De truc van de Romein: voorkom problemen: gebruik onzekerheid!

Niet wat je níét weet brengt je in problemen, maar wat je denkt zeker te weten. (toegeschreven aan Mark Twain)

De Titanic kon niet zinken, dus waren reddingsboten niet nodig. Professionele pokerspelers weten, dat je je geld niet verliest met slechte kaarten, maar op de hand waarvan je zeker weet dat je er niet mee kunt verliezen. Het idee van ‘dat je zeker weet dat je zal winnen’ zorgt ervoor dat andere signalen genegeerd worden.

Bij groepen krijg je bovendien te maken met fenomenen als groepsdwang, tunnelvisie of peer pressure. Wanneer de baas niet twijfelt en de anderen niet reageren, wie durft dan openlijk te twijfelen?

Twijfel is onaangenaam, zekerheid is absurd’, leerde ik van Voltaire. Ik gebruikte het voor de inleiding van mijn boek, Faciliteren als Tweede Beroep. Je eerste beroep, daarover heb je kennis en ervaring. Daarvan weet je het zeker. In je tweede beroep, gaat het om onzekerheid, twijfel.

De zekerheid in het team moet dus plaatsmaken voor twijfel. Dat kan door ‘afleiding’: verleg de aandacht naar andere zaken. Heel eenvoudig werkt het gebruik van beeldkaarten. Laat de deelnemers, eventueel “blind”, een kaart met een beeld kiezen. Wat zegt deze (toevallige) kaart over de zogenaamd zekere situatie? Zonder dat de deelnemers het beseffen, breng je een stukje onzekerheid in.

Overigens luisterde Romeinse generaals naar hun “waarzeggers”. Die keken naar een lever of overvliegende vogels. Op die manier voorkwamen ze, dat ze handelden op basis van ze “zeker weten over de vijand”.

Het paradoxale feit doet zich voor, dat een random element inbrengen in een zekere situatie de kansen vergroot dat het goed gaat. Gewoon maar wat doen.

Maak deelnemers alert, dan gaan ze over andere dingen anders na denken dan over hun ‘zekerheden’. Gebruik het absurde om met meer zekerheid te werk te gaan.

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How does (y)our mind works? – Mentoring 4

Logo by Titia Lelie

I used a naming technique to find a name for our company and came up with “mind@work”. Only years later, I realized, that that’s exactly the point of facilitating groups.

Currently, much of our behaviour is being attributed to the brain. I’ve never believed in it. Which is, by the way, no reason for not working with these concepts. As long as they’re “good enough”. Gradually also brain scientists come to the conclusion, that we’ve reached “the end of the metaphor-in-use”. Thinking is inherently metaphorical .

I rather follow Bennett and Hacker, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. And Freeman – “How Brains Make up Their Minds”.

How does the mind work? You’ll never can tell. We cannot trace a given experience to its origin in a unique fashion. Also, we cannot step outside the domain of our body and nervous system. (quoting Francisco Varela, The Creative Circle, here). If we also had to trace thought to its origin – or build and maintain these traces – we would never finish a sentence. (You might know, that I’ve been called the King of sentences within parenthesis by the editor of my book).

We continuously create objective and subjective “reality”. But not at a whim or at will, or as a fantasy. We’ve taught ourselves to keep the difference between the two as small as possible. It does explain, why we tend to build houses, streets and towns. At least, when awake.

We think we think with our brain, and thinking is a whole body experience (aka “embodied mind“). I’ve studied Biophysics in the late 70’s and then concluded, that a brain (including ears and eyes) operates as self-adapting (networks of) pattern recognition filters.

Brains seem to “apply” Baysian logic to reduce differences between expectations and perceived reality to an acceptable level (you can see the problem there: real reality doesn’t care about our perceptions. This is what we call “surprises” or “bad luck”).

