Sunday, December 30, 2007

Storytelling and the Rule of Three

Brian Clark asks in his blog article:

Have you ever wondered:

* What the three little pigs, the three blind mice, Goldilocks and the three bears, the Three Musketeers, the three wise men and the Three Stooges have in common?

* Why the three-act structure is the dominant approach to screenwriting in Hollywood?

* Why three bullet points are more effective than two or four?

The Rule of Three works in stories due to the presence of the concise, memorable patterns…. But even if that wasn’t the case, the number three has been used so widely throughout some of the most memorable works from our childhood, it’s likely that we are preconditioned to respond favorably to elements grouped in threes.

You see the Rule of Three used all the time across diverse areas of life. Why?
Because information presented in groups of three sticks in our heads better than other clusters of items. For example:

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people”

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen”

Check out the rest of this interesting article and all the other useful tips on Brian Clark’s blog site, Copyblogger.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: The Three Amigos

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Stories at Old Year and New Year

I have gone through the archives of Stories for Speakers and Writers and culled out any stories that I think could be useful for reflection or for speaking about this time of Old Year and New Year:

Remembering the Future
Tiger Woods on the Joy of Shaping Lives
Give Me Another Chance
Present Moments
Don’t Let the Past Imprison you in the Present
Eternity at Midnight
The Power that Brings Hope
Facing our Wolves
Four-Legged Guide
Open to Wonder
This is a Better World
Knowing where you are going
The Adventurer Spirit
Starting Over
Why Not the Best?
Life is Gift
All-Encompassing Gratitude
Protesting Against Boredom
Dig Yourself Some Memory Holes
Engaging Life Fully
Forgetting the Point
The Answer is in our Hands
If I Had My Life Over Again
The Most Memorable Graduation Speech
Pace of Life
Never ending Story
Asking Questions
I Want Real Human Moments
Getting Use to Being Alive
Teaching People How to Live
The River Has its Bend
Blessing Your Coming and Your Going
Imagining Peace Together
From Bethlehem to Bedlam
Dreaming and Living
Everybody Can Be Great
Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution
Changes We’ve Survived
I Shall be Ready
Hearing the Story for the First Time
Where are you Looking?
Cricket for Eternity
Turning Frustrations into Fortunes
The Business of Being Human
Larry King on the Future
Rose Gilbert: ‘You Either Live Living or You Live Dying’
How to Kick the ‘If Only’ Habit
How Big is Your Vision?
The BBC’s Formula for Happiness
Experiencing Afresh the Joys of Living
Dealing With Day-To-Day Living
Eluding Death the Business of Life
He Will Never Amount to Anything
Living in the Present?—Impossible!
Deciding Not to be Hostage to Hostility
Time Yawned
Sir Edmund Hillary on His Most Worthwhile Things in Life
Groucho Marx on the Subject of Age
Andre Agassi: What’s Better than Tennis
Time Like a Piano Accordion
Why Whiling Away Your Life is So Important
Do You Really Love Your Job?
Make it a Good New Year by Living in the Present

A happy new year to you all!

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Happy New Year!

World Café: A Creative Process for Telling Stories for Change

This is an edited version of an article by Jay Cross entitled ‘Conversations’. He writes about conversation, stories, the World Café and his experience of using this process to revolutionize education in the United Arab Emirates.

Conversation has magic to it. Dialogue is the most powerful learning technology on earth. Conversations are the stem cells of learning, for they both create and transmit knowledge. Frequent and open conversation increases innovation and learning. Schooling planted a false notion in our heads that real learning is something you do on your own. In fact, we all learn things from other people. People love to talk. Bringing them together brings excitement.

Stories are an element of conversation (so long as you don't repeat them word for word). They communicate patterns and give meaning to experience. They are important because we know more than we can tell. They also hold communities together. They are the buzz of the beehive.

World Café
The best approach I have seen for creating value from people's collective intelligence and igniting innovation is the World Cafe.

The World Cafe is a process for fostering conversations that matter. If conversation is the way people create value and innovate in organizations, it is worthwhile to host the best conversations we can.

