Story-Trophic cascades

Perhaps it is working with TRIZ that has improved my analogous thinking but I watched this incredible video about ‘How Wolves Change Rivers’ and thought:

If Trophic Cascades are brought about by re-introducing a previously removed key species in an ecosystem, what might be the analogous effect of re-introducing storytellers, or even better PNI (Participatory Narrative Inquiry) facilitators who work with stories, back into a community.

I have just delivered the first of two experiments to run a Story Based workshop locally with local business friends who run their own small businesses. My intention was primarily to share with them a few of the lessons, methods and tools I have learned that have made a difference to me. From the feedback I have received I achieved the impact I so desired.

What surprised me was the amount of collaboration that occurred during the event and ‘cascaded’ onto social media afterwards. Unlike previous workshops where I have purposefully asked pairs to look for common ground or potential creative combination ideas, I never directly mentioned it this time.

It has only been 48 hours since the workshop ended and already I am aware of a surge of contacts via email, twitter and Facebook. Invites have been received to join google hangouts and physical Friday afternoon business networks. Three books and one painting sold. One participant going live on the radio and internet TV as a nutrition expert with potential to have a new career as a text jockey.

Now if one workshop with 8 participants can generate a cascade of collaborative energy this strong in 48 hours, just imagine if this was carried out in your area with your local businesses and if these businesses were coached and facilitated to build further relationships using stories we could change more than just rivers …

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

Ecosystem Thinking for Start-ups – A new workshop

startupseedIn another of my experiments I am, this month, piloting a new workshop/masterclass on developing Start-ups and SME’s. Most of my ecosystem thinking framework design came from working in Government and observing Knowledge Sharing and Innovation in very large commercial organisations. Whereas my experience over the last six years has been as a sole trader/start-up. So I reviewed my lessons learned over the years and have put together a workshop and associated ebook of the methods and tools I have found most useful and beneficial.

I am trial running two one-day workshops (by invitation only) in Peterborough on 22nd October and another in Reading on 4th November, then, subject to participant feedback, I hope to run these more regularly.

The workshop will be structured as a Participatory Narrative Inquiry event, very experiential, punctuated with a number of very useful tools I have picked up along the way. No Powerpoint slides, just face to face stories and instructions. An ebook will hopefully be available in time for the launch event.

My initial thoughts at a top 10 in the order they might be delivered:

  • Exploring what we know already.
  • What are the benefits of being a start-up and of what you do.
  • How to price your services.
  • Making sense of Customers and Products.
  • How to negotiate uncertainty. Predictability and approach.
  • Problem solving in Time and Space to increase your adaptability and resilience.
  • How to prioritise your efforts and creative ideas.
  • Storyboarding your ideas for maximum impact.
  • Managing workflow and measuring impact – focus and minimal wasted effort.
  • Your Social Media Footprint.

I am hoping to pitch these workshops to Development Agencies in Local Councils and Government funded bodies such as the ATI and KTNs, so if you have any connections or ideas around these I would be greatful to hear from you.

Two More Masterclasses for 2014

masterclass banner

For all those people who expressed an interest but were unable to make the last Masterclass in Peterborough I am running at least three more in the coming months in London 18th November, Birmingham 1st December and hopefully Amsterdam in early 2015…


will take participants step by step through:

  • increased participation and communication using story,
  • problem solving,
  • prioritising and storyboarding actions,
  • feedback & measurement
  • developing communities
  • how to manage your knowledge for strategic advantage

leading to a comprehensive Ecosystem framework that can be used to highlight, develop and improve:

  • awareness of the present
  • resilience
  • agility
  • adaptability
  • decision making
  • leading to sustainability

More details and how to book are available on the Eventbrite site here.

Earlybird discounted tickets are available so please book early.

Alternatively I am happy to discuss running this event in-house or exclusively for your group or community

Natural Capital and Storytelling

naturalcapitalinitiativeI am hugely honoured to have been invited to co-facilitate a session (with Sarah Jane Chimbwandera, Director of Biodiversity, Evidence and Policy of the Surrey Wildlife Trust) at the Natural Capital Initiative ‘Valuing our life support Systems’ natural capital summit in November in London.