The behaviours of individual neurons let me to conclude that they apply a kind of three-valued logic (rest – excitation – inhibition), where inhibiting plays the main role. This makes more sense then the on/off, 1/0, yes/no computer logic.

Also, in using language we’ve invented meta-metaphors. Our perception is metaphorical in nature (there is no retinal image conveyed to the brain neurons) and these – tacit, implicit – metaphors the networks “translate” (another word for metaphor) into language – a major evolutionary breakthrough we’re still getting used to.

“ (the creator of language) designates the relations of things to men. For expressing these relations he lays hold of the boldest metaphors. To begin with, a nerve stimulus is transferred into an image: first metaphor.The image, in turn, is imitated in a sound: second metaphor. And each time there is a complete leap from one sphere, right into the middle of an entirely new and different one.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense

The current structure (grammar) of language is based on an command-and-control structure – which makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint -, but remains inadequate for use in the current complex societies we ourselves created. It takes about 3 generations to shift to another grammar. So, no hurries.

Suggestions for facilitating

You don’t know. Always better to state that. We differ in what we know; we’re equal in the vastness of what we don’t know. Or, to quote Josh Billings I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.

In case of doubt: touch something concrete, like a wall, a desk, table. If that’s not possible – you’re alone a stage -, put your feet firmly on the ground and keep your shoulders right above them. Relax. (People “read” your “body language”).

Use “Clean Language“, invented – or discovered – by David Grove. Just reflect back to the client or participant the words and metaphor they’ve been using. With “clean” we refer to your intentions: don’t add anything from your perspective.

The learning is in the resistance. Whenever differences between “perceived” and “actual” reality crosses a threshold – it differs from one to another person, and also from situation to situation -, attention gets triggered. One part of the brain – as the saying goes -, wants safety; another part will be curious. This create “resistance to change”. And that’s were the learning happens. So again, relax, take your time. Move towards the resistance, asking questions like “who recognizes/feels/notices this too?” (and if nobody does, you do).

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Run facilitator, run – Mentoring facilitators 3

Facilitators try to do their best to reach goals. It can be like “the Red Queen”-paradox from Alice Through the Looking Glass: all the running just keeps you in the same place.; if you want to make progress, you have to run even harder. There is a lesson in here. Let’s take this metaphor of running to its limits.


“… . When I was trying so hard to finish every marathon I exactly felt uncomfortable. Because I always had so many aims to complete, daily run, weekly run, monthly run, yearly run… In runner groups we are always compete with each others. How fast, how long, how many times a year we can run…

2 years ago, once I dropped out at 20KM check point because of my hurting knees. I cried for 2 hours and I hated to be a failure. I even felt shame to talk about that history. After that I spent one whole year not pushing myself too much or too hard. I can enjoy running and being lazy. I was so struggling with my own decisions between desiring win or not caring loose…

Finally I don’t care the scores, records any-more. Exactly I don’t care how people look at me any-more. It’s my choice to run or not, nobody can judge.   It was long journey, but very worthy living through. This experience made me understand failure can be gift as well. ”  

For one thing, I like the triple metaphor: ‘”running a (marathon) journey” as running a journey’ within a journey of learning. You can see how our subconscious knowing – your “body” -, “knows” in term of metaphor, translated by your brain into conscious knowledge,  a sentence about the metaphor about a learning journey. Which is also a “marathon”.   You can also see here, why – as a facilitator – you shouldn’t focus on reaching “a predetermined goal” as a goal. A goal is a means to an end and not the end of the means.

A goal is a means to an end and not the end of the means.

With facilitation, always act with the end in mind. We’re used to having goals and most of the time see them as part of a contest. Winning is the end (finishing) of a race, but not its end (as a destination). In every session, the goals (S.M.A.R.T.) are not to be confused with the end (results), because then you might assume it’s about “competing”. Never compete with a group.

It’s an easy mistake to confuse goals with ends. The paradox of cooperating -we’ll come back to it later -, states that every good cooperation looks like a competition. When you’re running together, an outsider may see this picture as a chase. With a winner – up front – and a bunch of losers – at the back.

