How do you get people to deliver high quality work and enjoy doing it?

Ahoy, business, not-for-profit, and organisational explorers, rebels and pirates! 


Welcome to the next Thrivable World Quest event!  On Wednesday, June 18 we explore the “Island” of Mastery.

We’ll be on a treasure hunt to discover:

  • What does mastery look like for you?
  • What enables people to do their work with mastery?
  • What does mastery look and feel like, and how does it evolve, in an organisation when that organisation is explicitly in service of life?

Berlin, Johannesburg, Manila, Milan, Montreal, and Tehran will lead the Quest.  Then, a few days later, Amsterdam and Cape Town will collaborate to verify our map and explore areas we missed.  Come play, explore, share and learn with us on our fourth Thrivable World Quest event.

Come play, explore, share and learn with us on our fourth Thrivable World Quest event.

What will you get from participating?

  • You’ll learn what thrivability is, what it takes, and how it can help your organisation to save the world.
  • You’ll gather and share stories about courageous pioneers who have made this shift in their organisations.
  • You’ll contribute to a world movement, a manifesto and a book.
  • You’ll experience practices, perspectives and ways of interacting that embody what we are exploring.
  • You’ll discover what all this means for you, your organisation/clients, and your world.
  • You’ll join a local and global tribe of smart, caring people interested in exploring these ideas.

The stories and insights we discover during the Quest are shared across the cities and around the world. Check out the treasure from our first three events blog. Then join us on June 18 to be part of this global initiative to transform organisations.

What is thrivability?
Thrivability is a growing global movement and an active leadership and organizational practice. The organizers of the Thrivable World Quest define ‘thrivability’ as the intention and practice of aligning organisations with what we know about how living systems thrive and people thrive.
For more about the Thrivable World Quest go to Thrivable World.

Session details:


  • Date: Wednesday, 18 June 2014
  • Registration: 14h30
  • Time: 15h00-18h00
  • Venue: Worldsview Academy, Worldsview House, 150 Kelvin Drive, Woodmead, JHB

Cost: R250
RSVP: (Click) here to register online! For more information contact Petro



Why a ‘just fine’ facilitation is not good enough – and how to get it unstuck

Photo of solitary confinement cell door

Stories teach us about five types of resistance that a storyteller must take the main character through in order for him or her to transform. If you want to turn a frog into a prince, and not just dress the frog up in princely garb, you must guide that frog through. And your strongest ally in this journey is information. People need information – five types of information, matching the five types of resistance:

  1. Personal Resistance – Why me? How is this relevant to me?
  2. Relational Resistance – Why you? Why would you know how to help me?
  3. Social Resistance – Who is in this with me? Do I belong with them and they with me?
  4. Practical Resistance – How is this going to work? What is the process and the strategy?
  5. Cosmic Resistance – What happens when things don’t work out as planned? If it or I fail?

When you are the speaker, facilitator or coach, you are the story weaver and your client or audience is the princely frog.

I spoke this morning at the Knowledge Resources Organisational Development Conference about these five types of resistance. I devised an ingenious interactive process to illustrate it and cleverly used Shawshank Redemption and The Great Escape as metaphors for breaking through (or out of) the prison of resistance.

But it bombed.

No, it did not bomb, it actually went just fine, but it did not wow the way I dreamed it would (being so clever and all). ‘Just fine’ is just not good enough.

Why did it not work?

At first I thought it was because I failed to get two thirds of the audience over the first kind of resistance.

The plan was for the whole group to get up and act the part of someone who had been in solitary confinement for two months and then gets released. One third of them were ready to do so immediately. The idea was that, by the end of it all, most of them would be willing to do it. But, it was mostly the same group doing it by the end. Yet I tried it the day before with another group and it worked like a charm.

What went wrong on Wednesday?

I know that personal resistance has two aspects. I worked them through the first aspect, but not the second.

The question: “Is this for me” has two sides: first it relates to my personality i.e. “am I the type of person who would get up and act out anything?” But the second part of it has to do with the relevance of this to me: “Is this relevant to who I am and where I am at in my life?” This latter question is the one I did not make room for, and therefore two thirds of the people did not come with me on the journey.

How did I miss this?

Firstly, the answer lies in how a story begins. No story starts with the hero at the first point of resistance. It starts with the hero somewhere in a situation of stuckness. In the midst of that stuckness, whether or not they are aware of this ‘prison’, they receive the Call to Change. Only then can they resist this call.

