Storytelling Masterclass in Oxford

Storytelling Rondon

Twenty years of working with stories and my very kind friends at Oxford Creativity have given me my own Storytelling day. Wednesday 16th May at Oxford University.

Looking at four perspectives on narrative I will be sharing as many of the key insights I can fit in between 9am and 5pm.

  1. Why Story?
  2. Working with story
  3. Your Story (and it’s close relationship with community)
  4. Storytelling

The day will include participatory exercises, book recommendations, hints and tips and an in depth explanation of some of the top tools and techniques. Hexagons, sharpies and willow magic wands/talking sticks will all be in abundance.

Further details on the day and how to book can be found here. Mention this blog when booking for a very special deal either on this day or on a combined Triz for Dummies and Storytelling. What better way to spend three days?



Complexity, citizen engagement – Dave Snowden at Tedx

Happy New Year. It is 2018, 20 years since Dave Snowden first introduced me to the wonders of narrative, 15 years since I attended my first cynefin training and 10 years since I did some of the early probe citizen engagement (Children of the world) experiments using Sensemaker.

In this video recorded at the recent Tedx event, Dave reveals how all three of the above have come together into a coherent approach to ethnography, complexity and most interestingly, change.

Watch carefully and make copious notes notes in your journal, then re-read and add your own perspectives on what it means to you.

Wildlife Adventures in Eastern Europe 2012-15 – a new book

david book

A good friend of mine, David Withrington, has just had a book published. I went with him, several years ago, on one of his adventures to Slovenia and had a hugely enjoyable and knowledge expanding time.

Wildlife Adventures in Eastern Europe 2012-15: Estonia, Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia, Hungary and Slovakia – an illustrated account of summer visits by a group of naturalists from England. David Withrington and Paul Raven, 2017. 104 pages with 360 colour photographs. Available here from Natural History Book Service £12.50

What do staff of the statutory nature conservation agencies do when they retire? Go on holiday of course!

In June 2012, David Withrington, Paul Raven, Neil Hailey, Peter Marren and Steve Berry – all former staff of English Nature and its predecessor body – decided to visit Estonia, a country to which none of them had been before. The objective was to discover the country’s wildlife, especially the birds, butterflies and flowering plants. The accommodation and itinerary were arranged after online research by David.

The main features of Estonia are – its Baltic coastline, large areas of peat bog and Lake Peipsi, which sits on the border with Russia – though this did not seem to deter the birds. It was not just the amazing variety of wildlife and habits which made the holiday, but encounters with people, cultures and nightlife. All these are chronicled and illustrated in the book. The reader lives the journey with our intrepid adventurers. 

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Self Service: TRIZ Inventive Principle No. 25 (Hitting the iceberg)

Last night I had the worst shopping experience of my life. This morning I woke up early, and angry and typed this.

At 8pm last night we called into, what used to be my favourite supermarket, Morrisons for a medium sized shop. By 9pm I was seething, telling off senior staff, hardly speaking to my wife…

After a quick run round the shop at 8pm we headed towards the tills looking forward to our chat with a friendly face who would comment on everything that we had bought. “Oooh that’s a bargain”, “I prefer this washing up liquid too, nicer on your hands” and “do you need any help packing”. But tonight was going to be different.

None of the tills were manned. We were pointed towards the self service area by two ‘assistants’. “That’s all that is available, but we are here to help” they then went back to chatting to each other.

I must point out I hate self service tills, I also have a tendency to spot all the problems in the “at the till process”. At Oxford Creativity where we teach Inventive Problem Solving we work to identify all the benefits, then all the costs and harms. In the following ‘new’ process I can see absolutely no benefits for me, the customer, only costs and harms.

