You were lucky

At the Cog Edge Accreditation Course, Dave was telling us about ditting – the art of sharing anecdotes while trying to trump the previous person. The scene near the end of the movie Jaws where the three men share shark stories was mentioned, but our table, like naughty school boys, started quoting lines from our favourite anecdote circle – The Four Yorkshiremen

If you aren’t aware the Monty Python team recently gave up their battles with unofficial video posting on YouTube and simply joined them, forming a brilliant channel of all your favourite moments. Enjoy.

The Venerable Bede

St Peters Church Sunderland
St Peters Church Sunderland

The venerable Bede was a constant presence in my upbringing in Sunderland, I went to Bede School and I was born a couple of hundred yards from St Peters Church (pictured above) where in 680 AD at the age of seven, Bede was entrusted to Abbot Benedict to be educated.

Only recently have I begun to appreciate how influential Bede and his work have been on all of us as he was the first to use the term AD as an historical dating device, is thought to be the ‘father of english history’ and is the only englishman in Dantes Paradise.

Bede was to me a good example of the benefits of Dave’s concept of ‘signified narrative fragments’. Bede collated narrative both written and oral of which he questioned, challenged and signified their importance and reliability. So good were his verbatim recording of these fragments that historians have since been able to piece together just what books and reference material Bede would have had available. (perhaps he might also be the father of metadada).

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We used to mackem, you used to tackem

Arrived in Sunderland (on the north-east coast of England) to look after my Dad while the rest of the family go off on their half term holidays. I left the North-East back in 1980 because of the awful job prospects in this area after the closing of the Shipyards. Sunderland in 1850 was the largest shipbuilding port in the world and in 1900 employed twenty thousand workers on shipbuilding related industries.

Searching through my family tree almost all the males since the first census of 1841 seem to be shipwrights or boilermakers. My dad was a plumber, working on and off for Sunderland Shipbuilders and various house plumbing firms but the consistent thing was that he regularly handled raw asbestos and a wide range of other dangerous chemicals. Now he has multiple myeloma and pleural plaques on his lungs. He was diagnosed early last year and almost crippled by the bone deteriation and at that time my mam became his primary carer. Within six months she (a non-smoker, non-drinker) had herself been diagnosed with and in November died from lung cancer. We have no proof that this was because she washed my dads overalls that were covered in asbestos dust.

Anyway dad is in good spirits especially as Sunderland have just beaten Newcastle, our sworn enemies were it not for the fact that first my brother and now my son have found their perfect partners in black and white shirt wearing girls.

I am looking forward to a week of exploring old haunts, visiting relatives who might give me more clues towards my family tree (last time my Aunty hinted that a number of children were not of their legal fathers thanks to a very naughty great uncle) and wallking along the Roker beach breathing in the wonderful bracing air direct from the North Sea.

Sunderland folk are now more often referred to as ‘mackems (and tackems)’ mainly because that is how we pronounce make and take which is a clear difference in pronounciation from that of ‘geordies’ who say it more like mayke and tayke. This was then said to be because we mack the ships and you tack them away.

I mustn’t take too long posting this blog as my dad doesn’t have broadband and so I am piggybacking on generous neighbours who have unsecured networks  and who might go to bed and switch me off at any minute. Oh and the game is now on Match of the Day.

The clocks go back tonight in the UK so the evenings will get dark earlier as we leave British Summer time so it is an extra hour in bed tonight.

An orgy of consumption

Can you smell organic sweetcorn?
Can you smell organic sweetcorn?

I have for a long time been a fan of the Riverford Farm and its organic veg boxes (source of my BatMilk story) which has led to a franchisee called Rivernene Farm which now supplies the Peterborough area where I live. What interested me most was the way that alongside the sumptious box of vegetables we receive every week is a leaflet containing recipes and the latest news from the farm. Now these are simply anecdotal fragments in Cognitive Edge terminology, but over time they give a genuine understanding of the problems and pride our local growers are facing. So much so I have begun to feel a real connection with the local farm, its landscape and its produce. I so like and encourage the idea that farmers should be telling us of the environmental benefits, a job traditionally done by the environmental organisations, but they are doing it locally and on a weekly basis.

