Imperfect Stories

It’s the end of a long day, and i’m too tired to write, so instead, sharing an unfinished, imperfect, story. This is the sketch i’ve just done, which is my first thought on the artwork for the Storytelling Certification: i was thinking about storytelling around a campfire, but placed it in the woods, to tie in with the ‘Forest of Social Leadership’ work i shared recently.

Imperfect Stories

This story is not yet ready to share, but here it is, imperfect, the first glance, under the starry sky, below the mountains. The first story shared around this campfire.

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Designing a ‘Festival of Failure’. A #WorkingOutLoud post

Today i am sharing some elements of the design around failure: it’s for a one day ‘Festival of Failure’, a structured ‘sense making’ event, to act as the foundation for change. A celebration of failure is not about blame, but it is intentional: it’s about a choreographed way of exploring cause, learning lessons, and moving beyond constraint.

A Festival of Failure

That language of ‘Constraint’ is the language i’m using in ‘The Change Handbook’, and speaks to a mindset where the past constrains the future, often for very good reasons. The Festival of Failure is a way to break that constraint down.

The event can be run either physically, in a venue, or virtually. Typically it runs for one day, but it can run for multiple cohorts across multiple days, with both face to face and virtual participation.

We open the Festival by establishing our common rules: what is our purpose, how will we hold people safely, how will we handle blame or recrimination. We work with the group to set their own rules on this, within a framework that keeps the Organisation safe. The Festival is not intended to be entirely comfortable, but it’s intended to be respectful, safe, and purposeful.

Curation’ – carried out in the run up to the event, or on the day, is where we guide people to ‘curate’ an example of failure. This may be personal, team, or Organisational. It may sit within the current Organisation, or in the wider world.

Interpretation’ – From here, people present their example of failure from the stage. Again this is a structured approach to help interpret the failure, to share with the Festival group. We use a framework for this interpretation, for example, identifying resources, decision points, technologies etc, which contributed to the failure. Once the failure has been ‘interpreted’, it’s lodged in the Festival gallery, shared with the group.

Sense Making’ – carried out across different group sessions, with each group choosing several of the failures, and carrying out ‘sense making’ activity.

Celebration’ – is about inflexion points: it’s a way of celebrating individual and organisational participation, but also about a ritual of putting failure into the past, and taking the lessons forward.

Releasing’ – in a carefully choreographed ritual, we release the blame, and constraint, keeping the memory and the lessons.

Storytelling’ is a group activity, to co-create the collective story being taken forward.

Festival Choreography and Safeguarding

In the physical space, the Festival is experienced through movement: we set up the space with different areas for ‘interpretation’, for ‘storytelling’, etc as well as the gallery space, where stories are lodged.

Failures can be captured on posters, video diaries, or through drawings, or even using artefacts. When the failure is lodged, the individual or group writes the label, putting it into the collection.

When we release the failure, we choreograph the ritual carefully, and by using wristbands, or other tokens, we mark the way we are moving forwards, beyond constraint.

The Festival of Failure is a challenging day, but we hold a serious responsibility to hold people safely. Partly this is done by setting out the rules, together, but partly by understanding how we handle conflict.

We use ‘Stories of Difference’ to do this: where there is disagreement, we do not strive for consensus: this is not a forensic analysis of system failure, but rather a cultural analysis of change. We help groups in conflict to write a story of where, and how, their opinion varies, and we celebrate our ability to do so.

social Leadership 100 - Complex Collaboration

The Festival of Failure is an example of the type of Complex Collaboration that sits at the heart of Social Leadership: a willingness not simply to listen to stories that we want to hear, in spaces that we already know, but rather to cross the boundaries of our uncertainty and fear, to engage in the stories that we must write, in order to truly change.

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The Story That Flew

My taxi driver stared at the iPhone, stuck to the dashboard, brow wrinkled in concentration, for quite some time, before he carefully swore at it, turned to me, and asked for cash. He told me he had never been trained on it. He told me at least three different ways that it failed him. He told me that he had no idea how it worked, and nobody seemed to care. He told me these stories with defiance, at the end of his career. One last remnant, he said, of a generation that was computer illiterate.

The Story That Flew

Uber is coming. Or Lyft. But for now, in my home town, we have a fractured setup: the local cab company has implemented a poorly executed App that is torturous for me, the user, and clearly worse for the drivers. It’s so bad that it stands no hope of halting the arrival of the trans-nationals, who creep closer, town by town. For driver and user, they are managing to deliver a degraded experience, that closely tries to mimic the disruptor.

He shared other stories of change.

Coffee”, he said, incredulously, “coffee is everywhere”. He told me a story of a Romanian girl who he had driven that very morning: he had asked her “why” she spent so much money on coffee. “It’s social”, she said, it’s about meeting, about environment, about rituals, and friends. The coffee is incidental to the experience.

He told me how he does coffee: in a thermos flask, milky, taken out to last for the day. One percent, he exclaimed, of what it costs to drink a coffee in a cafe. One percent.

Nobody would have dreamed of drinking coffee out, but now it’s the thing.

He reminded me that culture is a story, written and rewritten over time. Culture is the aggregated actions, the dominant narrative, of any given time. It’s not logical, but rather an expression.

Some of these stories have left my taxi driver behind: hanging on, bemused, surprised, doubtful, but excluded. The narrative has moved. The story has flown away from him. For that is how stories work: some are ground into the mud, whilst others fly away. Some soar so high that we lose them against the cerulean sky.