The summit will:

  1. Derive a common understanding of what natural capital really means
  2. Understand in plain language the natural and social science behind it
  3. Find and demonstrate ways in which sectors and initiatives can work, and are working, together to apply it
  4. Identify ways of ensuring that practical responses have scientific rigour
  5. Communicate recommendations for ways forward across the sectors

Our Session, on the morning of day 2, is entitled:  Natural capital and storytelling – This session will investigate innovative ways to communicate the concept of natural capital to the public. Our aim being to gain maximum participation  of the delegates as to what is important, what can be done and how to put this into a story.

And what is ‘Natural Capital’? you might still be asking…

Natural capital refers to the elements of nature that produce value (directly and indirectly) to people, such as the stock of forests, rivers, land, minerals and oceans. It includes the living aspects of nature (such as fish stocks) as well as the non-living aspects (such as minerals and energy resources). Natural capital underpins all other types of capital… and is the foundation on which our economy, society and prosperity is built.”
– The Natural Capital Committee

I ran a very successful Participatory Narrative Inquiry workshop for the Surrey Trust back in May and we have designed our session at the summit around the ‘best bits’. We are hoping to do an early trial with local businesses in early October as a trial run. I will post the outcome and lessons learned shortly after.

Storytelling for a Greener World

greenerworldHeard the great news today, by way of my invitation to the London launch, that my good friends involved in the Tales to Sustain gatherings I previously attended in 2008 (and again in  2009) are about to publish this wonderful book.

Titled ‘Storytelling for a Greener World’ it covers the what, why and how of storytelling and storywork to promote environmental mindfulness and sustainable behaviour in adults and children. Written by 21 cutting-edge professionals in story-based learning and pro-environmental change.

The book shows how to apply this practice, indoors and outdoors, in organisations,NGOs, schools, colleges and communities.
A treasury of over 40 stories, many creative activities and detailed descriptions of inspiring practice for both new and seasoned practitioners. Clearly explains how this practice works, why it is effective and how to adapt the ideas to the reader’s situation.
Powerfully endorsed by leaders in sustainability, conservation, organisation development, drama and performance, play-work, health, child development, community outreach and education.
“If we are to be able to move to a more sustainable, more resilient future, we first have to be able to imagine it.We need to be able to tell its stories, weave its magic, bring it alive so we can see, smell, hear, taste and touch it. ‘Storytelling for a Greener World’ does just that, showing the powerful role storytelling can play, and the rich insights the storytellers bring with them.It is rich, powerful and of immense importance.”
                                                         Rob Hopkins, Co-Founder, Transition Network
This unique resource offers new ideas, stories, creative activities and methods for people working in conservation, outdoor learning, environmental education, youthwork, business training, sustainability, health, social and economic change. It shows how to encourage pro-environmental behaviour in diverse participants: from organisation consultants and employees, to families, youth and schoolchildren. The stories and their exploration engage people with nature in profound ways. The book describes how this engagement enhances participants’ emotional literacy and resilience, builds community, raises awareness of inter-species communication and helps people to create a sustainable future together. Its innovative techniques establish connections between place and sustainability. Facilitators can adapt all of this to their own situation.
“A scintillating handbook to recover meaning in troubled times.”
                                                 Alastair McIntosh, author of Soil and Soul


….and if my hero Alastair thinks it is scintillating that’s good enough for me.

Cynefin on Fire – Complexity science to guide managers thoughts and actions

During the latter part of last year I facilitated three consultation workshops for the fire sector. At the one in a fire-station in Moss side, Manchester we were doing an anecdote circle to explore the narrative landscape and the subject of wildfires arose. Because fires figure regularly in my explanation of the chaotic domain of the cynefin framework I must have given a more impassioned set of examples that day, as I was asked soon after if I would write an article on cynefin for the Alert magazine (The Journal of the Institute of Civil Protection and Emergency Management). I am therefore honoured to be in the latest edition concerning itself with Resilience against the floods, the Glasgow Helicopter Crash, Crisis Management, DNA profiling and a whole lot more.