As the story weaver, I needed to ‘get’ the nature of this stuckness so that I can fashion an appropriate Call. Usually I take quite a bit of time to understand where the audience is at, and to let them voice their perspectives on their situation. Unfortunately, I did not have time to do this as part of the talk and I could not mingle with them enough beforehand. I also think that, unconsciously, I thought I knew where they were. I did not.

Secondly, I know that the moment of cosmic resistance is usually such that, if any of the other resistances were not overcome by the time you get to it, they will surface and you can loop back and deal with them. My time was up, though, and I could not address them. This idea is supported by the fact that one participant said: “I could not get up and play the role as asked, even though I was ready to jump up and do it when you first suggested it, because the details of the story (the rape and the pain in the prison) upset me and it is unresolved.”

I wish with all my heart, dear participant, that I had the time to explore this with you. I am sorry to have opened it up without the opportunity to loop back and accompany you through it a second time – you and anyone else who needed it.

But this was not the whole story.

Really it comes down to simple group dynamics (if group dynamics were ever simple). I talked with a delegate the next day about the presentation. Of course he told me it was wonderful. Then I asked him why it was so difficult to get them moving? He agreed that it seemed like a tough crowd, but then simply said: “These guys are all strangers to each other: and it is a large group of strangers. They just needed more time to warm up. Also, it took me a while to remember the Shawshank story. I’m one of those people who forget detail.”

And that means that, in spite of my efforts, resistance number 3, Social Resistance, could not be broken with no warming up and in the short time I had. It also means that I needed to spend more time on establishing the shared reality: the Shawshank story.

What did I learn for next time?

  1. I will never again assume I know where people are. It’s odd, I have learned this lesson so many times and still unconsciously made assumptions. So the word ‘never’ is an intention, but I may step in the trap again. To help me, I will remember to take time before a talk to speak to people and ask them about their current challenges.
  2. I will not accept only 30 minutes of time for such a talk, especially if it is the first talk of the day and there is not time before hand to talk to folks. I need at least 60 minutes so that I can talk to folks, tell the story. And later on, get the feedback from the group and loop back if needed.
  3. I will not rely on PowerPoint to set the scene, but play to my strengths which is facilitation and conversation rather than information transmission. I so badly wanted to show my clever pictures and get through my slides that I could not work with the group where they were. If ever I use PowerPoint, it must be embedded in a facilitation process and not the other way around.

Where did this last point come from?

I noticed a pattern that, of the three bombed keynotes I did over the last five years, all of them had in common that :

  • It was based on a set of slides. In each case I worked on the slides till late the previous night, so they weren’t seasoned and embedded into my talk yet.
  • Also, I noticed that all three occasions was for an audience larger than 30, I do not know yet what that means… But I will watch and reflect and keep learning.

So, why should 65 OD practitioners need to get up and act like Tim Robins in the role of Andy Dufresne?

How entrenched in, or ‘confined’ by, their current way of doing are the people in your organisation? How harsh would they experience the new ideas that you want to introduce? Do you truly get their current reality? What can you do to guide them out of their solitary confinement safely and yet firmly so that they, like Andy, can own their actions and so be truly transformed?

Post image from Wikimedia Commons

How does improvSense work?

How does improvSense work?

ImprovSense Act 1 Episode 3: Debate

Marius van Wyk, sales manager at FUNDA Training and Conferencing, sat up quickly.

Wait, I get that people can be encouraged to work in groups and dialogue, but that is not the kind of creative participation you are talking about. You said ‘improvisation theatre’. That means people make things up on the spot in front of others. I call that ‘put on the spot’. That is terrifying. Our client base with its high volume of financial people and government employees will never feel comfortable with that. Even if we were to buy this concept, how on earth will we sell it?

Ok,  so making people feel safe is important to you – especially safety from being put on the spot. It seems to me you value the autonomy of your clients to choose how and when they participate. According to David Rock’s SCARF model both safety and autonomy is necessary for the human brain to function at its best, so you are spot on. ImprovSense is not about putting people on the spot against their will and expecting them to be clever at a whim. ImprovSense is a  skill with three layers:

1. to be aware and listen to one another,

2. to step in with confidence and risk their ideas and

3. to work together to let all the diverse ideas integrate into a coherent whole.

To listen, to step in with confidence and to give and take ideas cannot happen when people feel put on the spot, they have to feel safe and free to choose. You can therefore be sure that we take real care with both these conditions before we start working. We ask people how they feel when they hear they are going to improvise. This gives them a chance to air exactly the kinds of fears that you expressed. It is part of the Story-Strategy we follow as we design our processes.