This has also become the picture of an organization: we’re co-operating to compete. We have been taught that competition brings better results. It doesn’t, cooperating does. We even frame evolution as a game of winners and losers. This is a fallacy. Evolution has no end (pun intended). Cooperating is inherently rewarding. Life is a game with only one rule: “this is not a game”.

Some tips to guide towards an end

  • If you must define a goal, create a relative goal and not an absolute. (This is making a distinction between counting (absolutes) and measuring (relatives)). Off course, you’ve noticed the word “relative”, which already points at, well, “relatives”. I defined the goal of an “Agile” project as the ratio between inventory and sales. A smart goal can always be: “halve of what it is now in a year”.
  • Always let the group sets its own ends and derived goals. Keep this open with your client. He or she may have an opinion about the goals. And that’s it, an opinion (and put it to the test). Just ask them to establish a S.M.A.R.T goal for the session or the project. And then have a conversation on the differences. Funny enough, most of the time, groups will set their goals higher than you’d expect.
  • Make goal setting into a cooperative game, For instance, have participants stand against a wall. Draw a line. Say to them, “this is our goal. How far are we already?”
  • Keep failing as an option. Frame every session as an experiment, a test, a pilot, a try-out, a dress rehearsal. Say it and live by it. Also, don’t punish people when they fail.
  • Organizations don’t fail because of mistakes, they fail because of repeating the same mistake over and over again: trying to detect and prevent errors. So in every session, you will see me making mistakes. Don’t tell people they are allowed to make mistakes: show them how you make mistakes AND survive. (I don’t say sorry, by the way; I may only offer my aplogies).
  • Let people make their own choices, then they’ll own them. Ultimately, everybody wants to make their own decisions. One of the most important things – and I know many disagree with me, and indeed most clients -, is that people should be free to attend the meeting, without consequence if they don’t (and I have had meetings were more people came then expected).
  • Allow people to run in different directions. Some times I have a group called “opposition” and they can come up with some wonderful input. Better a small step in the right direction (at the end), than start running in a death-end street.
  • You don’t know the end, until you’ve arrived there. So just end with, “that’s all folks”. We’ve been trained to foresee the end. Treat these as hypotheses. You can only disprove them. (Somehow people say they’re an illusion poorer. I say: “you’re an illusion richer”).
  • Take a rest, give a break, make them pause. You’re brain can only come up with good ideas, when it’s not thinking (clearly I wasn’t thinking when I wrote this)… All good ideas happen at a coffee or other break. (I’ve had proof of even three good idea’s from a meeting at a bar during a session).


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Training and Facilitating – Mentoring facilitators 2

Case 2

How to deal with facilitation and training, has been raised by this quote:

when we talk about adapting from lecturing to facilitating methods in classroom (f2f & virtual), both facilitator and participants have hard time to really get themselves in. In traditional classroom teachers are the one to do input, and in facilitative classroom facilitator helps participants to reframe their study experiences. There will be no expert/teacher any more, the learning is for everyone in there. So, are there any tips to get participants better prepared to go through the hard times? They are the ones to hold the responsibility.

Some theory

I’ve been writing about this in our book with 24 cases of facilitation, “Diverging Conversations through Facilitation” (I’m using it to support this mentoring. If you need a copy, please visit: order your copies of Diverging Conversations on Facilitation). Here is a quote:

Trainer with Facilitator
A trainer trains trainees into perfection, perfecting the execution of a set of activities. This is an Analytical (1st) mode, using scheme’s, testing programs and measuring progress. Most of the time, it is one way. The trainer and the trainee have the same, but not a common goal. In a facilitated training the trainer becomes more of a moderator (4th Evaluative), .. showing how a group can determine its own target and run its own “training” program.

