The Monkey in the sack – My Story Collider Story

I have finally been brave enough to post this. This is the audio recording of my appearance at the Story Collider show in London in front of a packed house in a London Club earlier this year. 20 minutes long, you can hear the fear in my voice as I start, and listen out for a gap in the middle where I forget where I am up to. Enjoy

As is: As could be – Duarte spark-lines

Just in case you have not seen this before, less than six minutes of video revealing the secrets behind great speeches and presentations. Nancy Duarte analyzes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech using principles from her (highly recommended) book, Resonate. Mapping the speech to her “presentation form”, Nancy reveals the magic that makes it memorable.

I love these previously unseen patterns. I am increasingly using this ‘as is : as could be’ pattern in my innovation ecosystem workshops as a template for action planning in a form that will have an inbuilt, empathising story.

Doors of Perception

Can you remember that idea we had next door?
Can you remember that idea we had next door?

Reading the latest blog post by Lily of Oxford Creativity, with whom I co-midwife the final day of How to facilitate TRIZ I was reminded of something else we mentioned in passing last year.

We allow all the participants to facilitate a group at least once so that they can experience all the responsibilities that go with such a key role. Syndicate groups are allocated separate rooms and at the end of the exercise we ‘usually’ bring them back into the main room to reflect on the learning.

I had seen what I think was a section of a BBC Horizon programme in which crossing doorways was said to cause memory loss. I now know this to be the work of Radvansky et al and the PDF can be downloaded here. In summary Radvansky suggests that we connect our memories to the room we are in, and passing out of the door, effectively says those memories are no longer needed. Passing through the doorway is an event boundary, and a new ‘event’ is created, with a ‘cleaner’ slate.

I speculated that the groups might not remember all their learning if the reflection was done outside the room as Radvanskey had speculated, so we did each group reflection back in the original work rooms.

I have no proof whether this was more effective or not but …

My wife works as a Teaching Assistant and as such works one to one with children who have learning difficulties. The children are all given instruction, examples and guidance in the main room. Then my wife takes the children with learning difficulties out, through the door, to a private area where there is less distraction. Is this action making their learning even more difficult?  Because if it is, this is a common practice approach to school classes with differing abilities.

Setting the Sustainocene

On this day 2nd July 2013 let it be known that, thanks to browsing a few harmless tweets this morning, and building on my recent NIRES Sustainable Water sandpit (blog post promised), I have my new ten year plan, a new optimism and determined enthusiasm towards the benefits, outcome, vision (call it what you will) that is:


To facilitate, attract and amplify Homo narrans  (the storytelling human) into the emergent future that will  be known as the Sustainocene.


This is undoubtedly a complex task and I am going to need more than my trusty cynefin framework for this task.


All it needed was these three previously unrelated metaphors to come together , which in hindsight seems obvious.


This means changing every behaviour, action and creative idea towards the benefits of a sustainable Earth, one bit at a time (or rather many safe-to-fail experiments in parallel).


Helping the emergence of a narrative landscape, collaborative climate and creative environment within knowledge driven – open innovation ecosystems.


Lets throw everything we know about storytelling influencing childrens career paths, sense-making, creative problem solving, managing knowledge, step-change open-innovation, appreciative inquiry, ritual dissent, agile and kanban etc etc.


Anyone out there interested … ?

Gratitude to Social Networks

I love my social networks and am constantly amazed how much I can pick up in an hour of interactions on Twitter and Facebook in particular. Thinking in the shower this morning I also realised how much it makes sense of the way my mind works.

Take this morning for instance:

Dave Snowden on Cognitive Edge has this morning blogged about Theory U  which I found via Twitter.

In it he explains in detail how he has read all the books and papers and illustrates how the precise wording and nuances either fit or do not fit with other theories.

In contrast I fell upon Theory U late last year by an image search on Google for business models. I skimmed available material and made up my own meaning from the concepts I thought it covered. My brain seems to lack the part that remembers detail, I can remember stories but everything else always seems to connect to something else I know, by way of ambiguous understanding and metaphor. I was so intrigued I built my own Pinterest board.

For a short while it became my world view of facilitating workshops so I used it as a controlling structure/overview for a recent workshop in Copenhagen, no thought for the inconsistencies, just that it seemed interesting and had useful connections and I love it’s concept of “leading from an emergent future”.

In a similar vein Dave ends with a concern about Ken Wilber’s spiral dynamics, which I thought was great principally because it explained why my interests and perspectives seemed to freeze at age 18 but unfroze at age 40 (ironically the year I first met Dave).

As a second example I found a tweet about a piece by Steve Denning (who coincidently also had a great influence on me at age 40) on “What went wrong at Boeing”

I though this was worth passing on to my pals who work in Aerospace innovation so I shared it as an email. As the email box opened up on my phone I realised I could not spell ‘Boeing’, I knew there was an ‘e’ somewhere but it kept looking like the sound of a spring. So I entitled the email ‘Boing’.

My colleague Brain immediately responded by email that it was called Boing “because it kept bouncing back” (I did not know this) and there were other good sources here which gives a better feel for the specifics and the management of innovation issues around the battery.