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Social Leadership Storytelling Certification. #WorkingOutLoud

I’m finalising the structure of the twelve week certification on ‘Storytelling in Social Leadership’. This pass through will give me the structure that i’ll prototype with the first cohorts in October to December. At this stage, i’m more focussed on the learning journey, and how the Scaffolding is held together: the sequence of creative, and co-creative, spaces. It’s within these spaces that i can create the structure and activity to construct the learning story.

Storytelling Certification week 1

At heart, this is a guided, reflective, journey, built to the principles of Scaffolded Social Learning: low content, high structure, and based around three elements.

First, there are ‘foundations’, specific knowledge and content: i’ve shared a whole series of posts on this previously. Secondly, ‘techniques’, things that you can do to explore and expand your understanding of ‘how stories work’: i’ve shared a few of these already, on ‘diagonal storytelling’, and ‘stories of difference’. Both of these pieces fill the first six weeks.

Storytelling Certification week 2

The second six weeks, the whole second half of the programme, is a structured approach (scaffolded) to run an experiment in your own Organisation: here, there is less new content, but much more support to explore how you identify the topic you wish to explore, how you structure the experiment, how you measure and analyse it, how you share the outcomes.

You can see, in these first two pages i’ve shared, how the intent is to build a log book, or similar, as you go. So the whole programme is essentially a scaffolded storytelling exercise.

Typically, at prototype, i would only expect to have around 40% of the hard content build, and would only expect to retain about 60% of structure into the final design. That’s why i’ve deliberately made it heavy on content. I can test what does, and does not, work, by running four cohorts through in a rapid series of iterations. Here is the original design illustration below.

Storytelling Certification

I’ll continue to share content, and the evolution of structure, as it develops.

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Islands of Belief

We live on islands of belief, carefully forged by our immersion in local culture, established education, held in tribal groupings, dominant doctrine and ideology, and internally reinforcing: to be within the tribe reinforces the strength and resilience of the tribe itself. There’s nothing wrong with this: it’s the foundation of any sort of social cohesion: we are part of the tribe precisely because we are on the island.

Islands of Belief

But within a known space of belief, a local geography, it’s hard to see distant lands, to hear distant voices. It’s safe and comfortable within our known sphere of hearing, and to venture beyond challenges those things that we know to be true.

Our Organisations are large spaces, oceans, holding many different islands, some of which are known, others which lie beyond the horizon, or far beyond our reach. The challenge of interconnection is not simply one of technology: you can build a durable boat to connect the islands, but it still needs bold adventurous to cross the ocean.

If we are to build more Socially Dynamic Organisations, we must move beyond our local shores: our challenge is not simply to hear more of the voices on our own island, it’s to hear voices from other shores.

In the context of leadership in the Social Age, the key strengths are to hear other voices, to engage across our differences, to listen with humility, and to engage with respect. Our challenge is not simply to understand the landscape, it’s to voyage across it. To connect our islands of belief.

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Social Learning Guidebook: The Final Draft

It’s clear where my headache originated today: i’ve just finished clearing all the changes and edits on the manuscript for ‘The Social Learning Guidebook’, the latest in a series of short and practical guides that i’m writing around core aspects of my work. The aim of these Guidebooks is to share ongoing, rapidly evolving, work, with a focus on ‘what you can do about it now’.

The Social Learning Guidebook

The first of these, ‘The Trust Guidebook’, will be bundled with ‘The Trust Sketchbook’, when it goes on sale next week. This next one, ‘The Social Learning Guidebook’, will be setup to be ‘print on demand’ on Amazon, which is the best way to make it cheaply available globally.

I’m finding some layers to how i enjoy publishing now: ‘Handbooks’ are comprehensive explorations of a topic area, books like ‘Social Leadership: my 1st 100 days’, and ‘The Trust Sketchbook’, are guided, developmental journeys, and these Guidebooks will be rapidly evolving, practical affairs. But for now, that’s enough grammar and punctuation for one day…

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Engaging Power: An Illustration of Cohesion

I wrote a series of four pieces recently, exploring gang violence, but really a perspective on the power structures, and mechanisms of coherence, that underly community (and mechanisms for diffusing, or countering, toxic culture). It is all fairly early stage, work, part of my own articulation of understanding really, but i have been meaning to add some illustrations, providing an overview of the core concepts from the last pieces.

Engaging Power

The original articles considered how gangs form, looking at their rituals, internally validated narratives (the story of ‘us’ versus ‘them’), emergence of social hierarchy, and the ways that the oppositional power of ‘others’ (other gangs, wider society, and law enforcement) reinforce and validate internal coherence.

As with any social structure, i ultimately took the view that the powers that hold it together are ultimately common: the same structures of power apply, be it a church, or a far right gang. Broadly, It’s the construction of shared narratives, which reinforce, or match, individual worldview.

Engaging Power: Diffusion

In the final part of the series, i considered how we can look at e.g. violent gangs and seek to engage to diffuse power, rather than simply seek to dominate it, but to do so requires a humility to tolerate diverse narratives: we cannot expect to form globally coherent and identical views of the world, and nor should we. Our diversity is a strength. The ‘win’, if that is what we can call it, is to diffuse, not to dominate, the toxic expression. We do not need saints, so much as a lack of serious sinners.

I found the original pieces hard to write, in fact, quite exhausting to think through, and the new illustration is far from complete: i suspect i will revisit this in time, to rework, or break it down, further. I quite fancy trying to illustrate the full cycle of formation and disruption.

In case it wasn’t clear, these pieces are of relevance not specifically around gangs, but in any Organisational context: it’s a story equally applicable to change as it is to violence. Indeed, all change is, to an extent, violence against a shared and prevalent narrative of ‘now’.

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