Diverging Conversations through Facilitation – 24 cases p. 17

A teacher or educator transfers knowledge to his or her students. This can be done in several ways (examples in the book; and yes, based on learning styles by Kolb):

  • Learning by doing, designing models and testing them
  • Learning by thinking, creating theories and proving theorems
  • Learning by reflecting, using feelings and thinking, conceptualizing
  • Learning through experimenting, (serious) gaming

In case of facilitating learning, the teacher not only transfers his or hers knowledge. Also participants transfer their knowledge to each other. I like to quote Carl Rogers, “A person cannot teach another person directly; a person can only facilitate another’s learning”

Some tips

  • pose a question and question answer(s) and/or change a statement into a question (and keep using the same words);
  • the learning is in the resistance; view resistance as a learning opportunity. What need is trying to surface?
  • use silence; you can even start a online meeting with a minute silence. Try two too.
  • ask people to think (write down some notes) before anyone speaks;
  • ask people to speak in the first person only
  • get messy (See “Getting Messy” A Guide to Risk Taking and Opening the Imagination for Teachers, Trainers, Coaches and Mentors”by Kim Hermanson PhD.)
  • change roles: let parents play teachers, teachers play school board, pupil play school inspectors … . (Or workers becoming clients, sales people into (production) workers…)
  • Step into another metaphor: this situation is like a zoo (roles become animals), an exploring mission (into deep space?), a movie (or a movie crew – director, camera, sound, editor, ….). What are the qualities of this situation and how can you map them on your current situation.
  • Quoting myself: “when you understand what participants are talking about 1), you’re probably wrong; if you don’t understand them – but they talk among themselves – you’re most probably right.” Participants know their situation, their know-how is about content. A facilitator introduces process questions, like “know-why”. (I love to facilitate people in another language, Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Indian, …Even English is a foreign language to me.)

The book “Facilitating Learning with the Adult Brain in Mind” states clearly: adults learn through reflecting on feedback. Feedback from peers works best. Even when perceived “wrong” from the teacher’s perceptive. People learn from reflecting on their errors, not from correcting or preventing them.

Any thoughts? Insights?

What are you going to do differently tomorrow?

  1. Footnote: Most clients assume you need to have some knowledge of the subject. Don’t fall into this trap – it sets up a “double bind” – because it will be used against you. After the session, they will not use the outcomes, “because the facilitator didn’t understand it like we do”. I never discuss this with my client. Skip it. Just pretend to know enough by using the right key words. More often than not, just repeat the words you read when entering the building. Always check the personnel bulletin.
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Dealing with Questions by Participants – Mentoring facilitators 1

I’ve been asked to mentor a facilitator who is also a member of IAF (International Association of Facilitation). I asked if it’s alright when I share the situations and feedback with you. (S)He agreed.


“Today when I was delivering a facilitative training session online, I felt uncomfortable when participants kept asking the same question again and again. And I had time pressure to end it on time. Later on when I switched off my PC, I just realized those questions where raised from an other cultural background then mine.”

My suggestions

When people in a session ask you questions, I usually DON’T give answer directly. I have to figure out, what the question is about. When people don’t understand something – easy between different cultures -, they also cannot ask a question about it. Because a question is being framed in what they know and understand.

As a facilitator, it is our task to “look for the question”, support them in phrasing their question. Several options:

Say “Thank you for the question” (saying yes on the relationship, giving you time to think – I was caught only once by a participant, who remarked: “smart way of gaining some time”). And then something like:

  • What do you mean by <repeat key word from question>”? (And if necessary follow it up with “.. and <that> is like …?” or “… and what kind of … is …. ?”)
  • What do you need or require (about < subject>)?
  • Until what point, could you follow me/us/the conversation?
  • Who also has this question? (I like this one. It involves the group) and then … “could you give a possible answer?”
  • If it’s not very urgent, I’ll come back on it later. (Write the question down. And in an on line session, I would ask: put it in the chat please)
  • ….