One amusing story of emergence recently concerns the ripening sweetcorn crop. It turns out that the local badger populations first at Riverford (back in 2005) and now in Rivernene (2008) cannot get enough of the organic sweetcorn and not only do they devour as much as they can eat but seem to have a bit of a party and a rave in the process. An “orgy of consumption” is how they describe it. A very recent newsletter from the Rivernene Farm suggests that the only way to prevent this is to nip it in the bud before any badger gets a taste of the succulent corn for once they do they will repeatedly come back for more and despite huge electric fences they will tunnel in Colditz style to get have a corn rave.

Sustainability Workshop with a Cognitive Edge

Inspired by my recent ‘Tales to Sustain’ storytellers gathering, I am currently developing an Organisational Sustainability workshop for those organisations that want to engage with their staff, reduce their carbon footprint and thereby minimise their impact on the environment.

My reasoning behind this, apart from the obvious one that sustainability is vitally important to all organisations, is that the staff will already have good ideas and practices worth sharing and some will be actively engaged locally and at home. Raising awareness, sharing ideas and getting everyone to self realise the importance creates the ideal starting conditions for commitment and buy-in from the bottom up.

I normally begin with an anecdote circle which engages everyone present and brings out ideas, values, beliefs and an understanding of the commitment of at least some of those present. The individual anecdotes and subsequent emergent themes are crucial to the development of the day.

A new addition at this point will now be an ancient myth, that metaphorically illustrates why we need to act now, that I picked up from the ‘Tales to Sustain’ workshop.

I then run a future backwards session exploring the more general timeline of climate change but also including any initiatives the organisation may have had in this domain. the aspects of Heaven and Hell becoming the crucial aspects of framing future possibilities.

I now regularly merge a storytelling method here by asking groups to tell each other the story of their timeline including their Heaven and Hell.

At this point I introduce the cynefin framework where I utilise key events from their timeline to illustrate each of the domains.

Pulling on all the workshop materials so far, we then begin to formulate ideas for action which we can test using ritual dissent methods and resolve and refine the approach we might take using the cynefin framework.

Finally we identify three short anecdotes that explain the context of our approach to Sustainability and three actions that demonstate the content of what we are doing and weave these into a coherent message using a fable template to explain to others their Sustainaility Strategy.

As for timing this could be squeezed in over an intensive day but would be better delivered over two days. The emergent outcomes from the event include a pretty impressive:

  • shared understanding grounded in current beneficial activities
  • review of the past from different perspectives
  • scenario planning including worst fears (risk register) and highest hopes (vision for the future)
  • a new way of looking at uncertainty
  • robust, prioritised and planned actions with interactions grounded in and tested against complexity theory
  • easily remembered anecdotes and actions and a coherent story to tell
  • the additional benefits of stronger community spirit, sense of belonging, greater trust and greater links for subsequent knowledge sharing between individuals

Larger organisations may at this point consider the benefits of having staff record their sustainability efforts over time, whether succesful or not, and self signify them in a way that allows sense to be made across the entire landscape of their sustainability activities.

Co-operative action research

On Monday I spent an enjoyable evening in London giving a talk to a group of people who are getting themselves together to run a project that aims to study how to “maximise organisational benefit in its use of information”. The project is run out of the Northumbria University School of Computing. What makes this interesting is that it is being run as a  co-operative action research enquiry – which means that each person who takes part has an equal right to shape the direction of the research.

My talk covered what I thought were the three new perspectives I could bring to the research:

  • The ecological growth of Web 2.0 tools
  • The use of cognitive-edge narrative techniques to make sense of and launch the project
  • The sensemaker software approach of utilising narrative fragments instead of information databases and how experts would be better used signifying existing research than writing out of date reports.

The material seemed to go down well and we have a planned anecdote circle and future backwards workshop in early November.

Top 50 Storytelling and Sustainability websites

This is a compilation of all of the 50 favourite websites as recommended by the attendees of last weekend’s four day ‘Tales to Sustain’ workshop at Cae Mabon in North Wales. In no particular order

Wilderness Awareness School

Your Wild Food Guide to Edible Plants & Edible Mushrooms of Great Britain

Surlalune annotated fairy tales

Spirit of trees

Tim Sheppard links to other story sites

Continue reading “Top 50 Storytelling and Sustainability websites”

Cae Mabon but not forgotten

I had a genuinely life changing time at Cae Mabon earlier this week. Apprehensive of what a group of 24 storytellers might get up to I drove along the longest single track lane I have ever driven. Parked my car and then entered Cae Mabon through the carved wooden arch. Passing a giant sculpture of a bee which for some reason suggested a cover of a Hawkwind album I walked passed dwellings that simply made me smile a bigger and bigger smile.

