his seat among them.

“Now that you heard you are going to use Improvisation Theatre, what emotions arise for you? Share your response with the person next to you in pairs.”

He gives them a few moments, and then asks: “What came out of your conversation?”

A young 20 something immediately says: “I’m excited, I haven’t tried it before.” “Speak for yourself, his partner responds. She is a middle aged woman “I am terrified”.  Others agree with things like “I feel anxious”, “nervous”, “I do not like being put on the spot.” “What if I don’t have anything to say?” a younger woman asks . “I am looking forward to finding out” her friend laughs.

Burgert smiles, “yes, it makes sense that you will feel that way, and we will not push you to go further than what you choose to. Improvisation is like the ocean: it is scary, unsafe and overwhelming when you are out in the deep waters where sharks can find you, but we start on the beach. We take people in only as far as they choose where it is fun and exciting, but not dangerous.

In stories

In the film the Gladiator (2000) Maximus Aurelius refuses to live after he discovers his wife and son murdered. Instead of it inciting him to action, he tries to avoid the ‘Call to Adventure’. When he is picked up by traders and sold as a gladiator, he still tries to resist. It is only after an open conversation with his mentor the gladiator master, that he accepts the call. Red Riding Hood runs off without reservation when her mother asks her to go to grandma, but in the forest she is full of debate: should she pick the flowers or not? Should she listen to the wolf? Which route should she take? Ned Stark and his wife have a debate about his going to King’s Landing after King Robert calls him up to service.

It is important in every story that the hero gets a chance to weigh both sides of possibility ahead of him or her. Doing so allows them to feel that they have chosen themselves, rather than being manipulated into the situation. It means they take more responsibility for their actions and beliefs further down the road.

Your content

This principle applies both to the content of your talk or workshop and to the methods you choose to employ in communicating that content.

Staying with the content for the moment, speakers usually have a good idea of the reservations and questions their ideas might raise, and can address this by listing typical responses and dealing with them one by one. However, it is once again more powerful to allow people to simply share their own questions. It helps a good deal if they talk in pairs about it first so that they can discover they are not the only ones that feel this way. This emboldens them when the facilitator asks them to voice it to the large group. Otherwise they will keep quiet and the facilitator will wrongly assume everyone is on board.


Your method

If your workshop itself is different from what people are used to such as when you use a BBYB exercise, or other strategy that takes them out of their comfort zone, some will feel anxious and intimidated. They have mixed feelings about it and sometimes see obstacles.

Allowing them to air these questions helps people fell validated and helps them get past the emotions that could block further participation and engagement. The trick is not to try and refute or dismiss their doubts off hand, but make real room for them to voice it. It is also of great value to the facilitator to hear what obstacles people experience in accepting the ideas they are putting forward. This information can be used very effectively in the next step of Story-Strategy: preparing for the Journey.



Introduction exercises for Speakers and facilitators

Marius, the sales manager, spoke  again:

Now you have introduced everyone, you have oriented them, but you still have not explained the topic or started with the actual material all this was just introduction, now the speaker too has his or her introduction. This is taking very long.

True, you have only crossed the first threshold from their outside world into the learning space, now they still need to cross from their current understanding to a new understanding of the topic.  Yet it does not take long.  The only thing we added was this idea of asking them to air reservations or express feelings. This takes five minutes maximum compared to  the alternative : people remain distant and never really engage with the learning wasting their whole day and all your own effort..

Also, if you know that you need to do all three these things before continuing, you may find ways to condense your processes and combine some of them. The BBYB exercise for instance, both introduce the participants’ current reality regarding the topic in the room (step one of the second threshold) as well as present an invitation to participate (step 2 of the first threshold)

After you completed the first cycle with the agenda, and explanation of the working method and an opportunity for attendees to air their mixed responses, you introduce the speaker.

The speaker now tackles the next cycle of the double journey by building on the BBYB exercise showing how the perspective of the audience is mirrored in the world.  The speaker can do this by talking, letting people talk, or creating a whole brain participative experience.


Your bio of the speaker has set him/her up as expert, so the audience believes the, when they now paint a picture of the current reality from a global perspective. They also show the problems that arise from this perspective and its consequences., back it up with graphs, statistics, research and events that are in the news. All the time you are further building out the current reality of the topic be it leadership, sales , marketing or wellness.

Letting them talk

You may also choose more experiential and participative methods by inviting the CEO of the company to give an overview of the situation with financial reports, staff statistics, stories  and so on. You can also let people share stories of their experience relating to the issue with one another.


In a customer service training programme we designed for Spier Wine Farm, we used theatre images to really help participants feel the pain of the current reality. In four groups they had to create   theatrical tableaux where participants show scenes from lived experiences using their bodies to build statues. Each group showed a different set of consequences of bad customer service: the effect on 1. customers, 2.  the organisation, 3.  staff and their families and 4.  the wider South African community. People play out characters like a  disgruntled customer telling their friends not to go to this hotel (group 1), or perhaps the CEO needing to lay off staff because of cost cutting (group 2), or the husband telling his wife he had lost his job(group 3),, or children begging in the street because tourists are not here to support our economy (group 4). Playing out these scenes drive the message home using  Attention, Generation and Emotion (AGES model).