  1. Put all your bags in the bagging area. We always bring too many bags, and of varying sizes, but we managed this order. [raises blood pressure and puts you in your place]
  2. I managed to work out, by trial and error, just where the bar code reader was, then the fun began…
  3. All the delays and problems checking items out are now on your shoulders not the person manning a till. Which means I was constantly apologising to the poor man waiting behind me. [solution: get your bar codes and system perfect Morrisons before you experiment with us. This is not a ‘safe to fail’ experiment. I threatened never to come back three times]
  4. The process is designed for one person not two. As you try to speed up, passing items to my wife, if she hadn’t got the item into the bags, the scanner refuses to scan the next item, so we started shouting at each other. [solution: Marriage counsellors at the check outs]
  5. Then the fun began, a cucumber. No bar code. I placed it on the scales area, hopefully. Choose an item was the instructions. Is it a fruit or a vegetable. Alphabetically presented. It wasn’t hard to find the right button but there was a lot going on on screen. [another harm, we will never become as acquainted with their clunky system as a trained till operator]
  6. My first ‘reduced price’ item. Spring greens. Computer refused to scan the bar code. After three attempts I went into Basil Faulty mode and began hitting the machine with the greens. “Do you need some help sir?” our assistants interrupted their chat and, seeing the first signs of chaotic failure, intervened. “Your wife is still holding the eggs, they need to be in a bag to continue”. “But, I don’t want these on the bottom of the bag beneath the potatoes” said my wife in her defence. [Marriage counsellor]
  7. Bottles were easier, swish, swish, swish, but it is now hard to pick up, manoeuvre, swish, pass to wife and still keep a check on whether the price is what you expected. [another harm]
  8. Then we hit the iceberg. An iceberg lettuce with no bar code. Placed it on the scales. Chose Fruit and Veg. Does it begin with an ‘I’ or an ‘L’. Tried I, not there. Tried L, not there. Tried SEARCH option. ICE – is it a bag of ice?. Tried Lettuce – item not found. Pressed button for assistance. “What is this” I playfully asked the young assistant. “Is it celery?” she looked confused. At this point I was trying not to scream. “it’s a lettuce” I helpfully suggested. She then went through all the options I had taken and said “It doesn’t appear to be there”. “Just a minute” and she was off. I apologised twice to the man behind and began whistling. Our assistant returned with another iceberg lettuce, this time with its bar code still on the plastic wrapper. “ Sorry, they keep falling off”.
  9. Eventually we reached the final item. Pressed DONE. “Have you got a reward card?”, fumbled in wallet then realised it was on my key ring. Then tried to scan my ‘extra points’ voucher. Computer said ‘No’. “ You missed the chance to use your voucher at an earlier step”. At this point I was seriously considering walking away, I apologised again to the man behind. He said that he was “seriously considering walking away” and abandoning his trolley. A different assistant intervened. With a swift flash of a pass card, a few codes and passwords, we were back at a previous screen which asked “have you got a voucher?.
  10. You would think that was it. Left to pay for the shopping. I pressed ‘PAY’ only to be told we needed assistance. Waited, apologised and finally we were cleared with a swish and a password that we were over 25 and able to buy alcohol. After this experience we need more alcohol than we bought, but I am not going back in.
  11. You can now remove your bags from the bagging area. Well, we could if we could lift them. No more filling bags in your trolley. Putting all the bottles and soap powder in one bag was a very bad idea. [solution: ambulance on standby outside for back problems and the occasional bruised eye from all the punched faces that will undoubtedly ensue]

I did give feedback and complain immediately, First before we started the check out from hell, second when we hit the iceberg and finally to a ‘Team Leader’ I found chatting to the staff outside the building.

I guess they want us all to conform and order food online. The staff must dislike this process as much as we do, its like a turkey preparing for Christmas. There is no benefit or discount for the customer only the transfer of hassle and aggravation.

I did notice that none of the older till staff were on duty, ‘assisting’ and why would they, which is a shame because Morrisons looked to be providing a real service to the community.

Perhaps we should organise a protest and fun evening where we all go en masse, and buy lots of separate, un-barcoded fruit and veg and purposefully enter the wrong cheaper options, or just go and do your normal shop.

We need more stories like this

Emerging from the original RIPPLE – COPD Project in Coventry, this is one of the seven further ‘safe to fail’ experiments in surrounding districts.

The Wolverhampton CCG TWIRL Project

Less than six minutes long, please watch and consider the implications if we were able to deliver more medical services in this way

Beginning, as an idea, at a workshop I facilitated in February 2016 at the Football Stadium in Wolverhampton:


These were the Benefits identified by the Group:wolves1

The outcome, a weekly meeting summarised in this video, packed full of personal anecdotes says it all.

I want to stay forever

The sandwiches are good too

If ever there was an example that we need more stories like this…

A Short History of Myth – Karen Armstrong

I remember buying this , quite short, book after glancing across a few of its pages and seeing a few references to ‘archetypes’.

Archetype extraction was an early additional part of many of our Cognitive Edge based narrative workshops at English Nature. Dave Snowden instilled in us an interest and an adherence to many anthopological approaches especially that of the importance of myth and ‘sense of belonging’ stories.

Here are three quotes from Karen Armstrong’s book which I feel are particularly relevant and interesting:

When an Australian goes hunting, for example, he models his behaviour so closely on that of the first hunter that he feels totally at one with him, caught up in that more powerful archetypal world.

The story of the Golden Age, a very early and almost universal myth, was never intended to be historical. It springs from a strong experience of the sacred that is natural to human beings and expresses their tantalising sense of reality that is almost tangible and only just out of reach.

The myth was not simply an exercise in nostalgia, however. Its primary purpose was to show people how they could return to this archetypal world, not only in moments of visionary rapture but in the regular duties of their daily lives.

The Guardian review of 2005 can be found here.


TWIRL – The Wolverhampton Integrated Respiratory Lifestyle


This is one (of seven) of the offspring that emerged from the successful Coventry RIPPLE Project. The Press release from 2016 can be found here.

I facilitated the ‘Launch’ workshop at the Wolverhampton Racecourse back in February 2016, which brought together as wide a range of interested groups as we could. Instead of directly copying the use of a church hall as hosting location we looked at the assets we had and, fairly obviously, but not at that time guaranteed, the Wolves Football Club, Molineux Stadium was suggested, and so it came to be.

This was one of the first ‘social based’ workshops where I successfully introduced the Oxford Creativity – TRIZ Nine Box Thinking method. The use of scale (Individual – Community – Society) and time (Before diagnosis – After Diagnosis – Later) worked particularly well in exploring and generating creative ideas.

wolves02This was one of six sheets produced. Note that at this stage, top left, we were still exploring delivering this initiative as a ‘Breathing Bus’.

I love the way each project is creating its own identity and acronym, TWIRL is great, whilst building on the assets that they have rather than forcing a structure and rules on each other.

Pictures above are taken from the Output Report produced after the workshop.