Also here is essential reading on the 787. His letter to the FAA (link at the wiki article) is very worthwhile.

So this is how I learn, I make loose connections, share them with my close contacts via Twitter & Facebook and they put me right by dampening the poor material and amplifying the useful. It sort of sits on my shoulder as an invisible conscience. I don’t always remember the detail but I adapt to the learning and move forward.



How to spot an improviser

I have a friend, Stuart Reid, who also lives in Peterborough who is hugely interested in all things improvisation, who terrifies me at the thought of what an improv workshops would entail and how far I might have to step out of my comfort zone. Here however is a two and a half minute video that he strongly recommends that entertains and informs in equal measure. Brilliant.

Dark Innovation

For several years I have puzzled over the reasons why Lessons Learned workshops rarely provoke any change or improvement in the next iteration of the process or project. Similarly why is it so damned difficult to turn enthusiastic creativity into humanity saving innovation.

A number of recent theories and ideas seem to suggest that there are some rational and some irrational, invisible forces at work which modify any starting conditions to minimise the likelihood of success of any proposed change.

I have blogged about how to deal with invisible threats before HERE where Walter Wink recommends that we should:

  1. name the powers
  2. unmask the powers
  3. engage the powers


Our first step is to give it a name which I suggest should be termed Dark Innovation in tying with Dark matter and Dark Magnetism which are used to encompass initially poorly understood forces.. Next we need to unmask and make sense of it:


I have just read Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron-Cohen in which he shares his understanding of the ‘systemising mechanism’ in the human brain and that it is

 those parts of the brain that perceive patterns in changing information, enabling us to figure out how things work and to predict the future

This mechanism he explains has a bell curve distribution throughout humans ranging from level 0 where you notice no patterns at all [not looking for patterns therefore can deal with change] through to level 6 where you have to systemise every moment of your life [anything unexpected is, for them, toxic – and so find change so difficult that they resist it at all costs]

Then while reading Ron Adlers excellent book, ‘The Wide Lens‘  he suggests that most innovation is stifled because it fails to take account of the customer and partner perspective and does not take into account the innovation ecosystem ie the implications and connections of the change being proposed.

Finally there was Drew Boyd who last week blogged about ‘the curse of innovation‘, in particular FT article  on the curse of patents, and frighteningly added another six equally resilient curses/barriers, deep seated in the human consciousness that seem programmed to scupper innovation. Desperation, absurdity, novelty, change and success, but I found the curse of competition the most enlightening:

Great ideas draw attention and support in the form of budget dollars, usually at the expense of another project. Unscrupulous employees have learned to be on guard. They monitor innovation activities carefully so they can “nip ideas in the bud.” They don’t wait for a great idea to develop. Instead, they “volunteer” to be part of innovation workshops so they can spot any threatening ideas as they emerge. They make sure those ideas are seen as “tainted”.

So we seem to have a complex intertwining set of powers that do there best to prevent innovation from happening. ‘Dark Innovation’ should not be seen as malevolent in fact it may be our combined consciousness trying to protect us from the Progress trap.

This Progress Trap was another concept that I self-realised and recognised so well, as I watched the highly recommended documentary ‘Surviving Progress‘ on BBC4 on Monday:

the condition human societies experience when, in pursuing progress through human ingenuity, they inadvertently introduce problems they do not have the resources or political will to solve, for fear of short-term losses in status, stability or quality of life. This prevents further progress and sometimes leads to collapse.

I see this as the Innovation equivalent of the ‘invisible hand in economics. Christopher Brooker in ‘the Seven Basic Plots’ of Story explored a similar idea – that all our monster stories emerged from a combined consciousness as a warning of the dangers of egotism. So perhaps our inbuilt resistance to change is an evolutionary defence mechanism

Having named and unmasked, we finally we need to engage these powers. If this is the problem what is the solution:


Innovation does not need to lead to greater consumption and depletion of resources. TRIZ in particular prides itself on trimming, minimising the costs and harms and getting the ‘system’ to supply resources it needs. The Surviving Progress documentary touches on the benefits of messy, unconnected, individually appropriate experiments which is the cornerstone of the Cognitive Edge approach and can be seen as an exemplary example in the Transition Towns projects emerging across the world. My recommended engagement approach would therefore be:

  •  Using narrative methods to understand the perspectives of staff/customers/partners.
  •  Delivering innovation/lessons learned workshops in the wider context of an innovation ecosystem
  •  Using TRIZ methods to ensure the wider aspects are always considered and that benefits versus costs&harms are fully explored.
  •  Ensuring that sustainability/environmental implications are not sidestepped as ‘externalities’
  •  Sharing these benefits via other powerful narrative methods to tilt the playing field and prepare the ground

All the above to be explored and delivered within a ‘cynefin’ understanding of order and complexity

If you are interested in discussing or exploring these ideas further please get in touch, and if you are interested in watching Surviving Progress it can now be seen on YouTube in its entirety, highly recommended here is the two minute trailer:


[Ron Donaldson is an independent Knowledge Ecologist who draws on his vast experience of Cognitive Edge, KM, TRIZ and Innovation teaching in the Aerospace Sector to deliver an ecological approach to Innovation in the form of facilitated workshops and fun packed masterclasses]



Tweet Round-up for May 2012

Yet again this week I was asked for a list of books I would recommend to anyone starting out in the fields of Knowledge Ecology, Narrative Landscapes and Innovation Ecosystems. Increasingly my answer is all my aha moments and real turning points in my approach and understanding have been made in my use of Twitter.