Cae Mabon is the ongoing project of Eric Maddern who stood near the entrance to a magnificent Iron Age roundhouse and greeted me as I approached. Shown to my cabin by the river I found myself running from building to building taking photos as if they might disappear like a mirage at any moment. The dwellings were recently photographed by an architect review magazine and just last week, to even Eric’s surprise, turned up on the front cover as the number one example of sustainable architecture.

During the evening our group grew until all 25 of us had made our way from all corners of the UK. Over the four days

  • we told each other stories, sang and danced
  • ate the most delicious (totally veggie) food I have ever tasted.
  • we worked with stories new and old, from nature to story and from story to nature.
  • I gave a talk on complexity and ran an anecdote circle as a workshop.
  • We learned about metaphysics and discussed stories with a sense of place.
  • We made our own personal unique and hugely impressive ‘Tales to Sustain’ handbook by giving each other printed versions of our favourite story, technique, books and web resources.
  • We learned from each other, gave each other advice and greatly enjoyed each others company.

To be in the company of such accomplished storytellers, each with their own unique ability to entranse you and take you to other worlds, places and times just with the use of words was humbling, exciting and I really didn’t want it to end.

The really impressive thing is that these people dedicate their lives to improve their craft and encourage and inspire us, by the use of story, to try and live more sustainabily.

So many highlights over the four days, the priviledge of sitting around a fire in an iron age roundhouse telling stories and playing a drum alongside didgereedoo, ukelele, guitar and the most amazing harp playing will stay with me forever.

Most of the stories told involved animals in some shape or form and the weekwnd provided a few ‘did that really happen moments’ like the frog that joined us during a story about an ivy leaf wanting to be a frog, and best of all, the bat that at 3pm in the afternoon started to circle us in the smaller ‘hogan’ roundhouse as we discussed a ‘sense of place’.

I think you get the picture, one of the most inspiring, enjoyable and, even at my age, character forming weekends I have ever had. So thank you to Eric, Alida, John, Malcolm  and my fellow companions for such a great experience.

Tales to Sustain

Where are you going this weekend? I have been invited to attend a most exciting event. Four days at Cae Mabon on the foothills of Mt Snowden with 24 environmental storytellers sharing their experience, techniques and of course stories. Cae Mabon looks to be a dream location for a conference or event.

My plan is to arrive early so that I can try and bag the hogan on the right as my accomodation so I can imagine myself as a hobbit.

I am not expecting to have the internet access or the time to blog during the event but I am hoping to bring back lots of photos and ideas to post in the coming weeks.

Eric Maddern is the principal inspiration and creator of this wonderful place and I just love his quote that “this is a place built on stories”.

One person I am already keen to meet up with is Chris Holland director of Wholeland who is bringing his digeridoo and I have just learned from googling him that he once played with Hawkwind – awesome.

A tweme of twitters

In the past you used to attend a conference,then a few days later type up and compile the highlights of your notes and perhaps email them to a few colleagues who might be interested. At this weeks Unicom Web 2.0 conference I got a quite shocking introduction to how things have changed.

Firstly I was the only one with a Windows PC I was surrounded by Macs. As I got up to speak, everyone at the front of the room seemed to be typing what I thought at first might be work emails, facebook updates and or finishing their own presentation.

By the time I had finished my talk on ‘the ecology of Web 2.0‘ I really didn’t anticipate or understand what had gone on around me. Suw Charman-Anderson, blogged the whole event and later gave a great, slide free talk on the psychology of email addiction, had  almost verbatim transcripts published live, for every speaker. So go to her blog and you can read transctripts for each talk and see the great tips, tricks and technologies we all talked about.

Luis Suarez from IBM however was twittering in order to demonstrate how we can free ourselves from the control of email and his tweme of twitters (don’t you just love the new language) was readily available on the day but search as I might I cannot find it now so perhaps twemes only live for one day like a butterfly.

Luis said in his talk that “once you press publish it was outdated” and in this case that was so true. Twitterers and Bloggers across the world were directly and immediately reading and commenting on the presentations being given using very simple to understand technology but in a far more natural and organically growing way than I had included or anticipated in my talk. We were essentially broadcasting through some of the attendees out into the Web 2.0 world while they added a light touch of context (signification in SenseMaker terms) to the whole proceedings.