Creating the Alternative
Learning Out Loud #2
Hello to everyone who subscribed and to those who are stumbling upon this newsletter for the first time.
This week, I share what’s emerging for me about the alternative ‘how’ I want to embody and create through my facilitation practice. It’s definitely an example of ‘learning out loud’ rather than presenting a finished answer. I’ve also included what I’ve been reading and watching at the bottom.
What I’ve been up to
For the first time in ages, I feel like I’m making the most of being in London. I’m feeling energised this month by getting out of the house, meeting new people and indulging in the creative arts - both making and watching.
I’m in the middle of Hoopla’s Level 3 Improv Course. While I enjoyed doing the Level 2 course online in late 2020, it is so good to be back improvising in 3D. I was so out of practice in meeting new people that when someone was adding me to the class WhatsApp group that I just added my name to their contacts and forgot to include my number.
We had an unoffical class fieldtrip on Monday to see the mighty Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. The cast take audience suggestions at the beginning for what kind of story it will be and what song styles it’ll include, then improvise the whole thing from there. It’s an improv masterclass and pant-wettingly funny.
This was the end of an extended musical weekend. I saw my old bandmate Pembroke Tenneson play in his new duo in Brixton on Saturday night. Then the next morning, I played drums at the Sunday Assembly 9th birthday celebrations including some Kool and the Gang, Britney Spears, Sia and Daft Punk.
Another highlight of my week was getting to know some new coaching clients.
My new year coaching offer is still available for anyone who signs up for a free one-hour coaching session by the end of January. You can sign up directly here or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if none of those times work for you.
The offer is for unlimited coaching over a 3-month period for £300. That includes coaching sessions at a pace that suits you, exercises to do in between and support by email. If money is a barrier, do get in touch anyway and we can try to work something out.
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Creating the Alternative
I love this quote from Peter Block in his book ‘Community’:
“The key to gathering citizens, leaders and stakeholders is to create in the room a living example of how we want the future to be.”
‘Creating the alternative’ has emerged for me as something I wish to contribute to the world. For me, this alternative is not limited to the ‘what’ of change (the policies, institutions, technologies etc.) but encompasses the ‘how'. How we relate to one another. How we make decisions. How we organise.
Others are better at articulating a compelling vision for the ‘what’. As a generalist and a connector of different fields, I find it easier to describe what the ‘how’ might look like.
I’m most interested in moving towards relationships of ‘power with’, away from ‘power over’. Power over relationships revolve around domination. Think of (conventional) parenting, policing and employment. This power is unequally distributed and easily abused. Power with is more horizontal. It grows out of collaboration and respect, and can lead to collective action. A downside to power with is that it can lead to fragmentation and gridlock.
I think this is why I’m drawn to facilitation and governance. They can take us towards power over or power with depending on how we do them. It’s why I’m intensely interested in how to dismantle patriarchy and white supremacy, moving towards communities of care and liberation rather than domination.
Sage Crump’s contribution to adrienne marie brown’s book ‘Holding Change’ is titled: “Facilitation as Experiments in Culture Creation”. This newsletter was going to be only about facilitation until I read this late last night and it resonated deeply [my emphasis]:
“All of these thoughts have led me to question what would happen if I approached every room I facilitated as an opportunity to support the creation of liberation, creativity and enquiry. Culture is not accidental. Culture is a creation that can be tended to and focused in specific ways. Every time people are gathered together, the hegemony of dominant culture is playing out unless there is an intention to be/do otherwise. There are skills and capacities we need to live into the future we believe in and we can develop and practice them in the rooms that we facilitate”
What a responsibility.
As someone who benefits from culture as it is, I’m continuing to search for my role here, and how to be intentional at avoiding the default option.
Whole books can be written on what this looks like and I don’t want to reduce this to a ‘top ways to disrupt dominant culture’. That said, I do want to make some humble suggestions of how we can create a microcosm of the world we want to create.
Check-ins are powerful because they immediately give everyone a change to speak, introducing that as a norm from the outset. If you’re stuck for a questions, look here (Check in Success) or here (Brink).
Liberating structures are 33+ ‘microstructures’ that distribute power in conversations and enable us to make meaningful progress. In my experience, they are so much better than standard structures like presentations, open discussions and brainstorms and the website gives you all the instruction you need. They supercharged my facilitation when I discovered them in 2019.
Improv can be a great practice at fully listening to others, allowing things to build, letting go of other ideas about where we wanted the conversation to go, connecting to emotions and sensing what’s happening beneath the surface.
We’re more than pixels on a screen. Paying attention to the body is a learning edge for me - something I will be exploring in coming months. This includes grounding ourselves at the beginning and throughout a gathering, paying attention to our bodies and being trauma-informed in our practice.
A final quote that I’ve loved for a while from Jerry Sternin, Monique Sternin, and Richard Pascale in The Power of Positive Deviance:
“It's easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting.”
I’d love to hear from you about how you approach this and what you’re exploring whether you see yourself as a facilitator or not.
For more on facilitation, you might be interested in a pair of blog posts I wrote in November on the similarities between drumming and facilitating and about learning to facilitate. The latter is an extract from a “Facilitator’s Handbook” I created for Active Gloucestershire. I didn’t approach these pieces with the framing I share above, but I hope they are still useful for anyone on their learning journey.
What I’ve been enjoying
I’ve had a fruitful period of finishing some fantastic books:
Transcendent Kingdom - Yaa Gyasi. Mental health, addiction, faith, science, migration and family all wrapped in stunning prose. Highly recommended.
The Wood that Built London - C. J. Schüler. I’m not a big reader of local history but am currently feeling the need to connect more with my immediate area, including its ecology. The Great North Wood used to cover an area from Croydon to Deptford but now only pockets of this ancient woodland remain, including Sydenham Hill Woods - one of my favourite places to run and walk.
Co-Active Coaching - Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl, and Laura Whitworth. With 155 highlights from my Kindle, I think I’ll be referencing this one for a while!
I’ve also been enjoying...
Progressive metal - As a teenager, I loved a prog metal band called Dream Theater. They have a song called “A Change of Seasons” which has over 50 changes in time signature - including a few bars of 17/16 (try counting that quickly!). It could get a bit cheesy and show-off-y though. I’ve recently been getting into a Norwegian Band called Leprous who bring in more melodic elements and branch out into other genres. I recommend listening to “Nighttime Disguise” and “Below” (Spotify links) and watching the drum playthrough to The Sky is Red (exhausting to watch) and “Old Composer Reacts to Leprous At The Bottom”.
Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) - I know I’m late to the party but, as someone who still associates male sport with macho posturing, I loved the show’s nuanced exploration of masculinity, mental health and leadership. Plus it’s frequently hilarious and uplifting which is much-needed in a dark winter.
Beings Seen and Unseen - Amitav Ghosh. An interview telling the story of colonialism, ecocide, climate change and the modern geopolitical order through the lens of the nutmeg. So much in here that I want to explore further - fortunately my wife has bought Ghosh’s book, ‘The Nutmeg’s Curse’ for us both to read.
7 types of rest everyone needs - If you’re one of the many people who emerged into 2022 not feeling refreshed despite having some form of ‘holiday’, you can find this useful.
Thank you for reading to the end. Please do get in touch if it has been useful to you and/or you have any feedback.