People spend most of their time at work or at home. Work is a demanding, pressure-packed, rats-in-the-maze race with the clock to get the job done. Home is a comfortable, private space for sharing time with family and individual interests. Neither work nor home, a World Cafe is a neutral spot where people come together to offer hospitality, enjoy comradeship, welcome diverse perspectives, and have meaningful conversations.

First Experience of World Cafe
My first experience with the World Cafe was a meeting of 30 people convened by Brook Manville, McKinsey's first director of knowledge management and later chief Darning officer at Saba, to pin down the meaning and utility of the term 'human capital.' After a morning of thrashing through whether human capital implied that people were property and other cerebral issues, Eric Vogt, the founder of Communispace Corporation, proposed that instead of the usual call to break into small groups, discuss, and then reconvene to talk what we'd talked about, perhaps we should have a World Cafe session.

We covered each of four tables with flip chart paper, and someone assigned each table a different aspect of human capital to discuss. People talked among themselves for ten minutes, after which everyone but the table "hosts" switched tables. Each host summarized the discussion thus far, referring to scribbles and diagrams left over from the previous crowd. The groups continued contributing to the conversations, by now searching for patterns and linkages. We rotated once more and then described the fresh insights we had gained.

Since then I have teamed from World Cafe sessions, with executives and with close friends. Inevitably, I left with new approaches that I would not have come up with on my own.

Origins of World Cafe
The World Cafe started in 1995, when organization development consultants Juanita Brown and David Isaacs were getting ready to host the second day of a discussion with two dozen visitors at their house on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais in Mill Valley, California. Rain was pouring down. While Juanita prepared breakfast and coffee, David arranged TV tables around the living room. A pal said it was beginning to look like a cafe, but they needed tablecloths; sheets from a flip chart sufficed to cover each table. The friend put a "Cafe" sign on the front door.

Conversation began spontaneously, and people began to draw on the cafe "tablecloths." Excitement built. Someone suggested switching tables to find out what the others were talking about. The energy level rose. After three rounds of conversation, the group shared their drawings and realized they had tapped into their collective intelligence. The World Cafe was born. It works. But was it appropriate for exploring opportunities to revolutionize education in the UAE?

Brown and Isaacs recently published a wonderful book, ‘The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter’. When you decide to host your own cafes, buy the book. For now, I'm going to borrow from it heavily.

The World Cafe technique is best suited for sharing knowledge and stimulating innovative thinking around real-life issues and questions; the UAE situation filled that bill. The cafe is good for conducting an in-depth exploration of key challenges and opportunities, also what we wanted to do. The cafe engages people meeting for the first time in authentic conversation. In the UAE, we had not only strangers, but Emiratis, Italians, Americans, Saudis, Austrians, British, Chinese, and Norwegians, among them government officials, professors, vendors, consultants, and school teachers. There was a fit.

The World Cafe is one of many ways to foster authentic, purposeful conversations. Others are salons, study circles, Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space, strategic dialogues, and wisdom circles. All of these techniques build on similar design principles [Brown & Isaacs, 2005]:

* Set the context. Clarify the purpose and broad parameters within which the dialogue will unfold. Remind participants that they are invited to participate in authentic, active conversation rather than be a passive audience.

* Create hospitable space. Ensure the welcoming environment and psychological safety that nurtures personal comfort and mutual respect. A little music, some posters, and a few flowers always help.

* Explore questions that matter. Focus collective attention on powerful questions that attract collaborative engagement. Be open and non-judgmental, and engage aspirations, not problems. Genuine questions are those we don't have answers for.

* Encourage everyone's contribution. Giving-making your contribution is what brings community alive.

* Cross-pollinate and connect diverse perspectives. Use the living-system dynamics of emergence through intentionally increasing the diversity and density of connections among perspectives while retaining a common focus on core questions.

* Listen together for patterns, insights, and deeper questions. Share attention in ways that nurture coherence of thought without losing individual contributions. Intelligence comes from Latin for "gathering understanding in between." Reflection is the heart of the matter. Leave room between the notes to hear the music of collective wisdom.

* Harvest and share collective discoveries: Make collective knowledge and insight visible and actionable. Use visual memory. Tour the tables.