Among the feelings, though, there are always also excitement and some curiosity. People are drawn by the idea that they will learn to trust their instincts and come up with innovative solutions together. These are the feelings we want to build on. Apart from safety and autonomy, the brain also likes status, such as the kind that comes from people accepting and using your ideas, relatedness that comes from people sharing solutions and fairness that comes from people all being in the same boat together. All these abound when people improvise collectively.

I don’t understand, show me a game.

Check out  the walking exercise, it is one of our favourite games to start with and really simple, but it creates a feeling of relatedness and fairness within 5 minutes and quickly gives a sense of accomplishment to everyone, which raises their status. It only works though, if people risk moving autonomously and having the safety and certainty of knowing that other will support them. Within 5 minutes everyone’s  brain got what they needed to engage further with whatever the content of the training or learning is going to be.

So ImprovSense opens people up to the content of the training and the conference? I think I like it. This may seem contradictory, but if you just stay on the beach and in the shallow water with them, how do they ever get good at the skills of ImprovSense so that they can keep learning? Listening and speaking up with confidence is not something that can happen in 5 minutes.

That may be the most important question of them all. It relates to the question Claire asked about the stickability of the learning. The brain can get into a space for creative participation within 5 minutes, but it takes a lot of practise to keep it there and to get it there when the pressure is on. There can be a range of things that keep people from listening to each other more often, from speaking their truth with confidence and from integrating diverse ideas into a coherent whole as a way of being. Yet without these skills teams cannot keep learning and developing to keep up with change and stay on the cutting edge of their industry and business.

What do you suggest then?

We like to work with teams over time in a group coaching type space to help people identify what holds them back and we work through it using improvisation exercises.  What keeps them from listening to each other, from speaking up and from integrating diverse ideas into a coherent whole that is innovative and produces lasting solutions?  Over time the way people relate to each other and the way they learn and develop in an organisation can completely change. We like to do more that just revamp how people train, conference and learn, we like to create a team climate in organisations where learning, innovation and development is a way of life. In an organisation like that training, team building and even conferencing is not a once off let’s hope it hits the mark type thing, it is a way of life and conferences or training workshops are just instigators for deeper learning processes.

That is a mouth full. If it is the way you say it is, then why do most of our training workshops run for only half or full days, maybe up to 3 days in a row if we are lucky. The skills you talk about develops over time. Are you saying we must change the way we structure our training?

I did not say that, but it may be something you are saying.

It sounds expensive and time consuming. I want to see how it works first.

Great, then stick around. You may find it far less time consuming and expensive than you think – especially if you can learn the tricks yourself and do not have to pay experts to run it all the time…

What can I do with a Story-Strategy?

Move your audience, your team, your people

Through the ages from ancient myths to modern fantasy, Bible stories to Grimm fairy tales, story tellers from the earliest times until now has harnessed the power of story to impact the lives of others and to teach them truths that otherwise seem abstract and complex.

They knew how to meet their audience where they were and draw them into a story world that opened to them a new perspective and took them on a journey of discovery so that, by the end of the story, something had shifted for them. In identification with the people in the story, the listeners could change how they see things, what they believe about their world and how they act within it.

Story-Strategy is the underlying blue print of how stories do this. What are the mechanisms that draw people in?

How do you shape the story so that people change their beliefs, opinions and actions?

But Story-Strategy does not end with its use in shaping stories that are written or told. This very same strategy can help you shift the story of your life, the lies of your audience, the story of your organisation.  You can apply the same strategies that story tellers use to tell great stories, to live a great life story, or to design a story for an organisation, or a team, or a social grouping of any other kind.

Story-Strategy is the internal structure of stories that allow them to move people. These same structures can be used to design

  • talks,
  • workshops,
  • Organisational Development Programmes,
  • Interventions,
  • conferences,
  • learning material or
  • personal development projects.

But it is not just these internal design features of story that can move people, but also the delivery methods: the way you present the story through training, coaching, facilitation, talking and selling. There is also an entire printed media side to this, but I like to focus only on the oral delivery of the story.

Story-Strategy is the big picture sequential design and the poignant delivery of messages and events that take people from where they are to where they could be.

Every good story-strategy, like every good story, has a well designed beginning, middle and end. Each of these three can be divided into three more sections so that your beginning leaves no-one behind, your middle keeps everyone rivitted and your end leaves them changed forever.

To design conferences, workshops, talks or programmes that move people, use a Story-Strategy.