With the stage neatly set and the current pain identified and empathised with, you can now move to creating new possibilities again.


How do I ensure participation when I design a workshop?

How do I ensure participation when I design a workshop?

Claire Pillay  took a deep breath.

My head is spinning. I have to begin before I begin and I have to begin twice because people have to first come into the room and second  into the learning material. With all this beginning, when does the workshop actually start? Won’t I lose the people along the way?

I can see why you get confused, but it is simpler than you think. Tell me how do you usually begin a training programme or conference?

Aside from the room set up and materials etc? Because you said that is part of it.

Yes, those are part of beginning before you begin, we will covered that, but you can go ahead and tell me what you do once the people are in the room.

Well, the convener will welcome them, do a few logistics including an overview of the programme,  and then introduce the speaker. We give a short bio and then the speaker takes over. If I run the workshop myself, I will introduce myself and tell them what to expect from the session before launching into the topic.

That introduction you just described, together with the room set-up and the materials and the ‘begin before you begin’ BBYB exercise that we introduced , forms the first three steps of the Story-Strategy that gets people from their life outside the learning (kids, partners, traffic etc) into the learning space:

1. Sketching a picture of the current reality (Once upon a time there was someone, somewhere in a certain fix).

The most obvious way this is introduced is by giving people name tags that tell each other who they are and often also their companies and job titles. These name tags say: We acknowledge your current reality outside of this learning space. Usually there is tea served before the time so that people can ask each other: who are you and what do you do? Where do you come from and why did you come to this conference or workshop?  Speakers and facilitators usually also make it their business to find out as much as they can about their prospective audience even before the learning event.

Then the  BBYB exercise take this further and say: we acknowledge that you have current opinions about the learning we are presenting.. Your introduction of the speaker then establishes the speaker’s current reality: name and position and back story i.e. what brought them here.

2. Issuing a Call to Adventure that opens up new possibilities   (then one day something unusual happens).

The conference pack or learning material, the room set up and pictures on the walls all have their purpose in the second step of the Story-strategy. They set the scene for something new and unusual, novel and interesting. It captures the brain’s attention and focuses energy. Introducing the speaker and their topic takes this even further opening new possibilities around the subject. Going through the logistics and the agenda for the day helps participants to feel safer  building certainty. This is especially important if you did a BBYB exercise which could have made them a little uneasy because it was unexpected.

If you do use participation or dialogue, it is very important to also let people introduce themselves to each other, this brings in a sense of relatedness and helps people relax into the learning space and each others’ company. You can even combine this with the next step.

3. Making room for debate and doubts (But there are obstacles and questions)

If you really put out an attractive invitation, people will have mixed feelings of both excitement and anxiety. They may even wonder if what you are saying isn’t too good to be true. At this point you may want to ask participants to comment on their experience of the BBYB exercise, the room set-up, the conference pack or the agenda you are proposing.  In this way you acknowledge their mixed feelings.

This step is especially important if you are using participative methods like Applied Improvisation, creative drawing, World Cafe or Community Conversations. We will elaborate on this further in the next post.

Claire smiled  wryly:

We seldom do things risky, so we just ask people if they have any questions about the programme or whatever. Does that count?

Sure that counts, but people who are trapped in mixed emotions will seldom speak up. You need to address the emotions directly, else it blocks further engagement.  However, if you take them through this cycle, you greatly increase the potential for participation and shift.





Examples of exercises for making a strong beginning

Since we now know that the brain really likes it when you begin before you begin:

Here are some practical examples you can use for your workshop, conference or training course:

1. Presencing

Presence is essential when people participate, so a great way to get them from their life outside the room to be present and aware to the story in the room is a simple presencing exercise.  In pairs let them complete the sentence: ‘What I need to say to be fully present is…”. One participant completes the sentence and the other mirrors it back exactly, then they swop. When done ask them to share what was interesting about the exercise.  We often get answers like: ‘Hmmm, I think I am here now” or “ I thought I was the only one still distracted by my life outside”.

This exercise is an Improvsense exercise. Presence and awareness is a key aspect of Applied Improvisation and the ability to be innovative as a group. We use this very effectively even when simply starting any old meeting.

2. Word clouds

If you do not have picture posters like Ross Kidd, simply write key concepts that relate to your material on news print: one concept per page. As people enter the room give them a marker and ask them to write words that they associate with the first word on the page. Let them create word clouds. When finished ask them to discuss what they notice about the words and if they pick up any patterns. This can be shared in pairs first, then fours and then the whole group.