Experimenting With World Café in the UAE
The day before the eMerging eLearning conference was to begin in 2005, a group of us met in the library of the college where the event would be held. This is not a typical library. There's lots of open space, plenty of sunlight, many tables to sit at, and computers galore. To convert the library into a cafe, we pulled together eight tables and put a flip chart "tablecloth" on each. To make things hospitable, we put flowers on each table. I'd hoped to offer coffee, but the library Starbucks was closed for renovations. I'd also hoped for music to create a mood, but students were studying in other parts of the same large room.

The toughest part of designing an effective World Cafe is figuring out the right question to start things off. You don't want to stifle free thinking or include your own bias. Six of us wrangled over the appropriate conversation for forty-five minutes. Some wanted structure; others wanted free form. Some were concerned with having demonstrable outcomes; others wanted to extract the wisdom of the group, expecting it to be messy. I called for a breather.

We took up the topic of the question again at dinner. Discussion was rich. We were learning about the World Cafe process itself as we noodled on the best catalyst. "How do they become what they want?" "What does the ideal graduate look like?" "If you had a magic wand, what sort of learning experiences would you create?" "If you could build the nation's K-12 system, starting with a blank slate, what would you do?" "What should a graduate be able to do?" "How would you create a way for today's youth to lead more fulfilling lives?" We had our arms around the issues; I suggested we leave the final wording to two of our party, who would be leading the sessions the next day.

After lunch the following day, several dozen people sat down in our cafe. Our moderator explained what we were doing and asked the groups to talk about what questions they would want answers to in creating a better educational structure in the UAE.

My table got off to a roaring start. We wanted to ask about the product, that is, the graduates: What values would they have? What job skills? What life skills? How would they reconcile high hopes and current realities? After ten or fifteen minutes, we rotated to different tables.

Excitement was building. Our session in the library began to capture the energy that Juanita Brown and David Isaacs experienced when rain led to the first World Cafe experience:

The World Cafe reintroduces us to a world we have forgotten. This is a world where people naturally congregate because we want to be together. A world where we enjoy the age-old process of good conversation, where we're not afraid to talk about things that matter most to us. A world where we're not separated, classified, or stereotyped. A world of simply greeting, free from technology and artificiality. A world that constantly surprises us with the wisdom that exists not in any one of us but in all of us. And a world where we learn that the wisdom we need to solve our problems is available when we talk together.

It was my turn to give a presentation downstairs, so I left at this time, re-joining the second cafe right before closing time. I returned to find people suggesting how we might visualize the discussions.

More people came to a follow-up panel session the next day. Dr. Kamali had highlighted the activity in his summary of the day. Conversations at the tables began spontaneously. Our moderator told us what had come the day before and explained that we had put sheets containing graphics picturing the day on three tables: "Today's Challenges," "What We Need to Do," and "Future Goals."

We invited people to take a look and talk about what they'd seen. Then they were to write their own ideas on sticky notes and stick them on the tables. The moderator would call time-out after three minutes. People excitedly flocked to the tables. New ideas were flowing fast and furious. We announced they had another ten minutes.

Beehive, Buzz and Honey
An effective community of practice is like a beehive. It organizes itself, buzzes with activity, and produces honey for the markets.

Conversations take place among people with shared interests, that is, communities.

Source: The entire article can be found at Jay Cross, ‘Conversations’, ed. Tayeb A Kamali, 20: An Anthology Celebrating the Twentieth Anniversary of the Higher Colleges of Technology, United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi: HCT Press, 2007), 103-111.

Image: World Café graphic.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Kent Nerburn on The Value of Travel

Kent Nerburn in his book Letters to My Son writes about the value of travel:

"Because I have traveled, I can see other universes in the eyes of strangers. Because I have traveled, I know what parts of me I cannot deny and what parts of me are simply the choices I make. I know the blessings of my own table and the warmth of my own bed. I know how much of life is pure chance, and how great a gift I have been given simply to be who I am.

"If we don't offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull. Our world becomes small and we lose our sense of wonder. Our eyes don't lift to the horizon; our ears don't hear the sounds around us. The edge is off our experience, and we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable and limiting."