I use Twitter as my radar, I have grown a list of individuals who I believe have their fingers on the pulse and readily share what articles, blogposts and resources they find exciting or useful. As I read through my Twitter feed on a morning I myself highlight those that I find most interesting by re-tweeting them to my Twitter feed thereby ‘bookmarking’ them for future access and more crucially sharing these wonderful resources with those who follow me and, my most enjoyable pastime, signifying the resource via hashtags such as #innovation, #storytelling and #complexity so that they can be more widely found by others interested in the subject. I genuinely believe that by being so altruistic, improves the resource for others and that other users will be encouraged to do likewise.

Enough justification, after the wettest April on record I believe May 2012 has been the most fruitful for tweets relating to Innovation so here is my selection of 15 of what I believe to be the best of the best, enjoy:


Excellent post – Seven curses of #Innovation – seen most of them #TRIZ

RT @neridahart The Nine #Innovation Roles via @zite

RT @gquaggiotto 2 great pieces on disruptive #innovation 4 globaldev @patrickmeier & @alwalji

RT @rachelbotsman @iRowan “I see elimination of gatekeepers everywhere.” Jeff Bezos: Fab NYTimes piece #innovation

RT @DavidHolzmer How to Identify World-Changing #Innovation

RT @euopeninnovatio Velocity is the only #innovation outcome that matters

Why extractive business models fail. They destroy the ecosystems that support them #innovation

RT @rachelbotsman Part 2 of blog on building successful #CollCons platforms: Trust and user experience #innovation

RT @skap5 Are you a share taker or a market maker? From tweaks to transformation. #bmif #innovation

Are You Solving a Puzzle or a Mystery? #innovation #complexity

RT @minmien How Creativity Works in Cities | @scoopit #innovation


RT @chuckfrey Amoeba-Through-Zebra #Innovation: An Interview with #Biomimicry Expert Janine Benyus – #triz

Wow – RT @reluuplands DEFRA Ecosystems Knowledge Network launches new website #km #innovation #ecology

RT @chuckfrey Generating ideas with hieroglyphics – an unusual but potentially valuable lateral thinking technique:

Ego Eco

Hat tip for this pic to my friend (and fellow tales to sustainer) Chris Holland, the didgeridoo man.  This has to be my favourite graphic of all time and encompasses everything I believe in. No needs for words, interpret it as you see fit. So much complexity. Thoughts of how the emergence of ‘ego’ created all the ‘warning stories’ of giants and monsters of the past. Smiles at comparing where the woman is positioned on the left with that on the right. Memories of the teaching stories about connecting cow and grass rather than cow and chicken. enjoy.

The inside – outside story

WL Randall's four types of story

I am three quarters through Geoff Mead’s new book Coming home to story, but I am enjoying every page of the stories and ideas that he so generously shares. I was not until now aware of the work of William Lowell Randal but Geoff on page 74 briefly introduces us to his work and it has stuck in my head for weeks now.

William Randall is part of the coordinating team at CIRN (The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Narrative) where he specialises in  narrative gerontology which is a root metaphor for the field of ageing which presupposes the idea that humans are not only storytellers but story-listeners and that they not only have a life-story but they are ‘stories’.

To cut a long story short Randall proposes that there are four types of story that influence our sense of self, life experience and play a major part in how we age. These are:

Existence – The outside story of everything that happens to us

Experience – The inside story or how we make sense and consciously and unconsciously select the events that have significance for us.

Expression – The inside out story that conveys our experience in story form

Impression – The outside in story of how what others say about us influences our sense of self.

Now I know “all models are wrong” but I find this a tremendously simple and useful way to understand and acknowledge the different perspectives of friends, family members and groups telling their stories in narrative workshops.

What particularly excites me is how this view coalesces with my long standing obsession with the work of Baron-Cohen on the autistic spectrum. Individuals that experience life as ‘systems’ will develop a self and an inside story devoid of the feelings and motivations of others. Those with an empathising view on the world will similarly be engulfed in an inside story populated with the misfortunes and life troubles of others. [interestingly certain religions suggest that getting too connected to anyone will have a detrimental effect on your life, but thats for another blog].

I think it also goes some way in explaining how communities form around an emergent sense of identity. The influence of those around us will obviously change our inside story. As we begin to share what we think is significant so the shared stories will influence our sense of self. As we have a shared existence, shared (significant) experiences will influence the way we express ourselves and leave an impression on others.

I also think this model goes some way to explaining the unrivaled benefits of SenseMaker®, for in capturing anecdotal fragments (the inside-out story) together with the intended significance (the inside story) of the storyteller may then, in quantity, reveal patterns that help make sense of all aspects (the self, the experiences or the significant) of the group(s) being studied.