The general rule for a facilitator – based on Schein -: “whenever I’m supporting a client in solving his or her problem, it’s perfectly alright to ask for his or her support in doing so“.

What would you do differently next time?

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Who is afraid of a facilitator?

A tweet by Joyce Matthews, reminded me of our check list in our compilation of 24 cases of facilitation.

A facilitator getting results in a situation with big cultural differences

We adapted a questionnaire by Sandy Schumann, compiler of the IAF Handbook of Group Facilitation. It’s in our book Diverging Conversations through Facilitation.

The list is based on objective aspects of your situation. Here you can find the list Do I need an external facilitator (pdf).

And no, you don’t need to be afraid of hiring a facilitator.

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Facilitating with the brain in mind

This is a first post of facilitating with the brain in mind. I’m writing this series while developing work shops, master classes and training course about applying knowledge about “the mind at work”. On another page, I’ll give a list of the literature I’ve used.

To Design Thinking or not to Design?

Taylor and Marieua (2016) clearly state: “the brain has not been designed to think“. The brain serves the body in surviving through guiding its motions. Brains facilitate – make easy -, survival. Survival implies firstly and foremost moving away from danger, dark, predators, rotten food, bad people. And secondly, moving towards good stuff, like light, puppies, good food and fellowship.

Learning these things provides the keys for survival. Learning, as an adult, wasn’t necessary. Until a few decades ago, when our self-induced changes caught up with us.

Only creatures that move – swim, walk, fly – developed brains. Plants didn’t need brain, as they didn’t move. AND also the other way around: moving induces brain development, learning.

Moving helps to explain why our neurons cross-over. The left part of a brain controlling the right part of the body and vice versa, seems a design error. It’s not. Evolving nature works practically.

If there’s danger or food on the left side, you move you right side. Forwards or backwards. Like in a canoe: peddling to the back on the right side, moves the vessel to the left; peddling to the front on the right side, moves you to the right. As the first is easier then the latter, we tend to call doing the things to the right right (and “left” is associated with “dark” or “sinister” in Latin)

Most cultures use a “relative” direction of motion. We point and move relative to our body. Up and right is “good”, down and left is “bad”.

When I said, “I thought, …. ” to explain my behaviour, my father used to say: “let a horse do the thinking, their heads are bigger”.

Thinking is a very late addition to the repertoire of brain. That’s why it takes years of training. And we’re still very poor at it.

We cannot work and think at the same time. We derived the word school from the Greek “leisure time. It consumes a lot of energy. Better to practice sport and moving.

Lessons for facilitating

Always give with your “right” hand.

Consider your position. When moving or pointing to something “right”, point to your left side with your right hand. The participants, sitting in front of you, see you pointing towards their right side. With the left (right!) part of their brain.

Paradoxical intervention: moving away from a group, will be sensed as “flight” from something “bad”. So always move towards what feels “bad”: resistance, an interrupt, a problem, a situation. Move away, when all seems “right”.

When feeling stuck: move. Most meetings are conducted sitting down behind tables and afterwards, “nothing happened”.

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Hersenen niet ontworpen om te denken

Denk niet aan denken

“Je moet niet denken”, zei mijn vader vroeger, “laat dat aan paarden over, die hebben een groter hoofd”. Je hersenen zijn niet ontworpen om te denken. Dat maakt denken ook zo vermoeiend.

Hersenen komen voort uit bewegen. Lichamen bewegen. Planten bewegen niet. Ze hebben daarom geen noodzaak voor zenuwen en hersenen. De Eerste Beweger moest beslissen welke richting in te slaan. Naar het licht! En maakte zich zenuwen – je begrijpt nu waarom – en hersenen.

Bewogen beweging

We bewegen in twee richtingen: weg van gevaar, opgegeten worden, kou, donker. En in de richting van veilig, eten, warmte, licht. Dat eerste voorkomen heeft prioriteit over het bereiken van het tweede.