Kent Nerburn, Letters to my Son, New World, 1994, pp. 114-115.

Source: Delancey Place which gives a helpful story excerpt to your inbox every day.

Image: “The blessings of my own table.”

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Story Acted by Children

Some children were acting out the Christmas story.

They had worked on it for months. They had researched the story from the Scriptures, then used their imagination to recreate the atmosphere of that night with the shepherds out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks.

Boisterous 10 year old boys made the most of their chance to portray rough rugged shepherds. They cursed the government, they cursed the weather, they cursed their wives and they cursed their sheep.

Then came the flashing light and the sound of the Hallelujah Chorus on the recorder.

A mini ballet troupe of angelic 10 year old girls pirouetted on the stage.

Then the big announcement was made! God was coming in the birth of a Saviour. God’s salvation was for all people, even shepherds!

The invitation was extended. The angels fluttered off and the shepherds were once again alone, doing their best to look and sound dumbfounded.

Well, would they or would they not go to Bethlehem to see if it was true?

One of them said, "It's too dark!"
Another said, "It's too cold."
Another said, "We can't go right now
Another said, "What's the hurry?"

And in the middle of the argument when one shepherd was pointing out that they couldn't possibly leave their flocks out there in the middle of the night, young Fergus delivered his line.

Standing in the centre of the stage with his hand upraised to silence his fellow shepherds he said:

"Listen you guys. If this is as important as it sounds, the sheep can jolly well look after themselves for once. I'm off!" And he led them off into the night.

Young Fergus was so right! Christmas is an event and a call which simply demands our immediate and total response. To procrastinate, to delay or to give it our half-hearted attention will mean that we will miss the opportunity or fail to make the most of it.

Fergus is reminding us not to allow busyness or weariness, selfishness or blindness to keep us from enjoying the richness of the Christmas gift.

If such a call and invitation is as good and as important as it sounds, let's leave the sheep to look after themselves for once and let’s head for Bethlehem!

Source: Heard about thirty Christmases ago from superb storyteller, Barrie Hibbert.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Fergus the shepherd.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sonia Gandhi: Sometimes Life Directions are Chosen For Us

I have posted some excerpts from two lectures given by Sonia Gandhi in which she describes the tragic forces in her family and in the nation of India that led to her give up her quiet existence and undertake her present role as President of the Indian National Congress.

Link: Discernment Resources.

Image: Sonia Gandhi.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Is the Answer Under Your Nose?

Back when NASA started launching manned spacecraft in the 1960s, they found out that the astronauts couldn’t use pens to write with while in space. The ink wouldn’t flow down through the pen in a zero-gravity environment. NASA decided to retain a man named Paul Fisher to design a pen that would work in space.

A mere $1.5 million later, they had a solution. NASA now had a pen that worked in zero gravity, in a vacuum, and in a drastic temperature range.

The Russian cosmonauts had the same problem, of course. So they used a pencil.

Now, this anecdote isn’t historically accurate, and has become a bit of an urban legend. The truth is both the US and Russia used pencils at first, and Paul Fisher independently created the pen and sold 400 of them to NASA for a song.

The reason the exaggerated story is so widely embraced, though, is because it rings true.

We often expend large amounts of time and effort creating elaborate solutions to problems when a simple answer is right under our noses.

Source, Brian Clark, Teaching that Sells, E-Book, 2.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Make it a Good New Year by Living in the Present

Earlier I posted an excerpt from Margaret Forster’s book, The Memory Box, in which one of her characters is unable to live in the present, as “everything exciting lay in the future.”

John Banville’s character in ‘The Sea’, has the opposite problem as he finds his mind always gravitating to the past. As he is reminiscing to his daughter she challenges him:

‘You live in the past', she said.
I was about to give a sharp reply, but paused. She was right, after all.

Life, authentic life, is supposed to be all struggle, unflagging action and affirmation, the will butting its blunt head against the world's wall, suchlike, but when I look back I see that the greater part of my energies was always given over to the simple search for shelter, for comfort, for, yes, I admit, it, for cosiness. This is a surprising, not to say a shocking, realisation. Before, I saw myself as something of a buccaneer, facing all-comers with a cutlass in my teeth, but now I am compelled to acknowledge that this was a delusion.