I can’t say it was easy to write. In my head I knew exactly the stories, concepts and uses I wanted to include but “we know more than we can say” and at five pages long I struggled to remember and cross refer what I had already included. Anyway, to cut as long story short, the article appears on page 40 of the current edition and can be downloaded for free here (5mb PDF)


Any feedback on the article would be much appreciated.

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 … ?

First steps towards a Knowledge Ecosystem Model

IMAG1225I was playing around with two of the six surfaces of my ‘work in progress’ Combined Knowledge and Innovation ecosystem model. What is interesting as you bring several different perspectives and approaches together is whether the axes make any sense at all or in this case suggest a potentially new way of looking at an organisation.

The three coloured shapes with contours represent the Critical knowledge assets of an organisation. The height (no of contours) represents the amount of benefit each delivers. The cost (including harm) of maintaining that knowledge asset decreases as you move to the back. This is very much a Cognitive Edge sensemaker approach to mapping the narrative/knowledge landscape.

I then added the cynefin framework as a kind of windscreen in which you perceive the way forward. Ignore for now the Feynman-like diagrams in each domain and I will blog about them later. At this point I wondered whether the left being unordered and the right being ordered might have any bearing on the knowledge assets or any creative ideas we might have for a) increasing benefit or b) reducing costs & harms.

I realised that as new knowledge is created it will likely emerge on the left, then as it is probed, then analysed it will move to the right where it may be stored or at the very minimum shared. That seems quite standard cynefin (if there is such a thing). What struck me that might be new, is that if you were to plot a new idea on the landscape,

If it plots on the right (ordered) the Ecosystem should take account of the idea

If it plots on the left (unordered) the idea should take account of the Ecosystem.

Landscape scale ‘management’ of knowledge is then concerned with:

  • amplifying the height of the peaks (to deliver greater benefits)
  • moving the peaks ‘Northwards’ (to reduce costs and or harms)
  • being aware of the tendency East or West for level of certainty in decision making

How you would then use TRIZ to access the ‘Worlds Knowledge’ to determine how to reduce costs or increase benefits comes next, after I sort out the geological layers and their metamorphic metaphors beneath this landscape, watch this space…

The string of pearls

every story can therefore be seen as a journey into the woods to find the secret that lies outside the self

string of pearlsSo goes the quote from John Yorke and his Book on storytelling  ‘into the woods’ from a recent Guardian article.

So on Bank Holiday Monday, setting off early before the butterflies were warmed up and fluttering about, David, Tim and I set off for our annual search for colonies of the threatened Grizzled Skipper butterfly. Our search for the Grizzled Skipper conjures a complex of thoughts and we entered the woods hopeful but taken aback by how light and under-grown was the habitat this year after our long cold Spring.

As we walked along the sun drenched path with David identifying every bird call with knowing accuracy I came across this string of pearls and announced in mock horror, “David is this a pearl snake?”. “Its just costume jewellery” was the terse response but I pocketed it all the same, why?, because that’s what I do.

Tim had never seen the plaque in the place we call “Glenn Miller’s wood” that commemorates his final Aircraft Hanger performance back in Oct 1944 just months before he died. So we headed over there for our annual picture. For no reason other than to intrigue my friend Conrad, I posted a picture of the plaque up on facebook.


So there we have it. Two completely unconnected events, secondary to our hunt for endangered butterflies, until…

Conrad posts his response:


Intriguing, spooky and entangled. Until today I didn’t even know that iconic classic tune by Glen Miller was even called “String of Pearls”. So what is the secret that lies “outside the self”? Coincidence, mind reading, proof that time isn’t linear or was Glenn Miller back in those woods again, playing a literal joke with three old men in a wood, and one Glenn Miller fan somewhere in London?

A footnote: We did eventually find three individual Grizzled Skippers in two of their regular locations, but they were off like a shot as I approached with my camera. So no photographs just a little light music…