Vandaar dat we bij faciliteren altijd eerst veiligheid bieden. Heet ze welkom. Beweeg bij het begin naar de deelnemers toe. Bied ze een warme ontvangst – koffie, hete thee. Hou het licht aan en serveer iets te eten.

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“I’m not black” – inventing identity

In “Us and Them — The Science of Identity”, David Berreby makes the point that it is incorrect to talk about race at all. “We should talk”, he writes, “ about the way conduct and cognition (my italics) are racialized.” (p321).

The word behaving  — “to conduct” and “to know”— is a verb. You identify somebody through identifying. And not: identification. I’ll show that identity (gender, race, class, nation, …) is not a fact, but an act, a way of acting. There is no such thing as “identity”, only processes of “identifying”. 

Identifying makes sense. And this is why Berreby calls “us and them” a sense. It’s very hard to survive, when you cannot “make sense”. 

In making sense — thinking —  we have to use categories to distinguish “things” (I would have like to write “thinks”). As the Daodejing says: “Once the whole is divided, the parts need names”. So first dividing, naming second. 

And then we’re stuck because we cannot go back to “in-divided”. Naming implies being divided. 

You can only be “black” when you’ve called something “white” (and vice versa). You have to mention another category — I propose “human being” -, to get around this. But then, it doesn’t “solve” a problem any more, because there is none. Or, well, another one: mammals versus human beings. 

You make up categories in your mind. You invent categories. They’re not absolutes, like black and white, but relatives, like you and me. 

Words have no meaning. If I had written this in Greek, Chinese or Arabic, these words would not carry any meaning. Except for a Greek studying Arab with a Chinese parent (interpunction intentionally ambiguous) . 

Human beings assign (attribute) attributes to things they sense and act as if these are absolutes. This makes sense in emergency situations. Watch it. 

Using words as absolutes makes sense in simple situations. “I see a lion” — or “here are berries”. From those situations, we have learned that “words carry meaning”. It’s called the “conduit metaphor of communication”. (yep, there are metaphor on metaphors). 

Words don’t speak, humans speak.When a word refers to a thing, somebody refers to a think (couldn’t resist). 

Referring nouns to a process, verbs, creates problems. There exists no such “thing” as communication (only communicating), no such thing as “hope” (only expecting, or “hoping”) … . Words have no meaning, only a human being has — or should I say “is” — meaning. 

A trick, we currently massively employ, is using your position of power to determine the meaning of words, meaning your meaning. Using the conduit metaphor people create a “sender → channel → receiver” situation in which the sender (I) determines the meaning of the message encoded in words. The receiver (you) has to follow as instructed. 

Please ignore this message. 

We fall in the same trap, when we use the conduit metaphor in answering. You cannot say: “you should use another word for race (or black and white)”. Or, “you should not use these words (on me)”. As this reinforces the situation that created the situation. We end up in power games, discussing about who is right over what is true. (Nothing is always true, and not even that). 

What we’re learning to apply is sometimes called “toolmaker metaphor”. I like to call it “inventing metaphor”. We invent words, sentences, — metaphor — while conversing. So in one conversation, I can say “black”, in another “human” and in a third “I don’t know” about the same “thing”.  

My dear (very) dark-skinned friend Mary startled me, the first time she proclaimed: “I’m not black”. And she couldn’t be more clear. 

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mind@work VOF

mind@work has become a “Vennootschap Onder Firma” again. There’s again a partnership between me, Jan Lelie and Godard van Randwijck. Godard and I have been business partners since 1996, until about 2006, when he decided to move to Italy.

Since July 1st, we’ve been cooperating again and just today – August 21st 2019 – the Dutch Chamber of Commerce verified and accepted our documentation and contract.

The (new) registration number is Kvk-nummer: 75628252

Godard will work mainly from Italy and I’ll work from The Netherlands. We’re again serving individuals and companies with facilitation and software.

If you want a copy of our partnership contract: you can find it here:

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