To be concealed, protected, guarded, that is all I have ever truly wanted, to burrow down into a place of womby warmth and cower there, hidden from the sky's indifferent gaze and the harsh air's damagings. That is why the past is just such a retreat for me, I go there eagerly, rubbing my hands and shaking off the cold present and the colder future. And yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past? After all, it is only what the present was, once, the present that is gone, no more than that. And yet.

John Banville, The Sea (London: Picador, 2005), 60-61.

Image: “Before, I saw myself as something of a buccaneer, facing all-comers with a cutlass in my teeth, but now I am compelled to acknowledge that this was a delusion.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mozart: Discipline Important for Creativity

Mark McGuinness says:

Organisation, structure, discipline and habit—these often seen as threats to creativity. Not to mention corporate-sounding phrases such as ‘time management’ or ‘workflow’.

We like to think of creativity as a space for untrammelled imagination, free from all constraints. Yet while freedom, rule-breaking and inspiration are undoubtedly essential to the creative process, the popular image of creativity overlooks another aspect: examine the life of any great artist and you will find evidence of hard work, discipline and a hard-won knowledge of the rules and conventions of their medium.

Choreographer Twyla Tharp, who directed the opera and dance scenes for the film Amadeus, has this to say about the film’s portrait of Mozart:

The film Amadeus dramatizes and romanticizes the divine origins of creative genius.
Antonio Salieri, representing the talented hack, is cursed to live in the time of Mozart, the gifted and undisciplined genius who writes as though touched by the hand of God… Of course this is hogwash. There are no ‘natural’ geniuses… No-one worked harder than Mozart.

By the time he was twenty-eight years old, his hands were deformed because of all the hours he had spent practicing, performing, and gripping a quill pen to compose…As Mozart himself wrote to a friend, “People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.”

This passage is taken from Tharp’s excellent book The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life, in which she argues that ‘routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more’.

Source: Mark McGuinness, Time Management for Creative People, E-Book, London, 2007 5-6. This is an excellent free E-book and is a useful resource, especially for writers, bloggers, poets, musicians...

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Mozart.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Temptation, Taxes and Tables Turning

A man in Massachusetts won $4,200 in the daily numbers game in the state lottery. He got in a cab to go and collect his winnings. On the way it occurred to him that if he paid the cabby $200 to go into the lottery office and collect his winnings, the Internal Revenue Service would never find out that he had won the money. He could avoid paying the taxes on his winnings—too bad for the cab driver!

Neither the lottery winner nor the cabby knew that Massachusetts has a program which placed the lottery in partnership with the Department of Social Services. The lottery computer noticed that the cabby owed $4,000 in back child support payments which it withheld for the cabby's ex-wife. The cabby and the lotto winner were left to fight over the remaining $200.

Temptation on the journey was followed by the "payoff" at the end - "as certain as death and taxes."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tiger Woods: The Clubs or the Cubs?

Looking for a story for your article or talk?

In addition to going through the archives on this site or using the (top left) Search Function, make sure you check out the many stories on these sister sites:

Experiencing the Emirates
Have a look at the story of Tiger Woods and the important contribution he makes when he chooses the cubs, not the clubs.

Discernment Resources
This site has a growing number of stories about discernment and making decisions. They include:
Discernment is Like Crock Pot Cooking

That’s not what ships are made for

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Elin and Tiger Woods

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Life: One Great Shopping Mall?

Robert Dessaix in his novel, Corfu, pens this conversation between the narrator and William:

‘Nothing seems to “mean anything” to you, William. What do you think life is? One great shopping mall you can just drift about it, listening to the muzak? Pick up a bit of reincarnation here, grab a bonk there—Chekhov, Cher, the Rolling Stones, Beirut, it’s all the same to you, it’s just background noise.’

Robert Dessaix, Corfu (London: Scribner, 2003), 226.

Image: Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, all equipped with shops and ski field.