We use this very effectively in management training asking people to create word clouds around the concepts of ‘manage’, ‘supervise’ and ‘lead’. The last time I used this exercise one of the participants remarked: “Look, there does not seem to be a very big difference between managers and supervisors according to our clouds, but look at how different leaders are.” This became a key concept in our two day training which was titled: “How to turn managers and supervisors into extraordinary leaders”. When people discover something for themselves, it is far more effective than when they hear someone telling it to them.

3. Metaphors

In setting up the space before hand, set up 3 to 5 different tables with different kinds of objects on them such as plastic animals, post card size pictures, photo’s of well known public figures, popular song titles or an assortment of kitchen utencils. Make a sign for each table that is clearly visible from the entrance. As people come in ask them to choose a station. Once there they must pick one of the objects from the table that will help them complete the sentence: “As an organisation (replace with leader/team/any other role or entity applicable to your theme) we are like…”

When they have made their selection, they are asked to find three other people in the room (you can set up the chairs in small groups of four) and share with them what they chose and how their organisation (or whatever else fits the theme) is like the object you chose. WE have used this strategy with great effect in OD (organisation Development) interventions.

“Okay, so I begin before I begin, how now do I really begin?Claire asked. And please explain the double journey thing, I still battle to get my head around it.

Read the next post.

Why does the brain like to dream?

Story-Strategy, Act 2 Episode 5 – The Journey: Possibilities 2

When you want someone to buy into a new idea, one of the steps you take is to let them dream of new possibilities. You paint a picture of what it can be like if they accept your ideas/model/product.

The same thing happens when Cinderella gets an invitation from the prince to his ball. People begin to hope that things can be different in a good way – that just maybe their dreams can come true.

What happens in the brain when people dream of new possibilities?

Why does the brain like to hope?

Is it the sense of power over circumstances ie a rise in status? (S in SCARF model)

Is it the return of a sense of autonomy: that I can choose differently? (A in SCARF model)

Is it simply a positive emotion that lifts the spirits? (E in AGES model)

I have asked neuroscience expert Manie Bosman from the Strategic Leadership Institute to comment and will post his reply as soon as I have it.

In the mean time here are 3 ways to Call your audience to the adventure of new possibilities:

Room Set up

You will remember that you have to help your audience across two thresholds when you begin: the threshold of their life outside the room into the learning space and secondly the threshold from hwat they currently belive about the story in the room to the new ideas you are sharing.

To help with the first threshold, you once again start with things like room set-up, material design and so forth. Peter Block knows how to do this. His room set-up for his Community Conversations process is very clear: chairs must be arranged in groups of four facing each other. No tables. Natural lighting, soft drapery where possible, pictures on the walls and movable chairs. All these things tell the audience that other possibilities are open to them – ones that are not usually open in a traditionally set up room cinema style with a big projector screen in front, a podium for the speaker controlled lighting etc. The entire room calls the audience to have community conversations: the new idea he is ‘selling’.

Metaphors now and then

In a values alignment process with a wine export company, we asked participants to choose pictures that illustrate a) what the organisation looks like when its values are being lived by everyone in it and b) when the values are not being lived by all.  We then asked them to share first in two’s then in fours what they had chosen and why. The groups then had to pick the two pictures that most closely represent everyone in the group’s thoughts. They then shared their pictures with the entire group.

Next we placed all the pictures of the ideal reality on one end of the room and the others on the other end of the room. Then we asked them to see it as a continuum between the two extremes. Each person could then go and stand on the continuum to express where he or she thinks they are as functioning currently (current reality). How close or how far from the ideal are they? The next question was: Do you want to say anything about where you place yourself?

From past experience we knew that this exercise often creates a lot of conversation as different people view the organisation differently. In this particular group one individual placed himself squarely on the ideal reality side. Everyone fought with him asking how he could say that tey had all arrived there when they experience so much discord. He frowned at them and then said: but are these values not built into all of us? Is the dream not living in you as it lives in me? That is what gets me through my day.

The ideal he voiced there was one of the most powerful expressions of a Call to Adventure I ever heard. It could not to come from us in a more powerful way.

Reflecting on a story

From the previous blog you know that using a story can be very effective in issuing a Call. If you are able to involve people in the story by asking a reflective question, you make the brain even happier. Stories grab attention, generate connections and evoke emotion (A, G and E of the AGES model) but participation generates even more connections as well as adding Relatedness (R of SCARF).

I used the story of The Rose with a group of women in Leadership with DUKE Corporate Education and asked them to share in three’s the following two questions: “What emotions came up for you as  you listened?” And “Why would I tell you this story at a leadership conference?”

Whatever answers I get, it is not hard to use them to dream of futures where we can rise above the contradictions that we face daily. Interestingly in this particular group one of the participants had to leave in the break before my session because her sister’s son had been caught in their security gate that morning and was in a coma in hospital. One of the responses to my second  question was: “It comforts me to think that there can be happiness in death today. It allows me to stay hopeful and focus on the work we need to do here.”

A well chosen story can have exactly the effect you want even though it does not give you the answer you want. IF people are given the opportunity to connect their personal stories to the story in the room, learning can stick.